I often talk about how my education in the classics is severely limited, and by that, I also mean the classics in the genres as well. There are any number of great writers whose works I’ve never read–and given the ticking clock of my life, most likely will never get to–and I’ve sometimes wondered if that has had a negative impact on my own writing, on my own work; the greatest writers always inspire, and perhaps if I took some time to read their work it would improve my own.
Donald E. Westlake is one of those authors; someone I always intended to get around to yet somehow never have. Several years ago I read his Hard Crime Classic The Comedy is Finished and loved it. I also knew that the Rob Byrnes caper novels I love so much (most recently Strange Bedfellows–you really should check the books out) were inspired by Westlake’s Dortmunder series, and at some point in the perhaps not so distant past I acquired a copy of the first Dortmunder, The Hot Rock (which I knew had been filmed in the 1970’s and the film starred Robert Redford; I should add the film to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival), and even more recently, I picked it up and started to read it.
I finished it Thanksgiving day.
Dortmunder blew his nose. “Warden,” he said, “you don’t know how much I appreciate the personal attention you been paying me.” There wasn’t anything to do with the Kleenex, so he just held it balled up in his fist.
Warden Oates gave him a brisk smile, got up from behind his desk, walked around to Dortmunder’s side, patted him on the arm, and said, “It’s the ones I can save that give me the most pleasure.” He was a latter day Civil Service type–college-trained, athletic, energetic, reformistic, idealistic, and chummy. Dortmunder hated him.
The warden said, “I’ll walk you to the gate, Dortmunder.”
“You don’t have to do that, Warden,” Dortmunder said. The Kleenex was colf and gooey against his palm.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and I will definitely come back to the Dortmunder series again. It’s a caper book–a heist novel–and while I wouldn’t call it a page-turner, it definitely held my interest and kept me reading–mainly because I was curious to see what would go wrong next. The premise of the novel–and apparently, the series–is that Dortmunder is a very professional criminal; he plans and plans and plans, takes every possibility of what could possibly go wrong into account, and so every job should go smoothly–but of course, what he never takes into consideration is how humans will respond, and so things will always go wrong.
The Hot Rock itself is an emerald, worth (at the time) half a million dollars, and Dortmunder is brought into a plan to steal it. It is a sacred stone to a small, impoverished African nation, and was, of course, looted from their country during its colonial period. It is going to be displayed at a museum in New York City, and so Dortmunder and his gang of skilled but not terribly bright criminals plan to steal it. But things go wrong…and it turns out the stone will need to be stolen from yet another location….and on and on and on, with each successive heist more dangerous, more over the top, and more difficult, with each time the stone gets routed incorrectly; among the other places it must be stolen from include a police station, a mental hospital, and a bank.
Great, great fun; a little bit dated, but still a great read.
And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.
No thank you.
I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.
So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.
Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?
I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)
All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.
There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.
So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.
What? you may very well wonder in horror, You went to Costco TWO DAYS BEFORE THANKSGIVING?
It wasn’t bad at all, frankly. Costco’s parking lot can be packed and yet I rarely feel crowded inside the store, and the checking out and paying part of the trip never seems intrusive, never seems to take forever the way it can in other stores, and I never really mind. Plus, everyone who works there is so friendly, polite and nice–this makes the experience ever so much more pleasant. I even took Paul with me, and even that wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be. (I took Paul to Costco a while ago to get new glasses; it was his first time there and he loves it. How can you not, frankly? And every time I do go to Costco I wish I had a bigger freezer. Yes, honey, that looks wonderful, but we don’t have room for that in the freezer, sorry.)
I really hate that going to Costco makes me wish I owned a separate freezer.
Today is also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills-Day. and of course, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have a million things to do today–including making groceries–but once I get home from today’s errands I have every intention of not leaving the house over the course of the next four days for anything other than the gym. My back is sore again this morning, which is odd; how can it have not been sore since the other day and then have the soreness return again is beyond me. But I keep meaning to use the massage roller and never get to it; perhaps that is something I need to take a little more seriously and should do every morning as I swill down my daily caffeine supply.
I didn’t write a damned thing other than my blog yesterday–and I really don’t know how that happened, or how the day escaped me the way it did. It would, of course, be incredibly easy to simply blame it on the Costco trip and be done with it; Costco is a disruption, no matter how you look at it, and of course the living room corner is filled with boxes now–but I really shouldn’t allow that to make the rest of the day essentially worthless to me for writing (although, really, in all honesty, I pretty much will seize on any excuse not to write), but I did make some notes in my journal about “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–its at that kinda-stuck place now–but I really need to be buckling down on Bury Me in Shadows. The cover is coming–I looked at options yesterday, which is always fun (and also makes the book seem more real in some ways to me)–and I am no longer looking at this week as oh look at all the free time I have anymore. I haven’t done any deep cleaning, I haven’t organized anything, and yet somehow I am already on day 5 of my vacation with very little to actually show for it, other than I feel incredibly well rested and level emotionally, which is always a plus.
I kept thinking, all day yesterday, that it was Thursday and today would be Friday. This is a direct result of working from home on Thursdays and Fridays for so long, methinks. It was quite disorienting, and even this morning I have to keep reminding myself it’s Wednesday and not Friday. I have a gazillion emails to answer–it really is a bottomless pit–and of course I must pay the bills this morning as well (a loathsome chore) and I am definitely am going to write today once I get all that out of the way.
That is the plan at the current moment, of course.
I don’t even know what I’ve been doing these past few vacation days, if I am going to be completely honest about it. Yeah, the Lost Apartment looks better, but I haven’t even been reading much, either.
We did watch the new Sarah Paulson movie Run on Hulu last night, and it was much better–and completely different–than I was expecting. Paulson is one of our finest actresses of this period, and I’m glad she was here for the explosion of great television so her talents can be appreciated fully. She was terrific in Ratched, and she is terrific in this as well. It’s another one of those crazy moms with Munchhausen by proxy, like the Gypsy Lee Blanchard story and that side plot on Season One of The Politician (how bad must season two have been, despite Judith Light and Bette Midler, that it came and went so quickly without much notice?), but it’s not the same story at all and it’s quite excellently suspenseful; imagine if that plot line was given to Patricia Highsmith or Daphne du Maurier to write–that’s what Run is. And quite enjoyable, frankly. It’s also not getting much buzz, at least not that I’m aware of, and that’s a real shame.
And on that note I am. heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thanksgiving Eve, everyone.
Tuesday morning, and. the second day of paid vacation leave. Yesterday was a pretty good day, all in all–I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked; but I did get some things done and progress was made. I also went to the gym, which was lovely; I actually identified which exercise I was doing that was causing my back to be sore–and frankly, it was one I didn’t like to do–so I eliminated it and substituted another one. My back is still a little sore today, but nothing like it was before and in fact, last night it didn’t hurt at all. So, again–progress.
“The Rosary of Broken Promises” now sits at a solid three thousand words, and in all honesty, I am just vomiting up on the page and will worry about cleaning it all up later. It’s going well–definitely will require revision and rework; as I said, I’m just kind of feeling my way through the story and figuring out who my main character is (and resisting the urge, which is constant, to turn it into the opening of another stand alone novel) and why he is who he is; the story, ostensibly a poor family’s Christmas story, has already taken a much darker turn than I’d originally intended. But it fits, it works, it makes the story darker and richer and more personal than what I was originally thinking when I sat down to write it. It’s definitely not right for that anthology call that inspired me to be writing a Christmas story to begin with, and seriously, I am not sure where it might be right for (always a problem with writing short stories–figuring out where to sell them) but I. like the story a lot and, as always, my worst case scenario would be another short story collection of my own.
And being creative, actually writing, is fun.
We finished watching Le Manti last night. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I was very disappointed with the incredibly lazy way the writers came up with for who the copycat killer actually was; it was a stereotype thing which has been already debunked, discredited, and is incredibly harmful. Then again, it was a French show and I don’t know how things work in France when it comes to things like this. It was quite a shame, because this laziness was unexpected, given the care they had taken with the story, the characters, and their past histories–and their current relationships. It’s a shame, because overall I enjoyed the show until that point and would happily recommend it, but now I feel like I can’t. Maybe they thought they were being edgy; I don’t know, but it was still terribly disappointing, especially in 2020.
Today I have some more errands to run–Paul wants to go to Costco (I knew he would become an addict the first time I took him there) and I have a prescription to pick up, and there’s a way to do all of this (and a few others) in a nice timely and efficient manner, which is always lovely. I don’t have to go to the gym today since I went yesterday, so other than that excursion, I’ll be home for most of the day, so there’s no reason I can’t write, read, and clean all day.
Other than utter laziness, of course.
I think tonight we’re going to watch that Sarah Paulson Hulu film, Run, which is another take on the Gypsy Blanchard thing–the mom who has Munchhausen’s by proxy and is making her child ill–but it’s done like a horror film rather than a drama, which is an interesting twist that I like an awful lot–although the concept of chronically sick children turning out to have been made ill by a psychotic caregiver is slowly turning into a stereotype.
And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.
Monday on a vacation week isn’t nearly as brutal or as unpleasant as it is on a normal work week. Ordinarily I am up and out of bed at six in the morning every Monday; today I was able to be a slug-a-bed until around eight, which is when I generally begin the waking process when I do not have to go into the office. One week from today when I am getting up at six again I shall look back on the glory of this halcyon morning and will, as I shut off my alarm and blearily open my eyes, undoubtedly will wish I were still on vacation.
The Saints won yesterday–Taysom Hill played really well for his first start and first full game as quarterback—which was quite delightful. It was more delightful that they were playing the Falcons. The Saints have now won like seven straight games, which is great, but many of them were squeakers, so while I think it’s great, I’m not so gung-ho about the play-offs as one might expect. But 8-2 is much better than I was expecting for them at this point in the season, so I am going to happily take it.
I did manage to reread the first ten chapters of Bury Me In Shadows yesterday; it was necessary because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it I couldn’t remember where I was at or what was going on. I found a lot of errors (and even more egregious examples of terrible writing), and I am going to spend some time today on fixing those. I also did an outline as I went, which I am going to continue to update as I work my way through the book, and I am feeling a lot more confident about making that due date than I was just yesterday. I just need to focus and keep writing and keep fixing. I need to thoroughly immerse myself in the book, and I think I can do that this week. (As I started making the outline and listing the character names at the beginning, I literally could not remember the main character’s name. That’s how long it has been since I’ve even looked at this; which is rather disgraceful, but also telling about my mental state, my brain, and my memory.)
I also managed to work on “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday morning before diving back into the book. I have no idea where this story is going or what’s going to be about, but it’s in my head and it’s worrying me, like how you always worry a loose tooth with your tongue. I keep thinking about the story, even when I’m not writing it. It’s shaping up to be vastly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and while I am not entirely sure it will be publishable anywhere–the problem with short stories: at some point, you have to think about reshaping them to fit markets, or they sit dormant in your files until the proper submission call rolls around. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how self-destructive my creativity can be? I mean, I have two submissions calls I want to write a short story for, the timelines and deadlines for both are tight, so what do I write? A story that doesn’t fit either call.
We watched the new episodes of both The Undoing and Murder on Middle Beach last night, and another episode of Le Manti. All three are quite good, and we’re enjoying them tremendously. There’s only one more episode left of The Undoing, in which we will find the answers; I don’t see how they could stretch this into a second season, but I also thought the same with Big Little Lies, and they did a second season of that, so anything is possible these days–which is kind of cool but at the same time, sad.
I have a lot of work and other things to get done today. My back is still aching–not sure what it is, quite frankly, and am getting rather tired of it–but I am also going to the gym later this morning and hopefully that won’t affect it too negatively. It’s very weird; I should probably get it looked at, but if it’s just muscle strain I’d feel like an idiot, and rightly so. So at some point today I need to use my back massage roller thingee, and while it will inevitably tighten back up later, I should probably start thinking about stretching it/using the massage roller every day.
And on that note, the spice isn’t going to mine itself. Have a lovely Monday before the holidays, Constant Reader.
Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.
LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).
I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.
I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).
My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.
And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?
A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.
We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.
And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.
Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.
The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.
I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.
My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.
Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.
The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.
Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.
The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.
I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.
Wednesday, and to quote Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there, Oh! Oh! Livin’ on a prayer!”
Yesterday the city made it official: there will be no Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish in 2021. It’s more than a little bit shocking, to be honest; I seriously doubted that the City would actually pull the trigger on this. It’s going to be an enormous economic blow to the city, obviously, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how this will play out in the long run, obviously, but I can’t help but feel bad for all the public service businesses and their employees who depend so heavily on Carnival for their income.
I did come up with an idea for the Christmas horror anthology–the title is “To Sacrifice A Pawn” (which I really really like), and the Louisiana monster I am using is a “grunch”–it was difficult not to go with the Cajun Fairy (the fee follay) or the unbaptized babies (the letiche)–but I can always use those at another time. But I am using Redemption Parish–my weird, self-created “haunted” parish that first appeared in either Murder in the Arts District or The Orion Mask–simply because I think it’s a great name for a Louisiana parish bedeviled by supernatural things. (One of the major drawbacks of being “prolific” is trying to remember things that you’ve written and published already; Christ on the cross, it’s not easy) And let’s face it, how much do I love the entire concept of Redemption Parish? I mean, there are parishes named Assumption and Ascension–although no Annunciation, which is a street in New Orleans, and a great name for a parish.
We finished watching the first season of Mr. Mercedes last night, and much as I wanted them to, they really didn’t stick the landing. I’m not sure why they made the choice to de-emphasize the characters of Jerome and his family, or reduced Holly to such a tiny role, but I think it was a mistake. I can also understand the change in what the crazed psychopath Brady’s final target for the climax was–it would be much too expensive and much too hard to film an attempted bombing at a boy band concert filled with teenagers–but it really did, somehow, shift the dynamic and make the climactic finale seem a little less urgent in some ways. The second season requires paying to join Peacock to watch, and as I’ve discussed numerous times already, I am not really up for paying for still another streaming service.
So, today is my last day in the office for a while. I work at home this week on Thursday and Friday, and then I am on holiday vacation next week, starting with this Saturday. I have a lot planned for this week off; we shall see if I achieve any of it. I need to finish two short stories, dive back into the book and get into a groove of writing it so I can get it turned in on time, an of course, the apartment itself is a pigsty. The LSU game this weekend hasn’t yet been either cancelled or postponed, but it doesn’t look very good for them regardless. Arkansas is surging this year (and really, good for them; their program has really slid into the basement over the end of this past decade, and while I am not a fan, you do hate to see it) and they really get up to beat LSU; not sure why they hate us so much, but there it is, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if our four year winning streak against them comes to an end this year.
And with all the short story stuff that’s been going on this year, I was thinking about my next story collection, and started trying to get a table of contents together for the next one. I’d always intended the next one to be called Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way “Once a Tiger” will work as a short story (moving it into the novella camp) and so I need a new title; I am torn between using This Town and Other Stories or Neighborhood Alert and Other Stories; but then who knows? I may come up with yet another story in the meantime whose title is better for a collection. The other thing is I keep forgetting stories I’ve written and published, which is very strange–as I was pulling it all together yesterday evening, I know I forgot “Moist Money”, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten in the meantime?
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.
Yesterday was rather lovely, if I do say so myself.
I woke relatively early after a wonderful night of sleep, and drank my coffee while primarily doing some chores around the kitchen/office. Once I was sufficiently fortified with coffee, I sat down and edited/revised my story “The Snow Globe,” and Constant Reader, I have to tell you–I feel like an absolute idiot for putting off doing it for so long. There really are few things as satisfying as editing and revising something you’ve written, making the language better, making the story flow better, deepening the characters, and tying up the ending in a more satisfying bow than the one you originally used.
Why do I always forget how much I FUCKING love doing my job? WHY do I always have to force myself to do it?
One of the eternal mysteries of life, I suppose. I always have to force myself to do things I enjoy–like going to the gym and working out, which is what I did as soon as I finished the revision. I really need to put that on a sticky note for my computer: REMEMBER YOU LOVE TO WRITE.
I also spent some time plotting out my novella-in-progress “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hoping doesn’t turn into a novel. I like the story a lot; it actually began life as the idea that eventually became “A Streetcar Named Death”–that happens to me sometimes; I get an idea that could go off in two different directions, and they both wind up becoming stories of their own. I like–still do, in fact–the idea of “chance meeting on a streetcar”, which is such a lovely way to open a story, really, but it truly fit with “A Streetcar Named Death” better than with “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and it didn’t take me long before I realized that this particular story was too long to be a short story–I needed to go too in-depth with the main character as it was, and then other characters began talking to me more, insisting on being more important to the story, and I finally realized fuck it, it’s a novella, deal with it and just write it. I have several other novellas in progress at the moment (insanity, well aware)–“Fireflies,” “Once a Tiger,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” and “Spellcaster” being the others (I’m probably forgetting one–still on my first Monday morning cappuccino)–and feel fairly confident that at some point I’ll get them all finished and ready to be published.
My Internet is out this morning; fortunately I can turn my phone into a hotspot so functionality this morning isn’t lost completely. Yet it’s still annoying–as I muse every time we lose power, we’ve become so dependent on modern conveniences that even something so minor as a cable/Internet outage is teeth-grindingly annoying.
We watched another episode of both Mr. Mercedes and The Undoing last night–Donald Sutherland is extraordinary–and I’m not really sure where The Undoing is going; it’s an interesting mystery thus far, and I am not really sure if Hugh Grant is a killer or not. But there’s more going on in that family and marriage than we’ve already seen–or that they’ve shown us–and I am hopeful the show isn’t going to blow its premise. It is based on a novel–You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, that I’d never heard of before. I also think I prefer the original title, frankly–and am also thinking that maybe David E. Kelley should adapt one of Alafair Burke’s novels, like The Ex or The Wife.
I slept really well last night–I even woke up before the alarm this morning at six–and am hopeful this will be a nice, productive week. I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, and I also need to work on getting a draft of “A Dirge in the Dark” completed; I have an amorphous idea of where I want to go with the story, and it isn’t going to be easy, frankly–which is part of the reason I’ve been delaying working on everything (nothing is going to be easy) and that’s just stupid, really; part of the reason I kept pushing the revision of “The Snow Globe” to the bottom of the to-do list was because I thought it was going to be difficult to do–and it wasn’t, really. I need to stop doubting my creativity and my ability to do my work–but that’s been something I’ve struggled with pretty much my entire life so far. It would be lovely if at age sixty I finally turned the corner there.
I also made it to the gym for a workout yesterday, which was lovely; I’ve managed three workouts a week for three consecutive weeks now, and if I keep my head down and keep plodding along, I’ll continue feeling better and sleeping better and getting shit done. The Saints also won yesterday–they’ve now won six straight, although they just as easily could have lost any number of those games–and so who knows? Perhaps they are going to turn out to be a contender this year after all.
And on that note, my dear Constant Reader, I am returning to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.
I did the windows yesterday, and it is literally amazing how I can forget between window cleanings what a difference it makes. It had been so long since I’d done it I need to do them again–it’s never easy getting all that caked on dirt and dust and debris off the glass, even when you do it weekly, as I used to do–but it’s a start.
I woke up early and feeling rested yesterday, which was absolutely lovely–and it was an absolutely lovely day in New Orleans, if a bit warm for mid-November. Did I get as much done as I needed and/or wanted to? Of course not. I did some other cleaning and straightening around the Lost Apartment; made some notes on some projects I am working on, and reread “The Snow Globe” to get a better idea of what I am dealing with on the revision, which I am going to get done today before I go to the gym. I’m also making the week’s to-do list, doing some other chores around the house, and feeling a lot better about things. Yes, I am behind on everything, but a little bit of focus and a little bit of desperation never hurt me, or anything I’ve worked on.
Rereading the story was, actually, something i’d been dreading doing; I always hate to reread something I’ve written, as I always tend to be highly critical and negative, and this story was no exception. I do love the story a lot–it was written to be submitted to a war on Christmas anthology and wasn’t accepted (the anthology never happened, either; long ugly story)–but it definitely needs some work. I originally came up with the story for a Halloween anthology, to be completely honest; there was a call for submissions, I think maybe from the Horror Writers’ Association, for stories with a Halloween theme. I distinctly remember reading the call and then an image popped into my head–me standing on the balcony at the Pub, looking down on Bourbon Street and the front doors of Oz, as a man in a devil costume came out; and he was hot as fuck; perfect body, body paint to make his skin red, and a skimpy red bikini, and thought Satan has a great six-pack, which I then made the opening line of the story. I believe at the time the story was called “All Hallow’s Eve” or something along those lines; but the story never made it past the opening paragraph. When the chance to write a story for the Christmas anthology came along, I remembered that opening and I remembered the joke I made on the Facebook post and thread about Christmas horror stories–I wanted to write about a Satanic snow globe–and immediately saw how to turn my unfinished Halloween story into a Christmas horror story called “The Snow Globe” merely by changing a single letter in the opening line: Santa had a great six-pack.
Voila! And the story began to flow. As I said, it was rejected from the anthology I wrote it for–and in the notes I got from the editors, which was lovely (one rarely gets notes on a rejected story) they basically told me I should have made it more than it was–which I had also thought about doing, but was afraid to–and so naturally, with that confirmation that the initial instincts I’d ignored from lack of confidence were, in fact, correct, I went back to the drawing board and revised it. And clearly, it needed one more revision. I have editorial notes on this story already, which I completely agree with, and I don’t know why–other than utter and sheer laziness–that I have not gone ahead and worked on this story to get it finished and out of the way. That is my goal for this morning–get the damne thing finished and be done with it–and then I can move back on to the book that has been stalled for weeks now.
Last night we watched a few more episodes of Mr. Mercedes, which finally introduced the character of Holly Gibney, who quickly became one of my favorite King characters–which was why I was so delighted she showed up in The Outsider–and so far the character is being played as she was written in the book, which is quite lovely. I think the show has padded/built up some things that I don’t remember from the book–but since I don’t remember them from the book, I am not entirely sure there were changes made. I just know I am deeply enjoying the show–it’s really a shame it hasn’t gotten as much success as it should have. (Maybe it did, I don’t know; but I rarely, if ever, heard anything about the show and there are three seasons…so there wasn’t a lot of social media buzz about it.)
The Saints play this afternoon–I think the game starts around three-ish, if I am not mistaken–and then of course there will be a new episode of The Undoing tonight. That should give me more than enough time to get this story finished, some chores done, and a trip to the gym for a workout. This is my fourth week since we rejoined the gym, and I am eminently proud that I have gone three days a week ever since. I can’t get over how much better I feel physically–the stretching really helps, too–and that correlates with how much better I’ve been sleeping. Who knew that exhaustion would help one sleep? (Sarcasm, don’t @ me)
I also read a few more chapters of The Hot Rock yesterday, which I am enjoying. Westlake’s style in this book is very reminiscent of Rob Byrnes’ brilliant caper novels (Straight Lies, Holy Rollers, Strange Bedfellows)–although since Westlake is the influence here, I should probably say I can see his influence on that unappreciated trilogy; it still kind of amazing to me that I’ve not read more Westlake (or Lawrence Block, for that matter), which is something I am going to need to rectify. (I’ve also never read Ed McBain, but I read some of his Evan Hunter novels.)
As I have often said, my education in crime fiction is a little lacking when it comes to the classics; I’ve not read all of Ross MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, for example, and I’ve also never read a Dick Francis novel either, for that matter. I think I’ve read a Nero Wolfe or two, but not many–although I have thought about using the trope of that series for a book of my own–the brilliant investigative mind who never leaves his/her house so needs a legman, from whose point of view the story is told–and there are any number of other classic crime fiction writers I’ve not cracked a spine on. But with new books I want to read being released all the time and being unable to even keep up with the canon of current writers whose work I love–not to mention all the new-to-me writers I keep discovering–there’s just simply no way I can ever read everything I want to read.
I’ve been doing some more research on Chlorine, recently reading Confidential Confidential, about the scandal rag of the 1950’s, and Montgomery Clift Queer Star, an academic treatise of multiple essays about reading Clift performances and films as queer, which was very interesting. Reading these two books also reminded me of something else that was going on in the time period which I wish to cover–red-baiting and the House Un-American Committee hearings; another period of America not living up to her ideals. It’s probably hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up, or were old enough, to remember the existential threat of the Soviet Union that had Americans seeing Communist spies and Communist infiltration everywhere; without an understanding of the highly paranoid state created by politicians and news outlets, neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars would have most likely happened. That fear of Communism was also used by conservatives to gin up racial hatred as well as systemic discrimination against people of color and queer people–the queers were considered a national security threat because if you were queer and worked for the government in any capacity, you were thus opened up to blackmail by Communist agents. This was an actual thing, and I all too often see that key element left out of writings about the time, both fiction and non-fiction.
It would thus be wrong to leave Red-baiting out of Chlorine, which will mean more research. Heavy heaving sigh.
And on that note, the dryer just clicked off, so I should fold the clothes and get ready to get back to to work on the story. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.