Dirty Laundry

Wednesday! I have my biannual doctor visit this morning, so won’t be going into the office until later; I am doing bar testing this evening as well. I hope to get more edits put in–seriously, passing the halfway point made such a mental difference; each page I finish it like another step down the other side of the mountain. I am really looking forward to finishing; I know exactly what I have to do with this in the final draft, and am really really excited about finally finishing and getting it out there.

Huzzah! Yay, me!

So, Paul had dinner with a friend last night, and while I was waiting for him to come home (I’m not enjoying the book I’m reading and may put it aside), I decided to watch a documentary on HBO: Bolshoi Babylon.

Wow.

Over the last few years I’ve become obsessively interested in ballet; but most ballet stories are generally about women–understandably so; the men are primarily there, for the most part, to show off the women and their skills–but male ballet dancers are fascinating to me. For one thing, their bodies are amazing, and for another, what they can make their bodies do is even more amazing. It’s rare for a male ballet dancer to outshine his female counterparts; but when they do, they become big stars. (Nureyev, Baryshnikov, etc.) The world of ballet also seems very dark to me, very noir; the way the dancers torture their bodies to make beauty and art, the fragility of the egos, the constant need for approval–and of course, as dark as it is, it can get even darker.

Bolshoi Babylon is about the acid attack on ballet director Sergei Fimin several years ago; I remember when it happened. Fimin was a star of the ballet, became the artistic director, and then was viciously attacked, acid thrown in his face, and a long, painful recovery from the attack followed–he eventually got the sight back in one eye, but remained blind in the other. A male dancer in the company was behind the attack; Fimin had passed over his girlfriend for a lead, and he wanted revenge for his love. (I was very much reminded of the Tonya-Nancy figure skating drama; ballet and figure skating also have a lot in common.) But the documentary simply uses the attack as a launching point for an examination of the world of the Bolshoi; its internal and external politics, and also focuses on some of the dancers and what their lives are like.

It was riveting.

I’ve long wanted to write a noir about figure skating, and another about ballet. Watching Bolshoi Babylon only emphasized that desire; alas, I have this manuscript to complete, a Scotty to write, and I am also toying with that horror novel. But I think I shall continue my researches into both figure skating and ballet; Paul got home and watched the end of the documentary, and he agreed that it would be interesting to go to the New Orleans Ballet.

I also have been crushing on Italian ballet dancer Roberto Bolle for years now; thank you, Sarah Hilary, for bringing him to my attention!

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I also got involved in an interesting discussion on a friend’s Facebook thread about author Louise Penny, whom I’ve not read, and who was just here in New Orleans to accept the Pinckney Prize, as this year’s recipient. I had to miss the event, as it was last week. But I do have a copy of her first novel, and I will try to read it before Bouchercon.

So much to read before Bouchercon! I can’t believe I have homework.

Our Lips Are Sealed

Tuesday morning, and a good night’s sleep was had by all, and really, what a difference that makes! We got caught up on CNN’s The Nineties and The History of Comedy last night; retired earlier than usual, and I woke up on my own before the alarm this morning and I feel rested. I stretched yesterday as well; so my muscles are feeling better. I have some tightness in my back that was causing some pain–it has decreased since I started stretching. Paul gave me a massage for Christmas; I really need to find that gift certificate and make an appointment. I know that will also make a significant difference.

I started reading Harry Crews’ A Feast of Snakes yesterday; it was on a list of “Southern Gothics you must read” and I am…intrigued by it. It’s interesting…in some ways; borderline offensive in others. I’m going to wait until I finish reading it, of course, to make any definitive statements; the problems I am having with it have nothing to do with the actual writing. Crews is a very good writer, and has an excellent grasp of language, which keeps me reading…but he also has fallen into the trap so many people fall into when writing about rural Southern people–sumbitch. I fucking hate that colloquialism, in no small part because I’ve never heard anyone in real life actually say ‘son of a bitch’ that way. But it pops up in novels/fiction about the rural South all the time; even as writers don’t try to match the rhythm of the Southern accent, or how Southern people say certain words; you can always be sure they will say sumbitch.

It annoys the crap out of me.

I managed to get some work done on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” yesterday. It’s not coming along as easily as one might have hoped; I’ve worked on it a couple of days now, here and there, and have only about 1037 words. It’s also a mess; I realized yesterday that it’ll have to be reworked extensively on the next draft–but acknowledging that the story is kind of all over the place and messy was enormously helpful; for some reason, when I write short stories I am always trying to get it right the first time, taking more time than is probably necessary so I won’t have to revise extensively. Again, look at it as a messy house you need to clean and organize. So, today I am going to work on it some more without listening to that annoying voice in the back of my head trying to get it right the first time. I think it’s actually kind of a good story, buried in there amongst the dreck, and the key is to trim it down to the polished diamond from the rough.

I also reread “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday, and I know how to fix it for the second draft. It’s a much better story than I might have thought (I am really not the best judge of my own work, seriously); the difference between this draft and “Kudzu” is that “Lies” is more of an outline than overwritten and too long; I need to further explore the emotions and the character’s past and why she is so panicked in the grocery store in much greater depth (and with greater sympathy) than what I did already; the tension that will keep the story moving for the reader isn’t quite there yet. So strange that the same writer can approach writing two stories in such completely different ways, isn’t it? I’d like to get the draft of “Kudzu” finished this morning; there’s a couple of other stories I’d like to get initial drafts of done this week. I am going to most likely go through the WIP for the final coat of polish this weekend–there’s still some things that need to be added into it, I think, to make the conclusion work better, and then next week I can start working on a list of agents to send it to…heavy sigh.

I also read another one of Faulkner’s crime stories yesterday–“Monk”, which was so much more Faulkner-like than “Smoke” was; that macabre, grim Southern sense of humor and the gothic was running through this story; it sort of reminded me of Sanctuary, which I really need to read again (I say that a lot, don’t I? I can’t even keep up with my TBR pile, let alone all the re-reading I have to do. Heavy sigh.)

Okay, I need to get back to the story and straighten up this messy kitchen before I go to the office.

Here’s a Tuesday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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If She Knew What She Wants

Paul got home last night, later than expected, as there were delays in Dallas due to inclement weather–which I kind of figured would happen. I went to bed shortly after he got home as I was falling asleep in my easy chair–I’d rewatched Batman v. Superman, and was watching a really bad documentary called Aliens in Egypt, which was one of those wonderfully tacky documentaries about how the Egyptians didn’t build the pyramids, the Sphinx is actually much older than anyone thinks it is, etc. etc. etc. A tell in these things is that no one is ever attributed to anything; “some archaeologists believe” or “according to a prominent Egyptologist”. Don’t get me wrong–the theory of ancient aliens influencing the rise of Egypt is fascinating to me; when I was a kid I read all of Erich von Daniken’s books, from Chariots of the Gods on, and there are always points made that seem consistent with the theory; but there are also other points where it is obvious some stretching was made to have facts fit the theory. I’ve also read some of Graham Hancock’s books–I have a copy of his book about the age of the Sphinx somewhere, but I read the one that theorizes that the Ark of the Covenant is actually in Ethiopia and has been for millennia, and greatly enjoyed it.

I also greatly enjoyed Holy Grail Holy Blood, the book that attempted to prove that Jesus married Mary Magdalen and their bloodline still exists in France–even though I saw many holes in their logic and many logical leaps to make the whole thing hang together. (This theory was the basis, of course, for Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, so I wasn’t surprised the way so many of its readers were.)

I wound up not reading Tomato Red yesterday as I had originally planned, I did some light cleaning after I got home, and was, for some reason, really tired. I repaired to my easy chair and, feeling a little mentally fatigued, watched some television before deciding to look for something to watch, finally settling on a rewatch of Batman v. Superman. I enjoyed the movie the first time I saw it, in the theater, but I also liked Man of Steel, which seems to be a minority position. While I grew up a fan of comic books, and have gone back to them at various times in my adulthood, I am also not a fanatic, and I am always interested in seeing the characters I grew up with taken in new directions. I also love Henry Cavill; have since The Tudors, and enjoy seeing him. I also like Amy Adams’ take on Lois Lane, and found Ben Affleck to be less offensive as Batman as I feared he would be. The movie is grim, of course, a bit grim for a Superman movie; Superman the character was always about hope, and there was little to none of that in this film (Wonder Woman, on the other hand, is all about heroism and hope; which is why it resonated so much more than this one did–and I am hoping that DC Films take the hint and go more in this direction in the future).

So, what am I up to today? Well, in a moment I am going to take the recycling out, and then I am going to make another cup of coffee and repair to my easy chair so I can finish reading Tomato Red and a Faulkner short story I started reading yesterday (Faulkner wrote some mystery short stories; collected in a book called Knight’s Gambit, that I’ve always meant to read; Tomato Red has inspired me to dip back into the Southern Gothic well). Once I am finished with these, I am going to come back to my desk and finish writing the first draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” and (maybe) another rewrite of “Death and the Handmaidens,” which I’ve actually renamed “This Thing of Darkness.” This, by the way, is a complete rewrite; I am retaining some of the characters, but changing everything about the story outside of the shell–a hotel bar, a gathering of people who don’t see each other frequently, and a murder victim that everyone would like to see dead. I think the reason the story never worked was the details I filled into that framework didn’t work, and I know I didn’t delve deeply enough into the main character and who she was. The revision idea I have is pretty good, I think, so I am going to try that. I also have another story I’d like to revise, called “Cold Beer No Flies”, that I think could be really good.

And so, Constant Reader, it is time for me to depart. Here is a lovely shot of one Henry Cavill, to get your day off to a nice start.

 

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You Won’t See Me

Wednesday after the holiday, and it’s back to the office with me today. I suppose it’s kind of apropos that my first day back at work is a twelve hour day; office testing then main  office testing then bar testing at the Pub. But it’s also a short work week, I am extremely well rested, and I should be able to hang. I finished the revisions yesterday and am going to let them sit for a few days, and I’ll get back to the final read and polish this weekend. I still think there’s some more work needing to be done, in addition to the trimming. The manuscript now sits at about 101,000 words, and that’s not only my longest manuscript ever but it’s probably too long for a manuscript that will be marketed as y/a. I also started writing a new short story over the course of this weekend, and worked out how to fix some others that are either already in progress or in need of revision, which is absolutely lovely. I think as I let the manuscript settle, I am going to work on my short stories as well as start planning out the next book. My plan for the summer was to be finished with this one by the end of June so I could spend July and August working on the next Scotty and planning out the book to follow that one, so I may be a week or so behind. In any case, I feel very good about where I am sitting right now and I am not going to beat myself up over not staying on schedule.

This doesn’t mean, of course, that I am not going to try like hell to get back on schedule.

The Lost Apartment is also clean; there’s a little touching up here and there–mostly upstairs, which is not my responsibility–that needs to be done, but other than that everything is sparkling and clean and neat and tidy. I wonder how long it can stay that way? Paul is returning on Saturday night; my hope is that I can do all the shopping I’ll need to do, preparatory for his return, either tomorrow morning before work or Friday morning before work. As Saturday is my last full day without him here, I am hoping to go over the manuscript that day for the last time, and then figure out what agents to send it to. I’ve not tried to land an agent in over twelve years; so I have to steel myself for the rejections. I also need to update my CV, which is always hopelessly out of date, which also means I need to go back and figure out when I published what. Heavy heaving sigh. Ah, well. I also want to get back to reading; I was so busy focusing on the manuscript that my mind was too tired when I was finished working to do any reading. I finished bingeing Scream yesterday, which was quite fun, and then I watched Cabaret again on my TCM app; La Bare, a documentary by Joe Manganiello about a male strip club in Dallas; and a documentary about a once-promising college football player whose career kind of imploded for a variety of reasons, The Identity Theft of Mitch Mustain, which was very well done (and also got me looking forward to college football season again).

So, I suppose I should get ready for work and make a to-do list for the next few days to make sure I don’t miss anything.

And here’s a hunk to get your week off to a nice start, the always delightful Chris Evans:

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I Just Fall in Love Again

Monday, and I have the day off. This is day three of my four-day weekend, and it feels lovely. I feel incredibly rested, and I even woke up early this morning–earlier than I have the last two days, at any rate–and so clearly, the chamomile tea last night was enormously helpful in getting me to sleep.

I finished cleaning the downstairs yesterday, and today I will be tackling the upstairs. There’s only so much I can do upstairs without rearranging or moving things, and I am not sure how well that will go over once Paul returns, so instead I am going to just clean and organize and perhaps empty out drawers and so forth before tackling the floors. I’ve done absolutely nothing as far as working on the revisions are concerned, but I am going to do that today. Yesterday I repaired to my easy chair and finished watching season one of MTV’s Scream. I’m not really sure why Paul and I stopped watching; I do know at the time the MTV app on Apple TV was kind of wonky, and for some reason we didn’t care very much for the characters. But picking up on it last night, I found myself really enjoying going for the ride. Maybe it’s because we were watching them as they aired originally? Maybe Scream works better as a binge? I’m not sure one way or the other, but I do know that I’ll have it on while I am cleaning the upstairs. And I still have yet another day off! How wonderful is that?

I did make some notes on some ideas I have for short stories in progress yesterday while I was watching Scream; I also watched a documentary on HBO about the Children of God religious cult; apparently there’s a completely different documentary on Netflix about this cult, focusing on different victims. Who knew? But watching gave me the idea for a story (of course) so I scribbled down some notes on it as well. I have yet to get back to Tomato Red, but I will probably do that today; taking an hour to revise than an hour to read, giving up on both around five, at which point I will repair upstairs and start cleaning while watching Season 2 of Scream. 

I’d hoped to get more reading done this weekend, but hey, there’s only so much time, right?

Before going to bed every night I’ve been rereading an old favorite, The Secret of Terror Castle. One of my favorite kids’ series was always The Three Investigators; although back when I was a child Alfred Hitchcock got star billing in the series, despite rarely appearing in the books themselves. The books were ‘introduced’ by Hitchcock, and there was always a final chapter where the boys met with Hitchcock, discussed the finer points of the case with him, and he asked some questions that weren’t necessarily explained in the narrative. This quite naturally caused problems when Hitchcock died; they replaced him with a fictional author, and by the time several books with this author character were published, I had aged out of the series and moved on to other reading material. I think they even replaced the writer with someone else even later, and I would imagine they had to redo the first books that had Hitchcock, since they were now dated. But The Secret of Terror Castle is even more dated than one would think; it was predicated on the idea that a silent film star’s manager and business partner would still not only be alive, but young enough to be physically active and not seem ancient to three thirteen-year-old boys. Since the silent film era was phased out in the early 1930’s–even being generous and saying it lasted until 1932 would mean that it was eighty-five years ago, and anyone old enough to be a business manager in 1932 would be well over one hundred now! The books are out of print now, and hard to find–again, my childhood collecting days has a nest-egg of sorts in my kids’ series books, which I could always sell on eBay should I ever need cash.

But as I’ve been rereading The Secret of Terror Castle these last few nights–a chapter or two per night, as I am falling asleep–I am again struck by how well-written and well-plotted the books are. The Three Investigators–originally the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series, then Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, finally just The Three Investigators–were each individuals, developed and well-rounded, never acting out of character–and there was also a strong sense of continuity throughout the entire series (I’ve never finished reading the series; when it stopped being hardcover and went to paperback originals, I stopped; the writing in the later books wasn’t as tight and the plots not as well thought out, or I was older–but rereading the books as an older man who also happens to be a mystery writer, The Secret of Terror Castle is certainly holding up); there weren’t the continuity mistakes that riddled, say, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Dana Girls–which had everything to do with transitions from original text to revisions. The Three Investigators always had to solve a mystery; following clues that often took them from a basic case–a search for a missing parrot, for example, that led them to an entire series of parrots, all trained to speak a single clue. All the clues had to be put together, and then their meaning figured out; so a lost treasure could be found (this was The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot), and I’ve always loved treasure hunts. Often times, the keys to solving the mystery lie in the boys’ abilities to observe things that they didn’t think about at the time, but later didn’t make sense–a little boy’s gold tooth led to the solution of The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure, for example–but again, the problem with the series later was getting past the death of Hitchcock, and the books becoming a little dated with changes in technology and so forth. Even when I first read The Secret of Terror Castle, when I was about twelve, it couldn’t really be current because, as mentioned before, the manager would have been borderline too old–at least older than he appeared to be in the text.

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I picked the book up again, really, because I watched Truffaut Hitchcock, a short documentary on HBO the other night about the famous week-long interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock about every film in his long career, his direction of them, and his vision for each film. These interviews became a book, and a very influential one, according to some of the directors in the documentary who talked about reading it and being influenced by it when they were young–including Scorsese, Bogdonavich, and Fincher. I’ve also been thinking about how, when I was a kid, there were all these anthologies with Hitchcock’s name on them–Alfred Hitchcock Presents Tales to Terrify You, that sort of thing. Hitchcock of course simply had licensed his name for these books–like he had with The Three Investigators–and of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which still exists today. (I imagine those anthologies were stories collected from the magazine.) Getting a story into AHMM is on my bucket list…and of course, I’ve never submitted anything to them. As this year is ‘cross things off my bucket list’ year, I’m going to submit something to them–one of these stories I am working on hopefully; if not, maybe something new I haven’t started working on yet. The documentary is quite good, by the way–I highly recommend it. Listening to Truffaut and Hitchcock discuss movie-making–story telling–can also be useful to writers.

Man, would I love to reboot The Three Investigators! When I was a kid, I wanted to write one, or a Hardy Boys, or a Nancy Drew. I also wanted to write my own kids’ mystery series. Maybe I should put those on the bucket list?

And now, it’s back to to the spice mines.

You Ain’t Seen Nothing Yet

Wednesday, and another late night of bar testing. But there is a three day weekend looming, which is an absolutely lovely thought. I do want to get quite a bit finished by Tuesday; I’ve been lazy and lethargic lately–I’ve been sleeping so deeply and well that I remain groggy throughout the next day, which is quite odd and is taking some adjusting. I am still reading The Sympathizer, which is extraordinary, and we are watching a rather frustrating true-crime documentary on Netflix, The Keepers. (It’s enjoyable, but I’m getting a very strong sense of documentarian manipulation; there are some fairly obvious questions no one is asking, and there are only two episodes left; which means it is either entirely possible those questions may not ever be asked–which is unforgivable in a criminal ‘investigation’–and if they are not asked until the last two episodes, well, it’s audience manipulation to stretch it out as long as possible. Either way, #epicfail.)

I am also enjoying American Gods. It’s been years since I read the book–which I remember enjoying, but none of the details; I do remember the over-all concept of the book, which the show is illustrating very nicely. I probably won’t reread the book–my TBR pile is still absolutely insane, and I feel completely defeated every time I see it, considering it’s most of the living room AND the laundry room–but I do want to reread Good Omens, which I think IS getting filmed as well. I read it a million years ago, and all I remember about it was that it was about the Apocalypse yet was hysterically funny. I am also enjoying my current non-fiction read, The Affair of the Poisons, which is giving me such a clear picture of what life was like at the French court in the seventeenth century that I may even be able to begin sketching out the plot/structure of a secret project I’ve been wanting to write for over twelve years.

I’m also getting a much clearer picture of how to write/restructure Crescent City Charade–walking away from it to work on the secret project was probably the smartest thing I could have ever done; the book is becoming much clearer in my head, and I think it’s going to be maybe one of the funniest and best Scottys ever. Once I get finished with the revision of the secret project, I am going to be able to dive head-first into the Scotty, and am betting I’ll be able to get through it rather quickly (always a plus). I have another book I want to write this year, so am thinking if I can get the secret project revised/rewritten by the end of June, I can spend the summer doing the Scotty and can spend the fall writing the other book, Muscles, which will be my first straight-up noir.

I am itching to get started on it…but time. Patience, Gregalicious, patience.

Okay, I need to get my errands done and some clean-up work around the house as well.

Here’s a Hump Day Hunk for you.

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Vogue

I finally watched Strike a Pose,  the documentary which takes a look at where the dancers from Madonna’s “Blonde Ambition” tour wound up, and what happened to them. That tour was also documented in another documentary, Truth or Dare, which was also extremely controversial at the time of its release.

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It was ironic, as I reflected on watching Strike a Pose and how it affected me; what it made me think, and what I wanted to say about it on here, that I checked Twitter and saw a tweet from one of my friends:

A gentle reminder that using “it’s so much better than it was” when queerfolk are talking about their daily life is a dick move, “allies.”

The Blond Ambition tour was in support of Madonna’s fourth album, Like a Prayer (which is one of my favorite albums of hers; I’ve never tired of the title song or the second single, “Express Yourself”), which was enormously controversial when it was released…of course, back then almost everything about Madonna was controversial. She’d signed a mega-million endorsement deal with Pepsi, which was also geared to promote the album. When the video for “Like a Prayer” was released, people got up in arms about it and Pepsi cancelled the endorsement deal–Madonna’s “Like a Prayer” Pepsi commercial never aired–which only got her more publicity. (In an aside, I’ve never understood the issues with the “Like a Prayer” video; it was all about racism, and finding the strength through prayer to stand up to it–but everyone, as usual, got caught up in images from it without the proper context.)

I didn’t go see Truth or Dare in the theater; I rented it from Blockbuster when it came out on video. I had an enormous crush on the dancer Salim–he was just so handsome in the “Vogue” video–and as a Madonna fan, I was curious to see what it was like backstage on one of these massive tours. I was also–and remain–grateful to Madonna for all she did for the LGBT community, as well as bringing attention to HIV/AIDS, and being one of the first celebrities to do so. It was quite an unusual experience to see all these gay men in the film, so openly and brazenly gay and unashamed and just being themselves. The 1980’s was an incredibly difficult decade for me, personally–I’ve still not unpacked my twenties completely, maybe I never will–and the 1990’s didn’t start off much better for me. But at the time I watched Truth or Dare I had already started down a path to make a better life for myself, coming to terms with myself and who I was, and who I wanted to become, the kind of life I wanted. So the documentary resonated for me a bit; these were gay men who’d followed their dreams, and despite everything, despite all the hate and homophobia and prejudice and bigotry, made those dreams came true.

That was kind of aspirational, if not inspirational.

Seeing where the dancers ended up afterwards, some twenty-five years or so later, in Strike a Pose was kind of sad in some ways, but good in others. Being a ‘Madonna dancer’ was both a blessing in some ways and a curse in others, but they all seem to be doing well now, and it was fun seeing them all together–the ones who are left; one died from AIDS complications–again; it was also painful to listen, and see, them talking about their own personal struggles with HIV, the stigma and the shame–another legacy from that time.

Recently I was given the opportunity to talk to a retirement specialist, to help me come up with a plan for my retirement, and she was a little nonplussed about how “unprepared” I was for my looming retirement. “You should have started in your twenties,” she gently chided me.

I replied, “When I was in my twenties I thought I would be dead before I was forty.”

My reply made her feel uncomfortable, and bad–which wasn’t my intent. I knew she wasn’t being insensitive…but I wasn’t trying to make her feel bad, either. I was merely stating the truth, awful as it might seem now.

We all thought–no, believed, we were going to die young.

So, yes, it is very true that things aren’t as bad as they used to be, that things have gotten better in our society and in our world and in our culture.

But for fuck’s sake, that’s a pretty goddamned low bar–and progress doesn’t mean we’ve overcome everything, either.

Now I’d like to see Truth or Dare again. Strike a Pose struck a chord in me, obviously, and I do think it’s an important film…I’m glad I saw it.

NOTE: The Blond Ambition tour was also supporting Madonna’s album I’m Breathless: Music from and Inspired by the Motion Picture Dick Tracy. It was that album that contained “Vogue,” which is a timeless classic.