Mandolin Rain

Thursday, aka Friday Eve, has arrived and I have a purring kitty interfering with my computer usage this morning before I go to the office. Which is fine; he usually doesn’t want to sit in my lap when I’m at the computer and he seems to be okay with that this morning, which is lovely.

It’s been a week for the publishing world, let me tell you, Constant Reader. I am not going to talk about any of that here; I have another blog entry I am working on, where I talk about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, which correlates with the crazy publishing week, so it’s best left to there.

Last night we watched perhaps the best episode of Castle Rock that has aired, either season, to date; as we learned about Annie Wilkes’ childhood and her relationship with her parents–and the two actors who played her mother and father were astonishingly good. It was riveting television, and I was truly sorry to see the episode end. It also seriously paid homage to Misery, and a lot of the things we are familiar with Annie saying were all learned from her parents. I know Castle Rock is theoretically set in an alternate universe to King’s novels, which enables them to use his characters, settings, and stories to create new versions–which is genius, really–and doing an entire season with Annie Wilkes as a younger woman was incredibly smart. Lizzy Kaplan is giving an Emmy worthy performance as young Annie, and watching this is making me want to reread Misery, which I still consider one of the best books of the last century.

Ironically, I wasn’t able to finish this entry yesterday; it’s the first blog day I’ve missed in quite a while. There’s been a lot of drama in two writing communities I belong to this week, and I’ve not been able to look away from either–one in particular I described to Paul as a slow-motion train wreck, and just when you think the last car has finally come off the tracks, here comes another train on the same line. Today, however, I am determined to ignore the train wreck as much as possible because I have too much to get done. I’ve not even been able to catch up on my emails, and the inbox just keeps filling up every damned day. So, today I am going to finish paying the bills, clean out my inbox, and do some goddamned writing. I’ll never finish this fucking book if I don’t focus, and I have some short stories that need to be reworked and revised and so forth as well.

Last night we watched the second-to-last episode of American Horror Story: 1984, and have just about decided that the only way one can watch a season of anything produced by Ryan Murphy is to simply not think about it, because once you start thinking about it you see all the holes in the plot and all the contrived behavior that makes no sense in terms of character–because the characters are only there to service the plot, which is the penultimate story-telling sin. But I can’t stop myself from watching–and somewhat enjoying–these shows. Some of the kids at work were streaming the Hotel season, which I’d stopped watching as it aired and never finished; and it seemed a bit more cohesive in a binge. I may go back and rewatch it, just to see if it works better as a binge show where you don’t have time to think about these things.

It certainly worked with The Politician.

I also want to finish reading The Ferguson Affair, which is making me think about some other issues with old works being read through the present-day lens (which also occurred with me reading The Hunter and, a few months back,  I the Jury)–and the age-old question of separating the artist from the art (not in Macdonald’s case; as far as I know he was never problematic, but the attitudes of the time, translated into fiction, are what I am talking about in this case–in particular, women and minorities and how they are represented on the pages of the book).

I am also slowly but surely making my way through Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and enjoying the trip immensely. New Orleans history–dark and bloody as it is–is endlessly fascinating, and I am always finding inspiration for more stories and books the more of it I read.

I’m not really sure how much I am going to get done this weekend–the emotional drains of the LSU-Alabama game on Saturday, followed by the Saints-Falcons game on Sunday–is probably going to be prohibitive of doing any writing–unless I do it in the mornings–all weekend. So, mostly reading will be on the agenda this weekend, methinks.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I don’t have to head into the office until around noonish, so I have this morning free to write and answer emails and put away dishes and…sigh. I’m getting tired just thinking about it, so I better just do it.

Til tomorrow, Constant Reader.

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Jacob’s Ladder

Tuesday morning and all is fine…at least so far.

I managed to finish the reread/outline of Bury Me in Shadows last night, which is very cool, and as I said the other day, it doesn’t need nearly as much work as I thought it did–which, given how it was written in fits and starts over the period of a few months, I figured there would be tons of repetition. As it is, I did repeat something–the first time my main character, Jake, was ever called a gay slur–about three or four times. Obviously, I only need to have that in there once.

What’s funny about it, though, is that each instance is based on a different time it happened to me when I was a kid–and I managed to remember four different times. Who knows how many others I can remember? Ah, the joys of being a queer kid in America back in the day.

But the book is, as I said, in much better shape than I remembered or thought, and so it’s not going to be as much work to finish it as I thought. Don’t get me wrong–it’s still going to be a lengthy slog, it’s just not going to take me as a long to finish this final edit than I thought it might. It’s still entirely possible that I could have it finished and ready to go sometime next week, which would be really lovely. One can certainly hope, at least.

I’ve managed to sleep well both nights so far this week–I didn’t even feel tired yesterday until after I got home from the office. I somehow managed to make it through an entire twelve-hour day without feeling exhausted or worn out. On the other hand, we were also pretty slow yesterday; perhaps not having client after client after client made the difference.

We finished watching Big Mouth last night, which is easily one of the funniest things on television right now, and will now slide back into watching our other shows each evening, trying to get caught up on them all. A plethora of riches for us to choose from, and we still have only watched the first episode of the first season of Succession, so there’s also that.

I’m not as energetic this morning as I was yesterday; but that’s probably par for the course. I may not have been as worn out as I usually am on Monday evening last night, but it was still a twelve hour day, and today is probably a vestigial hangover from that. That doesn’t bode well for the day, but I”m hoping it’s just a slow waking up morning type of thing. I’ve still got so much to do it’s not even funny. Motivation is the primary problem I am having this morning, and my coffee doesn’t seem to be working the way I generally expect/need it to. Oh, wait–there it is. Hello, caffeine!

There was a cold front that came through last night so today is supposedly going to be cooler than it has been–sad that temperatures in the mid-80’s is “cooler than it has been,” but that’s life down here in the swamp. This summer has certainly lasted longer than any have seemed to before, but that could also just be my own faulty memory. My memories are questionable, it seems. That’s why people who can write their own memoirs or autobiographies amaze me so much–how do you remember all of that? There are so many gaps in my memories, and memories that are simply flat out wrong; for example, I would have sworn on a Bible and testified to it in court that we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs in the winter of 1969, which is incorrect. We moved in the winter of 1971, two years later; I was ten years old and in the sixth grade. I knew I was ten when we moved, and yet somehow I always managed to convince myself we moved in 1969. Why or how or when that year became fixated in my brain as the year we moved is beyond me; I’ve always been able to remember the year we moved to Kansas because it was the summer before my junior year. I graduated in 1978, so we had to have moved to Kansas in 1976. It was also the Olympic year–Montreal–and the same Olympics where Nadia Comenici started throwing perfect 10’s in the gymnastics competition.

Why have I been thinking about the past so much lately? I’m not sure. Maybe because Bury Me in Shadows is set in a fictional county that is based on the county where my family is from, so I’ve been drawing on childhood memories to construct a fictional place based in reality from my past. It’s strange to look at Google Earth renderings of where we’re from, and see that my memories are, in fact, incorrect; but in fairness I never drove anywhere in Alabama. I was always a passenger, and I think driving cements directions and so forth in your mind–when you’re just riding in the car you don’t pay as much attention as you would if you were driving. I’m also writing “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is set in New Orleans in 1994, so I’m having to delve into my memories of visiting here and remembering what the city was like then. It does seem different now than it was then–certainly the city has changed since that first visit all those years ago, when I first explored the gay bars and the Quarter and fell in love with New Orleans; part of the reason I am writing the story and setting it in that time is to write about, and preserve in fiction, my memories of the city back then and what it was like. I’m also glad I decided to turn it into a novella–I may do a book of four novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Full Dark No Stars–which would be kind of a departure for me. I already have “Never Kiss a Stranger” in progress, and there’s also “Fireflies,” and perhaps I have two other stories on hand that could easily be adapted into longer novellas….often the problem I have with writing short stories is the word counts; some stories struggle to come in under 6000 words.

Which, now that I think about it, could easily make “Once a Tiger” and “Please Die Soon” and perhaps even “Death and the Handmaidens” work; simply make them longer and that will probably solve the issues with all three stories.

An interesting and intriguing thought.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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Walk Like an Egyptian

And just like that, it is now Friday. I’m still not entirely certain of everything I must get done this weekend, but at some point today I am going to have to make a list. I know I have to finish my essay, get further along on that short story I have due at the end of the month, and get some work done on another that isn’t due until March, but I want to start playing with.

Last night was another bad night as far as sleep was concerned, but I do feel somewhat rested today. My friend Lisa from Atlanta is in town, and I am meeting her after work today to hang out for a bit. My schedule has changed from early morning to early afternoon, which is always my preference–I’d rather never do any early mornings, quite frankly–and I am hoping this morning’s coffee will not only fuel me through this entire day of work but get me through hanging out with Lisa with some coherence. I have a lot of work to do this weekend–one of the many things I’ve allowed to fall to the wayside whilst working on this enormous volunteer project is housework, other than the dishes and laundry–and I really need to get that under control. The weather is still pretty awful here, although it’s getting to the point where it’s cool in the morning and cool in the evenings, which is a sign the heat’s going to break relatively soon.

It’s also Friday the 13th, which I just realized, and there’s a full moon tonight, methinks.

I’ve been reading Lords of Misrule by James Gill, as I have mentioned previously, and it’s really quite eye-opening. It’s funny to me in some ways because all of my reading of New Orleans history this and last year has shown me that New Orleans has always been a rather lawless city, with high rates of brawls, murders and robberies; I am sure rape rates have always been high but never reported back in those days. The history of the city can essentially be summed up in the theme I am using for Bury Me in Shadows: “The history of this city was written in blood.” It shames me that I’ve not studied the history of my home city and state in more detail, and that it has taken me this long to start. I’m going to be writing a historical short story soon–I’ve been asked to write one for an anthology, and I am setting it in 1913-1914 era New Orleans, in Storyville, and I think it will be incredibly fun to write, and I know it will be incredibly fun to research. I really do want to, at some point, write more historical fiction set in New Orleans; the history here is fascinating, if a little frightening–the white supremacy and racism is particularly horrible for such a seemingly tolerant city; but we also have to remember the horribly homophobic reaction of most of the city when the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in the French Quarter, was set ablaze in the worst mass murder of queer people in American history until the Pulse massacre in Orlando a few years back. (I really can’t wait to read Robert Fieseler’s Edgar winning Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Upstairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.)

Anyway, I am at the chapter in Lords of Misrule called “The Battle of Liberty Place,” and I am already dreading reading it in some ways. I know a little about this; all I really need say is it involves a mob of white supremacists and it happened in 1874, during Reconstruction while the state was occupied after the Civil War and…I don’t really need to draw a picture, do I? The Battle of Liberty Place monument was one of the Confederate memorials in the city that were taken down during Mitch Landrieu’s administration, and while I believe they all had to go (I was truly tired of saying to visitors I was showing around, “and here we are at politically incorrect Lee Circle, which memorializes treason”), the Liberty Place monument in particular was a disgrace to a modern city. (I had considered doing a Scotty book around the memorials and their removal, but decided ultimately against it. I don’t like the Scotty books to be fixed in time; there are times when I’ve regretted writing about the Saints winning the Super Bowl) I don’t consider myself to be particularly “woke”, but I do recognize I’ve benefited from privilege most of my life, and while being gay has resulted in some marginalization, I’m still a cisgendered white male, which in this society and culture puts me on third base already.

I can always do better when it comes to issues of race, gender, and sexuality–and it’s something I think about every day at least once. I strive to be a better ally than I am. It really is amazing, when you think about it, how indoctrinated we all are into this shit.

And the history is absolutely horrifying–and it’s disgraceful how it’s been sanitized into mythology.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, aren’t they? Sheesh. But it’s hard not to read about  angry mobs murdering people they’ve othered, and not be appalled by it. I haven’t even gotten to the xenophobic massacre of Italians in the 1890’s yet.

Yes, New Orleans is a city with a history that drips blood; a city of massive contradictions, and it’s not hard to believe that the city’s history haunts it. And yet it is still a magical place, where all that pain and blood and suffering has been somehow transmuted into gold through art and music and literature. The city will probably never stop fascinating me, and I will undoubtedly spend the rest of my life studying it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. One of the things that is completely out of control is my inbox; I’ve got to do something about that this morning.

Heavy sigh.

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Superfly

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Thursday.

I slept rather well last night, which was lovely, and today is one of my short days, which is equally lovely. I made some terrific progress yesterday on Major Project, not so much on the WIP but it’s okay. I’ve made peace with the fact I can’t work as hard in as short a period of time as I used to, and I feel confident that once Major Project is out of the way, I can make some more progress on everything else I need to get done.

I still have short stories I need to write, as well as an essay, and am hopeful that between today and tomorrow and this weekend–plus the long birthday weekend i am treating myself to next week–will give me the time to get all the things done that I want to get done. I haven’t had time to do much reading this week, but I need to get moving on S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer so I can dive into Laura Lippman’s new Lady in the Lake, which is getting raves everywhere. Again, hopefully, that will come to pass this weekend, and what a lovely birthday gift for myself to spend my birthday long weekend curled up with the new Lippman?

Life rarely gets better than that, seriously.

We finished watching Years and Years last night, and it remained interesting all the way until the end–even if the death of my favorite character kind of cost me some of my emotional investment in the show. I was quite critical of this character death yesterday, yet still held out some hope that the death wasn’t really exploitative and would make sense in the over-all story, once it was finished; you know, the sense that it wasn’t done simply to advance the story and motivate characters to the actions that would move the story to its inevitable end. I think it could have gotten to that inevitable end without this character’s death, frankly, and so it remains another sad example of show business’ favorite gay trope, bury your gays.

Overall, despite this disappointment, I did enjoy the show…although not as much as I did before bury your gays reared its ugly head.

But I am now in the short part of my work week, the two half-days that help me ease my way into my weekend. When I get home from the office late this afternoon, I can do some straightening and cleaning and I can also get back to work on Major Project, or the WIP. Tomorrow I also get off relatively early–one in the afternoon–and it has occurred to me that I could just run to make groceries then and get the mail, negating the need to leave the house over the weekend (running those errands always seems to throw me off every weekend but I need to be more disciplined anyway; soon enough Saturdays will be all about college football and Sunday will be Saints games, so my weekend productivity is about to go into a severe decline (I often read and/or edit while I am watching football games that are neither LSU nor the Saints, so there’s that), so it’s crucial that I start getting things done throughout the rest of this month. I’d like to get all these little things done this month so I can focus in September more clearly on JUST ONE THING for a change.

I’ve slowly been coming to a conclusion about my career, and I actually said it out loud to my friend Laura at lunch on Tuesday, which made it more real, and having said it out loud, it resonated inside my head and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Simply put, I don’t think I’m going to write much more young adult fiction, or novels that could be classified that way. Watching y/a Twitter has been horrifying, and that entire world just–yeah, no thank you. I had always wanted to write books for teenagers, going back to discovering Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine and Jay Bennett back in the early 1990’s (Jay Bennett was amazing, absolutely amazing), and it was never about trying to make a lot of money or anything (despite being accused of that any number of times), but simply stories about teens that I wanted to tell. Currently, I have three novels in some sort of progress centering teenagers; I am going to get them finished and then I am going to leave y/a behind (I still have two good ideas for y/a books; I may eventually write them, or I may not).

I’ve been reassessing my career a lot lately–I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should write something more mainstream, so I could make more money….because I would then have so much money I wouldn’t need to write anything at all. There are stories I want to tell–I have ideas coming to me all the time–but I am never going to stop writing stories centering gay men. I’m just not wired that way. I may write things that are more mainstream–a lot of my short fiction isn’t about gay men–but i am never going to stop writing gay stories. I’m just not going to, nor should I have to, and while I understand the good intentions behind people telling me to write something more commercial, I can’t help but wonder if people say that to other minority writers?

I kind of doubt it.

But now I need to get ready to face my day, so it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have an absolutely lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow.

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I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Keep on Truckin’

Sitting here in the Lost Apartment waiting for Barry’s rain to arrive. It’s eerily quiet outside right now–very little wind, and that weird pre-storm light that indicates something big is coming; I don’t think what’s going to happen here is nearly as bad as anyone predicted or warned about. Even as I type these words I just got the notification that Barry had reached the coastline of central Louisiana; it’s still calm and peaceful here.

Here’s hoping it stays that way.

Thursday night Paul didn’t get home until late; he was working on a grant due Friday–which they proceeded to extend the deadline because of the storm for a week, but didn’t send the email out until almost nine pm, but as I said, hey, at least it’s done and you don’t have to worry about it anymore–so I found myself watching things Paul won’t watch, to pass the time. I watched another episode of The Last Czars, which only served to lessen my sympathy for the last Romanovs even further (I also hate the third part of the story, which is the whole Anna Anderson/Anastasia nonsense, discredited at long last when DNA proved she wasn’t a Romanov), and then I started watching HBO’s Band of Brothers, which I’ve always wanted to watch on some levels–World War II has always been an interesting, if heavily mythologized, time in American history to me–and I really enjoyed it. It’s hard for me, even now, to imagine what that must have been like for the rank-and-file soldiery: the farm boys and the accountants, the garage mechanics and the shepherds, the fishermen and factory workers, many of whom had never traveled far from where they grew up, being sent to faraway and exotic (to them) locales, and having to go through the horror of full scale war. World War II was many things, but the world completely changed through the course of the war, and it was, indeed, the war that also exposed the inequities and inequalities of our own country and its systems. The military was segregated; any question of equality for people of color were shunted to the side or ignored for the “common good”, this despite the fact that they were all working just as hard for an American victory as the white people.

I’ve always felt the experience of the war was what eventually led to the civil rights movement, the women’s liberation/feminism movement, and the slow rise of the gay rights movement; which all came to a head in the 1960’s. Band of Brothers, well written, well cast, and well acted, depicts the segregation of the military in a way that is kind of sly–the entire cast is white people. That, of course, wasn’t the intent of the show in any way, shape or form; it was made at a time when all-white casts were pretty much the norm–and it’s sad how recent that time still is. But it is historically accurate; the military was segregated, and the perpetuation of this systemic racism came from high up in the command because there was a fear of how racist white people would react.

As always, the feelings of white people were paramount. I mean, how very dare the Pentagon force white people to serve with non-white people? 

Ugh.

I watched another episode yesterday, and then switched to another Hanks-Spielberg HBO series, The Pacific, which, obviously, is about the Pacific theater of the war, focusing on the Marine Corp First Division, which won the Battle of Guadalcanal against overwhelming odds. The Pacific is better, I think, than Band of Brothers, but there’s also a weirdly compelling plot line about two best friends from Alabama that I am reading as gay but probably isn’t. One of the best takeaways I am getting from both these series is, interestingly enough, again about the toxic American ideology of masculinity; seeing these men bonding through hellish circumstances and what they go through, and then being completely unable to express their love for one another–even if its just the love from friendship, not romantic–physically or verbally is heartbreaking.

There are times whenI just want them to embrace and hold each other…or to allow themselves to cry…but they always catch themselves and just give each other a firm handshake. This makes me think more about writing some essays about the American masculine ideal…but then think, Oh I am sure other people, more qualified than me, surely, have already explored all of this.

I’ve been having a lovely time on Twitter lately. Twitter is so associated in my mind with toxicity and trolling that it always comes as a pleasant surprise when I actually enjoy myself on there. But it’s a pleasant reminder of the social part of social media; remember when it used to be fun to go on social media? When the biggest complaints were joking about cat videos or dog memes or people’s meal pictures? So, going forward, I am going to try to make my Twitter feed as fun as possible, and encourage fun interactions.

And on that note, I think I best finish this off and do some chores around here while we still have power. I hope hope hope we don’t lose power…but it’s also rather lovely that losing power is right now the worst thing that I think may happen to us here in the Lost Apartment. I moved my car yesterday to an elevated parking garage to get it off the street in case of a repeat of Wednesday; will definitely check in later.

Happy Saturday, all.

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