Cool Change

Saturday morning and I slept late, which felt positively marvelous. I feel rested and ready to kick some ass and take some names–at least for now, at any rate. Paul is going to be out of the house most of the day–appointments and going to the office–and therefore I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day and no excuse not to get a lot of things done. I am still planning on walking over to the AT&T store to replace my phone–who knows how that is going to go?–but other than that, my day is pretty much set for cleaning, revising, and reading.

Last night, we started watching the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic series–and while I didn’t madly love it, I am curious enough to continue watching. For one thing, it has both Ellen Page and Tom Hopper (who I’ve been crushing madly on since his days as Billy Bones on Black Sails), and it has an interesting premise. We will be continuing with it tonight, I think. I had just started reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long when Paul got home last night, and then was distracted by getting caught up on How to Get Away with Murder and then The Umbrella Academy.

And I’ve been dealing with yet another Apple upgrade issue that has fucked with my desktop, laptop, phone and iPad since last night. Now the cloud drive is missing from both my desktop and my laptop (I managed to resolve the handheld device issues last night) and so am trying to get that resolved this morning. Seriously, Apple–when you update/upgrade your systems, is it absolutely necessary to fuck up everything for your customers? 

Seriously, Apple. Do better.

So I am trying to resolve all this before scheduling a call from Apple Support…which I also don’t understand; you used to be able to do this in an on-line chat, but now of course they make you take a phone call. Why, precisely? And how able-ist is this? What about those of us who are hard of hearing, or those who are deaf? Seriously, fuck you in the ass without lubrication, Apple. HARD.

Thank you for allowing me to vent about these issues, Constant Reader. It’s helping me reduce the future body count.

This week I got a copy of Kyle Onstott’s bestselling Mandingo from the 1950’s. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify not only my fiction reading but to learn more about the horrible history of race in North America. Part of this has taking an amorphous shape in my head around a lengthy essay, tracing revisionism of slavery and the Old South and civil rights from such novels as The Clansman (which was filmed as Birth of a Nation) to Gone with the Wind to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Klansman, which I recently reread. As I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for something to watch the other night, I came across the late 1970’s film Mandingo, and remembered that it was also a novel. I bought a copy from eBay which arrived this week (I wasn’t able to get far in the movie because it was just incredibly bad; not even campy bad, like Showgirls, just bad.) The book arrived this week and….just looking at the note from the publisher in the beginning was horrifying. Yet Mandingo might just be the only novel about slavery and the Old South that actually tears the veneer of respectability and gentility away and exposes the true horror of what the “peculiar institution” was actually like. (Even John Jakes’ dreadful North and South series never delved deeply into the actual horrors; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was one of the first novels to truly explore this that I’ve read.) Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, set in New Orleans before the Civil War, also does a terrific job of exploring how deeply entrenched and horrible racism/slavery were.

This essay I am thinking about would probably wind up, should I ever have the time to read the books and write it (it would, for example, require a reread of Gone with the Wind and it’s over eleven hundred pages, as well as some in depth reading of actual history) would probably be a part of Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life…which is a project I really do want to work on someday.  Mandingo takes on an aspect of slavery and the South that is rarely, if ever, touched on in fictions: the sexual abuse of the female slaves by their masters (come on, like it never happened. Really?) as well as the breeding of actual slaves for better, more valuable stock, as well as raising them for fighting–kind of a human version of cock-fighting or dog-fighting. Is it more likely that never happened, or that it did? Slavery, as Harriet Beecher Stowe repeatedly explained in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, debases both slave and master; are we really supposed to believe that slave-owners didn’t abuse their ‘property’?

Given how people of color–theoretically free and equal in the eyes of the law in the twenty-first century–are treated in the present day, I’m not buying the notion of the kind, gracious slave owner.

Take, for example, this passage from the Publisher’s Note to the movie tie-in paperback edition which I just received in the mail:

From today’s vantage point,, almost a hundred years after the cataclysm, the developing situation may be viewed objectively. Actually, the finger of blame should be pointed at no one geographical group of people. Although the factions that promoted the abolition of slavery were ethically in the right (emphasis: mine), Southern planters in general are shown to have been victims of circumstance rather than diabolical tyrants as they have sometimes been painted. (again, emphasis mine.)

Doesn’t get more apologetic than that, does it? Those poor planters. (massive eye roll)

And is it any wonder that we still have so many societal problems of racial injustice today?

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Pop Muzik

Friday, and a new month. Rabbit, rabbit, and all that, you know.

Or did I mess that up by typing something else first?

I’m so bad at these things.

Anyway, it is now February, and Carnival is just over the horizon. Parades literally start three weeks from today. #madness

I am taking vacation during most of the parade season; the new office is too far for me to walk to and from, so I decided to simply take vacation and actually enjoy parade season for a change. I should also be able to get a lot done during those days–kind of like a mini-staycation (although I loathe that not-a-word and can’t believe I still use it from time to time). I also can’t believe the first night of the parades is in three weeks. THREE WEEKS.

Of course, as Facebook seems to remind me on an almost daily basis, Carnival is late this year. Usually at this time parades are rolling and the city is full of tourists and I am exhausted from walking and working and going to parades. So, yes, Carnival is later this year than usual and yet somehow…it still snuck up on me? Go figure.

I finished reading The Klansman last night, but as I did some things occurred to me–namely, for a book about the Civil Rights struggle and racism in Alabama, there sure weren’t many characters that were people of color. Yes, a book about civil rights and racism placed the white people at the center of the story. Admittedly, the book wasn’t aimed at or written for people of color; the audience was white people…but I can’t see racist white people in the 1960’s reading the book and not being outraged by its “sympathetic” depictions of people of color. The book also sports the trope of the white savior–the “good white man” who stands up for the people of color and therefore becomes a target of the Klan.

There’s a really good essay–and one I might try to write–about the arc from The Clansman (the horribly offensive novel that Birth of a Nation was based on; it’s actually available for free from Google Books) to Gone with the Wind to The Klansman and how Southern people and authors rewrote history to not just romanticize and glorify the Southern Cause in the Civil War, but also the Ku Klux Klan; and how those narratives have changed perceptions not only of the war and racism, and the South itself. The Klansman is an attempt to reverse that trend, but to expose racism in the Jim Crow South not as something romantic and necessary, but as an evil on par with the original sin of slavery itself.

William Bradford Huie (who also wrote The Americanization of Emily, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, and The Execution of Private Slovik) deserves a lot of credit for writing this book, despite its flaws. He was born and raised in Alabama, and still lived there when he wrote and published this book–which couldn’t have earned him a lot of fans in the state. I’ve read any number of books by white people that have attempted to talk about the Civil Rights movement–and there are always these heroic white Southern people who stood up to the Klan and fought for the rights of people of color at great risk to themselves and to their families; as well as pushing the narrative that the real racists in the South were the working class and poor whites, while the middle and upper classes wrung their  hands with dismay but didn’t try to do anything. I think that narrative is false; white people aren’t the heroes of the Civil Rights movement by any means. And while class certainly played a huge part in Jim Crow and the codification of segregation and racism into law; I find it really hard to believe that more financially stable white Southern people weren’t racists. I first encountered the class discussion in David Halberstam’s The Fifties (which I do highly recommend); but while I do believe the class discussion has merit–and discussion of class/caste in America is way overdue–I don’t think it completely holds water, or holds up under close scrutiny.

Ironically, Jim Crow and codified racism is part of the reason the South lags so far behind the rest of the country economically.

We continue to ignore class in this country at our own peril, quite frankly.

I am going into the office early today to get my four hours out of the way, and then I am going to go run errands so hopefully I won’t have to leave the Lost Apartment this weekend. I hope to get all the cleaning and organizing done today, and then I am most likely going to either read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress or Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit, which I am picking up at the library today. I also am going to tackle some Stephen King short stories this weekend, rereading Skeleton Crew. I need to get back to work on both the Scotty book and the WIP this weekend; I also want to do some short story revisions so I can send some more stories out for submission. I also have some other projects in the beginning stages I’d like to organize and plan out.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines. Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader!

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Coward of the County

Thursday! Didn’t think we’d make it this far, did you, Constant Reader?

Yesterday was cold–not as cold as it is pretty much everywhere north of I-10–but today’s not so bad. Forecast to be in the fifties with a high of 61, the sun is out and the sky is blue and full of puffy white clouds. I only have to work a half-day today and tomorrow, so I’ll be sliding into the weekend relatively casually.

I finished proofing Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories last night, and now just have to fill out the corrections form to turn in. I also watched another episode of Titans, which introduced us to Jason Todd, aka Robin 2.0, and the show has done an excellent job of casting and writing this character. The young actor who plays him–I didn’t take the time to look up who he is–is pitch-perfect; even more so than the actor playing Dick Grayson. Titans is so well-done that DC Universe really needs to use it as a guide for any other super-hero team shows it might do; so much better than Legends of Tomorrow, which I was very excited about but lost interest in very quickly; I think I only watched two episodes.

I really do miss Agent Carter.

I also read more of The Klansman yesterday, and while it is still wince-inducing, it’s actually really good–or so I think. The horror of the racism and sexism of 1965 Alabama is incredibly difficult to read, but it is in-your-face, pull-no-punches honest….a lot more honest, frankly, than To Kill a Mockingbird, which I also read for the first time the same summer I read The Klansman. One of the things the author, William Bradford Huie (who was from Alabama and lived there) does really well is pull aside the pleasant mask most racists were and expose the ugliness underneath, while also showing their humanity; a humanity that exists despite their malignant beliefs and values.

Take, for example, this paragraph:

The Atoka Hospital was the most visited institution in Atoka County. This was because the people of the county were friendly. Each day the local radio station broadcast the names of the patients admitted the previous day, so whenever a person remained in the hospital for several days he could count on being visited by most of his relatives, many of his friends, even a few of his casual acquaintances. But this visiting was not interracial. Whites visited whites; Negroes visited Negroes. In the first twenty years of the hospital’s existence, from 1945 to 1965, no white man, unless he was a doctor or a policeman, visited a Negro patient. A few white women visited their Negro cooks. But certainly no white man ever visited a Negro girl. So when Breck Stancill, after hearing Dr. Parker’s report, visited the private room occupied by Loretta Sykes at 11:20 pm, he gained invidious distinction and caused ugly talk.

(aside: I am really glad the word negro has passed out of usage; as you can see from the above paragraph, it was commonly accepted in the 1960’s and was preferred to the n word and colored. Huie also used the n word liberally throughout the book, but it’s always used in dialogue by racist characters and never in the prose, unless the prose is going inside the character’s head.)

This is the kind of world that racists want us to return to; one where ‘whites’ are superior and separated (above) from other ‘races.’ This book is set in 1965 Alabama; and I was four years old at the time. This was the world I was born into, this existed and changed during the course of my lifetime. Huie perhaps does one of the best jobs I’ve ever read of writing about the reality of racism and segregation; and by humanizing his racists he makes them all the more horrible to contemplate; the three-dimensional monster is always more frightening than the one-dimensional.

I’ll probably finish reading the book tonight, since I get off work early, and I am taking voluminous notes…but probably won’t review the book until this weekend.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Too Hot

Tuesday and the world has gone mad.

Polar vortexes and wind chills around fifty below! New Orleans in a freeze warning with the possibility of snow! Madness, sheer madness.

Yesterday was a pretty good day, over all. It was so lovely, and I’m so happy, that Susanna Calkins was nominated for the Agatha Award for Best Short Story for her contribution to Florida Happens, “A Postcard for the Dead.” It’s an absolutely wonderful story, too, an I couldn’t be happier for Susanna, who was an absolute delight to work with and whom I finally met at Bouchercon in St. Petersburg this past year. One of the things I love about being a part of the mystery or crime writing community is how many truly wonderful people are also a part of it, which always makes Bouchercon a wonderful experience for me. I always see old friends, meet new people and make new friends, and I always have the best time. For someone who is used to hiding out in his apartment most of the time being antisocial, Bouchercon and the Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners weekend are seriously over-stimulating; I have a blast but when it’s all over I am drained and exhausted. Happy and still aglow, usually inspired to write, but drained and exhausted nonetheless. All of the Agatha nominees are terrific writers I admire; congrats to everyone.

I managed to proof read the first fifty pages of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories; remember talking the other day about much I hate reading my own work? What’s interesting–let’s face it, I find myself fascinating–is that I often find myself using the same phrase, or turn of phrase, in more than one short story; which is something I wouldn’t be aware of writing them at different times over the years, and I would never sit down and reread all my short stories all at once. I know that I have a tendency to write about men with black hair, tanned olive skin, and green eyes; dimples also show up often in male characters in my work (Colin in the Scotty series hits all that criteria, and so did Paul in the first two Chanse novels). I also write about my neighborhood, the Lower Garden District, a lot in my short stories (in the novels, Chanse and Paige live in this neighborhood; Scotty lives in the Quarter); in fact, two of the first five stories are set less than three blocks apart. I also tend to use similar names a lot–David is a particular favorite of mine to call my characters; I also use Gary and Tony a lot.

I probably should pay more attention to this than I do.

I also started reading  The Klansman on Sunday night; and it’s not an easy thing to read. I only read a single chapter, and it took me a while. I kept getting memories, memories of the time period the book is set in as well as the summer I read it; a hot, damp Alabama summer with no air conditioning. It’s interesting because that is the setting for the WIP, and so I kept putting the book down so I could scribble down some memories in my journal, things to use for the WIP should I ever get to the point where I can work on it again. What the book is about you can pretty much guess given the title, and it’s hard to read. I don’t remember much of the book; I remember reading it, and I do remember it making me think about the things the book talked about; thinking about them in a different way than I had before. I’ve remembered the book my entire life, but have never gone back and reread it; the copy I read wasn’t mine and I never thought to look for a copy whenever I haunted any bookstore. I’m interested in the period, and I am interested in the pop culture of the period; a short story I am currently working on, “Burning Crosses,” made me think of this book again–and of course, the Internet makes everything easy. I got a first edition hardcover from Ebay for less than five dollars, and my decision to read it again now, as part of the Diversity Project, is because I want to know if the book will make me think as much as it did when I was nine or ten….or if my own values and morality have changed enough from then that I won’t view it in the same way.

But…it’s difficult to read. Not that it isn’t well written; it’s too well-written, if you get what I mean.

And now, back to the spice mines. Stay warm, Constant Reader!

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No More Tears (Enough is Enough)

Good morning, and welcome to another cold January morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have some errands to run later today–later this morning, to be exact–and then I am spending the rest of the day holed up inside reading, cleaning, and probably watching figure skating on the television. We did watch the ladies’s final last night, which was quite fun, and am looking forward to seeing the competitions today. The European championships have also been going on this past week, so it’s all saved on Hulu for us to watch at our leisure. The Australian Open is also still happening–so much sport!–and so there’s that as well. I do want to finish reading my book today, and I want to read a short story, and start reading my next book as well.

And tomorrow I am cleaning out my email inbox if it kills me, and it just might.

I slept really well again last night–that’s three consecutive nights of good sleep, which is amazingly lovely.

Yesterday was also kind of a crazy day in the world, although it’s pretty safe to say that everyday has been kind of a crazy day for a while now. As I said to Paul the other night, “it’s like world politics has turned into Game of Thrones, only much scarier because it’s real.” And I know, world politics has always been very Game of Thrones, it’s just never been so obvious and apparent.

It’s hard to believe it’s almost February already, but there you have it and there it is. Carnival hovers on the horizon, and the Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners is just behind it. I am moderating a panel this year with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing (My Lovely Wife) and Kristien Hemmerechts (The Woman Who Fed The Dogs) so I have some homework for that as well.

So much good reading to look forward to! Art Taylor also very graciously, along with Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, made a pdf of his Edgar nominated short story “English 398: Fiction Workshop” available on-line, which I downloaded and look forward to reading. Art’s a terrific writer and a master of the short story (when I was nominated for the Macavity for “Survivor’s Guilt”, Art was the winner, and his story was amazing), and it’s always terrific to read one of his stories. (Hint hint: Art, how about a short story collection? Hint hint.)

I’m also going to dissect some short stories I am in the process of editing–unless I get lazy again. I rarely do this when I am editing/revising short stories, which makes my short stories actually kind of hit or miss; if the story works, it’s because I simply got lucky with it. But I think if I actually break the story down into what it’s about, and who the characters are and why they are the people they are, more of my stories would probably work. It’s a theory, at any rate, and there’s nothing I love to do more than break down my work and put it back together again (I’m being sarcastic, if you couldn’t tell).

And on that note, I am heading out into the frigid cold to get my errands out of the way before coming home to mine spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Sailing

Yesterday wasn’t pleasant. Nothing in particular, I was just in a mood for most of the day; and it was very easy to get me irritated. It rained most of the morning and afternoon–which ordinarily is something I enjoy–but it just seemed to place a damper, a gray filter of some sort, to the overall feeling of the day.

It was very strange, really. A low energy day when I’d slept well and wasn’t tired; Tuesday was the same. Being low energy for me usually means I am also very tired, and so not being tired while having low energy was unusual for me…and I didn’t like it in the least. This morning I feel better–more energy, even if still sleepy–so we’ll see how today goes. It’s much colder this morning than it was yesterday–I didn’t even take a coat yesterday with me; but it’s thirty-nine degrees in here this morning, which is pretty fucking awful.

I was also thinking about Monsters of New Orleans yesterday, my planned short story collection for which I would have to write mostly new stories (I do have a few on hand I could use), and the idea for the collection was, of course, triggered by reading Empire of Sin and realizing how many blank spots there were in my knowledge of New Orleans history, which also turned around and triggered the thought that I need to read more about the city’s history and that evolved into ideas and thoughts and plans. I also have another collection I am working on, Once a Tiger and Other Stories, which will have my second Chanse MacLeod short story in it (the title story), and a bunch of others that have been published (or were submitted to other markets) since Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was pulled together. One of the things on my to-do list for this week was checking out the stories I have on hand, make some tweaks, and hopefully get them submitted somewhere by the end of the month.

Sigh. Plans, plans, plans. And yet I never can seem to want to get any of this stuff actually done.

Why work when you can procrastinate? Which is my motto, and needs to be cross-stitched onto a sampler I can hang in my kitchen.

But I am making a project list, so I can be more aware of what I need to do and when it needs to be done and all of that; lists are my thing and so there you have it.

I read some more of Caleb Roehrig’s Last Seen Leaving last night, which I am enjoying; it’s a very different kind of y/a voice than anything I’ve read before, which is both refreshing and fun.

And now back to the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone.

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Please Don’t Go

GEAUX SAINTS!

Later this afternoon the Saints play the defending champion Philadelphia Eagles in a play-off game in the Superdome. It’s going to be loud in there, and it’s going to be extremely tense here in the Lost Apartment. I may keep Pet Sematary in my lap so I can distract myself from the nail-biting tension of watching the Saints play.

Yesterday wound up being my day off of the weekend; I didn’t write anything or edit anything, so I am going to have to do that this morning before the game. It’s fine; the game is later today so I should be able to get all the things done this morning/early afternoon that I need to get done. I managed to run the errands yesterday, which was incredibly lovely to get out of the way, and so now today I don’t have to leave the house. Depending on how much I get done this morning, I might actually go to the gym to do some stretching and cardio before the game starts; we’ll see how I feel. I am very happy about the recent weight loss, and am hopeful that will become the stepping stone to a return to being fit that I had hoped to make the case last year…although I am very well aware of the fact that my body dysmorphia will kick in and I’ll never think I’m lean enough or in good enough shape.

Heavy heaving sigh.

So, we went to see The Favourite yesterday, and I really enjoyed it. Visually it was quite stunning; although the wigs and powder of that period really leave something to be desired. It was really an enjoyable film; I never felt like it was going on too long, and those performances! I’ve been a fan of Olivia Colman since the first time I became aware of her–I think in The Night Manager, and then again in Broadchurch–and as Queen Anne she is simply phenomenal. Her performance is so strong it could easily overshadow those of her two co-stars, Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz, but it doesn’t; they are equally strong performances. I’ve always liked Emma Stone, and was really surprised by how strong her performance is in this film. The film is by turn funny and poignant; amusing and sad. It’s hard not to pity Queen Anne–those seventeen pregnancies!–and there are some anachronisms and historical inaccuracies in the movie, as there always are (one really can’t enjoy these films if one allows one’s self to be irritated or annoyed by those; I’ve managed to put those aside as these films are truly fictions based on actual events), but over all, I truly enjoyed it.

We also finished watching Homecoming last night; it’s a good show, and Julia Roberts is really terrific in it–and I am not a big fan of la Roberts. The final episode was kind of disappointing; we shouldn’t have put off watching it for so long. But there really wasn’t a good way that I can think of to end the show, but over all I give it high marks and would recommend it. I also started watching Titans on DC Universe after Paul went to bed (we also started watching season two of Futureman on Hulu; it doesn’t appear to be as good or as entertaining as the first; it also doesn’t help that I really don’t remember much of what happened in season one), and it’s premiere episode was a good one; the show is off to a good start. The young actor playing Dick Grayson is very attractive, and quite good in the role; more as I watch this first season play out.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning cleaning out my inbox, straightening up the kitchen a bit, and reading those fucking five chapters of Scotty I’ve been putting off all week. (I may even do the next five; depends on motivation and how quickly it goes.) I think Swedish meatballs are in the offing for dinner tonight; and I may even make teriyaki meatballs over night in the slow cooker.

And so, dear Constant Reader, I am about to put on my mining helmet and head back into the spice mines. Do wish me luck, won’t you?

Have a lovely Sunday.

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