Part-Time Lover

Friday! I wasn’t feeling well last night, and was worried I was getting sick, to be completely honest. But this morning I feel much better and well-rested (at least for now) and it’s a short day, so there’s that. Huzzah!

Yesterday I managed to get two more chapters sort-of-revised for the WIP; I think I now have enough material for the agent search; I’ll be double checking that today and perhaps getting it together. I also want to work on the new Scotty today; it’s going in a completely different direction than it originally did, and I am really liking it. While I was lying in bed this morning before getting up, I had some really terrific ideas about where to take this–and while it might be a little on the risky side, I am going to do it, I think.

We watched the skating last night, and while it was terribly sad to see Nathan Chen skate so poorly, he’s also very young. He could come back tonight and have the skate of his life, or be so rocked that he skates terribly again tonight. I do think he’s going to win the World title though next month, and this will set him up for the next Olympics as well. He is very young.

Adam Rippon was terrific last night; I am so delighted to see that all the hate being slung at him from the homophobes on the right wing (American patriots my ass; nothing says patriotic American than hoping an American athlete will fail at the Olympics. Trash.) is just bouncing off him and he is having the Olympic experience he’s always dreamed of. I had a geek moment yesterday when I tweeted at him and his mother and she liked my tweet; yes, I may be 56, but I can fanboy with the best of them. I am looking forward to tonight, let me tell you.

I also started reading the stories in the MWA anthology Manhattan Mayhem,edited by the amazing Mary Higgins Clark. The first story is by Clark herself, “The Five-Dollar Dress”:

It was a late August afternoon, and the sun was sending slanting shadows across Union Square in Manhattan. It’s a peculiar kind of day, Jenny thought as she came up from the subway and turned east. This was the last day she needed to go to the apartment of her grandmother, who had died three weeks ago.

She had already cleaned out most of the apartment. The furniture and all of Gran’s household goods, as well as her clothing, would be picked up by five o’clock by the diocese charity.

Her mother and father were both pediatricians in San Francisco and had intensely busy schedules. Having just passed the bar exam after graduating from Stanford Law School, Jenny was free to do the job. Next week, she would be starting as a deputy district attorney in San Francisco.

A very simple set-up–granddaughter cleaning out grandmother’s apartment–leads her to find news stories and information about the brutal murder of her grandmother’s best friend many years earlier…and the story takes some startling twists along the way. I’ve not read any of Ms. Clark’s short stories before, and I’ve not read any of her books since A Stranger Is Watching when I was a teenager; I’m not sure why, to be honest. I loved both it and Where Are The Children? Meeting her at the Edgar banquet the first year I went was one of the biggest thrills of my life, and what a gracious lady she is, too.

The next story was by Julie Hyzy, titled “White Rabbit”:

The young woman sitting on the bench stopped fingering a strand of her white-blonde pixie cut. Startled, she looked up, shielding her eyes from the sun. “Excuse me?”

“I asked you if you were recapturing your childhood.” The man who had spoken reached down to tap a corner of the book lying on her lap. He had a round face and the sort of little-boy haircut most men ditch long before they hit thirty. Wearing black-framed glasses and a bushy brown beard, he carried a soft paunch and a beat-up messenger bag.

“Interesting reading choice,” he said. “Especially considering the view. My name’s Mark, by the way.”

They are sitting near the Alice in Wonderland statue in Central Park, and she is reading Alice in Wonderland. As the two begin talking, the story appears to be going one way, then turns abruptly into another direction, and makes yet another turn. Very gripping, the suspense building as the story goes along, with a most satisfying denouement.

Ah, and now back to the spice mines. Happy Friday everyone.

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Think of Laura

Zulu is passing now; I can hear the drums of the marching bands. It’s a gorgeous morning, the sun is shining and I am betting the crowds up at the Avenue are deep; they certainly were last night for Orpheus. Paul and I both have to work tomorrow, so we’re ending our Carnival early; taking today to rest and recover so we can hit the ground running on Ash Wednesday. I also have a lot of things to do today; emails to answer, things to write, things to edit, things to read, a kitchen to clean. Even though it was abbreviated this year (I was in Alabama for the first weekend of parades), I enjoyed every bit of Carnival this year; and am already melancholy to see it end as always.

I’ve also been enjoying the hell out of the Winter Olympics, and like millions of people worldwide I am–what’s the word kids use now? Oh yes–stanning Adam Rippon. As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve known of Adam long before these games; I remember when he had a mop of floppy curls; when gossip websites were pairing him and Ashley Wagner as a couple (I rolled my eyes every time I saw the photos), and I remember when he came out. I blogged about homophobia in figure skating a while back; when Adam came out while still on the Olympic eligible circuit I thought to myself you’re never going to win anything now; so I was pleasantly surprised to see him win US Nationals and make the world team in 2016; he missed last season with a broken foot, and this season he is full-on out: his short program is to gay club music, and his long program, as everyone saw the other night, is breathtaking. I’m so happy for both him and Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics that same night; they earned bronze medals as part of the team competition, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them–all of the Americans on the team, to be honest. Adam is so funny and refreshingly himself; a big personality and a natural wit he doesn’t try to hold back, and that honesty…I just can’t get enough. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his long program the other night; Paul and I both screamed when Mirai landed the triple axel. Seeing the trashy homophobes on Twitter trashing him or going after him makes my blood boil; I’ve resisted the urge to reply to them He’s got an Olympic medal and you’re a fifth-rate Twitter troll. Congratulations.

So. There’s that.

And in other news of the fabulous, the lucky world of readers can look forward to the upcoming release of a new Laura Lippman novel, Sunburn. I got an ARC at Bouchercon and read it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday back in October.

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It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him. Pink, peeling. The burn is two days old, he gauges. Earned on Friday, painful to the touch yesterday, today an itchy soreness that’s hard not to keep fingering, probing, as she’s doing right now in an absentminded way. The skin has started sloughing off, soon those narrow shoulders won’t be so tender. Why would a redhead well into her thirties make such a rookie mistake?

And why is she here, sitting on a barstool, forty-five miles inland, in a town where strangers seldom stop on a Sunday evening? Belleville is the kind of place where people are supposed to pass through and soon they won’t even do that. They’re building a big by-ass so the beach traffic won’t have to slow for the speed trap on the old Main Street. He saw the construction vehicles, idle on Sunday, on his way in. Places like this bar-slash-restaurant, the High-Ho, are probably going to lose what little business they have.

High-Ho. A misprint? Was it supposed to be Heigh-Ho? And if so, was it for the seven dwarfs, heading home from the mines at day’s end, or for the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset?  Neither one makes much sense for this place.

Nothing about this makes sense.

Laura Lippman has been one of my favorite writers since I read Baltimore Blues years and years ago. I tore through her Tess Monaghan series, and she very quickly became one of my buy in hardcover authors. I’ve never regretted making that switch, and as she has expanded her skills and pushed herself with her exceptionally brilliant stand alone novels, I’ve never once quibbled but I want another Tess novel! (I do, always, but the stand alones are so fucking fantastic that it doesn’t matter–I really just want a new Lippman, and wish she was on a yearly schedule rather than an eighteen month one.)

Laura’s career trajectory has been most impressive from a writing perspective; because as a writer of stand alones, she has gone from being a literary crime writer to a literary writer about crime, if that makes sense. Each of her stand alones are unique and different from the others; about as far removed from her series as any novels can be and still be by the same author. Each one of these novels are rare pearls, individual and vastly different from the others; different themes, different explorations, different everything. The one common thread that runs through these novels is that they are, for the most part, about women, and what women face in their lives; how they deal with crimes and tragedies that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Laura also regularly experiments with form and voice and tense; enormous, dangerous risks as a writer that she somehow always manages to pull off, make engaging and enjoyable, and always manages to tell a story that makes a very compelling point.

Sunburn,  her latest, is as different from anything she has done before as it could be unless she decided to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse; but she also brings her incredibly powerful sense of empathy to this tale of murder, vengeance, and oh-so-careful planning. The book opens with the main character, Polly Costello, walking away from her husband and child on a beach vacation and winding up in the hard-knock town of Belleville; she is being observed by Adam, who is being paid to keep an eye on her, follow her–but not to become obsessed by her, which is what happens. Their story is told in a very limited third person point of view, alternating between them, and as we slowly get to know them, watch their physical attraction expand and develop into something more, the questions remain: why did Polly walk away from her family and child? How could she do such a thing? Who is this enigmatic redheaded bar waitress?

And just how fucking good does Adam’s grilled cheese sandwich taste?

The prose in this book is lean; not an extra word to be found anywhere, and it is an homage of sorts to the kind of lean, tight, dark noir that the great James M. Cain wrote. (Cain is a hero of mine, and I have always wanted to write something that dark and lean and tight…ironically, one of the ideas I had for such a noir–gay, of course–was also titled Sunburn) I’ve seen, in some of the early reviews, comparisons to Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, which seem obvious; there’s an insurance scam buried deep in the plot, it’s set in a bar/diner, it’s about an unexpected, explosive attraction between a man and a woman; there are side plots that end in mysterious deaths… but if anything, I’d say Sunburn is more reminiscent of Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress than anything else.

The book is extraordinary, and probably Laura Lippman’s best work to date; that wisecracking, tight prose; a complicated and complex plot that grows even more complicated as you read another page; fully developed characters you can help but root for, even if their motivations aren’t exactly pure; and ultimately, the book is about a woman with everything stacked against her all of her life, who  never gives up, and makes plans…risky plans; where she gambles everything, including her own happiness and desire, for her future, yet is flexible and smart enough to always adapt.

Polly Costello is a heroine Cain would have been proud to call his own.

I Feel for You

Adam Rippon is going to the Olympics as the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in Olympic history.

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Let’s not be coy, though–there have been plenty of gay male figure skaters throughout the history of the sport–but most came out (or were outed) after their Olympic-eligible careers were over. (And Adam Kenworthy–not a figure skater– is also out this year, but he wasn’t out when he competed in Sochi.)

One of the things that has always fascinated me about figure skating is the contradiction evident in its gender roles. Men are, while being artistic, also supposed to read as masculine and not feminine; likewise the women (it’s still called Ladies’ Figure Skating, for the record) are supposed to be feminine, graceful and lady-like, rather than athletic; a feminine and graceful skater would always win over someone who wasn’t as graceful but was more of an athlete than a ballet dancer. This bipolarity at the heart of figure skating kept gay male skaters deep in the closet, particularly if they were American men; Russian men had no problem with wearing gloves and performing ballet on the ice–but at the same time, those Russian men (Viktor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin, and Yevgeny Pluschenko won every Olympic gold medal between 1992 and 2006) clearly were athletes, flying across the ice in footstep sequences with their feet and blades changing directions and edges as rapidly as a machine gun fires; dizzying fast spins with beautiful positions; and of course, landing quad and triple jumps with the greatest of ease, and almost always on the beat of the music they were performing to.

There was also an unspoken understanding that being openly gay would hurt a skater in the marks, which were often subjective, frequently unfair, and, according to the ISU, above reproach. Rudy Galindo was the first openly gay American skater to win US Nationals in 1996, and went on to win a bronze medal at worlds that year; the next openly gay skater to win the US title was Adam Rippon, some twenty years later. Between them was flamboyant Johnny Weir, who didn’t come out until after his Olympic-eligible career was over… (I might add that, despite being US champion and a world medalist in 1996, the USFSA chose not to send Rudy to any of the Grand Prix events the following season; a clear indication to him that his Olympic-eligible career was over, and he went pro.)

Rippon, incidentally, finished fourth at the Olympic trials this year, but was chosen to go to the Olympics anyway; selected over a heterosexual skater who finished with the silver medal. Have things changed with male figure skating since Rudy’s big win in 1996?

As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve always wanted to write a book about a gay figure skater. I did in Jackson Square Jazz, with the character of Bryce Bell, a US Olympic hopeful who is introduced to the reader as someone a very drunken Scotty picked up at a French Quarter gay bar, only to see him competing that same night at Skate America, being held in New Orleans for the first (and clearly fictional) time. (As a joke, I also had Bryce become the first skater in history to land a quad axel; this has still not happened in real life, and may not ever happen.) But Bryce’s skating was relatively unimportant to the story and plot of the book; although his remaining closeted as a skater was.

I never felt that I was able to truly explore the issues of being a gay, Olympic-eligible, American figure skater in the book; Bryce was a supporting character, and the story wasn’t told from his point of view (I’ve been tempted to bring him back, but can never figure out a way to do it organically; just forcibly grafting him onto a story because I want to just feels wrong).

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Ironically, Adam didn’t win Nationals until after he came out. Coming out–and being able to truly be himself for the first time–paid off. He’s a much better skater than he was before; but I do remember thinking at the time he came out, well, you’re never going to win nationals now. But by embracing himself for who he really is, he changed; he found a look and costumes that work for him–he used to have this mop of blonde curls–and his short program this year, to what Paul and I immediately recognized as a gay techno dance remix from back in the day–is one for the ages.

So, does the central premise of the noir figure skating novel I’ve wanted to write–a skater being forced into the closet and not allowed to be himself so that I can explore not only the dynamics of what masculinity is but the class issues inherent in figure skating (I still haven’t posted about my thoughts on I Tonya, which have everything to do with femininity vs. athleticism and class); the masks skaters are forced to wear in order to play the game and get the marks they deserve to win–does that premise still exist today? As far as I know, Adam and Rudy are the only American skaters to come out and skate at the Olympic eligible level; are there others? Is coming out still a risk to your career as a male skater?

Probably so.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

Head over Heels

Well, I survived yesterdays’ trip to Metairie and Target (shudder) and also spent way more money than I should have; which of course is part of the Target trap. But none of the money was wasted and it was all things we will use, and things we needed. So there’s that. I’m still flummoxed, though, at how much I spent. Heavy heaving sigh.

I wasn’t sore at all from my workout Sunday yesterday, although I did start feeling tired/sleepy early in the evening. I wrote two thousand words of a short story I got the idea for while watching Broadchurch Sunday evening (we finished season two, and started season three last night); the show and the story are kind of linked as the show gave me the idea for the story; it’s called “Neighborhood Warning” and the story really flowed, at least until I started getting sleepy. AT that point I retired to my easy chair to read; I worked on the Short Story Project while waiting for Paul to come home. I read  “Safety Rules” by Jill D. Block from Lawrence Block’s anthology Alive in Shape and Color.

Day One

This was my third time, and I knew exactly what to expect. I got downtown early, so I had time to stop at Starbucks when I got off the subway. I was upstairs, in the appointed room, at 8:55. I found a seat, took out my magazine, flipped past the fashion ads, and was already pretty well into Graydon Carter’s piece on Trump by the time things got started. The lady told us to tear our cards along the perforated fold, and after she collected the bottom piece, she turned on the instructional video.

I wasn’t at all surprised when a court officer came into the room, about thirty minutes after the video ended, to call for the first group. I knew the drill–twenty or twenty-five of us would be taken up to a courtroom where they’d be selecting a jury. Everyone else would stay here, and other groups would be called for throughout the day and maybe into tomorrow. Three days tops, and I’d have done my civic duty. I hoped that I would be called in this first group–early in, early out. Maybe I’d even have time to look for boots before I headed uptown.

Veronica Ellis, our main character, is following the rules; summoned for jury duty, she assumes it’s going to be the same as it always has been before. But this time is different, and she starts paying more attention as she realizes a lot more people have been called than she is used to, and soon enough the jury pool finds out that their case is the 1978 kidnapping and murder of Milo Richter, a young boy and the person who may have committed the crime at long last is being brought to trial. The Richter case is famous, but has even more resonance for Veronica–when she was young, around the same time as the Richter case, her best childhood friend Micheline was kidnapped and murdered. At first, Veronica sees that is a kind of karmic justice–she is meant to serve on this jury, as a way of getting justice for Micheline…but then she begins to wonder if she actually should serve on this jury. Block skillfully juggles her timelines between the present day going through the motions of jury duty with Veronica remembering Micheline and what happened when she was a little girl. I was totally sucked into this story, and enjoyed it very much.

I also read Barry Hannah’s “Testimony of Pilot,” from his collection Airships.

When I was ten, eleven and twelve, I did a good bit of my play in the backyard of a three-story wooden house my father bought and rented out, his first venture into real estate. We lived right across the street from it, but over here was the place to do your real play. Here there was a harrowed but overgrown garden, a vine-swallowed fence at the back end, and beyond the fence a cornfield which belonged to someone else. This was not the country. This was the town, Clinton, Mississippi between Jackson on the east and Vicksburg on the west. On this lot stood a few water oaks, a few plum bushes, and much overgrowth of honeysuckle vine. At the very back end, at the fence, stood three strong nude chinaberry trees.

I’ve always felt my lack of appreciation for the talents of Barry Hannah an obvious intellectual failure on my part. This edition of Airships, which was originally published in 1978, had an introduction–or rather, an “appreciation”–by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford; the collections itself won the PEN/Malamud Award back when I was just graduating from high school. I bought my first copy of this collection back in the early 1980’s, when I was attending Fresno City College after flunking out of school in Kansas, to try to get my GPA up to a level that would warrant admission into the California State University system. I took another Creative Writing class there, after my first horrible attempt in Kansas, and there I found an instructor who not only believed in me and my talents, but actively encouraged me to take writing up as a profession; several of the stories I wrote for his class he encouraged me to submit to magazines and professional journals. None of those stories ever saw print, of course, but I always appreciated him as a teacher. He was very into Barry Hannah and Raymond Carver (the other text for the class besides Airships was Carver’s Will You Please Be Quiet Please), and while I could see why, at the time, he appreciated and loved Hannah’s writing style so much, it didn’r work for me. We were asked to read the story “Love Too Long” to discuss in class; the rest was independent reading, and after “Love Too Long” I never picked the book up again. Hannah didn’t resonate with me. I bought another copy of this book last year, along with Hannah’s novel Geronimo Rex when I was looking at Southern Gothic literature; I found a list of Southern Gothic writers somewhere and Hannah was listed. I thought, perhaps I can appreciate him now and bought the two books.

One of the things that has to be addressed right off the bat is the racism and homophobia in this story. I didn’t address the issue of racism in Faulkner’s story “Barn Burning” yesterday; primarily because the use of the n-word was only in dialogue and was only used in dialogue by the character of the asshole redneck father; it worked in that instance, even as it was jarring to read for me, and while Faulkner used the word “Negro” to refer to people of color in the text, at the time the story was written that was the commonly accepted, socially acceptable word to use. But Hannah’s character is very much a racist and very much a homophobe; the words fag and queer are used in this story as casually as the n-word. This automatically renders the main character of this story unlikable to me, and likewise unrelatable; I am predisposed to dislike him and he gets none of my sympathy. In fact, nothing he does in this story makes him sympathetic in any way. Maybe that was what Hannah was trying to do in this story, but I couldn’t help but think, as I read it, that the story was loosely slapped together and in a strong need of editorial guidance. I’m still not even sure what the point of the story was. The story opens when the main character is a kid, with his psychotic neighbor kid launched M-80’s from a makeshift cannon at a house where people of color live (lovely); turns out they are sending them at the wrong house and the kid who lives there for some reason comes across the field to tell them to stop and for some reason brings his saxophone with him–I guess that’s because it’s something kids would do? They launch an M-80 at him and injure him without much remorse. He then becomes friends with the main character when they are both in the high school band and the story keeps following them from point to point until the sax-player, Arden Quadberry, winds up a fighter pilot in the Nacy during Vietnam and…I guess this is a slice of life story.

It was originally published in Esquire, which paid what would be considered a lot of money now, let alone in the 1970’s, for short fiction.  Maybe Hannah was a writer of his time, who hasn’t aged well–Richard Ford notwithstanding–but it’s just more of the straight white cisgender male macho posturing to me, and his literary word choices/flourishes just don’t work for me, which is clearly my own failing; I ‘d rather read a genre short story than something like this. I’ll continue to read Hannah, hoping to have that aha moment where his genius will reveal itself to me–after all, they’re short stories so it’s not a colossal time suck if I never get it–but yeah, I just don’t get it.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Just Called To Say I Love You

How was your Thanksgiving? Ours was rather lovely; we had our deep dish pizza and a lovely visit with our friend Lisa; then Paul and I watched three movies on Netflix: Fourth Man Out, Closet Monster, and Handsome Devil. We also watched another episode of a Hulu original series, Future Man; which we had given one more episode to get better. And the fourth episode definitely delivered. We laughed a lot all the way through it; and it finally started delivering on its premise.

The three movies were all gay films, which we generally don’t watch very often. I know I should be supportive of gay films, but so often they’re aren’t very good–or at least that used to be the case. When a major studio makes one (Philadelphia, In and Out, To Wong Foo, etc.) they’re awful; indies always mean well but don’t have the budget to really do them well or cast good actors, so we stopped watching them a long time ago. Every so often, a film like Beautiful Thing or Latter Days will come along, but still, fairly rare. My incredibly cynical self is very pleased to say that the three films we watched yesterday were enjoyable in varying degrees, which also makes me tend to think that perhaps we should watch more gay cinema. And really, isn’t mainstream film always a crapshoot, too?

Fourth Man Out was the first movie we watched; its about a group of four guys who’ve been best friends since they were kids and then one of them comes out to the others. It was a comedy, so the coming out was handled in a comedic fashion; the friends were a little taken aback, and then there was some awkwardness about what you can or can’t say around your gay friend which was sweet and kind of cute. The gay character was a mechanic, so there was a sense to me of ‘see, a gay guy can be just a regular guy’ about the movie which was well-intentioned but…the really charming part of the movie was watching the friends try to help him navigate the gay dating world, and there was a really charming scene where they take him to his first gay bar. And the ‘meeting someone from on-line’ trope was treated as comedy (and who hasn’t met someone whose picture wasn’t them?) and there were some moments that I thought might have been in questionable taste–but overall the film was charming. The lead, gay Adam, was played by Evan Todd, who’s very good-looking:

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His best friend, Chris–and their relationship/chemistry was quite charming, was played by the impossibly good-looking Parker Young:

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Another one of the guys was played by Glee’s Chord Overstreet, almost recognizable in a heavy beard. But the movie’s true charm was the relationship between Adam and Chris; how they learn from each other and grow and finally find their perfect matches because of their friendship.

Closet Monster starred Connor Jessup from American Crime, who is an appealing and talented young actor I would pretty much watch in anything.

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This movie was apparently very popular on the indie art film festival circuit and won lots of awards; for me, it was the weakest of the three and were it not for Connor Jessup, we would have probably stopped watching. As a little boy, around the time his parents broke up in a very nasty and volatile break-up, young Oscar witnessed a violent hate crime against a gay teenager–and that, plus the divorce, have been deeply internalized and traumatized him as he comes of age as a gay teenager with an interest in horror movies and a desire to become a make-up artist for horror films. He’s applied to the best school for this in New York, and cannot wait to get away from this awful town he lives in. He’s desperately unhappy–who can’t relate to that–with big dreams, and is developing a crush on another boy he works with at a Home Depot type store. Wilder, played by Aliocha Schneider, is coolly confident in himself and tries to draw Oscar out of his own shell, with some success.

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The point of the movie is ultimately that Oscar needs to stop spinning his wheels and move in a positive direction in his life; and it does eventually get there after a bizarre costume party where he has his first sexual experience with a stranger and comes to terms with his feelings for his mother; his relationship with his father remains unresolved. But it was an arty film; Oscar’s hamster speaks to him in Isabella Rossellini’s voice–he got the hamster originally the day his mother left his father so it symbolizes the last time he was happy; and there’s a lot of moments where the director slaps the viewer in the face with his symbolism and hidden depths. There are some gorgeous shots, particularly at the end, but there are also some serious plot holes. But as I said, Connor Jessup is a very talented and appealing young actor, and he carries the entire movie.

The last film we watched, Handsome Devil, was by far and away the best of the three. Set in an Irish boarding school obsessed with its rugby team, it’s from the point of view of young Ned, who is bullied by his schoolmates in no small part because he doesn’t care about rugby and doesn’t fit in; he is played charmingly by Fionn O’Shea. He comes back to school against his will–his father and stepmother live in Dubai and for some reason he can’t live with them there; it’s kind of implied that he’s an inconvenience for them. He’s delighted when he gets to school to find out he’s got a single room and won’t be sharing. There’s also a really funny sequence where he talks about his English teacher; he simply turns in the lyrics to old songs for papers and get’s A’s; the song that is handed back to him with an A written on it to illustrate this voice over is Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Walk Side,” which is hilarious if you know the words.

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But he winds up with a roommate after all, Connor. Connor can’t go back to his old school–he was kicked out for ‘fighting’–AND it turns out Connor is a great rugby player; the long-missing piece for the school’s team which will make them champions. Ned reacts by moving all of their furniture to the center of the room, kind of forming a Berlin wall. They also have a new English teacher this term, Mr. Sherry, who is played by Sherlock’s Andrew Scott. Mr. Sherry, and his class, reminded me of Dead Poets’ Society, and I don’t think that was accidental. But Ned and Connor slowly become friends–Connor is Ned’s first friend, really–and of course there’s the requisite homophobia (they all treat Ned like he’s gay, but we never really know for sure) and obstacles for the boys to face before the film’s end. This movie is really charming, and is about friendship, and has some absolutely lovely moments. O’Shea is fantastic as Ned, and you can’t help but root for him as he learns who he is and what being a friend really means; Nicholas Galitzine plays Connor and does a fine job with a less complex part; but the chemistry between the two boys is terrific. I highly recommend this movie.

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It was also highly educational to watch these films, and it also made me realize that I’m a bit of a snob when it comes to gay-themed films; I should probably watch more of them in the future–and I think I’m going to. Watching these movies reminded me of the kinds of novels Kensington used to publish after the turn of the century; particularly the novels of Timothy James Beck. I miss those novels, and Kensington did a great job of finding and publishing fun gay-themed novels in those days. I was one of Kensington’s authors; Kensington was where the first three Scotty books were published, and pulling together the Scotty Bible has also put me in mind of those days again. Kensington first published Rob Byrnes,  and also those wonderful novels by Michael Thomas Ford. Kensington was also home to William J. Mann’s fiction, from The Biograph Girl to The Men from the Boys, All-American Boy, and several others; Kensington also published Andrew Beierle’s The Winter of Our Discotheque, which remains to this day one of my favorite gay novels.

Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

Try Again

Stephen King, in his seminal work on horror Danse Macabre, talked about two different kinds of house horror novels–the haunted house, and the bad place. The primary difference between the two is that a haunted house story is about the actual spirits and what they do; what must be done to put the spirit to rest (Barbara Michaels’ brilliant Ammie Come Home fits into this category), and the bad place where you don’t really know what is causing whatever it is that is going on in the place; it’s just a bad, bad place. Examples of the bad place  are of course Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Stephen King’s The Shining, and Michael MacDowell’s The Elementals.

While I was traveling to and from Toronto, I read two short novels about ‘bad places’; Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings and Christopher Rice’s The Vines. 

I remember Burnt Offerings from when I was a kid, and we used to go to the Zayre’s department store every Saturday. I would spend the entire time my mother was shopping looking at every book in the book racks, and I picked it up numerous times only to always set it back and pick something else; I’m not sure why. I remember it was also made into a movie with Bette Davis that I’ve also never seen, and periodically it appears on lists of ‘best haunted house’ novels. Vaillancourt Books recently reissued it, and I bought a copy. It’s good, even if it subscribes to one of those horror tropes that always requires the suspension of belief–if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. A family from the city–Queens, i believe–take a summer rental out on Long Island that, of course, is too good to be true; a dilapidated but once stately manor. Husband, wife, young son, and the husband’s aunt–despite the husband’s misgivings–move out there for the summer; the only requirement of them (other than the rent) is that three times a day the wife must take a tray of food up to the owners’ mother’s suite of rooms and never knock–just leave the tray outside. The wife soon becomes obsessed with the house and cleaning it, putting it into order; finding treasures in closets and cupboards and bringing them out…and ignoring the distance growing between her and her husband, his aunt, and her son. Strange things start to happen, and occasionally she is aware that something’s terribly amiss…and then goes back to cleaning. The story is told very simply, the setting is perfect, and the descriptions of the treasures she finds are lovingly written–and the sense of growing impending doom and claustrophobia are perfect.

The Vines is Christopher Rice’s second horror novel (The Heavens Rise is the first; it’s still in my TBR pile) and it, too, is a variation of the bad place horror convention; Spring House is a gorgeously restored house outside of New Orleans with a horrifying history of its own. The night of owner Caitlin Chaisson’s birthday party, she sees her husband having sex with a beautiful young woman who works for the catering company; emotionally distraught, she leaves the house intent on slashing her wrists and killing herself in the estate’s gazebo. But as she cuts at her wrists, her husband and his one-nighter come outside to the gardening shed, and something monstrous grows up out of the ground to drink her blood and avenge her betrayal. The one-nighter loses her mind and the husband disappears; none of this makes any sense to the police who arrive and are not willing to upset the wealthiest woman in the parish. There are two other primary characters–Nova, the African-American daughter of Caitlin’s groundskeeper and a student at LSU who is there that night, and Caitlin’s former best friend, a gay nurse who has been estranged from her since he told her the truth about her husband’s infidelities–and years earlier, Blake and his teenaged boyfriend were attacked in a hate crime, the boyfriend dying…the true story of the attack has never come out, and it’s a lot more complicated than anyone ever knew. It’s a terrific tale of vengeance from the past and vengeance for the present, with the tension building as it hurries to its climax. I was also impressed with how Christopher handled the bloody, slave-owning history of Spring House–something I’ve wondered about how to handle without being too heavy-handed with a ghost story I’ve been wanting to write with its origins in the Civil War period in rural Alabama.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Wanna Be Startin’ Something

Well, I finished the tragic mess that is currently known as Chapter Seven’s first draft yesterday. And it is a mess; this is easily one of the sloppiest first drafts of a novel I’ve ever written. In fact, I feel so bad about how shitty it is I may even go back and rewrite the entire first half once I finish Chapter Ten. This book is so bad, I can’t even believe how badly I can write a Scotty novel. Oh, well, that’s what rewrites and revisions and future drafts are for.

I also finished rereading It yesterday. Wow, you are undoubtedly saying, that’s a lot of reading. But truth be told, much like the Losers Club when they return to Derry twenty-seven years later, the more I read the more I remembered. And yes, I skimmed some sections, and skipped some entirely. It’s a perfectly fine novel, and I would recommend it..but there are problematic sections, and yes, I do feel like I’m committing treason by saying anything negative about Stephen King and his work, because he is my writing idol, and he has been since I was a teenager. What works in this book works extremely well; no one writes about the lives of children, how they relate to other children, and what it’s like to be a loser as a child (or feel like one) the way he does. I identify with every one of those kids, I feel for them, I desperately want them to succeed and have great lives and live happily ever after. Their return as adults doesn’t work quite as well as the parts that are set in the past; the characters are still richly defined, and their relationships still work–but I still didn’t like the resolution of the story, either when they were kids or when they were adults; I didn’t like the way the book ended (but for the life of me, I couldn’t write such a book nor could I think of a way to end such a book), and it reminded me a lot of Floating Dragon by Peter Straub in many ways (or vice versa; I think I read the King first and then the Straub originally and was struck by the similarities; I do love both books and think of them fondly). I’m not sorry I took the time to reread It and reacquaint myself with Derry and the Losers Club; there are some genuinely good scares in the book, and it’s one of the best books about a small city I’ve read–King really does a great job of depicting life in these smallish towns/cities and how the social dynamics work in them, whether it’s Derry, Castle Rock, or Jerusalem’s Lot. (That was one of the best parts of Needful Things for me; how the town dynamics worked and how the characters and their lives and their petty foibles and feuds all were entwined so intricately together.)

One of the other interesting things I found in rereading It was there was an LSU connection in it; in the town Ben has moved to and currently lives in there was a local kid who was a star athlete and went to LSU, only to party too hard and flunk out, and wound up coming back to the small town as an alcoholic. The town is Hemingford Home, where of course Miss Abigail lived in The Stand; also in that same book when Nick Andros is jumped, one of the assailants was wearing his fraternity ring from LSU–he was the sheriff’s brother-in-law, and he partied too hard and flunked out of LSU as well. Methinks Mr. King knows someone who went to LSU and flunked out for partying too hard. Those are the only two references to LSU in King’s work that I know of; would that Rocky Wood was alive so I could email and ask him.

Maybe someday I’ll get to ask Mr. King.

And of course, It is very reminiscent of the novella “The Body.” which is probably my favorite work of King’s, if pressed to name a favorite–the Losers Club, like the smaller group of friends in “The Body”, has the fat kid, the kid whose brother died and parents haven’t gotten over it, the poor kid (only switched from male to female in It), and the kid who gets beaten up a lot because of his smart mouth.

And there’s also the writer character–King often throws a writer in his work (Ben in ‘salem’s Lot, Jack in The Shining), but this was the first book where he really went all-in on  writer character with Bill Denbrough–and of course, his next novel was Misery, which of course took the writer character, and the dangers of fame, to a whole new level.

But yeah, the gang bang scene has a whole different vibe about in 2017. It didn’t phase me thirty-one years ago, but now it’s just kind of…icky.

As I said, I’m not sorry I reread it; most of it still stands up, and I still think it’s a terrific, if flawed, novel.

Today I need to get this kitchen in order, and I want to work some more on both the WIP and the new Scotty, maybe even a short story. Next up for my reading is Michael MacDowell’s The Elementals.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk to get your week off to a nice start.

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