Face Up

Wednesday has rolled around again, as it always does, and last night was another restful sleep of the same sort I had on Monday; restful but awake or half-awake the majority of the time. I am beginning to wonder, quite frankly, if this is just another affect of getting older; the inability to sleep deeply every night. Yesterday I wasn’t as tired as I feared I would be, which actually was kind of nice, and I do think this will be the case this morning too. I intend to go to the gym this evening for a workout with weights after work–so being tired will not be helpful in the least. Maybe that will put me into a deep sleep tonight.

Maybe it won’t–which is more likely.

We watched two more episodes of The Capture last night on Peacock, which is incredibly good. I still have absolutely no clue what’s going on, but the suspense is so ratcheted up that I cannot wait to get home tonight so we can finish watching it. I want to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series, but focus is so important when reading and what little focus I have these days really needs to be spend on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows, which needs to be finished by the end of the month–so time is running out on me, as always. I was thinking about how I reacted to rereading the manuscript with an eye to edits last weekend, and how I always am enormously dissatisfied with the final product when it is released. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of every book I’ve written, as each represents surmounting a struggle of some sort in some way, and finishing and publishing a novel is always an accomplishment, regardless of how it turned out in the end. I was dissecting this in my head last night while I was making tacos for dinner (nachos for Paul); my strengths are premises, titles, and character–but inevitably whenever I start writing a book most of the time I don’t know how it’s going to end. I try to figure out how to end a book before I start writing it–but on the rare occasions when I have figured out the end beforehand, I question that as I write and inevitably change my mind at least once, if not twice, and as a result, I never am completely confident in my endings. Adding to the neuroses in my brain, the last few chapters of a book generally don’t get as much attention as earlier chapters, either, which makes my insecurity even worse.

I really do wish I could slap my first creative writing teacher across the face for doing such a number on me that it has lasted all these years. FUCKER.

Then again, he typed smugly, I’m about thirty-six novels, five novellas, and fifty short stories into my career; he’s still unpublished, forty years later. So, there’s that…and the fact I never forget a grudge.

I’ve also been toying with some 1970’s research in my spare moments–looking up things and trying to remember things from my tween years–like “sissy bars” (and no, it’s not a bar for effeminate gay men, though it is a great name for a gay bar). I remembered “sissy bars” as being the high bar on boys’ bicycles that girls’ bikes didn’t have back then; turns out it’s actually the back bar at the end of a bike that the passenger behind the driver/rider can lean back on for balance. (I still remember it the other way; and that other bar doesn’t seem to have a name, which is weird.) I’ve been wanting to write about the early 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs for quite some time–I have an idea based on a murder that happened in our suburb when I was a freshman in high school, You’re No Good, which could be a lot of fun to work on and write–and my main character from Lake Thirteen (Scotty?) was from that same fictional suburb…which leads me back into that weird Greg Universe where all of my books are somehow connected, between New Orleans, Alabama, Chicago and it’s suburbs, California, and Kansas–which I completely forgot that I was doing. (Aside: Bury Me in Shadows is set in Corinth County; which is where the main character in Dark Tide was also from; where I set the story “Smalltown Boy”; and where Frank and Scotty’s nephew Taylor is from, making his first appearance in Baton Rouge Bingo.) But the early 1970’s was an interesting and somewhat volatile time, between Vietnam, the economic crisis, and Watergate; where television gave us stuff like The Partridge Family and Love, American Style and horrible variety shows; when the post World War II economic boom in the United States was beginning to crumble and fade away; when Top 40 radio ruled the AM channels and everything was still on vinyl or eight-track tapes, before cable television and 24 hour news and no Internet or cell phones. But… as I mentioned earlier, while I have a great premise and a terrific title, I don’t know the story or how it ends…but that won’t stop me from obsessively researching the period.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a great day Constant Reader!

Guilty Partner

I slept better last night than I have the last two nights, but it still left something to be desired. I woke up regularly throughout the night, but managed to relax enough somehow to always feel like I was resting, which was lovely and nice and helped; I certainly hope I am not going to be as fucking tired today as I was all day yesterday–which was miserable. Tonight I should go to the gym after I get off work, but we’ll have to see how I am feeling. I can always, in a worst case scenario, push it off till Wednesday night if I am too tired this evening.

Heavy sigh.

But it’s Tuesday and the week is progressing; time and tide wait for no one, and especially not for me. It occurred to me last night as I sat in my chair watching another episode of The Capture (which is really well done and interesting; here’s hoping they don’t blow the great premise over the final four episodes) that I am turning sixty this year in August and what I really need to do, really should do, is come up with a five-year-plan that will carry me into retirement from the day job. I know I shouldn’t really retire that early because of the benefit increases to seniors if I wait until seventy; but I honestly don’t know that I can do another ten years, honestly. So, if I want to retire at sixty-five, I need a plan to increase my income to compensate for the loss of my salary. (And yes, I know retiring at 65 means I won’t get my full benefits, but I can’t see waiting another almost two years. I can barely handle it now, let alone almost another seven years.) So, I am going to try to figure out a five-year plan for me, both personally and professionally.

I have to say, rereading the manuscript on Sunday (it’s not a good sign that I fell asleep reading it; but I was tired from the gym and not sleeping well Saturday night) but I was kind of embarrassed by how bad some of my sentences were and how paragraphs were constructed, to the point I was beginning to question my ability to write anything; I’m not going to lie, since the pandemic struck I’ve been having a lot of issues writing, and what little confidence I may have had at one time (not entirely sure I ever had any, honestly) is completely gone now. That’s something I really need to work on. Several years ago, in another fallow/low-confidence period, I came up with some things to say every morning, going with the old theory that saying something out loud every day will make it come true because I will start believing in it. Needless to say, at some point I stopped saying the affirmations aloud every morning–not sure when that happened, or why it happened; but I just did, and I think I may need to start doing it again. I’ve never had much self-confidence about anything, to be completely honest, and it’s very easy for me to go down the dark path of self-doubt and self-castigation.

The joys of the mood swings, seriously.

But today is much better than yesterday–and Sunday for that matter; being tired clearly affects my moods–and so I am probably going to try to dive back into the manuscript tonight when I get home from work. Here’s hoping I have the energy to not only do so but to make dinner as well. Fingers crossed, right?

But I do need to snap the fuck out of whatever this whatever it is, is, and get back to work on everything.

Heavy sigh.

I also need to get back to reading for pleasure. I have so many amazing books on hand that I want to read, and yet somehow I just am always so worn out in the evenings I can’t focus on reading anything other than things I am reading for research, and I also need to jump back into writing new stuff–Chlorine is just sitting there, and there are any number of other stories I want and need to write or revise or finish. I’ve already allowed so much time to go past that I am going to miss a submission deadline for a story I wanted to get out there–partly the current computer nonsense, mostly; an annoyance I am not going to get into right here–but the older I get the more of a Luddite I appear to be.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

The Game

Well, that’s two consecutive mornings I’ve woken up to it not raining. The half-sleep insomnia returned also last night, so today should be interesting to get through. It’s so weird; yesterday afternoon I was so tired from the gym (yes, I made it to the gym yesterday) that I fell asleep while rereading my manuscript for about twenty minutes…but after dozing for about twenty minutes or so, I woke up completely; wide awake and not tired for the rest of the night, which also unfortunately included when I went to bed. Heavy sigh. But that’s okay; I am also trying to sleep without assistance–I didn’t sleep particularly well Saturday with assistance, so I figured there’s no need to keep taking assistance if it isn’t working anyway.

We finished watching The Cry last evening, and I highly recommend it. Jenna Coleman is exceptionally good in it, and it’s a really twisted and sad story, involving a complicated and tangled domestic triangle, custody, and the disappearance of a baby. It’s one of the better crime series we’ve seen lately–much better than that dreadful HBO series with Nicole Kidman that just seemed pointless–and I’d recommend Ms. Coleman for an Emmy, frankly. High production values, strong writing, and great acting are always a plus, frankly. We then tried watching Amazon’s Tell Me Your Secrets, but abandoned it about thirty minutes in. The plot was convoluted; the writing not particularly good, and there were so many “what the actual fuck” moments we gave up on it. The basic set-up didn’t make sense, and it’s a shame; stars Lily Rabe and Amy Brenneman deserved much better material. But we then started another British show, The Capture, which was riveting and definitely held out interest. There are five more hours of it; so we’ll see how it goes, moving forward; but it has an interesting premise. A young British soldier, court-martialed and convicted of a war crime due to helmet-cam footage, is exonerated on appeal when it turns out the helmet-cams have a five second delay between audio and video–the sound is delayed–which shows that he didn’t commit the crime he is accused of after all…he celebrates that night, asks his barrister out, and is captured on CCTV street coverage assaulting and kidnapping her. The cops quickly track him down, arrest him–but the barrister is nowhere to be found and he–upon watching the tape–starts freaking out and yelling that didn’t happen that didn’t happen….our newly promoted DI Rachel Cary cryptically closes the episode by saying she believes him; she doesn’t think he remembers the assault.

Definitely captured my interest.

As I mentioned earlier, I started rereading the manuscript of Bury Me in Shadows with an eye to not only writing out a timeline of events (requested by my editor) but to copy-edit and correct things; which is a good thing. I found all kinds of clunky writing and sentences out of order, not to mention typos and other things I am not quite sure how they got past me the first time. Sloppy, sloppy, sloppy; this is why you shouldn’t rush these things at the last minute the way I am always prone to do. I wanted to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women yesterday; but decided against it since I needed to get the manuscript reread…alas, I then fell asleep for that little while and then I had to start making dinner and we turned on the television and…so I am hoping to get through it all tonight. I also have to stop on my way home from the office to get some things I forgot when I was making groceries on Saturday. Heavy sigh. I can only imagine how tired I will be by the time I get home tonight…

Yeah, I am kind of sensing that today is not going to be one of my better ones. Heavy sigh.

Has anyone else noticed how fast this year is going? Maybe it only seems to be, since last year was one of those endless years that felt like a decade, but we’re nearly done with April already. I’ve certainly lost all sense of time; my usual markers for the year passing–Carnival, Saints and Sinners, Jazzfest, Memorial Day, Southern Decadence, etc.–not happening has really messed up my sense of time.

And on that note, time to head for the spice mines. Have a wonderful Monday, Constant Reader–I’m going to certainly try to.

Evil Dust

The sun is actually out today and there aren’t many–if any–clouds in our beautiful blue sky this morning, which is lovely. It’s rained pretty constantly ever since Tuesday afternoon, and everything outside is still wet from nearly a week of rain. I love rain–especially thunderstorms–but even I thought five straight days of them was a bit extreme. I wound up running my errands in the rain yesterday–I dropped off another five boxes of books to the Ladder Library sale yesterday (you actually can tell now that I’ve gotten rid of books)–and made groceries and got the mail. It was pouring while I did all of this, so my plans to go to the gym yesterday were finally scrapped. I also wound up taking the day off from almost everything yesterday–I think I needed a brain-free day, frankly–and so we watched a lot of television–we binged all the way through a delightful comedy called The Other Two, watched the Tom Holland movie Cherry on Apple Plus, and then switched over to Acorn for a riveting crime show called The Cry.

Yes, I was a slug all day and I am not a bit ashamed of it.

Oh, sure, I had my journal with me and scribbled notes freeform all day–my favorite is that I came up with a short story title I now HAVE to use, “To Live and Die in La.”, while having absolutely no idea what the story would actually be, but I laughed at the title and now want to. use it–so I did do something. But today I have to start revising/copy editing/making notes on Bury Me in Shadows–due to be returned to my editor no later than the first of May–and so, if I do go to the gym today (leaning towards it, since it’s sunny out) I can curl up in my easy chair to do it, so that’s a start. I really need to work on my story–the deadline for that submission call is May 15, I believe–and so I need to kick everything up a notch this week. I am getting caught up on a lot of other things as well–it’s never-ending, and have also accepted that I only have so much bandwidth for things. The emails, for example…I’ll never get caught up on those, ever…so I need to prioritize and so forth in order to get through everything that absolutely needs to be responded to immediately.

I also need to spend some time getting organized and cleaning a bit this morning. There’s filing to be done, of course–always–and somehow the kitchen looks like a tornado ripped through here (not completely an exaggeration, to be honest) and I need to get that taken care of this morning. I have a load of laundry to do, and there’s always dishes–always. I also want to organize the refrigerator a bit more this morning. Since the sun is out, I’ll probably grill hamburgers later on this afternoon, which is always an absolute treat (I really prefer all meat to be cooked over hot charcoal, frankly–or at least, most). I am also a bit excited that the next step of book decluttering (and yes, I am aware I am completely Marie Kondo-ing my apartment) is to go up into the storage attic and start clearing the boxes up there. This will, of course, be more complicated than the bookcases and the hidden boxes in the living room, since I’ll have to bring them down and go through them, combining the ones to keep (I can’t imagine there will be many of those) while putting aside the ones to donate. The goal is to clear out enough space in the storage attic so I can clean out my storage rental and close that account; most of the books in the storage are copies of my own books (and my kids’ series collection) along with some other things–mostly papers–and it would be nice to either no longer have that bill every month, or to use that space for other things…but at the moment I can’t think of anything that we’d need to keep it for.

But it would be great to lose that bill by the end of the summer.

Not as great as paying off the car, but still pretty good.

I think I’m going to add Semi-Tough to the donate pile. The first three pages are nothing but racial slurs as well as justifications for using them, and how the main character–it’s a first person narrative–isn’t really racist and the slurs are just words that don’t mean offense and so on–and yeah, I really don’t feel like spending any of my time with that kind of character. I certainly wouldn’t in real life–imagine being at dinner or a cocktail party and the person you are talking to says, and this is a direct quote from page one: Just because I may happen to say (the n-word) doesn’t mean I’m a racist.

Um, actually it does. It says a lot about you, who you are, and how you were raised, as well as how you see people and the world.

And I really have no desire to read a book filled with racial slurs…because you KNOW its also full of gay slurs, too–and most likely without the caveat justifying the racial slurs: Now listen, just because I say “faggot” doesn’t mean I’m homophobic.

Sure, Jan.

There are so many other good books to read, why reread something I originally read as a teen that plays on racism and homophobia and misogyny for humor? I stopped rereading The Last Picture Show, a book I absolutely loved, a few years ago when it got to the part about bestiality, and how it was perfectly normal for the teen boys to fuck animals…I closed the book and put it away. I may go back and reread the entire thing at some point–the reason I was rereading it in the first place was to examine how it handles homosexuality–which I distinctly remembered it doing–but I don’t think I was able to get far enough into it to get to that part. I know that Coach Popper–long-suffering Ruth’s awful husband–was a deeply repressed one, who favored one of the more athletic boys primarily because of his attraction to him; that the preacher’s son Billy Bob Blanton was often mocked and teased and bullied and humiliated for being a “four-eyed queer” (before he molests a little girl, after which he’s taken away as a pervert); and that the heterosexual English teacher, who was cultured and sensitive and kind, was accused by the coach of impure thoughts and fired (everyone, of course, would never suspect the manly football coach of anything, or question him); and I remembered a particular poignant scene between the fired English teacher–who’s been fired, whose wife has left him and taken their daughters and filed for divorce–and Ruth, where he’s just so beaten down and defeated that it’s heartbreaking. But yeah–that whole “boys will be boys” attitude towards bestiality was too much for me to get through again.

The Last Two is a terrific show, and quite funny. Paul and I really enjoyed it; the premise of the show is the two older children are in their late twenties–one is a struggling actor whose most recent audition was for a commercial in which he would play “Party-goer who smells a fart”; the daughter had wanted to become a dancer until she broke her ankle and dropped out of dance school and cannot figure out what she wants to do with the rest of her life–when suddenly, their thirteen year old brother puts up a video of him singing a ridiculous song (“Marry Me at Recess”) and becomes an overnight viral sensation with a record deal and a manager under the name “Chase Dreams”; which makes them feel even more like losers. The older brother, Cary, is also gay and in a weird relationship with his straight roommate; the daughter has broken up with her boyfriend and is now homeless at the beginning of the show. I thought it was terrific, frankly, and look forward to season two.

My primary takeaway from Cherry is that Tom Holland is an amazingly talented actor–he really gives a stunning performance as a poor young man who falls in love, gets his heart broken and joins the military, serves as a medic in Iraq and comes home to nothing but PTSD and drug addiction, which leads him to a life of crime. It’s a very dark story–but also weirdly a love story at the same time–and I don’t think the film, worked overall; the Russo Brothers, who directed, turned it into this big grand opera style thing in the way they shot it; to the point where the beautiful imagery is almost intrusive. It’s a very real story–based on a true story–and it highlights, very powerfully, how we abandon our troops completely after their service is over (since they’re no longer the troops….”support the troops” makes me angry because it is used primarily as a political prop and the actual soldiers themselves suffer in silence and neglect while we give billionaires and corporations every break in the world), but it’s worth watching for Tom Holland’s performance–he was also fantastic in The Devil All The Time–and it’s really nice to see him pushing himself in his non-superhero roles (he’s also the best, in my opinion, Spider-Man).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Ecstasy

It’s gray again this morning in New Orleans, and I have about six boxes of books to take to the library sale today. I also have five or six boxes of condom packs that will have to go back to the office on Monday; which, I suppose, is the easiest way to say that my living room currently looks incredibly cluttered and desperately in need of organizing and cleaning and so forth. I also have a lot of errands to do–the mail, groceries, etc. and need together to the gym today as well. I would also like to get some writing done today–at least a revision of a short story or something–so tomorrow I can primarily focus on the edits of Bury Me in Shadows….and maybe do a bit on Chlorine as well.

I was ridiculously productive yesterday–as mentioned before, I really did a great job of paring down the books last night while laundering the bed linens; Paul was out having dinner with a roommate for college (who was indirectly responsible for our meeting, actually) and so while I watched Smithsonian documentaries on World War II (The Battle of Midway, The Battle of Okinawa, The Fall of Japan, Normandy: 85 Days After D-Day) Started going through the boxes of books I have cleverly concealed beneath blankets so they sort of look like tables, in way, with more books and decor on top of them (we have far too much bric-a-brac in this house, seriously), and when Paul got home we watched the second part of the Aaron Hernandez documentary. (I think perhaps the saddest thing–other than the victims, of course–was how exploited he was for his ability; he was clearly trouble at the University of Florida, so they covered for him for three years and once they’d gotten their use out of him, told him he wasn’t welcome back on the team for his senior year and to enter the draft early; as soon as he was arrested and charged the Patriots–and their fans–turned their backs on him immediately as did their fans…which tells me everything I needed to know about how his coaching staff and teammates felt about him–that was an almost lightning like 180, and considering how many other players have committed crimes and not been abandoned….and while murder is pretty extreme, of course, they clearly knew there were issues there and yet no one did anything.)

I also watched two movies yesterday while making condom packs, and both were kind of terrible. The first, The Getaway, starring Steve McQueen and Ali McGraw, was so unbelievably bad I came very close to turning it off numerous times, but figured you finished Carnal Knowledge, you can finish this. Directed by Sam Peckinpah, known for his violent and bloody films, and based on the novel by Jim Thompson (whom I’ve never read, and I need to correct that at some point), it basically is a dark story about a criminal whose wife gets him paroled by appealing to a corrupt businessman (with her body), so that they can commit a bank robbery and share the money with the businessman. Of course, there are all kinds of double crosses, and the bad guys are after them, as are the cops as well as one of their other accomplices they assumed was dead; there’s a weird subplot with him taking a veterinarian and his wife along with him on the chase for no reason (other than he’s banging the wife); interestingly enough, the vet is played by Howard fro The Andy Griffith Show and the wife/girlfriend (never clear) by Sally Struthers. It’s a mess, really; its only saving grace the chemistry between McQueen and MacGraw (who became involved) and that they are both ridiculously good looking; neither can act their way out of a paper bag (if they can. there’s no evidence of it here), and the score is also terrible and jarring. I know it was remade in the 90’s, I think; but as a noir film, or Neo-noir, it fails. I didn’t care about any of the characters and breathed a sigh of relief when the credits rolled. It’s a definite Cynical 70’s Film Festival entry; that was the time of the anti-hero and anti-establishment thinking…but I couldn’t help but think how much better the film would have been had it starred, say, Paul Newman and Ellen Burstyn, or Clint Eastwood and Natalie Wood, or even Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.

In fairness, they were done no favors by the script.

The second part of my double feature was John Huston’s Reflections in a Golden Eye, based on the Carson McCullers novel and boasting a cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, Julie Harris and Brian Keith. I read the book several years ago and didn’t much care for it, to be honest–again, maybe I simply missed the point, but I didn’t care about any of the characters and that also translated into the film. There’s never any sense of why they do the things they do, and it’s kind of just a story about sexual hang-ups and frustrations, set around a military base somewhere in the South. Both Taylor and Brando sport really bad Southern accents, and Julie Harris is the only one who really pulls off her role–that of a sad woman who never got over the death of a child and has formed an unnatural attachment to her (incredibly racist and homophobic depiction of a) Filipino houseboy. She also apparently cut off her nipples with garden shears; she’s clearly not well, and yet all around her no one, especially her husband (Brian Keith), who’s sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor. Taylor is married to Brando, who chews the scenery at every opportunity (as I watched I couldn’t stop thinking considered the greatest actor of his generation, wow) who is an extremely repressed gay man who becomes obsessed with a young enlisted man who likes to ride horseback in the nude as well as lay out in the sun in the nude. The enlisted man is obsessed, in his turn, with Taylor, breaking into their house at night and watching her sleep while he paws through her underwear and nightgowns, sniffing them but never touching her. Brando becomes convinced the young man feels the same attraction to him, and at the end, sees the young man sneaking up to the house in the dark out a window. Thinking the young man is coming to him, he becomes enraged when he sees the young man–Elgee–sneak into his wife’s room, so he gets a gun and shoots him dead. The credits roll as Elizabeth Taylor screams. The movie is pretty true to the book, which kind of goes to show how not every book needs to be made into a movie. Most of the book is internal, which doesn’t translate to film very well–and I didn’t much care for the book. The movie could have been good–great cast after all–but overall, it fall flat for much the same reasons The Getaway did; I couldn’t muster up even a little bit of investment in any of the characters, other than Julie Harris, who is the only one who comes across well in the film. It did make me want to revisit the novel again, though, so that’s something. And while this is from 1968 or 1969, I do include it in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–as there were many films in the late 1960’s that actually began what I consider the cynical period in American film, where the heroes were now who would have been the villains under the old Hays Code–neither Bonnie and Clyde nor The Graduate (both from 1967) could have been made under the code; certainly Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966) couldn’t have been.

I may have to take a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival for a bit. The last three films were terrible, and while I am kind of glad I saw them–always wanted to–I don’t know if I can stand watching another dated bad movie.

Maybe it’s time to go back to the Halloween Horror Film Festival.

And since I finished The Man with the Candy, now it’s time to pick something new to read. I came across a copy of Dan Jenkins’ Semi-Tough, of all things, while pruning the books. I read it when I was a teenager, along with Peter Gent’s North Dallas Forty, which are two completely different books about the same subject: pro football. Semi-Tough is comic; North Dallas Forty (which I preferred) is dark and almost noirish; the two books came up in conversation on Twitter recently; someone tweeted asking for people’s favorite sports film. I responded with Brian’s Song, and Laura Lippman professed her love for North Dallas Forty. I would really like to revisit the Gent novel and was also thinking I should reread the Jenkins; so having it turn up while pruning the books seemed to me like a sign. I’ll probably hate it–just looking at the first page there are some racial slurs already, and there’s nothing I hate more than the contract sumbitch, which was prevalent in the 1970’s; in theory, it’s how Southern people say “son of a bitch” with their accent. It annoyed me because everyone in my family, excepting my sister (and her children and grandchildren) and I, has a very thick accent…and not one of them ever says sumbitch. It became extremely popular in the 1970’s because Jackie Gleason, playing a corrupt Southern sheriff, says it all the time in Smoky and the Bandit…and I’ve always hated it, and never minded that it went gently into that dark night and no one bothers with it anymore. Being reminded of it sets my teeth on edge, frankly.

I may not, in fact, be able to get through the book. I know it’s meant to be funny and satirical, but….I just opened it at random and the narrator was talking about how it’s very important that we understand that he’s white because most running backs aren’t and….

Yeah.

I can only imagine the misogyny. Sigh.

All right, I need to get this mess under control so I can get everything done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Too Late

Hey there, Friday, how you doing?

A thunderstorm woke me up around six this morning, as one has the last three days or so, as well as a downpour. It has since stopped raining since I got up–well, at least it’s not a deluge as it was when it woke me up; now it’s just kind of sprinkling–and again, this makes me rather happy that I don’t have to leave the house today. I do need to make groceries and get the mail, but this can wait until tomorrow if need be; or after I finish working today if the weather has cleared up.

Last night I finished reading The Man With the Candy, and the story continues to fascinate me–and the dead boys haunt me. It’s amazing to me also how little there is out there about the case–John Wayne Gacy, being caught alive and tried, essentially erased Corll from the public imagination. Had there been 24 hour news channels in 1974, there would have been so much coverage it would be impossible for the Candyman story to so utterly and completely disappear from the public consciousness; I only know the story because I lived in Houston about fifteen years after Corll was killed, and people in the city still remembered. The book will get its own review post at some point–it’s very well done–but I also can’t help but wonder if all those boys would have been murdered had society not been so homophobic at the time….but I suppose I can talk about that when I write about the book.

We also started watching an Oxygen documentary series about Aaron Hernandez last night, another case that has long fascinated me. While I always tend to reserve my sympathies for the victims, Hernandez never really had a chance, given his abusive childhood, his sexual molestation as a child, his homophobic father and then becoming a professional athlete in an incredibly homophobic sport (well, almost all the professional and amateur sports have a certain level of homophobia built into them as part of the toxic masculinity so rampant in our country as well as the systemic homophobia we still fight to this very day); not to mention all the brain damage he sustained playing football. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, despite his crimes; how different would his life have been had his father not been an abusive homophobe, had he not been sexually molested, and had the society and culture he was raised in been so horrifically homophobic, forcing him to play the toxically masculine role of the stud athlete?

I suppose that’s the case with so many criminals, though–had it not been for this or that, perhaps they would have had a productive life that benefited society.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, yesterday while making condom packs I watched a Mike Nichols film from 1970, Carnal Knowledge, starring Jack Nicholson and Arthur Garfunkel (of all people; I’m curious how he wound up being cast in this). The opening sequences, with the two men playing roommates and best friends named Jonathan and Sandy respectively, was kind of amusing; it’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1970’s it wasn’t uncommon for actors to play high school or college students when they were clearly way too old (see The Way We Were); but it’s also difficult to find actors young enough to play them as college students while looking enough like them to be believable as well as being able to act as well as the stars. My prime away takeaway from this movie was, well, anyone who ever wonders why the Women’s Movement was necessary and needed should just watch this movie. To say that it hasn’t aged well is a MAJOR understatement; and while it seems the entire point of the movie (and this may just be my modern reading of it) is to point out how societal expectations and sexual mores of the time not only punished women but also poisoned men with toxicity. The movie opens with the two men at a mixer when an incredibly beautiful young Candace Bergen arrives; both are interested, but since Sandy “saw her first” she’s his for the taking (boom! not even five minutes in and we are already exposed to the sexist, misogynist notion that a young woman belongs to a man she’s not even met because he saw her first…no consideration whatsoever to what she may want or need) and she reluctantly begins to date him, although it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t really feel anything for him. We never get any understanding of her or who she is, nor do we get any sense of why Jonathan pursues his best friend’s girlfriend or why she sleeps with him. He eventually demands that she choose, and she chooses Sandy. We then follow the two friends through the years, as Jonathan becomes even more toxic and distant, unwilling to get married and unwilling to commit to any woman; Sandy’s marriage ends in divorce and he begins seeing another woman whom Jonathan also pursues, eventually convincing Sandy to “swap” with him; at this point Jonathan is living with Bobbie (played by Ann-Margret; a really terrific performance) a model/actress who moves in with him and quits working and slowly begins to crumble emotionally–he’s also abusive; we never actually see him strike her, but the verbal and emotional abuse is horrific. Sandy goes into the bedroom only to find Bobbie has overdosed on pills…which finally gets Jonathan to marry her. The next scene we see, they are already divorced and he is living alone; Sandy is visiting him with his new girlfriend (a very young Carol Kane), who is horrified by who Jonathan is and his attitude towards women–he shows them a slideshow of every woman he’s been involved with, calling it the Ballbuster Show; Susan (Candace Bergen) briefly appears on the screen and he quickly clicks past her. Appalled by him, the Kane character leaves, and the two old friends go for a walk. Sandy talks about how she is teaching him how to love and how to love himself, and that he hopes cynical Jonathan can find someone who will teach him the same lessons. Jonathan scoffs, and the final scene of the movie shows him going to a prostitute, Rita Moreno, with the hopes that she’ll enable him to get hard this time–impotence has been an issue for him going back to college, which is apparently caused–the script infers–by his inability to be vulnerable or to connect emotionally with women. And that’s all, folks; credits roll.

This definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; it’s probably one of the darkest films I’ve ever seen when it comes to relationships between men and women. Perhaps that’s what Nichols and screenwriter Jules Pfeiffer were trying for; I certainly hope so, as that was the end result. There were several times while watching that I couldn’t help but think, this is a Rona Jaffe novel only from the men’s perspective rather than the women’s, which just goes to show how fucked up we were as a society back in those “good old days” of the 1950’s conservatives keep wanting us to go back to–no fucking thanks, for the record.

And on THAT note, tis off to the spice mines with ME. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Touched by the Hand of God

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee and eating coffee cake and trying to wake up. I slept very well again last night, and am starting to feel more…normal, whatever that means for me, since I am anything but normal. I have things to get done today, but the apartment is starting to feel like home again for the first time in a while (since everything went haywire week before last). The laundry room is mostly reassembled, and the book shelves in there look neat and tidy and organized, which rather pleases me. The living room is….well, the living room. I am always going to have too many books in my house (even typing that a voice inside my head was shrieking you can never have too many books what are you talking about?); but I am developing a certain heartlessness as I continue to fill boxes with books for the library sale. At some point, I am going to have to start going through the boxes of books on top of the kitchen cabinets and the ones in the storage attic, and my goal is to have cleaned out not only the attic but the storage unit I’ve rented for far too long.

We finished the first season of Very Scary People on HBO last night, concluding with the two-parter on Jim Jones (we skipped Gacy–have seen enough of him lately already–and Aileen Wuornos, because we watched one on her already recently) and will be moving on to season two probably this evening. I am way behind on Superman and Lois–mainly because it’s something I started watching without Paul and so, rather than trying to get him caught up, I am just going to continue watching without him (I always, inevitably, have to fill him in on super-hero backstory and so forth anyway in most cases, though I think he knows enough Superman lore–doesn’t everyone, really–that he wouldn’t need explanations in this case).

I’ve started–sort of–working on Chlorine this weekend, mostly free hand and mostly in my journal, mapping out backstory and so forth for the main character, and I’ve also started working on the backstory for the body in the surf, and the plot–which was kind of amorphously planned in my head, but yesterday I started nailing down specifics in the plot. It’s going to be kind of fun to write, I think–I always think that going into a manuscript; ever the optimist–and while it’s very tempting to use real people as characters, I think I will make the ones who actually are on the page and participating in the story fictional, but mention others–Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, etc.–in passing. I know the studio is going to be fictional–tempted as I am to use Fox or MGM–and I also know I need to sprinkle in some of the conservatism that reigned then, as everyone was afraid of Communists and having to testify in front of HUAC in Washington; it was the time of ‘the lavender scare” (also the title of a terrific history of the period and this very thing, by David Johnson; I highly recommend it) and so homosexuality was also driven even further underground because we were seen as security risks, particularly if we worked in government since it put us at risk for blackmail by Communists (I touched on this briefly in my story “The Weight of a Feather”, collected in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories).

I also worked on getting organized yesterday. I did a lot of filing, and took a lot of books off my desk and replaced them with ones I’ll be using for research and background for this book. I kind of feel like I already know my main character (even though I couldn’t remember his name yesterday as I wrote notes in my journal); he grew up in Kansas, was caught by his father in a “compromising position” with his high school basketball coach in the tiny little town he grew up in and was forced to enter the military at age 17–going into the Navy and serving in the South Pacific, where he found other men like himself, and thus became familiar with the underground gay community within the military, as well as in Honolulu and Los Angeles (on leaves). After mustering out in 1946 he comes to LA to become a movie star, is discovered by a Henry Willson type agent, and at the start of the story his seven year control with Pacific Pictures is coming to an end, they aren’t going to renew his contract, and he is in fact being sacrificed to a tabloid in order to protect another client, a rising star the tabloid was going to out–loosely based on how Henry Willson sold out Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter to Confidential to save Rock Hudson; but unlike them, my character’s agent has a plan for him: a long-term contract to work with an Italian film company making sword-and-sandal epics.

It’s a great set-up, and one that I hope to not let down…right now I am feeling confident that I can write this and it will be amazing; of course, once I start the doubts and imposter syndrome will start creeping in and I will spend most of my time wondering what the hell I was thinking to try to write such a thing in the first place.

I couldn’t have picked a better career path for a neurotic, could I?

I also lined up all the potential short story calls I am interested in submitting to, matched them up with an in-progress story that fits their call (or at least what does in my mind; I am really not that great a judge of these things, in all honesty) and need to plan out when to reread and when to rewrite. It’s very strange; now that I am coming out of the exhaustion from the writing of the two books back to back I am amazed at how light I feel; I don’t feel that oppressive burden nor the stress that comes from carrying it. I know both manuscripts need work and I need to revise and rework and edit one last time with each, and there’s a deadline for the first for sure–but I am going to put that off until next weekend, when I have the time to sit and go through Bury Me in Shadows from beginning to end, making notes, making corrections, and so on and so forth to get it polished into a diamond…or as close to one as I can get one of my books.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning swilling coffee and trying to finish reading The Russia House. I love LeCarré; he is such a terrific writer I can get lost in his sentences and paragraphs forever–but I find myself not loving the plot or the characters in this one, which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this one, I think. He also does an excellent job of taking me back into that 1980’s world/mentality of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union–that halcyon time when the fear of nuclear annihilation began to fade somewhat but at the same time the worry of what would fill the vacuum created by that collapse was almost nearly as intense (it didn’t take long for conservatives to replace Communists with Muslims as the scary other from another part of the world determined to destroy us); not to mention the wondering if glasnost and perestroika weren’t real or sincerely meant; LeCarré does an absolutely amazing job with that cold intelligence paranoia.

And then, for something similar yet completely different, I am going to reread Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

I also would like to get back to the gym today; it looks absolutely lovely outside, and the walk will be lovely.

Until tomorrow, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

Sabotage

So, yesterday was new washing machine day. Thursday evening I took the laundry room apart, went outside and measured the places that looked like they may be too tight for the washer to get through, etc. I also had to move some things around outside as well. But it was finally delivered and installed–right at the end of the window I was given–and then I ran a few errands before coming home to get caught up on laundry and, well, reassemble the laundry room. It didn’t take long, for example, for me to realize that rehanging the doors was a two person job, so the doors will stay down until there’s a day when the handyman is here and I see him outside; he’s very nice, so I can’t imagine he wouldn’t come in and screw the bolts back in while I hold the doors in place.

The new washer is lovely, really; but it is also computer-operated (the dreaded motherboard–which always makes me think, “oh yay, something else that can break”) and it is much more complex and complicated to operate. It also doesn’t have a traditional agitator inside; it’s hard to explain how it actually agitates the laundry, but it does somehow–and the spinning is so strong that the clothes feel merely damp rather than wet when they come out. I also have to get used to the new and different noises it makes–its sounds are vastly different than its predecessor’s, and since the flood when its predecessor broke last week, I am paranoid about washing machine noises.

It’s going to take some getting used to–as well as learning how to use it. My old washer was relatively simple–you chose the water-load size and then selected what kind of cycle and what kind of water temperature you wanted, pulled the dial out, and were done with it until it was finished. This one you choose the water temperature you want, the kind of load (at least eight options) and then the kind of cycle–again, eight options. The basket will spin one direction and then back the other a few times for the sensor to determine how big the load is and how much water it needs–you can also manually ask it to add more water, once the sensor has determined how much to use–and well, yeah, it’s complicated. It’s also “green”–it conserves energy and water, based on those afore-mentioned sensors. (And yes, every time I think “sensors” in the back of my head something whispers something else that can break….)

It also made me curious–when the old washer was taken out and the new one put in, I was able to retrieve some things that had fallen behind it or been knocked underneath it by one cat or the other over the years–we had it for sixteen years and two cats, after all, it was a miracle there weren’t more things underneath it–but the floor was filthy beneath, just disgusting–and of course the delivery guys were on a timetable so I could hardly ask them to wait while I cleaned the floor beneath; which makes me wonder, do people clean regularly beneath their washer and dryer? Considering, in my case, I would have to disconnect them completely and move them out, neither of which would be easy, I am resigned to having a disgustingly filthy floor beneath the two appliances (now I am also wondering about beneath the refrigerator). I would imagine most people probably don’t regularly clean beneath their washer/dryer sets; but I am willing to go out on a limb here and say that my mother probably does.

While reassembling the laundry room I also picked out books to donate to the library, and found lots of books, buried behind stacks of others, that I’d forgotten I even owned. “Oh, yes, I did buy Gloria Steinem’s essay collection, didn’t I? Oh, there’s Rabbit, Run, and that biography of Cardinal Richelieu I was wondering about a few months ago.” So many books–and of course, one of the delivery guys was like, after looking at the shelves in there, the stacks of books on the living room floor and the book cases, with books crammed into the shelves and stacked on top, in a voice of clear wonder, have you read ALL these books?

The answer, of course, is no–one of the things I’ve reluctantly been doing is donating the books I’ve already read to the library sale; figuring that I will never have time to reread them and if I do need to reread them, well, The Reread Project definitely taught me I can certainly reread books in Digital form, even if I may not necessarily want to read them that way originally.

It’s gloomy and raining outside this morning; thunder woke me in the midst of a downpour around four this morning, but the rain lulled me back into a very deep and comfortable sleep, and I suspect it’s going to rain all day–at least it looks that way right now. I haven’t gotten any emergency alerts, so flooding isn’t happening–it’s steady now, not torrential, which usually means the drains and pumps can handle it–but it is indeed a gray morning; perfect for curling up with a book. My emails–ignored yesterday–have gotten a bit out of control (as they always do) and so I am going to have to go through there today. The emails are an endless nightmare for me from which I never seem to be able to either wake up from or get caught up on…but I also kind of snapped this week about them; as always, the stress builds to the point where something in my brain just snaps and I think to myself, it is what it is and I can only do so much per day.

Like, right now I am thinking, go sit in your chair and read for a whileface it all later when you’ve had more coffee and are more awake, and it actually sounds like the plan for the morning. I have to do a ZOOM thing later today for the Northwest chapter of MWA–a question and answer thing for like half an hour about MWA–and I am also going to need some time to prepare for that. There’s also more organizing and cleaning to get done today, and I also started wanting to map out/work on Chlorine this weekend as well as some short stories, and I am going to get back to the gym tomorrow–no desire to walk there today in the rain, frankly–and I also need to start working on the edits for Bury Me in Shadows at some point this weekend. Heavy heaving sigh.

It truly never ends, does it?

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Elegia

Ugh, Monday morning.

At least I finished the draft of the book yesterday, so huzzah! It’s probably still a big old mess, and a whole lot of revision and rewriting is going to be required by my ever-patient and long-suffering editor, but it’s fucking done. And I have to say, in addition, that I’m kind of glad to be done with that manuscript, at least for now, and at least it’s in some sort of shape that makes sense and is hopefully fixable.

The espresso machine is still not making cappuccino shots, still only making an espresso shot despite having enough water for the larger shot; apparently just turning that extra water into steam. The new one should arrive today, so this morning will be the last time I have to use this old, no longer properly working one. I’ve also learned my lesson from the debacle of last Wednesday as far as how to drink the proper amount of caffeine this morning. What I should do is not make another and simply swing through the Starbucks drive-thru at St. Claude and Elysian Fields and pay a ridiculous amount of money for one of their lattes with a shot of vanilla in it…but as it also still causes me physical pain to pay that much money for one, I will most likely repeat the enormous mistake of last week and wind up over-caffeinating. I’ll be sad to get rid of this espresso machine; it was cheap and served me well for seven years almost, but I am really looking forward to using the new one, and seeing what it does.

I have tomorrow off so I can take Paul to his colonoscopy. Big excitement, right? At least I can take The Russia House with me to read while that’s going on. We don’t know what time his appointment is for; he has to go get a COVID test today, and once they get the result will call to let him know what time he needs to come in tomorrow morning (or afternoon; it could be at any time). Our new washer is also being delivered this Friday, and now of course I am stressing about how they are getting the old one out and the new one in. I’ll probably go ahead and remove the laundry room door on Thursday, as well as taking out the bottom shelf and everything on it to make as much room for them in the tight space as possible. I keep telling myself they’re used to this sort of thing and not worrying; after all, they were able to deliver and install the original one, weren’t they? And we’ve had three dryers delivered and installed over the last sixteen years, so I am probably worrying about nothing, right? Right? But so many things have been going wrong around here for so long–this weekend, we kept blowing a fuse in the kitchen–which is worrisome, especially since the last time it blew yesterday it wouldn’t flip back, and it was hot to the touch, so I let it sit for about two hours and then tried again. It worked that time–the kitchen lights are still on this morning (it’s also the same fuse the refrigerator and dishwasher are on, so I’ve not been able to. use the dishwasher as the fuse goes every time) so here’s hoping the guys can come out today and replace the fuse or figure out the problem with it so it will stop tripping.

We finished watching The Clown and the Candyman yesterday, as they tried to make the connection between the two notorious serial killers and the John Norman pedophilia ring, and as I watched and listened, I kept thinking to myself this sounds like where that QAnon pedophile conspiracy theory probably got its start–which doesn’t mean that it’s not based in some kind of fact; the QAnon conspiracy theory might actually be grounded in some kind of reality–which doesn’t, of course, mean what they are saying on those message boards and so forth is true, either. But it was interesting, to say the least, and the parallels and possible connection between these two mass murderers is fascinating to contemplate. And of course, the entire time I was watching I was scribbling down notes and ideas for stories and so forth. We also finished watching Resident Alien last night, which was exceptionally clever and rather well done; I am assuming last night’s final episode we watched was the season finale because the end was the perfect cliffhanger.

Fun!

I’ve also fallen behind on Superman and Lois, and with this draft of the book finished, I should be able to get back on track with everything else that I’ve fallen behind on–groan, my email inbox alone–and I have to do some tweaking of Bury Me in Shadows, which I am hoping to get to work on this coming weekend. I kind of want to take this week to kind of chill and relax and get a handle on everything. I’ve never felt caught up at all at any time over the past year, which is terrible and drives me crazy; there’s nothing worse than feeling behind all the time and like you’re never going to catch up.

And on that note….tis back to the spice mines with me! Happy day after Easter, everyone!