Treacherous

And it’s Saturday, and my vacation is slowly but surely drawing to a close. Heavy heaving sigh,

It’s been lovely, actually, even if I haven’t been particularly inspired to do a whole lot this entire time. It’s always easy–and kind of a cop-out–to say, well, you needed the physical, intellectual, and emotional rest, but I really need to cut myself a break every now and again. The endless struggle between “feeling lazy” and “everyone needs a break” is an endless war inside my head; inevitably, the things I need to get done will get done and at some point, I’ll forgive myself for the rest.

I had a very strange inspiration for a short story the other day, which I scribbled down and have some vague idea of where the story will go; it’s called “The Sound of Snow Falling” and the first line is: It was the ice storm that finally broke him. I love that first line; whether it will wind up being a good story remains to be seen. But one thing I’ve never mined in my fiction is my utter hatred for cold weather; perhaps it’s time.

I actually worked on the book yesterday afternoon! It was lovely, and while it still needs polishing up some, I am confident that now that I’ve gotten past whatever the fuck it was that kept me holding back from working on it, I am certain I am going to get this done sooner rather than later–which is a very good thing, as time is running out very quickly. Today I have to run some errands, so I am planning on working on the book before I do that. The Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) is today, and LSU plays Texas A&M tonight, so I need to try to get as much done as I can before the 2:30 kick off.

I did go to the gym yesterday and today my back muscles are sore and tight, so I am going to need to use the heating pad at some point today–probably while I drink more coffee and read some more of Night of Camp David, which is kind of scarily prophetic, given it was published originally in 1965. We also watched this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, which did a marvelous job of tying the show into the the original trilogy, the prequels, and the final trilogy–apparently, it also tied the show into The Clone Wars, which I’ve never watched (and perhaps should). We also found out the Child’s name–Gorgu–and as always, the show was enormously entertaining (also: a guest spot by Michael Biehn, of The Terminator and Aliens fame!) and visually stunning and splendid. It did occur to me last night that the show–in which the Mandalorian’s quest is to find Gorgu’s people–can’t ever really separate them, as their relationship is at the beating heart of the show.

The show is really one of the highlights of my every weekend, frankly.

We weren’t ready for bed yet, and were trying to find some stand-up comedian special to watch before hand–to no avail–when Amazon Prime suggested Porky’s to us. I had actually run across the movie when looking for things to add to my watchlist, and the film–from 1981–was a watershed moment in “teen movies”–when they turned from the unrealistic fluff from Disney or message movies to sex comedies. I assumed the movie wouldn’t hold up–I remember thinking it was really funny when I was twenty and saw it in the theater–and I was correct; the humor falls very flat in almost every case; the way women are treated–and the way they are expected to simply put up with it (and do) is horrifying, It’s a comedy predicated on the idea that high school boys are always horny and always trying to get laid–none of the boys have a relationship of any kind with any women–and the only female cast members exist only as potential sex partners–Wendy is the female equivalent of the boys, and despite her easy way with her own favors, (basically the boys see her as a willing sex partner who can be persuaded to have sex with just about anyone) she is actually popular and has a lot of friends. (This struck me as wrong when I originally saw it–she would have had a bad reputation-and none of the girls would have been friends with her) The other women in the cast are Miss Honeywell (a very young Kim Cattrall)–again, everyone calls her Lassie because she gets very aroused by the smell of the equipment room and howls loudly as she gets laid–and an uptight, overweight, gym teacher known as Beulah Ballbricker, that they all call Ball-breaker and I suppose her sexual repression and determination to keep the girl students safe from the lusts and perversions of the boys is played for laughs. She represents the sexual frustration and repression of the time, I suppose, that all the kids are rebelling against; but you also can’t help feel sorry for her in some ways.

The movie clearly doesn’t hold up–there are still some moments that are funny–but it depends entirely too much on very low sex humor for laughs, and its very vulgarity was what made it funny; it was shocking, and you would laugh back then because you couldn’t believe they were doing these things in a movie for laughs. Some forty years later, it’s no longer shocking, so it’s not funny anymore and it’s just plain vulgar. They also tacked on a subplot about prejudice and anti-semitism to, I suppose, give the movie a “serious” message about how stupid bigotry actually is in reality. And yet it–along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Animal House of a few years earlier–changed the teen movie forever, and paved the way for other movies of the 1980’s like Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, and The Last American Virgin. With the enormous success of this low-budget indie film, along with Ridgemont High and Animal House, Hollywood finally got the message that you can’t go wrong with sex comedies for teens–and teen movies, while still kind of extreme in some ways, began to more accurately reflect what life was like for teenagers, as opposed to the Frankie-Annette movies of the 1960’s and the Kurt Russell films for Disney in the 1970’s; or began developing films in which the teens were actually fully realized characters–I’m not sure how realistic the notion of running a brothel from your parents’ home in a wealthy suburb is. (Although now that I’ve said that, Risky Business was probably based on something that actually happened.)

There’s a really interesting essay or dissertation or even book there, methinks, but I’m not enough of a film expert to do such a thing–although it would make for interesting reading.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The caffeine is beginning to kick in, which is most lovely, and I am most anxious to get functional and to work on the book as quickly as I can. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Lover

And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.

No thank you.

I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.

So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.

Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?

I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)

All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.

There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

False God

Yesterday’s big vacation excursion was Costco.

What? you may very well wonder in horror, You went to Costco TWO DAYS BEFORE THANKSGIVING?

It wasn’t bad at all, frankly. Costco’s parking lot can be packed and yet I rarely feel crowded inside the store, and the checking out and paying part of the trip never seems intrusive, never seems to take forever the way it can in other stores, and I never really mind. Plus, everyone who works there is so friendly, polite and nice–this makes the experience ever so much more pleasant. I even took Paul with me, and even that wasn’t as bad as I feared it might be. (I took Paul to Costco a while ago to get new glasses; it was his first time there and he loves it. How can you not, frankly? And every time I do go to Costco I wish I had a bigger freezer. Yes, honey, that looks wonderful, but we don’t have room for that in the freezer, sorry.)

I really hate that going to Costco makes me wish I owned a separate freezer.

Today is also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills-Day. and of course, tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I have a million things to do today–including making groceries–but once I get home from today’s errands I have every intention of not leaving the house over the course of the next four days for anything other than the gym. My back is sore again this morning, which is odd; how can it have not been sore since the other day and then have the soreness return again is beyond me. But I keep meaning to use the massage roller and never get to it; perhaps that is something I need to take a little more seriously and should do every morning as I swill down my daily caffeine supply.

I didn’t write a damned thing other than my blog yesterday–and I really don’t know how that happened, or how the day escaped me the way it did. It would, of course, be incredibly easy to simply blame it on the Costco trip and be done with it; Costco is a disruption, no matter how you look at it, and of course the living room corner is filled with boxes now–but I really shouldn’t allow that to make the rest of the day essentially worthless to me for writing (although, really, in all honesty, I pretty much will seize on any excuse not to write), but I did make some notes in my journal about “The Rosary of Broken Promises”–its at that kinda-stuck place now–but I really need to be buckling down on Bury Me in Shadows. The cover is coming–I looked at options yesterday, which is always fun (and also makes the book seem more real in some ways to me)–and I am no longer looking at this week as oh look at all the free time I have anymore. I haven’t done any deep cleaning, I haven’t organized anything, and yet somehow I am already on day 5 of my vacation with very little to actually show for it, other than I feel incredibly well rested and level emotionally, which is always a plus.

I kept thinking, all day yesterday, that it was Thursday and today would be Friday. This is a direct result of working from home on Thursdays and Fridays for so long, methinks. It was quite disorienting, and even this morning I have to keep reminding myself it’s Wednesday and not Friday. I have a gazillion emails to answer–it really is a bottomless pit–and of course I must pay the bills this morning as well (a loathsome chore) and I am definitely am going to write today once I get all that out of the way.

That is the plan at the current moment, of course.

I don’t even know what I’ve been doing these past few vacation days, if I am going to be completely honest about it. Yeah, the Lost Apartment looks better, but I haven’t even been reading much, either.

We did watch the new Sarah Paulson movie Run on Hulu last night, and it was much better–and completely different–than I was expecting. Paulson is one of our finest actresses of this period, and I’m glad she was here for the explosion of great television so her talents can be appreciated fully. She was terrific in Ratched, and she is terrific in this as well. It’s another one of those crazy moms with Munchhausen by proxy, like the Gypsy Lee Blanchard story and that side plot on Season One of The Politician (how bad must season two have been, despite Judith Light and Bette Midler, that it came and went so quickly without much notice?), but it’s not the same story at all and it’s quite excellently suspenseful; imagine if that plot line was given to Patricia Highsmith or Daphne du Maurier to write–that’s what Run is. And quite enjoyable, frankly. It’s also not getting much buzz, at least not that I’m aware of, and that’s a real shame.

And on that note I am. heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thanksgiving Eve, everyone.

Treacherous

Tuesday morning, and. the second day of paid vacation leave. Yesterday was a pretty good day, all in all–I didn’t get nearly as much done as I would have liked; but I did get some things done and progress was made. I also went to the gym, which was lovely; I actually identified which exercise I was doing that was causing my back to be sore–and frankly, it was one I didn’t like to do–so I eliminated it and substituted another one. My back is still a little sore today, but nothing like it was before and in fact, last night it didn’t hurt at all. So, again–progress.

“The Rosary of Broken Promises” now sits at a solid three thousand words, and in all honesty, I am just vomiting up on the page and will worry about cleaning it all up later. It’s going well–definitely will require revision and rework; as I said, I’m just kind of feeling my way through the story and figuring out who my main character is (and resisting the urge, which is constant, to turn it into the opening of another stand alone novel) and why he is who he is; the story, ostensibly a poor family’s Christmas story, has already taken a much darker turn than I’d originally intended. But it fits, it works, it makes the story darker and richer and more personal than what I was originally thinking when I sat down to write it. It’s definitely not right for that anthology call that inspired me to be writing a Christmas story to begin with, and seriously, I am not sure where it might be right for (always a problem with writing short stories–figuring out where to sell them) but I. like the story a lot and, as always, my worst case scenario would be another short story collection of my own.

And being creative, actually writing, is fun.

We finished watching Le Manti last night. I won’t spoil the ending for anyone, but I was very disappointed with the incredibly lazy way the writers came up with for who the copycat killer actually was; it was a stereotype thing which has been already debunked, discredited, and is incredibly harmful. Then again, it was a French show and I don’t know how things work in France when it comes to things like this. It was quite a shame, because this laziness was unexpected, given the care they had taken with the story, the characters, and their past histories–and their current relationships. It’s a shame, because overall I enjoyed the show until that point and would happily recommend it, but now I feel like I can’t. Maybe they thought they were being edgy; I don’t know, but it was still terribly disappointing, especially in 2020.

Today I have some more errands to run–Paul wants to go to Costco (I knew he would become an addict the first time I took him there) and I have a prescription to pick up, and there’s a way to do all of this (and a few others) in a nice timely and efficient manner, which is always lovely. I don’t have to go to the gym today since I went yesterday, so other than that excursion, I’ll be home for most of the day, so there’s no reason I can’t write, read, and clean all day.

Other than utter laziness, of course.

I think tonight we’re going to watch that Sarah Paulson Hulu film, Run, which is another take on the Gypsy Blanchard thing–the mom who has Munchhausen’s by proxy and is making her child ill–but it’s done like a horror film rather than a drama, which is an interesting twist that I like an awful lot–although the concept of chronically sick children turning out to have been made ill by a psychotic caregiver is slowly turning into a stereotype.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Tell Me Why

Monday on a vacation week isn’t nearly as brutal or as unpleasant as it is on a normal work week. Ordinarily I am up and out of bed at six in the morning every Monday; today I was able to be a slug-a-bed until around eight, which is when I generally begin the waking process when I do not have to go into the office. One week from today when I am getting up at six again I shall look back on the glory of this halcyon morning and will, as I shut off my alarm and blearily open my eyes, undoubtedly will wish I were still on vacation.

The Saints won yesterday–Taysom Hill played really well for his first start and first full game as quarterback—which was quite delightful. It was more delightful that they were playing the Falcons. The Saints have now won like seven straight games, which is great, but many of them were squeakers, so while I think it’s great, I’m not so gung-ho about the play-offs as one might expect. But 8-2 is much better than I was expecting for them at this point in the season, so I am going to happily take it.

I did manage to reread the first ten chapters of Bury Me In Shadows yesterday; it was necessary because it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it I couldn’t remember where I was at or what was going on. I found a lot of errors (and even more egregious examples of terrible writing), and I am going to spend some time today on fixing those. I also did an outline as I went, which I am going to continue to update as I work my way through the book, and I am feeling a lot more confident about making that due date than I was just yesterday. I just need to focus and keep writing and keep fixing. I need to thoroughly immerse myself in the book, and I think I can do that this week. (As I started making the outline and listing the character names at the beginning, I literally could not remember the main character’s name. That’s how long it has been since I’ve even looked at this; which is rather disgraceful, but also telling about my mental state, my brain, and my memory.)

I also managed to work on “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday morning before diving back into the book. I have no idea where this story is going or what’s going to be about, but it’s in my head and it’s worrying me, like how you always worry a loose tooth with your tongue. I keep thinking about the story, even when I’m not writing it. It’s shaping up to be vastly different than anything I’ve ever done before, and while I am not entirely sure it will be publishable anywhere–the problem with short stories: at some point, you have to think about reshaping them to fit markets, or they sit dormant in your files until the proper submission call rolls around. It’s interesting, isn’t it, how self-destructive my creativity can be? I mean, I have two submissions calls I want to write a short story for, the timelines and deadlines for both are tight, so what do I write? A story that doesn’t fit either call.

We watched the new episodes of both The Undoing and Murder on Middle Beach last night, and another episode of Le Manti. All three are quite good, and we’re enjoying them tremendously. There’s only one more episode left of The Undoing, in which we will find the answers; I don’t see how they could stretch this into a second season, but I also thought the same with Big Little Lies, and they did a second season of that, so anything is possible these days–which is kind of cool but at the same time, sad.

I have a lot of work and other things to get done today. My back is still aching–not sure what it is, quite frankly, and am getting rather tired of it–but I am also going to the gym later this morning and hopefully that won’t affect it too negatively. It’s very weird; I should probably get it looked at, but if it’s just muscle strain I’d feel like an idiot, and rightly so. So at some point today I need to use my back massage roller thingee, and while it will inevitably tighten back up later, I should probably start thinking about stretching it/using the massage roller every day.

And on that note, the spice isn’t going to mine itself. Have a lovely Monday before the holidays, Constant Reader.

Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

Today Was a Fairytale

It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!

I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.

But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.

I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.

I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.

Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.

It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.

But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.

I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.

And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

How You Get The Girl

Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.

The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.

My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.

Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.

The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.

Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.

The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.

I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.

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

American Girl

Hello work-at-home Thursday, how are you doing?

I’m starting to get used to the loss of the trees, but it isn’t even so much the loss of the green, leafy view or the increased light that bothers me the most about the loss of the crepe myrtles. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that the trees didn’t completely shield the house next door or its carriage house from view, they provided enough of a shield for me to feel like I had privacy while I was sitting at my desk. I could see the upstairs windows next doors, but not clearly; it was more of a vague awareness that they were there. Now I can see into them–not that much, really, because of the angle–which of course means anyone standing in those windows or looking out of them can also look directly down at me at my desk, writing or cleaning or reading or whatever the hell it is I do there when I sit there.

And that I do not like one bit.

So, yes, I’m going to have to invest in blinds, I suppose. I can just use them for the upper half of the windows–the lower half doesn’t really need covering, to shield them from either the sun or the next door upstairs neighbors. Am I happy about it? Not in the least. But it has to be done, or next summer is going to be les miserables in the kitchen. It gets too hot in there as it is, and I’m probably also going to have to invest in more portable air conditioners as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

So, apparently a sexual assault scandal is currently looming over the LSU football program, tracing back to Derrius Guice–who was recently dropped by whatever team had drafted him into the NFL after he was arrested for domestic violence–horrifying stuff, really–which revealed that he’d been accused twice of rape while he was a student at LSU and allegedly the school and athletic department covered it up. This was during the time the wretched Joe Alleva was the athletic director there, and given that he was responsible for the insanity and disaster that the the Duke lacrosse team sexual assault scandal, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The fact LSU hired him. with that scandal on his resume, remains a mystery to me. I may be a loyal Tiger fan who bleeds purple and gold, but this needs to be thoroughly investigated and there needs to be accountability. This kind of shit doesn’t belong anywhere in college, let alone in college athletics, and the covering up of bad behavior by star athletes by colleges and professional sports needs to stop, period.

Seriously, enough of this boys will be boys bullshit. Boys who get away with shit because they’re boys become men who think they can get away with shit, and this becomes a societal problem.

I am really tired of sex crimes involving college sports, frankly–or any sport, for that matter.

And now I am thinking I should write a book about college sports and a sex crime, because of course I am.

I could, of course, call it Boys Will Be Boys.

Hmmmm some more.

My back is a little sore this week, I’m not sure if it’s from the gym and working out–I noticed it yesterday, when I woke up, and went to the gym anyway, so this morning it’s a little worse–but it’s not an injury injury; this is just intense muscle soreness, so I’ll be using the heating pad this afternoon as I make condom packs. It did feel lovely going to the gym after work yesterday and working out–I’m really getting back into this–and we started watching Murder on Middle Beach last night on HBO; a documentary series this young filmmaker did about his mother’s brutal murder, which was weird; both oddly intimate and deeply personal, and incredibly sad at the same time. I couldn’t imagine dealing with my mom being murdered, and then writing a true crime book about it, but then, who knows? It’s an interesting premise for a true crime documentary, but one that begs the question of objectivity; how can you be objective when you’re so deeply personally involved with almost everyone you’ll be talking to, interviewing, and filming? And–God help me–I did think to myself, well, someone making a documentary series about their mother’s murder is also a great book premise, isn’t it?

I also took the time last night after the gym, as I waited for Paul to come home, to read two more stories from Lawrence Block’s anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy. The theme of the anthology is, of course, crimes in academia; the first story, by none other than Rambo creator David Morrell–whom I’ve met and is a very nice man–was quite good. The next two stories in the book were by authors I’d not read before, Jane Hamilton and Warren Moore. (Moore has had stories in other Block anthologies I’ve read; I’ve not read any of his novels, is what I meant here.) I’d heard of Ms. Hamilton before; she’s a quite critically acclaimed literary novelists, and best known to me as the author of The Short History of a Prince. Both stories were interesting. Ms. Hamilton’s was built around an advanced creative writing course in a small, failing liberal arts college, while Moore’s was built around the end of an academic conference–with a recently defended, new Ph. D. trying to find a job in academia giving a ride to a long tenured leader in their field, and what the young man thinks about as they talk about careers in academia, with the bitter reality of the younger man’s existence in sharp contrast to the comfortable established existence the older man has achieved. Hamilton’s story, “Writing Maeve Dubinsky,” doesn’t really seem like a crime story–the actual crime is a very small one, not even a misdemeanor, although it deeply affects the lives of the characters of the story (imagine coming to your writing class and discovering that one of your classmates had stolen your journal and written a story about your relationship)–the best part of the story was I remembered in exquisite detail the agony of workshopping one of your stories in a classroom setting–and also put me in mind of thinking about other stories for me to write. The Moore story, “Alt-Ac” (the title refers to Ph.D’s who have to find jobs outside of academia: “alternate to academic”) was also astonishingly dark and bitter about the diploma mill modern colleges have become, saddling students with massive amounts of debt they can never repay while giving them degrees that are essentially useless when it comes to finding work in the real world, particularly since there are so few jobs in academia and there are fewer of those jobs all of the time (seriously, the fact that Katrina came along and finished off any thoughts I had about pursuing further education and possibly teaching on the collegiate level was quite a gift to me, and one I never truly appreciated until lately), but it was also incredibly spot on.

I do find it interesting that in all the talk about student debt and so forth, no one ever talks about revamping or overhauling our higher education system–or improving it; that system is just as rotten and outdated as other societal institutions that need overhauling and repair.

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

Fifteen

Wednesday, and to quote Bon Jovi, “we’re halfway there, Oh! Oh! Livin’ on a prayer!”

Yesterday the city made it official: there will be no Mardi Gras parades in Orleans Parish in 2021. It’s more than a little bit shocking, to be honest; I seriously doubted that the City would actually pull the trigger on this. It’s going to be an enormous economic blow to the city, obviously, but it’s the right thing to do. I don’t know how this will play out in the long run, obviously, but I can’t help but feel bad for all the public service businesses and their employees who depend so heavily on Carnival for their income.

I did come up with an idea for the Christmas horror anthology–the title is “To Sacrifice A Pawn” (which I really really like), and the Louisiana monster I am using is a “grunch”–it was difficult not to go with the Cajun Fairy (the fee follay) or the unbaptized babies (the letiche)–but I can always use those at another time. But I am using Redemption Parish–my weird, self-created “haunted” parish that first appeared in either Murder in the Arts District or The Orion Mask–simply because I think it’s a great name for a Louisiana parish bedeviled by supernatural things. (One of the major drawbacks of being “prolific” is trying to remember things that you’ve written and published already; Christ on the cross, it’s not easy) And let’s face it, how much do I love the entire concept of Redemption Parish? I mean, there are parishes named Assumption and Ascension–although no Annunciation, which is a street in New Orleans, and a great name for a parish.

We finished watching the first season of Mr. Mercedes last night, and much as I wanted them to, they really didn’t stick the landing. I’m not sure why they made the choice to de-emphasize the characters of Jerome and his family, or reduced Holly to such a tiny role, but I think it was a mistake. I can also understand the change in what the crazed psychopath Brady’s final target for the climax was–it would be much too expensive and much too hard to film an attempted bombing at a boy band concert filled with teenagers–but it really did, somehow, shift the dynamic and make the climactic finale seem a little less urgent in some ways. The second season requires paying to join Peacock to watch, and as I’ve discussed numerous times already, I am not really up for paying for still another streaming service.

So, today is my last day in the office for a while. I work at home this week on Thursday and Friday, and then I am on holiday vacation next week, starting with this Saturday. I have a lot planned for this week off; we shall see if I achieve any of it. I need to finish two short stories, dive back into the book and get into a groove of writing it so I can get it turned in on time, an of course, the apartment itself is a pigsty. The LSU game this weekend hasn’t yet been either cancelled or postponed, but it doesn’t look very good for them regardless. Arkansas is surging this year (and really, good for them; their program has really slid into the basement over the end of this past decade, and while I am not a fan, you do hate to see it) and they really get up to beat LSU; not sure why they hate us so much, but there it is, and so it wouldn’t surprise me if our four year winning streak against them comes to an end this year.

And with all the short story stuff that’s been going on this year, I was thinking about my next story collection, and started trying to get a table of contents together for the next one. I’d always intended the next one to be called Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s no way “Once a Tiger” will work as a short story (moving it into the novella camp) and so I need a new title; I am torn between using This Town and Other Stories or Neighborhood Alert and Other Stories; but then who knows? I may come up with yet another story in the meantime whose title is better for a collection. The other thing is I keep forgetting stories I’ve written and published, which is very strange–as I was pulling it all together yesterday evening, I know I forgot “Moist Money”, and who knows what else I’ve forgotten in the meantime?

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