Bend Me Shape Me

 

In a couple of hours, I’ll be on the road to Montgomery, Alabama, for the Alabama Book Festival. The route takes me on I-10 East to Mobile, where I will then get on I-65 north all the way to Montgomery. It’s a lovely drive, if gas stations and places to eat and rest stops are a bit on the sparse side, and I am going to drive leisurely. I’ve decided to make that detour on Chef Menteur Highway over the Rigolets after all, and maybe even stop at a few places that look nice to take pictures. It’s also a lovely looking day outside, so it should be a great day for a lovely drive through the countryside.

When I got home from bar testing last night we watched the eleventh episode of Thirteen Reasons Why–Clay’s tape–and it was so much more heartbreaking than I feared it would be. Bitter cynical Queen Greg cried a couple of times, and the performance of Dylan Minnette as Clay was not only surprising in its subtle nuance, but perfectly done in an understated way that was much harder to watch–and more heartbreaking and effective–had it been over-the-top histrionic, as most directors and actors seem to choose. The entire young cast is quite effective in their roles, and I’ve also become more impressed by the performances of the adult actors. Perhaps the most impressive thing about the show, though, is the seamless editing, the way the show transitions between past and present. The big reveal of Clay’s tape also explained so much more about the behavior of the others kids, which seemed almost inexplicable before. The last two episodes will probably be just as intense….and I am also looking forward into finishing reading the book. In an odd coincidence, the book’s author, Jay Asher, is also appearing tomorrow at the Alabama Book Festival. I am sure his talk will be jam-packed; but I am going to make the effort to go see him.

I love listening to authors talk about writing, frankly, and 90% of the time they don’t annoy the crap out of me. I am excited also because being around book people is always an inspirational high for me.

I doubt that I’ll have time to work on the outline while I am in Montgomery–I’ll probably arrive with just enough time to check into my room, maybe take a shower, and then head over to the author party. I am looking forward to seeing some of the people I met in Wetumpka there, and of course, the always delightful Carolyn Haines and Dean James are also going to be there this weekend–I do always love seeing them.

And now, I am going to have some more coffee, and get ready to head out. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

Here’s gorgeous Brandon Larracuente, who plays Jeff on Thirteen Reasons Why, one of my favorite characters on the show.

Brandon Larracuente

Magic Carpet Ride

I got up early this morning to take a friend to a doctor’s appointment, and so, having finished Finders Keepers, dug out my copy of Jay Asher’s 13 Reasons Why to take along to read while I waited for her.  We watched another three episodes last night–it really is compulsively watchable, if more than slightly annoying (Paul and I have a tendency to yell at the television periodically “JUST LISTEN TO THE REST OF THE TAPES DUMBASS!” but other than that, we are really enjoying it, despite some plot holes). I managed to read almost 100 pages during the hour or so I waited–it’s a quick read, the book isn’t as long as it looks–double spaced, big font, lots of short, one sentence paragraphs–and again, despite some plot holes, it’s compulsively readable; I want to know all the reasons. The book is also different than the show, in that Clay apparently does what Paul and I want him to do in the show–he listens to the tapes all in one night. I can see why that isn’t possible in the show; you probably couldn’t get thirteen one hour episodes out of the story if it all took place in one night, but on the other hand…does it really need to be thirteen hours? But the young actors are all incredibly appealing and are quite good in their roles, as I said before, and it’s compulsively watchable.

The show also pushes buttons from time to time for me; “wow, are they really showing the kids getting high? Drinking beer? Getting drunk? How incredibly irresponsible!” and then I have to snap out of it. Teenagers deal with these things, they did when I was in high school, and one of the things that annoyed me about entertainment aimed at teens when I was one is that it was so unrealistic.

Then again, Judy Blume was just getting published and writing frankly about teens, and scandalizing the country and getting banned everywhere, when I was a teen–and I always see Judy Blume as the person who changed the world of young adult fiction, and for the better.

Ironically, I just checked the schedule for the Alabama Book Festival this weekend and see that Jay Asher is speaking there. Synchronicity, or serendipity, or both?

I think one of the reasons I’m enjoying Riverdale as much as I am (the young actor who plays Reggie on that show is also on 13 Reasons Why; the first time he turned up on screen I said out loud, “Reggie!” He and the character are being under-utilized on Riverdale, which I hope changes) is seeing the squeaky clean, highly sanitized comic books I read when I was very young made more realistic. Riverdale is a dark teen soap, owing debts not only to Twin Peaks and Beverly Hills 90210, but also a big one to Pretty Little Liars–which in turn owes a debt to The Edge of Night, the long running daytime soap whose story-lines were based not only in romance but in crime and suspense. 13 Reasons Why is another teen soap built around a mystery; while Riverdale‘s main driving story is”who killed Jason Blossom, and why” this one’s is “why did Hannah kill herself, and why the tapes?”

I’ve also been thinking about my own young adult fiction a lot lately, probably because of what I am currently working on. I’ve put the Scotty book aside for the time being, because I just wasn’t feeling it, to be honest, and writing it felt like I was forcing it and the story itself didn’t work for me. So, I am going to take a break from it for a bit, work on some short stories, and forge forward with this manuscript I am intent on revising. I’m actually enjoying myself doing all this editing and revising because there is no pressure of a deadline. I can take my time, think things through, rather than trusting my instincts and hoping for the best while the clock inexorably continues to tick as time slips through my fingers. (There really is something to be said for no deadlines.)

Sorceress began as a short story of slightly less than ten thousand words, and I originally wrote it in 1989, long hand, on notebook paper. I remember paying someone to type it for me, and as a lengthy short story it didn’t work–it was too rushed, too much happened in too short a period of time on the page. When I reread the story, it occurred to me that it was really just a lengthy synopsis, and might make a book. It was the third novel I completed a first draft of (in 1993!), and it eventually made it to publication in 2010. I know I wrote it originally as an homage to Jane Eyre, Victoria Holt, and other gothic writers I had long admired; I gave it more of a supernatural edge, though, but it was really the same premise that even Dark Shadows began with: a young orphaned girl comes to live in a big, spooky house where mysterious things happen. (I wonder why so many books/stories of this type start this way? Is it because it’s a voyage to the unknown, or a fresh start in a new place? 13 Reasons Why kind of fits into this as well, since part of Hannah’s problems begin with her being the new girl in town.)

Hmmmm.

All right, it’s back to the spice mines with me.

 

Hold Me Tight

Monday morning of a short work week, as I am traveling to Alabama on Friday, returning to New Orleans on Sunday, and then it’s off to Ole Miss and Oxford, MS for another event.

It was a rather lovely three day weekend, quite frankly; I wish there was some way to make every weekend three days, to be honest. Having the extra day makes all the difference, really. I spent one day running errands and cleaning, another day cleaning and reading, and the last day reading and writing. I now feel completely relaxed and rested and thoroughly prepared for this week, as opposed to whining about how the weekend never lasts long enough. Alas, there won’t be another such three day weekend until Memorial Day at the end of next month. Heavy heaving sigh.

I finished reading Finders Keepers yesterday, and I did really enjoy it. It was an excellent follow-up to Mr. Mercedes, and it was fun catching up with the remaining cast of that novel: Bill Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, who team up to help out a teenaged boy who has discovered a treasure trove–a buried trunk full of money and manuscripts, the haul from the robbery/murder of noted American author Joel Rothstein. Like all of King’s novels, it was compulsively readable, highly entertaining, with strongly built characters and relationships, brilliants touches of pop culture, and a good story. And, like so many of King’s novels/stories, at the center of the story was an author and his work–not to mention how that work affected his readers. Like Misery, one of his readers takes the work too seriously and becomes overly attached to the main character, doesn’t like what the author does to the character, and that fanaticism is what leads to the robbery/murder, and triggers the rest of the story.

I often chastise myself for writing about writers; I’ve always considered it more than a little self-indulgent, and as I get older and further along in my writing career, writers as characters continue to pop up in my work. “Quiet Desperation” is about writers and writing; and an author character popped up in The Orion Mask– Jerry Channing, a character I became so attached I brought him back for Garden District Gothic, and even considered giving him his own stand-alone adventure. It also occurs to me that the unnamed protagonist of several short stories I’ve written–an author–are really early incarnations of Jerry (the only short story about him that’s been published so far was “An Arrow for Sebastian”). Yesterday I started a second draft of “Quiet Desperation”–an actual rewrite, rather than an edit (which is, I think, long been a part of my problem with writing; I don’t rewrite, I simply edit what I’ve already written, which is lazy) and it will eventually require me to drive out to New Orleans East, because where the new opening of the story takes place is a part of New Orleans I haven’t seen in over ten years, and I am pulling from my memories–and Katrina occurred since then, so the topography of that part of the city/parish has undoubtedly been changed by the hurricane and aftermath. Of course, now that I have a new car, that’s not an issue; nor is driving out there. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Next weekend is definitely out, since I’ll be in Alabama, and when I’m  not in Alabama I’ll be too busy preparing for the trip to Mississippi–although I could drive out that way on the way out of town to Alabama on Friday; it’s on the way.

Hmmmm. ’tis a thought.

We also watched last night’s Feud, and I have to say, both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are absolutely killing it. I’m not sure who’s going to win the Emmy, but my guess is on one of them–with Nicole Kidman’s performance in Big Little Lies giving them both a run for their money.

We also started watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and got through the first three episodes. Had I not needed to get up this morning for work, we would have watched more. There are some questionable aspects of the story/plot for me, but the young actors are incredibly appealing, and Dylan Minnette, who plays main character Clay Jensen, is quite compelling as the quiet loner. I have some thoughts about him, his character, and where this is all going, but I will keep those to myself and continue to watch.

dylan minnette

I also have a copy of the book in my TBR pile, where it’s been forever, and might just go ahead and read it now–reading Big Little Lies while watching the show didn’t hurt either, frankly.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Judy in Disguise (with Glasses)

Monday morning in New Orleans.

I’ve been awake for an hour, yet don’t feel awake yet. Second cup of coffee is helping, though; I can almost feel the caffeine moving through my body inside my veins. I have a short day today; only five and a half hours, and am having dinner with my friend Stuart this evening. Tomorrow and Wednesday are both twelve hour days at the office, complicated still further by meeting with Wacky Russian early on Wednesday morning. I don’t have to go in until late on Thursday, which will also be rather lovely; I am sure I am going to need the extra sleep to get over the preceding days. And of course, Friday is Good Friday, so—three day weekend! I am hoping that if I spend about three hours on each day of that weekend cleaning I can get the Lost Apartment back under control. It’s a horrifying mess, quite frankly, and it’s more than a little appalling. The ceiling fans, for example, are disgusting.

I’ve gotten further along in Underground Airlines, and I am really enjoying it. With the three day weekend coming, I hope to get it finished this week, finish The Nest over the weekend, and maybe move on to something else. I didn’t get any writing done this weekend, but I did do some brainstorming–which, to me, counts, and if you don’t think it does FUCK YOU–and came up with some new characters. The problem I am having with Chapter One of Crescent City Charade (which I really want to finish this week) is that already the chapter is too long and it’s not even finished yet. This isn’t a bad thing, of course, and rather than resisting how long the chapter is I should just make it as long as it needs to be to get to the transition into Chapter 2 and worry about editing it down–or splitting it into two chapters, if necessary–later, rather than worrying so much about it now; similar to how I have almost five thousand words of “Quiet Desperation” already written and haven’t even gotten to the meat of the story yet. (That story, obviously, is going to require a ridiculous amount of editing.)

Have I ever mentioned how much I hate editing myself? The only thing worse is rewriting. Heavy heaving sigh.

Friday night I finished watching a television show on Hulu; Faking It, which originally aired on MTV. It only lasted three seasons, and it’s actually kind of clever (the second season was twenty episodes; the third and final was only ten, which makes me wonder how that played out). MTV has long been a progressive force, yet we really no longer hear about MTV being controversial. MTV ran the first HIV/AIDS PSA’s to air, and continued to do so for years before other networks caught up. MTV also originated reality television–The Real World model is still copied and imitated to this day; any reality show where everyone has to share a living environment is copying it–and also put a face on HIV/AIDS with Pedro Zamora back in the early 1990’s. I often have held that a lot of the shift in public/social perceptions of the LGBTQ community had a lot to do with MTV’s influence on youth; I also think MTV has shifted public perceptions on many social issues by exposing young people to them and helping them to see the systemic unfairness in so much of American society. But that’s an essay for another time.

Faking It has a ridiculous premise, but it’s actually kind of clever at the same time: Hester High School, in Austin, Texas, is every conservative’s nightmare about political correctness raging out of control in public education. The show could have easily been called Politically Correct High; because Hester High School is just that: sensitivity to other races and cultures are foremost. The most popular kid at Hester is the openly gay kid, whose best friend is the high school lothario; but the primary focus of the show is the friendship of Karma and Amy, two best friends who accidentally get outed as a lesbian couple. Amy wants to correct the record, but Karma enjoys the corresponding rise in their popularity and she wants to ride that wave; plus, the school lothario–played by Gregg Sulkin–is now interested in her because he’s never had sex with a lesbian before. The show frankly and honestly takes on a lot of social issues–everything from intersex to transgender to sexual fluidity–and the catch to the ‘pretending to be lesbians’ schtick is that Amy actually is in love with her best friend Karma–who doesn’t return the feelings. The young cast is quite appealing, and while some of the adventures they have strain credulity, the show’s message of tolerance, acceptance, and understanding is handled very well.

Gregg  Sulkin also has achieved teen heartthrob status.

 

gregg sulkin

Not hard to see why.

But young, out actor Michael J. Willett as Shane Harvey pretty much steals the show. Shane is depicted as a scheming. snarky, but funny kid with a lot of insecurities who really just wants to find a boyfriend, and Willett plays the part to perfection. He also played gay in the movie GBF, which was actually a lot better than I thought it would be (think a John Hughes teen comedy with a gay main character instead of Molly Ringwald), and the two characters couldn’t be any more different–showing that there are a range of gay characters; we aren’t this monolithic ‘all the same’ that some people seem to think we are–which goes along with the concept of inclusion: we’re not all finger-snapping sidekicks with a great sense of snark, fashion sense, and with our fingers on the pulse of pop culture. Just as it would be cool for books, TV shows, and movies to include gay characters for the sake of diversity; within the gay community there’s a huge range of diverse characters. The key to writing gay characters is to make them human.

homerot1_willett

Here’s hoping Willett can find more work as an out gay actor.

And now, back to the spice mines.

La La (Means I Love You)

Good morning. It’s a lovely Sunday morning in New Orleans, as I look at the start of a relatively easy and short week for me at work. Good Friday is a paid holiday for me, so I only have four days to get through, and I have short days on both Monday and Thursday (horrifying long days on Tuesday and Wednesday, of course), so it’s kind of a ‘win some lose some’ kind of week. I ended up not writing much yesterday; instead I read Underground Airlines (which I am enjoying) and when Paul got home from his errands, I made dinner and we watched Rogue One and then the first two episodes of Five Came Back, a wonderful documentary about five Hollywood film directors (Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, and George Stevens) who spent World War II making documentaries about the war rather than directing films in Hollywood. It’s narrated by Meryl Streep, and is based on the book of the same title by Mark Harris (who also wrote the documentary). It’s very well done; and it does a really good job of capturing the era it’s about, while at the same time not only exposing how easy it is for film to be used as propaganda, but raising questions about the ethics of making propaganda during a time of war. As we as Americans are currently wrestling with the notion of news as propaganda, and how to tell what is real and what is not–a horrifying place to be, quite frankly–and how the news was controlled for the American public during the Second World War to keep them behind the war effort (which was prodigious) as well as buying war bonds to finance it, it raises difficult questions about truth, ethics, and the media. I cannot recommend it enough; I’m really looking forward to viewing the final episode.

I will undoubtedly spend today in a mix of cleaning, writing, and reading. My friend Stuart is in town, and hopefully we’ll get to have lunch or an early dinner together today, if not, it will be tomorrow.

Underground Airlines, like The Underground Railroad, is not an easy book to read. I’ve never read much alternate history (Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle being one of the few exceptions), and that’s what this book is; alternate history, and one that, as you learn more about the ‘history’ of the United States and its ‘peculiar institution’ the deeper you get into the book, is terribly disturbing because you can see how it might have gone this way.

American history, as it pertains to questions of race and equality, is difficult; and the truth of American history, as opposed to the deeply sanitized version we are taught in public school (or at least, the deeply ‘rah-rah-rah’ version I was taught in the 1960’s, predicated on the manifest destiny of white Europeans to take dominion over the Americas while eradicating the natives and enslaving Africans, required a lot of unlearning; I told one of my co-workers the other day that I’ve spent most of my adult life unlearning everything I was raised to believe while re-educating myself on the truth), is actually kind of ugly. I remember reading James Michener’s Centennial when I was in my teens, and realizing everything I’d been taught, read, or seen in movies about the native Americans, and their clash with white Europeans, was actually incredibly biased against the native ‘savages’. (If you’re interested in re-educating yourself on American history, please read Howard Zinn’s histories of the United States, starting with A People’s History of the United States.)

Anyway, when Underground Airlines was released, there was some controversy, given the subject matter and that author Ben H. Winters was white and writing from the perspective of an African-American who worked as a runaway slave catcher. Questions of cultural appropriation often dog the work of white people who write from outside their own experience; yet at the same time there is also a clamor for diversity within fiction and there has long been a Twitter hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I don ‘t think–and I could be wrong–that the problem is so much cultural appropriation as it is that authors of color do not have the same easy access to publishing that white people do; it’s easier for a white author to get a book published with a person of color as the main character than it is for an author of color to do so. I’ve personally enjoyed seeing the progress made by film and television to cast people of color; when I was a kid I would have loved to find books or television shows or films where gay men weren’t tragic figures doomed to die, or the butt of the joke, or figures of contempt; I can only imagine the positive impact this is having on young minority children to be able to see characters like themselves on films and television shows, or finding them in books.

This is not a bad thing.

The book is very well-written, and I am enjoying it tremendously, but it’s not an easy read, as I said earlier. I had always, as I’ve said before, intended to read it and The Underground Railroad back-to-back, to get a sense of comparison and to see how the differences between how an author of color deals with the issues of race and white supremacy vs how a white author does. Both books have made me think about these issues–the racial divide/conflict that is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society and culture, and how it always has been there from the very beginning.

That’s not a bad thing. Being made to think, to reexamine your values and beliefs, to unlearn things you were taught that are wrong and to reeducate yourself is never a bad thing. I think we, as a country and a society and a culture, can do with some reexamination.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning before I head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a happy Sunday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader.

IMG_1678

 

 

Cry Like a Baby

Well, I finished my essay for Sisters in Crime finally yesterday and got it all turned in. Woo-hoo! That’s something–the first thing I’ve really finished this year since turning in the last manuscript, and I am going to ride that particular triumph all week, and hopefully get the other things I want to get written finished this week as well.

I can hope, at any rate.

I’m not really sure why I struggled so much with that essay; I’m not really sure why I am struggling so much to write in general since I turned in my last manuscript. Even this blog sometimes seems like a slog; although I do suspect in some ways it has everything to do with my usual inability to focus on what I am working on; deadlines can certainly make focus much much easier to deal with. But I really want to get these stories finished this week, and I am also wanting to get some editing done and some work on the book as well. Maybe I am overestimating what I can get done reasonably in a week, I don’t know. But it will be enormously satisfying, for example, just to get one of these stories finished. I actually was rereading one yesterday, also incomplete (“The Scent of Lilacs in the Rain”, for the record) and it’s actually quite good. It’ll probably need to be edited down some, but not bad–there’s about three thousand words or so already, and that’ll probably need to be sliced in half at the very least since there are at least several thousand new words needed to finish. I also have no idea where I would publish the story–I don’t know where I would publish any of the stories I’ve written/am writing. But I am enjoying working on them, so there’s that.

One of the things I am trying very hard to do is remember that I actually do ENJOY writing. It’s so easy to hate doing it, really–and that often has to do with the pressure of deadlines, or the frustration of it not going well, or it not going at all. I don’t miss the pressure of deadlines, in all honesty, but I am starting to get concerned about not getting enough done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But we finished watching Big Little Lies last night, and got deeper into this final season of Bates Motel–which is so deranged it’s amazing! I am going to miss this show, and seriously, if Freddy Highmore is NOT recognized by the Emmys this year…I don’t know what is wrong with the Emmy voters. PAY ATTENTION.

I am still digesting The Underground Railroad (and the show Big Little Lies), but I hope to blog about both relatively soon.

And on that note, back to the spice mines!

Here’s a Twofer Tuesday hunk fest!


A Beautiful Morning

Well, I finished reading The Underground Railroad yesterday, and will most definitely be blogging about it, once I’ve digested it some and thought about it some more. It was, to say the least, very powerful, and not only did it made me think about the subject matter–it also made me think about a lot of other things, which I will be more than happy to discuss once I’ve digested them. I also started reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which I am enjoying as well.

We were supposed to get heavy weather yesterday, but it arrived over night instead–everything out there is wet and dripping, which is always a joy. Ah, well.

I didn’t write yesterday, or at all over the weekend, which is, of course, terrible. I did get some cleaning done and some organizing–not as much as I would have liked–but we’re also working on getting caught up on our shows and I did want to power through and finally finish the Colson novel, which I did manage to do, and then we got caught up on The Walking Dead, watched last night’s Feud, and then it was bedtime.

I am greatly enjoying Feud, and am very impressed with how it’s taking on the issue of how Hollywood/entertainment treats women; which also, in some ways, goes along with another show I am looking to finishing watching–the season finale of Big Little Lies was also last night; which we will undoubtedly watch tonight as well as continuing to get caught up on Bates Motel (a show that is KILLING it now in it’s final season). The way two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses–Bette Davis and Joan Crawford–are being depicted is brilliant, and the two women playing them, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, are turning in stunning, award-worthy performances. Last week’s episode, in which both Davis and Crawford are still not fielding any offers before the movie opens–and then it becomes a huge hit–was particularly brilliant; the moment when Joan Crawford, leaving the theater after the preview of the film that ended with a standing ovation, is recognized in the lobby and then mobbed with fans–when this happens, the look on her face–surprise evolving into pure joy at being treated like a star again, is so poignant it’s heartbreaking.

Last night’s, Oscar night when Crawford was snubbed in favor of Davis, was also almost painful to watch; the naked need Davis had for that third Oscar, the pain and anguish Crawford felt about being overshadowed once again by her rival (the scenes where Crawford talks to Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking them if she can accept for them, and the pity and sympathy Page and Bancroft feel for her, agreeing to let her do it because she needs to…wow)–and Judy Davis is also killing it as Hedda Hopper.

And last night, for the first time, Catherine Zeta-Jones actually delivered as Olivia de Havilland.

I got the idea for an essay yesterday about women’s fiction–using three novels to not only compare and contrast to each other but also to talk about how fiction by, for, and about women is so regularly disdained and dismissed as somehow lesser–the three being The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’ve been toying with the idea for quite some time, and I thought about it again yesterday, partly because of Feud, but also partly because of Big Little Lies. Of course, I have no idea where to publish the thing…and it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to write as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, back to editing.