White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

So it’s Christmas Eve. May you all who celebrate have a lovely day, and those of you who don’t, may you also have a lovely day! I’m not really sure what’s on the agenda for today around the Lost Apartment, to be honest. I know I want to do some writing and reading and possibly some editing–I don’t think the old but it’s a holiday is going to kick in for me today after all. I had a terrific day yesterday; I cleaned and organized, the Saints won (although why they always want me to have a heart attack before the conclusion of every game is beyond me) and now have clinched the Number One seed and home games throughout the play-offs thru the Super Bowl, and I actually wrote yesterday. I wrote about another thousand words of Bury Me in Satin, finishing that bear of a Chapter Eight finally, and now I think I can move forward. I think, though, I need to go back and do some revising on the earlier chapters while writing Chapter Nine.

I also discovered something incredibly convenient–yes, I know, I am nothing if not mostly oblivious most of the time and it’s insane when something so obvious smacks in the side of the head. My computer is still acting wonky–mostly when I have Word open–and so yesterday, incredibly irritated with the Apple Spinning Wheel of Death and the concurrent Microsoft Word Not Responding message, I closed my Internet browser and Word continued to operate–still not as fast as I would prefer, but faster, at any rate–and not having the distraction of getting push alerts from Twitter and Facebook and every time I got a new email enabled me to tear right through that chapter yesterday. I had my phone with me at my desk, and so whenever I was bored or needed to look something up on-line I was able to use that. I left the browser closed, in fact, for the rest of the day, just checking in on things periodically with the phone or my iPad. This was smart, and I am probably going to do the same thing today.

I started rereading The Shining yesterday, and while I am only a few chapters in, I have to say those initial chapters are remarkable, as King sets up the Torrance family–Jack, Wendy, Danny–as initial point-of-view characters, and we get to know the three of them very well. I remember when The Shining first came out in paperback–remember, this when I was living in Kansas and there was no place to buy hardcover books because the only local bookstore (the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia) only carried paperbacks, so I always had to wait for the paperback editions of everything–I started reading it after I bought it and didn’t care for Jack Torrance at all, so I stopped reading before I got to the chapters from Wendy and Danny’s points of view, and put it aside. It was about a year or so before I picked it back up again–it was the shiny all silver cover, with the faceless head of the boy blending into the silver–and then read it all the way through. I didn’t reread it as much as other King novels of the period, and it’s never really been a favorite of mine, preferring ‘salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, The Stand, and Christine by far and away; but it’s considered by many to be one of his best books and certainly one of the most terrifying books of the late twentieth century. This was also the second consecutive novel of King’s to have a writer as the main character; but Jack is a failed writer, and maybe that was one of the reasons the book never quite found a place in my heart the way other Kings of the same period did; perhaps I could relate to Jack’s failure far too much for me? I will continue reporting back as the reread progresses further.

I also managed to get some cleaning done.

Paul went out last evening after the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!), and so I stayed home, reading The Shining and watching A Clockwork Orange on Amazon Prime for the first time. I’ve always wanted to see the movie; I have the book somewhere in my TBR pile or on one of the TBR shelves, and when I saw yesterday that it was free for streaming on Amazon I thought what the hell and decided to watch it. It is…interesting, for wont of a better word. Kubrick was a great director; there’s no question about that, but I also felt, from the few films of his that I’ve seen, he was very cold as a director; his movies always come across as kind of emotionless and cold. That style works incredibly well with the subject matter of this film and its theme. It’s also visually stunning, and despite the cold distance afforded by the camera lens, it’s portrait of a future desensitized to all kinds of violence–both sexual and physical–and the equally horrific answer the government comes up with to it, cannot help but keep your attention but also will make one think. I suspect I will be thinking about A Clockwork Orange for some time…and now I really would like to read Anthony Burgess’ novel.

So many books I need to read. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I said earlier, I think I am going to continue with the Short Story Project going into the new year, and I am going to also have my own Diversity Project, where I am going to try to read everything in my TBR piles that were written by minority writers of some sort. It’s called leading by example, people, and I hope some of you will join me.

And on that note, this work isn’t going to do itself, unfortunately, so yes, even on Christmas Eve, I must spend some time mining spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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