Ooh Baby Baby

There is no question that Agatha Christie is one of the giants (if not the giant) of crime fiction.

Agatha Christie was one of my gateways to adult crime fiction (along with Charlotte Armstrong, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt); if I remember correctly the first book of hers I bought was Witness for the Prosecution (which I didn’t know was a short story collection) and the first novel of hers I read was Murder in the Calais Coach (best known as Murder on the Orient Express; the former was a short-lived American title for the book, and frankly, isn’t an improvement; why make the title about something no one would know what is was? Everyone knew the Orient Express). I eventually read everything she wrote, with a few exceptions (I still haven’t read Murder in Three Acts or Death in the Air) but the first Miss Marple novel I read was A Caribbean Mystery. I always preferred Miss Marple to Poirot, but I kind of want to give a Poirot or two a reread; Donna Andrews made a very clever observation about him on one of my social media posts which provides another lens for me to read through.

I found a hardcover copy of A Caribbean Mystery somewhere since we moved into the Lost Apartment; I’m not sure where. I certainly don’t remember buying it on eBay (the only other Christie I have in hardcover, Halloween Party, is missing its dust jacket, and I think I got it at a yard sale? But wait! It’s a Poirot! And has Ariadne Oliver, Christie’s stand-in! Yes, that’s a reread for the new lens for Poirot! And now that that’s sorted…), so there’s no telling where it came from. I don’t know why it took me so long to reread it–it’s actually on the short side–but it did take me a while. Maybe because there was no urgency because I remembered who the killer was?

“Take all this business about Kenya,” said Major Palgrave. “Lots of chaps gabbing away who know nothing about the place! Now I spent fourteen years of my life there. Some of the best years of my life, too–“

Old Miss Marple inclined her head.

It was a gentle gesture of courtesy. While Major Palgrave proceeded with the somewhat uninteresting recollections of a lifetime, Miss Marple peacefully pursued her own thoughts. It was a routine with which she was well acquainted. The locale varied. In the past, it had been predominantly India. Majors, colonels, lieutenant-generals–and a familiar series of words: Simla. Bearers. Tigers. Chota Hazri–Tiffin. Khitmagars, and so on. With Major Palgrave the terms were slightly different. Safari. Kikuyu. Elephants. Swahili. But the pattern was essentially the same. An elderly man who needed a listener so that he could, in memory, relive days in which he had been happy Days when his back had been straight, his eyesight keen, his hearing acute. Some of these talkers had been handsome soldierly old boys, some again had been regrettably unattractive; and Major Palgrave, purple of face, with a glass eye, and the general appearance of a stuffed frog, belonged in the latter category.

Miss Marple has bestowed on all of them the same gentle charity. She had sat attentively, inclingin her head from time to time in gentle agreement, thinking her own thoughts and enjoying what there was to enjoy, in this case the deep blue of a Caribbean sea.

I decided to reread this book for several reasons. First, I am reading a lot of “cozy” mysteries (mysteries with amateur sleuths as the main crime-solver) because I am writing one myself; second, because I’ve been wanting to revisit Christie on a smaller scale (there’s no way I could reread her entire canon again); and third, because I read a piece recently somewhere (Crime Reads, perhaps?) about the enduring legacy of Christie despite some problematic aspects to some of the books (I was well aware of the classism and anti-Semitism, and VERY WELL AWARE of the various problematic title changes for And Then There Were None over the years), and this one was mentioned. I remembered the book, I remembered the story; I remembered that this was the book where Miss Marple met Mr. Rafiel and she became, in some ways, Nemesis to the two of them (one of the later Marples was, in fact, Nemesis, and Mr. Rafiel sent her a murder to solve from beyond the grave); but I wasn’t so sure I remembered why precisely this book was problematic, could be see that way. So, I took it down from the shelves, and started reading.

The premise of the book is this: Miss Marple had a rough winter, having contracted pneumonia, and her nephew, bestselling novelist Raymond West, has decided to send his beloved elderly aunt to a warmer climate to recuperate–St. Honoré, to be exact, in the Caribbean, or the West Indies–at the Golden Palm Hotel resort. (St. Honoré is, of course, fictional; I may use it if I ever need a fictional Caribbean setting) As she sits in the warm sun, knitting and observing the people around her–she is always watching–and half-listening to the pompous bore rattling on to his captive audience (this scene, and her thoughts about Major Palgrave being of a type who really doesn’t need anyone to really pay attention, but to just be in hearing range with the proper noises being made when necessary, is quite insightful and brilliant; haven’t we all been there in that situation?), when he asks her if she wants to see the picture of a murderer? Since she isn’t really listening, she assents and continues to observe and watch everyone around her, and as he is reaching into his wallet to show her a picture of said murderer, he stops, turns quite purple, shoves the photo back into his wallet and loudly changes the subject. This does catch her attention, and she turns around to see what he saw–but doesn’t see anything or anyone that could explain this behavior change. He then makes excuses and leaves.

And of course, he dies that night–and this incident nags at Miss Marple. His death is explained away by him having high blood pressure, and having drank too much on top of his medication; but she isn’t so sure. And then she makes up a lie about the photograph, which she tells the doctor, and it turns out the photograph is missing.

Obviously, the Major was murdered, and did he really have high blood pressure, or is that merely gossip? As Miss Marple observes, “it’s very easy to get a rumor about, and people will just repeat it. There’s never any first-hand knowledge; it always A heard it from B who heard it from C and no one can really pinpoint where the story started.”

It’s a good story, with lots of suspects and suspicious behavior and trying to sort rumor from truth, but two more people wind up dead–a very common theme in Christie is a murderer having to kill others to cover up their original crime–before Miss Marple remembers something and figures out not only who the killer is, but who their actual target was from the very beginning.

And yes, there’s some serious problematic views of the islanders from the British paternalistic colonialist point of view. But Christie herself never says anything problematic–it always comes from the mouth of one of her characters, who, given the time period, would inevitably think that way–side comments about how many of the islanders are in committed relationships without benefit of clergy; etc. etc. etc.

So, I would say it held up about 95% on the reread; yes, there’s some problematic stuff that might be jarring for someone to read now for the first time and would probably not be allowed past the editorial process today–and excising it wouldn’t harm the book in the least.

Someday at Christmas

Yesterday was so beautiful here that I grilled burgers outside, taking a pillow for my back to rest against as I took my Agatha Christie reread out with me and basked in the glory of the gorgeousness of the day. And it was gloriously beautiful outside yesterday; hard to believe it was December…but then, early December is often quite delightful here. I did not, alas, get everything done yesterday that I wanted to get done, but that’s also kind of par for the course. Sundays are always hard-to-get-anything-done days here in the Lost Apartment. It usually is a day for Paul and I to hang out together–he usually doesn’t work on Sundays (he went to the office, for example, Saturday and didn’t get home until around eight that evening)so I generally try to get everything finished in the time before he gets up (he also sleeps late on Sundays). I didn’t manage that yesterday, so of course there’s still things for me to get done left over from yesterday, but that’s okay. I had a lovely time hanging out with him yesterday and watching Gossip Girl–the original show is really quite addicting–with the occasional break, during which I read more of my Agatha Christie reread.

Christie’s later books are often seen as lesser than her earlier ones, primarily, I think, because the earlier ones were so groundbreaking. Trying to figure out who the killer is was always part of the fun of reading Christie (spoiler: it was often hard to figure out because it was all-too-frequently two people, working together), and one of the interesting things about revisiting this particular Christie–any Christie,really–is that over the years I’ve read a lot of criticism of Christie, primarily that her characters weren’t developed well and she was so focused on the puzzle aspect of her books that the writing wasn’t strong. I guess those critics read a different Christie than the ones I’ve read? There were several times yesterday–and I am not very far into the book–where I was struck by her insights and cleverness about human nature, behavior, and how clever and wise some of her sentences were. One, in particular, stood out: And now he was dead, buried, and nobody cared very much…a rather chilling, if honest, insight. There’s also the fact that the primary reason Miss Marple is so successful at ferreting out information and solving crime is because no one takes her seriously for the simple reason she is old; she often uses that condescending attitude of the young towards our elders (well not our, I certainly am old now) against them, even at times playing the part expected of her, prattling on and on to distract her targets from her real objective, and then they are a bit startled by just how sharp her mind is, to the point they blurt out information they didn’t intend to ever share with anyone. We never get into Marple’s mind; she sometimes will tell us what Jane is thinking, but we don’t see it from her perspective; when Christie writes in the third person, it’s from a remove. There are also other point-of-view characters, but just to give the reader a bit more insight into what else is going on around the murder and how that impacts others. It’s also–I’d quite forgotten–how often old women are referred to as “pussies”, or Marple as a “nice old pussy”; I am sure the word meant something different then than it does now; or maybe it’s another example of the difference between UK English and American English–like how fanny means something entirely different in England than it does here.

I cannot imagine writing a book now and referring to an old woman–any woman–as a pussy now. But you know how I know Christie is a good writer? Rereading this book was inspiring–I was getting ideas for new projects of my own and about the current project, which means reading Christie triggered my own imagination, and writers who trigger my own imagination are, at least in my eyes, the best writers.

Today I am up and the sun is rising as I drink my morning coffee. I don’t think I slept all that well last night; it was a bit warmer than usual, not warm enough for the air conditioner to be necessary but I did need a fan. I don’t know if the whirring of the fan was why my sleep wasn’t deep–it wasn’t restless, just light–but I also don’t feel terribly tired this morning; we’ll see how that lasts through the day. I have errands to run after work today, so no gym this evening–saving that for tomorrow–so when I get home tonight I’ll do the dishes and try to get the kitchen/office finished (something else I’d intended to get done yesterday and didn’t) and work on the book some more. I also have a lot of emails to answer between clients this morning; I did make the to-do list (perhaps not as detailed as it should be) and have already started striking things from it. But progress is progress, after all, and one should never really beat oneself up over not making enough progress. Celebrate the wins, however small, rather than treat them as defeats.

LSU is going to a bowl game this year–next, really, not sure why it’s so late on the schedule–playing Kansas State, which is a sort of split loyalty thing…not as much as one might think. LSU is my team, and while I won’t be happy should they lose the game, at the same time that loss won’t be terribly disappointing or upsetting. It’s weird, I guess the new head coach won’t be coaching the game–there’s an interim head coach–but it’s also on a weird day of the week; a Tuesday after New Year’s, which is, as I said, very strange. But that’s okay, I suppose. Not sure how many of the bowl games I am actually going to watch this year–the National Championship game is, after all, on a Monday night, and since LSU isn’t going to be in it, I am not staying up late that night since I have to get up the next morning; it was an entirely different thing LSU was playing it it that lovely season two years ago–but I might have the games on in the background while I am doing something else.

Who knows? But Happy Monday and I am heading into the spice mines. Catch you tomorrow!

The Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Well, I suppose it’s time to start spreading Christmas hunk cheer around here, so enjoy today’s hunky elf–who actually makes me think about my story “The Snow Globe.” I’m not really sure when the anthology it is in will be coming out, but I am looking forward to it. I so enjoy getting short stories into print, and do wish I had more time to write them. Then again, perhaps if i stopped wasting so much of my time maybe I could get more stories written. I know I’ve committed to three more that I’ve got to finish (two only need a final edit/revision; one had to be written almost entirely from scratch) for the new year, and once I get this current book finished–well, after the new year and so forth I am going to be rather too busy to write a book for a while; at least, to focus on writing a book, at any rate. I have the Bouchercon anthology to work on, the release of #shedeservedit is right around the same time as the new book is due, and….yikes.

FOCUS, Greg, you need to FOCUS. And make lists.

And breathe.

Yesterday was a really good day, though. I got up early, got caught up on some blog entries about books I’ve read recently, made serious progress on the cleaning and organizing, and I worked on the book. I got another chapter finished; it’s not very good at the moment, but I know what I need to do to make it better, and I also made it to the gym yesterday afternoon, which was also lovely. I need to work on the book some more today–I also have to make a grocery run at some point–and finish the cleaning and organizing I got started on yesterday. The kitchen office looks a lot better than it has in a very long time, and while there are still some odds and ends to touch up, and file, and forth, I feel much better about everything.

Part of the organizing yesterday also included gathering and sorting all my notes for this book and putting them into one, easily accessible place–as well as sorting out the file folders, etc. that had been gathered at some point that have the same title or a similar title or may have some old notes and so forth; I was actually very surprised to see how many times I’d started writing a traditional mystery over the last decade or so–and in my head I conflated them all as the same story, which SURPRISE! They were most definitely not–but I filed those other fits and starts in an easily accessible place, where I can get to them if this first book turns into a series, or if it doesn’t–well, I can then try again with another idea I’ve already made lots of notes on in the past. (I am talking about physical files here, of course; my electronic files continue to be an utter and complete disaster.) But after a terrific day of getting things done and kicking ass and taking names (okay, Chapter Five isn’t very good but it’s a first draft, okay?) I went to the gym and saw some of the Georgia-Alabama game on the television there. After coming home and doing the dishes and some more filing (and making a protein shake), I curled up in my easy chair with Agatha Christie’s A Caribbean Mystery and turned on the television. I read while glancing up periodically to keep an eye on the game–Jesus, Georgia, even LSU was able to play decent defense when they played Alabama–and kept an eye on my iPad and watched part of the Michigan-Iowa game until Paul got home from the office (late) and we switched over to Gossip Girl (the original is so much better than the sequel that we probably won’t even bother going back to the new series, even though there’s only two episodes left). I also got a pretty good night’s sleep last night as well, which was quite marvelous–I seem to be sleeping better these days, which is lovely.

Today, as I said, I have to make a bit of a grocery run, and need to write and finish these odds and ends of filing around here, as well as write some more on the book–I should do another chapter today–and I’d also like to get some more reading done on the Christie; the murder/mysterious death has already occurred, and now I am wondering if Agatha Christie did, indeed, write cozies; there’s certainly no sense of community here in this book–how can there be, since Miss Marple is visiting a resort hotel on the fictitious island of St. Honoré (an island name I may abscond with at some point), but now that I think about it, the sense of warm community that is a hallmark of most cozy mysteries doesn’t really exist much in any of Christie’s books–but then again, my memory is faulty and I don’t remember much of the plots and stories and characters the way I used (and I do miss that recall skill I used to possess in abundance). But I read almost all of Christie’s books a million years ago, when I was in high school, and I simply cannot revisit all eighty or so of them (I never read the ones she wrote as Mary Westmacott, either), so I will leave commentary on the Christie canon (other than the ones I actually reread) to those who are expert.

But over all, I am feeling pretty good about life in general. As always, I am buried under and busier than any one person probably should be; but it’s how I function best–and I am not sure why that it, probably has a lot to do with the short attention span and having to always balance multiple things at once, and also why taking the time to actually sit down and get organized, making lists and so forth, is the best way to go for me. Paul is getting me an old-fashioned day planner for Christmas, because even though it’s become a thing of the past, I discovered that having a physical journal to write down random thoughts in or brainstorm plots and so forth in was much more effective for me than the electronic system modern technology had forced onto me–so it’s not really much of a stretch to think that having to physically write things down as opposed to making entries into a digital calendar will be even more effective and increase productivity and stop me from forgetting things. (I will continue to use the electronic calendar for bills; that is one thing that has worked remarkably well for me.)

And so now, I shall return to the mines for more spice. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

(She’s a) Very Lovely Woman

Saturday morning and it looks kind of gray outside the windows this morning as I look out at the world blearily and drink my first cup of coffee. I slept very well last night–which is always welcome–but woke up feeling a bit groggy this morning. I am sure the caffeine will work–it generally does–but as I glance around at the chaos of my office/kitchen my inclination is to pour the coffee out and go back to bed and sleep the rest of the day away, hoping magical elves or something else will show up whilst I sleep to finish organizing and arranging this mess into something resembling workable order. On the other hand, I don’t think that’s going to happen, so I am going to need to wake up, buckle up, and put my nose to the proverbial grindstone. I’ve got to contain this mess–and do it properly, no more sweeping things under proverbial rugs to get mess out of sight–and I’ve got to work on the book today and I need to run some errands. I also have to go to the gym today, so I will most likely follow football championship games today by periodically looking on-line to check scores only. Paul is going into his office this afternoon to do some work as well, and I need to update my to-do list and…yes, it’s a very busy day for a Gregalicious.

I finished reading Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews last night–charming, as always, delightful and witty and funny–and decided, since I was talking about how much I preferred Miss Marple to Hercule Poirot the other day, that I should revisit one of the Marple stories. I have a hardcover copy of A Caribbean Mystery–I don’t recall where it came from–but it has some sentimental value for me in that it was the first Marple novel of Christie’s I had read all those many moons ago when I was a child, holing up in my room on Saturdays with a book and a bag of Bar-B-Q Fritos. (My first Poirot was actually Halloween Party, which I also have a hardcover copy of and again, do not recall where I got it or how long I have had it; I read most Christies in paperbacks purchased at the Bolingbrook Zayre’s off their wire paperback racks) In those first few pages of the book, it spelled out exactly what I loved about the Marple stories–about how living in a small village actually exposes one to almost every kind of human behavior there is in a smaller ecosystem, and the great irony that the smallness and rural aspects of the small community are all too frequently seen as provincial and inexperienced in the world (why Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place was so shocking when it was originally published some seventy years ago; that placid, idyllic on the surface looking village/small town/rural community has a lot more going on than one would think at first glance). This is an excellent set-up, really, for the story Christie is writing about this fictional resort on a fictional West Indies island; her nephew, the successful novelist Raymond West, has paid for this trip for her to get some sun and recover from an illness…and when she originally protested about the expense and “who will watch out for my home in St. Mary Mead”–this response (which I hadn’t remembered) hit me right between the eyes:

Raymond had dealt with everything. A friend who was writing a book wanted a quiet place in the country. “He’ll look after the house all right. He’s very house proud. He’s a queer. I mean–“

He had paused, slightly embarrassed–but surely even dear old Aunt Jane had must have heard of queers.

Now, what is one to make of that? It was a jolt, certainly. It put me in mind of something I came across on Twitter the other day, written by Wil Wheaton, in which he had answered at a con somewhere a question regarding the current debate of “can you separate the art from the artist?” This is something I’ve pondered about quite a bit–most recently, the feeling of guilt I experienced in rewatching Chinatown, knowing now what I–we all–know about Roman Polanski. I enjoyed Chinatown every time I’ve seen it, and I was now watching–rewatching–through a different lens than I had before; I was watching in terms of my own Cynical 70’s Film Festival, to see how a 70’s film that actually harkened back to old-style crime/hard-boiled/noir styles, but with a more modern (at the time) sensibility fit into that 70’s cynicism and darkness about humanity and human behavior. But the discomfort kept popping up, particularly because Polanski himself appears in the film…and I eventually decided not to rewatch another favorite, Rosemary’s Baby, because of it.

I am not going to consign Agatha Christie to the trash heap of history; she was an extraordinary writer, and one of the most influential in the field in which I myself write. Nor do I think a simple throwaway line or two in a book originally published in 1964 is enough to dismiss Christie and her canon as homophobic and never revisit her work. In fact, given the time period in which the book was written, I am surprised the two sentences weren’t, frankly, much worse. Reading the sentences didn’t offend or outrage me; it was just a surprise, primarily because I didn’t remember them at all in a book I’ve read multiple times over the years–and I think when this hardcover came into my possession (I won’t swear to it, but I think I got it during one of my many eBay buying frenzies after Hurricane Katrina, when I felt it necessary to get copies of books with some sentimental value to me) I did actually read it again because I didn’t remember the plot–and this either went right past me or I noticed and didn’t think much of it.

Revisiting this book and viewing it through a modern lens is going to be interesting. And like I said, the reference could easily have been worse–but seeing queer used in this way reminds me of how it used to be used. The younger generations are reclaiming the word, and I myself have been advocating for it as a generic term for the non-straight community for eons…but I also can see why there are people of my generation/the one before me/the one after me who object to its use and why.

But I would a thousand times rather see the word queer used in an Agatha Christie novel than faggot. And I also remember the sympathetic depiction of a lesbian couple in my favorite Marple, A Murder is Announced.

Interesting thoughts on a Saturday morning. The sun has come out now and it’s not quite so gray outside; the second cup of coffee is certainly hitting the spot right now and the grogginess is beginning to leave from not only my head but from my body. I still don’t want to straighten up this mess, but there’s no choice, really, and I want to get some good work on the book done today and tomorrow. I need to go to the gym either today or tomorrow as well; perhaps later this afternoon once I get some writing/cleaning/organizing completed. I cannot be completely lazy this weekend, much as I would like to be; I have to get things done, and the more things I get done now the fewer things I will have to do later this month (I am not, for example, going to want to write on Christmas). But once a procrastinator, always a procrastinator.

And now it occurs to me that perhaps I am procrastinating here, so I am going to bring this to a close. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and will talk to you soon.

Silver Threads and Golden Needles

If you’ve been sensing a theme in my recent reading, Constant Reader, you are correct. I have been reading a lot of traditional mysteries lately–cozies, if you prefer–and there are any number of reasons why. One, I want to read more broadly across the genre; two, I actually enjoy them, a lot; and three, well, yes, I am writing one. I am only sorry that it took #3 in that sentence to really dig into one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction again, since I am having the best time since I started digging them out of the TBR pile and reading them. They are called cozies for a reason; they are generally warm stories about incredibly kind and likable people who wind up getting involved in murders–usually through no doing of their own–and through their own shrewd observations of behavior and brains, inevitably wind up finding the killer’s identity before the police do.

I know I am an anomaly when it comes to this, but I always preferred Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple to Poirot. I loved that the elderly, always under-estimated by everyone spinster from the little village, simply by watching and observing human nature in the microcosm of her village–and her theory about human nature, “people who are similar often behave similarly”, is kind of spot-on. I loved how the suspects in a case would remind her of someone she knew from the village in the past, and her observations were inevitably correct. A traditional mystery is one where there’s no violence or bloodshed on the page (mild, if there is–like a punch in the nose or something like that when trying to evade the killer, etc.), no sex, not much cursing, and so forth. I tend to think of them as stories that take place in the world we’d rather live in, rather than the actual real world we do live in.

Stephen King, in his seminal treatise on horror, Dance Macabre, described horror novels as examples of the conflict between the philosophical concepts of the Dionysian and Apollonian; in which the Apollonian signifies the status quo–peace, order, reason and balance–while the intrusion of the murder/crime into that Apollonian ideal sends the community reeling into the Dionysian: disorder, tragedy, emotional illogic. The solving of the crime brings the community back into balance and returns it to the Apollonian ideal, so the amateur sleuth in these books are agents of reason. And since one of the major precepts of the traditional/cozy mystery is that sense of community–see Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series–it is the duty of the amateur sleuth to return the community to the sense of peace, order and serenity that ruled before the Dionysian influence disrupted all of that.

But Mary Feliz’ first Maggie McDonald mystery kind of turns that theory on its ear.

“Awesome! I bet it has bats!” My fourteen-year-old son, David, exploded from the car and mounted the steps of the old house three at a time. He peered through the grubby porch windows.

“Is it haunted?” Brian, my twelve-year-old, leaned into my side as we stood in the front yard. I eyed the dust motes cavorting in a light beam that had escaped the shrubs and overgrown trees surrounding the 100-year-old California Craftsman house. I put a reassuring hand on Brian’s mop of curly hair. “I doubt it, honey.” I hoped it was true.

I swallowed hard and watched my husband, Max, ease his long legs out of the Prius. Like my minivan, Max’ car was overloaded. We’d packed both cars with everything too fragile to transport in the moving van. In among the breakables, our two kids, one golden retriever and two cats, we’d tucked picnic food, cleaning supplies, and sleeping bags.

Today was Thursday. The plan was simple. The movers would arrive tomorrow. Since Monday was Labor Dat, we’d have four days to get settled. The kids would start school on Tuesday, and Max would begin his first full day at the new job the same day. I was giving myself a month to focus solely on house and gamily. After that, I was determined to restart my career as a professional organizer.

Anyone who has ever moved to a new city and started over can relate to the opening chapter of this book. I myself have moved countless times to new communities–from Chicago to the suburbs to Kansas to California to Houston to Tampa to Houston to Tampa to Minneapolis to New Orleans to Washington and back to New Orleans finally. There’s something exciting about starting over in a new place–but there’s also that little thought in the back of your head, what if you were better off where you were before? It can be both scary and intimidating to move–especially when you have children, as Maggie does. Her family was happily living in Stockton when her husband’s aunt died, leaving them the property where he grew up and remembered fondly. They visited the property while the estate was in probate, and Maggie, too, fell in love with the big old beautiful house, and agreed to give up her own business–she’s an organizer, the person you hire when you can’t organize yourself and you need help–and move to Orchard View in Silicon Valley to this big beautiful house where her husband grew up…and right away, her worst fears are coming true. The house somehow has become incredibly run down, with broken windows and dirty inside; there’s a horrible smell coming from the basement, and the power doesn’t work. It doesn’t even look like the same house…and then they find the dead body of the caretaker in the basement.

So the house is soon crawling with cops, and Maggie wants to go back home to Stockton with the kids and wash her hands of the whole mess.

Who could blame her?

But the cops are actually friendly–even if the first neighbor she meets is kind of a dick–and helpful, introducing to people around the town who can help get the house back together and under control, so she and her family can get settled in. The principal of her kids’ school is a problem–as is the recurring acts of vandalism at the house. And then Max’s job sends him off to Bangalore, leaving Maggie to deal with everything on her own. The vandalism amps up, and before she knows it she is stumbling over yet another dead body. Who is killing people who have a connection to Maggie’s family? Is the vandalism connected to the murders, or is it something else entirely? Is one of her new friends and acquaintances actually the culprit?

It’s a fun read, and I appreciated the different spin on the community aspect of a traditional mystery. Having Maggie and her family (her boys are terrific, too) resettling into a new place means that, like the reader, she has no history with either Orchard View or the people who live there; we meet them and get to know them as she does. As Maggie grows more comfortable in her new home, so do we the readers–and that was a pretty big risk to take for the author, and I respect Feliz for taking that risk. It was actually kind of cool to see her establishing those relationships and creating a history with the characters, as opposed to having to dip into a lot of backstory, which is also hard to do with aplomb and without losing reader interest.

I am looking forward to reading more of this series!

Superman

So, on National Coming Out Day this past week, October 11th, the current Superman—Jonathon Kent, son of Lois and Clark—came out as bisexual. When I saw the New York Times piece I literally gasped out loud. This wasn’t some minor character in a team comic; this wasn’t even a second-tier lead of a less-popular title. This was fucking SUPERMAN, the Big Blue Boy Scout, the tentpole character on whom all of DC Comics, and the DC television and film franchises, are built around.

I literally had tears come up in my eyes. This was So. Fucking. HUGE.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much that would have meant to me as a deeply closeted and terrified gay teenager in the Chicago suburbs and later, small town rural Kansas. I really don’t know how best to explain what this meant to me as a sixty-year-old gay man, but here goes.

Oh, Superman. You are the ubiquitous comic book character; since your debut back before the second world war you have become the default; the super-hero every other super-hero is judged against. It’s even right there in your generic name: you are the super man, hence you are Superman.

Superman is kind of the Bill Jones or Joe Smith of comic book heroes: basic, simply named, and the best of them all.

I was a kid when I first started reading comic books about super-heroes. Before I bought my first Action Comics (all I remember is that Lex Luthor was the issue’s villain), I read Archie in all of its iterations; I also read Millie the Model, Dot, Little Lotta, and some others that have faded from memory. The Jewel Osco where my mom used to buy groceries when we lived in Chicago had a comic book vending machine near the entrance, right next to a soda machine dispensing cans of Pepsi and its variants. You put in a dime and two pennies into the appropriate slots, and pushed the appropriate buttons for the comic you wanted; the metal spiral thing holding the comics would spin and drop your comic down, so you could reach in through the door and pick it up. That particular day I wanted a Betty and Veronica, which was A5 but I was in a hurry and accidentally pressed B5 instead; voila, I got an Action Comics instead, much to my bitter disappointment. One of the local independent stations, Channel 32 (which also showed repeats of The Munsters, among other black-and-white classics) aired reruns of the old Superman television show; which I thought, even for my unsophisticated childish palate, was cheesy and silly. I remember grousing about it to my mother—whose response, “Boys read super hero comics anyway” was the kind of thing that usually would guarantee that I would never read a super hero comic book, but I picked it up after we got home and I started reading, certain that I would hate it.

It probably should go without saying that I didn’t hate it.

And it opened an entirely new world for me. Sure, it got a little frustrating from time to time for me (Superman was such a goody two-shoes, but that was kind of his job) and Lois being so desperate (and jealous) to either marry and/or expose his secret identity was annoying; especially because Lois otherwise was such a kick ass woman. There were any number of Superman or Superman-adjacent titles, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen had their own titles; Superman often appeared in (and was definitely a charter member of) Justice League of America; there was also Superboy (“Superman as a teenager!”) and Supergirl…it was like the comics readers couldn’t get enough of Superman and his world. I eventually moved on to other DC Comics titles, too—everything Batman (Detective Comics was always my favorite, because there was a mystery to solve) and Flash and Green Arrow and Green Lantern and…yes, my dollar allowance every week for a long time went to comic books (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were $1.50 and my allowance was $1 per week; and no, I couldn’t wait until I had two dollars to get one; I always needed to spend my money as soon I got it on Thursday—Mom’s payday—at either Jewel Osco or at Woolworth’s…because I could always talk Mom into buying me a book if there were Hardy Boys or Three Investigators to be had). When we moved to the suburbs the Zayre’s didn’t carry comics, nor did the grocery store in town; the 7/11 only carried Marvel (I tried with The Mighty Thor, but the continuing story aspect Marvel used irritated me because I would inevitably miss an issue), and when Zayre’s finally started carrying comics, things had… changed. Wonder Woman was no longer an Amazon, and was just an every day modern woman running a boutique (somehow she’d given up her powers). Supergirl had been poisoned, which meant her powers came and went without warning; one moment she’d be super, the next she wouldn’t. It was an attempt to modernize the books, of course, make them appeal to the newer, more sophisticated modern audience of the 1970’s; some of them started addressing social issues and became a lot more adult in theme. (Green Arrow actually became my favorite book during this time; he was drawn naturally—had curly chest hair AND nipples—and he had no powers other than being an expert archer and skill at hand-to-hand fighting). I eventually moved away from comics because I started spending my money on novels—Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, etc.—and comics were, I thought, really for kids.

Later on, when we moved to Kansas, I got back into comics again, and things had changed yet again. Some of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ costumes made them look like strippers (male and female); the drawing of the characters had become more natural and realistic (Superman, for example, went from being barrel-shaped to having a narrow little waist and abs showing through his skintight costume), and Wonder Woman was an Amazon again. This was my Howard the Duck period, when I also started delving into Marvel a bit more. Comics always remained of interest to me throughout my life, with me going through periods of collecting and reading in large volumes at different times…before moving on from them again. I am not an expert on comics by any means; I know the names of some artists and some writers, but for the most part, I always paid more attention to story and character (go figure). But I’ve always maintained a love for the characters; and yes, the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie (which I rewatched recently for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival) indeed made me believe a man could fly.

I’ve always had, and always will have, a soft spot for Superman.

To me, Christopher Reeve was Superman–the prior versions of the character, including the popular television show (which I watched religiously) always seemed, to me, to be an actor playing the part; Reeve somehow just was the character. He was so insanely and ridiculously handsome; the body was just right, and he had the right mix of charm and charisma the part demanded. Reeve’s Superman could never be seen as a threat–and he also made it completely believable that no one could tell Clark was him, with different hair, glasses, and street clothes; he physically changed how he stood, his posture, everything about him that was Superman, when he was playing Clark.

Reeve never got enough credit as an actor, frankly.

And while my memories of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane aren’t fond ones–I thought she was a fine actress, but miscast–overall, the first two Reeve films were good ones. They could have stopped there, but didn’t–and the last two weren’t good. I enjoyed Lois and Clark (despite what Dean Cain turned into) and Paul and I eventually succumbed to the simple pleasure that was Smallville…but I wanted to see Superman back up on the big screen, where he belonged. I was very excited when they cast Henry Cavill in the part (I’ve been crushing hard on Cavill since first noticing him on The Tudors)….and then came the movies. I enjoyed them for what they were, and I did think some of the changes made to update and modernize the story (how would Americans today react to the discovery of a super being from another planet?)–and you can never go wrong with Amy Adams, either.

But…they forgot the most important thing about Superman: his kindness and genuine concern for people. In the quest to make the DC Film Universe of all that is dark and angsty like the Batman movies–the direction Batman has gone in since the comic mini-series The Dark Knight Returns–was a bad one. Patty Jenkins got Wonder Woman so fucking right–and it was the same basic formula as Superman. Superman used to be derisively called “the world’s oldest Boy Scout”, but that can work with the character, and with the right actor. I think Cavill has the charisma and the charm–and the extraordinarily gorgeous smile–to pull that off; I just wish they would have let him have the chance.

The new show on CW, Superman and Lois, is also excellent; I absolutely love it, and I do think that Tyler Hoechlin is one of the best Supermans of all time, frankly. (The entire cast is stellar, frankly.)

So, as I said earlier, I was pretty fucking jazzed the other day to see the piece in the New York Times earlier this week about Superman “coming out”–on National Coming Out Day, no less–and even if it turned out to not be Clark Kent, but Lois and Clark’s son Jonathan (in the comics they have the one son; on Superman and Lois they have twin sons, one of whom is named Jonathan), and while I, in my white gay male privilege assumed this meant that he was gay–he’s actually bisexual. But he is attracted to other men, and even has a boyfriend.

There was one particularly noxious piece posted on Medium, which the homophobic piece of trash who wrote it proudly posted on Facebook (I reported his post on Facebook as well as the piece on Medium as hate speech; the Medium piece came down, but the last time I looked, of course Facebook had done nothing about it). I read the whole thing–poorly worded, not grammatical, would have given a C- grade on the construction basics level alone–but the part that I couldn’t get past, the part I can’t forget, was him saying this: But why take one of the few heroes left for the “Straight World” and make him abnormally offensive to us?

Abnormally. Offensive.

I guess I missed the massive closet exodus for the DC and Marvel Universes? Let me see–right off the top of my head, at DC aren’t Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Cyborg, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, the Question, Beast Boy, the Elongated Man, and Shazam, all straight? (And that is just off the top of my head., and only DC.) But you know those people who are so afraid of the queers–you know, like the piece of shit who wrote the Medium piece–they just can’t help themselves or keep their fucking mouths shut. Oh, no, Mr. I’ve Never Brought a Woman to Orgasm just can’t let us have anything without letting us know how much it offends their delicate, needle-dicked sensibilities. You know, the same kind of guy who undoubtedly always complains about “cancel culture” and “social justice warriors” and “wokeness” and I don’t have a problem with gay people but why do you have to exist? Those kinds–sad, bitter little men with so little joy in their lives they have to spend their precious time on this planet letting everyone else in the world know how much they object to our existence.

But he has a right to his opinion and we are oppressing him if we call it out for the hateful trash it is…and him for the piece of shit he is.

As my editor at Kensington wrote on a note he included with a copy of a bad review of one of my books, this just reeks with the stench of failed author.

This guy claims to be a crime writer, and claims to work for a publisher (I’ve never heard of it or him before this moment)…but after reading this piece and another one he published on Medium, the real crime is his actual writing.

Fuck off, dude. And know that bisexual Superman is going to have way better sex than you could ever pay for, no matter how long you live.

God knows I have.

Point Me in the Direction of Albuquerque

And now I am on vacation.

While it is lovely–it was quite lovely–to not have to get up and go to the office (or make condom packs, or do data entry) this fine morning, it’s also a bit bittersweet: this is the vacation time I took to attend Bouchercon a mere fifteen minute walk from the Lost Apartment. If this was NOT pandemic time, a friend would be arriving at the Lost Apartment around noonish; we’d store her bags in my car and we were going to have lunch and hang out until other friends arrived later, whom we would be joining for a lovely dinner at Coquette. I would also be checking into the Marriott on Canal Street at some point today; probably not staying there tonight, but definitely heading down there tomorrow morning as my first panel would be that afternoon. *sobs softly to self; shakes fist in fury at anti-vaxxers*

Ah, well. Things don’t always work out as they were planned, do they?

I slept in a bit this morning, which was lovely–I feel very rested and not a bit in the least groggy this morning, which is marvelous. The kitchen is a horrifying mess this morning, so once I’ve finished my coffee that’s the first thing on Today’s Agenda, among other things–first is actually making Today’s Agenda, so I can put clean the kitchen on the top of the list. The living room is also a mess; but I am going to make “room by room” the working theory of this lovely if too short vacation. I am starting small, in the laundry room today–the books! Dear God, the books in the laundry room! But if I don’t get everything done that I need to get done over this vacation–the most important thing the corrections and revisions to the book, of course, more on that later–but it feels rather nice to not have to go to the office today, or have condom-packing/data entry hanging over my head as I swill my coffee here at my marvelous new computer. But yes, this mess around my work space is a bit much–and the Lost Apartment itself is a disaster area from top to bottom. I worked on the manuscript last night some more, and am at the halfway point. But as I get deeper into the manuscript I am finding even worse mistakes than in the beginning, and some really atrocious writing. I literally was squirming in embarrassment as I corrected and cleaned up this horrifically sloppy manuscript last night. When I called it a night and started rewatching episodes of Ted Lasso (this show is really amazing; if you haven’t checked it out yet you need to) while waiting for Paul to come home. He was rather late, so after rewatching two of my favorite episodes (“Make Rebecca Great Again’ and “All Apologies”) I switched over to TCM and started rewatching The Way We Were, which is what I was doing when Paul got home and I stopped–Redford and Streisand were still at their unnamed college–and I was thinking, outside of the fact that they were clearly too old to be playing college students, there are other parts of this movie that actually would no longer fly today; I am going to have to finish watching it at some point because I want to review it as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival (it’s from 1973). I can’t think why I never activated the TCM app on my Apple TV before; just scrolling through the offerings last night before settling on The Way We Were was very exciting, as there are so many classics there I want to either rewatch or see for the first time (including Nightmare Alley, In a Lonely Place, and some classic Katharine Hepburn films I’ve never seen). Exciting!

Today’s Agenda also includes a short exploration trip for this book I just signed a contract for; I need to explore the particular neighborhood of the city where I am setting the book so I can take pictures and have more of a feel for the book. I’m now creating secondary characters for the regular cast (it always seems so weird to talk about books like they’re films; but blame it on all those Agatha Christie/Erle Stanley Gardner/Ellery Queen novels I read as a kid that had the list of the cast of characters at the beginning with a snide sentence or two defining who they were as people….which I miss terribly!), which I am really enjoying doing. This is maybe the most emotionally and intellectually satisfying part of writing any book–building the foundation for it with the creation of characters and the establishment of place–it’s certainly a lot more fun than rereading a manuscript and finding all the mistakes and fuck-ups, that’s for sure.

And of course I do want to spend some time with Megan Abbott’s The Turnout today, and I have to go to the gym at some point as well. MY DAY IS JAM-PACKED. But I do need to make today’s to-do list, as well as an overarching one of all the things I need to get done so I have a template to follow for my vacation daily agendas. (Rereading that last sentence made me realize how absolutely batshit insane I must come across…but that’s not telling you, Constant Reader, anything you’ve not been able to ascertain already for yourself, is it?) I also need to do some male grooming things–I’ve not shaved my face in days (thank you, mask mandates; which do not get enough credit for relieving men of the necessity to shave every fucking day) for one, and I also need to do some computer file organizing and rearranging and so forth. So many projects….which is why I need that overarching list of things to do.

And on that note, tis time to make lists and buckle down for the day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Age of Consent

I slept late this morning–I didn’t even, as I inevitably do, wake up at five and fall back asleep, instead sleeping until almost eight thirty and then taking another fifteen minutes or so to acclimate myself to the idea of getting up. It wasn’t easy, as my entire body was still relaxed and the bed so accommodating and comfortable, but there was simply no way I could stay in be any longer. I have, as always, too much to do and get one today and as lovely as the thought of staying in bed for another couple of hours may have been, it was simply not to be. But the sleep felt marvelous; I don’t think I’ve slept so deeply in quite some time, to be honest, and while you may not be as fascinated as I am by my sleeping, I did feel it necessary to comment on such a good night’s sleep for a change.

I was talking to a friend recently about Lolita–I can’t remember how or why the subject even came up in the first place–butthat conversation put me in mind about how we as a society have changed when it comes to the sexualization of teenagers by adults. I recently watched a terrible show called A Teacher, about a woman in her twenties who teaches high school and ends up having an affair with one of her students, and how this basically ruins their lives on both sides. There has been a lot of that in Louisiana over the past decade–there were two teachers in Destrehan having affairs with male students, occasionally have three-ways with them a while back–and it seems like these kinds of scandals break down here all the time. Teenaged boys and older women have long been looked at societally as not the same thing as the reverse–inevitably triggering responses from adult men things like I wish I’d had some older woman to teach me a few things and so forth, that whole “boys will be boys” mentality that still pervades the culture and society to some degree. This is something I may write about at some point, because it interests and intrigues me–even if it is a bit of a third rail, a dangerous path to follow with lots of potential pitfalls along the way. Teenagers often confuse hormonal responses as love–the whole conflation of sex and love that usually most grow out of it at some point–and of course, teenage boys are easy to manipulate because of their hormones. I think the primary problem I had with A Teacher was I never understood the woman’s motivations; it never made sense to me that she would be so self-destructive; they tried tacking on some back story after the affair was exposed which involved a difficult relationship with her own father, but it didn’t work for me. I also think back to all of the “coming of age” fiction I read when I was a kid, and how inevitably such romances/relationships were always seen as positive things, or depicted that way; there was always some inexperienced teenaged boy falling for some beautiful older woman who inevitably will take his virginity–going back as far as Tea and Sympathy, where the woman did it to “cure” the boy of suspected homosexuality, through Summer of ’42 (I also read the book of this, which impacted me with its tale of loss and longing, and how thirty years after that summer the now adult man still remembers her with love and longing; it would not be depicted that way now) to Class, which really does not hold up well AT ALL. There was a few of these in the early 1980’s–I remember another one called My Tutor, where a wealthy man hires a beautiful woman to tutor his son, they have sex eventually and then the boy (played by Olivia Newton-John’s then husband, Matt Lattanzi, who was stunningly beautiful) finds out his father not only hired her to tutor him but to seduce him (“make a man out of him” is how it was put, how it was always put)–but for a very long time adult/teenager relationships like this were seen as no big deal, at least in films; but I also think it’s pretty safe to say that this was also true societally as well; a father would tend to be proud of his teenaged son for fucking a teacher, rather than being horrified and pressing charges….I think A Teacher missed a beat there, frankly; by having the main male character being raised by a single mom instead of a single dad or at least both parents (or one being even a step-parent) they miss the chance to really address this aspect of toxic masculinity; naturally a mother would think of her child as being molested, whereas a father….that would have been interesting.

It is something I am considering for a Scotty story; it’s all amorphous up there in my brain right now, but it’s slowly forming.

And of course, if the teenaged son was having an affair with an adult male, the father’s reaction would be vastly different than if the affair was with an adult woman.

Yesterday I watched the film version of Sarah Waters’ The Little Stranger, which wasn’t nearly as good as it could have been. The film came across as very cold, and also got off to a very slow start. It was enjoyable for the acting, which was top notch–and one can never go wrong casting Charlotte Rampling–and it was a beautifully done film; a very quiet British style ghost story (I really have been enjoying British ghost stories over the past few years, and now I want to read The Little Stranger, of which I have a copy somewhere), and the film has a very dream-like sense to it that is rather marvelous…but that same sensibility also keeps the viewer at a slight distance, which results in the viewer not getting emotionally invested in the characters or the story. (At least, that’s my takeaway from it.) It also put me in mind of Sarah Waters, who is an enormously talented, award-winning British lesbian writer. I reviewed her first novel, Tipping the Velvet, years ago when I still a reviewer, and was blown away by it completely. At some point since then I stopped reading her–not sure why, and I don’t think it was a conscious choice, to be completely honest; I think she somehow just fell off my radar–but watching this film reminded me of what great writer she is, and perhaps I should go back and read her entire canon, including rereads of the first couple of books–I believe her second novel was Affinity–but…as always, time stands in my way.

I also was thinking of revisiting some Agatha Christie; Catriona McPherson posted on Facebook the other day about a talk she is giving for a public library (I believe in South Carolina?) about Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie, which put me in mind of Christie again–sending me own a rabbit hole of memories of her novels–in particular my personal favorite of hers, Endless Night–and how I came to read Agatha Christie in the first place. (I picked up a copy of Witness for the Prosecution off the wire paperback racks at Zayre’s; I knew it had been a movie and I knew who Christie was, but had never read her and was beginning to transition from kids’ mysteries to adults. I also didn’t catch the smaller font words beneath the title reading and other stories; I thought it was a novel and was most startled to discover it wasn’t. So the first adult mysteries I read were Christie short stories, which blew me away. The first actual Christie novel I read was The Clocks–after which I was hooked. Remembering this made me also remember the great mass market paperback publishers of the day: Dell, Pocket Books, and Fawcett Crest. Almost every paperback I read as a teenager was from one of them, and I do remember those publishers very fondly.) I have some Christies here in the Lost Apartment,–I was thinking of rereading either A Caribbean Mystery or Nemesis. I always, for some reason, preferred Miss Marple to Poirot; still do, to this very day. I read the first few paragraphs of Nemesis last night, and was, as always, entranced. So perhaps for this weekend I shall reread Nemesis and some short stories, around working on the book.

Because I absolutely, positively, must work on the book.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and don’t forget there are panel discussions for Saints and Sinners up on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel.

Fine Line

Saturday rolling into our lives and taking no prisoners!

I slept really well last night, which was a good thing. Yesterday wasn’t a good day–suffice it to say I got through it–and after I finished my work-at-home duties I went to the gym, which was lovely (and my muscles are feeling it this morning, which is perfectly fine with me). Paul will be going in to the office later this morning and most likely will be gone for the rest of the dy, leaving me home alone. It occurred to me the other day that this year’s Festival widowhood is different; usually I don’t get off work most nights until eight or so, so I only have a few hours home alone in the evenings before he gets home. Me finishing work every day by five stretches the entire evening out in front of me alone; I think that might be part of the doldrums. It’s noticeable in a non-pandemic year, but this year those lonely evenings are taking a bit of a toll on me. Paul has always been my favorite person to spend time with, and always will be; his absence is always noticeable.

I asked for a two week extension on my deadline for the book, and they actually gave me a month. The weight of that deadline stress lifting off my shoulders was considerable; that means I can try to spend this weekend getting caught up on everything else that has been piling up (and dear God, has it ever been piling up) while also working on the book without the great stress of “oh my GOD it’s due on Monday!”) as well as working on cleaning. Cleaning for some reason is calming and relaxing to me–plus being occupied with my hands frees up my mind to be creative (Agatha Christie said, in my favorite writer quote of all time, “my house is never so clean as when I am on deadline”). I’m also becoming less attached to my books, which are sprawling everywhere and taking up so much room it isn’t even funny. My goal is by June to have cleared out, through donating to the Latter Library’s weekend book sales, most of the piles of books. Should we ever have the means or find a place to live that will provide me with an actual room to serve as my office–so I can have walls and walls of bookshelves–I should have no problem whatsoever with filling those shelves. It’s a long time project, of course, and will require, in many instances, the purchasing or repurposing of boxes, but the truth is the only books I should be holding onto are research ones–and even those can be replaced with ebooks as needed; and let’s face it, ebooks are much easier to use than hard copies because you can search for key phrases and words, etc. much easier than flipping to the index and so forth.

The pandemic, of course, has had a lot to do with the weird, eerie, dream-like existence of the last year; and these additional stressors in my life have, like the Katrina aftermath, affected my short term memory. This entire last year–our office officially shut down services on March 16th last year–is kind of blurry to me; I don’t remember when this happened or when that happened and so forth; I thought, for example, we had closed down earlier than March 16th and opened up for limited services much later than we actually did. I have no recollection of my birthday in August. This is also kind of understandable, as there were none of the usual markers of the year that generally mark the passing of time: no Southern Decadence condom outreach, no Halloween, no Jazz Fest, no Bouchercon, no board meeting in New York in January. I miss those things; I miss my annual events and seeing everyone that I usually see and the social interactions…and given my general misanthropist attitude, that is saying a lot. I miss my friends, I miss my co-workers, I miss the way things used to be. (I do not, however, miss the past administration in the least.) And that’s okay; that’s normal, and I really need to get to a place and point in life where I stop beating myself up for, you know, having the same feelings and experiences everyone has.

I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking in my mind over the last few weeks of issues–and yes, pain–from my past as well as reexamining things that happened. I’ve always been hesitant to write about my past–I’ve always been uncomfortable about writing my memories or a memoir or anything like that, simply because none of the people I’ve known and/or interacted with over the years ever gave me permission to write about them, or tell my version of their stories, which is also why I generally don’t talk about people I know or interactions with them or so forth on here. What constitutes an invasion of privacy in these cases? I really don’t want to find out the hard way. But I am going to start, I think, writing personal essays that will most likely never see the light of day–or maybe, I don’t know. But writing about things has always been the easiest and best way for me to process and deal with them, and while I may not want to pull off the scabs in public here on my blog…I don’t know, maybe someday I could pull together a collection of them. I know when I was using the discography of the Pet Shop Boys for my blog titles last year I kept thinking that not only do their songs have great titles, but those titles would also make great titles for essays, as well as great starting points and inspirations for the essays themselves. Do I have anything interesting to say, anything deep or profound? As Eve Harrington said as she accepted the Sarah Siddons Award for a role written originally for Margo Channing, “everything wise and witty has long since been said–by minds more mature and talents far greater than mine.”

I really need to watch All About Eve again.

So, we will see. Once I finish slurping down my morning coffee and get my gears in order this morning, mayhap I’ll start writing an essay. I am going to spend some time with the manuscript for #shedeservedit–I’ll have the cover art soon, and I can’t wait to share it, y’all–and clean, clean, clean and organize, organize, organize.

I also started watching Allen v. Farrow last night on HBO Max. It’s very well done. I’m very curious to see the rest of it. I never followed the story that closely back in the day–but it was one of those things you couldn’t help but be aware of and everyone had an opinion. I’ve never been a particular fan of Woody Allen, and haven’t seen many of his films–of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite is Bullets over Broadway–nor do I have much inclination to go back and watch them now. I recognize this is yet another one of those “art v. artist” things; and perhaps the distinctions I make in other cases (I won’t watch anything made by Roman Polanski after his crime, but will rewatch both Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown–justifying those as being before he turned to criminal assault against minors, but apparently he was horrible to Faye Dunaway during the production….at the same time Dunaway is also notoriously difficult, so who is at fault in that instance?) are rationalizations to excuse myself. I won’t read Orson Scott Card nor Dan Simmons anymore, and really–there are so many books I want to read that I will never have time to read that cutting bigots out of my reading schedule isn’t an issue. I suppose the same goes for film–I’ll never have the time to watch every movie that I want to watch, so cutting out films made by predators or abusers or bigots really shouldn’t be an issue.

The art v. the artist! That could be an essay!

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