If You Let Me Down Let Me Down Slow

One of my favorite lines from All About Eve is not, actually, one of the more popular or famous (infamous?) ones. It comes when Margo and Karen are stranded in the car on the way to the train station so Margo can make her curtain; they’ve run out of gas and Lloyd has gone for help (Margo doesn’t know Karen has drained the tank deliberately to punish Margo for–well, for being right about Eve all along), and they start talking. Margo turns on the car radio and music plays, and Bette Davis makes a patented Bette Davis sneer-face and turns it off, snapping, “I despise cheap sentiment.” I love that line, and use it whenever it feels appropriate.

I do feel it important to say that I don’t despise all sentiment, just the cheap, sappy kind. I used to love It’s a Wonderful Life, frankly, until I started really thinking about its message and how truly dark it actually is; now I love to fuck with people who still love it by called it the darkest Christmas noir ever put on film. But The Princess Bride and Disney’s Beauty and the Beast are still two of my favorite movies; and earned sentimentality, that arises from strong character development and a good story, still moves my heart and can make me cry a little bit.

Yes, I cry at movies and television shows; there are even songs that make me tear up a little bit, too. I know I project that I am deeply cynical–probably because, well, I am deeply cynical. People and systems have disappointed me far too many times for me to have a glowing opinion of humanity as a rule; my friend Victoria often accuses me of being a misanthrope–to which I always reply, “And I’m not wrong to be.” I do prefer to believe that most people are decent at heart, but there are just so many examples on the other side of the scales that it’s very hard to keep believing in the kindness of random strangers. (Just look at our current society and what is going on in the world even as I type this.)

So, I went into Heartstopper not expecting an awful lot. It looked cute from the brief previews I’d seen, and so I knew already it was about two teenaged boys falling in love and their friend group. I’ve often been disappointed by queer representation in films, television shows, and sometimes in books as well; I figured, despite the enormous popularity of the graphic novels this show was based on, that this would yet again be the case.

Boy, was I ever wrong.

I can honestly say I can’t remember the last time I was so completely charmed by a television series with gay characters–if ever. I have always been harshly critical of fictions targeted toward queer youth for any number of reasons; the primary one being a serious lack of authenticity in the ones I’ve read and/or watched. Some of them were so blatantly unrealistic I couldn’t even get past the third page, and even the ones I managed to hold my nose and get through were incredibly problematic and disappointing. I never got into Love, Victor because it seemed…well, phony to me. I can’t give any examples of why I reacted that way to the show, and believe me, I wish I could have watched more of it so I could (I may go back and do so at some point). So when I saw the first previews for Netflix’ Heartstopper, it looked adorable…but as I said, didn’t get my hopes up. I checked into it before watching and learned that it was based on a series of graphic novels that started as web cartoons, written by Alice Oseman, and I thought, well, be supportive and give it a chance. We were just coming off season 5 of Elite, which had thoroughly shocked and surprised me with the amazing storyline and arc they’d given the character of gay Patrick (who literally stole the entire season out from under the rest of the cast; it was a stunning performance by Manu Rios), and the thought that I might have another terrific show with gay characters and a romance was too much to pass up on. So, the Saturday before we went to New York, Paul and I queued up Heartstopper and…

We were both enchanted.

Heartstopper is just so sweet and lovely I felt my Grinch heart grow three sizes while watching it.

I even happy-cried several times per episode; so it’s like Ted Lasso and Schitt’s Creek in that way, but it also touched me deeply. I kept thinking, over and over again, how marvelous this show was; how beautifully written and acted and produced–and how lovely this would have been for fifteen year old me to have seen.

It’s like I don’t know who I am anymore.

It really is just so damned sweet and charming.

The queer rep I’ve seen in y/a novels–romance or not–has generally not been satisfying or engaging; I tend to raise my eyebrows and roll my eyes a lot–if I can even make it all the way through. But this….this was different somehow. Maybe because the actors playing the roles were the actual age they were playing? They just looked so young and innocent and sweet….which was perfect for this kind of show, really. It does make a difference when teenagers are played by teenagers, as opposed to actors in their twenties.

Charlie is the main character, who was accidentally outed by one of his friends the previous year and has suffered some bullying, which has left a few marks on his psyche. But it’s a new school year, some older boys put an end to the bullying, and he’s starting over in a way. On the first day of class he finds himself sharing a table in Form (what I guess we would call homeroom) with Nick, the big star of the school’s (Truham) rugby team. As they continue sitting next to each other, they slowly but surely start becoming more and more friendly with each other; enjoying each other’s company, etc. Charlie is also involved in a toxic relationship with Ben–who will meet him privately to make out, but only on his terms and when he wants it, and is also seeing a girl–that Charlie is trying to get out of. Ben tries to force himself on Charlie one day… Nick stops it, and then their friendship blossoms even more, with more texts and Nick proving himself to be a really good friend to Charlie, who is also developing a crush on Nick.

Nick is also starting to have feelings for Charlie that go deeper than “being mates”–so we see him looking stuff up on line about being gay.

Kit Conner, who plays Nick, plays the role so pitch-perfectly–the confusion of having feelings you’ve never had before, which upsets your entire worldview and everything you think you know about yourself (it wasn’t my experience, personally, but I’ve heard this from countless others) and being terrified to express it; afraid of what will happen when you admit it to yourself and start admitting it to others, and what it all means. He’s falling in love with Charlie, but what precisely does that mean?

His mother is brilliantly played by Olivia Colman, who is just such a treasure. One of the sweetest scenes in the entire show is after she’s met Charlie, and she comments on the friendship, “You’re more you when you’re around him. You’re different around your other friends. With Charlie, you’re you.”

Yes, it brought tears to my eyes–especially watching the emotions of what she means being processed in Nick’s mind and the lovely smile when he realizes that Charlie really sees him…and what THAT means.

It was also lovely seeing their relationship develop and blossom and grow–and that everyone is supportive and excited for them for the most part (yes, there’s some homophobic bullying, but not as much as one would expect, but it’s also dealt with strongly and doesn’t really hang over the show, either). There’s a young lesbian couple as well whose development and growth mirrors that of Nick and Charlie; a wonderful young trans character who has left the boys’ school and is now at the girls’ school, and a burgeoning romance for her as well–which I hope develops more in the next season.

But most importantly, the show is about acceptance and the sweetness of falling in love for the first time–and the usual obstacles that keep our adorable young couple apart aren’t heavy drama, and their suffering is more along the line of does he really like me? Am I his boyfriend?

It’s sweet, and adorable, and charming. As I said, I happy cried any number of times throughout the show…and the soundtrack is fantastic.

In fact, I am so obsessed with Heartstopper that the day after we watched I bought all four graphic novels and read them the following afternoon.

The show follows the books pretty closely, but they are just as adorable in the graphic novels as they are on the show. The graphic novels take a bit of a darker turn in the last couple of volumes than I would have liked, but the dark stuff is handled not only optimistically but in the same charming, loving, kind way the rest of the story is told.

Highly recommended. I am probably going to rewatch, too. It made me all warm inside, and shows like that–Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso and now Heartstopper–are necessary, especially in these dark times in which we live. Thank you, Alice Oseman, for the books, the story, and the characters. Highly recommended.

I could write about this show and the books forever, and may write more later…but I am going to go ahead and post this now.

All I Want for Christmas

I love prolific writers, but keeping up with their canon when you have very little time to spare on actually reading for pleasure can be difficult. I somehow managed to fall years behind on one of my favorite series–the Meg Langslow mysteries by Donna Andrews–right around the time she started producing two books per year (a regular mystery and one centered on Christmas–hello, Hallmark? This series is perfect for you), which made it even harder to catch up. I did manage to read two this past week (well, I listened to one in the car on the way home, which made the drive a delightful experience), and yes, both were marvelous as always.

“Hoo! Woo-hoo HOO!…HOO! Woo-hoo HOO!”

The gray-haired couple standing at the tinsel-decked front desk of the Caerphilly Inn started slightly, and glanced over their shoulders in the direction of the hooting.

“That’s just the ornithologists again, Mr. Ackley.” Sami, the desk clerk, had probably been hired for his soothing voice. “Having their conference here, you know. Owl Fest.”

“They haven’t brought in live owls, have they?” Mrs. Ackley’s face was anxious. “Surely the hotel wouldn’t allow them to do that.”

“Jane’s terrified of birds.” The man put a protective arm around his wife’s shoulder.

“Of course not!” Sami managed to look shocked at the mere suggestion. “That would be completely against the Caerphilly Inn’s policies.”

Which is why we’d been confiscating all the live owls various ornithologists kept bringing into the conference, and taking them a few miles down the road to temporary headquarters at the Caerphilly Zoo. The owls, that is, not the ornithologists–although I’d been tempted. Two screech owls, a barn owl, and a northern saw-whet owl so far.

Christmas is hard to write about, really. My favorite quote from All About Eve isn’t nearly as famous as the ones everyone quotes regularly–“I detest cheap sentiment”–and I’ve tried to keep that quote in the forefront of my mind when I am writing. That isn’t to say that cheap sentiment doesn’t have its place in entertainment; there’s comfort to be found in works that can sometimes be cloyingly sentimental. For me, I define cheap sentiment as unearned; not coming from the honest emotions of the characters based on circumstance and situations and interactions, but rather from homilies: blood is thicker than water, family above all else, etc. I’ve always wanted to write about Christmas, but it’s a minefield when it comes to sentiment. I myself have written short stories about/around Christmas, but they seemed trite, cloying, and cheaply sentimental, with “all’s well that ends well” ending because, well, it’s Christmas. Everything is supposed to work out in the end because it’s Christmas, right? Clarence gets his wings, bullied Rudolph becomes a hero, etc. etc. I tried to avoid that with my own entry into Christmas crime writing, Royal Street Reveillon, and am not entirely certain I succeeded. Yes, the guilty were punished, but like Die Hard, it wouldn’t have to be the holiday season for the story to work. (This is why I fall on the side of “Die Hard is not a Christmas movie” because Christmas wasn’t integral to the story; it could have been Thanksgiving or the middle of the summer and still worked.)

And yet, Donna Andrews manages to write a new Christmas murder mystery that leaves you feeling contented, satisfied, and enormously happy when you close the book after reading the last line–and Owl Be Home from Christmas is yet another gold standard work from the master.

The premise of this one is that Meg’s grandfather, wildlife expert and activist Dr. Blake, is hosting OwlFest at the Caerphilly Inn, and of course, his assistant Nigel is off for the holidays to visit family so the onerous task of keeping the conference running smoothly, and solving problems, falls to Meg, who has moved herself, husband Michael, and their twins (Josh and Jamie*) to one of the guest cottages on the property. Christmas is looming on the horizon, and a polar vortex has descended on Virginia from Canada, creating a blizzard that has everyone trapped at the Inn. In fact, the storm has cancelled flights up and down the eastern seaboard, and Caerphilly is woefully unprepared for a storm of this magnitude, with the city’s two snowplows stranded in snowbanks. Meg, as always, makes the best of every situation, and with the help of the impressively efficient Inn manager, Ekaterina, tries to make the situation of being stranded at the Inn as comfortable and fun for the conference attendees as possible.

Naturally, there are some difficult attendees who Meg would love to righteously smite–and certainly deserve said smiting–and when the obnoxious and well-hated villain of the book, Dr. Frogmore, drops dead at the conference banquet, there’s a plethora of suspects…and with the Inn cut off from civilization by the blizzard, obviously the killer is someone on site.

Meg and her intrepid family and friends now have to find the killer–while still keeping the conference running smoothly and continuing with plans to keep the stranded guests entertained and happy; making the best of a bad situation, which Meg is fantastic at doing.

I loved this book. Andrews has somehow managed to keep a series running for over thirty books without dropping a stitch. While other series tend to run dry (my own Chanse series, for example, and I regularly worry about Scotty doing the same), somehow she manages to keep her enormous supporting cast involved and memorable (I deeply appreciate the three-dimensional lives of the supporting cast, and she is expert at deciding which ones to highlight in each book; Rose Noire is becoming a favorite), and I don’t think there’s a single book in this series where I’ve not laughed out loud multiple times while reading. Caerphilly is a charming place, and every time I go back to visit–even if the cast isn’t in Caerphilly in the book–I always am a bit melancholy when I finish and have to face the real world again.

And she has managed to write all these Christmas books with heart, compassion, and love–and isn’t that what Christmas is really all about?

Masterful. Andrews is a gift the crime fiction community should cherish.

*More Josh and Jamie, please.

Crystal

Friday!

It’s gray outside this morning; and the temperature has dropped since the rain of the other night. Yesterday’s high was in the 60’s; today’s apparently will be as well. I don’t mind this–surprise!–because I was a bit concerned about it already climbing into the 80’s in March already, which didn’t bode well for this coming summer. So this cool break is a bit nice–and it’s also nice to not go get into my car and start sweating because the sun’s been shining into it all day plus it being hot outside. Yesterday was also a bit nice because 1) Paul was able to get his second vaccination for COVID-19, and I spent the day making condom packs and doing other, various work-at-home duties. As my fingers and hands worked through the condom packing, I spent some time thinking through what I need to do with the book this weekend, which is always helpful. I also got caught cup with this week’s episode of Superman and Lois, which I am greatly enjoying; the television adaptations of DC Comics continues to outshine the film universe. I am debating where I want to spend four hours watching the Snyder cut of Justice League–four hours is a big commitment–and I also discovered, browsing through my many streaming apps last night, any number of films to add to my watchlists.

(Aside–they are hanging new gutters on the house next door and I can see them going up and down those shaky, rickety extension ladders–whose bases are braced against the wooden fence between the properties. As they go up and down the ladders shake–which is one of many reasons I will never climb an extension ladder–and watching the corresponding movements/shaking of the wooden planks in the fence. I should also add that Michael, our neighbor to the front with his partner John, has retired from his job and has started working on the flower beds that run alongside the fence, which have been disaster areas ever since Katrina, and is doing a very nice job making them look pleasant and appealing and all cleaned up.)

As I looked through HBO MAX looking for something to watch for the rest of my condom packing, I came across Inside Daisy Clover, a film from the mid-60’s that is supposedly one of those “gritty insider looks at Hollywood”. It stars include Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Redford; and I vaguely remembered Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for it. I also had a vague memory that the character of Daisy Clover was, in theory, based on Judy Garland, so I thought what the hell and queued it up. This morning, I cannot believe I sat through the entire thing–it was really that dreadful and pointless–and it really was squirm-worthy. When the story opens Daisy is fifteen, leaving in a trailer along the boardwalk at Angel Beach with her not-quite-all-there mother (Ruth Gordon) who has a great natural singing voice, records it and sends it to Swan Studios. Daisy has basically, for all intents and purposes, been raised by wolves, has no manners or filters, and while she is quite pretty beneath the grime and strange haircut (those eyes! Natalie Wood was so beautiful), her getting signed by Swan Studios and being groomed by studio head (Ray Swan–played to odious perfection by Plummer) seems a bit of a stretch. She is marketed as “America’s Little Valentine” and immediately becomes hugely successful. She also becomes involved with another star, Wade Lewis (Redford), who is heir to a vast fortune and a completely one-dimensional cad–which becomes really creepy on two levels–first, she’s supposedly a teenager (Wood was at least in her late twenties by then) and Wade is in his late twenties/early thirties, which is creepy to say the least (studio head Swan refers to her as “America’s Little Jailbait” in one cringeworthy scenes), and then, after he deflowers her, is ordered to marry her or be arrested for corruption of a minor. (The second creepy part is Wade lives on a sailboat anchored just off the coast; seeing Wood on a sailboat or heading to and from one on a motorboat, given how she died, is foreboding and squirm-inducing) They do marry; they spend their wedding night in a motel in some remote location in Arizona, and when she wakes up he’s left her there without a word, stranded. After her mother’s death, she has a breakdown of sorts on set and is unable to continue working, which delays the picture and puts her at odds with the studio–which has spoiled and indulged her so far, but not anymore. The movie’s ending is neither a conclusion or an actual resolution, not a real end; it just….ends. We don’t know what Daisy is going to do–but again, it’s cringy. Inside Daisy Clover could have been a chilling and realistic exposé of the old studio system; it could have shown how an innocent but strong-minded young woman is corrupted and changed and turned into a monster by the system because of her talent–the film does none of these. Daisy is still the same impulsive, emotionally needy mess at the end that she was at the beginning, and such an incredible waste of Wood’s talent. She plays the character without any depth or interior; she plays her like an uncontrollable brat, and the performance doesn’t really ring true. All I kept thinking as I watched was that Wood was miscast–the lip-syncing was especially bad–and about half-way through I thought, this script is terrible and the direction equally bad, but Liza Minnelli could have killed in this part; it was perfect for her. The truth was the title was a misnomer–at the end of the movie we’ve not gotten “inside” Daisy at all but rather skimmed over the surface….and to make matters worse, by the end of the movie she is only seventeen.

America’s little jailbait, indeed.

It is a shame; Hollywood did some amazing films that exposed stardom and the Hollywood machine quite expertly; think of Sunset Boulevard and even though it was set in the theater world, All About Eve. Quite frankly, both book and movie of Valley of the Dolls handled the same subject–the coddling of talent resulting in the creation of a monster–much better.

I started reading The Russia House by John LeCarré yesterday while I waited for Paul to get his shot and then wait to make sure there was no reaction to it; it’s quite good–the writing in particular and voice are exceptional; it’s also world-weary, snarky and funny–and am really looking forward to getting back to spend some more time with it. It will depend on how the work goes, of course; my priority around my day job is going to have to be the book until April 1. (although…April 1 is the day before Good Friday and in theory, I could use that three-day weekend to finish the push to finishing the book; or I could finish on time and spend that weekend relaxing and preparing myself for the next project on the list)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow morning.

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.

Santa Baby

A gazillion years ago I edited a queer Christmas anthology, Upon A Midnight Clear. Back when I was new to the business and wanted to change the world (oh, how I miss that youthful naivete and optimism–even though I was in my early forties), one of the things I had noticed–in my limited experience and knowledge of all things publishing, including the queer side of things–that there weren’t many Christmas stories from a queer perspective or with a gay man as the center of the story. (A major exception to this was Jim Grimsley’s beautiful novel Comfort and Joy, which is still one of my favorite gay novels; he also published a short story excerpted from the book that was published in one of the Men on Men anthologies–the story was also called “Comfort and Joy”. When I signed the contract for the Christmas anthology, you can best be sure I immediately emailed Jim and asked for reprint rights, which he very graciously granted.) So I decided to combat this by doing a Christmas-themed anthology for gay men, by and about and for gay men. I later found out that there had been a previous one (edited by Lawrence Schimel, if I am remembering correctly), and there have been some books and stories and novellas since then.

As is my wont, I tend to forget about Upon a Midnight Clear–it was, after all, pre-Katrina and pre-Incident–but every once in a while I remember it and think about it….and it’s usually because I opened the introduction by quoting Bette Davis as Margo in All About Eve: “I detest cheap sentimentality”–it’s a favorite quote of mine, and it pops into my head all the time, and I used it in this instance to express how annoyingly sappy most fiction–be it short stories, novels, television shows, or films–can be when it centers Christmas. It was a labor of love in some ways–for me especially, trying to reinvent my own feelings about the season–and it might be time for me (or preferably, someone else) to take another run at another gay Christmas anthology; Upon a Midnight Clear has been out of print since 2007, and while i know there have been others in the years since, I kind of would love to do another one…or perhaps one of Christmas noir.

Ooooh, I really like the sound of that.

I made some good progress on Chapter 18 yesterday, and fully intend to finally wrap that chapter up tonight and perhaps begin Chapter 19. It’s very cold again this morning in the Lost Apartment, but I have solved that issue–someone suggested to me on Facebook (I believe it was Carolyn Haines) that I buy electric blankets, and it was literally one of those moments when you think duh, how fucking stupid am I, really? In my own defense, I’ve never owned an electric blanket and we never had any when i was growing up, so I have no experience with them and it probably would have never occurred to me to get one. I ordered two from Macy’s, they arrived last week, and Paul and I broke them out last night while we were watching The Hardy Boys (which I am really enjoying much more than I ever thought I would), and yes, game changer. I am sitting at my desk right now wearing sweats, a ski cap (purple and gold LSU of course) and my electric blanket is covering my lap and it is MARVELOUS, just as it was last night.

And Scooter was absolutely in heaven last night with the electric blankets.

Today I am working from home and slept amazingly well last night; I also stayed up longer than I had intended to, which also had something to do with it. I had some writing to complete for a website–due yesterday-but the materials I needed to write about never arrived so yesterday I spent some time coming up with a work around, which I think wound up working splendidly. The writing I did yesterday also went swimmingly well; I believe my main character is really taking shape and so is the story, and I am very excited about getting this book out there for everyone to read. I am nervous about it, of course, just like always; but I am taking some risks with this book and I am pushing myself creatively. The more I work on this book, though, the further away another Scotty book seems. I had an interesting conversation on Twitter the other day (other week? who the hell knows? Time literally has no meaning anymore) about private eye novels, and I expressed that while there are certainly still good ones being written, the subgenre feels a little on the stale side to me these days; and I also confessed that this could have everything to do with my already having written fifteen of them. The stand alones I started writing and publishing in 2009 (or 2010; see earlier comment about time having no meaning) gave me enough of a break from writing the private eye novels so that I always came back to them feeling fresh and invigorated, much as how alternating between Chanse (serious) and Scotty (more silly) used to help me stay fresh with both series. I feel like Royal Street Reveillon was probably the best Scotty I’ve written in a long time; I was very pleased with how the book turned out, and from time to time I think well, that one turned out so well that might be a good place to stop–and then I remember I left Scotty’s personal story on a cliffhanger, and I probably need to get that wrapped up at some point. But once I finish these two contracted novels, I want to work on Chlorine, and there’s another paranormal New Orleans novel bouncing around in my head–Voices in an Empty Room–but I might be able to put that aside to work on another Scotty–although I have to admit there’s also a Colin stand alone bouncing around inside my head as well.

But then maybe my brain is just overloaded at the moment.

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

Here Comes the Rain Again

It started raining yesterday, and hasn’t really let up since; and it has brought a biting, bitter cold with it. As such I slept later than I intended to this morning–Wednesdays being one of the days I have the luxury of not needing to use an alarm–but nevertheless, I am not awake,, wearing sweats and swilling coffee.

I finished reading Donna Andrews’ delightful How the Finch Stole Christmas last evening, curled up in my easy chair under a blanket, and started reading Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, which, as always with Highsmith, is enthralling. Highsmith is one of my favorite writers, but I’ve never read her entire oeuvre since there will never be new Highsmith novels to read; this way there’s always more of them I haven’t read yet (I have also done this with Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier); but after I finished the Andrews–which was an absolutely lovely comfort read–I wanted something a bit more biting and snide–and for that, you really can’t go wrong with Highsmith. The Blunderer is one of the novels curated by Sarah Weinman for the Library of America series about terrific women crime writers from the post-war era; Weinman’s ringing endorsement is one that simply should not be overlooked–she’s never wrong. I got several chapters into it last night before going to sleep, and am definitely looking forward to doing the same again this evening.

How the Finch Stole Christmas is a delight from start to finish, as are all of Donna Andrews’ Meg Langslow series.

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“Shakespeare was right. The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.”

“I wish I could hear you say that in person,” I said.

“Yeah, over the cell phone you miss all my dramatic gestures.” Michael’s voice sounded more exasperated than angry. And since I knew my husband wasn’t usually prejudiced against the legal profession, I was puzzled instead of worried.

“Are you someplace where you can talk?” he asked.

“I’m not at the theater, if that’s what you mean. Reverend Robyn wanted to see me about something. At the moment, I’m over at Trinity, sitting in her office, waiting for her to solve a Christmas pageant prop emergency, so until she comes back, I’m at your service.”

The other night, I watched All About Eve again for perhaps the thousandth time, with a young friend who’d never seen it before. One of my favorite lines in the film is not one that is quoted regularly; Karen and Margo are sitting in the car, out of gas on their way to the train to take Margo back into the city for the evening performance she is going to miss. Margo turns on the radio, and some maudlin orchestral music plays for a few moments, with the camera focused on Margo’s face, one eyebrow arched. She turns the radio off and says, “I detest cheap sentiment.”

One of my biggest issues with Christmas is precisely that; cheap sentiment. I used that quote as an epigram for my Christmas anthology Upon a Midnight Clear, because I didn’t want to publish stories that were emotionally manipulative, and the stories in the book weren’t. Christmas is nothing if not a holiday rife with cheap, manipulative sentiment, and many carols and shows and movies mine this territory to the point where by the actual day’s arrival, I am so completely over the holiday and the saccharine-sweetness that I am almost afraid to turn on the television.

Donna Andrews, as Constant Reader already knows, or should by now, is one of my favorite writers and her Meg Langslow series is also one of my favorites. This is the fourth Christmas book in the series (following Ducks the Halls, Six Geese a-Slayin’, and The Nightingale Before Christmas), each more charming than the last–which is no easy feat. Andrews’ ability to keep this series fresh with each successive volume–and witty–is the mark of a master. Meg loves Christmas; the charming Virginia hamlet of Caerphilly she calls home feels much the same way–to the point where it has turned into a Christmas tourist destination (in no small part due to Meg’s efforts).

This year, rather than having a staged reading of A Christmas Carol, starring Meg’s husband (a retired actor who now teaches at the local college, and also appeared on a television series that has remained a cult hit for decades), the town has decided to mount a full production,  starring Malcolm Haver, a has-been actor who also starred in a television series back in the 80’s, and has a small but devoted following, as Scrooge. Haver has a drinking problem, can’t remember his blocking and his lines, and is a little on the irascible side…but has an ironclad contract for run of the play. Meg and her friends have managed to ensure that no one in town will sell Haver alcohol–but he is still getting it somewhere; and that’s what kicks this clever whodunnit off.

As always, the charms of the town, the wonderful people that live there, and of course Meg’s own ability to face everything with a “how do I fix this” attitude and a clever line makes this a fine addition to the series, and as ever, all’s well that ends well in this Christmas visit to Caerphilly. A perfect read for the Christmas season.