Working Overtime

FRIDAY! Today I am taking what we can a personal day, or a Mental Health Day, or whatever you want to call a day when you really have a lot to do at home–chores, errands, writing, cleaning, etc.–so you dip into your dwindling supply of paid time off and snag some hours so you can get that shit done. It’s gray again outside this morning, and the sidewalks wet with a fractional amount of standing water in low places, so I am not really sure what the weather is actually like outside. Yesterday the high was 78–insane for late March, which doesn’t bode well for summer when it arrives in a few weeks (yes, summer is usually here by mid-April)–and I haven’t yet checked today’s weather. The gray cloud cover, however, kind of says it all, really.

I finished off a journal last night, filling the final few pages with thoughts about the current book, what I need to get done with it, and how precisely I want to get that done. Time is, of course, slipping through my fingers, as it is wont to do, and the extended deadline expires on Thursday of next week. Of course, it’s also Easter weekend, that is Good Friday and a paid holiday (thank you, deeply Catholic state of Louisiana), so I am debating whether to go ahead and get it turned in on Thursday, taking that nice long weekend to relax and recuperate from the exhaustion of finishing a book, or using that time to painstakingly go over the entire thing one last time….or desperately try to revise the end one last time. (I think we know what I am going to inevitably end up spending next weekend doing, don’t we?) I also need to get to the gym today later this afternoon.

I watched the Snyder cut of Justice League yesterday while I was making condom packs. I hadn’t wanted to for a number of reasons (four hours being the primary, to be fair, and I’m also kind of over “director’s cuts” of movies I’ve already seen; the few times I’ve watched these kind of things they never seemed to improve the original movie that much, or made a significant amount of difference to the film that warranted a rewatch; I’m afraid I’ve been burned that way a few too many times to be much interested in ever viewing a director’s “personal vision” yet again…but then, I realized yesterday, this was different–the movie I watched was patched together, rewritten, and reshot to create an entirely different film; so this Justice League would have some similarities to the movie I’d watched and mostly forgotten, but wouldn’t be the same film), but yesterday I thought well it’s four hours, watching this will save me the chore of having to decide what two movies I want to view while I am doing this, and so, with no small amount of trepidation, I queued the movie up and hit play.

Four hours later, as the end credits rolled, my first thought was wow, Warner Brothers really shit the bed by bringing in Joss Whedon to make that piece of crap instead of just releasing this.

DC Comics was my jam when I was a kid; I move on to DC from Archie Comics and never looked back–although I am very fond of Archie, even watching the first few seasons of Riverdale and absolutely loving The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina–and even though I eventually came around to include Marvel in my super-hero reading, I’ve always had a special place in my heart for DC–how can you go wrong with Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman? DC changed over the years–the transition from the old school heroes in an attempt to modernize them all in the 1970’s had mixed results (I can’t be the only person who remembers that Wonder Woman gave up her powers and became mortal for a while in the early 1970’s?); but the 1970’s also meant a move toward more realism in the way the characters were drawn, and an attempt to make them more three-dimensional and human. (Oliver Queen’s Green Arrow is the first DC hero to be drawn hyper-realistically; I distinctly have a memory of Oliver standing at a mirror with his shirt off–and seeing not only nipples but a navel and some curly body hairs and defined muscles). DC rebooted their entire universe in the 1980’s with Crisis on Infinite Earths, which was an epic undertaking, and kind of brilliant–getting rid of, for example, the Kryptonian super pets like Krypto, Streaky, and there was even a super-horse, if I remember correctly; they also got rid of the myriad rainbow colors and types of Kryptonite and only keeping the deadly green–my favorite was always red, because how red Kryptonite affected Kryptonians on Earth was unpredictable and never the same…which meant it could also always serve as deus ex machina to explain away strange, out of character behavior, like Superman or Supergirl or Superboy–who had his own comic series as well: “oh, I was exposed to red Kryptonite”–the effects only last, I think, for forty-eight hours.

Anyway, I’ve always rooted for DC Comics and its adaptations–loved, for a while, The CW’s series with lesser known heroes, like Green Arrow and the Flash and Batwoman. I even like the Brandon Routh version of Superman in Superman Returns. (Green Lantern starring Ryan Reynolds was enormously disappointing; I loved the Lantern Corps, I also love Reynolds, but the whole thing was just a big mess.) I enjoyed the first rebooted Henry Cavill as Superman movies (questioned the casting of Ben Affleck as Batman, to be honest) but I also agreed with critics who felt those films were missing something at their core; they came very close to getting Superman right but didn’t quite get there. And while this version of Justice League clearly fucks with the continuity of the DC Universe–particularly with Aquaman–I would strongly suggest Warner Brothers use this movie as the template for the Universe moving forward and just ignore those continuity errors. Joss Whedon definitely did both Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller dirty in his revision; the parallel difficult relationships between Flash and his wrongfully imprisoned father played against the antagonistic relationship between Ray and his father are really at the heart of the film, and give it an emotional depth and complexity that the Whedon version truly lacked. The Whedon plot merely served as a device for action scenes and explosions; the Snyder film actually has a plot, fleshes out the characters of the heroes more, and is truly an epic on the grand scale of the Richard Donner Superman films of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s–not an easy feat.

And can we just give the Amazons their own movie already?

I went into it skeptical, and when it was finished, was absolutely delighted to have had such an enjoyable experience that I didn’t even once notice that it was four hours long. And yes, I get that could have been a problem for a theatrical release, but outside of some things at the end–the dream sequence for Batman–I really can’t think of much that could have been cut from the running time. I also liked that the movie ended with the Darkseid cliffhanger, and the permanent establishment of the team. I don’t know what they are going to do from here out–I think both Ray Fisher and Ezra Miller are out, as well as Affleck–I don’t really pay much attention to casting news and things like that, nor do I care enough to go look it up, but it’s a shame. Both were perfectly cast, and while I can also see some issues with Miller anchoring a Flash film, I think he had the charm and charisma to pull it off if he had a great script.

And on that note, my errands and chores and writing aren’t going to do themselves, so I will talk to you tomorrow.

Okie from Muskogee

Thursday morning, and I am working from home today; or taking a mental health day–I’m not sure which it will be as of yet. This week has been fraught, to say the least, and by the time I got home yesterday I was exhausted and literally just collapsed into my easy chair for cat cuddles and mindless Youtube viewing. I don’t precisely remember what led me down that particular rabbit hole, but I at one point found myself listening/watching music videos of the Archies, Josie and the Pussycats, the Monkees, and the Partridge Family. (Hanna-Barbara animation, by the way, wasn’t very good–and the voices! My God, the speaking voices of the characters was like fingernails on a blackboard.) We also continue to watch The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and seriously–if you’re home, have Netflix, and are looking for something really fun to binge, you can’t go wrong with Sabrina.

I think what is making this week particularly hard is knowing that this weekend was when the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival/Saints & Sinners was supposed to be taking place; I was looking forward to seeing friends and making new ones, hanging out in the Quarter, staying in our posh suite at the Monteleone while coming home from time to time to keep Scooter company, and then launching into the next week energized and ready to get back to writing. Instead, I am physically and emotionally drained; the weather is spectacular (although I would imagine those from up north would consider this too hot–it is much warmer than it usually is in late March), and who knows what fresh hell tomorrow will bring? This morning I woke up at seven, but stayed in bed almost another two hours simply because I didn’t want to face my emails or whatever the new reality for today was going to be. But I can’t, in fact, stay in bed all day–no matter how much I want to–so I finally rolled out of bed and am now on my first cup of coffee and thinking already about how best to make use of the day.

I did read “The Masque of the Red Death” again finally last evening; I found a pdf on-line free for download (thank you, public domain!) so I downloaded and printed it out and read it while a cat purred in my lap. As I was reading it–it’s really more of a fable or fairy tale than an actual story; there’s no real characters, and the only one who has a name–Prince Prospero–is never developed into anything remotely human or three dimensional; as I said, it’s more of a fable illustrating the futility of trying to escape from death than an actual short story. And yet–yet it still resonated with me more than “Death in Venice”, which, though, I am still thinking about a few days later, which means it affected me probably more than I originally thought.

Either that, or all these stories–linked by plagues and Venice, in some ways; it was easy to imagine Prospero’s palace being on the Grand Canal–are linking and fusing together in my mind somehow; so perhaps the essay I am thinking about isn’t so far-fetched and out of touch with reality as perhaps I may have originally thought. I am going to spend some time today reading du Maurier’s “Death in Venice” pastiche, “Ganymede”, and I will let you know how that goes. I still don’t seem to be able to commit to a full-length novel, but I also do remember that I did read an awful lot in the aftermath of Katrina–in fact, I remember rereading All the President’s Men as well as a book about the criminal conduct of Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew–and so am thinking I might be best off turning to my non-fiction reading. I am still reading Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, and I am thinking about getting down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and rereading her chapters about the bubonic plague’s first, and most deadly, visits to Europe.

I made a post on Facebook yesterday, a little annoyed, about how the condos being built on my street two lots over is continuing despite the shelter-in-place order, essentially saying so glad the condo construction going on two lots over from my house is considered essential. Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the guys are working and getting paid; these are scary times, particularly for those living paycheck to paycheck, and I certainly don’t begrudge anyone getting paid-, but I can’t help but think about their safety, and I also can’t help but wonder who in the hell is going to buy a condo in this economic climate? As of yesterday Louisiana had 1,795 confirmed cases and 65 deaths, most of them in Orleans Parish, but it’s spreading gradually to the outer parishes, who are even less equipped to deal with a pandemic than Orleans. Anyway, this led to an idea for a noir short story called “Condos For Sale or Rent”, and I actually scribbled down the opening to the story last night…and it also kind of made me think about, as is my wont, quarantine/pandemic fiction. I wonder what post-flood New Orleans fiction would be like; now I wonder about how this whole pandemic/quarantine event will impact not just crime fiction, but fiction in general.

And here I am, already thinking about a pandemic short story, and even last night, before switching on Sabrina (that’s how the Youtube wormhole started; I was thinking about Sabrina, and how she was originally a character on Archie–so I looked for the old show on Youtube, found the video for “Sugar Sugar”, which featured Sabrina working a kissing booth, and then I got sucked in), I was thinking about a Scotty book during the pandemic/quarantine. Obviously such a book cannot be written now–without knowing what’s going to happen with COVID-19, you cannot tell the entire story–but it’s not a bad idea to take notes and come up with thoughts about it.

I also just remembered Katherine Anne Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider is set during the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918; perhaps I should read it again. Not a huge fan of Porter, either, to be honest; I read The Collected Stories of Katherine Anne Porter (I was looking for “Miss Brill,” not realizing at the time that was written by Katherine Mansfield rather than Porter) and was underwhelmed by them. Maybe I should give it another whirl? Maybe my tastes have matured and deepened enough by now for me to develop an appreciation for Porter. I should probably take another run at Hemingway–I only read The Old Man and the Sea and A Farewell to Arms, both of which were required for a lit class in high school and I hated them both–although Hemingway is precisely the kind of writer I’d hate if I knew in real life.

And on that note I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and do whatever you need to in order to keep yourself safe and uninfected.

Chris-Mears

Fernando

A chilly morning in New Orleans. It’s been in the fifties the last few days, but no worries, Constant Reader: the new car has an astonishingly powerful heater (something I am also not used to) and I no longer have any fears about my drive to the Frigid Territories North of I-10 anymore. (The Buick’s heater was erratic; which was fine for New Orleans–not so much for anywhere north of I-10.) Today I have some errands to run, and then I am going to try to get that essay finished in draft form today so I can edit it tomorrow. I also want to finish reading my Pelecanos novel; I am not taking it with me to Kentucky so if I don’t finish it this weekend I most likely never will. I’ll also probably finish reading Gore Vidal’s Empire today or tomorrow; I only have one chapter left so I may take it to the easy chair with me to finish today so I can start reading something new–non-fiction, most likely–in the bathroom.

Today, though, I am going to talk about the new CW show, Riverdale, which debuted this past week.

I will admit I went into the show wanting to like it. I grew up with Archie comics; despite the sweet nostalgia the comics had–they were really throwbacks to an imaginary 1950’s kind of teen life that never really existed in truth, the same kind of imaginary world created by shows like Leave It to Beaver and The Andy Griffith Show; worlds that never existed yet people always feel nostalgia for (which is a topic for another time). I won’t deny that as a kid I kind of thought being a teenager was going to be like an Archie comic book, and was vastly disappointed when it wasn’t. When the comic books went through a sort of ‘reboot’ (a term I am really tired of, frankly, but in this case it actually fits) a few years back and made news, I downloaded some of the new comics to my iPad, and was pleasantly surprised with the update.

I won’t recap or rehash how the company reinvented itself and made itself actually topical and modern and fresh and expanded its audience; there are plenty of articles out there about this and everyone can access Google, plus I would just be rehashing the information and might get some things wrong. But it’s a world with which I am very familiar–Archie, Betty and Veronica, Jughead, Hot Dog, Dilton Doiley, Reggie, Big Moose and Midge, Big Ethel, Miss Grundy, Principal Weatherbee, Pop Tate–and they also added a gay character several years ago, Kevin Keller (I bought the mini-series he featured in)–which would have been not only unimaginable as a kid but would have made an enormous difference in my life. So, I was kind of interested when I heard that Greg Berlanti (responsible for the DC television universe, and did a great job) was developing a TV show based on Archie called Riverdale, which would feature all the known elements of the comic books, give them a modern twist, and also make it dark and brooding; Archie meets Twin Peaks, is what it was described as. (I did watch Twin Peaks, and loved Season One; it lost me about an episode or two into Season 2.)

But I was also afraid it would be awful; just as I was afraid Arrow and The Flash would be. I am very happy to report that it was, in fact, not awful.

All the old elements of Archie are there: Pop Tate’s Choklit Shop; Betty’s unrequited passion for Archie, who only sees her as his best friend; Archie and his music; Josie and the Pussycats are even there. The script was flipped a bit in having Veronica no longer wealthy AND new in town; her father has been jailed for embezzlement and fraud, and she and her mother–originally from Riverdale–have returned to escape the glare.

But the show is structured with a noirish sensibility; the way the show is shot is absolutely gorgeous, and the bright colors also give it a comic book like feel at the same time. There is a murder mystery at the heart of the story; who killed Jason Blossom? And everyone in Riverdale seems to have had a reason to kill him, or is hiding something. It’s very soapy, yet very well done.

But, for me, the strongest part of the show is the appeal of the young cast–the older characters aren’t as well developed, but I’ll give that time. A. J. Apa is appealing enough, and of course, he is very nice looking; really, that’s all that’s required of Archie: good guy, kind of bland and a bit oblivious to everything around him, appealing. Archie never had abs before, though.

It’s extremely well cast; all of the young actors are appealing, the dialogue is snappy and clever (Veronica gets the best lines and I think is going to be the breakout character/star), and it was also fun to see former teen idol (and star of Beverly Hills 90210) Luke Perry as Archie’s father; in a nod to Twin Peaks, Madchen Amick is cast as Betty’s mother.

Usually, pilots have weaknesses that are corrected in the series; I detected none in Riverdale, and I was immediately caught up in the story. I liked it a lot, and am looking forward to continuing to watch.