The Girl Is Mine

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Reese Witherspoon; I think she has talent and she had really shone in some things I’ve seen her in (Legally Blonde, Election, Cruel Intentions) but there was always just something about her, though, that set my teeth a little on edge; nothing I can explain, but she just always struck me as the “I need to speak to your manager” type. But her television work has turned me into a fan, and not just because she’s been killing it in shows like Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere…she’s been terrific in all of these shows, but the bigger picture is these shows have introduced me to two writers with whose work I’ve become enamored; Liliane Moriarity and Celeste Ng. Moriarity has more of a backlist than Ng, who only has published two novels; I’m working my way through Moriarty as of yet, and loving her work, but Celeste Ng is a whole other story.

Little Fires Everywhere was a terrific novel, and I was holding off on reading her debut, Everything I Never Told You, primarily because I didn’t want to run out of work by Celeste Ng to read (one of my weird predilections; I never want to run out of books by writers I love). But during the aftermath of Ida and with no power, I picked it up, started reading, and didn’t put it down until hours later, when I’d finished.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s Physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackle of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of her closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about Ng’s work is that it’s set in the past; Little Fires Everywhere was set in the 90’s, and this, her debut, is set in 1977. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with writing stories set in the past, mind you, it’s just an observation. But the two books have very strong themes and look at the roles of women in the society in which they were born; that entire thing about “having it all” (which is mythology, of course; no one is superhuman enough to “have it all”) and the bitter reality that a woman cannot, ever, no matter how hard she works and no matter how much effort she puts into it, achieve this mysteriously, vaguely defined “all” she is theoretically able to have. It’s still a problem for women in our current time; the inability for gender roles to be completely redefined, for one, despite the fact that society and culture have dramatically changed and shifted over the last few decades (four or five of them, at the very least).

Anyway, I digress.

The Lee family, who live in a small college town near Dayton in Ohio, are a typical American family. Dad teaches at the university, Mom is a housewife and mom, and their two eldest children are academic stars at the local high school. The youngest child is a mere afterthought, an asterisk, to whom no one really pays much attention. Both parents are completely wrapped up in Lydia, their second child; much to the detriment of the oldest, Nathan (Nath). Lydia is soon found when they drag the nearby lake; whether she committed suicide, it was an accident, or foul play is pretty much up in the air–although they did find her things in a small rowboat floating out in the middle of the water, so accident or suicide is most likely, but Mom Marilyn refuses to believe her child could or would do such a thing and therefore it must be murder!

This is, of course, a classic set-up for a crime novel or a novel about families; the twist here is that James, the husband/father, is Chinese-American (his parents were immigrants) and Marilyn the mom, is white and from Virginia.; therefore their children are bi-racial, and this was still kind of a “thing” in the 1970’s (not that it isn’t still, of course; progress has been made but it’s also been rather on the slow side, really). When James and Marilyn marry, miscegenation laws are still on the books; Marilyn’s own mother is such a racist bitch she says horrible things to Marilyn on her wedding day–which is the last time Marilyn sees or speaks to her mother. They are the only Asians in their little college town, which also impacts the kids and how they see, not only their parents, but the world. Marilyn is also a frustrated feminist; she wanted to be a doctor, took Science classes against the advise of teachers and advisors, and only gives up on her dreams when she becomes pregnant and marries James, becomes a wife and mother….and channels all her frustrated hopes and dreams onto her daughter, Lydia–who has a lot of trouble, as we see over the course of the book, living up to those hopes and dreams. There are no villains or heroes in this book; just complicated human beings doing their best to get through their lives–and how the things unsaid to each other, for whatever reason…and as we get to know each character and their own foibles and flaws and dreams, they become fully realized, and the reader cannot help but love and empathize with them. The story structure, after the present day opening with Lydia dead, flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as we learn the story of the Lees and their broken hopes and dreams; watch them deal with the horrific and completely inexcusable casual racism of their white neighbors and classmates; as Marilyn meets women who followed their dreams and envies them, wonders how they managed to do it; and there’s also a queer subtext/plot thread that is handled delicately and beautifully–if perhaps not realistically for small town Ohio in the 1970’s; whatever issues I may have with the realism of the story in the time in which it is said can easily be set aside because of how beautifully Ng does it as an author.

Everything I Never Told You is an absolute gem of a novel, and I can highly recommend it.

Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.

Breathe

One of the things I love most about books being turned into television series–or mini-series–is reading the book while I am watching the show. I discovered how amazingly fulfilling and fun and joyous this could be with Big Little Lies, and I’ve tried–sometimes failing–to do this every time Paul and I start binge-watching and loving another adaptation.  (Little Fires Everywhere remains my biggest disappointment; I cannot believe I did not have a copy of the book on-hand, or waited to watch until I had one in my clutches)

When I saw the first preview for HBO’s Lovecraft Country, it literally blew me away. I literally thought to myself, wow, I cannot WAIT to watch that, and was even more delighted to discover that it was, in fact, a novel. I got a copy, placed it on the mantle, and the week the first episode aired, I started reading. (Obviously, I do not read as fast as I used to.) I love love LOVE the show, and the book is actually pretty marvelous, as well. I finished it last night as I waited for the way-outer bands of Hurricane Laura to reach us here in New Orleans–all we got was a tropical storm effect, I am terrified frankly to look up what actually happened where the eye came ashore, and will have to gird myself with more coffee before I do look–and I am pleased to report the book finishes just as strongly as it starts–and that the entire book is fucking fantastic.

lovecraft country

Atticus was almost home when the state trooper pulled him over.

He’d left Jacksonville two days before in the secondhand ’48 Cadillac Coupe that he’d bought with the last of his Army pay. The first day he drove 450 miles, eating and drinking from a basket he’d packed in advance, stopping the car only to get gas. At one of the gas stops the colored restroom was out of order, and when the attendant refused him the key to the whites’ room, Atticus was forced to urinate in the bushes behind the station.

He spent the night in Chattanooga. The Safe Negro Travel Guide had listings for four hotels and a motel, all in the same part of the city. Atticus chose the motel, which had an attached 24-hour diner. The price of the room, as promised by the Guide, was three dollars.

I’m going to be honest right up front: I’ve never read H. P. Lovecraft. Oh, the horror, literally, right? When I was a kid I bought a copy of The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath and other Stories, and it just…well, it just didn’t do it for me. I lost interest several pages in, and gave up; and have never since returned to try the Lovecraftian waters. As I grew older and became more and more aware of the horror genre, I also became aware of how much of an impact and influence Lovecraft had, not just on horror, but on the sisters that genre is usually lumped in with, fantasy and science fiction. Lovecraft is honored and saluted and studied and written about, over and over again; new anthologies explore his worlds and “cosmic horror”; so many horror writers and fans claim, on their social media pages, to have attended “Miskatonic University” (which, to be fair, is far less annoying than those who claim “the School of Hard Knocks,” har har); and of course, over the past decade (perhaps longer; who knows? I don’t, and don’t care to find out) you cannot be involved in publishing, or a fan, as I am, of the horror genre and not been aware of what I have come to call “the Lovecraft Wars.” (The Lovecraft Wars, in short, debate the legacy of Lovecraft and his vile, racist beliefs; the standard defense is a shrugged ‘he was a man of his time’–to which the only proper response, frankly, is so was Hitler–and whether or not he should continue to be honored as an influential author; I don’t know the answer to those questions, frankly, and it’s not my writing community so I have no skin in the game. But you cannot help but be aware of this ongoing conflict.)

Anyway, I was pleased when I saw the trailers for HBO MAX’s Lovecraft Country, which clearly centered Black people, and when I found out it was also a book, I decided to get it and read along while watching the series. I was also a little disappointed to see, based on the author photo on the back cover, that author Matt Ruff appeared to be white–which also seemed to be a whole other field of land mines; the #ownvoice debate.

And then I started reading, and watching.

The book is set in a post-Korean War pre-Brown v. Topeka Board of Education United States; when racism was not only permissable and acceptable to the majority of white people but was often enshrined into law; separate bathrooms, denial of service, mob violence and burning crosses were, horrifyingly enough, just a part of everyday life for Black people. The police weren’t there to help protect them; they were there to force them to continue to live their lives on their knees–and kill them if they tried to rise. Lovecraft Country doesn’t flinch away from this or try to downplay it in any way (either book or television show), and there were times I found it hard to keep reading and would put the book down–only to think to myself, that’s some serious privilege there, bud–this is what Black people experience to this very fucking day and they can’t just ‘put down the book’ and walk away from it; refusing to read it because it makes you uncomfortable and makes you squirm makes you even more complicit than you already are. So, yes, there are some parts to the book that will make white people uncomfortable–but you need to get over it, for any number of reasons but at least one is because the book itself is a revelation.

As I’ve said, I’ve not read Lovecraft, but I got the sense from reading the book that the interconnected stories that make up the book are all inspired by, or retellings of, some of Lovecraft’s; only now centering Black people and their struggle against not only supernatural forces but against the casual, every day racism of the society in which they live. Atticus is returning to Chicago from Jacksonville because he received a letter from his estranged father about a family legacy; Atticus’ mother, it turns out, was descended from a slave who was raped and impregnated by a master who was also a very powerful warlock and part of an ancient society with peculiar beliefs centered in the book of Genesis. His uncle George is the publisher/editor of the travel guide mentioned in the opening of the book; eventually Atticus and George go on a road trip to Massachusetts–to Lovecraft Country–along with a childhood friend named Letitia (Tish)–to find Atticus’ father and they wind up in a very chilling and scary place called Ardham (Lovecraft wrote about Arkham–and I will always wonder if Arkham Asylum from the Batman universe was an homage to Lovecraft as well). They deal with racism every step of the way, “sundown towns” (towns where people of color were required to be outside the city limits by sundown or else suffer the consequences), and corrupt racist cops.

Each section of the book focuses on another person who is a part of their immediate family/friends group, dealing with some kind of different, supernatural experience: the next part of the book centers Tish buying a big empty old mansion in a whites-only part of Chicago that also happens to be haunted, and so on–Tish’s sister has her own story; Atticus and his father go looking for journals of another warlock and encounter a haunting; George’s wife and son have their own stories as well–but all these stories are connected by a thread that goes back to Atticus’ family legacy and a war between different covens of warlocks for not only supremacy, but knowledge and power.

The book is exceptionally well-written, and as I said earlier, unflinching in its depiction of a racist society from the point of view of those consistently victimized by it, and it’s a toss-up between who is scarier–the warlocks and the forces they unleash, or the horrible racists, so entrenched in their horrific beliefs and values that they can’t see Black people as human beings. The fact Ruff chose to call his primary character Atticus didn’t escape me, either; Atticus being also the name of the noble white hero of To Kill a Mockingbird, which is, while a beautifully written novel, one which has become increasingly problematic to me over the years for any number of reasons. I greatly enjoyed reading the book–and in all honesty, it made me curious to read Lovecraft at some point after all these years; although it’s certainly not going to be a priority for me.

I will read more of Ruff’s work, though; the descriptions of his other books sound incredibly subversive, which appeals to me.

I recommend this book highly.

If This Was a Movie

I strongly suspect no one would buy into the concept of two hurricanes coming ashore in relatively the same area in such a short period of time. One of Tim Dorsey’s novels had this as a plot point, and I found it so damned far-fetched I actually decided to never read another one of his novels.

My bad, Mr. Dorsey, and my apologies.

Management decided to close the office for today yesterday, due to the state of emergency with Marco heading for us; so I’ll spend most of my day making condom packs and watching HBO MAX films while waiting for his untimely and unwanted arrival, all the while muttering prayers to every deity I can think of (agnostic, but it never hurts) so we don’t lose power. This morning, though, Marco has weakened to a tropical storm and has slowed down; I’m not exactly sure when he is forecast to come ashore; it looks like much later tonight than forecast and it’s going to skim along the coast rather than turning and coming inland–yesterday it looked like we were getting a direct hit. Laura has also drifted west so we are no longer in her Cone of Uncertainty, and has also slowed–it looks like her eye will be making landfall on Thursday rather than Wednesday as originally forecast. I suppose we can now sigh with relief here in New Orleans in dodging two bullets rapidly fired at us; but there’s still potential for wind damage and flooding. Not to mention one of the worst things that could happen in New Orleans in August: a loss of power.

I spent some time on the book yesterday; I didn’t make as much progress as I should have (do I ever?) but I am pleased with the work I am doing. There are good bones to this book; but the muscle tissue and sinew needs exercise and it also needs to lose some body fat. That’s why it’s taking me longer than I anticipated–I often get to a part where I think, ugh, I don’t want to fix this and make it better, it’s good enough and just as I am about to scroll on–I grab the print out with the post-its and scribbled notes on the pages (surprisingly enough, I remember most of it subconsciously, apparently–more on that oddity later) and force myself to fix it. Having the worked-on manuscript pages and post-its and notes in my journal and my notebook is a tremendous help; this is how I learned how to write a novel in the first place and it’s surprisingly helpful in accountability and in correcting laziness. I haven’t done this in years–certainly not this thoroughly–and often only work on electronic files. My working habit of writing books chapter by chapter and dividing up the electronic files that way–Chapter 1-3, for example, is the third draft of chapter one–and I rarely pull it all together into one document before turning it in. Having the actual physical document, and reading several chapters in a row as I correct and edit them rather than doing an electronic chapter file has helped me catch a lot of repetition, contradiction, and holes in the story. The way I’ve been doing this for the last ten years or so, which is undoubtedly faster but far less careful, probably isn’t the best way for me to be doing this. I didn’t reinvent the wheel and make it better after all. I can still write quickly, the way I always have–spewing out anywhere from three thousand to seven thousand words in one sitting–but I shouldn’t, mustn’t, won’t edit and revise that way anymore.

Something peculiar did happen yesterday–this is the more on this oddity later segment of the blog–in which I worked on Chapter Four and got pretty far into it without referring to the manuscript hard copy pages and notes. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I got to a part I didn’t want to rewrite (even though it was necessary) and was going to pass through, thinking you can fix this in a later draft and stopped myself, thinking, what if you DON’T catch this next time? And why be lazy and ensure that the next time will take longer when you can just fix it NOW? I reached for the pages and realized that I had been revising/editing/rewriting without referring to them…and then discovered that most of the corrections I had already made were the same as the ones on the pages. Some of the changes were different–and better than the ones in my scribbled notes–and I had made changes to things I hadn’t caught in the hard copy. So, I interpreted this to be mean that I now have the voice and tone and mood of the story so deeply embedded into the creative corners of my mind that I know how it’s supposed to sound–and I also know the story so I can put the pieces in that are missing to make it come together properly.

It was actually quite marvelous.

I also spent some time with Lovecraft Country, which just gets better and better the further into the book I get. There were, as there have been every time I’ve sat down with the book, moments when the racism was so horrific I wanted to put the book down, but I reminded myself other people can’t walk away from racism by putting a book down and kept reading. It’s truly a terrific novel, and I am greatly enjoying it. We also watched the second episode last night, which is also fantastic. The show is pretty faithful to the book, with some minor tweaks and changes here and there, and it actually enriches the story in the book by expanding on it and the changes aren’t jarring; the fit in the context of the story the show is telling. I’m very glad the show was made, glad I am reading the source material–similarly to how I felt with Watchmen and its source material last year. It’s wonderful that so many books are being made into great television series; it’s enormously satisfying to read the book while watching the show. I did this first with Big Little Lies; and of course intended to do it with Little Fires Everywhere but failed; I’ve yet to read that book and am now thinking I should move it up in the TBR pile (I was planning on reading Babylon Berlin  next; I may still go ahead and read that but keep Little Fires Everywhere on deck). I also want to start dipping into reading short stories again–I’ve got the Paretsky collection, and the new Lawrence Block anthology, an so many other anthologies and single-author collections I’ve not finished–but it seems like there’s never enough time in the day, you know?

And it’s almost September already; how scary is that? Time is so weird anymore; it seems like we’ve been living in this pandemic forever, and this year has lasted a century, and yet still I looked at today’s date and freaked out a little bit because it’s like, did I waste this entire year already? There’s always something, I guess, I can berate myself about. It really never ends around here.

I found myself thinking about short stories I have written, or are in progress–there’s a ridiculous amount of them, seriously–and wondering about when I’m going to be able to get back to writing more of them, or finishing some of the ones that are currently in progress. This lengthy birthday weekend, followed up with an extra unexpected work at home day, has me feeling extremely well rested and my batteries recharged; I always forget how necessary that is, and with this weird new world we find ourselves living in these days–I forget that I used to take a three day weekend every six weeks or so in order to do just that: recharge my batteries. It’s just odd because I guess with the  work-at-home days every week where I don’t actually have to go into the office, I had the mentality that I didn’t necessarily need to take time off periodically for mental health purposes; that insidious sense that working at home isn’t really working.

Sigh.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely, storm-free Monday, Constant Reader.

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Come In With The Rain

So we survived Monday, did we not? And here we are,turning into Tuesday like nobody’s business and like there’s no tomorrow.

It’s 2020. Of course there’s going to be a tomorrow, most likely even worse than yesterday ever dared to be; I was joking with one of my clients yesterday about “remember back in December 2019 how much we were looking forward to that horrible year ending? Who knew 2020 would be even worse? I’m afraid to say I’m looking forward to 2021 now.”

The sad part is that it’s true–and that’s why it’s funny.

This is technically my “hump day,” since I am taking Thursday and Friday off, and I’m a little foggy this morning, ain’t gonna lie. I was, as I feared I would be, very drained when I got home from work yesterday; too physically and emotionally tired to do much of anything other than sit my in my car with Scooter sleeping in my lap while I watched videos on Youtube (there’s a great documentary on there, by the way, based on Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August) until Paul got home. Poor dear, he wanted to watch the next episode of Lovecraft Country, and I had to gently let him down with the news that it’s airing weekly, and we’ll have to wait until this weekend to watch a new episode. Instead, I clicked on Apple Plis and queued up The Morning Show….and can I just say wow? I’m not sure what I was expecting with it, but what I got wasn’t it–and it is amazing. A stellar cast, crisp writing, and engaging story; and Jennifer Aniston is perfectly cast and clearing enjoying every minute of playing morning talk show diva Alex Levy. Now, I’ll admit, I’ve always liked Aniston; she was the only reason I kept watching Friends, long after its expiration date (Rachel was literally the only character on the show who grew, developed, and evolved into a better, more whole person from the first episode through the last, and I’ve enjoyed her in the films of hers I’ve watched), but this performance in this role is a revelation, and she’s fantastic. So is Reese Witherspoon-in fact, the entire cast is quite literally perfect, as is Steven Carell. The Morning Show is about an eponymous network news show, similar to The Today Show and Good Morning America–light, fluffy entertainment with some (little) hard news to ease people into their days with their coffee; Steve Carell and Aniston play the long time anchor team (fifteen years!) and the show opens with the perfect premise: Carell and Aniston are kind of America’s “mom and dad”; and Dad just got fired because of sexual impropriety with people working on the show; and the chaos behind the scenes, from the staff to the network, that ensues. Aniston’s character is in the midst of contract negotiations with the network; the firing of her partner has given her, on the ropes because she’s getting older, a lot more power going forward with her negotiations, and the key now is ‘who’s getting the empty anchor chair’?

I had been avoiding the show, frankly, because I wasn’t sure what it was about and ‘behind the scenes’ shows like this, to me, have a very short shelf-life of being interesting; Paul and I were actually riveted and stayed up later than we should have in order to stream yet another episode. And much as I hate to say it, hats fucking off to Reese Witherspoon; her production company makes incredible television–Big Little Lies, Little Fires Everywhere, and now this. She has become one of the most consistently reliable television program commodities out there–and I will now probably watch anything her company comes up with, regardless of what it’s about or who is in it; but her company now has a pretty amazing track record of quality television with excellent and complex roles for women.

And I am here for it all.

I mean, I looked up the Emmy nominations for Best Actress in a Drama Series, and was like, wow, these are all Oscar caliber performances, and great roles for women–from Sandra Oh and Jodie Comer from Killing Eve to Laura Linney in Ozark to Jennifer Aniston in The Morning Show to Zendaya in Euphoria to Olivia Colman in The Crown–I mean, I don’t know that I could pick a winner from those without just pulling a name out of a hat.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulous Tuesday.

 

I Don’t Know What You Want But I Can’t Give It Anymore

And so it is now Wednesday, and we’re already about halfway finished with this week. Isn’t that lovely? Of course, I always hear my mother’s voice in the back of my head whenever I say things like that–you know you’re just wishing your life away when you do that–ah, my mother. Someday I’ll stop hearing her voice in my head.

Although I still do and am staring down fifty-nine this year, so chances are that voice is never going to get out of my head.

We finished watching Little Fires Everywhere, and I have to say, Reese Witherspoon makes a terrific villainess. It’s extremely well done–the writing and acting are top notch–and it really is amazing what you can do with a soap-opera style plot with strong writing and an excellent cast and good directing. As I watched, I couldn’t help thinking what a great Abby Reese Witherspoon would make in a reboot of Knots Landing. But I do encourage everyone to watch. It’s a terrific show, Kerry Washington is also fantastic, as are all the young actors playing the teenagers, and while it reminded me some of Big Little Lies, it’s a completely different plot and a completely different story–although the character Witherspoon plays is remarkably similar in both (although in Big Little Lies she never went completely to the dark side the way she did in this). It also handles class and race and gender issues over the course of the story, showing that it can be done–and done well–with the right creative team in place, particularly if they are committed to properly handling the issues.

Now I think tonight we’ll go back to Gold Digger–I think the next two episodes dropped Monday–and see if it continues to hold our interest as well.

I slept deeply and well last night. I woke up at seven this morning, and was actually awake, but chose to lightly nap in bed for another hour because the bed felt so relaxing and comfortable–plus, I wasn’t really feeling the day, you know? The longer I stayed in bed relaxing the longer I could put off dealing with anything this morning. Not that there is anything I don’t want to deal with– as I am particularly fortunate in that nothing I have to deal with is terrible; I just get lazy periodically–which is why being described as hard working or prolific amuses me endlessly. Granted, I hold myself to a much higher standard than perhaps I should; on the other hand, sometimes I think I wouldn’t get nearly as much done if I were easier, and kinder, on myself.

I also started rereading House of Many Shadows by Barbara Michaels this week, and I am now getting to the meat of the story; all the characters are in place, in the enormous house in the Pennsylvania countryside; it’s established that Meg, the heroine, has been in a car accident that caused some sort of brain damage which causes her to have either visual or audial hallucinations; the caretaker of the place is the owner’s stepson, whom she knew when they were children and didn’t like each other; and the previous tenants were evicted and not happy about it. It’s interesting–I’ve been very careful with Bury Me in Shadows to not mimic Barbara Michaels, and yet…in rereading this one I realize how incredibly similar the set-up of my work-in-progress is to this particular Michaels novel. Not that I’m plagiarizing her by any means, and there are only so many story situations and set-ups one can come up with; but similar enough for me to be a teeny bit concerned.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?

Monday and here we are, getting ready to stare down yet another week.

We watched more of Little Fires Everywhere last night, and it really is extremely well done. It really is an interesting look at race and privilege and power; all while using tropes that were staples of soap operas. As the show amps up and starts racing along to its climax, the basis of the majority of the drama of the show is a custody struggle over an adopted baby–a storyline so stale for soap operas that I don’t know that the few left even use it anymore. But with strong writing, excellent production values, and an enormously talented cast, this stale trope not only works in this instance, but works very well. I am curious, though, as to why the book is set in 1997 rather than the present; the reason behind it isn’t apparent, and it feels incredibly current; although the music at school dances and so forth is rather jarring, and it takes a moment to remember that the story is set over twenty years ago. I don’t even notice the lack of smart phones and social media. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get a copy of the book to read along while I watch, which was such a terrific experience with Big Little Lies. 

And Reese Witherspoon certainly has a type of woman that she regularly plays, doesn’t she? Super Karen?

I finished a dreadful first draft of “Falling Bullets” last night, and it is dreadful. Fortunately there are other drafts to be done, and corrections and edits that can be made to it, but at this point I’m just happy I finished a draft–it’s been awhile since I’ve finished something I’ve started. At first I was rather nonplussed because about 1500 of the 2000 words I’d already written–mostly the stuff I’d written Friday evening–didn’t really work anymore; but I went back to the beginning and started tweaking things, and was even able to tweak enough of the 1500 problematic words to save most of them. So, while I am not pleased with the draft and its condition, I am pleased that it is finished, at around 4600 words.

I also finished reading Thunder on the Right yesterday, and had a lovely time with it. I do think it is one of the lesser Mary Stewart novels–but a lesser Mary Stewart is better than  a lesser writer’s best, so there’s also that.

I have decided to take today off from work; I am not feeling as great as I should, and literally cannot face another day of data entry and condom packing. Fortunately I have enough vacation time accrued for me to take yet another day off–although I really need to start letting the time build up again, for when this is all finally over and done with, so I can take an actual vacation, which is something I am going to be in seriously need of–and so am going to stay home, finish some odds and ends, and then get ready to face the rest of the week. I also have to work early tomorrow morning, so will have to get to bed early this evening; and I think we’re going to maybe start slowly opening the STI clinic next week. I am of two minds about this–I am certain we can do it safely, but at the same time I worry whether clients will be willing to come in to get their screenings done. I miss my old life, quite frankly, and like everyone else, long to get back to it. But unlike everyone else, I don’t see the old normal coming back. This situation has changed so much about our lives and how we do things, and in many cases, things that were considered “impossible” before have now been shown to be possible. I can’t imagine, for example, that the expensive old version of the book tour will return now that we have seen it can be done relatively inexpensively virtually. I easily can see publicists cutting expenses at publishers by arranging on-line interviews and readings and Q&A’s and book club meetings rather than spending money for an author to travel. And for authors who can’t foot the cost of their own tours, well–here’s an inexpensive alternative that may actually work.

Next up for the Reread Project is an old favorite of mine by Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows. Dr. Barbara Mertz wrote, of course, wonderful mysteries as Elizabeth Peters (if you’ve never read the Amelia Peabody series, you really, really  need to), and wrote suspense novels that may or may not have a supernatural bent to them–Ammie Come Home is, obviously, by far and away my favorite of these–as Barbara Michaels. I rediscovered the Michaels novels in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and became just as addicted to them as I would to the Elizabeth Peters novels later that decade; House of Many Shadows is one of my favorites of the Michaels novels; The Crying Child is another. The rest are also good without question, but to my mind those three are head-and-shoulders above the others. The Michaels novels also have great, great titles: Wait for What Will Come, Be Buried in the Rain, The Dark on the Other Side, and Witch, to name only a few. And, if I am being complete honest, Bury Me in Shadows was inspired by the Michaels novels; as was Lake Thirteen.

And the humor in the Scotty books probably owes more than a little to the influence of the Elizabeth Peters novels.

I also gave up on rereading Katherine Anne Porter’s long short story about the Spanish flu, “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I can certainly understand why critics and literary enthusiasts shit themselves over Porter’s writing, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care about her characters or what happens to them, and Porter is definitely one of those authors who–to me–loves the sound of her own voice; what could be said in a sentence or two turns into rambling pages and pages in which she basically says the same thing, over and over again. And she never wastes any time on making the reader care about her characters, or even getting to know them well. I thought, when I first read her Collected Stories years ago and found them to be tedious and boring (as I was rereading “Pale Horse Pale Rider” I could actually hear a Lit professor enthusing about her works in my head), and I thought I’d give them another chance, thinking perhaps I had matured enough as a reader to enjoy them now; that it was my own immaturity as a reader and lover of the written word that kept me from enjoying them in the first place.

I am pleased to report I am wrong, and that I find Porter’s work as constipated and dull as I did the first time, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking her work. I still dislike The Great Gatsby, even after reading it three times, after all; let the literary snobs come for me. I don’t care. Scoff at me all you like, I will never like or admire Porter.

And on that note, I think I’ll go lay back down for a bit. Have a lovely Monday.

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Sunday Morning Comin’ Down

Well, I don’t know about coming down, but it’s definitely Sunday morning.

Then again, I did have to come downstairs, so I guess that’s somewhat applicable.

I wallowed in bed until nine this morning; I woke up originally at approximately seven AM and chose to stay in bed, it was kind of a lovely thing. The nice thing about football season being over is there’s no longer a need to get up early on the weekends in order to get things done before the games start–I’d forgotten how lovely it is to just stay in bed and relax and stay there until you really feel guilty about staying under the covers for so long. I stayed in bed pretty late yesterday morning–eight or nine, I don’t remember–but it is lovely, even if it throws my sleep schedule off a bit, seeing as how I must rise at six the next two mornings. But c’est la vie, right?

I did get some good work done yesterday on the Secret Project–which is going to be my primary focus this morning before I go to the gym–and I also have emails to answer. I also finished reading Tracy Clark’s terrific debut novel, Broken Places, yesterday, and then spent a good while trying to decide what to read next. As a general rule, I don’t like to read more than one book by a solitary author in a row, particularly when I have three of them to read; I’m interviewing Tracy for Sisters in Crimes’ quarterly newsletter, and so it behooves me to read them all. No worries–I am going to devote an entire entry at some point to Broken Places–probably shortly after I finish this one, to be honest.

I also got the lovely news that the Joni Mitchell anthology i contributed to, edited by Josh Pachter, The Beat of Black Wings, will be out and available in time for Malice Domestic! This anthology is a “crime stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell,” and the table of contents is a veritable who’s who of crime writers and people I am lucky enough to call friends. My story, “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” is one I particularly am proud of; I feel like I’ve been doing some terrific work on short stories over the past few years, dating back to the Short Story Project (which reminds me, I have another one I need to get started writing, and soon), and I do hope you’ll get a copy of the anthology. The proceeds are going to a charity; one of which Ms. Mitchell approves, and I believe the anthology is even going to promoted and featured on her website, which is very cool. More to come on that front, of course.

Oh, did I mention I am going to Malice Domestic this year? Yes, that’s correct, Constant Reader, I am going go be at Malice Domestic this coming May; I’ll be taking Amtrak down from Penn Station the morning after the Edgars to Malice Domestic. This is my second Malice, and I am really looking forward to it–particularly seeing friends win Agatha Awards two days after the Edgars. I’ll be flying home the following morning (that Sunday), but it’d going to be an absolutely lovely trip, and one which I hope will once again make me feel once again connected to the writing world.

Krewe de Vieux was last night, but I stayed home; Paul went to watch with friends, but I’m reserving my energy and strength for the St. Charles Avenue parade season, which opens this Friday with three parades. There are four or five more on Saturday, and then another two on Sunday; at least Sunday wraps up early in order for there to be rest and relaxation for the two-day break before the final stretch of six days and seemingly endless parades begins.

I can hardly believe it’s parade season again, but here we are.

I’m thinking, since we’re most likely going to start watching HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider this evening, that perhaps it’s time to crack the spine of the first edition hardcover I own and start reading it; I do like to read the book along with the series adaptation whenever I can–this worked really well with Big Little Lies–but I am also thinking that maybe I should read a cozy next? It’s been a while since I’ve dipped my toe into the cozy waters, and perhaps it’s not a bad idea to read one next? But I simply cannot seem to make up my mind, heavy sigh. Maybe a reread of Where Are The Children  as a memorial to Mary Higgins Clark?

So many books to read, and so very little time.

Well, I suppose I can put off the decision a little longer…and perhaps it is time for me to get back to the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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It’s All Wrong, But It’s All Right

The first Saturday of the new year, and there’s no college football games today. This of course leaves an enormous hole in my day, which I should be able to fill with things like errands, going to the gym, cleaning, and (GASP) writing. One can hope, at any rate….

Yesterday was a glum, chilly, wet rainy day down here in New Orleans, and yesterday was a more-than-a-little-frustrating day at the office; Friday is my data entry day, and the website where we enter our required data for the CDC was recently redesigned…it was never the easiest data entry system (completely counter-intuitive) and this new version is…worse. When you take pride in your speed and efficiency with data entry…a slow, clumsy not-easy-to-navigate system can prove to be a crushing blow to one’s ego….like the death of a thousand cuts. And then sometimes it just kicks you out of the system, so you don’t know if the data you’ve entered actually took or not…needless to say, when I get off work yesterday I needed a drink. Or two. Or three.

Well, it wasn’t that bad, and once I got used to using it, it wasn’t completely horrible–although it took me a lot longer to get things done than it usually does; ordinarily I would have been able to get everything entered and still had some free time for filing and so forth; instead I didn’t get everything entered by the end of my shift–leaving some for another day, alas–and it certainly wasn’t as annoying as the slow, painful death of my desktop computer. Even as I sit here now, typing, I am watching the wordpress page fail to load–it’s been failing to load for nearly an hour now–while I type this on my laptop. I haven’t upgraded the desktop to the new Apple OS–remembering all too well the horror that ensued the last time I made that mistake, going up to Mojave; God only knows what fresh hells Catalina will inflect on my desktop. But I do have this lovely MacBook Air, and I suspect that at the rate the desktop is going, I’m going to probably slowly but surely be turning this bitch into my main use computer.

I mean, it fucking works and doesn’t make me wait for an hour to load a webpage, so there’s that. I am slowly but surely going from an Apple fan to an Apple hater, quite frankly.

Anyway, after the annoyance that was work yesterday, I stopped at Jean’s for our annual office holiday party, which was lovely, and then swung by Rouse’s on my way home so I don’t have to go this weekend. I also picked up Paul, and then we came home to watch the LSU gymnastics meet against Arizona (LSU has one of the top gymnastics teams in the country every year–did you know that? They are currently ranked #2 in the country and finished second at the Nationals championship meet for the last two years running; they’ve finished in the top six for quite some years running now), and after that, we watched the second episode of Dare Me, which is absolutely amazing. It’s incredibly cinematic, in the way Big Little Lies was, and the story is just so compelling, and the way it’s told…you can’t stop watching. It’s absolutely mesmerizing, and now I want to read the book again. As I watched last night I absolutely was thinking I need to put Megan Abbott on my Reread Project list. (I’ve given up on the desktop ever loading the blog page and have asked it to restart, which also takes forever.)

Today yawns open and free ahead of me; Paul is going to the office to work thus afternoon, so I have the entire day here to myself, with absolutely no excuse to get nothing done. I am currently laundering the bed linens, and have a load in the dishwasher, so as I wake up this morning with my coffee, I think I am going to continue to clean and organize; once that’s finished I am going to head over to the gym I think, get in a nice, ease-my-way-back-into-it workout, and then head home to shower and get down to serious work on writing. I want to get back into the swing of writing on the weekends, particularly with football season coming to a close as we speak, with my weekends free from it all, there’s no reason why I can’t get my shit together again. And this next year is going to be a busy one for me; I definitely need to be structuring my life and planning it out to the nth degree else I won’t get anything done.

I’ve also been sleeping really well lately, too–which also helps with the mood and so forth.

And on that note, I’m going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, everyone.

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