Well, Constant Reader, we certainly survived Monday, did we not? At any rate, I’m typing this for you to read later, so hopefully we survived Monday; I did, at any rate.
This has been such a weird shit-show of a year already that I’ve completely forgotten that my fifty-ninth birthday is creeping up on me. Yes sir, next week is the big 5-9 (I’ve been saying I was fifty-nine for the entire year so far already) and I don’t know if any celebration is called for; I don’t really make a to-do of my birthday, never have (they weren’t really made much of when I was a kid, and so I still to this day don’t think my birthday is a big deal) and am always kind of amazed when people actually DO make a big deal of theirs. But some years I do things on my Facebook page to indicate another year of my life has passed me by in the wink of an eye; one year I kept changing my profile picture to old pictures of me from my past. Another year I started posting my books covers to count it down. For this year, I think I am actually going to take a long weekend–my birthday falls on a Thursday, so I may take Thursday and Friday as vacation days, and take a lovely long weekend to indulge myself in reading and organizing and working on the book (yes, for me that always feels like an indulgence). I think I’m going to go ahead and start reading Lovecraft Country–I kind of feel the need to read something in the horror vein, after the stunning brilliance of Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland–and perhaps once I’ve finished that, I’ll read Babylon Berlin.
I also need to get back into the Short Story Project.
I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep well Sunday night for whatever reason there was for me to not sleep well–(whatever it was, it was annoying) so when I got home from work yesterday I was really too tired, mentally and physically, to do much of anything other than wait for Paul to come home so we could watch Babylon Berlin. There are only two episodes left, which is sad, but we’ve really been gulping them down very quickly. It’s really well done, the writing is astonishing, and there are so many characters and subplots, brilliantly interwoven within each other, that it’s quite masterful; and seriously hard to keep track of–the recaps at the beginning of each episode are enormously helpful. It’s also very dark; bad things seem to happen to all of the characters, and there never seems to be any way out of their predicaments. It’s also a remarkable depiction of Weimar Germany and the Berlin of that period; a period that really isn’t particularly well known. The world-wide economic crash is coming–the one that began in the United States with the collapse of the stock market–and so the times are about to get even darker. Season 4 is going to be quite intense, I suspect.
I slept very well last night, so hopefully today I will have the energy to deal with things that need to be dealt with. I have to admit I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so, partly due, no doubt, to medical appointments and things of that nature, and loss of sleep due to that incumbent stress, and hopefully today will be more of a normal Greg day. I like normal Greg days; in fact, I much prefer them, to be honest. I really dislike this entire switch, dependent on so many exterior factors, in what kind of day I am going to have; it’s truly unpleasant and awful. But, as I said, I feel more awake and rested this morning than I did yesterday, so here’s hoping today is a better day.
And on that note, ’tis time for me to get back into the spice mines.
And here we find ourselves, yet again, on the dawning of a new work week; the oft-despised and maligned Monday.
I’m feeling tired this morning–it’s not groggy; just kind of dragging, if that’s a thing. More like I should have slept for at least another hour kind of thing. But it’s a “to-the-office” morning, and we have a full schedule both today and tomorrow, which is great, actually–I really enjoy working with clients–and just wish I was a little more awake this morning.
Paul and I blasted through eight (!!!) episodes of Season 3 of Babylon Berlin last night; the third season is just as high quality as the previous two, and I am now thinking I might want to move the book higher in the TBR pile. I had planned on reading Lovecraft Country next, preparatory to the show airing on HBO this month–it’s nice to mix a different genre in every once in a while–and I do love horror, when it’s well done. This one explores racism and Jim Crow through a reimagining of the notorious racist H. P. Lovecraft’s horror, (Lovecraft has been the subject of a raging battle in the horror genre for the last decade or so; he was an enormous influence on the genre and is still quite widely read to this day–but was also a horrific racist. I’ve actually never read Lovecraft–I tried when I was a teenager and it didn’t hold my interest–so I cannot comment on his influence, other than what others say about it) and the trailers for the show look terrific.
I also have some anthologies and short story collections to start digging into; I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection and Lawrence Block’s The Darkling Halls of Ivy sitting on my end table. (I would love to have a story in one of Block’s anthologies; they are inevitably terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them I’ve read thoroughly.) I’ve kind of been diverted away from the Short Story Project during these dark times; and since they can be gulped down relatively easily and quickly, I may be taking the Block with me to work today for reading during my lunch break; the lovely thing about short stories are they are short and can be finished in a short period of time, without the sadness that comes with having to set aside a truly fabulous novel one is reading.
I’ve read some very good books thus far this year; as I said in my entry about S. A. Cosby’s quite marvelous Blacktop Wasteland, these are terrific times to be a fan of crime fiction because so much wonderful stuff is being published these days. I honestly think the move towards greater diversity and publishing more diverse voices is pumping new blood and new life into our genre; this needs to happen every so often, I think–and with no offense intended towards anyone, there’s a tendency for creative fiction to stagnate, to continue upholding the status quo–and new voices are vital for our genre to survive.
I spent a good portion of yesterday going over the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and yes, I was correct; a lot of work needs to be done on them still. But I made some good progress, and if I can get these first ten whipped into shape the second ten, and the final five, will be much easier to work on and correct and fix. It took me about five hours to get through everything, as well as realize what all needs to be done to pull this all together; I am hoping to find the time to do it all during this week so I can spend the weekend working on the next ten, hopefully getting them all finished so I can have the entire book ready to be turned in by the first of September.
Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!
So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.
Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.
Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting
Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.
The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.
Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)
Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.
The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.
Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?
But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.
The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.
And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.
The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.
And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.
What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!
And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.
I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.
Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.
It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.
I really miss doing my job every day.
And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.
Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.
We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.
So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.
Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.
I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.
And somehow here we are at Friday again. Christ, these weeks seem to last forever, and yet somehow I still manage to get so very little fucking done. It seems as though every Friday morning I find myself staring into the gaping maw of my email inbox, with so many emails to answer and some not only need to be answered by require me to do something; to look something up; to verify something; or make some sort of decision. I’m trying very hard not to make myself crazy (crazier, at any rate) and yet…and other emails are getting pushed down further into my inbox, and I know what I really need to do is reverse the order so that the oldest ones are at the top, but I shudder at the very thought of that. And yet, realistically, I know I have to do that one morning and deal with those emails, because with every day they become that much older.
Yesterday was exhausting. By the time I got home–after making works bags all afternoon for the needle exchange and gathering today’s supplies for condom packing (I have calls to make today, so rather than watching my next selected films–Alien and Aliens back to back on HBO MAX–I will be talking on the telephone as I make my condom packs, at least for part of the day; multi-tasking, as it were). And when quitting time rolls around later this afternoon, rather than curling up with Blacktop Wasteland, as I would much rather prefer, I am going to have to start the heavy lifting on the revisions of chapters one thru ten of Bury Me in Shadows, because in order to remain on schedule with it I need to have that finished by Sunday evening in order to begin work on chapters eleven through twenty.
Heavy heaving sigh.
I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life where I don’t feel crushing guilt for not responding to emails within five minutes of their reception; for not having the energy after a lengthy day at the office or of doing day-job activities at home to work on my writing or read a book; for not having the drive to get things done, for not always being in motion, for not being, basically, a Stepford wife. My apartment is a disaster area, there’s another load of dishes to be done, and its Friday, the day I usually launder the bed linens. The car has a tire with a slow leak in it, so at some point I need to find the time to head over to a gas station to refill the tire with air, and also need to find the time to take it back into the dealership to have the tire dealt with, as well as have routine maintenance done. I am sleeping deeply and well every night, but so deeply that every morning I could probably, if I could, sleep several hours more and my body harbors a resentment towards my brain for forcing my body out of the bed and pouring coffee down its throat and trying to get some kind of grip on the day ahead. Even as I sit here typing I can see the number changing on the tab where my email inbox is opened; possibly more junk to simply be deleted, but there will inevitably be something in there I need to read, that will need to be responded to, will perhaps require me to think or take some kind of further action.
Partly this malaise I feel this morning is inevitably connected to the relief that the lumps in my pectorals are nothing more than genetic fatty deposits hardening into cysts that do not endanger my health nor require any further action or activity on my part; while I was doing my best to repress those worries and push them down deep into my brain and consciousness, the worry and stress wasn’t gone, and the feeling of relief has released a lot stress I wasn’t aware I was carrying. There’s probably some other sort of cathartic release of pent-up stress and energy I could and should be doing; that might help me get motivated and stop feeling so defeated every day.
And I probably should get back into therapy, if I only could carve that time out in my weeks.
Part of it has to do, I am certain, with the sense that I am not organized; but I am also very well aware that even should I carve a day out to get organized it won’t help at all with the sense of drowning and being overwhelmed; the feeling that I have that each limb and appendage is tied to a horse facing a different direction and someone is about to fire the starting pistol. And yet, even now, as the coffee and caffeine from my first cup courses through my veins and my mind begins to throw off its sluggishness and that melted feeling begins to fade from my muscles, I am aware that all the things that I allow to frustrate me (I wish I had a place where I could spread the manuscript out and piece it back together after tearing it all apart and I wish I had enough space for all my books and I wish I could rearrange my time so that I had time for everything I need to get done and I wish I could stop being so lazy or at least stop imagining and believing that I am lazy and I wish I had more self-confidence and I wish I could I wish I wish I wish) can neither be helped nor changed by simply wishing it to be so, and therefore allowing these immutable, unchangeable facts about my current situation in life to defeat or frustrate me is, ultimately, self-destructive (a regular pattern in my life deeply rooted in my consciousness from being told repeatedly that I was a loser so I started believing it, believed it for years, and revert to that mentality frequently whenever under stress or pressure) and a self-fulfilling prophecy.
So, instead I should be looking back at this past year and what I have accomplished. I have had any number of successes with short stories, giving the lie to the insidious belief that I am not a good short story writer. Just this week I sold another one, “The Snow Globe”; I had two come out in anthologies around the same time (“The Silky Veils of Ardor” in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Joni Mitchell and “The Dreadful Scott Decision” in The Faking of the President); I sold “The Carriage House” to Mystery Tribune and “Night Follows Night” to an anthology titled Buried; I pushed myself by writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” to The Only One in the World anthology; and my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” was sold to an anthology I really need to follow up with, as I’ve not heard anything about it in quite some time. I still have two out on submission, but those are both long shots I don’t have a lot of confidence will land–and that is not self-deprecation; both are fine stories, but are undoubtedly buried in piles of hundreds of submissions, hence the strong possibility they won’t be sold. Both stories are works I am pleased with, “Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness,” and while the short story market has certainly dried up dramatically since I started publishing, I enjoy writing stories and would love to publish more of them.
But I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, so I can get the Kansas book worked on one more time and turned in as well, and then I can get going on Chlorine. I can get everything done that I need to get done, and need to stop allowing negativity to creep into my brain; there’s enough negativity in life already that I don’t need to create my own.
And so I am going to go get my second cup of coffee, and I am going to start digging through the emails. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and remember–don’t let anyone, especially yourself, hold you back.
At this point in the summer, the cool warmth of October seems a distant futuristic dream. It’s always that way in August, and I no longer have Southern Decadence to look forward to; and haven’t in years. There’s no Decadence this year, of course, thanks to the pandemic, but I have also not participated in the madness of wild partying over the course of that weekend in over a decade. My participation has been primarily limited to passing out condoms on Friday night before escaping to the deep cool of my air conditioned home for the rest of the long weekend.
But my, did I used to have a great time during Southern Decadence! (See: Bourbon Street Blues.)
We started watching Babylon Berlin last night, at long last, and are already quite mesmerized. It’s a fascinating period–pre-Nazi/post first war Berlin was quite decadent, if you believe freedom from repression of all kinds is decadent. I’ve read very little about this period, although I have read Isherwood and of course I’ve seen Cabaret about a million times, but other than as a prologue to the rise of Hitler and Nazism in histories of the second World War, I’ve not really read a lot about that period of Germany’s past; certainly not anything that goes to any great depth. I also have a copy of the book somewhere; I’ve always meant to get to it as well as other books set in Europe during the same period. I don’t read nearly as much historical fiction anymore as I used to, or as much as I would like; I’m not really sure why that is. I love to read, I love to write, and I love history, so one would think art forms that combine those things would be something I would be all over, and yet–I’ve written precisely two short stories set in the past, and not even that distant. “The Weight of a Feather” is set in the 1950’s during the gay purge of the government, and of course, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (which might be my favorite title of anything I’ve ever written), is set in 1915 or thereabouts; a nebulous period of time during which the Great War was raging in Europe but the United States had yet to get involved. I have some things in progress that are historicals, or period pieces, or whatever may have you; the one I am really itching to sink my teeth into is a story set in Black Death era Rome, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap.” But I really need to be focusing as much creative energy on Bury Me in Shadows as I can right now, and so everything else isn’t going to get any real attention for the next few weeks or so. My plan is to, of course, do my day job to the best of my abilities, try to keep treading water as far as emails and everything else is concerned, and focus as much as possible on the manuscript. It’s in decent shape but very rough; the skeleton is there, but there are bones that need to be removed and replaced, others that simply need to be reset, and I also somehow have to manage a soul-transplant; replacing the one I originally created for the book with a completely new one–and these are all tricky things to manage that will require focus and energy.
And of course, one of the best things for stoking my creativity is to read really good writing, and I have Blacktop Wasteland to not only read and savor, but take inspiration from as well.
Then again, you never know.
We also finished I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which was really quite lovely; I’m not certain that I want to read the book now, but I might. I’m not a huge reader of true crime–which doesn’t, when you think about it, make a lot of sense–and there’s so much else for me to read that I am behind on–oy, the ever-growing TBR pile in my house is as out of control as kudzu in rural Alabama–but I know I really need to start reading more of it. I think one of the main reasons I avoid it is fear that I’ll want to adapt it into fiction–just as Ethan Brown’s Murder in the Bayou sort of inspired what might eventually become another Chanse novel–and I’m not really all that interested in serial killers or rapists, if I’m going to be completely honest. I’ve toyed with the idea for a serial killer novel for quite some time now–and it has occurred to me that setting it in the past, when people weren’t quite as aware of them as we are now and before the creation of profilers (although I wanted to include a profiler who was wrong about everything in this one) might be a better way to go with it–but I’m not really sure I am the right person to write such a book.
Shakespeare said “all the world’s a stage”–a quote I even used as a title for a Todd Gregory erotic story–and he wasn’t wrong, really. Sometimes it feels like we’re speaking lines and have no real control over what is happening or going on in our lives; and believe you me, I would love to get my hands on the sociopath who’s writing the play that is my life sometimes.
Yesterday was a lovely day. I slept very well on Friday night, and woke up in the morning feeling like I could conquer the world–if I could only find the spare parts. I got up and did my morning writing exercise (aka you are reading it right now, hi there!) before starting to get some things done around here. I straightened up the kitchen/office and made serious progress on sorting and organizing and finally trying to get a grasp on everything I have to do and get done. While I was sorting and organizing and so forth I watched a 1980’s Clint Eastwood movie, Tightrope, which I originally saw in the theater–which is odd, as I was never a big enough fan of his to actually go see one of his films at the theater. In fact, Tightrope might be the only I have. (I saw High Plains Drifter and Play Misty for Me at the drive-in when I was a kid.) I cannot recall why I actually went to see it, and the only explanation my befuddled mind can come up with now is it most of been one of those stoner afternoons when someone suggested a movie and I tagged along. I do remember not being terribly impressed with it, and that it was about a serial killer, and it also had Genevieve Bujold, of all people, in it as his love interest. It was also filmed in New Orleans, and set here–and I thought, when coming across it recently on the HBO MAX TCM app, that I should watch it again. Interestingly enough, it was just as bad on second viewing–Eastwood and Bujold have absolutely no chemistry together whatsoever, the plot has some promise but the script was bad, and the acting was terrible. I always think of Bujold fondly because she was a great Anne Boleyn in Anne of the Thousand Days, but between this and Earthquake, for the most part American cinema did her wrong.
The most interesting part of the movie was seeing New Orleans as it was in the 1980’s; early to mid, I think, was when this was filmed. The Crescent City Connection’s second span was under construction (and I realized this must have been around the time that the Camp Street on-ramp was most likely targeted for tear down, as a part of this new building project) and it was also seeing how Tulane Avenue looked, the Quarter, and so forth. Jax Brewery was still a decaying ruin when this was filmed, and there was one interesting moment where they were working out at the Superdome YMCA, where I used to teach aerobics before the New Orleans YMCA system imploded once and for all. (I also taught at the Lee Circle Y, which is now a luxury hotel and parking lot–and I guess we don’t call it Lee Circle anymore, do we? The statue is finally gone, but I don’t think it has been officially renamed yet–I used to always tell visiting friend “And this is politically incorrect Lee Circle”) It made me think of the novella in progress set in 1994 that I hope to get back to someday.
The plot of Tightrope was simple, really; a serial killer is targeting New Orleans prostitutes (of course), and with the bodies, there is evidence of some BDSM play–handcuffs, bondage, that sort of thing. Eastwood plays a divorced New Orleans police detective whose case it is; Bujold plays a rape counselor who thinks she can help solve the case. Eastwood’s character is into this kind of kink; in fact, some of the victims were prostitutes he had frequented. Some of them worked out of the Canal Baths, which was apparently a bath house style bordello. (It was located right across Rampart Street from Armstrong Park, which is where I think the Voodoo Bar used to be?) Eastwood also has custody of his two daughters, because for some reason his wife left him for a wealthier man and left the kids behind, which happened all the time in the 1980’s. It soon becomes apparent that the killer is specifically targeting Eastwood, if not trying to frame him for the serial murders. The Eastwood/Bujold romance follows the usual “can’t stand each other at first but somehow find common ground and of course fall in love” tedious romance that is inevitably the only type of romance that happens, or perhaps is possible, in this type of movie–it doesn’t make any sense, it’s just spoon-fed to the audience, and they have the chemistry of two mannequins stuck in a store window together. The ending was also ridiculous.
It could have been a good movie, had anyone put any effort into it. Shame, because the New Orleans locations were perfect.
I then spent some time savoring the first few chapters of S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which is just as marvelous as I thought it would be, more marvelous than everyone who’s already read it has said it is (and given the raves it’s gotten, that is saying something) and decided, after four or five chapters, to let it simmer rather than gobbling it down in one sitting, which was what I desperately wanted to do. But good writing always inspires me, and so I headed to the spice mines to get my chapters of Bury Me in Shadows finished, which I did. This pass through I am simply changing tense and switching his age from seventeen to early twenties–21 or 22–and from high school to college student. I am catching inconsistencies and a lot of repetition, and I am also seeing some simply tragic writing, but the story is there and the story does work. There’s a very strong foundation, and while I am certain it is going to be more work than I am thinking it is going to be at this moment (it always invariably is), I think when it is done it’s going to be one of my better works.
We finished watching Curon last night as well, and were riveted; it will undoubtedly get its own entry, but I do recommend it highly. The season finale was quite good, and the entire season relatively well done; and they did an excellent job of setting up the second season. It’s funny to me how much we’ve embraced foreign television series, and now I like to watch shows that are subtitled more so than anything American-made. Just think, before the pandemic we wouldn’t watch anything subtitled, and now it’s our preference.
The world has indeed gone mad.
But I slept really well again last night, which was absolutely lovely–hope this signals a new trend, frankly–and I do have to run an errand this morning; I need a few things from the Rouse’s, and I need/want to do it before the heat gets too extreme. Which of course means it’s probably too late already, since it’s nine a.m., but still haven’t had enough coffee to be completely functional enough to be out in public. Heavy heaving sigh.
And on that note, I totally need to get another cup of coffee. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, doing whatever it is you need to do
God, it was miserably hot yesterday. I know, it’s New Orleans in July; the dog days of summer (I’ve never really quite understood what that meant, honestly; probably something about how a dog pants or something–so hot I was panting like a dog, or something along those lines anyway–it always makes my think about my grandmother’s mutt dog, Shag, lying down in the shade and panting) as it were, but it still does bear comment periodically about how motherfucking hot it is here sometimes in the summer.
I slept deeply last night, and didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been feeling tired again lately–not that horrible exhaustion I had for those months earlier this year, thank the heavens–and yesterday was one of those days again. It may be the heat, which is the most likely explanation, but I am not wanting to go back out into it today either–I am debating the wisdom of waiting to go to the grocery store until tomorrow or even seeing if it can be put off until next week sometime–which is probably self-defeating in some ways; but I also need to write this weekend (since I didn’t do much of that this past week) and I worry that going out into the heat and lugging bags of food into the house will defeat me for the rest of the day (which is always a possibility).
During our The Faking of the President on-line promotional appearance the other night we were talking about the 1970’s–if I considered myself a child of the that decade, and I actually do; I do remember bits and pieces of the 1960’s, but I turned nine in 1970 and that decade more shaped who I am rather than the 1960′–and as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve kind of started looking into the films of that decade a bit more. I kind of wanted to watch more Hitchcock movies yesterday–I was going to go for some of his 1970’s work, Frenzy and Family Plot, to be exact–but they are no longer on Amazon Prime for free (they were for quite a while) and that interface has also changed again and become even more user unfriendly; I cannot understand why Amazon cannot get its shit together on their streaming service, but came across the original film version of The Stepford Wives, either on Prime or the TCM app on HBO MAX, and settled in to watch that again. It’s a film (and novel) that is firmly anchored in the paranoid zeitgeist of the 1970’s, and fits very well into a reexamination of what was going on in that decade.
As I mentioned on the live stream the other night, the 1970’s were still a decade where wives were still defined as people in terms of their husbands; it was still very difficult for women to get credit on their own (this was actually how the subject came up–student loans and student credit cards), and I mentioned that my mom’s first credit wasn’t actually in her name, but as Mrs. (Dad) Herren. She had been working as long as I can remember, but her financial identity was still as the spouse of my father. The Women’s Liberation Movement began in the late 1960’s–espousing the radical concept that women were actual human beings in their own right and didn’t solely exist in terms of the man in their lives–and the 1970’s was when the stigma of divorce began to lessen; women no longer stayed in bad marriages or with abusive husbands. Rape was still basically a misdemeanor; spousal abuse was accepted and almost expected, and women were very much second class citizens, primarily defined as wives and mothers (this has changed somewhat, but really, not enough). Ira Levin wrote The Stepford Wives as a sort of social satire, but it was no less terrifying as a result; the revenge of men against women’s liberation. (You never hear the terms Women’s Lib or ‘libbers’ anymore) The Stepford Wives basically took the concept of how dehumanized women were to the nth degree; men really only want beautiful women who don’t think for themselves, think they’re wonderful lovers, live for their men and children, and should primarily focus on making sure their homes are spotless and perfect so their men don’t have to worry about anything but their jobs. The film leaned into this fully; I think the best part of the book was the fact that it never really explained what was going on in Stepford; it was alluded to, of course, but the truth was so terrible that the women–main character Joanna and her friend Bobbie–couldn’t possibly imagine what it was.
But seeing the actual Stepford wives, played by actresses, up on screen, truly epitomized not only how horrible what was happening in Stepford was, but how strange it was for Joanna and Bobbie to deal with, strangers who had only recently moved into town. Paula Prentiss played Bobbie–and why she was never a bigger star was something I never fully understood–and of course, stunningly beautiful Katherine Ross played Joanna–which made it all the more terrifying; she was so perfectly stunning and beautiful, how could you possibly improve on Joanna? The film of course couldn’t leave the truth ambiguous and merely hinted at; which was part of the power of the book…you never were completely sure if Joanna was simply going crazy because the truth of Stepford was presented so casually and normally. (Don’t bother with the remake; despite a stellar cast, it’s truly a terrible movie.)
The Stepford Wives, book and movie, both also fit perfectly into the paranoia of the decade; the 1970’s was a time where conspiracy theories abounded; there was a lot of interest in UFO’s and the Bermuda Triangle and Revelations/the end of the world, not to mention after Vietnam and Watergate mistrust of the government and elected officials were higher than ever before. But I also see The Stepford Wives as part of another literary trend/trope of the decade; the 1970’s was also a time when, as I mentioned on-air the other night, that white flight from the cities to the suburbs and rural eras began in earnest (although it was never, in the books, attributed to its real root cause: integrated public school systems and neighborhoods). There are at least three novels I know of that take the white flight to the rural areas (better schools! clean air! zero crime!) and turn them into horror novels–Burnt Offerings, The Stepford Wives, Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home– where the urbanites discover far greater horrors out in the country than they ever encountered in the city; there are probably more (I am not certain The Amityville Horror fits into this category), but those three would make a great starting point for a thesis/essay. (Interesting enough, both book and movie of The Stepford Wives ends with a throwaway bit about the first black family moving into Stepford; I would absolutely LOVE to see a reimagining of the film by Jordan Peele from the perspective of the black family moving in, because the paranoia of the wife beginning to suspect that all is not right with all these white women who are devoted to housework and their families could also be played with from a racial as well as gender perspective.)
And as I watched the film again yesterday, I realized that my mother, with her obsessions with cleanliness and order, kind of was/is a Stepford wife.
I plan on spending the rest of this morning getting my kitchen/office–horribly out of control yet again–into some semblance of order before diving back into Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get the changes necessary done to the next three to four chapters today, and perhaps another four to five tomorrow, which would get me almost to the halfway point. I also need to compile a comprehensive to-do list for the coming week. I also want to spend some time with Blacktop Wasteland today as well.
We started watching a new series last night–Curon, which is an Italian show set in the Tyrol, in a region that changed hands between the Austrians and the Italians numerous times. The town is built on the shores of a lake, where the original town was submerged when the river was dammed; all that remains of the old town is the church’s bell tower, jutting up out of the water. There’s a story that if you hear the bells ringing, you’re going to die–and some seriously weird shit is going on in this town. The show opens with a flashback to the past, when a seventeen year old Anna is hearing the bells ringing and her father orders her out of the massive luxury hotel they live in; she’s not sure but she thinks she sees herself shooting her mother–a nightmare that haunts her the rest of her life. Flash forward to the present, and Anna is coming back to Curon, after leaving an abusive (it’s hinted at) husband with her twin children, now seventeen–Mauro and Daria–from Milan. Her father makes it clear they aren’t welcome there–but when Anna disappears the next day the twins are there to stay. It’s filmed very well, and there are apparently tensions still in the village from the olden days of the war between Austrians and Italians; Mauro is also hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid; Daria is boisterous, outgoing, and kind of a badass; and the teenagers they encounter, both outside of school and in it, are also kind of weird. There’s all kinds of history there, slowly being revealed to the viewer, while the tension continually builds. What is the dark secret of the town of Curon?
I also, while typing that last sentence, realized Curon also fits in with the trope of the urbanites coming from the big city to the country, and discovering far greater horrors there than they left behind in the city.
Not that the day of the week matters anymore, frankly; yesterday I thought it was Friday all day and even when corrected (I sent an email to the MWA Board of Directors and opened with HAPPY FRIDAY!) I still continued to think it was Friday.
I’m stubborn that way.
We finished watching We Are the Wave last night, after I did one of those on-line promo reading/discussion things for The Faking of the President. I recognize that these things have become a part of what is reality these days, but I’m still uncomfortable doing them. I hate the sound of my own voice, and being able to see myself staring back at me from the computer screen is far worse than any mirror I’ve ever looked into. But I suspect that even once the pandemic has come to its inevitable end–even bubonic plague eventually ran its original course–these things will become part and parcel of promotion for writers henceforth. For one thing, publishers would much rather you “tour” virtually than having to pay to send you, for one, and for the vast majority of writers, virtual touring is much more, obviously, affordable than an actual tour.
But last night I slept extremely well, which is lovely; I actually feel very rested this morning and not tired, mentally or physically, and it’s been a hot minute or two since I could say that. There are some errands I have to run today–most importantly, a prescription refill that needs to be picked up–but I am going to be spending a lot of the day doing my day job stuff here at the Lost Apartment, and yes, that includes more hours of condom packing, which means finding some movies on HBO MAX or Disney to watch. The TCM app on HBO MAX is quite marvelous, actually; there are a lot of wonderful films on there I’ve always wanted to watch, and since I spend several afternoons a week making condom packs, I can now watch them while my hands work. Alas, there are a lot of films I want to see that aren’t on there; there’s some great Hitchcock movies (I really enjoyed Foreign Correspondent, despite how dated it was) and there are some lesser known Hitchcocks which will be fun to watch as well (I could also go through Amazon Prime, but their app on Apple TV is not user friendly in the least). I was looking to rewatch Rebecca and Notorious the other day, but neither were on the TCM app, and neither was Suspicion, which was my next default. I think Shadow of a Doubt is on Prime–that’s the next one I’m looking for–and there might be some on there that aren’t on the TCM app.
I’ve also been thinking a lot about the films of the 1970’s a lot lately as well; watching Eyewitness made me think more about that decade, and we talked about it some on the virtual event last night–and there are some terrific films from the 1970’s I’d like to rewatch or see for the first time. I’d like to see Chinatown again, despite my aversion to Roman Polanski and his work–which is a whole other conversation, the old artist vs. the art thing–and there was a darker, grittier aspect to the films of the decade, despite it also being the decade that gave us Star Wars. I’d actually like to watch Cruising again, and numerous other Pacino/De Niro/Scorsese films of the decade.
I also am going to spend some time this weekend writing, and I am also going to spend some time with S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. I also have some anthologies and short story collections I’d like to start dipping into; I hate that I’ve allowed myself to let the Short Story Project collapse by the wayside. I also want to spend some time this weekend trying to get organized; I have so much going on, between various writing projects and volunteerism and so forth that I am always playing catch-up, and I much prefer, as Constant Reader is very well aware, planning; the problem is that I am always juggling things as they come at me (bullets-and-bracelets from the old Wonder Woman comics is a very apt analogy) with the result that I always feel like I am getting dragged down into quicksand.
And don’t even get me started on emails. Jesus.
But it’s a good morning, I have energy and feel rested, and am hopeful this will help carry me through the rest of the day and I can get a lot done.
Looks like we made it to Friday again, Constant Reader, and believe you me, these small victories matter.
I kept thinking, last night, for some reason all evening long that it was Friday, and I’m not exactly sure why that was, to be honest. I was well aware all day, as I made go-bags for syringe access for three hours and then came back home for more condom packing (it’s not as dirty as that sounds) that it was Thursday. I’m really not sure at what point in the evening my mind decided it was Friday. AT some point while Paul and I binged this marvelous Belgian/Netflix scifi thriller called Into the Night (a Scandinavian show called The Rain didn’t last an entire episode) I realized that tomorrow (today) was actually Friday and it was quite a jolt.
It’s raining this morning–there’s a tropical storm out in the Gulf heading for Texas–Hannah, I believe is her name–and it’s heading for the southern coast of the state. We’ll be getting rain from the system apparently all weekend–they’re thinking it’ll be spread out over the weekend rather than all at once so there’s no chance of flooding, or very little, at least–so it’s a good weekend for camping out inside. I am working from home today–lots of condom packing to do (again, not as dirty or fun as it sounds)–and some other things I need to get done today for the day job. I slept pretty well last night–although at some point Scooter cuddled up to me and woke me up with his purring, and he never stopped the entire time he was lying curled up inside my arm. The coffee is helping, as it always does, but I always wonder what it’s like to be one of those people who wake up instantly.
I will never know, apparently.
Into the Night is quite entertaining, I have to say. The episodes are all between thirty-three and forty minutes long, and the premise is relatively simple. A flight to Moscow at Brussels Airport has started it’s boarding procedure when a crazed man grabs an automatic (or semi-automatic) weapon from a military guard and runs down the jetway and forces the pilot to take off, with about ten or so passengers on board. He has a crazy story that is hard to believe–he works for NATO, and something has happened to the sun so that when it rises, everyone dies when exposed to the sunlight. It sounds crazy, but slowly they begin to realize he is right, and they have to keep flying west to stay in the dark. They also face almost every possible crisis an airplane could face–I told Paul at one point, “This is like every Airport movie ever made”–but it’s done incredibly well, and the tension is completely dialed all the way up. There are only six episodes to this first season, and we made it through the first four–and stayed up later than we should to watch the fourth (hence my shock when I realized it wasn’t Friday night, but then didn’t care and watched the fourth anyway), and I am looking forward to finishing it tonight.
This weekend I intend to reread Bury Me in Shadows and also work on trying to sew together all the pieces of “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” I still want to finish reading Cottonmouths–and I have S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland on deck as well. I was also thinking I might want to reread a Travis McGee novel this weekend; those novels were a huge inspiration to me when I was creating Chanse, after all, and I really enjoyed them when I first read them. I know there are sexism issues with the books–as there is with most everything from that time period–but I think it will be interesting to reread one and catch it this time; plus I loved the writing style and the voice of Travis McGee so much I want to see if I still feel the same way now that I am thirty-some books into my own career.
I also want to reiterate that my inability to finish reading Cottonmouths is not an indication of its quality at all; it’s amazing, but I only have a very short period of time to read every day, and I am always afraid that if I start reading it I won’t want to put it down–and that is very likely, as it is very good and I know myself–and if I do that I won’t get the things done I need to get done which will cause me stress. I used to do this thing where I would read for an hour and then write for an hour and go back and forth…well, would try anyway, because as soon as the book grabbed me it was all over.
And on that note, I’d best head into the spice mines.