Guilt is a Useless Emotion

Saturday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I certainly hope this day finds you contented and well, Constant Reader! I slept deeply and well last night, after watching the LSU Gymnastics team defeat Arkansas, and then watching the ladies’ figure skating finals at US Nationals. It was a lovely evening–one can never go wrong with a double feature of gymnastics and figure sating, really–and as I said, afterwards I slept like a stone.

I also spend some time polishing and revising my short story for the MWA anthology Crime Hits Home, being edited by the enormously talented S. J. Rozan (if you’ve not read her novels, start. Right. Now. Her Winter and Night is one of my all-time favorites). As always, submitting to the open call for an MWA anthology is a long shot–there are levels of blind-reads to make it through–and I have as yet to make it into one of the fiction anthologies (I do have a piece about writing dialogue in the upcoming Mystery Writer’s Handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King, and I did have a recipe in the MWA Cookbook a while back) so keep your fingers crossed for me. Inevitably everything I’ve had rejected by an MWA anthology has sold elsewhere, so making myself write a story for the submission calls has always wound up working out for me in the end…I was, however, more than a little bummed when this call came out, because my story “The Carriage House” was perfect for this one….but I had already submitted it to Mystery Tribune (who did wind up buying and publishing it). I think the story is good–although I wish I had finished the drafting sooner, so I could have spent more time on the revisions and polishing. Ah, well–if they reject it I will try to sell it somewhere else.

Today I have to make groceries, get the mail, and go to the gym. I’ve blown off the gym pretty much ever since the weather turned cold last weekend–the stress and pressure of writing the story, as well as what was going on in the country over the last wee or so has precluded any writing or gym visits, which I should have never allowed. I was coming home from work every day and immediately turning on either CNN or MSNBC, being sucked right in and then spending the rest of the evening watching them report the same news, hour after hour after hour–which also needs to stop–and I need to get my focus back again. Not that I am not gravely concerned about the future of the country, of course–that I very much still am–but I need to focus on what I need to get done while paying some attention to the current crisis.

I also need to do some cleaning around here as well…cleaning and filing never seems to have an endpoint, ever–and I also need to get back to my reread of the manuscript. I should have started revising it last week…but a thorough reread/copy edit/line edit of the manuscript in its most recent iteration is probably really the smart thing to do; it was what worked so well with Bury Me in Shadows, and definitely need to stick to the things that actually work for me.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I managed to watch three films: Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; The Fog with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau; and last but not least, a revisit of Creepshow 2, with assorted stars, including George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour. The first definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–you don’t get more cynical than the film version of a Chandler novel–and the other two are holdovers from the Halloween Horror Film Festival, with the last also fitting into the Stephen King Film Adaptation Festival. Of the three, I had only see the third before; I actually saw it at the drive-in, and then again on what used to be the pay-cable movie channels, whether it was HBO or Cinemax or Showtime I cannot recall. Farewell My Lovely is flawed, but a very good film–very solid noir; I kept thinking it should have been filmed in black and white–and Mitchum projects the world weariness of an older Marlowe quite perfectly….I’d love to see someone like Oscar Isaac or Bill Skarsgard or Adam Driver take on the role. The entire movie was stolen, however, by Sylvia Miles in a terrific supporting performance that earned her an Oscar nomination; and Charlotte Rampling is also perfect as the femme fatale. (A very young Sylvester Stallone also has a small role as a gangster.) I did enjoy it, and I think it was released in the wake of Chinatown, when Hollywood discovered noir would still sell tickets.

The Fog was also a perfectly adequate horror film, directed by John Carpenter, about a hundred-year old curse coming to wreak vengeance and havoc on the coastal California town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis is in the cast–in the midst of her fame as a Scream Queen–but she isn’t the star of the film (if it could be said to have one); if anything, it’s a supporting role at best. The bigger female role belongs to Adrienne Barbeau, playing dee-jay and radio station owner Stevie, who is the first to realize what is actually going on–without knowing the history, she just knows the fog is dangerous and bad. I’d also forgotten Janet Leigh was in the movie as Mrs. Williams, local get-it-done lady who is in charge of the hundred year anniversary of the town. It has all the requisite John Carpenter directorial touches–jump scares, a weird and creepy electronic soundtrack, the growing sense of doom with every scene–and I would recommend it, even if it is dated. It was remade this century–I may watch the remake at some point for a comparison/contrast.

Creepshow 2 was obviously the sequel to the original; written by Stephen King and based on his short stories (some of these may be actually original, as I don’t recall reading the stories for the first and third part of this anthology film), and both films served as an homage to the horror comics King grew up reading and loving and inevitably influenced his writing. The second film didn’t do as well as the first, but the underlying theme of all the stories is paranormal vengeance for bad behavior. The first features an old cigar store wooden Indian (I don’t think if anyone brought up that subject that anyone born after 1970 would even know what one was) that comes to life to wreak vengeance for the brutal murders of the elderly couple who own the store he stands in front of; and the third features an adulterous wealthy wife rushing home from a rendezvous with a paid escort ($25 per orgasm!) who gets distracted by dropping a cigarette in the car and runs over a hitch-hiker, whom she leaves on the side of the road but he just keeps popping up as she debates whether she can live with what she did as she continues on her drive home, trying to kill the hitch hiker as he inevitably pops back up on the road saying thanks for the ride lady–which became a running gag between me and my friends at the time. (The woman is played by Lois Chiles, who came to the TWfest one year and was an absolute delight.) Both are good and macabre; fitting right into the karmic justice theme that ran through almost all horror comics back in the day. The middle story–“The Raft”–is also one of my favorite Stephen King stories; about four college students who go for a late-in-the-season swim because it sounds like a good idea, helped along by weed and beer, and it goes horribly wrong for them. The story is different from the filmed version–it’s told from the perspective of the less-than-perfect male roommate who always lives in the shadow of his roommate who is muscular and handsome and charismatic, who loves his friend but also resents him a little because he always sucks up all the air in the room. In the film the two girls who go with them are just other girls; in the story there’s a different dynamic, in which the stud’s girlfriend senses the other girl, ostensibly the lesser roommate’s date, is making a play for the stud before the dying starts. The main character in the story, though, is a decent guy which winds up ending badly for him; in the movie, he’s more of a dick, because he realizes when the final girl is taken by whatever the thing is in the water preying on them, that he could have used that time to swim for it…but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. In the movie, he deliberately feeds her to the creature so he can escape…and that decision is what dooms him, and you don’t really feel sorry for him the way you do in the story. The highlight of this segment is Paul Satterfield’s youthful physical beauty in a bright yellow bikini (and while I enjoyed viewing the splendor of his body in a bikini, I also kind of doubted he would have worn one; back in the 80’s the only men who wore bikinis were gay, body builders, Europeans, or guys who’d been competitive swimmers so they were used to them); and the movie is okay. I do wish anthology films would make a comeback–since they inevitably based their “episodes” on short stories (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson had a lot of their short stories adapted for anthology films as well as for anthology television series), it would be great to see some modern horror short stories filmed.

And on that note, tis time for one Gregalicious to head back into the spice mines. I want to spend some time this morning with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I am loving, before it’s time to hit the errands and the gym. I am also sure there will be figure skating to watch this weekend as well, huzzah! Have a lovely Saturday of a holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I’ll see you tomorrow.

Delicate

I can’t get over how much better my muscles feel after simply one workout with weights and stretching them out. Seriously. It’s like all the kinks and aches and tightness not only are gone, but it’s like they were never there in the first place. Obviously, my body has missed and craved the exercise. I cannot wait to get home from work today so I can head down to the gym and get in workout #2 of the week. Also–in examining my gym’s website and exercise class schedule, I see that they have a barre class on Saturday mornings I can attend–and barre is something I’ve been wanting to try; I really want to improve my flexibility again. I know I’ll never get back to the ridiculous, freakish flexibility of my teens and twenties again—but regular stretching will be most lovely, quite frankly, and I like the idea of regaining some of it. I am really looking forward to my second workout tonight after work….

We still appear to be in the center of the Cone for Zeta, but the cone continues to drift to the east. At the moment, the projected landfall is seven pm on Wednesday night; which means in theory I should be able to see all my clients and still get home before landfall. Outer bands will, of course, be problematic; but I think we should be okay even with a direct hit from Zeta. Again, the primary concern will be wind and the potential loss of power, but honestly. It’s almost fucking Halloween, for Christ’s sake.

Last night we finished watching season one of Servant on Apple Plus, and I have to say, wow. Dark and disturbing and full of surprises, it was hard to watch sometimes…and yet I couldn’t look away. It was about pain and guilt and suffering, the lengths people will go to stop hurting, and I certainly didn’t see the twist ending of the season coming. I’m frankly non-plussed that Lauren Ambrose got no award recognition for her performance as the emotionally damaged wife and mother–she was stunning in the role; and it wasn’t an easy part. Playing a woman in every stage of a complete mental an emotional breakdown, fooling herself because truth and reality were too much for her mind to handle, watching her performance was both painful to watch but impossible to stop watching; a tour de force; one of the best performances by an actress I’ve seen in a television series. It will be returning in January for a second season, and there’s no telling what will be the second season; there are any number of directions the story can go in. Just chilling and amazing, and we were on the edge of our seats the entire time. It was the perfect choice for Halloween season viewing, quite frankly.

It’s very dark outside my windows this morning. The time change is coming this weekend–an extra hour of sleep is always appreciated, of course, but at the same time I am dreading absolutely coming home from work in the dark every afternoon. I am definitely going to the gym after I get home from work tonight; my muscles feel marvelous still from Sunday’s workout. I can’t get over how much better I feel than I did before; I need to remember this whenever I have one of those “oh I don’t feel like going” moments about the gym. There’s also no telling how long the gym will stay open–whether we go back to gyms being closed for the pandemic, or whether it will survive the economic downturn–and so I must take full advantage of my membership for as long as I can.

The irony that the year I decided to get back to work on my body was the year a pandemic shut everything down and slowly but surely wrecked the economy has not escaped me.

November looms on the horizon as well. The weather is cooling down dramatically here; yesterday morning I actually had to wear a jacket to the office, but of course my car sat in the sun all day so was quite toasty warm by the time I got off work and drove home. It’s currently seventy three, with a projected high of eighty one, which means no need for a jacket this morning, and also means it will be hot in the car when I get off work this afternoon (early evening? I’m never sure where five o’clock officially falls in the divisions of the day).

I tried to watch the new version of Rebecca last night while I waited for Paul to get home. I knew I was inevitably going to be disappointed, perhaps to the point of not even finishing; the original film is a classic and one of my all-time favorites, and of course the book is still fucking amazing every time I reread it. (I always manage to see it in a whole new way practically each time I read it again; it’s absolutely a classic.) As I watched, the fact they filmed it in color was too jarring and took me out of it completely. Rebecca is one of those stories whose impact is really lost when removed from black and white cinematography; the use of light and shadow for creepy, eerie effect is completely lost in the splashy colors (and I just cannot ever picture Maxim de Winter in a yellow suit; Jay Gatsby he was most definitely not). I still think of it as a noir classic (both film and book; if you think du Maurier was a romance writer, you really need to reread and rethink everything of hers you’ve read), and while the term neo noir was coined specifically for noir filmed in color, very few films actually manage to capture the noir mood in color (although Body Heat, Masquerade, Chinatown, and No Way Out all did a great job..I’ve been thinking about writing about neo-noir films lately; just another essay for my collection that no one will ever read.

Today I am hoping to get some editing done on my lunch break and possibly get the email inbox finally cleaned out and caught up; fingers crossed. I feel very awake this morning–yesterday I was dragging a bit, and of course my muscles were all terribly tired from Sunday’s workout–and I am, as ever, hopeful I can get everything done I need to get done. No word on whether the hurricane is cancelling work yet tomorrow–I really hope it doesn’t, frankly; I’d much rather spend the day with my clients.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

Change

I stretched yesterday.

I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense, either; I mean, I literally cleared a space off on our cluttered floor and gave my ossified muscles a good, old-fashioned stretch, going through exercises memorized as a teenager from warm-ups for various sports, but enhanced and modified for my Gymnastics classes. I was always flexible, you see–and the one thing no one ever tells people about flexibility is that it isn’t something you have to be born with–you can actually work on it, gradually becoming more and more flexible and pliant the more you work on stretching those muscles. Sure, they will tighten up again after a while, but the next time you stretch you’ll be able to go a little bit further than you did the last time.

Yesterday’s stretching felt good; so good, in fact, that I will probably do so again today.

And now I will talk about stretching in the metaphorical sense.

I am signing two book contracts today; one for Bury Me in Shadows and the other for the Kansas book, whose title (for now) is #shedeservedit. Both are books that I have been working on for an eternity now it seems; the pandemic and it’s bizarre effect on time doesn’t help with that mentality, of course. Both books are stretches for me, in that neither is a series book (sorry, Scotty and Chanse fans) but rather stand alones. I don’t know how they will be marketed, but Bury Me in Shadows has a college student as the main character and #shedeservedit is about high school. Part of the reason I finally went ahead and pitched the books is because I can’t seem to discipline myself to get them finished; the pressure and stress of a deadline, which I’ve been trying to avoid for the last few years, apparently is needed in these troubled times in order for me to get the work done. Both have required me to stretch as a writer–taking me into themes and plots that ordinarily I would avoid, and forcing me to go further and deeper into the characters themselves in order for the stories to work. Whether I have managed to succeed with either book remains to be seen, I guess. Signing the contracts is scary, of course; I am a bundle of jangly nerves this morning as I sip my coffee and get ready to face what has already developed into a challenging day before I even got to the computer.

I watched Chinatown yesterday as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and it really is quite a marvelous film–the costumes! The sets! The cars! The cinematography! Also a very twisty and sometimes confusing plot; with strong performances all around from the cast, particularly Jack Nicholson in the lead; Faye Dunaway is also gorgeous, if a little mannered and stiff; and John Huston just oozes evil from every pore as Noah Cross. It was a great homage to the classic noir films of the 40’s and 50’s; I was also a little amused at the conceit of the private eye having an office with a secretary and two operatives–obviously, Jack Gittes was quite successful as a private eye chasing adulterers around Los Angeles. Chinatown, with its focus on the systemic corruption of money and power in Los Angeles at the time, with a focus on the war over water (and seriously, given its history, why is Los Angeles not considered as corrupt a city as New Orleans and Chicago?), I enjoyed the film immensely. Dark and lush and with great attention to detail, I can see why it was a hit and achieved such critical acclaim; however, given that it is a Roman Polanski film, there was always this edge of guilt as I watched it again. I first watched it about twenty years ago and didn’t really think too much about Polanski’s status as a convicted child rapist and fugitive from American justice; same with Rosemary’s Baby, which I think, despite being from the late 1960’s would also fit in this film festival. I like both films and enjoy them both; but in modern times it has become increasingly difficult to separate the art from the artist. I did make a decision years ago never to watch a Polanski film made after his conviction and escape from justice, somehow justifying that his earlier films should be exempt from a justified boycott.

Separating art from the artist is a difficult debate, with many nuances and points of view from both sides that I kind of agree with. The fact that Roman Polanski committed a crime and then fled the country to avoid punishment should have, by all rights, ended his career–yet somehow that didn’t happen. He has continued making films–even won an Oscar for Best Director, I think–and has enjoyed success and critical acclaim. Should his art be judged separately from his personal life? Am I hypocritical for refusing to read Orson Scott Card because of his vigorous anti-gay activity back in the day because it affected me directly, yet still watching pre-crime Polanski films? In all honesty, I doubt I will ever watch Chinatown again after this second viewing; I most likely won’t go back and rewatch Rosemary’s Baby either, despite its being based on a terrific Ira Levin novel and the brilliance of Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevets, and the fact that it fits into this film festival–the cynical movies which flourished in the 1970’s actually started being made in the 1960’s, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of the best films about paranoia ever made, frankly.

Something I really need to put some more thought into, definitely.

I need to get cracking, too–I have an essay to edit, another one to write, a short story to edit and revise; and of course the manuscripts that need working on. I have bills to pay and emails to answer, and I also have to go into the office today to get some work done there, stopping at the grocery store on my way back home. We literally have no food at all in the house, sigh.

And so on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

I Knew You Were Trouble

And here we are, Wednesday, the midpoint of the week and somehow the last day of the month of September. The weather is changing in New Orleans, with the temperatures dropping into the mid to high sixties overnight but still getting up into the eighties during the day. The temperature, for example, dropped so suddenly last night that I became aware that the floor felt cold, and had to put on my slippers. (Slippers always sounds so weird to me; we always called them house shoes when I was growing up and so I still think of them that way; I merely used slippers in this instance because after originally typing house shoes, I thought, no one will know what that means and changed it. Likewise, as a kid, there were exactly two kinds of athletic shoes: gym shoes and tennis shoes; some people called them sneakers. I still say “gym shoes” or “tennis shoes”, in fact. I guess it’s one of my many many many eccentricities.) The colder night weather also makes sleep easier for me, unfortunately, it also makes the I don’t want to get out of bed feeling I have every morning more intensive and powerful.

I have a lot to get done today, and I also think it might be time to move on from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival today; I’m not sure there are any more of those types of films available on HBO MAX; I know there are more on some of the other streaming services; I know I added both The French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon to my watchlists somewhere, but what I really want to watch is Serpico. I also think I should probably rewatch The Godfather, and I’ve actually never seen The Godfather Part II. I was also thinking I should rewatch Chinatown, but then you get into that whole “artist vs. the art” thing. (At least I was never much of a Woody Allen fan.)

I was tired when I got home from work yesterday; Paul was finishing off a grant so I basically sat in my easy chair last night, physically tired and emotionally drained, and too mentally tired to engage with a new book, so I basically watched history videos on Youtube and wrote notes in my journal. I somehow managed to come up with some more ideas for stories yesterday; and also tried making sense of some of my notes in the journal–which isn’t always easy; sometimes I just scribble stuff down without context–for example, I wrote down the words targeted individual and when I looked at it last night I literally had no idea what I meant, what it was supposed to be, or why I wrote it down in the first place. This morning, in retrospect, I think it came from watching The Vow about the NXIVM cult; I seem to recall someone on the show talking about someone as being a “targeted individual,” which essentially means someone the cult actively pursued to get them to join, because they were important enough in some way–influential, financial, celebrity–that would lend the cult credibility and visibility if said person joined. Even as I typed that, the more right I think I am with that interpretation; I liked the whole chilling concept of the phrase to the point that I most likely thought it was something interesting enough to look into and explore fictionally, and that it would also make a great title. (I also googled it, and found that there’s an even more interesting definition of the term–loosely, people think they are ‘targeted individuals’ and think the government or some big organization is spying on them, including the planting of listening devices in their homes and bugging their phones.)

I also had some breakthroughs about both of the manuscripts I am still working on; how to make them better and even more stronger than they are and hopefully, I will be able to make those changes to the manuscripts and make them tighter, the characters more relatable and believable, and get the damned things finished once and for all.

I also got copy edits on a short story I sold; I need to give it another once-over at some point; I have an essay to finish revising and another one to edit, and some website writing to do. It never ends around here, really, and I shudder at the thought of checking my email inbox this morning. I also have some day job research to do this morning before moving on to my condom packing this afternoon; I also have to get organized and pay my bills this morning (yup, it’s Pay-the-Bills day, my favorite every two week cycle). I can’t believe tomorrow is actually October. October. As long as this year has been–this long, interminable March we’ve never seemed able to move beyond–it nevertheless is shocking to me that it’s October already somehow. September went by in a blur, and even now, looking back at it and recognizing the issues of depression and so forth I was dealing with all month–it still seems like Labor Day was just last week, and the entire month is shrouded in clouds in my memory banks.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader–you’ve got this.

The Other Side of the Door

Friday and I am taking the day off from the day job. Yes, I know it was a short week already and I should probably save the vacation day for sometime later in the year when it would really come in handy, but this was a rough week for me and I feel entitled to take a mental healing day, so sue me, okay?

The Lost Apartment is, as always, a disheveled hovel that looks like two college-age males live here, and that always plays a part into my emotional stability. I am not sure why that is, but I simply cannot abide clutter and dust and dirty windows–being raised, no doubt, by a woman who made Joan Crawford look slovenly probably has something to do with it–and it always weighs on my mental stability, which is always tenuous at best. I had hoped to do something about that over Labor Day weekend, and while progress of a sort was definitely made, not enough to really make a difference; rather, it was more like a lick-and-a-promise; a mere surface touching that simply kept it from looking like a condemned property. But the heat has been so horrifically intense this year that doing anything in the kitchen/laundry room is misery, let alone going outside and climbing a ladder to clean the windows. But….if I get up early one morning, it should still be cool enough to be bearable.

Right?

One can dream, at any rate.

This morning is probably the morning I should have done the windows, ironically. It’s not terribly sunny this morning, and it doesn’t feel particularly hot here in the Lost Apartment, either. There are an insane amount of tropical systems being tracked by the Hurricane Center; I’ve seen reports ranging from four to seven; and there’s a low pressure system just off the coast here in the Gulf that apparently is going to bury us with rain even if it doesn’t develop into anything stronger. I also allowed myself to sleep in this morning–note to self: set alarm for tomorrow–and it felt terrific to get rest again. I’ve already started a load of the bed linens, and when I finish this I am going to start filing in an attempt to get the office under control. Today is my day to clean and start working through all the emails that have accumulated; and later this afternoon I will try to get some writing done. I’m also going to read a couple of short stories today, rather than diving into Babylon Berlin; I don’t want to risk getting sucked into it, which I suspect will happen. I’m also reading–and savoring–Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is another of his American Empire series; I’ve already read Century–and I’ve always enjoyed Vidal’s work whenever I can bring myself to read it. He has a very distinct writing style that I enjoy, but I also don’t think I would have particularly liked Vidal had we ever met; he seemed like a difficult person, and an intellectual snob–and there are few character traits I despise more than snobbery of any kind. But he was incredibly smart, and a talented writer; I know I’ve enjoyed everything of his that I’ve read–and would, and probably should, like to revisit both The City and the Pillar and Myra Breckinridge again. (I would imagine Myra Breckinridge would not fly today…) I also find some of my reading choices this year thus far, looking back, to be…interesting. I’ve read a lot of plague literature, obviously, and now I seem to be gravitating to Civil War narratives. Curious.

Yes, I just got a local “tropical advisory” alert, and it looks like we’re going to get hit with a lot of heavy rain Tuesday and Wednesday. Huzzah. Of course, I love rain–it’s the risk to my car from street flooding I don’t like very much. I mean, there’s nothing more comforting than sleeping, all warm and dry, inside when it’s pouring outside, is there? I’ve always loved that warm and dry feeling when it’s raining outside, even if I am simply inside a car driving through a storm. (It always reminds me of the Trixie Belden volume The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, which opens with Trixie and the Bob-Whites being driven by Miss Trask through a storm to a ferry to the island, and I think Trixie says something about that safe, warm feeling during storms, and it’s always stuck in my head as the perfect way to sum up why I love thunderstorms and downpours. And yes, so many things in my life inevitably lead back to the mystery series for kids I read as a child.)

Wednesday is also a work at home day for me, so I can just stay home and watch and listen to the rain while making condom packs and continuing my Cynical 70s Film Festival, which I think may move onto Chinatown and Don’t Look Now. I’ve already seen both of those, but as a lot of the films I am including in this “film festival” could also be considered crime/neo-noir, it only makes sense to rewatch both with an eye to the cynicism of the 1970’s as well as to the neo-noir aspects of both (in all honesty, I’m not really sure what the definition of neo-noir actually is; just as there’s no definition for noir, there really isn’t one for neo-noir, either; I suspect it’s because the classic films noir were black and white films and later noirs were filmed in color. I could be wrong, but that’s my takeaway). Don’t Look Now, is, of course, one of my favorite short stories of all time; and the film is extraordinary.

I’m also rather curious to see this new Netflix adaptation of du Maurier’s Rebecca. Constant Reader knows how much I love me some Daphne du Maurier; and of course, Rebecca is right up there as one of my favorite novels (the original Hitchcock film version is also one of my favorite films of all time; it’s why I generally have avoided remakes and the dreadful sequels to the original novel). Armie Hammer wouldn’t have been my choice to play Maxim de Winter, but the female casting–particularly Kristen Scott Thomas as Mrs. Danvers–is rather intriguing to me. I’ve always seen Mrs. Danvers clearly in my head as Judith Anderson–her performance was so definitive–that it’s hard for me to see anyone else in the role. Hammer is no Olivier, really, and I honestly think that if I were to recast the film currently I would have gone for Kenneth Branagh as Maxim, Saoirse Ronan as his second wife, and probably either Emma Thompson or Maria Doyle Kennedy as Mrs. Danvers…I’ve also always wondered, whatever happened to Mr. Danvers?

Just like I’ve always wanted to delve into the psyche of Veda Pierce.

I kind of want to reread Mildred Pierce and Rebecca now. Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

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.

Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader.

Wanted Dead or Alive

The past month been an interesting one, so much so that I’ve not really been able to get a whole lot of anything writing related finished. This is partly my own fault, of course; I should have repeatedly resisted the urge to continue to read and refresh pages and follow links and so forth; but like a train wreck, I wasn’t able to ever tear my eyes away from the carnage.

As I said to a friend at the height of the drama, “Every time I think the last car of the train has come off the rails and the wreck is finished, here comes another train on the same tracks and I am mesmerized all over again.” I’ve read blog posts and Facebook posts and Twitter threads, over and over again, my mouth wide open and there being literally no way to keep my jaw from its permanently dropped position other than using both hands to push it up and then hold it in place.

I mean, wow. What a month it has been for both the crime and horror fiction communities.

This is a roundabout way of getting to a question that has come up a lot in the last decade or so, and one I’ve thought about a lot, but have never really addressed very much…but with all these shenanigans going on recently, I started thinking about this again, and it also played into my thoughts about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, and my recent read of I the Jury by Mickey Spillane; two enormously popular novels by well-regarded crime writers that might not hold up as well through the modern day lens as they perhaps did when they were originally released.

And that ever-present question of the artist versus the art.

Probably the first time I’ve ever thought about whether it’s possible to continue to enjoy art despite the artist was, of course, the film Chinatown. I never saw it in the theatrical release, but it’s widely regarded as one of the best crime films ever made; I remember it was nominated for like ten or eleven Oscars in the year it was released (which, if memory serves, was the same year as The Godfather Part II, which pretty much won everything imaginable), and the debate about the movie has raged ever since Polanski fled the country to avoid statutory rape consequences. I find that abhorrent; and any defense of Polanski’s indefensible behavior irrelevant to me. But I wanted to watch Chinatown, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite horror movies of all time; I revisit it every now and then. So, how can I justify watching and enjoying these two films directed by someone who did something heinous? When I was finally able to stream Chinatown a few years back, I justified it to myself by saying it was 1. before the statutory rape and 2. if I didn’t review or talk about or promote the film on social media or on my blog, streaming it through a service I already pay for isn’t contributing much, if any, money to Polanski’s bank account.

And yes, I am very well aware of how ludicrous and torturous those mental hoops I jumped through actually are.

There was also the Orson Scott Card debacle a few years back, and I didn’t jump through hoops on that one. I had read and enjoyed Ender’s Game, and had thought about reading more of Card’s work…until I discovered he was a horrific homophobe who actually worked, donated money to, and actively sought to block gay equality in the United States. 

Nope, sorry, done.

It’s one thing to have abhorrent opinions about a minority; it’s another to actively work–and use the money you’ve earned through your art–against the rights of that minority. Fuck all the way off, Mr. Card, and never come back.

Which brings me to The Hunter.

the hunter

When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to  hell. The guy said, “Screw you, buddy,” yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.

The 8 a.m. traffic went mmmmmm, mmmmmm, all on this side, headed for the city. Over there, lanes and lanes of nobody going to Jersey. Underneath, the same thing.

Out in the middle, the bridge trembled and swayed in the wind. It does it all the time, but he’d never noticed it. He’d never walked it before. He felt it shivering under his feet, and he got mad. He threw the used-up butt at the river, spat on a passing hubcab, and strode on.

Richard Stark is one of the pseudonyms of crime writer extraordinaire Donald Westlake. I will be the first to admit, repeatedly, that my education in not only literature but crime fiction is sorely lacking; there are many authors whose works I should have read and haven’t; Westlake is one. I read my first Westlake a few years ago, a Hard Case Crime edition of The Comedy is Finished and it was amazingly good. I ordered a copy of The Hot Rock shortly thereafter; alas, it is still in the TBR pile., and I do intend to get to it at some point.

Westlake also happens to be an inspiration to one of my favorite queer writers, Rob Byrnes, who writes witty, Westlake-like queer caper novels (if you’ve not already read him, you must do so immediately).

I first discovered that Westlake was also Richard Stark when these Parker novels he wrote under that name were brought back into print recently by the University of Chicago Press, and a crime writer I admire deeply, Chris Holm, announced he’d written an introduction for one of the books. Chris has never steered me wrong in his recommendations (for that matter, neither has his amazing wife, Katrina Niidas Holm, who was the one who steered me to Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, for which I will always be grateful), and so I thought, as is my wont, to start with the first book in the series, The Hunter.

And once I started reading it, as you can see by the opening above, I was caught up in the story and the voice.

But, as I said earlier, The Hunter was very much a novel of its time: 1960.

Parker was considered an anti-hero when the books first started coming into print–although today I suppose he would be considered a sociopath. He does live by a code, even if he is a sociopathic criminal; and one has to admire the dedication to that code, and how he never deviates from it. He doesn’t have an issue with breaking the law–in fact, he makes his living breaking the law–nor does he have a problem with meting out vengeance on those who do him wrong. In The Hunter, he is betrayed–and almost killed–by his partners in a high-stakes robbery; amongst those who wronged and cheated him are his wife–and he kills her without a second thought, and then goes after the rest of those involved in the scam, even though some of them are very well connected with the New York mob. (The mob is referred to as a ‘syndicate’ in the book; an old term I haven’t heard in a very long time, and it was a lovely piece of nostalgia. Organized crime was often referred to as a ‘syndicate’ back in the day.)

It’s tautly written, suspenseful (will Parker get his revenge, or will he be betrayed yet again?) and I kept turning the pages. I really enjoyed the book tremendously, and will go back and continue to read the Parker novels–I am curious to see how Stark developed the character and the continuing story of his life and career in crime, as well as to see how Westlake continued to develop as a writer under the name Richard Stark.

However–the casual homophobia of the time slapped me in the face a couple of times while I was reading the book:

Page Three: On the way, he panhandled a dime from a latent fag with big hips and stopped in a grimy diner for coffee.

p. 38: “She’s dead. So is your fat pansy. You can be dead, too, if you want.”

Yeah, I did kind of recoil, and in both instances I debated finishing the book. But…it was written in 1960, and the attitude towards homosexuality exhibited in those lines (including the slur pansy, which I haven’t heard in a while) was common. We can’t deny that it existed–we cannot deny homophobia exists today any more than we can that it did in 1960–and it was a sign of the times. Does that mean the book shouldn’t be read? Should it come with a trigger warning? A deep-seated contempt for homosexuality was part and parcel of the alpha male/tough guy persona of the times, and including that language in the book was an easy way to convey the no-nonsense masculinity of the character (it was also there in I the Jury–much more so in the Spillane than the Stark).

The attitudes towards women isn’t much better; but again, a sign of the times:

p. 135 He used one cord to tie her hands behind her, the other to tie her ankles. He found scissors in a desk drawer next to an inhaler, snipped off part of her slip and used it for a gag. She had good legs–But not now. After it was over, after Mal was dead, he’d want somebody then.

Ew, because killing someone is a turn-on? Although it fits with the character Stark has created; this is a man who killed his wife without a second thought.

But…I enjoyed reading the book. I suspect my enjoyment would have been greater in the past–I probably would have loved this series had I discovered it in my late teens and early twenties, but the world was a different place then, too. I am definitely going to continue reading the series; as I said earlier, I am curious to see how the character develops and changes and grows–or if he doesn’t, how bad he becomes. I am intrigued by the character, and of course, the writing is absolutely stellar.

I don’t think, for the record, books from earlier times should be held to the same standards as we would hold something newly published; times and attitudes vary and change over time. It’s hard to read an older book without the modern lenses, however; probably as little as ten years ago I would have dismissed the “pansy” remarks or the misogyny apparent in the character without feeling the need to point it out. I don’t think these books should be cancelled or not read; primarily because it’s incredibly important to have these conversations–as well as these works serve as a time capsule, a window into another time where things hadn’t yet changed but needed to, certainly.

I do recommend it; as I said, I will continue reading the Parker series and I am looking forward to reading more of the Westlake novels as well.