Chick-a-Boom (Don’t Ya Jes’ Love It)

I love football.

I know, it catches people off-guard that a sixty year old gay man is a massive football fan, but I’ve never subscribed to stereotypes. I love football, with an especial love for the college game (I used to only watch the Saints in the NFL, but have started rooting for the Cincinnati Bengals because, well, Joe fucking Burrow); I think everyone knows I am a massive LSU fan. (GEAUX TIGERS!)

There really isn’t anything else in the world like a Saturday night in Death Valley. I will remember the 2019 night game against Florida probably for the rest of my life. God, what a great game, and it was so much fun. I am aware that I am digressing.

Anyway, I grew up in a Southern football family (even if we didn’t live in the South, we were from the South and that’s all that matters), so it was inevitable that I should become both a football fan and a football player. I played all four years in high school, all of my cousins also played, and I have close relatives who played at both the college and professional levels (and I don’t mean some small college in the middle of nowhere; I mean in the SEC–Auburn and Alabama, and there may be even more that I don’t know about). I have relatives who were successful coaches. Every fall Saturday the television was tuned into whatever college game was playing–even if we weren’t fans of either team; it’s hard to imagine now with the 24/7 college football coverage, but when I was growing up ABC had a monopoly on all NCAA football games. They would usually play one game of national significance, and then the second game was regional–important to that region. As we did not live in the South, we rarely got to see SEC games other than Alabama–Alabama was almost inevitably the only Southern team of “national interest” throughout the 1970’s (I really don’t remember the 1960’s much, but we lived in Chicago so I imagine we saw a lot of Big Ten and Notre Dame games; I don’t really remember a lot of my life before the suburbs, really–some things, yes, but most things not so much)

I’ve never really read a lot of fiction about football, though; it inevitably winds up being something cliched and tired. I loved North Dallas Forty by Peter Gent; hated Semi-Tough by Dan Jenkins; but do remember enjoying End Zone by Don DeLillo (I was going to reread this recently; but there’s so much to read. I did try to to reread Semi-Tough–but when I opened the book there were racial slurs and other mess on page one, so I threw it in the trash; no thanks). And I’ve also enjoyed other books with football involved, even if it wasn’t necessarily what the book was about. (The Hardy Boys were on the Bayport High football team in The Crisscross Shadow–the only time football is mentioned in the series.) There’s also a tendency, in books about high school and football to make the football players and cheerleaders the villains of the story, which has never really sat right with me. I was never bullied by anyone on the football team, and maybe the cheerleaders weren’t bitches to me because I was on the team and my sister was a cheerleader, but that wasn’t my experience (one thing I truly appreciated about Stephen King’s Christine was the horrible bullies at Libertyville High weren’t the football players but the hard-case kids–which was also my experience; which is probably yet another reason the book is one of my favorites of the King canon, methinks).

But…I can also see why it’s so attractive to make the jocks and cheerleaders the villains of high school dramas. And I sort of did something similar in #shedeservedit, didn’t I? Those boys on the Marysville and Steubenville high school teams certainly fit the bill of villainy.

So, when people started recommending Eli Cranor’s debut Dont Know Tough to me, I wasn’t so sure. I just published a book of my own about high school football and the toxicity it can engender in a small town (#shedeservedit), and revisiting my memories of high school and football was harder than I had thought it would be; I thought I could be dispassionate about it all while writing about it (I often write about things to try to distance myself from them and gain some perspective) but I was wrong. It was hard to write that book, much harder than I thought it would be–and it took years (first draft was written in 2015; published in 2022).

But enough people whose opinions I respect were raving about the book, so I got a copy and once I started reading it, there was no way I could stop.

Still feel the burn on my neck. Told Coach it was a ringworm this morning when he pick me up, but it ain’t. It a cigarette, or at least what a lit cigarette do when it stuck in your neck. Just stared at Him when He did it. No way I’s gonna let Him see me hurt. No way. bit a hole through the side of my cheek, swallowed blood, and just stared at Him. Tasted blood all day.

Tasted it while I saw in Ms. Miller’s class. Woke up in Algebra tasting it. Drank milk from a cardboard box at lunch and still, I tasted it. But now it eighth period football. Coach already got the boys lined up on either side of the fifty, a crease in between, a small space for running and tackling, for pain.

This my favorite drill.

I just been standing back here, watching the other boys go at it. The sound of pads popping like sheet metal flapping in a storm.

“Who want next?” holler Bull. Bull ain’t the head coach. Bull coach the defense. He as mean as they come.

One of my favorite books of all time about small towns is Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show (I also love the film, which is extraordinary and one of, in my opinion, the best films made during the 1970’s). I did try to reread it recently–I was interested in refreshing my memory of its gay subplots and the mental breakdown of poor Joe Bob Blanton, but I’d also forgotten the part about the bored teenaged boys decided to fuck some calves, so when I got to that part I put the book down in distaste. But now that I’ve finished Don’t Know Tough, I kind of want to go back and reread The Last Picture Show again (I can skip that distasteful part…weird that I didn’t remember it).

Don’t Know Tough is yet another incredibly impressive debut, further confirming the truth of what I said at the Lefty Award banquet–the last few years have seen so many amazing and diverse and extraordinary debuts that the future of our genre is in very good hands. I won’t lie–when I started reading the book, I wasn’t sure I could keep reading it; I was worried that the entire book would be written in that grammatically garbled first-person voice but as I kept reading that first chapter I got into the rhythm of the language and started seeing the beauty and fluidity of the style choice–which is no small feat to pull off, and pull off consistently, throughout the entire book…to the point I was also a little disappointed that the entire book wasn’t done in that same style. Billy Lowe is the character whose voice this is; and the story of the novel revolves around him and the horrific Shakespearean tragedy that his life actually is. His mother is an alcoholic, and lives with an abusive piece of shit who obviously directs violence at Billy. He has a younger half-brother who was fathered by this POS; he also has an older brother who lives elsewhere. Billy’s situation has turned him into a wild beast of rage with an exceptional gift for channeling that rage into playing football. He’s not big enough in size to go major college, but his coach feels like there’s a chance he could get a football scholarship to a smaller college, and break the cycle of poverty he is trapped in at the moment. Billy is exceptionally compelling–it’s hard to read his first person point of view and not have your heart break for this kid; and hope that it’s all going to work out for him in the end, despite the disturbing pattern of violence in both his life and behavior.

Denton High has made the Arkansas state play-offs, but without Billy in the backfield their chances of advancing are practically nil. It’s important for Denton to do well in the post season because their coach’s job depends on it. Trent Powers is a born-again Christian, whose last coaching job in California crapped out–winning only three games in his final three seasons before being fired. This job is another chance for him, even though his wife and daughters hate relocating to a small town in Arkansas from California (much is made throughout the book of Coach Powers’ Prius, seen by the locals are weird and strange and almost otherworldly and unmanly). Coach Powers also has a very soft spot for his star player, and not just because he’s a star player–he actually feels compassion for the horror the young player’s life has been up to that point, and he wants to help–even if Billy doesn’t want any help from anyone. Billy’s future, to Billy at any rate, is already set, and he’s not going to end up going anywhere or doing anything or having a good life and decent future. He doesn’t see himself being worthy of anything or of doing better than his assigned lot in life.

The Powers family is a direct contrast to Billy’s; loving and nurturing couple, raising two daughters and trying to do right by them. How far is too far to go when helping someone in Billy’s situation, is the question. Coach’s wife–the daughter of a successful football coach who took Trent in when he was a kid from a similar background as Billy’s…and yes, he slept with his coach’s daughter and got her pregnant. So both Coach and his wife have the fear that the same thing will happen to their daughter and Billy–especially when the daughter starts opening up to Billy.

But one night Billy’s abuser is murdered. No one would blame Billy for killing the abusive bastard–well, the law would. But the story of what happened that night is far more complicated, and far more surprising, than the reader can imagine.

The pacing is also exceptional, and I love the contrasts between the third person point of view we see much of the novel in, with the Billy point of view chapters mixed in. The language choices and imagery are spare and tight yet full and rich and immersive–reminding me not only of Megan Abbott and her brilliant Dare Me, but also with a healthy dash of Daniel Woodrell, Tom Franklin, S. A. Cosby, and Kelly J. Ford (all masters of Southern Gothic) mixed in. The little touches of how claustrophobic small Southern towns can be, the class disparities between the haves and the have nots, and what teenagers in those types of environments was simply masterful.

I was completely blown away by this amazing work, and suspect that you will be as well. Highly recommended. I cannot wait to see what Eli Cranor does next.

Babe

Saturday morning and no LSU game today–kind of a relief, really; I imagine watching us play Alabama this season would be kind of painful and awful, to be honest. I am going to go make groceries and pick up the mail later on–and then I am hopefully going to write and work the rest of the day. The Saints are playing tomorrow, so that’ll take up the late part of the afternoon, so I will be going to the gym in the morning and then heading home to write, read, and clean some before the Saints game starts.

Yesterday was nice. I can’t say why yet, but it started off very nicely and continued in that same vein for the rest of the day. It was a gorgeous day, and I took some time off in the early afternoon to go to the gym and go to Garden District Books to get my next journal–the current one isn’t finished yet, but I like to get the next one ahead of time–and it was just stunningly beautiful in New Orleans yesterday, stunningly beautiful; sunny and low 70’s and blue skies everywhere you looked when you looked up. I am still behind on everything–what else is new?–but am hopeful things will start turning around sooner than later. The Lost Apartment is starting to look much better–neater, cleaner, better organized–which is a lovely, absolutely lovely thing, and that is helping me to get better and more organized with everything else, which is also lovely.

It is a beginning, which is a very lovely place to start.

It looks to be another beautiful late fall day here in New Orleans–gorgeous sky and lots. of sunlight; I have my laptop turned to the side and my chair pulled over to the side of my desk, like I had to do yesterday–and while I do have to get the mail and make groceries at some point today, the lack of an LSU game today and the total lack of care about any other games being played today has opened up my entire day for me, which is absolutely lovely. I’m afraid to think that this year has begun to turn around somewhat–the pandemic’s second wave is still rising after all–but hope has returned.

We watched The Mandalorian last night, and yesterday I was kind of amused to see there was a backlash of sorts to last week’s episode, in which The Child was eating the eggs of the Frog Lady–the eggs she was hoping to get to her husband to fertilize else they would be the last of their line (there seems to be some confusion as to whether it was the end of their race or the end of her family line; I took what she said to mean family line, not race)–and honestly, people need to get a fucking life. It’s a fucking television show, for one thing, and it depicts things that happened “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.” Aren’t there enough genuine problems confronting us to be concerned about rather than what happens on a science fiction/western hybrid television program? We’re still enjoying the show, and apparently The Child became attached to the babies as they hatched, which was a nice coda to that story. But it also remains one of the best Star Wars universe tales, and as I said before, they should have ditched the Skywalker saga and moved on to other tales from the same universe.

We also watched another episode of Mr. Mercedes, which continues to enthrall and hold our attention. I didn’t give near enough credit to the actors playing the Hartsfields: Harry Treadaway (best known as Dr. Frankenstein from Penny Dreadful) as the psychotic killer known as Mr. Mercedes, and Kelly Lynch as his mother, with whom he has a disturbingly incestuously close relationship with–both are killing it, as is Jharrel Jerome as Jerome. This show is really well done–one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen–although I do wish Cynthia Erivo was playing Holly in this, as she did in The Outsider. Holly Gibney is one of my favorite King characters; and while she hasn’t appeared yet in this show, I am really looking forward to seeing Justine Lupe’s interpretation of the role. Brendan Gleeson is also perfect as Bill–I’m not sure why they decided to go with making him Irish, to fit the actor, but it’s working. I also couldn’t help but think what a great role this would have been for Ed Asner or Ernest Borgnine or Carroll O’Connor or Burl Ives. I also don’t know why this show didn’t really get much attention, unless it was because it was on a lesser streaming service. Here’s hoping it being on Peacock will help it find a bigger audience. It is so well done, and Dennis Lehane wrote last night’s episode!

Ironically, I’d been thinking about Stephen King a lot lately–the Halloween Horror thing, along with the rewatches of Carrie and Christine–and while I am probably not as rabid a fan of his as I was for a very long time (I no longer buy the book on release day and everything in my life comes to a screeching halt while I devour the book) I am still a fan. The Hodges trilogy is King in top form, and so was Joyland, his paperback original for Hard Case Crime. I’ve never finished The Dark Tower, primarily because so many years passed between The Waste Lands and Song of Susannah that I lost the thread of the story and realized I’d be better off rereading the entire thing; I thus decided to wait until the series was finished and then go back and read it all the way through. Surprise! I haven’t done that yet, and there are still some volumes of his that I have yet to read (Doctor Sleep, 11/22/63, The Outsider, The Institute, If It Bleeds) which would have never happened back in the day. I enjoyed all of King’s earlier work–I never reread Pet Sematary or Cujo, primarily because they were too disturbing, which I understand now; a recent reread of Pet Sematary made me very aware of how actually brilliant it is–and reread them constantly; The Stand is one of my all-time favorite novels, and of course so many of the others are equally brilliant. The Tommyknockers was the first book of his I actively disliked, and believed the entire first third of the book could have easily been cut out. And while the books that followed were either hit or miss for me–more hits than misses–I can honestly say that Dreamcatcher was one of the worst things I’ve ever read. I absolutely hated that book, hated everything about it, and even the characters—usually a major strength of his–weren’t memorable or overly likable. One thing King does that he doesn’t nearly get enough credit for is writing about working class people, and how the grind of poverty, or the fear of lapsing into it–drives and hardens people.

Ironically, I saw a thread yesterday on social media where some writers were taking a whack at King, since King has been on my mind so much lately these days. I am constantly amazed at how many pseudo-intellectual writers always smugly assert their own dismissive opinions of King–when I’ve never heard of them, probably will never hear of them again, and kind of don’t want to ever hear about them again. I strongly disapprove of writers trashing other writers (although hypocritically I am down with it if it’s Stephenie Meyer or E. L. James) and books–which is why I stopped being a paid reviewer years ago–and sure, it’s easy to take potshots at writers who’ve become brands, like King (and Anne Rice and John Grisham and Dean Koontz and numerous others), but I always like to remember that those brand name authors sell huge amounts of books, which keeps publishers in the black and enables them to take chances with other authors who might not be as marketable or salable.

I slept really well last night also, which was absolutely lovely. I feel very well rested, and looking forward to my fourth week of working out, which begins tomorrow morning. I really am hoping to get a lot done this weekend. Wish me luck as I head back into the spice mines!

This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things

And here it is Wednesday, middle of the week and a storm on the horizon. It looks as though Zeta’s eye will be passing us to the east–possibly crossing over New Orleans East and Lake Borgne on its way northeast–and so there will be storm surge outside the lake levees. So, it should make for an interesting day, to say the least; the possibility of thunderstorms and high winds and street flooding always makes for an interesting day of getting to and from work.

We’ve cancelled services this afternoon because of the storm, so I only have to go into the office for the morning appointments. Ah, well, I think I might go back to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival while I make condom packs this afternoon; outside of Stephen King films (Carrie, Christine) my venture into horror for October has thus far been enormously disappointing; although a Scream marathon could be fun…

I went to the gym last night after work and had my second workout of the week; it was quite marvelous, even though the outer outer bands of Zeta had made it insanely humid and damp; I was a sweaty mess when I got to the gym, but breezed through my workout in very little time and with very little irritation and then walked back home in the humidity. I was sopping wet by the time I got home and made my protein shake, but despite the discomfort of thoroughly soaked through clothing my body felt terrific. Constant Reader, I am so happy to be working out again. I can’t believe I allowed myself to fall out of the habit…I know, I know, it happened because I was injured and my work schedule shifted and changed and I never adapted, but I allowed it to happen, and it was one of the stupidest things I did in my fifties. I mean, it is what it is, of course, and I cannot go back and change it–but I’m also not going to spend a lot of time beating myself up about it. So I got serious about working out again in my sixtieth year? That’s actually something to be proud of, you know? (See how I turned that around?)

I’m trying to see the positive in everything still–what I call the Ted Lasso effect–and it’s not so bad. It really isn’t that difficult to remain upbeat–it’s much easier than one might think. Granted, it’s very easy to get sucked down into the dark pits of despair–really, it doesn’t take much at all–but I am trying to resist that siren song of darkness and keep focusing on the positives in my life. I do work that I love in a city that I love with the man I love; what could possibly be more of a blessing?

Sure, money would be nice, but if I have to trade one of the above in exchange for it, no thanks.

However, after my workout last night I was exhausted when I got back to the Lost Apartment, so after having my protein shake and showering, I retired to my easy chair and tried to stay awake as I went through a series as I rewatched a couple of episodes of Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. I find that both shows are remarkably comforting in an oddly endearing sort of way, and rewatching something when your brain and body are both tired is much easier than trying to focus and follow something you’ve not seen before. I slept extremely well last night–deep, restful sleep; I even woke up about half an hour before the alarm went off this morning but of course stayed in bed until it started clanging away–and I feel very good this morning. It’s really quite marvelous not to feel that tightness in my muscles anymore; it’s nice that they feel worked and stretched again. I almost can’t wait for my next workout tomorrow after work. There’s a barre class on Saturday morning I want to try–it’s a combination of ballet and yoga stretching–since I think it will be fun, and more stretching isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Not to mention the regular routine satisfies my need for order and routine! Always a plus, you know?

And on that note, I am going to eat breakfast and get ready to face the day. Have a lovely, happy, healthy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

All You Had to Do Was Stay

Well, we survived yet another week, Constant Reader, and here we are on Saturday morning. Huzzah! Congratulations–I do think even such small accomplishments definitely need to be rewarded in this year of Our Lord 2020.

It rained yesterday while I was making condom packs, and I just rewatched the LSU-Georgia game from last year–the SEC title game–because, well, frankly because after watching Fright Night on Thursday I was kind of not in the mood to watch any more horror, at least not yesterday; Fright Night was so disappointing I allowed that to carry over into another day (April Fool’s Day from last week was also disappointing).

This has been a very strange week; one of low energy, regularly occurring irritations and concerns and stressors, among other things. I finally got that damned essay revised and approved by the editor (thank you baby Jesus) and now today I intend to whip that short story into shape, work on a chapter of the book, and get some cleaning and organizing done around here. I’ve also found myself not on social media nearly as much as I used to be, and it’s really not a bad thing, after all. Sure, engaging with friends from across the country, commiserating about the slog of writing, etc. is often fun and satisfying, but emotionally there’s so much nastiness and negativity in the world that seems to take over so much of it that I don’t really miss being there nearly as much as I thought I might; I kind of miss the days when my feed mostly consisted of people taking pictures of their food or asking for recommendations for things to watch or read. I found a lot of terrific books and TV shows and films from my social media feeds; but now they are so emotionally and intellectually exhausting that I am not really terribly sure that I want to spend more time there than i have been lately.

The bloom is rather off that rose, as it were.

And yet another example of how and why we can’t have anything nice.

I slept marvelously last night; I even slept later than usual this morning, which was equally lovely. I do feel rested as I swill my coffee this morning, and I am currently working on backing up my back -up hard drive to the cloud, so that everything recent is kind of there. (I have done back-ups before, so I really don’t need to back-up anything past a certain date from the back-up hard drive, really; something i just realized, which means I don’t really need to spend as much time with it as I have been; I really only need to back up things from the last few months or so because it all should have already been backed up to the cloud already.) I’m still a bit foggy this morning as I type this, but the caffeine will eventually turn the trick and I’ll be ready to go tackle the revision of “The Snow Globe,” before preparing to take on the book again. LSU doesn’t play until six tonight, which gives me the entire day to write and read and clean and organize. Tomorrow morning will be my “try to answer all my emails” morning, before moving on to writing again. I want to read some more short stories this weekend–I may even move back into the Reread Project; I’ve had a hankering for a reread of Christine ever since I rewatched the film recently, and there are any number of Mary Stewart and Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney classics loaded into my iPad for me to reread quite easily; I actually queued up Sara the other night–why not reread one of my own, particularly my only previous Kansas book; particularly since I need to be certain I am not reusing character names from it in the new one–and I’ve also need to be certain that I am making time to write going forward.

Writing (and reading) really needs to become more of a priority in my life again.

I have been thinking about writing–whether in short or long form, I have yet to decide–about the yellow fever epidemics in New Orleans. The worst one was in 1853, when one in fifteen died; but the last was in 1905. (Bubonic plague paid a visit less than ten years later, something I noted in my Sherlock story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”) I particularly like the note that people actually believed that yellow fever was spread by miasma, pollution in the air, or foul odors (they hadn’t discovered that mosquitoes spread it yet) and so they used to occasionally fire a cannon during fever season in an attempt to clear/clean the air. As always, the epidemics primarily targeted the poor, the enslaved, and the immigrant populations of the city; the wealthy used to abandon the city for their country estates or visiting relatives when it was fever season (little known fact: the reputation of Marie Laveau was primarily earned because she worked as a volunteer nurse during epidemics and never became ill herself; people began to believe this was further proof of her supernatural powers). It’s also really interesting to me that where the campus of the University of New Orleans sits now used to be a lake resort area called Milneburg; people used to catch the train at Elysian Fields and Esplanade to ride out there to catch the gentle breezes and experience the cooler air on the lakefront, renting little cabins out there as a vacation of sorts. I am very interested in New Orleans in the period between the Spanish-American War and the first world war; I also recognize that the period is one that most historians love and history fans love to read about, as it was the heyday of Storyville. But in fairness, all of the twentieth century in New Orleans is interesting to me, much more so than the previous centuries. I do have an idea for another Sherlock story or novella having to do with Storyville, based on an actual true story; “The Mother of Harlots” about the murder of a Storyville madam whom I have running a bordello called Babylon–my fictional Mrs. Fournier was the kind of women who embraced the sin of what she was doing and made sure everyone knew it, yet at the same time she had a very secret–and respectable–life with a daughter she was trying to pass off to society (there actually was a madam who did this very thing!), which, on its face, is the perfect set up for a murder, don’t you think?

I also want to set one in Milneburg, but I don’t have anything other than the Sherlockian title of “A Scandal in Milneburg”, which doesn’t really thrill me. I don’t see the need for me to parody Holmes canon titles, really; I can certainly mimic the style of the titles, as I did with the one I already wrote and sold. It’s interesting how writing that story has fired up my imagination as far as Holmes and Watson is concerned–I’ve written before about not being a huge fan of the stories–but actually writing about them has whetted my appetite to keep giving my own spin on the two characters, and I genuinely liked Watson as I wrote through his point of view.

Who would have ever thought I would come to the fandom by actually writing about them? Interesting, isn’t it?

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Afterglow

And just like that, here we are at Friday again. It’s going to be a very strange fall weekend, since we have no LSU game, but they do occasionally have bye weeks, so I guess that’s how I should look at this particular weekend. The Saints have an early game on Sunday, though, so that should be relatively normal. The question is, should I wait to run my errands until Sunday during the Saints game? I mean, Sunday mornings are the best for making groceries already because everyone’s at church, so the one-two punch of church and the Saints playing should mean abandoned aisles and a quick, easy trip. Decisions, decisions.

We’ve been having a quite marvelous cold spell this week–cold for New Orleans, of course, which means June-type weather for most of you–and so I’ve been sleeping most marvelously, which has been lovely, and of course the three-day-per-week getting up early thing has been sending me to bed earlier than I usually go, and the getting up early hasn’t been quite as awful as it once was. Is this a permanent, lasting change to my body clock? We shall have to see how it goes from now on, but it’s not a bad thing. Maybe even on the days when I don’t have to get up that early I should go ahead and get up if I wake up organically at six; more time in the morning to get things done, really, and going to bed early isn’t a terrible thing.

Remember me talking about flexibility? Maybe it’s time to start getting up every morning at six, getting emails answered, and then move on to doing some writing. Adaptability–something I’ve stubbornly been resisting all the time–is never a bad thing, and maybe part of the issues I’ve been having this year have affected me, mentally, in ways I didn’t even think about. Usually I do exactly that; I adapt to my situation and figure out ways to get everything done and stay on top of things. I’ve really not been doing a very great job of that this year, and why have I been so resistant to adapting and changing my habits and routines? Sure, I’m fifty-nine, and it’s a lot easier when you’re younger to change your habits and routines, but you shouldn’t become so mired in them at any age that you can’t change.

Yesterday’s entries in this month’s horror film festival were a rewatch of Christine (adapted by John Carpenter from one of my favorite Stephen King novels) and a wonderful old British 1970’s horror film, The House That Dripped Blood.

Christine is one of those King novels that made me roll my eyes when I first heard about it; “really? A haunted car?” (For the record, after reading Christine, I vowed I would never roll my eyes at the concept of a King novel again–because not only did it work, it was fucking terrifying.) Christine is another King novel that could be classified and sold as a y/a; it’s about teenagers, and the special kind of hell life can be for some teenagers. The empathy with which he wrote Arnie Cunningham, and the obvious love his best friend Dennis had for him, was the primary force that drove the book, and I also owe Christine an enormous debt of gratitude (but that’s a story for another time) as a writer myself. I saw the film version in the theater when it was released, and to this day, the book remains one of my favorite Kings and the movie, which had to take some liberties with the novel, is one of my favorite King adaptations. It’s flawed, of course, and isn’t nearly as good as the book, but it also holds up after all this time as well. It was directed by John Carpenter, and while it’s not one of his better movies, it’s a good one. Keith Gordon plays Arnie, John Stockwell plays Dennis, and Alexandra Paul plays Leigh, the girl who both boys wind up interested in–all three are fresh-faced and appealing, and I never really understood why none of them had bigger film careers. (The only other film of Keith Gordon’s I recall is him playing Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School, which undoubtedly hasn’t aged well.) The primary difference between film and novel is in the movie, it is the car, Christine, herself that is evil; there’s an opening as she is coming off the line in Detroit in 1957 and already has a taste for blood; in the book, it was never really clear whether the car itself was evil, or if Roland LeBay, the first owner, somehow infused the car with his rotted soul–in either case, the reader comes away from the book unsure of what the source of evil was, and I think that was better served; also, in the book we could see Arnie’s point of view, and Arnie himself, like Carrie in Carrie, was much more of a victim than it appeared in the film.

The House That Dripped Blood was from Amicus Studios in the UK, rather than a Hammer Studios picture, and was written by the great Robert Bloch, best known for writing the novel Psycho. It’s an anthology film–I really miss the terrific old horror anthology films; Amicus and Bloch teamed up for another one of my favorites, Asylum; Stephen King and George Romero tried to revive the form in the 1980’s with their Creepshow collaborations–and includes both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in its cast. There are four stories included in the film–I don’t know if Bloch based them on his own short stories or not–about tenants in this particular large country house in England. The film opens with the arrival of an inspector from Scotland Yard, investigating the disappearance of a film star who’d been renting the house, and the rental agent for the house tells the inspector the stories. The first is about a novelist writing about a psychopathic killer named Dominick that he starts seeing everywhere; the second is about a man who becomes obsessed with a wax figure in a wax museum in the nearby town; the third is about a father and daughter who engage a governess, but are harboring a dark secret; and the final story is about the actor, who is major horror film star (and a bit of a diva) who buys a cloak for the vampire film he is making and becomes convinced that the cloak belonged to a vampire–and is also turning him into one. I had never seen this film before, and had always wanted to; I remember it being advertised in the paper when I was a kid, and it’s now free for streaming on Prime. It’s not bad–the production values were low (hilariously, the diva actor in the fourth segment complains about how low budget is on the film he is making, which is why he is going looking for a cloak in the first place), and the acting isn’t bad; you can really never go wrong with either Cushing or Lee, frankly. Asylum is definitely a better film, but I enjoyed The House That Dripped Blood but probably won’t watch it again.

As for the debt I owe Christine, that’s a little bit more complicated. I moved to Tampa in 1991 for two reasons: to restart my life and start living openly as a gay man, and to get away from my old life after a two-year transition in Houston and to start a new one, one that included me pursuing writing seriously for the first time. I had been writing all of my life at this point–I still have the first novel I completed, in long hand and never typed up, and had had bursts of short story writing throughout the 1980’s–but I wanted to start really taking it seriously, and trying to get better, and actually trying to get published. I bought an inexpensive word processor that summer–not a computer, it’s only functionality was as a word processor, and you could save your documents to a floppy disc as well as print them out on what was essentially a typewriter–and since I was at the time thinking about writing horror, I decided to take some of the framework of the handwritten book (and some of the characters, and the town) and write a horror novel about teenagers, from the perspective of an adult looking back at what happened in high school. The book opened with the main character getting an invitation to the ten year reunion, and we learn he left for college and never went back. He starts remembering high school–and the course of the novel is the story of what happened and why he’s never gone back (a concept I’ve returned to numerous times). And while the bulk of the story was going to be about high school and teenagers, I didn’t see it as a book for teens–and I was following the same book structure as Christine, right down to the framing device of the memory chapters bookending the beginning and the end. I was even going to write the first part in the first person, before switching to multiple third person points of view in the second half. I was about five or so chapters into the book when I discovered young adult horror fiction, notably Christopher Pike, and realized this book–and the two I was planning to write after–would work better if written for teens and removing the framing device. I did do the first part in first person, and switched halfway through to multiple third person POV; this was what later served as the first draft of Sara. I started remembering all of this as I rewatched Christine yesterday; as well as a lot of other things I had thought about and planned back in the early 1990’s when I wrote the first drafts of Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel.

It’s chilly in New Orleans this morning–we’re having that vaunted cold spell, which means it’s a frigid 68 degrees–and I am taking a vacation day today to try to get caught up on things, plus errands. Scooter has to go to the vet for a blood glucose level test, and I have to take Paul to Costco so he can order new glasses, and then I have prescriptions to pick up and on and on and on. I need to proof my story in Buried, I need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” the Lost Apartment is a scandalous disaster area, and I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows. There’s also about a gazillion emails I need to read and answer…it seriously never seems to end, does it?

But Scooter clearly feels better–he’s back to knocking over the trash cans and pushing things off surfaces to the floor, his eyes are brighter and more alert, and he seems more energetic; he’s running up and down the stairs rather than meandering, like he had been–and I am hopeful we will soon be able to take him off the insulin. But I’ve gotten so used to giving him the shot twice a day I don’t really notice it that much anymore, and it doesn’t phase either of us at all. He’s also a lot more cuddly than he has been, and more affectionate–which is also kind of hard to believe; I hadn’t really noticed that he wasn’t as affectionate as he had been.

It’s so lovely that it’s cold enough for me to wear sweatshirts again! I love sweatshirts, frankly; my favorite attire is sweats, and I hate when it’s too warm or humid for me to wear one. I am even thinking I might need to turn off the ceiling fans (!!!). Madness! I am really looking forward to getting home from these errands, getting into my sweats, and relaxing as I get things done all day–and I”m really looking forward to tonight’s sleep.

And now it’s off to the errands. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Haunted

It’s gray outside this morning, and right now the trees and the crepe myrtles are swaying in a strong wind. It must have rained at some point during the night because the sidewalk looks wet, but I’m not sure. We’re supposed to experience tropical storm conditions, and it looks as though that won’t be until later this evening; we’ll see how that turns out though. Our syringe program may be short-staffed today so I am probably going to go into the office to help out–the storm may not reach us until around five thirty and I should be able to get home by then (am I crazy? The jury, as always, remains out on that one).

I’ve been sleeping really well lately–stress reduction has occurred on many different levels over the past week. My back and shoulders feel relaxed and not knotted anymore–I hadn’t noticed how much of my stress was being carried there until it wasn’t there anymore–and maybe I am going to be able to start focusing with laser intensity again. I miss that, frankly; the ability to focus all my brain and creativity and intelligence (such as it is) on one particular thing and get it finished; I think I may even go back to being able to keep all the plates spinning again–stop that crazy talk, Greg!–so we shall see. As I said, some things that have been weighing heavily on my mind–and knotting my shoulders–have wrapped up now and if i can finally manage to get myself organized, look out world.

Do keep Lake Charles and western Louisiana/eastern Texas in your thoughts, Constant Reader, as they are going to get hammered again tonight.

Yesterday as I made condom packs I queued up Terence Malick’s debut film as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, Badlands,which starred a very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek playing a version of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril (in the movie they are Kit and Holly); as they embark on their killing spree–although in the movie it’s South Dakota and Montana, as opposed to the Nebraska and Wyoming in reality. It is set in the 1950’s, which is also when Starkweather went on his spree (makes you think about how everyone remembers the 1950’s as this idyllic time; what I call Leave it to Beaver Syndrome), and the performances are stellar. The movie is narrated by Spacek’s Holly, in an almost unemotional monotone that captures the spirit of the movie itself. The movie doesn’t explain why Kit decided to start killing people, or why Holly chose to go with him, other than they fell in love and her father–the first victim–disapproved. (It’s also very weird seeing President Bartlet on a shooting spree, really.) Both are terrific in their roles, and the movie is visually stunning, really hammering home the isolation of the countryside in those rural states and their vast emptiness–and literally, how on the great plains or in the badlands there is no one to hear you scream. It made me think also of In Cold Blood; and of course, gave me some story ideas.

I decided to make it a Sissy Spacek double feature and queued up Carrie next–it was also a cynical 70’s movie, after all; and while it can hardly be termed a teen movie, it was about high school, after all, and the only adults in the film are supporting characters–Miss Collins the gym teacher; the principal; and of course, the piece de resistance, Margaret White–and everyone else is theoretically a teenager/high school student. I’ve not rewatched Carrie in years, and I’d forgotten what a great film it is; it’s one of the best (if not the best) Stephen King adaptations ever made–I might even go so far as to say it may be one of those rare instances when the film is better than the book. (And as a big King fan, I am quite aware of what blasphemy I just uttered.) Both book and film might be the first time bullying was addressed so strongly, and an argument can even be made that Carrie is one of two Stephen King novels that could be classified as young adult novels (Christine is the other one). Reading Carrie was a revelation to me as a teenager; it was the first time I’d ever read anything in fiction that depicted high school as I knew it that closely; most books and films at the time that did so were completely unrealistic. I had found junior and senior high school to be jungles of cruelty and viciousness with a rigid caste system; it was the first time I’d ever read anything centering the poor kid whom nobody likes, everyone picks on or mocks, and did it with sympathy. It was the first time I saw high school girls depicted as “mean girls”–it later became a trope–and the book was also the first time I ever saw in fiction anyone try to explain the weird, visceral group reaction to a figure who is more to be pitied than hated. (The book was also the first time I realized that we all love an underdog story–is there anything more popular in American popular culture than rooting for the underdog–while in real life the majority of us all will kick the underdog in the ribs or stand by and do or say nothing when they are being abused; King got that, as well as the shame decent people feel about doing nothing later) The movie is incredibly well done; there’s more gratuitous female nudity than perhaps necessary but it doesn’t feel exploitative; the locker room scene that opens the book features female nudity but it would be unrealistic to not show some–and later, we see Spacek’s nude body when she bathes and washes the blood off herself. It’s also very well-cast: Betty Buckley is terrific as the gym teacher who goes from irritated with poor Carrie until she realizes the girl has no idea what her period is; Amy Irving as Sue Snell, the decent girl who participates in the taunting but later feels remorse–a difficult role to be believable in, but she manages it; Nancy Allen is perfectly cast as spoiled hateful bitch Chris Hargensen; and of course John Travolta, playing against type as Chris’ low-life drop-out boyfriend and co-conspirator, which was really a brave move on his part–he was a star already and a teen idol from Welcome Back Kotter, and making his screen debut as a dirtbag thug was a risk (and his next film was Saturday Night Fever); but the movie truly belongs to Sissy Spacek, who is perfect as Carrie, and Piper Laurie as her mother, Jesus-freak Margaret White. Watching them again, I can’t help but feel that each deserved to win Oscars (they lost to Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, both in Network). The use of music in the movie is perfect, and the whole movie seems to be shot with this weird, slightly blurry, out of focus dreamlike style, like the camera was coated in vaseline or covered in gauze. And the clothes and hairstyles! The prom tuxedos with the ruffled shirts and in bizarre color choices! The feathered hair and the gym shorts pulled up so high they barely covered the girls’ asses! William Katt as Tommy Ross, the nice guy who takes Carrie to the prom! Even a young Edie McClurg as one of the teenaged girls, I think the character name was Frieda? As I rewatched the movie, I couldn’t help but think how King subverted the trope of the underdog story by making Carrie so sympathetic to the viewer, and then of course she blossoms at the prom with her make-up and her hair out of her face, in the beautiful dress she made herself, escorted by the most popular boy in the school, and elected Prom Queen–only to have it all come crashing down around her.

The movie differed from the book in several important ways, too–in the book, they do all laugh when Carrie is coated with the pig’s blood; the election for King and Queen isn’t rigged in the book; and in the book Carrie wreaks havoc and destroys the entire town on her walk home. The book also–a stylistic choice I may have questioned as an editor–made it very clear almost from the very beginning that Carrie’s story has a terrible ending, by intercutting the chapters with clips from news reports, books, etc. talking about the Black Prom–the reader just doesn’t know what happens at it, and whatever we may have been expecting, it certainly wasn’t the extreme it turned out to be–and my sympathies were entirely with Carrie, all the way to the very end.

I may need to reread Carrie.

It’s been such a fucked-up year that I forgot that I usually spend October reading horror novels, to celebrate the Halloween season. So maybe tonight, after I get home and the storm rages around us, maybe I’ll take Carrie down from the shelf and give it a reread.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and I will catch you later.

He’ll Have to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Away in a Manger

I’ve already posted (finally) my blog about LSU and Joe Burrow this season (GEAUX TIGERS), so this is not another GEAUX JEAUX post–just so you know.

Yesterday was a pretty good day. The weather has been lovely here in New Orleans this weekend, and I slept incredibly well both nights. We went and visited a friend who’d recently had surgery yesterday afternoon, and it was nice. I also feel good about things. One of the loveliest things about my life is having a partner who loves and supports me–even when I’m not particularly lovable or supportable. I’m so used to dealing with things by myself for most of my life that I still default to that (stupidly) when I’m not in the best place with my life, and that I don’t have to shoulder my burdens alone anymore–even after twenty-four years I still forget sometimes–and I also forget how good it feels to just let all of that out to someone who listens.

It’s lovely to unburden yourself–and I need to remember that.

We started watching The Mandalorian last night, and yes, it’s completely and totally worth the money I am paying Disney Plus–particularly when you consider I bundled it with my existing Hulu and ESPN+ accounts, so it’s only costing me $2.01 per month. $24.12 per year to have access to every Star Wars movie and series, as well as everything from Marvel, and all those classic Disney films? Oh fuck yes. And yes, I am completely and totally loving The Mandalorian, and yes, baby Yoda was a fucking genius move by show-runner Jon Favreau. If I were indeed younger, or had more disposable income, or was more of a hoarder (I’m trying to get rid of stuff at this point in my life) I’d definitely be wanting a baby Yoda plush toy.

We also finished off Castle Rock this past week–and while this second season did seem to go completely off the rails from time to time, the final episode pulled it all back together beautifully. No spoilers, but it was definitely a Misery pay-off. I should probably reread Misery again; it’s definitely one of my favorite Kings, and it’s been far too long since I’ve read it. I also would like to reread Christine and Carrie, the two novels I consider the closest things to y/a King has written.

I’m going to spend some time this morning reading more of Watchmen (which is extraordinary) as well as a few more chapters of Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, which so far as I can is a worthy successor to such classic suspense tales centering women as those of Charlotte Armstrong and the great Gothic writers of the mid-to-late twentieth century. I am quickly becoming a Laura Benedict fan–and I suspect you will, too, if you start reading her. I also hope to get some writing done today.

About fucking time, wouldn’t you say?

And on that note….tis back to the spice mines!

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Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

So it’s Christmas Eve. May you all who celebrate have a lovely day, and those of you who don’t, may you also have a lovely day! I’m not really sure what’s on the agenda for today around the Lost Apartment, to be honest. I know I want to do some writing and reading and possibly some editing–I don’t think the old but it’s a holiday is going to kick in for me today after all. I had a terrific day yesterday; I cleaned and organized, the Saints won (although why they always want me to have a heart attack before the conclusion of every game is beyond me) and now have clinched the Number One seed and home games throughout the play-offs thru the Super Bowl, and I actually wrote yesterday. I wrote about another thousand words of Bury Me in Satin, finishing that bear of a Chapter Eight finally, and now I think I can move forward. I think, though, I need to go back and do some revising on the earlier chapters while writing Chapter Nine.

I also discovered something incredibly convenient–yes, I know, I am nothing if not mostly oblivious most of the time and it’s insane when something so obvious smacks in the side of the head. My computer is still acting wonky–mostly when I have Word open–and so yesterday, incredibly irritated with the Apple Spinning Wheel of Death and the concurrent Microsoft Word Not Responding message, I closed my Internet browser and Word continued to operate–still not as fast as I would prefer, but faster, at any rate–and not having the distraction of getting push alerts from Twitter and Facebook and every time I got a new email enabled me to tear right through that chapter yesterday. I had my phone with me at my desk, and so whenever I was bored or needed to look something up on-line I was able to use that. I left the browser closed, in fact, for the rest of the day, just checking in on things periodically with the phone or my iPad. This was smart, and I am probably going to do the same thing today.

I started rereading The Shining yesterday, and while I am only a few chapters in, I have to say those initial chapters are remarkable, as King sets up the Torrance family–Jack, Wendy, Danny–as initial point-of-view characters, and we get to know the three of them very well. I remember when The Shining first came out in paperback–remember, this when I was living in Kansas and there was no place to buy hardcover books because the only local bookstore (the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia) only carried paperbacks, so I always had to wait for the paperback editions of everything–I started reading it after I bought it and didn’t care for Jack Torrance at all, so I stopped reading before I got to the chapters from Wendy and Danny’s points of view, and put it aside. It was about a year or so before I picked it back up again–it was the shiny all silver cover, with the faceless head of the boy blending into the silver–and then read it all the way through. I didn’t reread it as much as other King novels of the period, and it’s never really been a favorite of mine, preferring ‘salem’s Lot, The Dead Zone, The Stand, and Christine by far and away; but it’s considered by many to be one of his best books and certainly one of the most terrifying books of the late twentieth century. This was also the second consecutive novel of King’s to have a writer as the main character; but Jack is a failed writer, and maybe that was one of the reasons the book never quite found a place in my heart the way other Kings of the same period did; perhaps I could relate to Jack’s failure far too much for me? I will continue reporting back as the reread progresses further.

I also managed to get some cleaning done.

Paul went out last evening after the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!), and so I stayed home, reading The Shining and watching A Clockwork Orange on Amazon Prime for the first time. I’ve always wanted to see the movie; I have the book somewhere in my TBR pile or on one of the TBR shelves, and when I saw yesterday that it was free for streaming on Amazon I thought what the hell and decided to watch it. It is…interesting, for wont of a better word. Kubrick was a great director; there’s no question about that, but I also felt, from the few films of his that I’ve seen, he was very cold as a director; his movies always come across as kind of emotionless and cold. That style works incredibly well with the subject matter of this film and its theme. It’s also visually stunning, and despite the cold distance afforded by the camera lens, it’s portrait of a future desensitized to all kinds of violence–both sexual and physical–and the equally horrific answer the government comes up with to it, cannot help but keep your attention but also will make one think. I suspect I will be thinking about A Clockwork Orange for some time…and now I really would like to read Anthony Burgess’ novel.

So many books I need to read. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I said earlier, I think I am going to continue with the Short Story Project going into the new year, and I am going to also have my own Diversity Project, where I am going to try to read everything in my TBR piles that were written by minority writers of some sort. It’s called leading by example, people, and I hope some of you will join me.

And on that note, this work isn’t going to do itself, unfortunately, so yes, even on Christmas Eve, I must spend some time mining spice.

Have a lovely day, everyone!

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Do I Have to Say the Words?

GEAUX TIGERS!

It wasn’t a pretty win by any means, but a win is a win–and LSU is now the only team to have beaten four teams that were ranked at the time of the game. With Ohio State’s stunning blow-out loss to Purdue, the Tigers should be ranked in the top four (probably number four) when the rankings come out..and also setting up a huge game against Number One ranked Alabama… look completely unbeatable. Regardless, this has been a wonderful dream season so far–particularly when you take into consideration everyone had LSU dead and buried before the season started. The defense looked amazing against Mississippi State last night; the offense moved the ball decently at times, but for the most part looked sluggish and off. But on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking, we still managed to beat a top 25 team 19-3.

Yes, this season has been joyous, for the most part.

I did all my chores and ran all my errands yesterday. I was too nervous about the game to get much else of anything done, other than random tasks that don’t require much thinking; filing, organizing, cleaning, dishes, putting groceries away, and so forth. I did some thinking about writing while my  hands were busy, which sort of counts, and I did look over the Scotty book. I do like getting organized and preparing my thoughts. I am going to try to get my revisions done this morning before the Saints game; knowing I will become completely useless afterwards. But at least I don’t spend as much time as I used to parked in front of the television, flipping back and forth between games I don’t care very much about.

That’s something, at any rate, isn’t it?

The Saints game isn’t until two this afternoon, so I have plenty of time to answer emails and do some editing/revising/cleaning in the meantime. This is actually kind of nice; I slept later than I’d intended this morning but again I feel amazingly rested, which is kind of nice; and I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to get everything done that I need to get done today. It would be lovely to get three chapters finished; but I’ll have to see how that goes as I start writing. I’d also like to get my floors done today, and maybe some more reading of Empire of Sin; I also need to mark up my old journal with sticky notes for ideas on works in progress so I don’t forget about those notes. I used to have such an amazing memory; it’s almost tragic how much my brain has slowed and how overloaded it has become in my late fifties. Tragedy, truly.

Yesterday, in the afternoon lull before the LSU game, rather than reading something new I took down my hardcover copy of Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, and dipped into it again from the beginning. If The Stand is my favorite King novel–of several to choose from; if pressed I name it as my favorite but it’s on a pretty equal par with several others, including Christine, Carrie, The Dead Zone, It, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, and Firestarter, to name just a few–‘salem’s Lot also holds a special place in my heart for any number of reasons. For one, it’s a book I bought solely because of the name of the author–the first time I did this with King, and from this one on I anxiously awaited the new King novel every year–because I’d never read anything remotely like Carrie before, and I was curious to see what he would do in this new book. I was living in Kansas when it was released in paperback; I actually saw in the grocery store line at Safeway with my mother and I asked if I could have it. She said yes in this instance–I always was asking for a book whenever we were anywhere shopping; whenever we went to malls she would send me into a bookstore while she shopped; the most exciting thing my mother could ever say to me was You can have a book–and I started reading it in the car on the way home. I remember it was a Saturday; I  remember retiring to my room with a bag of taco-flavored Doritos (also a treat; my mom would either get me a bag of those or barbecue Fritos whenever she went to the grocery store and I would spend the afternoon methodically eating the entire bag while reading in my bed), and starting to read. Living in Kansas I had no idea what books were about–there were no book reviews in the Emporia Gazette, the only paper we had access to–and so I could only go by the blurb on the back of the book or on the first page inside the front cover. I had no idea what was going on in this little town in Maine until King revealed it halfway through the book. Also, when you bear in mind that Jerusalem’s Lot’s population at the beginning of the book was just over a thousand and I was living in a small town with a population just under a thousand; it was raining that day and as I read, the rain turned into a thunderstorm that seemed to last for hours; and right at the time King revealed that the secret supernatural thing going on was vampires the wind blew a tree branch against the screen of the window directly next to my bed–well, you can see why I may have uttered a half-scream and dropped the book. I remember my heart was racing and I was breathing hard; I had to go wash my face and take some deep breaths before I could pick up the book, find my lost page, and finish reading it. I stayed up until three in the morning finishing the book. ‘salem’s Lot has always had a place in my heart as the first book I ever read that truly terrified me; I’d read horror fiction before but I’d never had such a major physical reaction of sheer terror and shock as I had in that book. (I had also barreled through Carrie in one day, but it didn’t terrify me so much as suck me into a fast-moving train of a story about a horrible tragedy; I’d never read anything like it before–and this would prove to be the case with so many of King’s novels for me.) Reading ‘salem’s Lot made me a King fan for life; a Constant Reader, if you will. Eventually, other distractions and changes in my life also changed my King fandom; I don’t always necessarily buy his new novel the day it is released and put everything else on hold as I read it in a day or two, shutting everything else in the world out. (I just, for example, bought The Outsider yesterday; I still don’t have a copy of Sleeping Beauties, and I’ve never finished reading The Dark Tower series, haven’t read Bronco Billy or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Black House or Doctor Sleep or 11/22/63 or End of Watch yet; I know, I am a terrible King fan.)

But one of the things I loved the best about King–one of the reasons I always felt, back in the days when he was dismissed as simply another hack genre writer–was the way he depicted small towns and the people who populate them; Jerusalem’s Lot was the first of his great small towns, to be followed by Castle Rock and later, Derry. King’s small town, and the people who populate them, are so realistic, so real, so these are my next door neighbors, that I’ve always loved his work and characters and their reality, their realness. This is why his horror works so well–the reader is invested emotionally with his characters–which is also one of the reasons why my least-favorite King novel, The Tommyknockers, is my least favorite. (I also want to revisit that novel at some point; just as I want to reread Pet Sematary again. Both are amongst the few earlier King novels that I’ve only read once and never went back to; I used to reread King all the time.) This is also, I think, why Netflix’ adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was so powerful, and why I enjoyed it so much: so much was done with character and their relationships with each other that I became vested; I cared what happened to the Crains.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what makes any work resonate with the reader? The ability to identify with, and care about, the characters?

I am really looking forward to continuing my return visit to Jerusalem’s Lot.

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