King of My Heart

I went down a wormhole thought pattern of sorts this morning, triggered by reading a Crimereads essay about spy novels, and their genesis; it mentioned that Rudyard Kipling’s Kim was one of the first spy novels, and I also realized that only had I not read Kim, I’m not entirely sure I’ve ever read Kipling; however, a quick Internet search just not has reminded me that I have, indeed, read Kipling: Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, The Jungle Book, Captains Courageous, but I really don’t remember anything about them (let’s be honest, all my memories of The Jungle Book are naturally from the Disney animated film). I may have also even read Just So Stories, but am not entirely sure. I’m sure Kipling’s work does not stand the test of time–just the title of the poem “The White Man’s Burden” made my eyes almost pop out of my head when I came across it this morning–as they undoubtedly reflect the white supremacist view of Imperialism and the need for the British Empire.

On that same note, I feel relatively certain that the M. M. Kaye novels I once enjoyed (Shadow of the Moon and The Far Pavilions) probably wouldn’t hold up well, either.

I always read for pleasure and for enjoyment; to escape the world in which I found myself inhabiting and feeling like a changeling for the most part; I still do, for the most part. I haven’t been paid to write a book review in over a decade; I’ve always felt that as an author myself, there was a conflict of interest in accepting pay to read and critique another author’s work, and there was always, inevitably, the possibility that an honest view on something that didn’t work for me as a reader would be seen as a vindictive move on my part to torpedo another author, out of jealousy or spite or both. There are any number of these reviewers being employed, and paid quite handsomely, by major newspapers, and I don’t want to be one of them. I don’t like writing negative reviews, and if I am reading something I don’t care for, having to finish reading it because I am being paid to write about would inevitably make me resent the book and its author and would thus color the review.

I generally read things I think fall under my purview as a writer–mostly crime novels, some horror now and then, and maybe something every once in a great while, that would be considered literary. Often these are books by writers I already have discovered, or new ones recommended to me by others whose tastes I respect–The Coyotes of Carthage came to me in this way; Lisa Unger was recommended to me by numerous friends; and yes, Paul Tremblay came to me as a recommendation from a friend. I know I need to expand my horizons to improve as a writer, which is why I am not only committed to the Diversity Project (books by marginalized writers) but also to the Short Story Project. The Diversity Project has been a terrific learning experience, and the Short Story Project has helped me become a better short story writer. I’ve been trying to read New Orleans history lately–with a dash of Louisiana thrown in for flavor–in order to get a better sense of the city and state, so that I can write about them both more knowledgeably; plus there is so much inspiration in reading about the past of both city and state! It’s also incredibly humbling to know how little of that actual history I did know, and even though I knew how rich that history was, I had no idea just how much of a gold mine of inspiration and ideas it would prove to be.

Like I said, I tend to read things I think I will enjoy, and if I am not enjoying the experience, I inevitably stop reading. I have started things and put them aside, only to go back to them again and greatly enjoy them; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts being the best and most recent example of this I can remember; I started it, got several chapters in, and wasn’t feeling it. I went back to it months later and couldn’t put it down, and frankly, after The Cabin at the End of the World, Tremblay is becoming one of my current favorite authors.

So, I’ve been wrong about books before, and I’ve also been wrong about authors before. Hence the dilemma in being a book reviewer, and why I have chosen for many years now to seek extra income by reading for reviews. I enjoy writing about books I enjoyed on here, my blog; that’s part of its reason for existence, and I also curate what I read and write about here. No one chooses for me what I read or what I write about; and I will only review something negatively if the writer is, frankly, long dead; and even then, it’s simply an explanation of why the book didn’t work for me (an example of this latter type was Night Has a Thousand Eyes by Cornell Woolrich; I appreciated the book but there were things about it I didn’t like, that I felt didn’t “play”, but since he is long dead–over fifty years–I wasn’t overly concerned about hurting his feelings….and I have enjoyed other works of his).

I often talk about how my education in what the Academy considers to be classic American literature (British, too, for that matter) is sorely lacking. It’s something that I occasionally wonder about; should I go back and read these so-called classics as decided by a group of people whose opinion I generally don’t respect very much? It’s entirely possible, I know, that books I was forced to read as a teenager in high school and college were actually better than I thought at the time because I loathed being forced to read anything and I despised the way they were taught by pompous pseudo-intellectuals with tenure (I really enjoyed mocking that world in my story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar”, and will probably mine it again at some point as story fodder).

But I can honestly say I went back twice to reread The Great Gatsby only to discover that I loathed it even more than I remembered loathing it the first time; I also spent some time in my twenties trying to read other works by the writers I was forced to read and found that I did, in fact, enjoy some of them. I hated Sinclair Lewis when I was forced to read Main Street in college; I later went back and enjoyed both Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here very much. I disliked Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise very much, and I loathed the Hemingways I was forced to read (The Old Man and the Sea, A Farewell to Arms) so much that I just can’t bring myself to read anything else of his. I was very surprised, actually, to find myself enjoying Faulkner quite a bit, and I keep meaning to go back and reread both The Sound and the Fury and Sanctuary–but there are also a lot of other Faulkner novels I’ve not read, and probably should. I also despised Tom Sawyer and the other, celebrated Mark Twain short stories I was forced to read; but as an adult greatly enjoyed Puddinhead Wilson, The Prince and the Pauper, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, and Life on the Mississippi.

But I am not someone who became a writer because I wanted to have a legacy, or be lionized; I became a writer because I wanted to tell stories, and I wanted to tell the stories that I wanted to tell. I never had any desire to have my work be taught in colleges, or for students to be forced to write papers about my work. I always say that sort of thing isn’t up to me to decide, and it’s never been my aim. If I’m forgotten after I die, well, I won’t be the first.

I justify to myself not reading a lot of literary fiction by saying there simply isn’t enough time for me to read everything that I actually want to read, let alone find the time things people think I should read. But I also have this sense in my mind that perhaps I am missing out on something; I know I’ve read books that have gotten critical acclaim that were more on the literary side and liked them very much and learned from reading them. Colson Whitehead, for example, is simply brilliant while also writing genre fiction–The Nickel Boys and Underground Railroad were stunningly brilliant; I really need to read more of his work–and thinking about Colson Whitehead led me to thinking about, of all people, Cormac McCarthy. I’ve not read McCarthy, but from what I have gathered from what I have heard about his work is it technically is also genre fiction; The Road is a post-apocalyptic dystopian novel, after all–a friend whose opinion I respect read and hated the book, so I’m probably not going to go there–so I started going through his canon on the web and I finally settled on one to add to my TBR pile at some point, Outer Dark, because it too sounds like genre fiction. We shall see how that goes, shan’t we?

Laura Lippman often says that genre fiction is literature, and by claiming literary classics as genre (the most common is, of course, Crime and Punishment) we are demeaning the great genre work, which stands on its own without the necessity of claiming Dostoevsky or Faulkner’s Sanctuary as crime fiction (although I do believe Sanctuary is pulpy noir of the best kind). I do agree with her to some degree; as I said, I do think Sanctuary is noir, and an argument could be made that An American Tragedy by Dreiser is as well. (I’ve also pointed out numerous times that The Great Gatsby is really a murder mystery told in reverse) But her point is spot on: genre fiction doesn’t need to claim classics from the Academy in order to be recognized as literature, and claiming those books does make it seem like trying to make fetch happen.

I also like to believe that my best work is still ahead of me.

Of course, that means I actually need to do it.

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

Every Time Two Fools Collide

So I finally went back to work on the book last night when I got home from the office. Huzzah! I was beginning to think I never would work on the damned thing again, but maybe there is something to this “arbitrary date chosen by Julius Caesar to start the new year” thing, after all. I started writing two new short stories, I got back to work on the book–pretty amazing, I have to say, especially taking into consideration that I’ve been such a fucking slug about writing for quite some time now.

Huzzah for the end of that nonsense!

Whether it actually means something remains to be seen, of course, but at least I also started the next chapter as well. It felt good to be writing again, and it felt really good to be making this manuscript better. It’s been so long since I last worked on it that I am going to have to go back to my notes and review them again; but that’s fine. At least I have the notes, you know, and that puts me ahead in a way–look, I’ll take these little victories where I can, thank you very much.

It does seem as though the RWA mess has calmed somewhat on Twitter, and what the future holds for the organization remains to be seen; it’s always sad to see an organization tear itself apart in this way, especially when the real root cause of the whole mess is racism. Sorry, Nice White Ladies, but we’re not going back to the 1950’s–the people of color aren’t going back to the back of the bus and the queers aren’t going back into the closet. And inevitably, there’s going to be issues any independent audit turns up; aren’t there always? I can only theorize the paid staff’s been colluding with the people masterminding this insidious leadership coup, and there are probably irregularities that will turn up in their books once the inevitable independent audit shows up. There’s something terribly rotten at the core of that organization, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets dragged out into the light and exposed.

I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and I’ve now reached the period of time–the 1950’s through the 1960’s–where the street truly earned its name and reputation as a strip for sinning. As always, ideas are flooding through my mind for new stories and perhaps a new series; I think the story I originally started writing a while back, “The Blues Before Dawn”, might actually work better as a short (70k-ish) novel set in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s rather than the WWI/Storyville era I was thinking about setting it…and also makes me wonder about my Sherlock Holmes story; perhaps moving it to a more modern era might be better? But I must get these other two manuscripts finished before I really even start thinking about other novels–and let’s face it, Chlorine needs to be the next novel I write anyway. I wrote a first draft of the first chapter a few months back, and it turned out better than I’d thought it might; and last night, as we watched John Mulaney stand-up comic specials on Netflix, the second chapter came to me, almost fully formed. It’s lovely when that sort of thing actually happens, you know–it’s so organic and I love it, it makes me feel like a real writer when it does–and it doesn’t really seem to happen all that often.

Although I probably should be spending all this time researching for Chlorine while I finish writing these other two books, shouldn’t I?

I don’t have a timetable for finishing Bury Me in Shadows or the final revision of the Kansas book, either. I probably should set one–although I’ve been doing that for the last year and it never seems to motivate me to get the work done.

OH! I also realized the other day when I was listing my favorite reads of 2019 I forgot two: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both are frigging fantastic, and you need to read them sooner rather later. Get on it. Don’t make me come over there, because I will.

Tonight after work is the office holiday party, so I’ll be stopping there on my way home from work and probably then proceeding to Rouses so I won’t have to leave the house all weekend. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also have some errands to run on my way into the office today. It rained last night–everything is slick and shiny and dripping outside my windows this morning–and I suspect the temperature went south overnight as well; it’s very cold in the Lost Apartment this morning. I always forget how bipolar the weather in southeastern Louisiana is in the winter–it was warm and muggy yesterday. I stand corrected–it’s 62 with a high of 71 forecast for the day, so it’s clearly just cold here inside. Sigh, New Orleans.

I’m still rereading both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels  as well; once I finish those rereads (and blogs) I’ll go on to my annual reread of Rebecca, I think, and then it’ll be time to read some new things from my TBR pile. The new Elizabeth Little ARC has been taunting me from the top of the TBR pile since I received it (read me, read me, come on and read me, you bitch!), and I was actually thinking about taking it with me as one of my “to reads” for the trip to New York; there will be lots of airport/airplane time involved, after all, and there’s no better time to read then when you’re traveling.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold before I get ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Is This Love

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

Here it is, Friday, and the last few days of my vacation, such as it was. I do not intend to mourn not getting anything much accomplished over this week; I did get some things done and for that I am profoundly grateful. I am also truly grateful for the opportunity to relax, rest, sleep, and overall just recharge my batteries; at my advanced (advancing) age that is necessary sometimes.

Yesterday was lovely. In the morning I finished reading Colson Whitehead’s terrific The Nickel Boys (more on that later), which was simply brilliant–I think I liked it better than I liked The Underground Railroad, which I also loved–and then started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, but didn’t get very far into before Paul woke up. (I intend to spend some times with it this morning, once I get this filthy disgusting kitchen cleaned up.) We spent the afternoon watching the first three episodes of Dublin Murders (terrib;e, terrible title), which is based on Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness. I’ve not read Ms. French’s work; I do know she is critically acclaimed and enormously popular–but as I always say, too many books and far too little time. I do intend, after watching the first three episodes, that I will most likely now add French to the TBR pile. I do not know, for example, if the show is a faithful adaptation; there were a few things that confused me a bit, but I imagine that is made much more clear in the novels.

We also watched the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!). The game was strange and sloppy and weird; the Saints had difficulty scoring touchdowns, and at the last minute it looked as though the Falcons’ furious comeback attempt might actually succeed. However, the Saints defense looked pretty amazing for the most part, and they stepped up to sack Matt Ryan on a fourth down that pretty much ended the game, with the Saints clinching the division and guaranteeing that at least their first play-off game will be in the Superdome.

As I have said before, it’s been a banner year for Louisiana football fans, between the Saints and LSU.

After the Saints game, we tried to start watching the AMC adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but couldn’t really get into it. I tried reading the book, but couldn’t get into it, either. I also tried with Hill’s Horns, both book and film, to no avail. Hill is a fine writer–I absolutely loved the short stories of his I read during last year’s Short Story Project–and I want to like his novels, but am afraid they just aren’t for me. I’ll undoubtedly continue reading his short fiction, and will undoubtedly try to read his novels again at some other point.

I’m also sorry I missed the bizarre end of the Mississippi-Mississippi State game; I considered switching over to it after the Saints game ended, but as I am not a fan of either team…it’s hard to watch a game simply for the joy of watching a well-played football game if you can’t root for one of the teams; I always try to pick a team in any game I’m watching when I am not a fan of either….but wasn’t up for it last night. Apparently the Rebels scored a potential game-tying touchdown in the closing seconds, and simply needed to kick an extra point for overtime. But one of the Rebels’ players mocked the Mississippi State team by going down on all fours and lifting his leg, like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant (the MSU team name is Bulldogs) and they got flagged for a fifteen-yard penalty….and then missed the extra point, so game, set and match to the Bulldogs. An incredibly stupid thing to do in the heat of the moment, although I do feel a little sorry for the player–as he will never ever live that down.

No matter how frustrated I get with college players, I always try to remember they are really just overgrown kids; most of them still in their teens.

Tomorrow will be a big day of football–with Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and then LSU-Texas A&M; so I doubt I’ll get much done tomorrow. I do have some errands to run in the morning–prescriptions, mail, possibly grocery store–and after that I’ll be parked in my easy chair watching college football and reading during breaks. There won’t be a Saints game on Sunday, so I intend to spend that day trying to get organized and figuring out my writing schedule for the rest of the year–although I’ve not had much luck with scheduling writing this year so far, have I? But I do believe I’ve cracked the code of the current manuscript as well as the one on deck, and it’s just now a matter of writing it all down or correcting the computer files and pulling it all together.

Sounds easy, at any rate, doesn’t it?

And now to do these dishes, start my review of The Nickel Boys, and back to reading the Benedict novel.

Have a lovely day after Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

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Big Time

LSU won again last night, blasting Arkansas 56-20 to win the West division for the first time since 2011, and a date in the SEC title game with Georgia. The Tigers are now 10-0, and pretty much all the entire college football world can talk about; upstaging defending national champion Clemson and even Ohio State, the power of the Big Ten this year. It has been quite a ride for us Tiger fans this year, and of course the whole state is abuzz with excitement; I can’t remember a time when both the Saints and LSU had the chance to go all the way in the same season.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but sunny and lovely outside. I’m not sure if this means it’s also cold outside–when I take the recycling out later I imagine I will find out–but my morning coffee is doing an absolutely lovely job of warming up my insides this morning, which is also lovely. I’m still on vacation–one week from today is the last day of it–and so far I’ve not really accomplished much of anything, really. I’ve done some cleaning and organizing, but for the most part have enmeshed myself in laziness and making excuses for not doing anything–primarily from watching television. After the LSU game ended last night, we watched the final three episodes of Unbelievable, which didn’t disappoint. Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette deserve Emmy nominations at the very least; but with all the A-list names that are coming to television and doing great work, the Emmys are becoming more competitive than the Oscars.

I am also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is only deepening my knowledge of just how wild and rowdy and sinful New Orleans has always been, even back in the beginning–which makes all the complaints we currently deal with from people about our crime rate a bit…I don’t know, seem a little ignorant? New Orleans has always been a city of sin, with all kinds of crime and criminal activity and licentiousness and prostitution and drinking and pretty much every kind of “vice” you can think of flourishing here–as it always has in port cities, like San Francisco and Havana and Miami and Cartagena. Reading Campanella’s book makes me even more fascinated with the history of New Orleans, and considering, seriously considering, the possibility of writing more historical crime fiction about the city. As I may have mentioned before, I’d already started writing a historical short story about the city; I’ve also been asked to write a Sherlock Holmes pastiche set in New Orleans, which I’ve been thinking about a lot lately; being asked to do so seemed almost serendipitous, given the deep dive I’ve been making into New Orleans history over the course of the last year.

There are, of course, any number of crime novels/series set in the past in New Orleans; I’ve not read David Fulmer’s jazz age/Storyville crime novels, but I loved Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, which opened with A Free Man of Color. I know James Sallis also wrote a detective series set in the early twentieth century; I read one of them but never finished the series (he is perhaps best known for his novel Driver, which was made into a film with Ryan Gosling). I’m sure there are others–time to consult Susan Larson’s Book Lover’s Guide to New Orleans–and at some point, I need to go back to read classics from New Orleans’ past. (My education in New Orleans Literature is sorely lacking; just as my education in classic literature and crime fiction wind up being sorely lacking as well.)

There’s simply never enough time, is there?

I’m going to try to get some writing done today, as well as some progress on reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead, and hopefully today I’ll also be able to get those blog entries about the books I’ve read lately finished as well.

One of my (attainable) goals for this week is to get all of my email answered; I am tired of things just sitting there, nagging at me and gnawing at my subconscious. But I am going to just ignore it again today–several years ago I decided to release myself from the tyrannical bonds of my email by not answering emails on the weekend; I can still read them, but I won’t answer before Monday; because emails beget emails, and responding to one means you might get another one to respond to, and so on, and so on, and suddenly all your valuable writing and/or goofing off time has magically vanished, circling around the drain of the endless cycle of email.

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Nothing’s Going to Change My Love For You

It’s gloomy and gray outside my windows this morning. I slept late–we stayed up late watching Unbelievable, which is so fantastic, and the performances of Merritt Weaver and Toni Collette are amazing–and a little later on I must run out to pick up some prescriptions and the mail. I’m still a bit groggy this morning as I sip my first cup of coffee, so here’s hoping the next cup or two will clear the cobwebs inside my brain and get me going.

I was terribly lazy (again) yesterday; I did get the car serviced (if you’re going to buy a Honda in the New Orleans area, you cannot go wrong with Superior Honda on the West Bank), after which I made groceries, hit the Sonic, and drove back across the river. I did the laundry (still not finished) and started cleaning and organizing, but also got sucked into a really bizarre true crime documentary on Hulu, The Turpin 13: Family Secrets Revealed, which left more questions behind in its wake than it answered. The Turpins were a family of Pentecostal Christians who eventually had thirteen children, whom they isolated and controlled in their various homes over the years, including such traumas as chaining them to their beds; starving them; not allowing them to bathe; and not allowing them to go outside during the day, in fact turning them into nocturnal beings who went to bed at 5 am, slept all day, and got up when the sun went down. It’s an interesting, albeit fascinating, story, but as I said, the couple are still awaiting trial so there aren’t any real answers there. I also watched the start of another World War II documentary of colorized footage on Netflix–very similar to the one I just watched yet different; I mean, obviously World War II documentaries are going to be similar as it’s history and history doesn’t–rarely–change.

Although watching the other colorized one, produced by the British and therefore not quite so interested in maintaining and upholding American mythology was very interesting.

I am also moving along in The Nickel Boys, Colson Whitehead’s latest, and am truly enjoying it. I like the way Whitehead writes, and I am all in for his main character, Elwood, growing up in Tallahassee during the Civil Rights era. As I do like to occasionally remind people, the Civil Rights era was my childhood; it really wasn’t that long ago. (The Second World War was also during my parents’ lifetimes, although they were too young at the time to remember any of it.) One of the many reasons to read diverse, non-white American authors is to see the country, its history, culture and society, through the eyes of the outsider, which challenges the narrative so often put forth, of American exceptionalism…and as I said earlier, those narratives also prop up and perpetuate American mythology. (This is, I think, one of the many reasons I so greatly enjoyed Neil Gaiman’s American Gods when I read it all those years ago–the concept of an American mythology, along with the identities and creation of gods through an American lens of what precisely we do worship in this country makes one start to question our collective societal values, as well as the mythology we are taught as truth.)

I’m also still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is quite fun and educational, as part of my continued study of New Orleans history. I still have quite a few volumes to get through, and then I plan to move on to general Louisiana history.

But as I said above, the question of what is real and what is American mythology often colors the history we read and study. Reading Robert Tallant’s work, for example, clearly shows that white supremacy colors any of his writings about New Orleans and Louisiana history, and the same goes for Harnett Kane, and probably many other historical writers of the past. And when you consider that most reference materials from our own history are often newspapers–which weren’t exactly beacons of journalistic morality and integrity in the past–one has to wonder what the actual truth of our shared American history actually is.

Which is more than a little disturbing, really.

There’s an essay or a non-fiction book on American mythology–probably not one I will ever write, but it’s something that strikes me as needing to be written; although I would imagine Howard Zinn’s works of “people’s histories” of the United States would certainly qualify. (I do highly recommend Howard Zinn; all Americans should read him, and his People’s History of the United States should be taught, if not at the lower levels than certainly in college.)

And now it is time for me to get on with my day. There are some interesting football games on today, but nothing really strikes my fancy until this evening’s LSU-Arkansas game (GEAUX TIGERS!) and so will most likely will have the television on in the background as I read, write, and clean the rest of the day.

Have a lovely Saturday,  Constant Reader.

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Who Will You Run To

Vacation all I ever wanted….

Yes, I am off now for about nine days, which is incredibly lovely. Today I am getting the car serviced on the West Bank, and will most likely go ahead and make groceries while I am over there. After that, it’s home and chores; I’d love to get all the cleaning and organizing done today so I don’t have to worry about doing any of that over the next nine days–and possibly do some writing while I am at it. My writing muscles are horribly, disgustingly, rusty; almost as rusty as my actual muscles which haven’t exercised since earlier in the year. I am going to try to get back into a regular workout routine during this vacation period; I miss the endorphins, and I miss the feeling of genuine tiredness one gets from forcing one’s muscles to do work. I also need to stretch regularly and do the dreaded, hated cardio; I’m very disappointed in myself for letting my regular workouts fall by the wayside.

I also want to read The Nickel Boys, and get that out of the way.

We watched two more episodes of Netfix’ Unbelievable last night, and Toni Collette and Merritt Weaver are absolutely killing it. I do think this is a must-watch mini-series; the difference with which the two women treat the rape victims in their cases is such a 180 from the way the men treated poor young Marie in the first episode; and of course Marie’s entire life and experience has turned into garbage not just because she was raped but because of how she was treated, and not believed. I have a lot of thoughts about men and rape/sexual assault; I’ve had them for quite some time but have never truly articulated any of them–who am I to talk about these things?–but there’s a lot more complexity buried there that is never truly talked about or explored; as though there’s a third rail one cannot touch. I’m looking forward to finishing it, and getting caught up on Castle Rock, which is killing it this season.

Which of course always comes down, as ever, to Imposter Syndrome; the fear that I am not intelligent, smart or articulate enough to talk about sensitive things or subjects or topics; which is what holds me back from writing personal essays. Laura Lippman recently announced that her essays are being collected into a book called My Life As a Villainess, which will be released next year, and I can’t wait for it. Her essays are amazing and smart and well-thought out, articulated beautifully; but then again, she is one of our finest writers publishing today, so why wouldn’t they be? Laura once told me, when I said that I am not a strong essay writer and am not very good at them, “Um, you write a personal essay every day on your blog.” It was very kind, and meant a lot to me, and there’s possibly some truth there; but I always see the blog as a kind of free-form rambling, stream of consciousness thing that I do every morning over my first few cups of coffee as I shake off the cobwebs of my sleep–which was glorious again last night, by the way–and try to prepare to face a day of who knows what being thrown at me.

I’m also looking forward to the LSU-Arkansas game this Saturday night on ESPN. The Tigers, despite the dismal defensive showing in Oxford last Saturday, remain the Number One team the country–I still can’t believe this season and how it’s turned out–and of course the Saints game Sunday at noon. The Saints bounced back from that disgraceful outing against Atlanta two weeks ago, and we’ll see how it goes from here. It’s weird to have the top ranked team in college football at the same time as one of the top teams in the NFL; how crazy would it be if LSU won the national championship in the same year that the Saints won their second Super Bowl? Magical indeed; as well as unlikely, but my God, would that ever be cool, and the entire state would lose its collective mind.

As I have said a lot lately, I’ve felt disconnected from my writing life lately–my reading life, too–and I’m not sure what that is. I am hesitant to say “writer’s block,” because it’s not something I truly believe in; I do believe writers can go through fallow periods when they have nothing to say, or can’t think of anything to say; not being able to put words to page. But I don’t believe that–which I often refer to as a ‘malaise’–is the actual problem; I’ve always believed writer’s block is a symptom of depression. One thing I’ve often noted when reading up on writers of the past is how many of them had drinking problems, or certainly drank to excess fairly regularly; so regularly that I’ve sometimes wondered whether there’s a connection between creativity and addiction. I do think creative types are more emotionally volatile than their fellow citizens; more susceptible to vulnerability and emotional instability, which can lead to depression, which can lead to not being able to write, which then turns around in a vicious cycle to make the depression worse, and some people deal with that by using alcohol. I myself have a medicine cabinet filled with medications to help me navigate the fast-flowing, submerged danger everywhere river of my life, and they’ve helped with my own particular brand of crazy.

So, in a little bit I’m going to take a shower and head across the river to the dealership; and hopefully when I come home I’ll be able to get some clear-headed thoughts down on the page as well as some seriously deep-cleaning done on the Lost Apartment.

So it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Something So Strong

I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning and feel like I could have easily slept another three or four hours. But alas, that is not to be; too much to do and I have to get some of it done before I head into the office for my last day of work before my vacation starts Friday (I am taking the week off next week, and decided to throw this Friday into the mix just for fun). I’m getting a little burned out–which happens a bit more frequently the older I get–and so the time off will be lovely. I need to take the car into the dealership for an oil change, which means i can have lunch at Sonic (huzzah!), and I’ll probably go ahead and make groceries while I’m over there; I’ll most likely do all of that tomorrow. I also need to write my blog entries about the Ross MacDonald and Richard Stark novels I read recently, as well as some more writing and editing and cleaning and organizing; I can’t simply blow off this entire week of vacation and get nothing done.

I started reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys last night, and I have to say it: Whitehead is a national treasure. It’s such an amazing book already, and the writing is superlative. I can’t wait to get back to it and savor the writing some more.

Yesterday was a good mail day for me. I got my copy of the anthology Dark Yonder, which is built around Eryk Pruitt’s bar, Yonder, that he opened this year, and the anthology was edited by Liam Sweeney, and benefits the North Texas Food Bank. It’s always delightful to write and publish a new short story, and this looks to be a very fine volume. My story is called “Moist Money” (how much do I love that title?) and I reread it last night, because I could barely remember it…and wow. It’s a dark and nasty little tale, and thematically similar to two other stories I’ve written recently (one is out on submission, the other published last year) but all three stories are dramatically different in tone, character, and setting–even if the theme and structure are similar. Anyway, if you want to get a copy of Dark Yonder–there are some terrific writers I am sharing those pages with–you can order it right here.

I also got a contract for another short story, and a finished copy of a book I blurbed; The Committee by Sterling Watson, from Akashic Books. I don’t really blurb books much any more; I simply don’t have the time to read as much for pleasure as I did, and when asked I never promise to do anything other than to try. I made an exception in this case, primarily because I respect Akashic Books very much and the subject matter of this one–the gay purge at the University of Florida in the 1950’s–was something I felt was important enough for me to take the time to read the book and provide a blurb for it if I liked it. I did like it, very much, and provided requested blurb….and now they’ve graciously sent me a complimentary copy–and the cover has a blurb from MICHAEL KORYTA, and there on the back cover am I, along with LORI ROY and GALE MASSEY. How enormously flattering for me to be a blurber along with three writers whose work I simply love.

It’s interesting how thrilling I find these little things, isn’t it?

I’m also thinking about writing more short stories. It has everything to do, no doubt, with getting the contributor’s copy of Dark Yonder and the contract for the other story–plus having Susan Larson compliment me on my short story collection the other morning–but I do love writing short stories, despite how painful they always seem to be for me; the experience can be excruciating. I was thinking last night about another story I’ve been working on for a while, “Burning Crosses”, and last night I figured out how to make the story work better. It’s a delicate subject to tackle, for sure–the title alone should make that obvious–but it’s a story I’ve had in my head for a long time, and last year I finally sat down and wrote a first draft of it. I was pretty pleased with the first draft, and have done another since then, but again felt like the story just missed the mark. Last night it hit me between the eyes what is missing from this story, and how I can make it even better, perhaps even publishable. (Something else to get worked on while I am on vacation.) My goals for the vacation obviously are going to be next to impossible to accomplish, as always; I’m going to want some goof-off time as well as some reading time, and so the writing and editing is going to be pushed off to the side for a while.

Not to mention cleaning.

Okay, on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

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Cross My Broken Heart

I slept well again last night, so here’s hoping that Monday night’s shitty night of sleep was an aberration. I feel very rested and well this morning, which is a lovely change from yesterday morning’s horror.

Paul was home late last evening, so I was able to finish watching Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, which I highly recommend. It’s incredibly well done, and powerfully moving. The final two episodes, “Liberation of Buchenwald” and “Hiroshima”, are the perfect pair to end the series with; in my last post I talked about how the “Dresden Firestorm” episode brought up questions of morality, both national and that of war; how absolutely fitting that “Liberation of Buchenwald” was the very next episode; so that any sympathy one might have felt for the German citizens killed during bombing raids and so forth, evaporates almost immediately. The documentary is also one of the first times I’ve ever seen anything about World War II and the Holocaust that absolutely puts the lie to the German everyday citizen’s claim, afterwards, that they didn’t know anything about the death camps. They knew, and at best, just didn’t care. At worst, cheered the mass slaughter of “undesirables”. Thank God Eisenhower brought in the press to document the horrors of the camps.

Even more horrifying is knowing that the threat of Soviet Communism was deemed so terrible that the Western nations chose not to pursue a lot of war crimes trials against horrible Nazis, and instead helped rehabilitate them into German society, deciding it was simply better to move on–the past was the past, the Nazis were defeated, and Communism was apparently worse–to our everlasting shame.

“Hiroshima” naturally deals with the development of atomic weapons and the lead-up to the decision to use them on the Japanese. The reason given at the time was that Japan would never surrender, and the conquest of the home islands would have cost many American lives; so President Truman–also wanting to finish off Japan as quickly as possible, before the Soviet juggernaut could turn east–made the decision to wipe two cities off the map–and the xenophobic racism that allowed the Americans to be more brutal with the Japanese then they ever were with the Germans; had the Germans won the Battle of the Bulge and taken Belgium back, would the Americans have dropped atomic bombs on say, Frankfurt and Munich? Highly unlikely.

I highly recommend this series. World War II changed the face of the world, and politics, forever; and almost everything that has gone on in the world ever since the war ended has been affected and colored by the war. It was the war that made minorities in the United States–who fought, bled and died for this country in a brutal and bloody war–no longer willing to accept second class status. For many closeted queers, it gave them the opportunity to meet others like themselves, and planted the seeds for the gay neighborhoods in places like San Francisco and New Orleans and New York–gay men and lesbians no longer felt isolated and alone, knew there were others like them, and tried to make community, eventually leading to the queer rights movement. Women participated in the war and stepped up to replace the fighting men in their jobs, and soon realized they could be more than wives and mothers, chafing against their once-again restricted roles after the end of the war–which of course led to the Women’s Movement…and that’s not even taking into consideration the changes wrought in the world in geopolitical terms.

Even if you aren’t interested in watching all ten episodes, I strongly encourage everyone to watch “The Liberation of Buchenwald.” The Holocaust was real, it happened, the Western nations allowed it to happen, and it must never happen again. And if you have the capacity to even consider, for one moment, the notion that it was a hoax–fuck all the way off, and I hope your death is slow, painful, and horrific.

I kind of want to revisit Herman Wouk’s The Winds of War/War and Remembrance series; such a well done fictionalization of the war, as seen through the eyes of the Henrys, a naval family. Of course the two volumes total something like three thousand pages–I’ll never in a million years ever have the time for a deep reread–but they were amazing, and I read them as a teenager.

Yesterday I taped Susan Larson’s “My Reading Life” with Jean (J. M.) Redmann, which is always a delight. Susan is smart and fun, as is Jean, and it’s all I can do to keep up with them and not come across as a drooling idiot. But it’s always lovely to talk to Susan and Jean about books and writing, and even more delightful, Susan told me she’d enjoyed Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, which was of course the crowning jewel of my month. As you know, Constant Reader, I have constant doubts about my short story writing ability, and so getting Susan’s stamp of approval meant a lot. I’ll post a link for the show when it airs.

Today is a half-day, and after tomorrow my vacation for Thanksgiving begins. I’m hoping to get a lot done–like always–and maybe I won’t; but at least I feel confident I can get a lot of reading done. I also have my blog entries about The Hunter by Richard Stark and The Ferguson Affair by Ross MacDonald to write. I also would like to catch up on all the things–little things, nothing major–that I always seem to let slide since I don’t have much time.

LSU has also managed to maintain its number one ranking, despite the abysmal showing of the defense last Saturday against Mississippi. I saw an interview with Joe Burrow after the game in which he simply shrugged and said, “You know things have changed at LSU when we score 58 points and get over 700 yards of total offense and the locker room mood is disappointment at how badly we played.” YIKES. But I tend to agree–I was enormously disappointed by the defense in both the Vanderbilt and Mississippi games; but the offense was spectacular in both games and ordinarily I’d be aglow by those high-scoring offensive performances. Maybe it’s true; maybe we do get spoiled quickly–God knows I get annoyed when the Saints don’t play well and they’ve consistently been one of the best teams in the NFL since 2006. Sigh.

But the last two games of LSU’s season are at home, against Arkansas and Texas A&M, and if they win either of those games they clinch the West division and are going to Atlanta to play Georgia for a shot at LSU’s first SEC title since 2011. Woo-hoo!

I hope to start reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys today; today is my half-day and so I can get home earlier, possibly do some writing, and then curl up in my easy chair while I wait for Paul to get home. I still haven’t written a damned thing recently, and I really need to get back on that.

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

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Doing It All For My Baby

Well, I had two good weeks of sleeping well, and then last night…well, here we are again. It’s not as bad as it could have been, but I woke up at four and haven’t really been able to sleep again. I’m hoping this means I’ll be able to sleep tonight, but…at least I have two good weeks of sleep before the return of the insomnia.

We watched Watchmen last night after Paul got home, and i have to say, I am really enjoying this show tremendously. It’s long past time that Regina King has had such a great spotlight for her talents, and while the story has been confusing–I never read the original comic series–it’s starting to all come together a bit more for me. This week’s episode, the back story of Looking Glass, pulled a lot of the story threads together to make sense.

I also watched another two episodes of Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, these last two being the Battle of the Bulge and the Dresden Firebombing, which was truly horrific. The very idea that people in a bomb shelter basically melted in the heat, that those who took refuge in the river boiled alive, and so forth…absolutely horrific. The questions of morality raised by the Dresden firebombing, and are we becoming what they are are certainly important questions, and ones that were never really asked back in the day. How does one justify the utter destruction of a city, and over 25,000 civilian deaths? On the other hand, it’s certainly true that the Nazis waged war relentlessly on civilian populations, and their behavior in occupied land was absolutely horrific; the Nazis also showed no signs of surrendering or relenting, even as they were pushed back across their borders and defeat became inevitable; it certainly seemed as though the Germans would fight to the very last man.

And of course, we haven’t gotten to the ultimate hard question of this war: were we, the Americans, justified in the use of nuclear weapons at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?

I’ve not started reading The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead yet, but I do have it in my bag, and perhaps between clients today I can find some time to get started on it. I didn’t write (yet again) last night when I got home from the office; my laziness and lack of writing every day is beginning to concern me. It’s getting to the point that any excuse will do–and that just can’t be, you know? I have so much to get done by the end of the year, and the clock is ticking inexorably away. There’s this entire idiotic mentality I seem to have acquired that oh you’ll be on vacation next week and you’ll be able to kick it into gear again then isn’t really working for me; I should be kicking it into gear this week. But if my sleep is going to be sucking again…yeah, I can’t even bear the thought of that possibility happening again. I didn’t feel quite so well when i first woke up, but that seems to be passing somewhat. The last thing I need in the world is to get sick again.

But again, today’s goal is to empty out the inbox–if I can–and make some progress, any progress, on some project I currently am working on. Again, we’ll see how it all works out.

It inevitably, invariably, does.

I started my new journal this week as well. I’ll still have to carry the old one around with me for a while–there are too many notes for projects in progress for me to risk not having it when I need it (hmmm, this is probably a symptom of my hoarder mentality that probably needs to be worked on–perhaps a goal for the new year?)–but in this case it’s true. I’ve had so many thoughts and ideas about this manuscript, that I kind of can’t remember them all, which is why I have been writing things down. Revising and editing and rewriting, for me, is a drudgery that I have to constantly remind myself that I actually enjoy doing.

Lord.

And on that note, I think I’m going to dive headfirst into my emails. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

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