Well, Constant Reader, we certainly survived Monday, did we not? At any rate, I’m typing this for you to read later, so hopefully we survived Monday; I did, at any rate.
This has been such a weird shit-show of a year already that I’ve completely forgotten that my fifty-ninth birthday is creeping up on me. Yes sir, next week is the big 5-9 (I’ve been saying I was fifty-nine for the entire year so far already) and I don’t know if any celebration is called for; I don’t really make a to-do of my birthday, never have (they weren’t really made much of when I was a kid, and so I still to this day don’t think my birthday is a big deal) and am always kind of amazed when people actually DO make a big deal of theirs. But some years I do things on my Facebook page to indicate another year of my life has passed me by in the wink of an eye; one year I kept changing my profile picture to old pictures of me from my past. Another year I started posting my books covers to count it down. For this year, I think I am actually going to take a long weekend–my birthday falls on a Thursday, so I may take Thursday and Friday as vacation days, and take a lovely long weekend to indulge myself in reading and organizing and working on the book (yes, for me that always feels like an indulgence). I think I’m going to go ahead and start reading Lovecraft Country–I kind of feel the need to read something in the horror vein, after the stunning brilliance of Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland–and perhaps once I’ve finished that, I’ll read Babylon Berlin.
I also need to get back into the Short Story Project.
I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep well Sunday night for whatever reason there was for me to not sleep well–(whatever it was, it was annoying) so when I got home from work yesterday I was really too tired, mentally and physically, to do much of anything other than wait for Paul to come home so we could watch Babylon Berlin. There are only two episodes left, which is sad, but we’ve really been gulping them down very quickly. It’s really well done, the writing is astonishing, and there are so many characters and subplots, brilliantly interwoven within each other, that it’s quite masterful; and seriously hard to keep track of–the recaps at the beginning of each episode are enormously helpful. It’s also very dark; bad things seem to happen to all of the characters, and there never seems to be any way out of their predicaments. It’s also a remarkable depiction of Weimar Germany and the Berlin of that period; a period that really isn’t particularly well known. The world-wide economic crash is coming–the one that began in the United States with the collapse of the stock market–and so the times are about to get even darker. Season 4 is going to be quite intense, I suspect.
I slept very well last night, so hopefully today I will have the energy to deal with things that need to be dealt with. I have to admit I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so, partly due, no doubt, to medical appointments and things of that nature, and loss of sleep due to that incumbent stress, and hopefully today will be more of a normal Greg day. I like normal Greg days; in fact, I much prefer them, to be honest. I really dislike this entire switch, dependent on so many exterior factors, in what kind of day I am going to have; it’s truly unpleasant and awful. But, as I said, I feel more awake and rested this morning than I did yesterday, so here’s hoping today is a better day.
And on that note, ’tis time for me to get back into the spice mines.
Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!
So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.
Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.
Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting
Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.
The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.
Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)
Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.
The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.
Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?
But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.
The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.
And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.
The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.
And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.
What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!
I am from the South, which is probably something Constant Reader is sick of hearing about–but I feel like I always need to make that clear. While I grew up in Chicago and Kansas, I have always identified as Southern, as being from Alabama. It’s where I was born, and it’s where, as we say down here, my people are from. I was raised and shaped by natives of Alabama, who were raised and shaped and became who they were in Alabama, because of Alabama, and who identify completely as Alabamians.
I’ve now lived in the south for twenty five years this coming August 1st; even though many Southerners don’t think of New Orleans as Southern. (I would not dispute that thought, either; New Orleans is of the South but is not the same as the rest of the South…but once you cross the Orleans Parish line you are definitely back in the South, but southern Louisiana, while still similar, isn’t the same because of Acadiana.)
My relationship with the South, and with being Southern, is a complicated one, and one that I am constantly evaluating and examining, over and over again. I have pride of region, which is definitely a Southern trait; woe be to those who might condemn or stereotype or insult the region to my face. I am aware of the faults, and the flaws, and the horrors; I don’t need anyone to tell me or lecture me about its history and how it came to be the way that it is now., or of it’s racist history or of the current racism which still seems to be the majority opinion here. I’ve heard all the inbreeding jokes, and jokes about toothless people and hillbillies and white trash and people of Wal-mart and so forth; so by all means, keep them to yourselves. I also have always understood the difference between heritage and hate; I may have been very young but I remember the Civil Rights Movement vividly.
I was never a fan of Confederate statues, for example; I never understood the insistence on venerating men I didn’t consider heroes but traitors, even when I was young. I remember always thinking, but they lost, and they hated the United States, why should we revere that? The cognitive dissonance of being “patriotic Americans” while venerating those who fired upon the flag and tried to start their own country disturbed me when I was a kid and it never made sense to me, and no matter how many times the mythology of the happy slave was spoon-fed to me, whether it was Gone with the Wind (both book and movie), or any of the many other examples from fiction, film and television. The Biblical example of Pharaoh and Egypt (beyond their reject of the one God), holding the Hebrews in bondage as slaves was always right there, too.
And if might equals right, hadn’t the complete and utter defeat of the Confederacy, in such an incredibly humiliating fashion, a complete defeat that left the rebellious slave states in smoking ruins and their economy wrecked (much as Germany was after World War II), further proof that slavery and secession were wrong?
And yet it is an incredibly beautiful part of the country, whether it’s the gorgeous Smoky Mountains in Tennessee and North Carolina or the massive live oaks of New Orleans, the swamps of Louisiana andthe pine forests of Mississippi and Alabama, the lower Ozarks in Arkansas, the beaches of Alabama and Florida’s Gulf Coast. Savannah and Charleston and New Orleans are beautiful cities; the college campuses of the Southern states are breaktaking in their beauty.
Driving through Mississippi and Alabama, the countryside is so beautiful, the , with the pine tree forests and the red earth, the sloping hills and flowing rivers, that it always inspires my creative brain to think about stories and writing and books. I love the South, despite all the things that are wrong with it, because it’s also a part of me, of who I am. I love its contradictions–like how when you drive through the Smoky Mountains at night you will come across three enormous crosses rising out of the fog that announce the presence of a megachurch…and the same highway exit also plays host to Triple X Super Store.
It’s also interesting that I am returning to my first real manuscript about Alabama, set in a fictional recreation of the part of Alabama from which I came originally, while reading Kelly J. Ford’s debut novel, Cottonmouths–because even though Ford’s book is about Arkansas, the small country town and its surrounding rural area is very similar to my Alabama.
From behind, the woman standing with a guy next to the Love’s Truck Stop air pump looked like any other woman: long hair, too skinny, big purse, big sunglasses. But when the woman turned and smiled, Emily’s chest tightened and her insides tingled in a forgotten but familiar way. Rumors of Jody’s return had come as whispers around town, but until now Emily had lacked proof.
A warm breeze blew petroleum fumes and cigarette smoke into her face while she sought further confirmation of who she’d seen. Gas spilled onto her hand. Startled, she released the trigger on the pump and swiped her hand across her jeans. She sheltered her eyes from the sun to scan the parking lot. But the woman and the guy were gone.
Back on the highway, Emily tried to keep her mind as empty and barren as the farmland that rolled by. When that didn’t work, she turned up the radio and hit scan, unable to settle on the station offerings from the nearest town–country or Christian or the same four pop songs on repeat interspersed with commercials for pawn shops and car lots. Midway through the miles she punched the radio off and tried to tell herself that her new fast food job and her time at home were temporary, though she’d been back a month already.
Cottonmouths is many things, all wrapped up into a compelling story told with gorgeous language. Emily, the main character, has essentially flunked out of college and is wrestling, as so many Southern queers do, with the bipolarity of a deeply Christian small town/rural upbringing struggling against her deepest secret of desire for other women. She’s an outsider, which gives her the ability to see everyone and everything around her with brighter clarity than the insiders have the chance to see–she can see the hypocrisy in her deeply Christian town, and the abhorrence of difference, which makes her feel not only like an outsider but horribly, terribly lonely. It is this lesbian desire within her that ultimately led to her flunking out of college, an inability to come to terms with who she actually is despite being raised in a way that makes her loathe who she actually is. So she has returned to the dying little town of Drear’s Bluff, with its explosive boredom, feeling like a failure for flunking out of college and terrified to admit to people outside her parents that she has failed. She can only find a part time job working fast food in nearby Fort Smith–a job she is too ashamed to admit to her parents she has had to take.
And more than anything, she feels trapped. She wants to escape this town, escape its suffocating claustrophobia, and be free–but she needs money to do that, and without money–as is all too true for most people, she cannot escape.
The return of her best friend from high school, Jody, whom she sees at the Love’s Truck Stop, is the trigger that starts the story in motion. Jody, whom the good people of Drear’s Bluff consider “white trash”, has a baby and is unmarried and living in the old trailer parked on her family’s land. Emily’s past with Jody is also fraught; her family took Jody in when she was a teenager when her mother took off, and one night Emily made a move on her–and the next day Jody was gone, back to her mother and out of her life. This guilt has always plagued Emily; wrapped up in the strict confines of the narrow-minded Christianity she was raised with, and with Jody back now, Emily isn’t so sure what she wants or needs–but those unresolved feelings of first love and desire have now bubbled back up to the surface again.
Cottonmouths is what I would call “rural Southern noir;” while crime and criminal activity is a driving force to the story, it’s also more than that–it’s a compelling portrait of a slice of American life so many Americans it doesn’t affect do not want to face: the death of the small town way of life, the loss of employment opportunity, the collapse of hope for something better. It’s about different kinds of yearnings, and how hope can be twisted into seeing criminality as the only way out. Like Daniel Woodrell and Tom Franklin, Flannery O’Connor and so many others, Ford shows us the reality of rural Southern life; how the deep religious belief can go hand in hand with smug superiority and class warfare–how those who theoretically follow Christ, who ministered to the poor and sick, can somehow hate the poor and look down on them.
There are so many little touches here that ring so true–Love’s Truck Stops, which are scattered throughout the south along its highways and byways; the prayer circles where they drink Virgin Bloody Mary mix; the judgment for not attending church twice on Sundays and for Bible study on Wednesdays; and the viciousness of gossip and the fear that everyone will talk about you, and judge you, and laugh at you–or rather, passive-aggressively shake their heads while murmuring Christian platitudes while the gleam of enjoyment shines in their eyes.
I enjoyed this, and I am really looking forward to what comes next from Kelly J. Ford.
Well, it’s more like weeks are forever in this pandemic-riddled world in which we live these days, but onward we go.
As I often say–and you may perhaps be tired of hearing–the best writing and the best television/films always somehow give me inspiration–whether it’s to do better as a writer myself, or with story ideas. I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, as previously mentioned, has flooded me with memories of life in suburbs and in California ones, specifically. I’ve never done a lot of writing about California–the Frat Boy books are my primary novels set in California, and both Sorceress and Sleeping Angel are also set there (the latter, though, are set in a small town in the mountains rather than a small city, like Fresno, which is what I converted to the small city of Polk in the first two Frat Boy books; the coastal small city in the final Frat Boy novel is based on Santa Barbara)–so maybe I’ve done more writing than I would have initially thought about California. But I’ve never done anything suburban in California, I guess, which is the correct way of phrasing that.
And as I said to my friend Megan once, what is more noir than the suburbs?
I did finish reading Cottonmouths finally last night; more on that later, but for now I will say it is wonderful. I greatly enjoyed it, and I am really excited to sink my teeth into Blacktop Wasteland now.
I also decided to change the title of “After the Party” to “A Dirge in the Dark,” which is creepier. I didn’t like that original title, and this was a most unusual story for me in that I had started writing something that not only didn’t have a title, but one didn’t leap out at me–and for me to save the document I needed to name the file. I know, it’s insane, but that’s just how my mind works around here in the Lost Apartment; I think I have two folders in my entire computer that are “untitled noir story” and “untitled haunted house story”; which really tells me nothing so when I go in search of the files to work on them some more I would never find them–especially if I had about a million other folders with “unnamed” in the title somewhere.
Today is my work at home day–one of two–which is nice, which means I don’t need to shave or even shower, if I don’t want to–but I probably should, as it always makes me wake up and feel better just in general. I’m a bit groggy this morning, certainly more groggy than I have been the last two mornings–which is NOT a good sign by any means–but I am hoping the coffee will take care of that. I’ve not had a good deep sleep now for several nights running–I have slept, but I’ve not gone deep into the sleep; I wake up sporadically and then it takes me a while to get back to sleep, and I noticed, for example, yesterday that my legs were tired when I was climbing the steps in the house. I am sure a lot of this had to do with lack of physical activity since my gym closed, but with our cases going up again here in New Orleans (thanks, stupid people!) I am pretty confident the city is going to be shutting back down almost completely again soon, and it simply doesn’t make a lot of sense to spend the money to join a gym that may only be open again for a few days.
I guess I can start stretching here at home, doing crunches and pushups and weightless squats. It’s a thought–and seriously, anything that will help me to sleep better is certainly going to be welcomed.
It’s just so disappointing because I was really making progress at the gym before it closed for good.
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, one and all.
So, of course rather than working on Bury Me in Shadows, yesterday I spent some time writing the opening scene of a short story inspired by watching I’ll Be Gone in the Dark. This is why nothing ever gets done around here, seriously. It’s called “After the Party,” and I’m not really sure where to go with it from where I got to with it–about nine hundred words in, actually, which isn’t bad, really. But I always have to write these snippets down; they nag at my brain the way your tongue will worry a loose tooth, and nothing will get it out of my head other than to write it down.
I don’t know if it’s the show that haunts me so much as it is seeing those suburban middle class cookie cutter houses where so many of the victims of the East Area Rapist–later upgraded to the Golden State Killer–lived; having lived in a similar style house in Clovis, a suburb of Fresno, and of course, our suburb of Chicago was essentially housing developments all in the same area; Bolingbrook was never a town but was rather incorporated as a “village”; the “village of Bolingbrook”–which always struck me as a little too cutesy for words. The developments all had model houses that were “modern”–split levels, ranch houses, etc–and they had folksy names; the original one was Westbury , and I honestly don’t recall what ours was called; there was another that was townhouses and I don’t recall its name either. But the newer ones had names like Winston Woods (more expensive) and Indian Oaks (same area, less expensive) and then the newest, which start going up down the street from us a few years after we moved there: Ivanhoe, which was fancier and the most expensive of them all; the 1970’s version of McMansions, I suppose. The village of Bolingbrook grew up so fast with all those working class and middle class white people fleeing the city to get away from “crime” (read: desegregated school systems) that parents were willing to commute an hour or so up the Dan Ryan Expressway to get to work. We were bussed ten miles or so over to Romeoville for junior and senior high school; the “village” grew so quickly that Romeoville High School couldn’t accommodate everyone, and even my junior high school went to a split schedule: kids from Romeoville started junior high at 7 and classes ran till 12; the Bolingbrook kids had class from 12-5–no lunch period, homeroom, or study hall. My freshman year we got our own high school but it wasn’t finished in time for school to open; so the high school went to the same schedule: RHS from 7-12 in the morning; BHS from 12-5. It was rough for sports teams and after-school activities for both schools; pretty much everything but sports was suspended until BHS was ready for us–the gym wasn’t finished, and neither was the cafeteria and an entire wing of the school, so some classes had to make do.
It was very strange, and made even stranger because we were on a “track” system of schooling as it was, so the school could handle the student load; the village was divided into four sections, and where you lived determined which track you were on; either A, B, C, or D. Three tracks were in at all times, one track was out. You went to school for nine weeks, then rotated out for three, then back in for another nine. We were in B Track, which was kind of the best–the school system shut down for two weeks at Christmas and two weeks in the summer, and those two weeks always began right as we cycled out–so B track got five weeks in the summer and five weeks in the winter.
It was different, and for the most part, I didn’t thrive in that educational environment.
But it would also be interesting to write about.
I spent some time with Cottonmouths yesterday and am really, as I have said all along, enjoying it. But that story was nagging at my brain, and I finally had to put the book aside to write it. But I think I am willing to put aside at least an hour or so a day for reading going forward, and I look forward to not only finishing the book but giving you all the glowing book report it so richly deserves.
I’ll Be Gone in the Dark continues to enthrall–we watched another two episodes last night–and I’m already, with two episodes to go, wondering about what we will watch next. Hopefully, there’s insanely fabulous Spanish-language show just waiting for us on Netflix; perhaps something else German or French; there’s bound to be something on there somewhere.
And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have an awesome Tuesday, everyone.
So, who had “this revision won’t be as easy as Greg thought it would be” on their Gregalicious trials-and-travails bingo card?
Well, congratulations, you were correct. This reminds me of the time when I thought, oh I’ll just turn this Scotty manuscript into a Chanse, it’ll be easy and no, it really wasn’t. It was actually a nightmare, but eventually, after much anguish, stress, and aggravation, I did get it done and I was pretty pleased with the final outcome. I got up early yesterday morning and wrote an entirely new first chapter of Bury Me in Shadows, and one that was much better than any of the original attempts, so there’s that. Chapter Two was more of a slog, since I was trying to save more material so I wouldn’t have to write new material, but it’s going to need some going over again to make sure the transition from the old original story to the new is seamless. On the plus side–there’s always a plus side, even if I have to really dig deep down for it–the new material I am writing is good, and I like this iteration of the character much better than I did in the previous drafts; and his backstory is much better than it was originally. I also love the new opening. And making these changes actually eliminates a big hole in the story–something I could never really quite figure out–it was one of those things that had to happen for the story to happen, but it only made sense in THAT context, and that was driving me completely insane.
You can’t do that. It’s called “contrivance,” and there’s nothing that makes me more irritated or annoyed with a writer (or a movie or a TV show) where something happens only because it’s necessary for the story and only makes sense in that particular context. (I mean, obviously you can, and plenty of writers do, but it’s fucking lazy, and you shouldn’t, and if you do, and your editor doesn’t stop you…yeah, well.)
I also spent some time with Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, which I am really enjoying. I just wish I had more time to read, you know? I am so fucking far behind on my reading.
We also started watching HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which is very well done and very creepy. One of the things that terrifies me–which therefore also interests and fascinates me–is the concept of not being safe in your own home; that we all have this incredible illusion of security and safety in our homes–and neighborhoods, for that matter–and so we often are caught off-guard or by surprise by violence, or, as the theorists would say, the introduction of a Dionysian element into our safe, secure worlds. “The Carriage House” is that kind of story; so is “Neighborhood Alert” to a degree, as is the one I just sold, “Night Follows Night,” which is about not being safe in a supermarket because that was something I thought was interesting; you never think you aren’t safe in a bright public place full of employees and other shoppers until you actually aren’t. This is something Stephen King does very well; the introduction of something Dionysian into an ordinary, sedate, everyday kind of environment, and how normal everyday people react in those kinds of situations; some rise to the challenge, others do not.
Anyway, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is just that–a true crime documentary based on the book by the late Michelle McNamara about her investigation into the Golden State Killer, and how that all came about. When you listen to the stories of the victims, and remember what it was like in in the 1970’s for women who were raped (not that things have gotten much better since then, but at least as bad as it is now it’s not as bad as it was then–not a laurel we as a society should be resting on any time soon, frankly), but how the rapes and murders happened in these quiet middle class suburban type enclaves where no one ever expected anything bad to ever happen (I’ve always wanted to write a book based on a murder that happened in the suburb of Chicago I lived in during my early teens; the killer and one of the accomplices were students at my high school; I knew the accomplice’s two younger sisters quite well); and I also lived in Fresno during the later part of the Golden State Killer’s run–but he had moved on to Southern California by then. I was stuck by the old footage of these neighborhoods in Sacramento, and how like our neighborhood in Fresno (Clovis, actually; a suburb of Fresno) and how closed off the houses were from their neighbors and the street–with small front yards and an enormous garage in the very front of the houses, which were in U shapes. My bedroom was the other side of the U from the garage and there were bars on the windows so no one could ever come in. My curtains were always closed so I could never see out onto the street or no one could see in; every once in a while on nights when I couldn’t sleep I would scare myself by thinking if I opened the curtains someone would be there–because it was very easy to get to, even if the bars precluded anyone from getting inside. Sliding glass doors were also very popular in houses back then, if not the most secure thing to have in your house, really.
And naturally, I started writing a short story in my head while I watched, about a bickering couple who come home early from a party because they got into a fight and are still fighting as they pull into their driveway and arguing still as they go into the house where they find their fifteen year old daughter bound and gagged in the living room with the sliding glass door to the backyard and pool area open, the curtains blowing in the night breeze. I don’t know the whole story, or how it ends, or even where it goes from there–which is why I have so many unfinished short stories in my files.
There’s a tornado watch in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes this morning, which probably means rain for most (or part) of the day here as well. It seems kind of gloomy and overcast out there, but brighter than it has been the last three mornings–when it rained a lot–so we’ll see how this day goes.
But it’s Monday, the start of a new week, and here’s hoping that I’ll be able to find time to not only read this week but time to work on the manuscript. Perchance to dream, I suppose.
Looks like we made it to Friday again, Constant Reader, and believe you me, these small victories matter.
I kept thinking, last night, for some reason all evening long that it was Friday, and I’m not exactly sure why that was, to be honest. I was well aware all day, as I made go-bags for syringe access for three hours and then came back home for more condom packing (it’s not as dirty as that sounds) that it was Thursday. I’m really not sure at what point in the evening my mind decided it was Friday. AT some point while Paul and I binged this marvelous Belgian/Netflix scifi thriller called Into the Night (a Scandinavian show called The Rain didn’t last an entire episode) I realized that tomorrow (today) was actually Friday and it was quite a jolt.
It’s raining this morning–there’s a tropical storm out in the Gulf heading for Texas–Hannah, I believe is her name–and it’s heading for the southern coast of the state. We’ll be getting rain from the system apparently all weekend–they’re thinking it’ll be spread out over the weekend rather than all at once so there’s no chance of flooding, or very little, at least–so it’s a good weekend for camping out inside. I am working from home today–lots of condom packing to do (again, not as dirty or fun as it sounds)–and some other things I need to get done today for the day job. I slept pretty well last night–although at some point Scooter cuddled up to me and woke me up with his purring, and he never stopped the entire time he was lying curled up inside my arm. The coffee is helping, as it always does, but I always wonder what it’s like to be one of those people who wake up instantly.
I will never know, apparently.
Into the Night is quite entertaining, I have to say. The episodes are all between thirty-three and forty minutes long, and the premise is relatively simple. A flight to Moscow at Brussels Airport has started it’s boarding procedure when a crazed man grabs an automatic (or semi-automatic) weapon from a military guard and runs down the jetway and forces the pilot to take off, with about ten or so passengers on board. He has a crazy story that is hard to believe–he works for NATO, and something has happened to the sun so that when it rises, everyone dies when exposed to the sunlight. It sounds crazy, but slowly they begin to realize he is right, and they have to keep flying west to stay in the dark. They also face almost every possible crisis an airplane could face–I told Paul at one point, “This is like every Airport movie ever made”–but it’s done incredibly well, and the tension is completely dialed all the way up. There are only six episodes to this first season, and we made it through the first four–and stayed up later than we should to watch the fourth (hence my shock when I realized it wasn’t Friday night, but then didn’t care and watched the fourth anyway), and I am looking forward to finishing it tonight.
This weekend I intend to reread Bury Me in Shadows and also work on trying to sew together all the pieces of “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” I still want to finish reading Cottonmouths–and I have S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland on deck as well. I was also thinking I might want to reread a Travis McGee novel this weekend; those novels were a huge inspiration to me when I was creating Chanse, after all, and I really enjoyed them when I first read them. I know there are sexism issues with the books–as there is with most everything from that time period–but I think it will be interesting to reread one and catch it this time; plus I loved the writing style and the voice of Travis McGee so much I want to see if I still feel the same way now that I am thirty-some books into my own career.
I also want to reiterate that my inability to finish reading Cottonmouths is not an indication of its quality at all; it’s amazing, but I only have a very short period of time to read every day, and I am always afraid that if I start reading it I won’t want to put it down–and that is very likely, as it is very good and I know myself–and if I do that I won’t get the things done I need to get done which will cause me stress. I used to do this thing where I would read for an hour and then write for an hour and go back and forth…well, would try anyway, because as soon as the book grabbed me it was all over.
And on that note, I’d best head into the spice mines.
Tuesday morning and here we are. Life continues to move forward, the world keeps turning, the sun rises and sets, and I continue to wake up every morning…which, let’s be fair, some mornings is a victory in and of itself.
I managed to get the Secret Project sent off yesterday, so we now we play the waiting game to see if it’s actually wanted. It was, quite actually, a lot of fun to do (I say now that it’s done) and I actually wound up taking 8000 words, polishing and revising, and wound up with 16,000. That was a lot of work to get done in one weekend, if I do say so myself, and I am feeling rather smug about it right now, thank you very much; it’s been awhile since I’ve felt smug about writing, so bear with me and let me have this for today, thank you very much.
And now, of course, I am free to get back to work on those pesky unfinished manuscripts that are just lying around, thank you very much, Baby Jesus.
I was exhausted yesterday and so slept really well last night; so I think today will be a better day than yesterday was. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se, but I was tired all day and when I’m tired I’m more prone to being emotionally on edge, which means I am constantly biting my tongue because I don’t want to snap at people for something that I wouldn’t ordinarily snap at someone for when I am not tired, which is a rather long run-on sentence. When I got home from work I retired into my easy chair to relax, which is what I pretty much did the entire evening (other than some filing, which I did when I got home). Dark Desire took a sudden turn in the episodes we watched last night, which was cool as I was beginning to get bored with its Fatal Attraction-type plot; these turns made it into something entirely different, which was very cool, and sparked my interest in watching again.
So, now it’s back to Bury Me in Shadows this coming weekend; this week I’m going to rest up my creative novel energies while messing around with some of the many short stories I’ve been thinking about but haven’t finished writing. It’s actually been a lovely year or so (not calendar, twelve months) of short story writing for me; even since I started the Short Story Project several years ago, where I decided to seriously focus on my short story writing while reading as many as I could, I’ve been doing fairly well with my short story writing–so much so that when I start thinking about the stories I’ve sold and published since turning in my last collection to my publisher, I inevitably forget some; I know when I was listing them the other day I forget a couple that were published last year–which puts me even closer to another collection than I thought I was. Maybe I’ll start making a more comprehensive list of those stories this week; and then go through the unfinished ones to determine which to include, so I’ll have a starting place and a plan–and you know, Constant Reader, I am all about having a plan.
And having the proposal finished has felt enormously freeing; I certainly feel as though a burden has been lifted from me this morning (I was too tired to really feel the relief yesterday) and I am excited to get back to my other writings again. I want to finish reading Cottonmouths so I can move on to the new book on the very top of my TBR pile: S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, which I’ve been dying to read since its publication was first announced. I loved his novel My Darkest Prayer, which I read last year and thought was quite marvelous; and this new one has been getting raves everywhere, which is most exciting.
There are tropical things out there forming; one off the Texas coast, one deep south in the Caribbean Sea, and one out in the Atlantic. We’re going to feel their effects here in New Orleans undoubtedly; we always get something from them if they enter the Gulf of Mexico. One of the things I always dislike intensely about hurricane season is how it exposes our innate selfishness; we always want the hurricanes to go somewhere else–which means we are wishing death and destruction on faceless others. I’ve never been comfortable completely with that, nor with the relief that comes when a storm turns into a direction that means we’re out of danger.
But that’s all a part and parcel of life in the storm zone; the hurricane belt or whatever you want to call it (I don’t recall at the moment if they’ve ever given those of us on the Gulf Coast who are always in danger during the season a name, like Tornado Alley) and God knows I certainly am not in the mood or have any desire to deal with an evacuation of any kind this season–although it’s always a possibility. This year is the fifteen year anniversary of Katrina.
And yesterday was Paul’s and my twenty-fifth anniversary, which we celebrated by doing absolutely nothing other than bingeing episodes of Dark Desire.
And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me.
Anyway, my shoulder is still sore this morning and in a little while I am going to close my browser–I like going dark on the weekends from social media and email; it makes my weekends ever so much more relaxing and I am able to get so much more done than if I have everything open on my computer. My goal is to get the Secret Project finished this weekend–there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to, other than laziness–as long as I don’t allow distractions to rear their ugly heads. My new milk frother–I know you’ve all been wondering about it since I mentioned it yesterday–got its first trial run this morning and it is quite marvelous. The first one was a low-cost no brand and very inexpensive; I decided to go with a more expensive one this time around and so far, it’s earning its keep.
I slept well again last night, although my shoulder is still sore from the vaccination on Thursday, but the icky feeling I experienced the rest of that day is long gone, thank the heavens. We also watched almost all of the final season of Dark last night; we only have the series finale left, and its really very good; riveting, hard to tear your eyes away from (and not just because of the subtitles; I am learning that shows with subtitles require your full attention, since listening doesn’t do any good) and I’ve also started picking up phrases and words that I recognize from studying German as a teenager. It would actually, if I have any desire to become bilingual, make sense to study German again; since I have a background in it….although I still would prefer to learn Italian.
Paul is also going into the office today to work on a grant, so I also have the house to myself today–yet another reason to turn off the Internet. I still have some cleaning to do around the house as well–and there’s always filing that needs to be done–but I am hopeful that I won’t spend the day falling into an organizational wormhole. (It happens, trust me.) And while I would like to spend some time at some point with the top drawer of my filing cabinet (having already taken on the bottom drawer last weekend) I am going to use that as the carrot for getting work done on the Secret Project this weekend–as well as reading some more of Cottonmouths. I also have to run to the post office today–some things I ordered arrived yesterday–and I also need to get gas and air up one of my car tires (it has had a slow leak ever since I bought the car, and of course my lazy ass has never done anything about it other than airing it up again); which means going out into the heat and humidity, which is so draining and soul-destroying. I’m having dinner tomorrow night with a friend in from out of town–socially distancing ourselves from each other, of course–but this will also be my first experience eating out at a restaurant since, well, since I went to New York in January for the MWA board meeting (Paul and I rarely go out to eat–generally we just get it to go on those rare occasions when I don’t cook). I know how bizarre that must seem, given we live in a city stuffed to bursting with terrific places to eat, but I genuinely like to cook and have no problem with doing so.
It really is amazing, now that I am actually thinking about it, how far off course I’ve gotten this year with everything I wanted to get done. Sure, I’ve sold some short stories (always a pleasure!) but I’ve also not gotten a lot of things done that I had wanted to get done. Bury Me in Shadows is still languishing, waiting to be completely overhauled; the Kansas book is doing much the same; and while I did make some progress on Chlorine, I am nowhere near as far along this year as I would have hoped. Granted, MWA business has taken a lot more time than I thought it would, and of course, the pandemic and all those months of being ill didn’t help matters much. We haven’t found a new gym, because we aren’t sure how long whatever gym we might join would remain open after joining; COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Louisiana and have started rising again here in Orleans Parish. I also know I shouldn’t beat myself up over this stuff because there is no right way to handle a pandemic, or any of the PTSD it brought along with it. Now that I am feeling healthy and myself again, of course, I have to play catch up with everything, but I can’t help but bemoan somewhat all the lost time from this year. I’m not getting any younger–next month I will be fifty-nine, with sixty just one short year away–and if I want to accomplish as much as I want to accomplish in what time i have left, I really need to stop wasting time.
On the other hand, there’s also the point that I should try to at the very least enjoy the time I have left on this planet. Who knows? I could get killed in a car accident today on the way to and from the postal service. Man plans, after all, and the gods laugh.
I’ve also been wondering lately about the next Scotty book–should there be another Scotty book–and have actually been thinking about going back in time and writing a book that would fit between Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carre Voodoo. I’ve never done a Scotty post-Katrina book, and have only vaguely referenced that period in his life–but then I think, well, you don’t really have much memory of that time any more left in your brain anymore and you did a Chanse book set in the post-Katrina city, so why bother revisiting that with Scotty? Wasn’t the whole reason you never did one in the first place because you couldn’t figure out how to do a light, funny book set in that time period?
So, yeah, there’s that. It’s more likely that I’ll do a pandemic murder mystery with Scotty–Quarter Quarantine Quadrille has a lovely ring to it–but of course, it’s kind of hard to do such a book without knowing how the pandemic is going to end–how and when. But I did leave the Scotty personal story on a cliff-hanger, and I have to do something about that. My original, pre-pandemic thought, was to do a book based around the Hard Rock Hotel collapse (remember that? No one else seems to); after all, one of the husbands of the Grande Dames from the last book was a shyster developer, and Canal Street Canard also has a nice ring to it–and then I could always do the pandemic book right after it.
It’s a thought, anyway. I also have titles for numerous Scotty books for the years to come…but perhaps at some point it will be time to let him and the boys retire.
And on that note, I am going back into the spice mines. I’m going to read Cottonmouths until it’s time to run my errand, and then I’ll come home, shower and dive into the Secret Project. May you have a lovely, restful, peaceful Saturday, Constant Reader.
And we made it to Friday once again, hopefully healthy and in one piece and mentally stable–that last one is always a bit, shall we say, questionable, for me as a rule? I am taking a vacation day from work today–it was a work at home day (why would one Gregalicious, you might well ask, take a vacation day when I would be working from home? Pay close attention and I shall tell you) anyway and there are all sorts of reasons for this. For one, yesterday was an incredibly low energy day for me. I got up early to have my bloodwork done, then picked up prescriptions and got my shingles vaccine shot. I spent the morning doing what i usually do from home in the mornings–reading articles, checking my work email, doing my timesheet, etc.–then went into the office to make “works’ bags for the syringe access program. As we have ascertained plenty of times before, standing for long periods of time isn’t the best for me, nor is standing while bending over, and my shoulder began to hurt from the vaccine shot. By the time I was finished I was very tired, did a few more things around the office, and headed home. They had warned me that the vaccine might give me mild flu-like symptoms, and that wasn’t a lie. Last night I felt like I had a mild flu, and so my mind couldn’t focus, so I stayed in my easy chair and watched television for most of the night before going to be relatively early. The insomnia has also come back over the last two nights, but I am hoping that this morning I’ll be okay. I don’t feel tired this morning, despite waking up in fits and starts since about two thirty, and the house is a disaster area.
And because of yesterday, I have about a gazillion emails to answer. YIKES. Once I finish this, I am heading into my emails. Pray for me, Constant Reader, pray for me.
But it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day outside–hellishly hot, of course–but I can see through all the trees up to a clear blue sky. We’ve had torrential thunderstorms every day this week–which I love–but it might be nice to have a day where poor Paul doesn’t get soaked on his way to and/or from work, the poor thing. I also have to launder the bed linens today–which is my every Friday chore–and I am determined that this is the weekend where I get the Secret Project finished if it kills me. I don’t have any errands that I have to run this weekend–I do have to get the mail Saturday and get gas and air up a tire–but that’s not a terrible, exhausting, put-me-out-of-the-mood-to-do-anything else chore, like making groceries, and even if it is, well, Paul will be out of the house on Saturday anyway; he has a grant to finish and he told me last night he’d probably have to go in on Saturday anyway. So, I should be able to finish reading Cottonmouths this weekend at last, and then I can move on to another book in my TBR pile. I may focus on short stories for a while, since those are more easily gulped down–and I do have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on hand, as well as Lawrence Block’s latest (well, not the latest; there’s been a new one since I got this one) anthology, and those are always a lovely read.
I’ve also decided to put any and all short stories I am working on to the back burner until I get the Secret Project finished.
Over all, it was a pretty good week. I am very pleased that I am stepping up to take control of my health; the doctor visit was terrific; and as I mentioned earlier I am getting the two-step shingles vaccine–and since Paul had shingles about nine years or so ago, that’s something I definitely don’t ever want to suffer through. We’ll see how long this I can conquer the world mood I am feeling this morning lasts. I am hopeful it will last all day, myself–I am going to spend the morning dealing with emails and organizing and cleaning; as I mentioned the kitchen is a disaster area.
And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines.