Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

You Choose

So, we finished watching Dark last night.

It is, quite frankly, superb.

Netflix is, frankly, killing it with their original programming, and since I’ve finally conquered my issues with subtitles, the foreign language Netflix shows we’ve been watching–from Boy Toy to Elite to Dark–are far superior to the shows from American Netflix (with, of course, the exception of the magnificent Chilling Adventures of Sabrina and the original seasons of Stranger Things).

Dark was being suggested to me regularly by Netflix–because it’s the kind of thing I would enjoy, obviously–for years now; but the German language/subtitles thing always made me choose not to watch. The premise of the show also seemed, well, a bit on the cliche side, frankly; a small German town where kids disappear in the woods. Was it a mystery show about a serial killer? A horror show, like Stranger Things? What precisely was it? Finally, last week Paul and I decided to give it the old “one or two episodes” rule, and within minutes, we were completely sucked into it.

It begins as a mystery; a teenage boy has gone missing without a trace in the small south German town of Winden. Our main character, Jonas, has recently returned home from what was essentially a brief stay in a mental hospital after having a breakdown upon finding his father’s dead body earlier that same year (his father hung himself). While Jonas has been gone, his girlfriend Martha has started dating another guy in their friend group, Bartosz. One night, the group of friends decide to sneak into the woods nearby; the missing boy Erik was a drug dealer and Magnus (Martha’s brother) and Bartosz believe they know where Erik kept his stash; stuffed into an abandoned reclining chair near the cave. The town main industry is a nuclear power plant. Magnus and Martha’s parents are a police detective and the school principal; there is also a parents’ meeting townhall at the school on the same night; the babysitter is sick, so Magnus and Martha are forced to take their younger brother Mikkel with them into the woods. They find the drugs; there’s a weird, scary sound from inside the cave and their flashlights go on the blink. They all take off running–but eventually discover Mikkel isn’t with them, and they can’t find him anywhere.

Is there a serial killer out there preying on young boys, or is something even creepier going on?

It also rains a lot in Winden. An awful lot, and no one ever seems to mind being caught out in it–so much so that I started commenting on it.

Jonas, Martha and Bartosz

But the problem with talking about Dark is the issue of spoilers; part of the joy of the show is being surprised when the twists come–and they literally are so surprising that each one completely changes the show and how you watch it. It turns out, of course, that there is a thirty-three cycle of young boys disappearing–kind of like It–and it is all connected. It’s confusing in the first episode or two because there are so many characters and so much going and two different timelines, but once you get used to it, it’s fascinating to follow.

Everything is connected, so you really do have to pay attention.

One of the things I love the most about the show is how it depicts small town life–how grudges from childhood can last for decades; how everyone’s lives are interconnected; and all the dark secrets everyone is keeping. It’s also filmed and scored beautifully; the camera angles are surprising but visually stunning, and the writing is incredibly smart. The acting is also terrific, and so is the casting. It’s amazing how they were able to find talented actors to play the same roles as younger and older who actually looked like the older version of the younger character and the younger version of the older character. I do highly recommend the show; it lasts for three amazing seasons, which is precisely how long it takes to wrap up the story.

Leave it to the Germans to do a crime/suspense/thriller/horror/scifi show based in logic, reason, science and philosophy that is compelling and impossible to stop watching.

The View from Your Balcony

And here we go, Sunday and a new week. Huzzah, I suppose.

Yesterday was actually a very good day. Not only did I manage to get some work done on the Secret Project, I got some excellent work done on the Secret Project. It was quite a relief, actually; I’ve tried this first fucking chapter I don’t know how many times and could never get it right; plus I could never get the voice right, it seemed. I despaired, in fact, that I would ever get this under control. But yesterday I opened the most recent draft of the first chapter, started reading it, and thought oh no this will NOT do at all and started fixing it; reordering things, and finding the character’s voice in the process. Before I knew it several hours had passed and not only had I gotten the first chapter under control and whipped into shape, I’d managed to do the same with the second.

This was, as you can imagine, an enormous relief. I can’t speak for other authors, but I always fear it’s going to go away–the ability to construct decent stories and realistic characters and how to write something good, quite frankly. It’s why lovely feedback, like I got recently with the two short stories I sold, is so beneficial and helpful; it also always seems to come around when I need it the most.

It also helps that I wasn’t distracted, and could absolutely focus on what I was doing. Focus is so crucially important, and I have so little time where I can actually sit at my computer, ignore the cat’s whines for attention, and focus on what I’m doing; whenever I can I see everything so clearly and the work is so much better. The times, alas, this year when I have that ability, that clarity of focus, to write, seem to be few and far between.

I did also realize this morning as I lay in bed lazily waiting for the mood to get up to strike, that I am well on my way to having another collection of previous published short stories ready. Granted, some of them haven’t seen print yet–and might not until next year–but some of them have: “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”,”This Town”, “The Carriage House”, “Night Follows Night”, “The Dreadful Scott Decision”–and there are three more still out on submission, although one has already been accepted, but I have no idea when that will ever see print–“A Whisper from the Graveyard”–and the other two–“Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness” will inevitably and undoubtedly be rejected; those two were submitted to literary fiction markets and we’ve already ascertained , numerous times throughout my life, that I am not a literary writer. There may even be more that I am not even thinking about right now–I’m still on my first cappuccino, don’t you dare judge me–but that’s nearly ten stories, and I generally think of a collection being somewhere between sixteen to twenty; unless there’s a novella included. (I’ve decided that “Once a Tiger,” the Chanse short story, is really a novella, and if I ever do finish writing it–and the other novellas–I’ll probably just bind them all into one volume.)

Last night we finished watching Dark, which is superb (it’s so good it deserves its own entry) and then we watch Andy Samberg’s Palm Springs on Hulu, which was a cute little piece of fluff with some truly funny moments, and then moved onto another Mexican crime show, Dark Desire, which also stars Alejandro Spietzer, the gorgeous actor (pictured below) who was also the star of The Club–and is also dating Ester Exposito, who played Carla so superbly in Elite. It’s quite interesting so far–we’re two episodes in–and will continue with it. It’s so weird how we pay more attention to foreign language shows because of having to read the subtitles, while if whatever we are watching is in English, I’ll periodically reach for the iPad.

I’m also having dinner with a writer friend tonight who is in from out of town; so I need to make sure I get all the chores finished and get the rest of these chapters done on the Secret Project, so I can start writing the proposal and then it’s out of my damned hair.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Receta-HOT-Ensalada-de-manzana-al-estilo-Alejandro-.jpg

Yesterday, When I Was Mad

Saturday! S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y, night!

Ah, the Bay City Rollers.

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.

That’s My Impression

Wednesday morning and we’ve somehow survived to the midpoint of yet another week; another hellaciously hot week in July, for those of us here in New Orleans.

I rewatched Mildred Pierce the other night for the first time in years (how much do I love the TCM app on HBO MAX? A LOT) and as I watched–Crawford really was terrific in the part, and the movie is so well done it actually is an enjoyable experience (although I really wish, at the end, as Bert and Mildred walk out of the police station, he would have said to her,”Let’s get stinko!” the way he did in the book; it would have made for a better ending) and it could have easily lapsed into melodrama; in the hands of a lesser writer and director, it undoubtedly would have. But it also struck me, as I watched the film, how markedly different it is from its source material, James M. Cain’s masterful novel, and that most people remember the film more so than the book. Also, it’s incredibly rare for the film version of a novel to veer so drastically from the source material, while both book and film are considered classics (perhaps the other, and best, example of this is Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, and the marvelous film version directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame; again, enormous changes but both are excellent in and of themselves.)

The most interesting thing to me, at least in recent years, about Mildred Pierce is the character of Veda. Veda is fascinating; the daughter as noir femme fatale, which is a fascinating turn on noir. Ann Blythe does a great job playing her in the film, and it’s been a hot minute since I’ve read the book (in the To Be Reread pile), so I don’t know or remember if in the book there are any explanations as to why Veda was so awful; and I worry that in my mind I’m conflating the film with the book. When I do get around to rereading the book, I am going to pay more attention to Veda. In the movie Bert comments in the beginning, that Mildred puts the children ahead of him as well as complains that Veda is spoiled…the younger daughter, Kay–soon to die tragically from pneumonia–is “worth more than Veda will ever be.” As I have pondered about Veda, I’ve wondered if in the book Mildred favored Kay and Bert favored Veda–which would of course cause resentment in Veda, towards both Mildred and Kay.

I really need to reread that book.

I went to the doctor yesterday–actually, I saw a nurse practitioner, as the new doctor I was assigned to when my old doctor moved to Utah didn’t stay with the practice when it was recently sold (it’s very complicated; I supposedly was sent a letter alerting me to these changes, but I never received it) and when I finally called them last week to try to get the mess straightened out (one of my 2020 goals was to get all my medical stuff handled and under control and to continue, moving forward, staying on top of this and my health–ha ha ha ha, as the old saying goes; man plans and God laughs)–but I was able to see a nurse practitioner yesterday and can I just say, damn? It was the most thorough examination I’ve ever had, she was asked lots of questions, and we talked about a lot of things. Usually, they’d take my vitals, “how you doing” and then boom, out the door. The nurse practitioner actually discussed things–my lengthy illness that came and went, starting at Carnival and ending recently–she had X-rays of my lungs and chest done; got the process started for both my colonoscopy and a mammogram (I have a lump in both pecs; they’ve been there for a long time and have never grown at all–the doctors always just said, “it’s a fatty cyst” and left alone; she was the first to say “well, why don’t we make sure that’s all it is”); I had an EKG done to make sure my heart is operating properly: she felt everywhere for lumps–underarms, groin, throat; checked out ears and nose–I mean, I actually felt like I got my money’s worth out of an exam for once. But my blood pressure was good for once, which was lovely, and after the lengthy discussion about my lengthy illness, she added a different test to my regular bloodwork, to check for septicemia; as some of the symptoms I experienced could have been from an infection of some sort that could still be lurking around.

Hey, I’m all for it. Like I said, my main goal for this year it to take better care of myself and take my health more seriously.

Last night we lost the wifi with eight minutes left of the season two finale of Dark, which, as you can imagine, was enormously frustrating. I cannot rave about this show enough; but the primary problem with talking about it is that it is hard to explain how intricately clever it is without giving away spoilers–and believe me, going in blind and knowing very little about the story is WAY fun. The writing is pinpoint, and as I said, I cannot imagine how much work it is keeping the relationships, the characters, and the storylines all straight because it’s very hard as a viewer. The one thing I can say–without spoiling anything–is there’s a cycle of disappearances of children; every thirty-three years–and so while the show begins primarily set in the present, like Stephen King’s It, eventually it begins to also show what happened thirty-three years before….and you have to remember, everything is always connected. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and smart. We’re really enjoying it.

I also took Cottonmouths with me to read while I was waiting at the doctor’s–you inevitably always have to wait, and I prefer to read rather than play on my phone–and it really is quite a wonderfully written novel. Kelly. J. Ford is an excellent writer with a very strong sense of place; and place is always important to me as a reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

We Came from Outer Space

Tuesday morning, and I am feeling human still–which is such a vast improvement over how I felt most of this year, quite frankly. I cannot believe how shitty I felt, and for how long, and somehow managed to operate and continue my life somehow. It’s so wonderful to feel like a human being again. I was telling a co-worker yesterday that part of it was the worry of it was just from getting older and it had happened so gradually I hadn’t noticed until it was so impossible to miss; and quite frankly the thought that the rest of my life was going to be just that low energy level of exhaustion where my muscles were so tired they were listless and all of my joints ached was almost enough to make me sob about the future and the rest of my life.

I worked on the Secret Project last night some more, although I am beginning to suspect that I will never be completely satisfied and will continue to fiddle with it ad nauseum ad finitum. It’s a lovely method of self-destruction I’ve managed to work into my brain that feels creative and like I’m working, when what I am actually doing is perpetually doubting myself and second-guessing everything I am doing with it.

But at least now that I’ve realized I’m self-sabotaging again, perhaps I can move on?

One would hope, at any rate.

Dark continues to be quite marvelous. It is absolutely riveting to watch, and it’s such a German show, with how it intertwines philosophy and science and grafts it onto an incredibly compelling (and tragic) human drama on quite a scale–which seems to grow even larger with every episode, particularly as all the secrets, long held and terrible, of the personal lives of the residents of the small town–secrets and lies and resentments–going back in some cases generations and decades, are slowly exposed. It’s quite good, and I’ve never seen anything quite like it before.

As Paul said last night, “leave it to the Germans to come up with a show based in philosophy and science that is compelling.”

I have a doctor’s appointment, long postponed due to the virus, this afternoon; it’s a regular check-up thing and it is also tied to rescheduling my colonoscopy, which was supposed to take place in early April but again, was postponed. I need my prescriptions refilled, of course, and so that is an important part of my visit, and I am meeting with a nurse practitioner in the practice (my doctor is no longer there) who will also help me get reassigned to another doctor there. I was supposedly notified of all these changes by letter–I was not–and it took a while to get this all figured out and straightened out, but today I have an appointment that is another step in the right direction and I am quite pleased about it, frankly.

I am taking Cottonmouths with me to the doctor’s office to read during the interminable waits one must always endure when at the doctor’s office–which is one of the reasons I am so anal and resistant to making my clients wait at the day-job, frankly; it always feels like time wasted, and I hate wasting time when it’s not my personal choice to waste said time. At least having the book with me will help make me feel like the time is being spent productively, as reading is never a waste of time. I am disappointed in myself for taking so long to read this book–my TBR pile is far too large, and continuing to grow–which I want to emphasize has nothing to do with the quality of the book but everything to do with my inability to focus and concentrate (which is also why I am not being productive with my writing, either). S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is on its way to me now, and I want to be able to read it as soon as I can–I read his first novel and greatly enjoyed it; this new one is getting a lot of buzz this summer, which indicates to me that it’s even better than the first, which was phenomenally good for a first novel–and of course, there are any number of other books in my TBR pile that are calling my name every day, begging to be read.

There’s also a part of me (that I am resisting) that keeps telling me I should sign contracts for the two in-progress manuscripts I have on hand, otherwise I shall never finish writing them. I have been thus far successful in resisting this urge, which would inevitably become the cause of great stress for me; but not having them finished and hanging over my head is also a stressor for me as well, so I suppose the question becomes, which stress would be greater? Inevitably, I am self-aware enough that each would be equally stressful, but whichever stress I choose I will eventually come to decide is greater than the other, unchosen one, would be.

Sometimes, self-awareness isn’t that terrific, quite frankly.

And now off to the spice mines. Enjoy your Tuesday, Constant Reader.

The Sound of the Atom Splitting

And here we are at Monday again. Yesterday, much to my dismay, I realized my recent observation about this summer being hotter than normal was correct. Yesterday was the first time–at least that I am aware of–for the city of New Orleans to be under a heat warning, rather than a heat advisory. I actually didn’t know what a heat warning was, so I grimly went to the Google to look it up, and, in case you’re interested, it means a period when the heat index–the combination of heat plus humidity; what it feels like outside–is in excess of 113 for extended periods of time. Yes, it gets hot here, but I don’t recall it being quite that hot before.

Oh, it was set for 10 a.m. to eight p.m. When you’re in a heat warning, you’re advised to not go outside more than you absolutely have to–and outdoor workers are warned to stay hydrated and watch for signs of heat exhaustion/dehydration sickness.

Again: NOT NORMAL.

We are also in a heat advisory today for the same time period. I do recall being in heat advisories before–it usually means we can wear shorts and T-shirts to work–that have lasted a week or two, but it was almost always late July or sometime in August. Never this early in July, and again–a heat warning?

I only went outside twice–once to take the recycling, and a second series during which I lit the charcoal and cooked burgers and cheese dogs–and opening the door to the outside literally felt like opening the oven door to take out a pizza or something. I am actually dreading having to walk out to the car, from the car to the elevators at work, and reversing the process to come home later on in the day. My face felt blasted just from that little time I was outside, and our section of the yard outside the house is pretty well shaded and rarely in direct sunlight.

And it’s only mid-July-ish.

We started watching season two of Dark, this marvelous German show that is rather hard to describe; it’s speculative fiction but it’s also an extraordinary human drama as well. It’s difficult to get into at first, as there are a lot of characters and it can be confusing as the story blocks get set into place and motion, but once it does, it’s riveting. And it’s filmed so well that even those first few episodes of the first season, that are a bit confusing, are riveting because of the use of music, camera angles, shots, and mood, and the acting is pretty stellar as well. I honestly didn’t see how they could do a second season–but the second season is actually better than the first, as we are still finding out exactly what is going on and how everything is all linked together. It reminds me of Orphan Black and Killing Eve in that way; that the show constantly confounds expectations and keeps springing surprises on you.

There’s a forty percent chance of rain this morning, and given how grayish it is outside my windows right now I’m thinking it’s probably a lot higher than that in actuality. We’re also supposed to be subject to thunderstorms tonight as well–which should cool things down a bit–and we’re also forecast to have rain every night until Friday, when the sunshine returns to broil us all alive.

I did not, of course, get any writing done this weekend; but I did make definite progress on the road to getting thoroughly organized, and while that might seem counter-productive, it’s actually kind of helpful in that it helps reset my mind, and knowing I know where things are and I am not surrounded by chaos helps. Then again, the world is in chaos, but like after Katrina, controlling my own environment helps me in some little ways. I hate that my gym went out of business–I really do–and both Paul and I have agreed there isn’t much point to joining another one (there’s one down on Magazine that’s a slightly longer walk than my old gym) until we know for a fact the possibility of shelter-in-place is no longer looming over our heads. I should go back to doing little things to keep myself physically active–stretching, push ups, abs–but on the mornings when I have to go to the office, it’s really all I can do to get up and get my shit together before I head down to the office.

I also didn’t read at all over the weekend. I fear that I am passively giving the impression that Cottonmouths is not a good read–it is–it’s just that it’s hard for me to focus when I am finished with work for the day…but I am going to try to read a chapter a day until it’s finished; that’s the goal for this week, and since I now have some other things that I also want to get to, am hopeful this will be the motivation I need.

And on that note, tis off to the shower and get ready to start the day. may your Monday be whatever you need it to be, Constant Reader.

This Must Be The Place I Waited Years to Leave

Ah, Sunday morning, how are you doing out there, Constant Reader?

I spent some time, as I threatened yesterday morning, with the bottom drawer of my file cabinet. I found all kinds of interesting things in there–as well as a lot of junk. I also found something interesting–something I’d completely forgotten about; an episodic soap I wrote to entertain my friends in college that I called The Young and the Pointless. There were three seasons of four page episodes containing several scenes that would last about three paragraphs each; and while I’m not sure that’s necessarily as entertaining as it was back then–my friends used to hound me for new episodes, probably because I used them as the characters by using the metric “If so-and-so was a character on an actual soap, what kind of character would they be?” and it actually worked–seeing it reminded me of something I learned as a writing lesson from actually doing it: basically, that soap characters are basically archetypes (hero, heroine, bitch, bastard, anti-hero, etc etc etc) and that Agatha Christie was also right in her Miss Marple books about being able to recognize behavior from observing human behavior in the past. (Miss Marple’s shrewd and keen-eyes observations about human behavior was almost always spot on, and when I read the books as a teenager I didn’t believe this could be true–that it was a poetic, literary license Christie took. Marple would always starts off by giving some anecdote about someone she knew in the past, “She reminds me of the Fielding girl…” and compare how the Fielding girl’s behavior was something she recognized in someone current, and was inevitably right. The older I’ve gotten, the more I find that to be true.)

It’s funny, but I always think that I never really started writing until about 1998 or so; when I started Murder in the Rue Dauphine, but the truth is I was always writing, my entire life. And I have the ancient files to prove it.

I also kind of had the ambition to be a soap writer back then. Apparently, at some point in my life I’ve wanted to write everything, it seems. You name it, at some point I wanted to write it.

Yesterday was lovely; while it is very tempting to spend today working on the top drawer of the filing cabinet, I decided that is a one-day-per-weekend chore, and so I am saving the top drawer for next week. The end goal is to get rid of duplicate files–they are legion–as well as get rid of things I no longer have any need for. The organizing of the files is, of course, key; my goal is to get rid of almost all of these files cluttered around my desk and free up my inbox by moving things into an easily accessible system. I probably also should go through my files quarterly as a reminder of things that I don’t want to forget about; plus I found all kinds of things that could prove incredibly useful for current projects…and that is, quite frankly, lovely.

We finished watching the first season of Dark last night, and I must say, this show is quite extraordinary. The cliff-hanger at the end was pretty amazing, as well. We then watched Netflix’ Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga, which we really enjoyed for a silly movie about Eurovision–and the original music was fantastic. There was also an enormous production number at a party where several songs were mashed up together–“Believe” by Cher, “Ray of Light” by Madonna, “Since You’ve Been Gone” by Kelly Clarkson, and “Waterloo” by ABBA, if not more–which also featured former Eurovision winners and contestants that was quite marvelous. It’s not very deep, and sometimes it’s just silly (it is a Will Farrell movie, after all) but Rachel McAdams is quite exceptional. If she does her own singing, I am even more impressed–and there’s also a terrific cameo by Demi Lovato.

We are in a heat advisory this morning in New Orleans–hurray for July!–so I had planned on barbecuing later this afternoon, but am not sure it would be advisable for me to be outside in the heat around more heat, given the Dehydration Sickness of last month. Then again, I know how to handle that now, so there is that.

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

Was It Worth It?

I’ve always been a reader; my earliest (and most of the happiest) memories of my early years is of reading books that I deeply loved. I think it was the 4th grade where I really began to read series books of mysteries for kids; I’m not sure which was the first one, but it was either The Three Investigators’ The Mystery of the Moaning Cave or Trixie Belden’s The Read Trailer Mystery. When I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the rest, I decided I not only wanted to be a writer when I grew up but wanted to write a similar type series. I wrote my very first “book” in the fifth grade, called The Mystery of the Haunted Mansion, and of course it was really derivative and more of a pastiche; I don’t remember the name of my main character, but I had a friend type it up for me, and then I bound it inside cardboard and drew a cover for it (which I still remember; it was basically a rip off of the original cover for Nancy Drew’s The Ghost of Blackwood Hall). The concept of a mystery series for kids has never really left me, and always periodically came up again throughout my life…until I actually started writing seriously. About fourteen years ago I thought about it again; going so far as to actually come up with a series character…and it came up again in conversation with a friend who actually writes middle grade the other day (That Bitch Ford, to be exact) and the idea has continued to swirl in my head ever since. Yesterday morning, I went through my horribly disorganized file cabinet, looking for the file folder labeled KIDS’ SERIES and took it out of the file. Inside are yellowed pages of book synopses, lists of possible titles, characters, different series…and as I paged through it, I also found traces of things that eventually showed up in my work since I actually became a published writer: the name of a town, character names, etc.

But I moved the file from the cabinet and put it in my inbox; at some point, perhaps this weekend, I’ll start going through it and seeing what might actually be of use to me. It’s not something I’m going to work on now–heavens no, there’s still too much else I have to write that I am already behind on–but it’s something to think about for the future, for sure.

And as I glanced over some of the titles, some of them were clearly “inspired/influenced” by Scooby Doo Where Are You and Jonny Quest. One–The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost–may have even been used in the Ken Holt series; I’d have to check to be certain, but I definitely think so. (And yes, I know titles cannot be copyrighted; both Ken Holt and The Three Investigators uncovered The Secret of Skeleton Island, for example) And I literally just watched the Jonny Quest episode with the gargoyle last week (on my list of titles is The Mystery of the Stone Gargoyle), and there’s also one called The Mystery of the Lost Crusade–I have thought, for many years, about writing a Colin stand alone called The Lost Crusade–and now I see that I had come up with that very title at least fifteen years earlier, before it swam up to my consciousness again. And surely The Witch of the Swamp was inspired by a Scooby Doo Where Are You episode I rewatched lately, about a witch in a swamp. And there’s The Mystery of the Crying Nun–I currently have a short story in progress called “The Crying Nun” (it’s a New Orleans ghost story). And The Mystery of the Haunted Airport was definitely a rip-off of a Scooby gang adventure.

There’s even detailed character descriptions, and plot summaries for more than ten of the “books.”

Something worth exploring, since I have nothing else to do.

We watched another episode of Dark last night, and boy, you have to hand it to the Germans when it comes to atmosphere and creepiness. They are slowly but surely explaining what is actually going on in this little German town–we’re only two episodes in–and the lovely thing is it’s most likely, based on last night’s episode, nothing we were thinking it was going to be. I love shows that surprise you like this; Orphan Black was really good at this, and I love having no idea where the story is going or what could possibly happen next. Those shows inevitably end up being my favorites to watch.

I slept very well again last night, and am working from home today with a lot of things to get done for the day job as well as a lot of things to get done for various things this weekend–both writing wise and volunteer wise–and I also have to make groceries at some point this weekend as well. The summer weather has finally kicked into it’s usual high gear–I don’t know why it always blindsides me every year, but there you have it–and so going out into the heat to do anything is always an energy-suck and exhausting. I also want to get deeper into my reading of Kelly Ford’s wonderful Cottonmouths–I’m not sure why I am having so much trouble focusing on reading this summer, but there it is–and think next will be a reread of Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree. I’m also going to spend some time culling the books again this weekend, even though there’s no place for me to take them to donate because of the pandemic. I also need to take some bags of beads to the donation drop for those as well–which will also be a lot of fun in the heat, yay–but it’s just clutter, you know.

And the thing is I want to declutter, and it’s not like we’ll go the rest of our lives never getting more beads. Catching them is more fun than keeping them, anyway.

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