American Girl

Hello work-at-home Thursday, how are you doing?

I’m starting to get used to the loss of the trees, but it isn’t even so much the loss of the green, leafy view or the increased light that bothers me the most about the loss of the crepe myrtles. I’ve realized that, despite the fact that the trees didn’t completely shield the house next door or its carriage house from view, they provided enough of a shield for me to feel like I had privacy while I was sitting at my desk. I could see the upstairs windows next doors, but not clearly; it was more of a vague awareness that they were there. Now I can see into them–not that much, really, because of the angle–which of course means anyone standing in those windows or looking out of them can also look directly down at me at my desk, writing or cleaning or reading or whatever the hell it is I do there when I sit there.

And that I do not like one bit.

So, yes, I’m going to have to invest in blinds, I suppose. I can just use them for the upper half of the windows–the lower half doesn’t really need covering, to shield them from either the sun or the next door upstairs neighbors. Am I happy about it? Not in the least. But it has to be done, or next summer is going to be les miserables in the kitchen. It gets too hot in there as it is, and I’m probably also going to have to invest in more portable air conditioners as well. Heavy heaving sigh.

So, apparently a sexual assault scandal is currently looming over the LSU football program, tracing back to Derrius Guice–who was recently dropped by whatever team had drafted him into the NFL after he was arrested for domestic violence–horrifying stuff, really–which revealed that he’d been accused twice of rape while he was a student at LSU and allegedly the school and athletic department covered it up. This was during the time the wretched Joe Alleva was the athletic director there, and given that he was responsible for the insanity and disaster that the the Duke lacrosse team sexual assault scandal, it doesn’t surprise me in the least. The fact LSU hired him. with that scandal on his resume, remains a mystery to me. I may be a loyal Tiger fan who bleeds purple and gold, but this needs to be thoroughly investigated and there needs to be accountability. This kind of shit doesn’t belong anywhere in college, let alone in college athletics, and the covering up of bad behavior by star athletes by colleges and professional sports needs to stop, period.

Seriously, enough of this boys will be boys bullshit. Boys who get away with shit because they’re boys become men who think they can get away with shit, and this becomes a societal problem.

I am really tired of sex crimes involving college sports, frankly–or any sport, for that matter.

And now I am thinking I should write a book about college sports and a sex crime, because of course I am.

I could, of course, call it Boys Will Be Boys.

Hmmmm some more.

My back is a little sore this week, I’m not sure if it’s from the gym and working out–I noticed it yesterday, when I woke up, and went to the gym anyway, so this morning it’s a little worse–but it’s not an injury injury; this is just intense muscle soreness, so I’ll be using the heating pad this afternoon as I make condom packs. It did feel lovely going to the gym after work yesterday and working out–I’m really getting back into this–and we started watching Murder on Middle Beach last night on HBO; a documentary series this young filmmaker did about his mother’s brutal murder, which was weird; both oddly intimate and deeply personal, and incredibly sad at the same time. I couldn’t imagine dealing with my mom being murdered, and then writing a true crime book about it, but then, who knows? It’s an interesting premise for a true crime documentary, but one that begs the question of objectivity; how can you be objective when you’re so deeply personally involved with almost everyone you’ll be talking to, interviewing, and filming? And–God help me–I did think to myself, well, someone making a documentary series about their mother’s murder is also a great book premise, isn’t it?

I also took the time last night after the gym, as I waited for Paul to come home, to read two more stories from Lawrence Block’s anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy. The theme of the anthology is, of course, crimes in academia; the first story, by none other than Rambo creator David Morrell–whom I’ve met and is a very nice man–was quite good. The next two stories in the book were by authors I’d not read before, Jane Hamilton and Warren Moore. (Moore has had stories in other Block anthologies I’ve read; I’ve not read any of his novels, is what I meant here.) I’d heard of Ms. Hamilton before; she’s a quite critically acclaimed literary novelists, and best known to me as the author of The Short History of a Prince. Both stories were interesting. Ms. Hamilton’s was built around an advanced creative writing course in a small, failing liberal arts college, while Moore’s was built around the end of an academic conference–with a recently defended, new Ph. D. trying to find a job in academia giving a ride to a long tenured leader in their field, and what the young man thinks about as they talk about careers in academia, with the bitter reality of the younger man’s existence in sharp contrast to the comfortable established existence the older man has achieved. Hamilton’s story, “Writing Maeve Dubinsky,” doesn’t really seem like a crime story–the actual crime is a very small one, not even a misdemeanor, although it deeply affects the lives of the characters of the story (imagine coming to your writing class and discovering that one of your classmates had stolen your journal and written a story about your relationship)–the best part of the story was I remembered in exquisite detail the agony of workshopping one of your stories in a classroom setting–and also put me in mind of thinking about other stories for me to write. The Moore story, “Alt-Ac” (the title refers to Ph.D’s who have to find jobs outside of academia: “alternate to academic”) was also astonishingly dark and bitter about the diploma mill modern colleges have become, saddling students with massive amounts of debt they can never repay while giving them degrees that are essentially useless when it comes to finding work in the real world, particularly since there are so few jobs in academia and there are fewer of those jobs all of the time (seriously, the fact that Katrina came along and finished off any thoughts I had about pursuing further education and possibly teaching on the collegiate level was quite a gift to me, and one I never truly appreciated until lately), but it was also incredibly spot on.

I do find it interesting that in all the talk about student debt and so forth, no one ever talks about revamping or overhauling our higher education system–or improving it; that system is just as rotten and outdated as other societal institutions that need overhauling and repair.

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

Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

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

Too Late for Goodbyes

Well, we made it to Friday, didn’t we? I do feel sometimes as though wishing for the weekend, or counting the days until payday, is kind of wishing my life away. (My mother used to tell me that when I was younger, and it’s one of those things I’ve never forgotten. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’m not sure. Most of my mother’s sayings are like that; my favorite being always expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed. I’m never sure if that means lower your expectations to avoid disappointment, or if it means the opposite–if you always think the worst is going to happen you’ll make it happen? So confusing. But most of these came from her incredibly pragmatic mother, so I tend to think the former rather than the latter in this case.)

I wrote close to three thousand words yesterday; and yet felt disappointed with my output. Two thirds of them were my short story “Burning Crosses,” which I am enjoying but again am struggling to write and the rest were on the next chapter of the Scotty book, which I actually enjoyed writing. I am hoping to get both this story and maybe two chapters of the Scotty finished this weekend; I want to do some cleaning as well (quelle surprise) and I want to finish reading my Bryan Camp novel so I can blog about it before the release next week. It’s really good, and you NEED to preorder it. Seriously.

I’ve gone back to streaming The Shannara Chronicles, and have seriously gotten sucked into the show. I’ve now watched the first episode of Season Two, and am liking the direction it’s taking. I don’t remember the books; I only read the first two–The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara–and I think the show was culled from the second book on. Paul’s back home now, so it’s going to be tricky watching shows he’s not watching; the Festivals are over and he won’t be home late anymore or working on the weekends.

For the Short Story Project, I offer the following two stories:

First up is “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” by David Morrell,  from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Van Dorn’s work was controversial, of course. The scandal his paintings caused among Parisian artists in the late 1800s provided the stuff of legend. Disdaining conventions, thrusting beyond accepted theories, Van Dorn seized upon the essentials of his craft to which he’d devoted his soul. Color, design, and texture. With those principles in mind, he created portraits and landscapes so different, so innovative, that their subjects seemed merely an excuse for Van Dorn to put paint upon canvas. His brilliant colors, applied in passionate splotches and swirls, often so thick that they projected an eighth of an inch from the canvas in the manner of a bas-relief, so dominated the viewer’s perception that the person or scene depicted seemed secondary to technique.

Impressionism, the prevailing avant-garde theory of the late 1800s, imitated the eye’s tendency to perceive the edges of peripheral objects as blurs. Van Dorn went one step further and so emphasized the lack of distinction among objects that they seemed to melt together, to merge into an interconnected, pantheistic universe of color. The branches of a Van Dorn tree became ectoplasmic tentacles, thrusting toward the sky and the grass, just as tentacles from the sky and the grass thrust toward the tree, all melding together in a radiant swirl. He seemed to address himself not to the illusions of light but to  reality itself, or at least his theory of it. The tree is the sky, his technique asserted. The grass is the tree, and the sky is grass. All is one.

David Morrell is a long time best selling author, and I’ve met him several times; he’s an incredibly nice man. He’ll always be known as the author of First Blood–he calls himself “Rambo’s Father,” but he’s enjoyed a lot of success throughout his career. This story is one of my favorites from this collection, and perhaps one of the top five new stories I’ve read for the Short Story Project. It’s fan-fucking-tastic; a story about art and obsession and madness and genius; I could devote an entire entry to simply unpacking and deconstructing the themes and symbols and metaphors in this fucking brilliant story. Alive in Shape and Color is a fantastic collection, frankly, that if you like short stories you should definitely read; but this story is so good I would tell you this book is worth the cover price in order to read this story alone. I fricking loved it. LOVED it.

Next up was “The Preacher Collects,” By Gail Levin, from Lawrence Block’s In Sunlight and In Shadow:

They call me “Reverend Sanborn.” I was born Arthayet R. Sanborn, Jr., in Manchester, New Hampshire, sone of Arthayer and Annie Quimby Sanborn. I graduated from Gordon College, a good Christian school in Wenham, Massachusetts, and in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, before I went to Nyack, New York, where I led the First Baptist Church, located on North Broadway. My job came with the security of a home, just next to the church, where I lived with my wife, Ruth, and our four children.

Before long I met at church our neighbor and long-time parishioner, Marion Louise Hopper. An aging spinster, she lived alone in her family’s old house next door to the church. She liked to boast that her younger brother, and only sibling, was a famous artist, named Edward. Edward Hopper, however, appeared to want as little as possible to do with Nyack and his sister.

I didn’t care for this story as much as some others, but it’s well written. It’s about a minister who basically robs Edward Hopper’s work from his sister, who still lives in the family home, but we never really get a sense of why he does this, his justifications for it, and it just moves from this to that to there to this to that to there; it was kind of emotionally flat for me. Of course, I also read this right after the Morrell story in the other collection, and it may very well be that affected my perception of this story. I’ll give it another go at some point, which would be only fair.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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