How You Get The Girl

Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.

The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.

My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.

Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.

The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.

Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.

The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.

I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.

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

Control

So, we’ve got tickets to the LSU-Florida game for tomorrow night! Saturday night in Death Valley! Number 5 LSU taking on Number 7 Florida in a battle of the unbeatens! SEC and national implications! Woo-hoo! I mean, Tiger Stadium is always fun–but it is going to be rocking Saturday night.

Needless to say, it was quite a pleasant surprise when Paul got home last night and proceeded to tell me that we were being gifted with tickets to perhaps the biggest game played this season in Baton Rouge. I am, as I am sure you can tell, incredibly excited about this.

HUZZAH!

I came to a realization last night also, as I was pulling Bury Me in Shadows together–that maybe, just maybe, I am rushing to get the book turned in and maybe I should relax, take some of the pressure off myself, and do a more thorough job of revising/editing/pulling it together. Sigh. I’ll think about it tonight–Paul is going to the Mortuary haunted house with some friends, and so I’ll be home this evening all alone; so I might just take the laptop and the manuscript and sit in my easy chair while streaming a football game or a movie or something for background noise and read through the last fifteen chapters a little bit more, see if there’s more that needs to be added. I’m going to have most of the day tomorrow before we leave for the game as well to work on revisions and additions and so forth, too, so there is that.

I have to say, writing and editing and revising is something I truly enjoy; and maybe that’s why I’ve been sleeping so well lately–I did wake up a few times throughout the night last night, but I was able to get back to sleep without much trouble; I feel terrifically rested this morning too, which of course is absolutely lovely. I think a lot of my sleep issues stem from the inability to turn off my brain–and if I’m writing or revising or editing, that exhausts my brain’s creativity synapses so I am able to shut down completely when I go to bed. It certainly has worked that way this week, and for about the last two weeks, all told, really, and it’s quite lovely. If this means I have to write or do something creative every day so I can sleep well every night, so be it. The worst thing that can happen is I’ll get a lot of work done.

Yeah, there are definitely worse things than that, right?

I’ve also fallen behind on my reading–it’s not easy for me to both read and write a lot at the same time, and I do want to get Deliverance finished at some point this weekend, so I can move on to one of Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s terrific novels, either Certain Dark Things or Gods of Jade and Shadow; I’ll decide when I get to it, I suppose. I try to read horror during the month of October–I am also way behind on my Stephen King reading–and have been enjoying going back through The Haunting of Hill House this month (which is also part of the reason I’ve not been able to finish Deliverance), and there’s no reason I can’t combine October horror with the Diversity Project, either. There are so many good books in my TBR pile–I really don’t need to buy anything new for quite some time, and really shouldn’t, not with all these books on hand that I have yet to get to. I am also way behind on reading some of my other favorite authors as well–Michael Koryta, for example, and Donna Andrews for another–so there’s really not much reason for me to buy any more books, quite frankly, for quite some time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I love buying books!

I’m also still reading Ready to Hang as part of my New Orleans history reading. I am now reading about the murder of district attorney J. Ward Gurley, in the chapter titled “A Problem in Good and Evil” (which is an amazing title which I might have to purloin), and this morning I came across this sentence:

There was a murder in New Orleans nearly every day, but seldom was the district attorney the victim.

This was in 1903! And people talk about the murder rate in New Orleans now, like the city is sliding into lawlessness and danger–when the city averaged almost a murder a day one hundred and sixteen years ago…which proves the point I’m slowly starting to understand more and more, the more history of the city I read: New Orleans has always been a dark city with a crime problem, almost from the very beginning.

That isn’t to say that the city shouldn’t work on lowering our crime rate by any means; but the fact that the city has historically been a hotbed of crime puts the hand-wringing over our current crime situation into a rather different light, doesn’t it?

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


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Heart and Soul

Friday morning and here we are at the end of the week! HUZZAH!

LSU plays tomorrow morning at the ungodly hour of eleven a.m., which is usually when I run to the grocery store and do my errands, which means they’ll either have to wait until Sunday or until after the game–and I think we all know that means they’ll be waiting until Sunday, don’t we?

As always I have a lot to get done this weekend, and an early game time for LSU means probably the entire day will wind up being wasted–there’s also the Auburn-Florida game following directly after–and so I’ll probably wind up sitting in my easy chair for most of the day with Deliverance near at hand for me to read. I need to reread Bury Me in Shadows this weekend as well, but I have to pay very close attention to that one as it’s a revision reread, so watching between plays and during commercial breaks doesn’t exactly loan itself to a thorough, line by line reread. I will undoubtedly be horrified by some of the bad paragraphs and sentences as I do reread it. I think when i get home from work tonight I’ll try to get my cleaning done, and once the laundry is going and the kitchen is free of clutter and dirty dishes, I might be able to sit down with it for a bit before I start making dinner (Swedish meatballs tonight). I’d like to finish reading Deliverance so I can reread The Haunting of Hill House, which I do every October–it will also help me with the rewrite of Bury Me in Shadows to be rereading something so Gothic and scary.

I’m still on the first chapter of Ready to Hang–“Murder in Basin Street”–and enjoying it immensely. I really do like the idea of me writing some period pieces set in New Orleans; the more I read of this city’s dark and morbid history, the more I love the city.

I’m also realizing how much the volunteer project wore me out, and that I’m still recovering from all the fatigue resultant from that work. It’s cool, though, as I said; I’m glad to have done it despite the fact it threw me behind on everything and wore me out so completely. I did some really good work there, and I’m pretty pleased with it all. I started writing again this week, seriously writing, and that felt really good. I always forget how much I actually enjoy writing when I’m not. I always dread it, and try to push it off, but I’m that way about everything that requires effort (see: not setting foot in the gym for months) and am always glad I did it once I have.

Tonight we’re going to get caught up on the shows we’re watching–American Horror Story: 1984, etc.–and there should also be a new episode of Murder in the Bayou and Saturdays in the South, which is always fun to watch. I also want to get some writing done this weekend in addition to the revise reread of Bury Me in Shadows. 

We’ll see. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!

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Only in My Dreams

Sliding into Wednesday and pay day–or as it’s known around the Lost Apartment, Pay the Bills Day. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I sent in two stories for submission yesterday, which is always a lovely accomplishment. One is for a blind read so I can’t talk about that one, but the other is “The Dreadful Scott Decision,” for an anthology I was asked to write a story for. I’m never quite sure if that means we’re taking your story or what, but I tend to never take anything for granted when it comes to this literally insane industry I find myself a part of these days. And even more exciting, I woke up to a very pleased editor and a congratulatory email re: “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” Always lovely, particularly when one has little to no self-confidence when it comes to writing short stories.

I won’t find out about the other one for months. As it is a blind read, I can’t really talk about the story, but it’s for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology, this time being edited by one of my writing heroes, Michael Koryta. Getting into an MWA anthology is one of my bucket list items, and while I’ve submitted numerous stories to them over the years, I have yet to get into one. The competition is fierce, of course; there are only so many slots and lots of entries, which is what makes getting into one a major accomplishment. It probably won’t help in the self-confidence area for more than a day or two, of course, but one also never knows.

I also started revising another short story last night, which I’m probably going to try to get submitted somewhere today. I think this week’s focus is going to be on revising short stories, to cleanse my palette before I dive back into the manuscript of one of the books I’ve got in progress. Since the LSU game is so early on Saturday, I can spend the rest of the day rereading Bury Me in Shadows and making notes while flipping back and forth between other college games–I only have to give LSU my full attention, after all. I think Auburn and Florida are playing Saturday as well; both are in the top ten, and both are on LSU’s upcoming schedule. Auburn looked really good spanking Mississippi State last weekend–their offense looked very much like LSU’s, frankly, scoring at will–which means Auburn-LSU is going to be another one of those heart-stopping shootouts.

Then again, Auburn-LSU has always been a heart attack game, pretty much coming down to the last minute of every game most of the time.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday, but it’s not really grabbing me yet–but then, they haven’t gone into the wilderness so far.

We finished watching The Politician last night, which took a really surprising–and highly entertaining–turn last night, with the additions of Judith Light and Bette Midler to the cast to set up season two, which I wasn’t so sure about going into last night’s episode. but they did a truly terrific job of jumping ahead a few years, and letting us see what was going on with the kids from the high school now that they’re in college…and, like I said, they did an amazing job setting up the second season.

I’m also finished reading Lords of Misrule as well, which takes the history of Carnival (and it’s racial politics) up to the year before I came to my first Carnival, and two years before I finally moved here and got my life started. Since that’s also the approximate time period for my story “Never Kiss a Stranger,” reading this has been enormously helpful. It catches me off guard a little that the 1990’s is now so far away; kids born in the 1990’s are in college now, after all–are old enough to marry and have their own kids.

I also realized, last night as I was reading after we finished watching The Politician, that it’s October, which is when I usually read horror fiction–and since starting the Diversity Project, I was waiting for October to read some diverse horror. So, I will try to get Deliverance finished this week, do my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, probably over this weekend, and then next week I am going to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things, or her more recent Gods of Jade and Shadow.

And since today is Pay Day, I should probably go pay the bills. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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The Lady in Red

Tuesday morning.

I started reading Deliverance yesterday between clients, and while it’s not the sort of thing I typically read, an argument can be made that it is, in fact, a very dark crime novel; even noir, if you will. I’ll undoubtedly write more about that once I finish reading it, but it’s interesting thus far, and Dickey also proves the maxim I’ve held for quite some time–that poets make amazing fiction writers because they understand the music in language. I am not a poet–I don’t have the ear for it, and have never grasped the basic concepts of it, and my mind just doesn’t think that way.

We’re almost finished with The Politician. There’s only one episode left in this first season, which we will watch tonight, and then we’ll go back to Succession or watching one of the network shows we watch that have since returned. I was very tired last night when I got home from work–I hit a wall at one point yesterday afternoon–and wasn’t really able to get too much done before hitting the bed. I did revise the short story again yesterday. It’s due today, so before I head into the office today I’ll go over it one more time before sending it in to the editors. I don’t know if it’s any good–as I have repeatedly said, I am not the best judge of my own work–so I won’t be terribly disappointed if they decide against using it. I have another story I need to get revised–well, make that two stories I need to revise–and of course, now that it’s October, I need to start revising a manuscript for a novel. The question is, which one? Heavy heaving sigh. Tomorrow is a half-day for me, so I’ll probably hit the grocery store on the way home from the office and then will retire to my easy chair to reread Bury Me in Shadows. 

Although the Kansas book is also kind of calling to me. Hmmmm.

LSU plays Utah State with a very early start time on Saturday; the next weekend is Florida at night in Death Valley. The Saints continue to chug along, even without Drew Brees, so this could wind up being a terrific football season for Louisiana football fans.

I can also tell that the seasons are beginning to change somewhat. It gets light much later than it used to when I wake up on my early mornings, and it’s now dark when I come home from work. This makes my two lengthy days seem much worse than they did when I was going to work and coming home in the sunlight. There’s something soul-destroying about going to work in the dark and coming home in the dark, like you’ve missed the entire day. And while on Mondays and Tuesdays I have indeed missed the entire day while being inside at work, it seems so much worse when it’s been dark for hours by the time I get off work. I know it’s a mental thing, and part of the reason I dislike the winter season so much–I dislike the shorter sunlight hours. It’s also starting to be cooler–there was hardly any humidity yesterday, and it was so cold in the office I was actually looking forward to going outside to move my car yesterday afternoon. It was certainly warmer outside, but the humidity was gone, and so going outside wasn’t like getting slapped in the face with a wet woolen blanket the way it has been since April or May.

I am also hopeful today I am going to get my inbox finally cleaned out so I can be finished with my emails once and for all.

An old man can dream, can’t he? Let me have this one.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For

Monday morning. I don’t feel tired this morning; we’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we? The Saints won a squeaker last night, 12-10, but they did end up winning the game despite scoring no touchdowns–when was the last time that happened?–and I went to bed shortly thereafter. We continued watching The Politician, and predictably, it’s plot has became more scattered the deeper into the season we get, like so many other shows from Ryan Murphy. We’ re still watching because it’s entertaining enough, and the acting is top-notch, and we only have a few more episodes to go before it’s finished.

I also am almost finished reading James Gill’s Lords of Misrule, which will probably be finished tomorrow. I haven’t decided what my next fiction read will be just yet–I started pulling James Dickey’s Deliverance down from the shelves last night, but couldn’t make myself start reading it. I was quite young when I saw the movie–we saw it at the drive-in, and I don’t remember what the earlier feature was, but I do remember I fell asleep while it was playing and only woke up near the end, not knowing what had happened. Deliverance was one of those movies whose plot became a part of the zeitgeist; people today may not completely know where the reference comes from, but any time someone mentions being somewhere so rural “you can almost hear the banjoes”–it’s a reference to Deliverance. It also may be James Dickey the poet’s only work of fiction; I don’t know how true that is or isn’t, but it certainly used to be true.

I also finished watching episode three of Murder in the Bayou yesterday, which has also given me some ideas (along with the thinking about Deliverance) for my own book, Bury Me in Shadows, which is what I actually think I’m going to work on for the month of October. The Kansas book is still messing with my head. I can’t figure out what to do with the plot and there are so many different ways I could revise that story that I think it might be best to leave that mess alone for now. I still want to get it finished and out of my hair, but if I can’t decide precisely how to move forward with it, well, that makes it a little more difficult to get it finished.

I need to revise my short story today, and then give it some polish tomorrow before turning it in. It’s kind of a mess right now, but I am confident once I reread it today and make some notes, it’ll all fall into place for me. The pieces are all there, but they aren’t in the right place as of yet, and that’ll have to result in some moving of shit around to make the story more cohesive. I also need to work on that other story; I think I need to change its ending in order to make it more powerful.

And now it’s off to the shower to get ready for my day. It’s a long one, alas; but I am confident I can make it through to the other side.

Like there’s a choice or something. 😉

Happy Monday, Constant Reader!

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Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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I’d Really Love to See You Tonight

I never used to have trouble with my sinuses, or allergies, or any of that; at least that I recall. But I would think I would remember having these horrible headaches, that reach down into my jaw, or the constant dripping and coughing and the fevers and the eyes burning and all that comes with sinus infections or allergies. I think it was sometime after 2001 that it happened the first time; the weather changed and spring sprung and suddenly I was feverish and coughing and my nose was running and a friend told me it was sinus-related; and that the best way to deal with it was taking stinging nettles. I thought it was weird, but on my way home I stopped at Walgreens and bought a bottle of stinging nettles in capsule form. I took two and within half an hour all of my symptoms were gone.

Like the whole thing had been a figment of my imagination.

The nettles worked so well that I started taking them every day even if I didn’t sense symptoms; along with my multi-vitamins and my workout supplements and other vitamins and fish oil and so forth, I took two capsules of nettles. It worked for years, but as time passed and I grew older, the nettles stopped being effective and I switched to Claritin-D, which is the only thing since the nettles that I’ve found that helps. But you can break Claritin-D down into something approximating crystal meth (I don’t know how it works or how you do it; I’ve never watched Breaking Bad) and so now the government keeps track of how much you can buy; you have to present ID and if its too soon after the last time you bought some…they won’t sell it to you. I’ve never quite been able to figure out how the limit works–I suppose I could research it on-line–but the bottom line of it is I treat my Claritin-D like gold. I won’t even let Paul have one, in case I need one and I’m out and it’s too soon to buy more. I used to try to buy some every time I pick up prescriptions to stockpile it so I will always have it when I need it; I’ve slacked off on that and this recent sinus infection has reminded me of the importance of having stock.

So, much as I would simply like to take a Claritin-D every day during the spring, I can’t because one-a-day is above the government monthly allowance. So, when my sinuses start reacting and we have heavy weather like we did over the weekend, because I am worried I might run out of it sometime when I really need it, I don’t take it preemptively and wind up with yet another sinus infection. So, note to self: when I can, I am going to buy more. And I am going to put a bottle of stinging nettles on the list, too. It can’t hurt to take it every day, supplementing with a Claritin-D as needed.

It’s also insane that anything I can get with a prescription doesn’t work as well. In all seriousness, make it a prescription medication again. Wouldn’t usage being easier to track and people using it to make drugs be easier to stop if there has to be a prescription filed in order for it to be obtained for use?

I don’t know, just spitballing here.

In case you couldn’t tell, Constant Reader, I still feel lousy and I am feeling pretty damned crabby over the whole thing. I had to use two days of sick time  and probably two days of being productive in other ways by being sick. Heavy heaving sigh.

I actually feel worse this morning than I did yesterday; my hope is this will all clear up somehow before tomorrow so I can go back to work and stop using sick time. My sinuses feel okay today, so that’s something; but it’s the rest that needs to clear up. My joints ache, I’m still feverish, and I had to get up in the middle of the night to throw up–yeah, that was lovely. I am going to be eating chicken soup today for lunch; I tend to not eat when I am sick, which makes me even weaker.

Again, lovely.

But I did get to read some more of Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday between bouts of dozing off and feeling sick; I’d read until I couldn’t focus and then put it aside. I might just curl up in my easy chair today with a blanket and watch movies; Bonnie & Clyde, All the President’s Men, and Deliverance are all available to stream from Netflix, and I’ve been wanting to see them all again. I’ve never seen Bonnie & Clyde in the theatrical cut, only seeing the badly butchered edited for television version, and since reading Mark Harris’ brilliant Pictures at a Revolution: Five Movies and the Birth of New Hollywood I’ve been wanting to see all five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar for 1967–some again, some for the first time (I’ve never seen In the Heat of the Night, which won). Maybe if I can’t focus on reading…

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Sara Smile

Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.

I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.

I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?

Apparently, not a very good one.

I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that)I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.

And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and  not just in reading, but in life. 

I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.

I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.

The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?

My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.

So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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