Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)

Thursday! Yesterday was strange; I was enormously tired all day, it felt like I’d never woken up mentally the entire day. I wasn’t physically tired, I was mentally tired all day, and had little or no energy. I guess I didn’t get good rest on Tuesday night, despite sleeping fairly well. As such, I made little to no progress on anything yesterday.

The other night Paul and I watched the documentary Dancer, about Russian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. (I guess that makes him a ballerino, which term has never really caught on; most male ballet dancers are just called ballet dancers, which is interesting.) The documentary was pretty amazing; particularly when it focused on showing him dance. I will be the first to admit that I have not watched nearly as much ballet as I would like to have; not as many ballets are recorded on film as perhaps we should wish. I have spent time on Youtube watching Nureyev and Baryshnikov and the gorgeous Italian Roberto Bolle, which is how I originally came across “Take Me to Church,” the video of Polunin dancing to the song and shot by Dave LaChappelle (if you haven’t seen it, you really need to; the things he can do–how high he can leap, how gracefully he can spin–just take your breath away). I really do want to write a noir about ballet; it’s on the list of things I want to write.

Sergei:

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Roberto Bolle:

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I will never, I fear, have the time to write all the books I want to write. This is one of the reasons I always beat myself up when I have either an unproductive day (yesterday) or a lazy one (say, last weekend, for example). But I somehow cannot write every day; no matter how much I try. I need to get focused on finishing my short story “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” and I need to start getting the Scotty rewritten as well as some work done on the WIP. July is slipping through my fingers, and with less than three full weeks left, time is running out. Which is how I then start berating myself and sliding into negativity, which usually correlates with self-flagellation, and a further downward spiral.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But, as I said earlier in the week, I did have a massive breakthrough on both the WIP and the Scotty; both are going to take some serious work, but I feel confident that I can get them done. Just not so confident that I can get them done by the end of this month, but hey, focus is the key. I want to get the short story finished, or at least a draft of it, before I can focus totally on the Scotty; and I really need to reread the entire WIP from start to finish, to make notes and figure out what and where can be salvaged and what needs to be jettisoned.

But I do highly recommend Dancer. I think, even if you aren’t a ballet fan or don’t know anything about ballet, if you’re an artist of any sort you would enjoy it; it’s really about sacrifice in the name of art and success; Sergei was separated from his family at a very early age in order to pursue his talent for dancing–the sacrifices his own family made are extraordinary (his went to Portugal to work to pay for the training; his grandmother moved to Greece to do the same, and neither saw their family for years; his family never even had the opportunity to see him dance after he went away to London to train) and how the enormous early success, plus not having any family to ground him, caused him to crash and burn–not in a dramatic way, he just had an emotional breakdown and walked away from his career not once, but twice.

One of the things I found most interesting was his own take on things–basically, he reached the pinnacle of dance at an early age, and then, what was there left to achieve? Which is an interesting concept, an interesting question, for any artist: when you’ve reached the top of your field, or produced your best work, what do you do next?  I kind of crashed and burned early last year, which resulted in a desultory year where I not only didn’t write but didn’t really want to; it is incredibly easy to fall into that trap. I failed to see the point in it anymore, and I once heard myself saying to someone during that miserable year, well, I’ve published this many books, no one can ever take that away from me, I will always be an author no matter what, and as the words came out, as I heard them, they bothered me.

It took me a while to realize that they bothered me because I hadn’t accomplished everything I had set out to do when I decided to take writing seriously some twenty-odd years ago; and there was a hint of resignation and defeat in the words. But I do think last year was necessary, for my personal growth as well as my professional. It made me take stock of things, made me remember what I wanted, and even though it took me a long while to get to a point where I was ready to write again and felt invigorated and recharged enough to do so.

I do feel like the work I am doing now is some of the best of my career thus far; so there is also that. Maybe I’m fooling myself and maybe I am not; we shall see.

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

 

Live to Tell

Well, yesterday was a complete wash as far writing is concerned. I did write about 200 words on the Scotty book, but it was one of those things where once I started trying I could tell I wasn’t going to get very far with it. I was not feeling it, as some might say, and there’s simply no point to forcing it on those days unless I particularly want to feel incredibly frustrated.

And I didn’t want to feel that way.  So, I didn’t try to force it.  Sometimes I can force it and, as Stephen King so aptly put it in Misery, the page will open and I will fall into it. Other days, not so much. Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

Not being able to, apparently, write yesterday led me to trying to be productive in some manner, so I started going through old stories and partial drafts of work-in-progress to see if there was anything that could provide a base for this short story I want to write for a market on my bucket-list (I don’t know why I’m being coy; it’s Cemetery Dance). I always forget that I hand-wrote and then manually typed about twenty or thirty short stories (or fragments of short stories) in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s; I paid someone to type them up as Word documents about ten years ago in case any of them might be usable, reworkable, etc. (They are all terrible…there’s nothing quite so humbling as going back and reading things you wrote years before you knew how to really write.) I printed out about five or six that had potential–based on my memory of them–and I intend to read them over this weekend and see if, indeed, there is anything worth salvaging in them.

I do need to say that one of these longer stories became my novel Sorceress, and some of the others were salvaged and turned into something else, so this is not without precedent….hell, I wrote three chapters of a horror novel back then called The Enchantress that eventually became the foundation of my novel Dark Tide. (In fact, I had turned one of those chapters into a short story, which is one of those I printed out last night.) I don’t think the short story adaptation works, but just remembering the story again made me remember that failed attempt at a novel, and also it was actually a pretty good idea, maybe now you should revisit it?

And this is how, Constant Reader, my creative ADD gets out of control. Last night I was watching documentaries–one was for curiosity; but it triggered a reminder of a book I wanted to write, so the entire time I was sitting there watching it I was also scribbling notes for the book idea. When that documentary finished, I started watching another one, and again, this documentary–I only got about twenty minutes into it–solved an issue with another book idea I had, and made that particular book idea–one I hope to write later this year–even better than it was originally.

This is, of course, kind of exciting…if you don’t take into consideration the fact that I am already writing two novels and have the next one planned as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also want to finish reading this damned Roth novel. There are so many other things I want to read, but I am stubbornly determined to finish reading this damned book.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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This Town

It’s Friday morning in New Orleans, and I slept fitfully; but when I did sleep, it was terrific. I only have to work a half-day today, which is lovely, and tonight I am hoping to not only get a chance to read some more of Rebecca Chance’s lovely Killer Affair, but to get further in the line edit as well. This weekend my plan is to work on the line edit and clean, alternating between the two, which hopefully will do the trick. I’ve not gotten as far along this week on anything that I’d hoped; the weekly to-do list is a complete and utter disaster. The good news this week was that our renewed passports arrived (hurray!), I got some great books–everything from the new Michael Connelly to Eric Ambler to Chester Himes–to add to the TBR pile, and the latest short story is really taking a good shape, one with which I am really and truly pleased.

My short stories are much darker than my novels. The WIP, currently being line edited, has little to no humor in it; at least none that I’m aware of–but then again I am not the best judge of that. I love to tell the story of my New Orleans Noir story, “Annunciation Shotgun,” which I thought  was this dark, unsettling tale, and continued thinking so until at a reading for the anthology, Chris Wiltz, one of the other contributors (her story, “Night Taxi,” is quite chilling) said to me, “Oh, I loved your story! It’s so funny!”

I was a little taken aback, as I’d thought it was a dark story…and then when it was my turn to read to the gathered audience, there were times when I got laughs.

Okay, I remember thinking, I guess I can be funny even when I’m not trying to be.

This story I’m working on now is also grim and dark; but I think the primary reason I’m drawn to the genre I work in primarily is my interest in damaged people. The Great Gatsby  was about damaged people, and the damage people can leave in their wake; it didn’t try, however, to explain or get into how the people got damaged and why,  and that was its greatest disappointment to me. This current story was inspired by watching a documentary while Paul was at his mother’s; I always have to find things to watch when he’s gone that we wouldn’t want to watch together (in other words, things want to watch that he doesn’t. He tired of the TV series Scream; so I finished watching it while he was gone. Likewise, you can never go wrong with documentaries). I watched one on either Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon–I don’t remember which–about a young man and his brothers, who’d escaped a religious cult. As I watched these damaged young men trying to make sense of their childhood and fit into a world and society they were woefully underprepared for, while the main point-of-view character was also trying to reestablish a relationship with his mother, still in the cult and distant to him–I couldn’t help but wonder about the young women refugees from the cult he interviewed, and the stories they shared about their sexual abuse and, basically, being brainwashed into thinking that was normal. (The boys were also apparently sexually abused as well as physically abused, but their sexual abuse was skipped over; mentioned but not gotten into in depth.) I had my notebook in my lap, and I scribbled down notes…and eventually started writing the story I thought up while watching the documentary. The story is dark–I am revising it now, making it even darker than the first draft–which also limits its saleability quotient, but hey, I am definitely going to put it out there.

Christ, I have so many works in progress. Nothing like creative ADD without a deadline to anchor you down.

I’ve also not decided what book to write next once this WIP is finished. I am thinking about getting back to Scotty with Crescent City Charade, but there’s another noir I’d love to tackle, and my “A Holler Full of Kudzu” could easily be explored as a novel.  Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me! Here’s a Friday hunk for you, to get your weekend started properly.

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Over and Over

My documentary binge continues. I was actually wrong–the series about castles in England was called Secrets of Great British Castles, and the presenter is a very attractive Brit named Dan Jones. The first episode was Dover; the second The Tower of London. The third episode was Warwick Castle, but I decided to skip that one. I’ll go back to the show eventually, but I wasn’t really in the mood to watch about Warwick Castle, so I went back to the documentary category on Netflix while waiting for Paul to get home (I wrote a lot yesterday) and found one called Shenandoah.

It was incredible, and I can’t get it out of my mind.

The documentary is about the death of an illegal immigrant from Mexico in the small town of Shenandoah Valley, Pennsylvania; a coal mining town which is dying a slow economic death. The town was made up of families descended primarily from European immigrants: Irish, Italian, Lithuanian, Polish–but has also seen a recent influx of Mexican immigrants. Luis Ramirez was attacked and beaten by four stars of the high school football team (again, yet another town whose identity is wrapped up entirely in its high school football team) and later died of his injuries. Two of the four boys pled guilty and agreed to testify against their friends; an all-white jury in the town shockingly (sarcasm) found them all not guilty on every charge other than simple assault. The federal government then stepped in and charged the boys under federal hate crime statutes, along with four local cops accused of hindering the FBI investigation and conspiracy to cover up the crime. All six were convicted.

What was disturbing, for me, was the horrific racism exhibited by the townspeople during the investigations, and how they saw the original verdict as a triumph for “white America”; the horrific xenophobia and the blaming of Mexicans for all their troubles. I am glad some of these people are now on film; some day they will be as embarrassed, hopefully, by their behavior and conduct preserved for all time as the racists during the integration struggle in the south. Chanting “USA!” in response to the death of a Latino at the hands of four white teenagers? Calling them good boys?

Despicable, really. And for the record, these are the white working class voters of ‘real America’, of ‘small town America’, that are held up as paragons of everything that our country supposedly is at its best.

Not all of them, of course. The documentary showed several points of view that also showed there were people who aren’t racist and were appalled by what was going on in their town. The young boy who was involved and pled guilty initially, Brian Scully, was kicked off the football team and the documentary actually traces his growth as a person, and how the horror of that night and what he was involved in changed him. He actually found some salvation and solace from, of all things, musical theater; joining the cast of a school production of Into the Woods (which, ironically, opened the night before he had to testify against his friends in the initial trial).

It’s an incredibly powerful documentary that I recommend everyone watch; it’s on Netflix.

I also watched Ghosts of Ole Miss, which was about the integration of the campus in 1962 by James Chambers and the campus wide riot that resulted, with the students attacking the National Guard and the National Guard having to fight back, resulting in the US Military having to come to the campus to put down the riot and finish the integration process. The documentary also talked about the 1962 undefeated Ole Miss football team, which held the university together and gave the students something to be proud of after the Battle of Ole Miss; yet at the football games the students were all waving Confederate flags and their mascot was still Johnny Reb, and…

Sigh.

Both documentaries have given me a lot to think about, and even some ideas about things to write; which means both films did their jobs.

Today I am going to write some more (the goal is five thousand words; I achieved that yesterday but I don’t know if I can do it a second day in a row but you never know!) and continue reading Elizabeth Little’s Dear Daughter around doing some chores. I don’t have to leave the house again until Monday when I go back to work (sob), so there’s that. I also got another deep good night’s sleep last night, so….can’t complain!

And now back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk for today: