So Emotional

And just like that, Our Hero is sixty.

And, as I suspected, it doesn’t feel different; just another day.

But it IS my birthday, I somehow made it to sixty, and I am taking the weekend OFF.

Oh, I am sure I won’t be a complete and total slug; I really need to do the dishes (leaking dishwasher), and I have to take Paul to pick up his glasses later today, and also we have to go out to Metairie to get my deep dish pizza from That’s Amore–but other than that, I am really hoping to not leave the house this weekend other than to go to the gym briefly once or twice. I want to finish reading the book I am reading and at least one other; I have some organizing and cleaning to do, but….that’s the sort of thing I like doing. I also like writing; so I am probably going to do some of that this weekend as well. But I am not holding myself to anything; I am just going to spend this weekend drifting a bit from thing to thing, and if I get some things that need to be done done, so be it; if I don’t, well, that’t what next week’s stay-cation is for. I don’t have to work from Wednesday thru Monday, inclusive; if I can’t use that time to get a shit ton finished there’s really not much hope for me, is there?

I am also hoping to get even more reading done next week as well.

We’ll see how ambitious I actually am, won’t we?

But it’s nice. I didn’t think I would wake up to heavenly hosts singing “Alleluia”, the clouds parting and the sun shining directly on me or any such nonsensical things. I’ve never been one to be deeply into my birthday; sure, when I was a kid we celebrated and I had cake and got presents, but I don’t really remember it being that big of a thing…and I’ve carried that into my adulthood. I mean, sure, it’s nice to have a day that in theory is all about me (which should be every day, really–I AM a Leo, after all), but I also have that weird “I want attention/I hate attention” thing going on as well. It’s seriously a wonder that I am as mentally stable as I am–which is a very low bar–but my mind and my personality and ego and id and everything are always, it seems, at loggerheads with each other; all those voices in my head making me feel a little bit on the unstable side.

I also need to stop indulging myself for my birthday. Yes, I am sixty, and yes, I generally don’t treat myself to anything other than some books usually, but this year I got a new computer, a new Fitbit, a new phone, new shoes, books, a new toaster, a new coffee grinder, and a new atomizer for the kitchen. Clearly, I more than made up for past lean years (and dipped into the budget for future ones) already; but it’s also fine, you know. I don’t mind indulging myself by any means; the problem is stopping once I’ve started. I always feel like I should treat myself, all the time; all day every day, frankly, and so the issue is training myself to say no, you don’t really need that, do you? And when you look at things in terms of need vs. want, you find that there really is little that you actually need.

I got caught up on my Real Housewives shows yesterday while making condom packs, and yes, there definitely needs to be an entirely different, Real Housewives-dedicated post at some point. I am getting to the point where I don’t really want to watch them that much anymore, and it’s more from habit now than any sense of enjoyment; like it’s a duty to watch, the way I watched Dynasty all the way to the bitter end, UFO encounters and all. I’ve already paired down from a high of watching every one of the franchises to cutting back to simply the New York and Beverly Hills franchises, but it’s becoming very, very difficult to watch even those two. Paul and I watched this week’s episode of Titans last night as well–which is going in a weird direction this season, but I am here for it–not the least reason of which is Brendan Thwaites, who plays my favorite comic hero Nightwing, is smoking hot. SPOILER: I hate that they killed off super-hot Alan Ritchman and Hawk, but he’s playing the lead in Amazon’s Jack Reacher, and I will say I will be watching every episode of that. He really looks like Reacher, even if at 6’3 he’s a few inches short for the part, but I don’t think those three inches will make that big of a difference on camera.

Sixty. It does take some mental gymnastics to wrap my brain around it. I don’t feel any different–as always on a birthday–and of course, the aches and pains and wearing down of my body has been pretty regular over the last ten years; regular and gradual. I am going to, once the gym renovations have been completed, dive hard into weight lifting again. It occurred to me the other day that, sore and muscles tired from the workout of the day before, that I am going to always be sore and achy anyway; I might as well feel that way from pushing my body to its limits rather than just from every day life. I do want to lose some weight, which may mean changing my eating habits at long last (I didn’t have to for so long that it will be a severe and deeply painful adjustment) but I am going to indulge myself this weekend with the deep dish pizza and after that, I am going to try to start cutting back on fat content and simple carbohydrates–no more snack foods; a sad farewell to chips and Cheese Puffs and Toast Chee peanut butter and cheese crackers–and focus on more health foods. I need more fiber in my diet, and more greens, and less garbage. Heavy sigh. I am dreading this retraining, but it’s a necessary one and it would be great to get down to 200 pounds, and possibly even shoot for 190 again (although I do think that would be too lean for my frame, body type, and current muscularity). I was down to 203 earlier this year, but am now back up to 212, and this shall not stand–way way too easy to get back up to over 220 and I will NOT allow that again.

I don’t have anything witty or profound to say about turning sixty; it’s really nothing more than a testament to my weird survivor abilities–which I’ve done absolutely nothing to develop other than simply waking up every morning. I think that’s partly why I have such a mental block about celebrating birthdays, really–it seems a bit morbid to me; “yay, I’m still alive! Let’s party!” It’s not like I’ve been super-careful or anything; but somehow I survived and witnessed and made it through the HIV/AIDS pandemic, and am now doing the same–so far–with the COVID one. I just seem to go on somehow; there’s really no rhyme or reason to it. I’ve seen a lot change over the course of my sixty years–we live in a completely different world than the one I was born into and raised in–and I’ve seen a lot of things I wished I hadn’t, lived through a bunch of things I’d certainly prefer not to experience ever again in however many (or few) years I have left. I have no secrets to life or how to live, not any deep knowledge or wisdom to share; as I said, I just endure and somehow keep surviving from year to year.

I sure as hell never thought I’d last this long.

And on that note, tis time to get cleaned up and prepare for my short little outing for the day. I will be blogging over the course of this weekend, as always, and periodically checking in on social media (when I get bored), but for the most part, am not planning on being on-line much for this weekend; I’m due a break from it all, methinks, and why not now?

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Walking on Broken Glass

Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.

This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.

Representation absolutely matters.

And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.

As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”

As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.

And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.

Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.

The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.

Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.

“Yes?” Ike said.

My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).

So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.

For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.

That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)

The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*

Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.

This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?

Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.

Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.

It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?

*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”

Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Enchanted

Daphne du Maurier has long been one of my favorite authors–ever since I discovered her short story collection Echoes from the Macabre when I was eleven or twelve; the first story in that collection, “Don’t Look Now,” remains one of my all time favorites; later in my teens I finally read Rebecca, and it has remained one of my favorite novels of all time, getting the periodic reread. One of the things I loved about du Maurier, as I tore through several of her other novels in the wake of Rebecca (The King’s General, The Flight of the Falcon, Jamaica Inn, and Frenchmen’s Creek) was that her novels subverted expectation; her books were marketed, or at least so it seemed to me, as romantic suspense novels and/or historical romances; yet the books were anything but that (whenever someone refers to Rebecca as romantic suspense it’s all I can do not to laugh in their face). The King’s General, for example, based on actual history, does not have a happy ending at all; and even the others aren’t exactly warm and fuzzy. About seven or eight years ago I finally read My Cousin Rachel, at the recommendation of a friend who couldn’t believe I’d never read it; once I had, it immediately shot to the top of my list of all-time favorites.

I’ve not finished the du Maurier canon–not because I don’t want to, but primarily because she’s dead and I know at some point, I will run out of du Maurier fiction. I know this is silly; I should, now that sixty is just on the horizon, start finishing the canons of my favorites because it would really suck to die and not be finished with them. (But then we always think we have more time than we actually do, don’t we? It’s sometimes very difficult for me to wrap my mind around the fact that I am, indeed, as old as I am.)

But watching the film of The Other made me think of this particular du Maurier, and I decided to give it a shot.

I left the car by the side of the cathedral, and then walked down the steps into the Place des Jacobins. It was still raining hard. It had not once let up since Tours, and all I had seen of the countryside I loved was the gleaming surface of the route nationale, rhythmically cut by the monotonous swing of the windscreen wiper.

Outside Le Mans, the depression that had grown upon me during the past twenty-four hours had intensified. It was inevitable, always, during the last days of holiday; but this time, more than ever before, I was aware of time having passed too swiftly, not because the days had been overfull but because I had achieved nothing. The notes I had written for the lectures I was to give during the coming autumn were scholarly, precise, with dates and facts that I should afterwards dress up in language designed to strike a spark in the dull minds of inattentive students. But even if I held their flagging interest for a brief half hour, I should know, when I had finished, that nothing I had said to them was of any value, that I had only given them images of history brightly coloured–waxwork models, puppet figures strutting through a charade. The real meaning of history would have escaped me, because i had never been close enough to people.

It was all too easy to lose oneself in a past half real, half imaginary, and so be blind to the presesnt. In the cities I knew best, Tours, Blois, Orleans, I lost myself in fantasy, seeing other walls, older streets, the crumbling corners of once glittering facades, and they were ore live to me than any real structure before my eyes, for in their shadows lay security; but in the hard light of reality there was only doubt and apprehension.

There are very few writers who can write so poignantly about depression and dissatisfaction with life; the dark night of the soul, as it were. This is where the hero of The Scapegoat finds himself at the opening of the novel. John, our thirty-eight year old hero, is an Englishman who teaches French history, is fluent in French, and is becoming incredibly dissatisfied with his life. Although his French is flawless and spoken like a native, his fascination and love for France has slowly become disaffecting for him–he feels like he doesn’t belong there and doesn’t quite fit in as he is not actually French; his life is humdrum and routine and lonely; he has no family, few friends, no loves. He has stopped in Le Mans on his way to visit a monastery, and as he walks around the rain-drenched city, he feels his difference very deeply; and then something strange happens: someone mistakes him for someone else, and then very shortly thereafter he runs into his mirror image–and his life is never going to be the same again.

The double, Jean, the Comte de Gue, is also dissatisfied and bored with his own life, and the two men have a few drinks. Eventually they repair to a disreputable looking hostel for another drink–and then our hero, John, passes out, only to wake up more than fourteen hours later to find that “his” driver is there, waiting for him to take him home. He soon realizes all of his things–passport, wallet, ID, car keys–are gone; he has two choices open to him. He can either tell this fantastic story of his to the police and to the driver, who will most likely judge him insane….or go along with the pretense, and slip into the life of his double.

Naturally, since this is a du Maurier tale, he chooses the latter.

In the hands of a lesser writer this contrivance–obviously, without making this decision the rest of the novel cannot happen–would be too glaring, too crazy, too much, really; but du Maurier does such a magnificent job of capturing his own boredom, ennui, dissatisfaction with the dull, plodding life he has made for himself that it actually almost makes sense for him to made this insane decision, for how can he possibly hope to pull off such an imposture? The look-alike story has been done to death over the years, and its overuse on soap operas–generally used when a popular actor has left the show, was killed off, and wants to return; or the double is evil and is taking over the good character’s life (they did this on Dynasty, poorly, with a Krystle look alike)–has made it seem trite and boring and over-used, as well as ridiculous. But Dickens used it for A Tale of Two Cities (even making his dopplegangers English and French, as du Maurier did), and of course, Mary Stewart’s brilliant The Ivy Tree also used the look-alike trope quite ingeniously. (Apparently Josephine Tey did the same with Brat Farrar.) Du Maurier does make this work–ironically, the only creatures who doubt that the Comte is actually the Comte are dogs; but then again, even when he behaves out of character for his look-alike or doesn’t know something he should, no one has any reason to doubt him or believe that a double has replaced their Jean. Would you suspect someone you love and know quite well has been replaced by a twin? There are also some wonderful subplots, regarding the real Comte’s relationships with his family, and while there really wouldn’t be much consequence if he is caught out, a lot of the thrill of the book comes from him not just uncovering the truths behind the fraught relationships with his relatives and the darkness of the past, but also figuring out ways out of situations where he would be found out.

And du Maurier’s writing style itself is the real star. There’s a hypnotic, dream-like quality to her voice; she weaves her words and sentences and paragraphs together softly but beautifully; there’s a melancholy to her style that always hypnotizes her readers into buying into the conceits of her stories and plots.

I greatly enjoyed this read, and am now looking forward to finishing the du Maurier canon.

Like I said, limited time.

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And so we go into self-isolation, of a sort.

Yesterday was not a good day, Constant Reader, I’m not going to lie to you about it. I got up early and went to the office, only to stay for only about four hours or so before departing to run some errands and come home. There’s a surreal feeling about everything. I was reminded of 9/11; after watching the news non-stop for hours and sending emails to friends and calling people and trying to get through, I ran some errands just to get out of the house and I remember, to this day, how eerie it felt. There weren’t any people out and about; not many, at any rate, and it was such a beautiful September afternoon. Everything seemed subdued. That’s how it felt yesterday driving to the post office. I stopped at Wal-mart as well to get a few things, and like Rouse’s on Saturday, so much empty shelving.

And of course, Mystery Writers of America had to cancel the Edgar banquet yesterday.

Cases in Louisiana continue to rise, and we had our fourth death overnight. It’s so weird, because the weather is so beautiful outside and even the construction site two lots over from the Lost Apartment is proceeding apace–I can hear them working on the building while I drink my morning coffee. I am going into the office today, once I get cleaned up and get going on my day–I have data entry work to do, and there’s other work that can be done while we aren’t seeing clients. It’s going to be very weird being in the office mostly by myself, but I am going to wear gloves and a mask to prevent contaminating any surfaces, and of course I’ll be washing my hands and face fairly regularly. There’s a lot of work to be done that we generally don’t get around to doing because we are so busy seeing clients, so I am going to try to get to work on those things over the next few days (or weeks) until we have the clearance to open and start up our programs again. I suspect we are also going to see a spike in STI’s in the upcoming months–gay men are still going to be horny and bored, and if the HIV risk didn’t stop people from having unprotected sex, I seriously doubt that this infection risk is going to stop anyone, either. But at this point I have no idea when we will be able to re-open and get back to work.

We streamed some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and I have to tell you, Constant Reader, watch this show. If you loved night-time soaps, especially in the 1980’s, and Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives, you’re going to love this show. Good campy melodrama, and all the stripper boys are pretty to look at. The true star of the show, though, is the actress playing Macarena (seriously) Medina. She’s magnificent, steals every scene she is in, and is just fantastic. She’s the Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan of this show, and she is absolutely amazing. There’s also a gay character and story-line on the show–young Jairo the stripper, who’s also mute, is gay and works as a hustler in addition to his stripping, and he’s sort of fallen into a relationship with Macarena’s emotionally damaged son. There’s drug cartels and murders and backstabbing and corporate espionage and–seriously, it’s amazing.

I’ve not written anything in days, and the deadlines loom, so I am going to have to get into the writing headspace soon or else I’ll never get anything finished the way I should.

And on that note, I am going to get ready to head into the office now. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

augFabian-Thorson6

Causing a Commotion

Last Saturday, as you may know, the Hard Rock Hotel, currently under construction at the corner of Rampart and Canal Street in the French Quarter, collapsed. Today, they are going to set off some controlled explosions to bring down the damaged cranes, which are no longer attached to the construction and present a clear and present danger to the area. Many of the businesses in a very large radius from the construction site are closed until further notice, causing the businesses and their employees financial hardship.

Several people were also killed as a result of the collapse.

I no longer drive to and from work on Rampart Street–we moved into new offices for the day job last November; it’s much easier for me to get on the Interstate coming and going to work now–but I pretty much made that drive every day from 2005 through last November, other than the years the street was torn up in order to resurface it as well as put in the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line. The construction site was where the Canal Street Woolworth’s was for decades; the very Woolworth’s whose lunch counter was protested during the Civil Rights era because it was segregated. I always hated that the Woolworth’s closed and was torn down, because I felt that it was of no little historic significance; particularly at a time when the Confederate monuments still polluted the city.  But Woolworth’s is no longer in existence, and what else to do with a prime real estate lot that wasn’t being used? There’s already a Hard Rock Hotel on Bourbon Street, but this complex was going to be much larger and was, I think, going to house a Hard Rock nightclub, if I’m not mistaken–because a nightclub at that corner is precisely what the city needed (eye roll).

The construction collapse also exposed some typical New Orleans corruption; the contractor is allegedly shady and has an apparently well-earned bad reputation on every level. There was also some bribery going on, and someone at City Hall, who was signing off on permits, and safety inspections that weren’t being done, was also arrested this week. I am very curious as to what that is going to mean for the future of the Hard Rock Hotel; even if they hire a reputable contractor, I would imagine everything already built will need to come down and be rebuilt; and how do you recover your reputation from that?

It will be interesting, and of course, I am thinking there’s a book or a story in this somewhere. I’ve already created a shady contractor in New Orleans, by the name of Sam Dreher, in Royal Street Reveillon; I can certainly use that character again, and who knows? French Quarter Flambeaux just might make a terrific Scotty novel.

It’s hard to imagine, though, at this point how the Hard Rock Hotel can continue to be built–I would imagine it would have to be torn down completely and started over, but what do I know? I am neither an engineer nor an architect. But I would also think it would be hard to get past the fact that several people died in a construction disaster while it was being built; here is the perfect set up for a French Quarter horror novel about a haunted hotel, don’t you think? One that is cursed with death and tragedy; similar to the Overlook in The Shining.

Interesting.

This also reminds me that Arthur Hailey’s bestselling novel Hotel, which was adapted into a television series in the 1980’s (it came on after Dynasty), was also set in New Orleans; the St. Gregory Hotel in the novel was on Common Street in the CBD, one block from the French Quarter–a grand old hotel of the city (the television show moved the setting to San Francisco; which I still think was a mistake. An anthology television series along the lines of a more serious The Love Boat, set in a hotel with guest stars every week playing out individual stories as they visit the hotel, to me, would work better in New Orleans than San Francisco; then again, I may be biased heavily) in desperate need of some financial investment.  Hailey, who is not so remembered today, was a huge bestseller of his time, and he wrote sprawling novels about industries, and the people who worked in them, and the people who got involved with said industry somehow; with the stories all intermingled. He also wrote Airport, which became one of the first disaster movies, and eventually a series of sequels about plane disasters; he also co-wrote the novel Runway Zero-Eight, also filmed–and that film was what Airplane! spoofed. He wrote about banks (The Moneychangers), hospitals (The Final Diagnosis), power companies (Overload), drug companies (Strong Medicine), car companies (Wheels), and news broadcasts (The Evening News). He also wrote a political thriller, In High Places, which was one of the most thoughtful cold war thrillers; it was written from the perspective of the Canadian government, negotiating desperately with the United States since the skies over Canada were going to be the battleground between the US and the Soviet Union.

I reread Airport after I actually went to work at an airport, and have to say, Hailey’s research was excellent; he really captured the behind-the-scenes activity of an airport impacted by a blizzard perfectly. Likewise, I read The Moneychangers when I was working at a bank–he actually researched Bank of America for the book, which is where I worked–and again, spot on.

Now I’m thinking about rereading Hotel, if only to see how it was done, and how he depicted New Orleans in the 1960’s.

Anyway. I’ll continue to follow the story of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, and see where it goes, and maybe–just maybe–it could be the basis for something. As you can see, I’ve already had any number of ideas spring from the incident…as always.

And now back to the spice mines.

11707499_10205581348306753_1410007181850364070_n

Lean on Me

GEAUX TIGERS!

I still can’t believe we have tickets for tonight’s game. We try to make it to at least one game every season, if we can; we’ve managed to go to at least one game per season since our first trip to Tiger Stadium, when we went to the Ole Miss game in 2010. We’ve seen some exciting games there; we’ve seen some blowouts, and we’ve seen some games that were closer than they should have been. One of the things I love about being an LSU fan is that they are never boring to watch. That 2007 national championship year was probably, overall, the most interesting and fun season of college football that I can remember. It’s also LSU’s Homecoming, and of course, we’re playing hated rival Florida; both teams undefeated, both ranked in the Top Ten. And while a loss for either team doesn’t necessarily mean being taken out of the conference championship race, or out of national hopes, it would mean an uphill battle the rest of the season–and another loss will spell the end of all hopes for the season.

Not looking forward to driving to and from Baton Rouge, though.

But Death Valley is going to be rocking–after all, it’s Saturday night in Death Valley!

It’a also going to be in the 60’s–perfect stadium weather tonight.

Very exciting.

I’m going to try to get some writing done, as well as some cleaning around the Lost Apartment, before we head out this afternoon. I also have to walk over to the International School to vote in the Louisiana primaries.

I’m not really sure what to do with Bury Me in Shadows. On the one hand, I’d really love to get it finished and turned in soon; on the other, I’m worried that I’m rushing to get it out of my hair. Of course, I can always turn it in and do a final revision before the official deadline it will be given, but…I don’t really like doing that. I did it with Royal Street Reveillon, though, and that seemed to work really well. So, maybe? I don’t know; I am very torn. I do think this might be one of the better books I’ve written, and more attention to it could make it my best. But again, I am terribly worried about turning it in, getting it on the schedule and then trying to get another finished draft finished before it’s due for production–because I absolutely have no idea what my life will be like at that time.

Last night I watched, of all things, the E! True Hollywood Story: Dynasty on Youtube. It occurred to me, really, how correct they were when they said Dynasty encapsulated the 1980’s more than any other television show; Dallas might have averaged higher ratings throughout its lengthy run, and there were certainly other successful night time soaps in the 1980’s, but Dynasty really captured the era more so than anything else–and let’s not forget, Dynasty had the first openly gay character in a television drama series (Jody on SOAP was probably the first; but it was a comedy), and then of course, Rock Hudson’s appearance on the show when he was dying from HIV/AIDS–not revealed until after he’d left the show–made the epidemic world-wide news and shone a bright light on an epidemic that was actually being largely ignored by the world at the time and when it was talked about, well–as said by a horrific bigot on Designing Women a few years later, “it’s killing all the right people.”

I also watched the final episode of Showtime’s Murder in the Bayou last night, and cannot help but feel sorry for the families of the victims. The mystery of who murdered the Jeff Davis 8 will most likely never be solved, which is an absolute shame, but it is such amazing fodder for a novel. Every time I watch an episode, I think to myself how to structure such a book, and start populating it with characters. It’s definitely a Chanse novel more so than a Scotty; obviously I could do it as a stand alone–which is still a possibility–but almost from the very beginning I’ve seen it as a Chanse novel; primarily because Chanse is from a small town in east Texas, which would give him good insight into the class differentials in a small town, as well as some insight into police corruption. I’ve never done a Louisiana corruption novel yet; this is almost too perfect a case to hang such a story upon.

I know I said Murder in the Arts District was probably going to be the last Chanse novel, but I always add the caveat “unless I get a good idea.” I was burned out on writing Chanse when I finished that book, and I felt like it was probably past time to retire the character from my canon. I’ve written one short story with him as the main character, “My Brother’s Keeper,” which was included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started writing another one, “Once a Tiger,” which started off strong but then petered out as I wrote it. It’s still unfinished, and I think it’s going to have to be overhauled completely. It’s a great idea–Chanse comes back to LSU to solve a murder at his old fraternity–but it doesn’t really get traction in the way I started writing it. As I was thinking about the story for the new Chanse novel last night, I also recognized that some things that I was thinking about, as far as Chanse was concerned, would have to change; I really do need to go back and read the last few books in the series again. I am probably going to cross over a character from the Scotty series into this Chanse, should I write it–Jerry Channing, the true crime writer. I may not, it just seemed like he would be the perfect person to bring the murders in a western Louisiana parish to Chanse’s attention.

Anyway, we’ll see. I need to finish Bury Me in Shadows, the Kansas book, write some more short stories, finish “Never Kiss a Stranger,” and, of course, Chlorine.

I also found myself thinking about some other stories I have in progress, in particular “Please Die Soon,” which I think is going to be pretty good–if I ever finish it.

And on that note, I’m going to get cleaned up and go vote. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

601629_10151075636318230_1885839575_n

Free Ride

So, where were we?

I managed to finish that enormous volunteer project, with lots of thanks due to the others who worked on it with me; it’s so lovely to not have to worry about being organized because you are working with the “ur organizer” of all time, frankly.

Whew. I do know some pretty amazing people, you know?

I need to get started revising the Kansas book, but have just been so worn out and tired lately…it’s a big deal to finish a draft, a short story, and an enormous volunteer project all at the same time, you know? I now have to write an essay, a short story, and get to revising this manuscript but at the same time…it’s kind of lovely knowing I got all that other shit done.

I also managed to do something to my back yesterday at work–sitting in my chair wrong–and it’s been aching ever since. I used the heating pad last night (using it again this morning) and it’s horrible, of course–I can’t imagine what I did to make it hurt, but then…this is just another one of those lovely surprises about getting older: new aches and pains every day and you don’t know where they came from or why or what caused it.

But my book comes out in less than a week, so I should probably talk about it some more, right?

As I mentioned yesterday, I pretty much only regularly watch The Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills. I do keep up with Atlanta, and will check in on Orange County every now and then. I tried both Dallas and Potomac (I never watched DC or Miami), but didn’t get through the first seasons–but I’ve heard they’ve become more entertaining, so might check them out. I’ve not watched New Jersey in a long time; I really gave up on it after Caroline left the show; I know she was problematic to a lot of viewers and she did get on my nerves from time to time–but when she left and the show centered Teresa, I was down with it. While watching these shows, and having my loyalties and allegiances shift over the seasons, as the producers manipulate story-lines and decide what the audience will and won’t see, has been interesting. I’ve also been interested in watching the cultural phenomena around the Real Housewives, and while I rarely (if ever) agree with Camille Paglia, she is also a Housewives fan, and in an interview, when the shows came up, she compared them to soaps, and in particular, the popular prime time soaps of the 1980’s: Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, etc. It was an interesting comparison, and not one I agreed with immediately, but the more I think about–and the way people talk about the shows–the more I think she was right. The prime time soaps were addictive, considered guilty pleasures no serious viewer would ever watch, and while several of them were driven by strong male leads, the women were centered and usually more interesting. There were never any male characters as interesting as the women on Knots Landing, and Blake might have been the main character on Dynasty, but the real driving force behind the show were the two women main characters, Krystle and Alexis. The housewives appeal to, like the prime time soaps, primarily women and gay male viewers. When I wrote my thesis on daytime soaps in college, one of the cultural impacts I wrote about the shows having was the decline of what was called “women’s pictures”–movies centering women characters and female stars. Whereas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and many other women were big stars of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, it was the 1950’s and the rise of television that not only killed the studio system, but also killed off the popular genre of women’s pictures…and I do think that was not only due to television, but because all of daytime television centered, and was focused on, women. Women no longer had to pay money to go lose themselves in a fantasy world focused on strong women facing difficult situations heroically; they could spend all day watching heroic women facing difficult situations–and situations they could relate to more–Monday through Friday. The decline of soaps–both prime time and daytime–created another vacuum, and Bravo and these shows stepped up to fill that void.

There have been already some terrific books centering reality television; Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister was, like her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive, absolutely fantastic. But as I said, I thought it would be interesting to write my own version of a murder mystery centered on a reality show filmed in New Orleans. I’m fascinated by these people, who are willing to have their lives and interactions be filmed for the entertainment of the masses, be judged for it on social media and in recap columns, and ripped to shreds on message boards and Facebook groups. Some of them use their reality show to promote not only themselves but their businesses–the most famous of these is Bethenny Frankel, who became rich through her various Skinnygirl enterprises, all of which were boosted by her popularity on reality television, and Lisa Vanderpump, who used her reality fame to promote her restaurants in Los Angeles, even getting a spin-off show centered around the staff at one of her restaurants, Vanderpump Rules, which is even more popular than the housewives (I abandoned that show somewhere after season two). I think the Frankel/Vanderpump model is the golden ticket these women are looking for when they agree to be cast; but not everyone is as smart about controlling their image as those two are–nor have the kind of influence on production as they enjoy.

My fascination with these women, and their shows, and who they are and why they would do such a show, gave birth to the idea that eventually became Royal Street Reveillon. I liked the idea of Scotty being a fan, and interacting with the women on the New Orleans show while trying to get to the bottom of a murder…or two, or three. It was also kind of fun to write, frankly, and the older i get and the more I do this, the more important it is to me to enjoy myself while I am doing it.

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

270551_363631417062585_321017710_n

Show Me the Way

Saturday morning and I slept in, as I always seem to do on Saturday mornings. But really, things have truly come to a sorry pass when getting out of bed at nine is considered sleeping in. But that’s when I got up and I feel good and rested this morning, which bodes well for the things I’d like to get done today.

I spent yesterday afternoon getting caught up on laundry (there’s a load going in the dryer now), and doing a surface clean of the apartment. After Paul got home last evening we finished watching Dead to Me, which is really fantastic–if Christina Applegate doesn’t at LEAST get an Emmy nomination, it’s a travesty. The show is fantastically written, has two amazingly great roles for the two lead actresses (Linda Cardellini, of Freaks and Geeks/Mad Men fame, is the secondary female lead and is heartbreakingly terrific as well; I’d be hard pressed as an Emmy voter to chose one over the other), and the writing is also award-worthy; the premise is in and of itself exceptional, thematically exploring the grief of two women who’ve suffered recent great losses; but it is ever so much more than that. It’s smart, angry, funny, and oh-so-twisted, oh-so-clever. Bravo to Netflix; this is up there with Ozark for dark comedy with a crime twist. I cannot recommend Dead to Me highly enough, Constant Reader.

I also, before Paul came home, rather than falling into a Youtube vortex of LSU or Saints highlights or Game of Thrones fan theory videos or whatever might strike my fancy at the moment (music videos or Dynasty clips or whatever), switched on Starz and started watching The Spanish Princess, which is the latest Starz mini-series based on a Philippa Gregory book. We’d watched and liked The White Queen, but gave up on The White Princess relatively quickly. I’ve not read Gregory, and I’ve seen all sorts of mockery of her on-line as to her changing history to fit the needs of her narrative, but that isn’t why I’ve not read her work; I’m just not that interested in fictional biographies of royalty anymore, certainly not the way I was as a teenager. As a teenager I would have read everything Gregory wrote, anxiously awaiting the next. But I’ve read Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts, and of course others like Maurice Druon and Thomas B. Costain, so Gregory’s work has never held much appeal for me; I am more apt to read an actual biography now rather than fictionalized versions (although I do want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books). The Spanish Princess is, of course, about Catherine of Aragon, who has gotten mostly favorable press throughout history as Henry VIII’s poor, abandoned first wife; I’ve always viewed that with an arched eyebrow, primarily because she had a great PR machine in the Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, and of course she had the entire PR machine of the Hapsburg empire behind her as well–whereas Anne Boleyn, her replacement and the cause of her misery, soon enough had Henry’s PR machine blackening her name. At least this production had the wisdom and sense to ignore modern sensibilities; this is the first time I’ve ever seen Catherine portrayed on film (since the 1970s BBC The Six Wives of Henry VIII) to have the actual coloring she had in real life; she is usually shown as dark when she was actually fair; like her husband, she had reddish-gold hair; and she also had Plantagenet blood as a descendant of Edward III–her grandmother was Blanche of Lancaster, a daughter of John of Gaunt, and as such had her own legitimate but unrecognized claim to the English crown herself (since no illegitimacy was involved, she actually had a better claim than her own husband–his claim was based on his grandmother’s descent from John of Gaunt, but she was descended from his liaison with long-time mistress Katherine Swynford–whom he later married and legitimized their offspring–but Catherine’s descent was not marred by the bar sinister).

However, they did depict Catherine’s mother, Isabella, as being dark–which she wasn’t, either. Isabella of Castile was blonde and blue-eyed, but she’s a minor character we’ll never see again, so I will overlook it. (Isabella is one of my favorite historical queens; she was kind of a bad-ass but at the same time her bigotry planted the seeds for the eventual downfall of Spain from the great power she turned it into; but more on her at another time.) Anyway, I enjoyed the first episode; which also has laid the groundwork for Catherine as stubborn, proud, and arrogant–qualities that eventually led to the upheaval that changed world history forever. I’ll keep watching, of course–but at the same time, it’s not “must watch”; it was okay and can serve as a time-filler when I need to relax and when Paul’s not home and I don’t feel like actually wasting my time on Youtube.

I also want to watch the Zac Efron as Ted Bundy movie on Netflix.

So many riches, so many choices! It’s kind of like my TBR pile.

The plan for today and tomorrow is to work on the WIP and work on the article a bit, maybe even work on a short story. Given I have the attention span of a squirrel lately, I am not sure how much work I am actually going to get done today, but I have good intentions. I also have a Bouchercon subcommittee conference call later on this afternoon as well, so I should be able to bounce back and forth between cleaning, writing and reading until such time as the conference call; after which time I can call it a day and relax for the rest of the evening.

Ah, to have the energy and ambition I have in the morning after a good night’s sleep and two cups of coffee, right?

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

164656_121350481263711_100001662807043_145275_5768266_n

Human Nature

I slept well again last night–which keeps the streak of good sleep alive at five nights and counting. I don’t have to work today, which is lovely; I am hopefully having lunch with a friend and running a couple of errands before coming home to clean, edit, revise, and hopefully do some writing.

The Lost Apartment is also a mess, so part of my day will be taken up with cleaning. It really is tragic how messy this apartment can become over the course of a week, and I haven’t done the floors in forever. The windows are also pretty nasty; this lovely cool weather we are enjoying will be most helpful in that regard, since I know I won’t be drenched in sweat the moment I go outside. I need to make a grocery list, and I also want to read some more of Anna Dressed in Blood, which started kind of slow but is starting to pick up a little. I also want to start rereading The Haunting of Hill House this weekend, which means I need to finish reading Anna.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night, and I have to say the first two episodes of this season are pretty damned dark. There were three murders in the second episode of this season (SPOILER), and now that they’ve recast Reggie, he’s front and center–and a drug dealer. Wow, didn’t see that coming. The young cast continues to get better, and are incredibly appealing, and apparently the ratings are really up, which is terrific. Now we need to get caught up on The Exorcist, and maybe give the reboot of Dynasty a whirl. I’m not sure how I feel about Dynasty being rebooted; I guess they decided, since the Dallas sequel never really caught fire, to just start over with the tale of the Carringtons and the Colbys, which I guess I can understand…but I also don’t want them to follow the original storylines, either. From everything I’ve read so far, they aren’t doing that…and it looks like Steven’s homosexuality isn’t going to be so “is-he-or-isn’t-he” as it was back in the 80’s, when it was hugely controversial (and the show completely ignored HIV/AIDS) to have a gay character in the first place.

A story I’d sent out for submission was rejected yesterday, which I was expecting. My short story game isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, and while I love this story, it doesn’t really fit in well with the theme of crime, you know? I also wasn’t pleased with how it ended, which means that the ending wasn’t set up properly, so I am going to let it sit for a while before rereading it and figuring out how to tweak that ending to make it work properly. It clearly didn’t work the way it’s currently written. But it’s a story I want to tell…and even last night, as I mourned in the usual way I do when rejected (even when I’m pretty sure the submission will be rejected) it did occur to me that I might know a way to make it better already. So I need to make that note and shove it into the folder.

Onward and upward, as they say.

And here’s a hunk to slide you into the weekend:

22550349_1515683608521466_1225480229557944618_o