Black and White

I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw Robert Wise’s film The Haunting; all I do remember was it was late at night–in Chicago, one (maybe more) of the local affiliates always ran films after the news at 10:30; they also ran afternoon movies at 3:30 Monday thru Friday–which is where I got most of my education in classic Hollywood movies. But The Haunting was probably the most terrifying movie I’d ever seen; it wasn’t until a rewatch later in my life that I realized that perhaps the most terrifying and unsettling thing about the movie was you never saw whatever it was that was creating the happenings at Hill House–and they were never really explained, either. I had nightmares after watching it the first time, and those nightmares became recurring. To this day I am not comfortable climbing a metal spiral staircase…

One afternoon when we were at Zayre’s for whatever reason–we went there almost weekly, although I am not sure why–I found a copy of Hell House by Richard Matheson on the paperback racks. It sounded, from reading the back, similar to the movie that had scared me so when I was younger, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie was taken from the book? I bought it and read it–loved it, in fact–but while it was similar to the story of The Haunting, it was also different enough for me to be certain they weren’t the same. (Hell House was filmed actually as The Legend of Hell House, which was also a terrifying film–more on that later). It wasn’t until years later, when I was in a used bookstore in Emporia, that I stumbled across this:

It was only a quarter, and looking at the back I recognized the characters–Nell, Theo, Dr. Montague, Luke–and of course, the name of the haunted house–Hill House. I bought it and a couple of others, and I started reading at the first opportunity, and was completely mesmerized. It quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time–I already knew Jackson’s story “The Lottery”, because at some point in school I’d been shown the film (why was this appropriate school viewing? Imagine trying to show it to students today!) and in a Drama class we’d actually read the stage adaptation and even put it on for the school (I think I had one line in our production?). Reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre also told me more about both Jackson’s writing and the Robert Wise directed film, which was my first exposure to Julie Harris; I also remembered that the opening of Jackson’s novel was used by King as an epigram in ‘salem’s Lot; he also dedicated a book to her “because she never had to raise her voice,” which is a very poetic way to describe the softly macabre writing style and voice she used in her works. I lost my original copy at some point during moves over the years, and I acquired another copy after we returned to New Orleans in 2001 from our brief, preferably forgotten interlude in Washington DC–and have made a point to reread it every year since.

And no matter how many times I reread it, I never tire of its haunting, terrifying beauty.

No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.

Dr. John Montague was a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscurely that in this field he might come closest to his truest vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations. He was scrupulous about the use of his title because, his investigations being so utterly unscientific, he hoped to borrow an air of respectability, even scholarly authority, from his education. It had cost him a good deal, in money and pride, since he was not a begging man, to rent Hill House for three months, but he expected to be compensated for his pains by the sensation following upon the publication of his definitive work on the causes and effects of psychic disturbances in a house commonly known as “haunted.” He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it.

Dr. Montague’s intentions with regard to Hill House derived from the methods of the intrepid nineteenth-century ghost hunters; he was going to go and live in Hill House and see what happened there. It was his intention, at first, to follow the example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today; Dr. Montague was forced to engage assistants. Perhaps the leisurely ways of Victorian life lent themselves more agreeably to the devices of psychic investigation, or perhaps the painstaking documentation of phenomena had largely gone out as a means of determining actuality; at any rate, Dr. Montague had not only to engage assistants but to search for them.

That opening paragraph alone is a masterpiece.

I parodied it for the beginning of one of my Scotty books–it gave me great pleasure to write the words New Orleans, not sane, stood by itself within its levees–and of course, this book was a pretty heavy influence on Bury Me in Shadows. The book reads almost like a fever dream, with its rhythms and poetries of language, and the story itself is as mysterious as one could possibly hope. The genius of Jackson is knowing that the biggest fear of all is the unknown; so we never know what is actually going on at Hill House–is the house actually bad, or just unlucky? The house’s history is bad and tragic from the very beginning, as we are told in Jackson’s spellbinding voice; who precisely was Hugh Crain, who built the house for his wife and family but never knew any kind of peace within its walls? What went wrong? Jackson never lets us know anything other than that the house is bad. Her primary point of view character is perhaps the must untrustworthy and unreliable of narrators, Eleanor Vance, Nell. Dr. Montague invited Nell because of a strange occurrence that happened when she was a small child; stones rained down on their house out of clear blue sky; her mother darkly blamed it on the neighbors (this also happened to Carrie White’s house when she was a little girl in Stephen King’s Carrie–in the newspaper write-up included in the book Mrs. White also blamed it on “the neighbors”), but other than that, Nell is pretty ordinary and small. She’s wasted most of her adult life taking care of her invalid mother; she’s now in her early thirties and living with her sister’s family, sleeping on the couch. She’s meek but capable of anger–she has a lot of anger and rage buried deep inside of herself–anger at the world, at the injustice of her wasted life, at the lack of a viable future; she has no prospects, no job, no friends, no nothing. The invitation to Hill House awakens a joy in her that she’s never known–she’s wanted somewhere. Her sister and brother-in-law refuse to let her take their mutual car; she gets up early and rebelliously takes the car anyway and heads to Hill House. As she drives she daydreams and observes everything along the road, making up a lovely fantasy for herself about living in a house with stone lions at the foot of the driveway; she stops for lunch and observes a little girl who refuses to drink her milk because she doesn’t have her special cup with stars on the bottom she can she as she drinks. Mentally, Nell urges the little girl not to give in, to not surrender to the injustice of not having her proper cup–as it will be the first of many surrenders of herself she’ll end up making throughout her life until she, like Nell, becomes invisible.

And then, hopeful and happy and excited, she arrives and gets her first look at Hill House:

The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.

Which then gives Jackson the opportunity, as the next chapter opens, to describe Hill House:

No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until was destroyed.

Nell’s sanity, never the strongest, is affected deeply by the house–she both hates and loves it, separate parts of her nature begging her to flee while the other telling her she’s come home, to stay. The other three in the party–Dr. Montague, Theo the lesbian with some psychic ability, and Luke, due to inherit the house one day–become aware very quickly that the house is having an odd effect on her; they also hate and fear the house, but that welcoming feeling Nell experiences, that desire to never leave, is for her and her only. The rest of the book is quietly terrifying–the noises in the night, the realization that whatever is going on in the house has a sly intelligence of a sort–and the scene where Nell is terrified in the night and holds Theo’s hand…until Theo turns on the lights and Nell realizes she was across the room so whose hand was I holding? is one of the most horrifying moments in horror fiction. And then, the chilling, tragic end.

I also always see the house the way it was shown in the movie.

I also rewatched the movie while I was rereading the novel–not the execrable remake but the original–and it holds up just as terrifying and unsettling as it was the first time. Julie Harris is fantastic as Nell, fragile and frayed and slowly unraveling; in the movie isn’t not quite as left to the viewer as it is to the reader the notion that Nell herself is the one haunting Hill House; the house gains its power through her. (This was done beautifully in the Netflix adaptation, The Haunting of Hill House, which is loosely based on the book but updated and adapted and changed significantly; I thought the series was fucking fantastic and an excellent homage to both the book and the original film. You can’t improve on what came before, so why not reinterpret it? I know Jackson purists were outraged, but having seen the dreadful 1999 remake…yeah, this wasn’t that, for sure.)

Also, because of the movie, whenever I read the book I see it in my mind in black and white. The film wouldn’t work in color, either.

If you’ve not read the book, you really should. It’s a masterpiece on every level.

Stand on the Rock

Thursday morning and I slept really well last night. About time, right? But it’s amazing what a good night’s sleep makes, especially coming after two consecutive nights of insomnia. It’s lovely not to feel tired, you know? I was so tired when I got home from work yesterday that my eyes were almost crossing. I was too tired to think, too tired to write, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair–Scooter actually slept in my lap all evening, and when I got up, he’d curl up in the chair again waiting for me to come back, which was very sweet–and then I watched the documentary God Forbid, which focuses on the Jerry Falwell Jr. pool boy scandal that ended Falwell’s career, from the pool boy’s point of view, which made it a lot more interesting.

It also explored how Falwell’s father led the evangelicals into politics and set us on the downward path that put our entire democracy into the peril it still faces today. The original Falwell was a monster–racist, homophobic, misogynist–and perverted Christianity for money and power. He isn’t the first to do this–look up “Father Coughlin” sometime–and maybe not event the worst (anything is possible), but the damage done to the fabric of the culture and society, predicated on the evangelical desire to make this a Christofascist nation (definitely not what the Founders wanted), by this man and his son may even prove irreparable in the long run. Who knows? Falwell Jr. was important to the election of Trump and the evangelical embrace of this thrice-married ungodly and unChristian wannabe dictator, too. And it got the evangelicals what they’ve wanted since Falwell Senior realized that open racism wasn’t a winning ticket–but abortion could be: the overturn of Roe v. Wade. Would Falwell have backed Trump if Michael Cohen hadn’t known about the sick sexual games the Falwells were playing with a young, naïve young man named Giancarlo Granda? It would make an epic crime novel, truly–I loved John D. Macdonald’s examination of a Midwestern megachurch, One More Sunday, which I really enjoyed.

I have had this idea for a crime novel built around a cult-like church for quite some time. When I was living in Kansas, there was a college in Emporia that was owned and operated by just such a cult-like church. The College of Emporia, a Presbyterian school, had gone bankrupt and closed in 1973. A few years later it was purchased by The Way International and transformed into The Way College of Emporia. The Way College was strange. Their campus was closed to outsiders and patrolled at night by armed guards. There was all kinds of gossip around the county about what went on there and the kinds of things they believed and did; the students always wore name-tags and travelled in pairs–and would often try to corner other young people and proselytize. When I was working at McDonalds, for example, I observed them do this to a girl who was cleaning tables in the lobby. They essentially waited until she was in a part of the place that had only one way out, and once she was back there cleaning tables, they blocked the way out to talk to her. They always had this weird look on their faces, too–their eyes always seemed either glazed or vacant or both, and they always had a zombie-like smile that didn’t reach their eyes. One of the many iterations of the Kansas book took place over two time-lines, one in the 1970’s and the other the present day; where the quarterback’s murder in a sex scandal in the 1970’s gave rise to a megachurch in the town. I have done some research in the Way International (they sold the Way College and its campus to Emporia State University sometime after we left Kansas) and even have a book written by someone who belonged and got out.,,so I would never say never.

Oh, and thank you, Brazil, for ousting your Fascist. Well done!

Unfortunately, my exhaustion last night means that I have fallen another day behind on the book, which isn’t good. But it was really out of my hands, to be honest. I was so tired I don’t even really remember driving home from work last night–which is NOT a good thing at all. But I am hoping that feeling rested and not being exhausted will make a difference tonight. I am halfway done–it’s planned to be twenty chapters, and I finished Chapter Ten on Tuesday–so tonight I am going to go back and reread and edit the first half of the book. It’ll take some serious work–the kind where I have to close the Internet browsers to avoid distraction–because some of the earlier chapters need to be moved around and rearranged; the order in which the story unfolds needs to be switched up a bit–and I need to outline the first half as well as make a character list and due a timeline. I also realized that my usual Scotty thing to do–parody the opening of a famous novel–doesn’t have to be a parody of a famous novel opening–and I’ve always wanted to write something that opened the way Dark Shadows did (“My name is Victoria Winters”), so why not do that? “My name is Scotty Bradley” or something along those lines. I wonder if Victoria’s opening monologue from episode one is on-line anywhere? Better add that to the list.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a great Thursday, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Moonlight (A Vampire’s Dream)

I often refer to ‘salem’s Lot as “Peyton Place, but horror.” Because while Stephen King’s second novel (and still one of my favorites) absolutely does its job as a wrenching piece of horror fiction, it’s also a truly insightful and meaningful look at a small town (population 1300) and how everyone knows everyone, as well as the way their lives intersect and connect and cross intricately; we get to know a lot of the townspeople before they succumb to the horror that is overwhelming their little town. If you took the vampires out of the story, you’d have to replace them with something, as there’s no story without them, but at the same time, this novel along with Needful Things some twenty or so years later, are remain two of the best books about life in small towns that I’ve ever read.

I used to reread old Stephen King novels a lot for comfort, losing myself in the worlds he creates and enjoying the stories, the writing, and the characters. ‘salem’s Lot is definitely one of my favorites of his; definitely always in the Top 5, with perhaps only The Stand outranking it.

Almost everyone thought the man and the boy were father and son.

They crossed the country on a rambling southwest line in an old Citroen sedan, keeping mostly to secondary roads, traveling in fits and starts. They stopped in three places along the way before reaching their final destination: first in Rhode Island, where the tall man with the black hair worked in a textile mill; then in Youngstown, Ohio, where he worked for three months on a tractor assembly line; and finally in a small California town near the Mexican boarder, where he pumped gas and worked at repairing small foreign cars with an amount of success that was, to him, surprising and gratifying.

Wherever they stopped, he got a Maine newspaper called the Portland Press-Herald and watched it for items concerning a small southern Maine town named Jerusalem’s Lot and the surrounding area. There were such items from time to time.

He wrote an outline of a novel in motel rooms before they Central Falls, Rhode Island, and mailed it to his agent. He had been a mildly successful novelist a million years before, in a time when the darkness had not come over his life. The agent took the outline to his last publisher, who expressed polite interest but no inclination to part with any advance money. “Please” and “thank you,” he told the boy as he tore the agent’s letter up, were still free. He said it without too much bitterness and set about the book anyway.

The boy did not speak much. His face retained a perpetual pinched look, and his eyes were dark–as if they always scanned some bleak inner horizon. In the diners and gas stations where they stopped along the way, he was polite and nothing more. He didn’t seem to want the tall man out of his sight, and the boy seemed nervous when the man left him to use the bathroom. He refused to talk about the town of Jerusalem’s Lot, although the tall man tried to raise the topic from time to time, and he would not look at the Portland newspapers the man sometimes deliberately left around.

When the book was written, they were living in a beach cottage off the highway, and they both swam in the Pacific a freat deal. It was warmer than the Atlantic, and friendlier. It held no memories. The boy began to get very brown.

This is the cover of the version I originally read in high school–I bought it off the paperback rack at the Safeway in Emporia, Kansas. I kept that copy for years; eventually replacing it with a hardcover reprint in the 1990′, before finally getting an old copy with the original cover on eBay (which has since turned out to be a first edition; I love finding all the mistakes in it as I reread it).

I had read Carrie in paperback in one night when I’d borrowed it from a friend; it was only in the last decade that I finally acquired a copy of it to keep and reread periodically (I bought it to read the opening shower scene at Banned Books Night; ironically, the objections to the book have nothing to do with explicit talk about menstruation, or bullying, or violence…people object to the book because of its depiction of Christianity, particularly in the case of Carrie’s fanatic mother, Margaret (whom I always see in my head as Piper Laurie, who should have won an Oscar). I don’t think Carrie was the book that made me begin to question Christianity, to be honest; I think I already was questioning it before I read the book, but it was one of the first times I’d see a disparaging representation of someone committing horrifying abuses in the name of Jesus, or how the way the religion viewed sexuality could be taken to such horrific extremes. But I loved the book and became interested in Stephen King as an author. I was aware of ‘salem’s Lot before I found a copy while grocery shopping with my mom; I’d known he’d published a second book because I saw it in the book club ads (Doubleday, Book of the Month, etc.) in magazines. I had no idea what the book was about when I started reading it–I had no clue it was about vampires, and vampires never even crossed my mind when I started reading. It was a Saturday (Mom always drove into Emporia on Saturday to buy groceries), and I repaired to my room with the book (my homework was already done, and whatever college football game was on that Saturday was of no interest to me) and started reading. I finished reading it at around two in the morning, and was completely blown away by it. There was no way I was going to stop reading, and there was no way to stop reading once the big reveal about the vampires happened and the pace picked up.

The book was utterly terrifying, and it started raining later on that day as I read. I was living in a small town (population 973) and my bedroom window looked out at a corn field that was right across the street. I started seeing, as I read, a lot of similarities between Jerusalem’s Lot in the book and my little town–the characters, the interconnectedness of the community, and like Ben Mears, I was still kind of a stranger in the town. I just remember that when I got to the part where Danny Glick comes to Mark Petrie’s window, the storm outside brushed a tree branch against my window and I literally jumped, the book flying out of my hands and landing across the room in the middle of the floor.

It was also the first time I remember reading a book whose main character was a writer–something Stephen King returns to quite regularly, write what you know indeed–which also helped me connect with the book more; Ben Mears was a publisher novelist of minor success, but had published three books already and hadn’t graduated from college. He also seemed like a real person, living and breathing and absolutely real; it wasn’t until this reread that I realized how much physically he’s like King–tall and slender with thick black hair.

But it was also the first time I’d read anything about vampires that was so clearly set in the real world, in the real present, and with real characters I could relate to–which made it even more terrifying. I started thinking about how easy it would be for, say, a vampire to come to our small little town and how quickly people could be turned, primarily because no one would believe it was actually happening until it was too late–which King handled beautifully in the book.

It still holds up, and I am glad I revisited it.

When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes

As I mentioned yesterday–these blog post titles taken from the Supremes discography sometimes feel a bit off as I do some Blatant Self-Promotion about my new soon-to-be-released novel #shedeservedit.

I got my first ignorant comment on one of those blog posts yesterday; someone posted a link to a video about “toxic femininity” and how it’s “as bad if not worse” than “toxic masculinity.” Needless to say, I not only didn’t approve the comment but marked it as spam and blocked the user from commenting/reading my blog. For those of you who are new here–I don’t engage with trolls, not do I permit them the energy or the oxygen of allowing their ignorance to be seen by anyone here. This is my blog and I pay for it; therefore I will curate the content here and if you want to troll me, well, it’s just going to earn you a comment marked as spam and get you blocked, so don’t waste your time or energy on me. You may, of course–I cannot stop you, but I won’t engage with you nor will I allow Constant Reader to see your ignorance, so there you have it.

I wrote yesterday, and it felt good to get another chapter down. I only have two more to go and the revisions, and I have to say, pantsing this thing on a tight deadline hasn’t been the easiest way to write this book, but it’s working. I’ve got the plot all worked out now, who the killer is and why, and now all I have to do is cram the resolution into the last two chapters and we are finished, done, ready to go off to the editor with prayers that she likes what I’ve done and doesn’t require a complete overhaul, which is also entirely possible and within the realm of probability–one of the reasons, frankly, that I’ve not signed. a contract to dive straight away into another book when this one is finished; I thought it best to leave my time free just in case. (I am going to start working on Chlorine and Mississsippi River Mischief while waiting for my edits; there’s always something to write, after all–I can also work on the revisions of the novellas in the meantime as well.)

There’s always something…

Today’s BSP is going to focus on writing about small towns, rather than what I’ve been covering (toxic masculinity). The first book I remember reading about a small town that really stands out to me–as an examination of small town dynamics, rather than merely a setting for the story–was Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, which was, if you are an Ellery Queen fan, the first Wrightsville story. There were several of these novels–the second, I believe, was The Murderer is a Fox–and I enjoyed them all; Queen clearly loved writing about Wrightsville, since he kept returning to the scene of the crimes, as it were, but the best, the true standout for me, was the first: Calamity Town. This book–published well over a decade before Grace Metalious scandalized the world with Peyton Place–also covers the same territory as Peyton Place: scandal and hypocrisy and the paralyzing power of gossip in small town America. Calamity Town remains a favorite mystery novel of mine to this day; I should reread it. It’s plot is ingenious and entirely rooted in human psychology, and it also contains one of the best and most clever misdirections in crime fiction history. It was Calamity Town that made me first start thinking about how small town society is actually a microcosm of American society as a whole, all encapsulated in a small package, and also that made me realize, for the first time, how claustrophobic small towns can be; where everyone knows everyone and you can’t really do anything without someone knowing; and how secrets kept can become very damaging over time. Queen is, at first, struck by the apple-pie Americana of Wrightville…and then he begins peeling back the layers.

Peyton Place, which I found to be far less scandalous than either General Hospital or All My Children by the time I got a copy at a secondhand bookstore in Emporia when I was seventeen or eighteen, also showed me again how claustrophobic small town life could be. Sure, there’s some bad to the point of laughable writing in the book (“your nipples are hard as diamonds”, anyone?) but other than those brief moments, overall it’s a very well-constructed book and a damning indictment on the hypocrisy of American small towns. I also read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street around the same time for an American Literature class (I still think we should have read Elmer Gantry instead, or It Can’t Happen Here, but I was not in charge of the syllabus), which is also about the falseness of keeping up appearances and worrying what the neighbors think. I find it interesting that “small town American values” are frequently–particularly by conservatives–pointed out as what is the backbone of our country and so on and so forth (part of the entire “cities are BAD” thing we have had going on culturally for decades, if not centuries), but when that veil is peeled back, there is just as much rot and decay as in any “wicked” city. As I pointed out on Susan Larson’s radio show the other day, the vast majority of the soaps were originally set in very small towns, rather than urban centers.

Nobody does small towns quite like Stephen King, and the first time he really addressed small town life was in ‘salem’s Lot–although it can be argued he did a masterwork on small town life with Needful Things–and it was in his tale of small town Maine being overrun by vampires, he also did an incredible job of painting the town, it’s working class citizens and the minutiae of their lives; how circumstances trapped some of them and killed their dreams–and how others never had any dreams to be killed in the first place. The way he interweaves the lives of his small town characters, their relationships and histories and how everything is interconnected is masterful; has anyone ever done a critical analysis of King’s work with small towns? It also falls into this group; what King does with Derry is just as exceptional as his work on Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot in the other works.

I based Liberty Center on Emporia, Kansas, geographically; my town is loosely laid out the same way Emporia is; there’s a small college there, as in Emporia, and there’s a meat packing plant on one side of town that reeks of death and stale blood on the south side of town, and of course, the waterfall on the river on the way out of town heading south and the park that goes with it. Other than that, it’s memory and invention; I’ve not set foot in Emporia in nearly forty years and have no plans to ever do so again. (Likewise, when I write about my fictionalized county in Alabama–it’s loosely based on where my family is from, but I haven’t been there in thirty years and will most likely never go visit again, so it’s all memory and invention for me.) I don’t know if I will write another novel about Kansas–I have some other ideas, of course, don’t I always–but it seems weird to create another fictional small city so similar to Liberty Center, but at the same time it seems even weirder to set another book there after having already done so (although i should probably revisit Sara sometime and see how I did it–and what I called the towns in Kahola County–before deciding one way or the other).

Heavy sigh.

Today I need to write another chapter, and I also need to work on revising a short story as well as writing a promotional article–and of course, there’s the horror that is my email inbox which needs to be dealt with this week once and for all (it’s all relative; answering everything and emptying it out inevitably means generating more emails there; my email responses will trigger emails in response which turns it into a Sisyphean task without end), and today is the men’s US figure skating championships, which naturally I plan to watch so I need to get my writing done before then, don’t I?

So on that note, I head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Never Again

One of the many Youtube wormholes I have fallen down since the pandemic descended upon on our world has been the magical journey of the music reaction video. I didn’t know this was even a thing–I think it was Twins the New Trend’s reaction video to the Carpenters that went viral was when I actually learned this is something people not only do, but can make money from (O magical world of the Internet! Is there anything that can’t be monetized?) but this led me to, thanks to Youtube suggestions, other young people or music specialists (vocal coaches, etc.) reacting to older music they’ve not heard before, or from artists they may recognize the name of but not their music.

Needless to say, seeing these young people discover, appreciate, and love Fleetwood Mac (and Stevie Nicks) is not only a lot of fun but also is an unneeded justification of my nearly life-long love of the band. The Rumours album is probably my favorite album of all time; and since it was released (and I discovered it) when I was in high school in Kansas, Rumours is always linked in my mind to not only high school but to Kansas in particular. I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car when I was in high school–I never even had a car of any kind with the capacity to do anything other than play the radio until 1991–but radio was a major player back in those days, and I of course had other friends who did have 8 track or cassette players in their cars… Rumours was pretty much owned by everyone (as was Hotel California by the Eagles and Boston’s debut album) and so it was often heard in cars, played loudly, as it drove way over the speed limit down country roads.

But watching these people discover the Mac, and listening to and enjoying their music for the first time (despite my devotion to Stevie and all things Stevie, my favorite Mac song will always be “Go Your Own Way”) has taken me down that pleasant road of nostalgia and memory…which came somewhat in handy as I wrote #shedeservedit aka the Kansas Book. I based Liberty Center geographically on Emporia, Kansas; but I have not set foot in Emporia since I left one snowy February night in 1981 so I had to rely a lot on memories. I did use Google Earth to revisit, in case my faulty memory was wrong about where a street was or how the grid the city was laid out on precisely was laid out–where was the Catholic cemetery, where was the college campus, where was the park down by the waterfall–but since I was also fictionalizing everything, it was more of a guideline than anything else; it was easier for me to picture it all in my head that way rather than making it all up from scratch. (I also got the name Liberty Center, and used it, as a tribute to Philip Roth and his novel When She Was Good; I’d gone through many many iterations of names for that town throughout the years, but Liberty Center was just too perfect not to use)

And yes, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac while I was writing the book. While Hotel California and Boston can both take me back to Kansas if I listen to them, Fleetwood Mac’s first three albums with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk) definitely do it almost from the first chord (if I am writing, of course–I am also realizing as I write this and think it through that I need to write an essay about my lifelong fandom of Fleetwood Mac, and how their music has always inspired me with my writing and creativity as well as connected with me emotionally).

Although, interestingly enough, the first time I ever published fiction about Kansas–my short story “Promises in Every Star”–it was actually inspired by another band, ’til Tuesday. But that’s a story for another time.

Music has always been important to my writing process–back in the days of CD’s, I used to put five in the stereo and hit shuffle whenever I started writing, trying to make them all from the same artist or at least similar artists–and I’ve noticed that recently I don’t listen to music quite as much as I used to when I write, and have been thinking that maybe I need to go back to that process. I rediscovered my love of writing after a long burnt out period by using journals to record ideas and random thoughts and things again–going back to my roots, as it were–and so maybe music is something I need to add back into my writing experience, especially since I am coming down to crunch time with the new book.

I’m working at home today–there’s data entry to do and condoms packs to make, as always–and then of course tomorrow is our paid holiday for New Year’s, so I can spend that day writing and cleaning and running errands and so forth. I need to pick up a prescription today, so will probably do that at some point (I think the pharmacy will be closed tomorrow, since its in one of our buildings and they do get holidays as well) and also will need to do a deep dive into my email inbox and get some things done around here.

And that’s my cue to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Eve!

I Want a Guy

Wednesday morning and I am having no small bit of trouble shaking off the shackles of Morpheus this morning. First I didn’t want to get out of bed (even considered hitting snooze a third time) and now as I sit here with the dark pressing against my windows and my first cup of coffee not really doing it for me the way I would have hoped, I do worry about waking up and getting out of the house and on my way to the office this morning. Traffic has been light to non-existent this week (last week as well; the holidays thing, without a doubt), so my blood pressure hasn’t gone up at all on the drives into the office recently. I know I should probably do some Blatant Self-Promotion this morning but it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow, methinks; I am not sure if my mind is clear and unfogged enough to talk about rape and/or sexual assault this morning, let alone toxic masculinity–about which I have oh so many thoughts. Instead, I will freeform this morning’s entry while I keep swilling my coffee, hoping the cobwebs will clear and I can get a clear and present grasp of my reality this morning.

We’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

We are finally on the final season of Gossip Girl–I’ll have to go back and check to see when precisely we embarked on this binge journey, but it feels like it’s been most of the month of December, if not longer; probably longer, because we got started watching the sequel series and only turned on the original when it took a break and we had to wait for new episodes; and I think that was back in November, if I am not mistaken. (And yes, a quick search of my Facebook page shows that we were, indeed, already watching the OG Gossip Girl before Thanksgiving, so we’ve been watching for well over a month, which is wonderful. I miss the days when television shows had over twenty episodes per season.) The show is winding down–the final season is only ten episodes (!)–but I also think this final season’s entire purpose was to wrap everything up and end the show. I’ll miss it when it’s finished, but it’s also time to get back into watching everything else we were watching–we still need to finish The Sinner–and I suspect we will be done with Gossip Girl this weekend so we will need to find new things to watch, as well as remembering the things we’d started but not finished in the meantime.

Such an exciting post today, am I right?

It rained overnight–it actually started raining shortly after Paul left the house for the gym–and so this morning it’s cool and humid, which is weird and causes condensation and the fogging up of car windows. I’ve been working pretty consistently on the book every day–it’s a mess, but it’s getting done, which means the clean-up work before it’s turned in is going to be mind-numbing, stressful and exhausting, if exhilarating at the same time. I do enjoy writing every day–I don’t know why it, like going to the gym, is always viewed as an odious chore that I have to force myself to do every day; it really makes little to no sense. It does make one tend to wonder–I love going to the gym, I love writing; they are two of my favorite things to do (reading and sleeping being the other two) and yet I always have to make myself do it. I don’t know why I resist doing things that give me pleasure–lately, I’ve also been having to make myself read, which I never thought would happen.

Go figure.

But work on the book is proceeding apace–editing and revising is going to be an incredibly stressful nightmare, but I can worry about that later–and I am pleased, very pleased. I am being highly productive, which is nice to know that I can still do, and i just wish I could remember that if I was this productive every step of the way, I could get a lot more done. But then the lazies set in and all bets are off.

So, what can I say that would be blatant self-promotion? Not really sure, to be honest. This is probably one of the darkest books I’ve ever written, although I am sure there are parts in it that are funny that I didn’t plan (I rarely intend to be funny; it’s always unintentional, but at least I am laughed with for the most part rather than laughed at) that way.

Liberty Center is, as I have often mentioned, based geographically on Emporia, the county seat of Lyon County, Kansas, which is where we lived from 1976-1981. We didn’t actually live in Emporia; we lived seven miles northwest of Emporia–I don’t remember what the road was that led to our little town was officially called, but I know we called it the Americus Road and the road was where the old Katy Railroad line used to run; that may also be incorrect but that was what I was told. Americus was one of the larger towns in Lyon County (Emporia had over twenty-five thousand, I believe; Americus was 952), and I used to catch the school bus at the Americus Grade School (which had previously served as the high school until it was closed and folded into consolidated high school sixteen miles northeast, Northern Heights High School) and it seemed to always take forever to get to school every morning. This was a significant cultural shock for me, as we had lived in a rather populous suburb of Chicago the previous four years and before that, in the city itself on the south side, near Lawndale. We also went from having three networks and several locals on the television to only having CBS from the Kansas City affiliate (we were able to get cable within the first year we lived there; so we went back to having access to the networks and other cable channels–CNN, ESPN, etc. in their early days–while everyone else I went to school with still only had access to that CBS station….this was the period when my mom watched the CBS soaps; once the cable came on she switched to ABC in the mid-to-late 70’s heydays of General Hospital/All My Children (which were the soaps I watched when on break from school in Illinois). It was weird and uncomfortable switching high schools between my sophomore and junior years, but at the same time I saw it as getting a new start, where no one knew that I had been bullied, belittled, and mocked for the last four years for being (choose one) queer fairy faggot homo queen girly-boy femme etc. (This did eventually happen at my small high school but not really in any significant way until the second semester of my senior year.)

And it was actually a good experience for me, in all honesty. I did much better in school there, got started writing actual fiction, had my mind opened to a lot of new authors and genres in my English classes, and learned a lot–my suburban high school was simply not structured to work well for a student like me, with my attention deficit disorders and so forth. There’s really not been anywhere I lived that didn’t benefit me in some way–there was good and bad everywhere–but when the time and opportunity to move away came, it was past time. I needed to get out of Kansas, I needed to get away from there…and while the next chapter of my life was to become dramatically changed and reshaped into something other than what I was expecting when we moved, there was no way of knowing that was going to happen. In February 1981 when I boarded a night train to California, I had no access to the New York Times or anywhere I could get anything remotely considered news of interest for not straight people, and so I didn’t see the small pieces about the “strange cancer” that was only affecting gay men in New York…but it would be on my radar soon enough.

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

Silver Bells

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style….in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas….

“Silver Bells” is, hands down, one of my favorite Christmas songs.

I’ve always wanted to write a story built around the song; maybe that’s something I can do for next year–but then again, who knows what will happen between now and then as far as my writing and deadlines are concerned? Heavy heaving sigh.

The other night, when I did my ZOOM thing for the release of #shedeservedit, afterwards I had a horrible rush of doubt and fear about the book itself. Who am I, after all, to write about rape culture and sexual assaults and so forth? Was writing the book an attempt to assuage my own guilt for my own complicity in the systemic toxic masculinity of our society, culture and civilization?

Some of the above? None of the above? All of the above?

I started writing the fiction collectively known and referred to as “the Kansas book” when I was actually in high school in Kansas. I created a fictional version of my high school and the county, including the county seat; it went through many iterations and renamings over the years as I worked on aspects of this enormous book, with interconnected characters and stories and so forth. Some of it was pulled out of this enormous “Bible” (for wont of a better word) to become my novel Sara about ten years or so ago; bits and pieces of it have now been pulled out to use for #shedeservedit, which will be out in January and has been what I have mostly referred to as “the Kansas book” for the last six or so years. The first draft of this iteration was written over a month, in July of 2015; I wrote three thousand words per day (or tried to; I did take some time off here and there) and by the end of the month I had nineteen chapters of about five thousand words in total of what needed to be a total of twenty chapters; I’d done ninety-six thousand words in a month but still didn’t know how to end the book (this is always a problem for me, by the way; and I am always afraid I don’t stick the landing). Over the next four or five years, I revised and rewrote the book, trying to see if I could figure out how to stick the landing as well as figure out what the dismount should be. I knew how I wanted to end it, but wasn’t sure if it would work…but also never wrote it, thinking the endless revisions and rewrites and changes might point the way to the proper dismount.

But this version, that begins with the star quarterback going missing after a game one night, might use the characters I dreamed up in the late 1970’s and have adapted and changed and grown over the years, but the plot-line that runs through this book wasn’t born until about 2004, when I decided to take all the things I’d been loosely working on over the decades since high school and pull it all together into a crime novel: the final and complete edition of the Kansas book. And it has gone through many iterations before I started that massive attempt to write an entire first draft of the new story in one month; back in 2004 I saw it as a book that flashed back between the present and 1977, when the quarterback was to have gone missing. I eventually abandoned that attempt–though I have reserved the right to do another such book, flashing back and forth in time, set in this universe somehow; I’ll figure that out later–and moved on to this final version of the missing quarterback theme/story.

Ironically, even from its earliest iteration, the underlying story here was about privilege; the privilege that comes with being a football player in a small city (am never sure where the cut off between town and city is precisely; I know when I lived in Kansas Emporia was considered a large town–population 27k or so–while the town we lived in was considered small–population 952; and Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City were considered cities) with a highly successful high school football team. With athletic success comes privilege; that was even true back in the 1970’s, and was even more true when it came to college teams. Originally, the quarterback’s body was found, naked, on the fifty yard line with evidence he’d had rectal sex the morning after Homecoming. That changed–the location of the body at any rate–and I also realized the Homecoming murder was also a cliché, so I had to move it up further in the season–which also made more sense with the timing of the event that may have possibly triggered the murder in the first place…this was a huge issue with the original draft I wrote in a month; why would it have taken so long for the murder to happen if the potentially triggering event was in the summer?

These are the trials and tribulations that an author must face when writing a crime novel.

Sometimes fate intervenes, as well. When I was writing Sleeping Angel all those years ago, I kept thinking something was missing from the manuscript; there was a hole where I should have been making a point and wasn’t. I was writing this book around the time when there were a rash of queer kids committing suicide in the news–basically being bullied to death–and this was around the same time that Dan Savage started the “it gets better” campaign. Ah, I thought, there’s what’s missing from the story.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know how it felt to be bullied, after all.

I decided to pull the Kansas book back out, and write that first draft, in the wake of two news stories that happened around the same time: Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri. As I watched those cases unfold, I knew that was the answer to the Kansas book; my ‘small city with a great football program’ (and whose name went through many changes over the years–Kahola to Greenfield to Carterville to its final name, Liberty Center) obviously had to have a rape culture problem, derived from the culture of toxic masculinity that was created in order to have a successful football program. This decision was reiterated when I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer–which I bought and started reading one day when I was trapped in the Newark airport by a flight cancellation for like eight hours or so. (Also: shout out to friend Gwen Florio, a reporter for the Missoula paper whose coverage of the stories there featured heavily in the book)

So, when I sat down to write that draft in a month (oh to have that kind of focus again), that was in the forefront of my mind: the triggering event that may have potentially have led to the murder was the sexual assault of a cheerleader at a party before school started.

So, yes, I have written a crime novel set in a small town with a rape culture problem. Am I the best person to write such a book? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s why I am so nervous–how are people going to react to this story? From me?

And then I think, oh, it’s not like anyone pays any attention to you or your career anyway.

And now back to the spice mines.

That’ll Be The Day

I was never much of a science fiction fan when I was a kid. I think the first science fiction I actually read was Dune (the original trilogy) when I was in high school; the first book was on my English class reading list. I loved Dune; still think of it fondly to this day, although it’s a bit dense and whenever I return to it kind of think the writing is a bit stiff…but it remains a treasured read of mine. Even Star Wars (I will die on the hill of refusing to call Episode IV A New Hope; when I saw it, it was called Star Wars and they didn’t add this abomination of a title until Return of the Jedi was released years later–I still remember my confusion when viewing The Empire Strikes Back and EPISODE V scrawled across the screen…”What the fuck do they mean, EPISODE V?”) didn’t really turn me into much of a science fiction fan; but as more Dune books were released, I would buy them and read them voraciously. I also read the novelizations of the Star Wars movies, but refused to read anything new and not in the films–the bitterness of being burned by Splinter of the Mind’s Eye (in which Luke and Leia were romantic interests….ewwwwww) still stings to this day; and of course when the sequel trilogy started being released all those books stopped being canon, so it was a wise decision on my part.

But Return of the Jedi did inspire me to try to write science fiction. I wrote a short story in which I created an entire universe–the science undoubtedly didn’t make sense–but it was fun to write, and I realized I needed to be better versed in science fiction if I wanted to write it.

So, I went to the bookstore, asked the clerk “if I wanted to start reading science fiction, where would I start?” She smiled, and retrieved Foundation for me from the science fiction shelves. When she handed it to me, she said, “This book is aptly titled, because it’s basically the foundation for everything published in science fiction ever since.”

And she wasn’t wrong.

His name was Gaal Dornick and he was just a country who had never seen Trantor before. That is, not in real life. He had seen it many times on the hyper-video, and occasionally in tremendous three-dimensional newscasts covering an Imperial Coronation or the opening of a Galactic Council. Even though he had lived all his life on the world of Synnax, which circles a star at the edges of the Blue Drift, he was not cut off from civilization, you see. At that time, no place in the Galaxy was.

There were nearly twenty-five million inhabited planets in the Galaxy then, and not one but owed allegiance to the Empire whose seat was on Trantor. It was the last half-century in which that could be said.

To Gaal, this trip was the undoubted climax of his young, scholarly life. He had been in space before so that the trip, as a voyage and nothing more, meant little to him. To be sure, he had traveled previously only as far as Synnax’s only satellite in order to get the data on the mechanics of meteor driftage which he needed for his dissertation, but space-travel was all one whether one travelled half a million miles, or as many light years.

Having read almost all of the Foundation novels (I didn’t read the prequels that came later; ending with Foundation and Earth), I was very excited to see the Apple TV adaptation–while knowing it would be dramatically different (no doubt) from the books. But it was so different I thought it would be wise to go back and reread (or listen) to the original novel again. (It’s also been a very hot minute since I read them all, and I don’t remember everything I’ve read the way I used to…)

(Side note: I had actually read an Azimov novel in the 1970’s–Murder at the ABA–and still have my original paperback copy, purchased at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia, Kansas. I’ve always wanted to revisit it–because it was very insider-y about the American Booksellers Association annual event–now Book Expo America and in decline–as well as about publishing itself, and I wanted to see how spot-on Azimov was with the book. I remember it fondly, and am also curious as to whether or not it still holds up as a mystery novel.)

There are differences; there are characters in the show that don’t exist in the book, there was no Thespin in the book (Anacreon does, however, play an important part in the book), there’s no Genetic Dynasty running the Empire (in fact, little to nothing in the book about the Empire once the Encyclopedists take off for Terminus), and of course, Azimov wrote about white men–the show is much more diverse as well as gender flips both Gaal and Salvor Hardin. If you’re an Azimov purist, you’ll probably dislike the show, I think; I enjoyed it even as I noticed the significant differences. But listening to the audiobook, I also realized that some of those changes were necessary–what worked in the book and was exceptionally clever probably wouldn’t translate well into a visual medium, but listening and getting refreshed in my memory of what the original work actually was made me appreciate the book all the more. I’d remembered it was incredibly smart and clever, particularly in how everything worked out to solve what came to be called “Seldon crises”–a situation where the Foundation was endangered, both from within and without, but the forces working against it eventually led to a point where only one possible action could be taken, and it was inevitably the right one; which meant they had to have an almost religious-like belief in Seldon and his mathematics (and how much did I love that math was the savior of the galaxy?) and trust that taking no action was the proper course of action. I also loved how the Foundation changed and adapted from its original mission (its true purpose was hidden from them to begin with, because foreknowledge would change things and alter outcomes), and how it even developed a religion around its technology to control inhabitants on other planets.

And, as that bookstore clerk all those years ago at the bookstore in Manchester Center Mall told me, the book–and Azimov, really–influenced every science fiction writer and novel that came in his wake. It truly was a foundational text for science fiction. And it’s also not difficult to see where his own influences came from–his Galactic Empire was very similar to the Roman Empire in decline, and the parallels to the decline of the American empire are almost impossible to miss.

I did enjoy the show–the production values are amazing, and it’s a great story as well, if it does get off to a bit of a slow start (but it picks up)–but I am even more glad that the show drove me to revisit the original novel again. It truly is a superb work.

Broken Promise

And here we are on Friday yet again. The nights this weekend are a return to the frigid climes of earlier this week, but the days promise highs in the 50s, at least, and it’s supposed to get back up into the 70’s next week…or so it said the last time I checked. I generally tend not to look at weather forecasts more than a few days out, primarily because New Orleans weather is completely unpredictable and defies expectations all the time. It feels chilly this morning–I’ve not checked the temperature yet–but the space heater is on, as always, and I am shivering a bit under my layers and considering going to get a blanket. The HVAC guys were here yesterday, but there’s still no heat and there’s also no sign of them outside this morning. Which is fine; I can huddle under blankets as I do my work-from-home duties this morning. Okay, I checked, and it’s thirty-five with a high of 48 predicted. Yikes! Sometimes, methinks, it’s better not to know some things.

The forecast for next week looks much better. It’s simply a matter of getting through this last blast over this weekend.

We finished watching season two of Mr. Mercedes last night, and it was…well, it was a bit disappointing. The season wound up diverging significantly from the book it was based on (End of Watch, the concluding book of Stephen King’s Bill Hodges trilogy), and while the middle of the season was compelling and impossible to turn away from, the last two episodes, for me and Paul at least, significantly went off the rails. The third season starts airing on March 4, based on the second book of the trilogy, and we’ll watch because we really like the characters–and I think Book 2 was my favorite of the trilogy–but now It’s a Sin has dropped and so has something else we wanted to watch as well, but right now I can’t think of what that other show might be. Oh, yes, The Luminaries with Eva Green.

I also watched, while making condom packs yesterday, the original film version of The Amityville Horror, which fits into both the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival. I actually saw this movie in the theater when it was released all those years ago, and just like then, I found it unimpressive, not particularly scary, and farfetched. I had read the book, of course–I think I bought it off the wire racks at the Safeway in Emporia on 6th Street–but the book wasn’t very well written and the story–theoretically something that actually happened–wasn’t convincing and, I thought, pretty poorly written (and I wasn’t a particularly discerning reader back then, either). It was, however, a phenomenon; a huge bestseller and the movie also made a ton of money, spawning numerous cheesy sequels (none of which I watched). Horror made a big comeback as a genre in the 1970’s; it could even be seen as a “golden age”–there was a glut of films and movies in that decade, and the demand didn’t taper off until the late 1980’s/early 1990’s. Amityville was a big part of that–following The Exorcist and Rosemary’s Baby and Carrie; it was the decade when both Stephen King and Peter Straub’s careers are writers took off, and there were a lot of books published….a LOT. (I do highly recommend Grady Hendrix definitive Paperbacks from Hell–it will trigger a lot of memories for you if this was a period when you were actually alive…it certainly did for me.) But the movie is still bad, after all these years–James Brolin was certainly handsome, coming off his years on Marcus Welby and before he spent the 80’s managing Arthur Hailey’s Hotel on ABC. (Although I couldn’t help thinking, “wow, of someone would have told me back then Brolin would marry Barbra Streisand and live happily ever after and his son Josh would become a major star, I would have laughed and laughed and laughed.”) Margot Kidder plays his wife, Kathy, and this is the best, I think, she’s ever looked on film–they are a handsome couple and have some chemistry together, even though both performances eventually descend into one note, repeated over and over again. Rod Steiger also has a supporting role to which he brings all his Method bombast in a role that doesn’t really make a lot of sense, nor does what happens to him. The movie’s end, like the book’s, explains nothing other than the family abandoned the house and never returned. (Of course, the house has changed hands with people living in it for decades and none of them have experienced anything the Lutzes claim to have. Even cynical teenager me, when reading the book, thought, oh, you bought a house you couldn’t afford and dreamed up a crazy story to try to get out of the mortgage..the movie only convinced me further that I was correct in my theory. I looked it up on line, and the lawyer for the kid who murdered his family in the house later admitted he and the Lutzes, “over many bottles of wine”, came up with the story…to not only get them out of the mortgage but to try to get his client a new trial. The Lutzes still claim it all really happened. *insert ‘sure Jan’ GIF here*)

I think I bought another copy of the book several years ago–still in print all these years later!–to reread and see if it was as bad, if not worse, than I remembered. I have yet to get around to it…but watching the movie made me think I need to reconsider that urge to reread it.

But the 1970’s were, as I have said before, a weird decade of transition and change. Conspiracy theories were running rampant everywhere about everything–the JFK assassination in particular was talked about and theorized about a lot–but this was also the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, when UFO’s really became a topic of discussion, when The Late Great Planet Earth truly began shifting certain sects of Christianity into doomsday prophecy and end-times philosophy, and of course, we cannot forget the existential threat of Communism that had some people seeing Russian agents everywhere and there was the ever-present threat of nuclear annihilation.

Although there are times, too, when I think about the 1970’s as the last gasp of American naiveté and innocence. The one-two punch of Vietnam and Watergate made everyone start distrusting the government…and HIV/AIDS was just around the corner.

Hmmm. Some pretty heavy thoughts on a shiveringly cold Friday morning in New Orleans.

And now back to the spice mines. Stay warm, everyone, and stay safe.

Shake It Off

Believe it or not, we have finally reached the last Monday of 2020.

As always, I have a lot of work to do, but I slept exceptionally well for a change and the bed was comfortable and felt so lovely I stayed in bed for another hour after I woke up initially; sue me. I have a gazillion things to do today, including going to the bank and making groceries as well as going to the gym at some point; I also have to work on the book today. The work went very well yesterday and I was enormously pleased with what I managed to get done yesterday. I have a mere five chapters left to revise and a final chapter yet to be written; all of which needs to be done by Friday, and I do feel like it can be done–especially since I don’t even need to leave the house on either Tuesday or Thursday. I am not certain if the gym is going to be open on Friday–I guess I can ask when I go there today; I do find it strange that they don’t post their holiday hours anywhere around the front desk or on the front door, but it’s also not “my” gym, so I guess they can run it however they please. I also have a gazillion emails to answer, which doesn’t sound in the least bit fun or interesting, but it has to be done.

I did, as I mentioned earlier, manage to get a lot done yesterday–and not just on the book. More cleaning and organizing was required–still have some more to do today at some point–as well as making new folders, both physical and virtual, and of course, this meant more filing. While it was busywork, it needed to be done, and I actually did the floors in the kitchen–well, the rugs anyway–which always makes the kitchen look ever-so-much better. I am going to do the rugs in the living room today at some point, and then over the rest of the week do the actual floors themselves–and yes, I am going to do the windows as well.

I intended to start reading the new Alison Gaylin–I am lucky to have a very advance copy of The Colleciive, available from your local independents and on-line this coming summer of 2021–but I got caught up in Czity of Nets, which is, of course, Chlorine research, and after reading through it (I went ahead and bought the ebook; I do believe I must have donated the hardcover after I finished reading it, as Chlorine had yet to occur to me at the time I read it) I thought about it some more and was like, dude, you’re going to be writing the Kansas book next–maybe you should do some more background on it…because truth be told, most of it is being written based on almost forty year old memories of Kansas, and that really won’t do, will it? So, I went into a Kansas internet wormhole for quite some time and actually got pretty far afield from what I was originally looking up–you know how one thing inevitably leads to another on-line–and soon I was looking up rivers and lakes and the small rural towns scattered around the nucleus of Emporia, which was the county seat of where I lived as a teenager–towns with names like Admire and Allen, Bushong and Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove and Neosho Rapids, Olpe and Hamilton and Reading and Hartford. I’ll probably also take another read of In Cold Blood while I work on this revision as well; few writers have captured Kansas quite the way Capote did in that book. I also started looking at history as well–the history of Bleeding Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both of which were preludes to the Civil War. And as much as I am basing my fictional city of “Liberty Center” (shout out to Philip Roth and his When She Was Good) on Emporia, I also have to remember–just as how Bury Me in Shadows is a fictionalized version of the part of Alabama I come from–that I am fictionalizing the town; so I can make changes as needed and the fictionalization doesn’t have to be exact.

It’s so wild that the Kansas book is going to finally be finished and published–and all the different iterations it’s gone through over the course of my life. I actually started writing this book originally in high school–which is when I came up with the character names and places–and it was actually the very first manuscript I completed, by hand, in 1983 after writing it for about four years, continuing the stories I started writing about these characters in high school. This book will bear very little resemblance to any of those earlier iterations; over the years I’ve used the character names in other works, primarily my only other Kansas book, Sara–which I really need to reread to make sure I don’t re-use names I’ve already used. I think the ones I’ve used since high school were used in Sara, which I thought would be my one book about Kansas, so I threw all the character names and place names into it. I had wanted to connect this book in a way to Sara as well; since they are about the same part of Kansas, and I try to connect all of my work in some way, but I’ve never ever liked the name I came up with for the county seat, and now I’ve settled on Liberty Center….but I also tell myself that the two differently named counties can actually be next door neighbors, Liberty County can be right next to Kahola County, and thus Kahola High can be Liberty Center’s arch rival.

Looking into those small towns, some of them considered to be ghost towns now, also piqued my interest. I have several ideas about writing about Kansas–the Bloody Benders, of course, and I have a great title for a prairie noir called Kansas Lonesome I really want to write–and as I said, this book has been through many iterations. The great irony of finally publishing this–and finishing it, let’s be honest–still doesn’t mean I am writing the Kansas book I’ve always wanted to write; this book does focus on the murder of a high school football player, as the Kansas book I’ve been wanting to write since around 2002 did; but this is a vastly different story from what I originally wanted to write–and I still may write that book, centered around Kahola rather than Liberty Center; I’m not sure–and there’s also the cult college thing–the Way International and their Way College of Emporia, which isn’t there anymore; they closed the campus and sold the property to Emporia State University–and the Way has declined over the decades since they were large and wealthy enough to buy a bankrupt Presbyterian college in a small city in Kansas–but that’s a whole other story. There’s also the megachurch story I want to write about Kansas….which is also sort of tied into my original story of the quarterback’s murder. Who knew Kansas could be so inspirational?

But you see how I wind up wasting days….

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Those emails will not answer themselves, after all, and I’ve got a lot to get done today before the sun sets. Have a happy final Monday of 2020, Constant Reader!