Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

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

You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You’re Drunk

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Not that the day of the week matters anymore, frankly; yesterday I thought it was Friday all day and even when corrected (I sent an email to the MWA Board of Directors and opened with HAPPY FRIDAY!) I still continued to think it was Friday.

I’m stubborn that way.

We finished watching We Are the Wave last night, after I did one of those on-line promo reading/discussion things for The Faking of the President. I recognize that these things have become a part of what is reality these days, but I’m still uncomfortable doing them. I hate the sound of my own voice, and being able to see myself staring back at me from the computer screen is far worse than any mirror I’ve ever looked into. But I suspect that even once the pandemic has come to its inevitable end–even bubonic plague eventually ran its original course–these things will become part and parcel of promotion for writers henceforth. For one thing, publishers would much rather you “tour” virtually than having to pay to send you, for one, and for the vast majority of writers, virtual touring is much more, obviously, affordable than an actual tour.

But last night I slept extremely well, which is lovely; I actually feel very rested this morning and not tired, mentally or physically, and it’s been a hot minute or two since I could say that. There are some errands I have to run today–most importantly, a prescription refill that needs to be picked up–but I am going to be spending a lot of the day doing my day job stuff here at the Lost Apartment, and yes, that includes more hours of condom packing, which means finding some movies on HBO MAX or Disney to watch. The TCM app on HBO MAX is quite marvelous, actually; there are a lot of wonderful films on there I’ve always wanted to watch, and since I spend several afternoons a week making condom packs, I can now watch them while my hands work. Alas, there are a lot of films I want to see that aren’t on there; there’s some great Hitchcock movies (I really enjoyed Foreign Correspondent, despite how dated it was) and there are some lesser known Hitchcocks which will be fun to watch as well (I could also go through Amazon Prime, but their app on Apple TV is not user friendly in the least). I was looking to rewatch Rebecca and Notorious the other day, but neither were on the TCM app, and neither was Suspicion, which was my next default. I think Shadow of a Doubt is on Prime–that’s the next one I’m looking for–and there might be some on there that aren’t on the TCM app.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the films of the 1970’s a lot lately as well; watching Eyewitness made me think more about that decade, and we talked about it some on the virtual event last night–and there are some terrific films from the 1970’s I’d like to rewatch or see for the first time. I’d like to see Chinatown again, despite my aversion to Roman Polanski and his work–which is a whole other conversation, the old artist vs. the art thing–and there was a darker, grittier aspect to the films of the decade, despite it also being the decade that gave us Star Wars. I’d actually like to watch Cruising again, and numerous other Pacino/De Niro/Scorsese films of the decade.

I also am going to spend some time this weekend writing, and I am also going to spend some time with S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland. I also have some anthologies and short story collections I’d like to start dipping into; I hate that I’ve allowed myself to let the Short Story Project collapse by the wayside. I also want to spend some time this weekend trying to get organized; I have so much going on, between various writing projects and volunteerism and so forth that I am always playing catch-up, and I much prefer, as Constant Reader is very well aware, planning; the problem is that I am always juggling things as they come at me (bullets-and-bracelets from the old Wonder Woman comics is a very apt analogy) with the result that I always feel like I am getting dragged down into quicksand.

And don’t even get me started on emails. Jesus.

But it’s a good morning, I have energy and feel rested, and am hopeful this will help carry me through the rest of the day and I can get a lot done.

Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader.

Single

Well, Constant Reader, we’ve made it to Thursday again; how lovely is that?

I have a busy day ahead of me, so I am priming myself with as much coffee as I can hold–which I will undoubtedly regret later, when I can’t sleep tonight. I did sleep well last night–only waking up around six when Scooter decided to lie on me, purring and kneading me with his paws, but I fell back asleep relatively easily. I could have slept for another three or four hours, frankly.

While making my condom packs yesterday I watched two movies on HBO MAX: Eyewitness and Foreign Correspondent. Both were enjoyable, if flawed; the second more flawed for being a product of its time (1940) more than anything else. Eyewitness was also very much of its own time–the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and is particularly memorable for being the first major film roles for William Hurt and Sigourney Weaver. Watching the movie put me back in mind of the 1970’s and all of its bitter cynicism. Hurt plays Darell Deaver, a Vietnam vet who now works as a janitor in an office building in the evenings; yet can afford a fairly decent apartment in Manhattan–which I suppose was still possible in the 1970’s–and his best friend is Aldo, played by a very young James Woods (also playing a racist Vietnam vet). In the building where Darell works is the office for a Vietnamese businessman (played Chao-li Chi, best known as Chao-li from Falcon Crest; obviously, back then it wasn’t an issue having a Chinese-American actor play a Vietnamese character) whom both he and Aldo remember from Saigon. Mr. Long has gotten Aldo fired from his job, and one night Mr. Long is brutally murdered while Darell is in the building. Darell, thinking Aldo killed him, pretends he didn’t find the body…but the newspaper reporter covering the case (Sigourney Weaver) he’s been watching on the news and has a big crush on, so he begins a minor flirtation with her. She thinks he knows more than he’s saying, and so plays along with the flirtation….not knowing she is more connected to the murder than he actually is. It’s a nice neo-noir film, if a bit flawed, and watching it reminded me of how much things have changed in our society and culture since then–and also reminded me of other things about the 1970’s; the rampant paranoia, for one, and how New York was in decline (or at least, seen to be in decline by the rest of the country), and was a much grittier, messier place. It also reminded me of how much public perception in the United States towards Jews and Israel have shifted–there’s a subplot about Sigourney Weaver’s parents being Russian Jews who managed to escape that is more important than is let on at first, and Christopher Plummer has a role as Weaver’s actual lover who is an activist helping Russian Jews escape from behind the Iron Curtain. Morgan Freeman and the guy who played Adam Schiff for years on Law and Order play the police detectives investigating Long’s murder–which was an interesting twist.

Foreign Correspondent was one of Hitchcock’s first American films, and since it was made in 1940 and was about the possibility of war breaking out in Europe (it already had; the movie was set in August of 1939), as one can expect it was very anti-Nazi and pro-Britain. Joel McCrea plays a reporter for the New York Globe who, as a crime reporter, is seen by the publisher as someone better equipped to handle reporting the double-dealing and backroom deals prior to the possible outbreak of war. McCrea does a good job in the role–if his character is quite a bit naive–and eventually he falls (as one does so frequently in Hitchcock films) madly in love with the daughter of the head of the Peace Party, who is supposedly working very hard to prevent the outbreak of war. There’s a typical Hitchcockian plot about a Dutch diplomat who is party to a secret treaty between Holland and Belgium and a secret clause only known to the signatories who is being pursued by the Nazis; a double stands in for him and is murdered very publicly–but the McCrea character knows he’s a phony and the search is on for the real diplomat. The suspense that Hitchcock is known for is there, and props to the studio and Hitchcock for doing a plane crash at sea in the third act–it’s totally not how a plane crash would work, of course, but no one in 1940 would know that–and, of course, as required by the Hays Code there is a rousing happy-ever-after ending with McCrea reporting from London during a bombing raid a la Edward R. Murrow, and as the credits roll a rousing rendition of a patriotic American song plays.

I had a headache for most of the day yesterday, so I didn’t read or write at all, but despite the headache, I couldn’t help but think about both movies, and how their stories couldn’t really be updated very much to a modern era–perhaps Eyewitness could be, more so, since television reporting isn’t going anywhere, but do newspapers even have foreign correspondents anymore? I don’t think so.

Paul and I are also watching a German Netflix series called We Are The Wave, which is interesting and rather well done; it’s based on the old “Wave” experiment that was actually done at a high school and then made into a movie, with a book adapted from it later; about how easy it is for fascism to take hold. It was done as an experiment, a teaching moment for an instructor for his class to show them–who wondered about how the Germans could embrace such a toxic political philosophy as Nazism–precisely how easy it was. This show is a bit different in that it shows that Nazism is again on the rise in Germany, and the “wave” in this show is actually a resistance movement towards both capitalism and Nazism. It’s interesting, only about six episodes long, and we are almost finished. We won’t be able to finish tonight because I am doing one of those Zoom on-line promotion things for The Faking of the President anthology.

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

Welcome to the Room…Sara

Christmas Eve, a lovely Saturday morning. It’s supposed to reach a high of seventy-seven degrees today; maybe if I get as much work done as I want to I can take the time out to clean the windows, which are, as always, filthy. I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I wanted–I’m not sure why, but every word yesterday was a struggle and a fight, like drawing blood, but I really have to get moving on this today. I think I’ll be able to get pretty far along today, and another productive day tomorrow can get me back on schedule to finish. I really don’t know why this has been such a struggle, frankly. But if I could learn why I struggle so hard to do something I love, I could rule the world.

I finished watching Season 2 of The Man in the High Castle last night (enjoyed it) and the first season of Eyewitness, which I felt was really high quality and good right up until the last two episodes, when it went off the rails and became completely unbelievable (but I applaud it for its clever plot and for making a pair of gay teens the center of the story, and showing them actually being intimate–kissing and so forth; I also think their sexuality was handled sensitively and honestly; which was really nice. Too too bad about the last two episodes, though). I also finished reading Exit Pursued by a Bear last night.

“I swear to God, Leo, if you throw one more sock, I am going to throw you in the lake myself!” I shout, knees sticking to the vinyl as I turn to face the back of the bus. The boys have claimed the back when we boarded, and since it smelled weird (well, more weird) we were happy to let them have it. I hadn’t expected a constant barrage of hosiery, though.

“Like you could, Winters,” he shouts back. The other boys hoot in laughter.

“I may be small,” I reply, “but I’m crafty.”

“Don’t I know it,” Leo leers, and the hooting devolves into outright catcalls.

I fire back with a wadded sock, barely missing Leo but managing to nail Clarence, who looks properly chastened. I glare at the rest and then turn sharply to face the front, but by the time I’m in my seat again, I’m smiling. The other girls lean in towards me, ribboned braids dropping over shoulders like the least-threatening snake pile in the world. Of course, that’s what the snakes probably want you to think.

E. K. Johnston is a phenomenally successful Canadian young adult writer–her The Story of Owen series looks quite clever (and I am adding it to my list)–and Exit Pursued by a Bear is a very good book, and not only a very good read but a thought-provoking one. The story is told from the point of view of cheerleading co-captain Hermione Winters, and she is telling the story of her senior year, beginning with the trip to cheerleading camp with her team. Unfortunately, at a camp dance one night Hermione is roofied, and she is found the next morning half-naked in the lake. The water has pretty much ruined any chance of forensic evidence, and she herself has little or no memory of what happened to her–the last thing she remembers is trying to find the recycling bin to throw away her empty cup as things start to get foggy.

The book is very well-written and compelling; Hermione’s struggle to deal with being ‘the girl who was raped’ and trying to get her life back together is hard to put down; the way people now react to her and how that makes her feel is painful and sad–how do you deal with people when you’ve been through something horrible and they are sympathetic but don’t know what to do, what to say, to you? But Hermione is a strong young woman with a very great support system which enables her to put her life back together, and that’s the primary focus of the book. And that’s an important story to tell.

If I had a quibble with the book, though, it would be that; Hermione has so much love and support as she puts her life back together, and she doesn’t remember anything that happened to her that night–as she says, “it feels like it happened to someone I know instead of to me”–and she avoids social media so she can’t see what people are posting and saying about her, and for the most part, her friends and the other cheerleaders gather around her to create a protective shell…which kind of seemed a bit too good to be true to me, if that makes sense? I just felt that–don’t get me wrong, I liked the book a lot and recommend it–she should have had to face some of what most girls in her position have to in the real world.

Rape culture is a very real thing, no matter how much some people may want to pretend that it isn’t. I, like so many others, was horrified by the two primary cases illustrating this sort of thing–the Steubenville and Marysville cases a few years back–and of course, the ones detailed in Jon Krakauer’s Missoula. I recently watched the heartbreaking documentary Audrie and Daisy (Daisy is the girl from Marysville) on Netflix (I urge everyone to watch it, especially if you have daughters–and watch it with your daughters), so after seeing how these kinds of stories actually play out in the real world made the written-for-young-adult-audience sense of this one seem almost like a cop-out.

But that doesn’t lessen the impact of this book by any means. It’s also heartbreaking, even if to a lesser degree than the true stories, which I suspect motivated Johnston to write the book in the first place.

Although I would love to see what Megan Abbott could do with the same kind of story.

And now, back to the spice mines.

I Can Help

All Soul’s Day; November. Two months left in 2016, and before you know it, it’s 2017. Heavy heaving sigh. The time change is coming this weekend, which means it will be dark before five. This always feels oppressive to me; I truly despise Daylight Savings Time (although I always enjoy the extra hour in the fall; hurray for consistency!). But, if I am being honest, I am more productive in the winter. I read more and I certainly write more. And God knows, I have a lot of writing to do in the next few months.

Madness.

I had a mini-breakthrough the other day while feeling sorry for myself that Wicked Frat Boy Ways was turning out to be such a bitch to write. It was such a “d’oh” moment–and it not only applied to the work in progress, but also as to why I have so much trouble writing short stories that I literally wanted to pound my head on my desk until it was soft as an overripe melon.

Seriously, I do not understand how I have a career of any sort in writing. The end result, however, was a great insight on not only how to make this book ever so much better, but how I can make my short stories better. So now all I want to do is write, rewrite, revise, lather, rinse, repeat. True madness.

I’ve been reading The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson. It’s about what was called at the time she wrote it “multiple personality disorder;” the term now is dissociative identity disorder. The book was originally published in 1954, was filmed as Lizzie with Eleanor Parker in the lead role, and prefaced the more famous book/film The Three Faces of Eve by three years; although Eve was a true story and not fiction (and won Joanne Woodward an Oscar). I’ve always been interested in DID; when I was a kid, of course, I saw it handled on the soap One Life to Live, and of course, in my teens was when Sybil┬ábecame a huge bestseller (and TV movie starring Sally Field, who won an Emmy and was the turning point in her career when she started being taken seriously as an actress). That story was later debunked, I believe; but DID is something I’ve always wanted to write about, but at the same time not in an exploitative way. Maybe at some point…it would require a lot of research to do it properly.

Anyway, I digress. I’m enjoying The Bird’s Nest, but it is slow and harder going than Jackson’s short stories and her two exquisite novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or her delightful memoir Life Among the Savages. Jackson’s style is definitely present there, but it’s different. I am also very curious to read the recent bio of her, to see where the ideas for The Bird’s Nest came from.

As I was so busy sticking to my horror theme for October, I wasn’t able to talk about many other things–my reread of Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots; the new gay-themed crime show Eyewitness; how much I’m enjoying the show Versailles; and so many other things–but I do look forward to talking about them now that I am no longer shackled to a theme here. (Hilarious, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve stared at the ‘post an entry’ page blankly, with no idea of what to write about…and then when I tie myself to a theme for a month the blog ideas burst forth from my head like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’ forehead.

Oy.

I am also rereading Barbara Michaels’ sublime Be Buried in the Rain, and I do want to talk about Michaels some more at some point, as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s today’s hunk:

hot-guy-on-the-beach