Gorgeous

So, as Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been working, off and on, since 2015 on something that I referred to for years as “the Kansas book”, whose actual title is #shedeservedit.

It will be released on 1/11/22 officially; if you pre-order it from the Bold Strokes website, it will ship actually on January 1 (well, probably the 2nd since the 1st is a holiday).

Here’s the cover copy:

Liberty Center High School’s football team has a long history of success, and the dying small town has nothing else to cling to. But when Lance, the star quarterback, is found dead, Alex Wheeler becomes the prime suspect in his best friend’s murder. Alex thought he knew Lance’s secrets–but Lance was keeping his sexuality private and someone else found out. How well did Alex really know Lance, and what else did he keep hidden? 

To prove his innocence and figure out what really happened to Lance that last night, Alex starts connecting the dots and finds that everything leads back to the recent suicide of a cheerleader who may have been sexually assaulted at a team party. Did online bullying and photos of her from the party drive her to suicide? Or was she murdered? Alex and his girlfriend India soon find their own lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to the horrifying truth about how far Liberty Center will go to protect their own.

I’ve been writing what I had taken to calling “the Kansas book” since I was in high school, really. While I was in high school I wrote several stories about a group of kids at a fictional high school, completely based on my own, and while it was certainly melodrama…we also didn’t have shows for teens like Beverly Hills 90210 and movies for teens like Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgement High, or Risky Business yet; all “teen fare” at the time was mostly from Disney, G-rated, and farcical; likewise, television programs targeted toward younger viewers were mostly for really young kids or what we now call “tweens.” And while I had crushes on both Kurt Russell and Jan-Michael Vincent (who didn’t?), those Disney films were little better than The Brady Bunch. I think it was in 1980 when I decided to take those stories and extrapolate them into a longer story, thinking it would be my first novel–and it expanded from the kids to include their older siblings and parents and teachers as well. I moved the story from the rural county to the county seat, and over the course of three years I painstakingly wrote about three thousand notebook pages. It was a sloppy mess, to be honest; I was thinking in terms of writing something along the lines of Peyton Place–the story of a town over the course of five years–but as I wrote I dropped characters and storylines; changed character names when a better name occurred to me; as I said, it was a total mess…and when I completed it, in the days before computers, I realized that I needed to type the entire thing up, and alas, I didn’t know how to touch type and whenever I typed anything I consistently made errors. So, I simply set it aside and went back to writing short stories before starting, in 1991, to try my hand at novels again.

In the years since, I cheerfully pulled elements from that ancient manuscript out to use for other books and other stories–there was a murder mystery at the heart of the book, and I actually used that as the basis for the plot of Murder in the Garden District; apparently I have always had crime in mind when it came to my writing–and I also pulled character names and other stories from it to use elsewhere. I reverted back to the rural county aspect of the original short stories to write Sara; one of the things I had to do recently was go through Sara and anything else I’ve written and published already having to do with Kansas to record the character names to make sure I wasn’t using them again in this book. I also originally began the basics of this book sometime before Katrina–the star quarterback’s dead body being found on the fifty yard line of the football field, and originally the primary POV character was the only detective on the small town’s police force. What I wrote was really good–I believe I got up to about five chapters–and it was also a flashback story with parallel time-lines; one in 1977, when the quarterback was murdered, and the present day, with someone who was in high school at the time becoming convinced that the person convicted of the crime was actually innocent and railroaded as a cover-up. I could never get the whole plot worked out, and it went through several changes and stages as I worked on it, still being called “the Kansas book.”

Two real life crimes–the rapes in Steubenville, Ohio and the other in Marysville, Missouri, in which girls were either drugged or pressured into over drinking and then when too wasted to even speak were sexually assaulted by athletes–inspired me to drag the framework of this story out and use it to tell a similar style story. I was, like anyone with a conscience or a soul, horrified by these rapes, and even more horrified by the aftermath; the way the girls were humiliated and shamed publicly and on social media, and I couldn’t get a hashtag that the kids in one of the towns used while shaming the victim: #shedeservedit.

That, I felt, was my title, and I could build the story from there. I could still have the dead quarterback; I could still have the town reeling from the one-two punch of the rape and the murder, only now I could layer in the victim-blaming and shaming. (I will never forget female newscasters talking about how sad it was that the boys convicted for the Steubenville case’s lives were ruined; I saved my sympathy for the poor girl they victimized; how on earth would she get past this?) I wrote the entire first draft in one month in the summer of 2015, and have tinkered with it, off and on, ever since. It was early last year, I think, pre-pandemic, when. I finally decided that two books I’d been working on between others over the last few years needed to be done and out of my hair; and the best way to force myself to finish them both once and for all was to offer them to my publisher. I did that, was given deadlines, and now, as I am finishing the final version of #shedeservedit, I also have a release date (1/11/22) and a cover to share with you all, so here it is (obviously, see above).

Writing this has been a journey, as writing any book can be; the Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head numerous times during the writing of this book–should a man be writing a book about this subject? Is telling such a story from the point of view of a young man, friend to both the rape victim and the rapists, the right way to tell it? Am I centering a young man in a story about sexual assault and the toxic rape culture that has grown up around a small town’s athletic success?

I guess time will tell.

Close Range

And suddenly it’s Friday.

Our weather is taking a turn–not quite as horrific as all y’all up north with your ice storms and blizzards and below zero temperatures, yet it still a turn nonetheless. There was a quite nasty and wet thunderstorm that passed through here yesterday afternoon, and the temperature began to drop precipitously and noticeably. The governor made an announcement of some sort yesterday–severe weather alert or something of that sort–and it’s probably something I should research a bit more, I am slowly realizing as my first cup of coffee kicks in. If we’re in a severe weather alert of some sort, I should probably know more about it than this vague recollection of something I saw in passing somewhere on social media yesterday. And if that is indeed the case, well, it’s just as well the parades were cancelled ahead of time anyway.

Parades aren’t as much fun when it’s cold and raining.

Not, of course, that cold or rain would stop us from going out to the corner.

Okay, so I looked and I don’t see anything; I’m not sure what the governor’s message or whatever it was I saw somewhere was about, but at least for today there is no threat of severe weather in New Orleans. It’s forty-eight degrees–it doesn’t feel cold in the Lost Apartment, but one never knows; the interior temperature is not always an indicator of the exterior–but it is gray and grim outside. It rained most of the night too–a thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night (never fear, I was able to return to sleep quite easily) and so everything outside looks wet. I don’t think I am going to go outside much today–I will go to the gym tomorrow–as I have to work at home today and once today’s work-at-home duties are over I have to dive headfirst back into my book–and so shortly will have to head back into the spice mines. I haven’t decided what film to watch during my condom-packing duties, but I am starting to lean toward the teen movies of the 1980’s. I had thought Risky Business was free to stream somewhere, but I couldn’t find it anywhere yesterday…but Prime suggested Taps to me, and since the idea was to view early Tom Cruise films performances (at least the ones before Top Gun), and he was in Taps–in fact, I think it was Taps that first got him a lot of attention–and I had never seen Taps, I thought, why not? So I clicked play.

I wsa vaguely aware of the film at the time of its release, and knew vaguely what it was about–military school being closed, cadets seize control of it–but had never seen it. I also knew that it was Timothy Hutton’s first star vehicle after he won an Oscar for Ordinary People, and that it–like many other teen movies of the early 1980’s, had a bunch of early-in-their-career stars in it who made good impressions on critics and audiences–Tom Cruise in particular. I’d forgotten that Sean Penn was also in it (if I ever knew; I think this preceded his breakout role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High; I seem to recall his follow-up to that was Bad Boys, which was set in juvie, and after that he was on the fast track to stardom), and I don’t think I’d ever known that Giancarlo Esposito was in it as a beautiful young man. There were any number of other faces I recognized–one of the younger kids I’ve seen in other things, but I couldn’t place him or his name while I watched and I still am not completely sure who he was (a quick google search turns up the name John P. Navin Jr., who played one of the cousins in National Lampoon’s Vacation)–and another was Evan Handler, young and with hair, years before he joined the cast of Sex and the City.

I’m really not sure why I never saw Taps, either in the theater or on cable, to be honest. I’ve always liked Hutton, and (surprise!) I’ve always been drawn to stories about all-male environments for teenaged boys or young men. I loved Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline (the book is a favorite; I’ve never seen the movie) and also Lucian Truscott IV’s Dress Gray (again, the book and never watched the film); I’ve always enjoyed seeing the group dynamics play out in those environments. But watching the film, I couldn’t help but reflect how dark the movie was in tone–it’s very anti-military, really–and is actually very attuned to our present day world, which the film can be extrapolated to expose and perhaps even be seen as a warning. The devotion that the headmaster, General Rache, (played by George C. Scott) and the school inspires in the young boys under his watch is very disturbing–particularly given what we know about cults and how they operate nowadays. The boys’ rebellion to save their school is misguided from the very beginning; a decision is made that they do not agree with and decide they are not going to abide by it, even if it means violence and seizing control of the school. They are obviously breaking the law–and as the movie went on, I couldn’t help but think yeah, this movie isn’t going to end well–a lot of these boys are going to wind up dead…

But then I remembered they were majority white, and breathed a little easier…because of course the National Guard and the police would never use violence against privileged white boys. The tragic denouement of the film is in perfect accord with the darkness of the plot and its warnings about how easily people can be indoctrinated and what mass delusion can look like and how dangerous that can be certainly are timely in our present day America. It’s definitely an anti-war film–more specifically, an anti-military film, and in that regard is more of a Cynical 1970’s Movie than it is an 80’s teen movie; and again, it’s a lot deeper than my original impression before watching it led me to believe. Timothy Hutton is fantastic in the lead role–all of the boys are terrific–and there’s this wonderful moment with George C. Scott, when he’s talking about how military leaders are often considered “mad” because of the decisions they have to make, knowing that the men under their command could die or be permanently maimed or injured but having to make those decisions….how can it not drive you mad? It was also interesting seeing Scott play the scene, considering he won an Oscar for playing Patton…and thought, they cast him specifically for this speech, didn’t they?

And of course, now it has me thinking about a long dormant crime novel idea I had set at an all-boys military school.

And yeah, on that note I need to head back into the spice mines.

This Time of Night

It rained pretty much all day yesterday; it was grim and gray until the sun went down. It continued to drizzle overnight, and it’s gray and cold and wet outside this morning. When I first woke up (I stayed in bed for at least another hour) it was still raining; I could hear it pelting the windows, which were also rattling with the wind. But now I am awake, Scooter has received his morning insulin shot, and I am sitting down at my computer with my first cup of coffee sort of ready to face this blustery day. I managed to get a lot done yesterday–I even worked on the book last night!–and then we got caught up on both Servant and The Stand. I have to say, I had high hopes for this remake/reboot/whatever-want-to-call-it of The Stand; it’s long been one of my favorite Stephen King novels, if not the absolute favorite, and I greatly enjoyed the original television miniseries from the early 1990’s, even if it was flawed. This version? I give them props for telling the story in a completely different, non-linear way, and the casting was very well thought out. But…I suddenly had some misgivings about the plot, the story, and how it was being depicted on the screen; “New Las Vegas”, in both book and both adaptations, was supposedly a new wicked city, on the lines of the great Biblical cities of sin like Sodom, Gomorrah, and Babylon the Great; and as I watched the so-called debauchery of this new edition of the Biblical cities of sin, I began thinking about the queers, and how we are completely missing from this narrative; also, about how “sinful debauchery” was being depicted on the screen.

And it didn’t really sit well with me, to be completely honest. There’s I think maybe one more episode left, and we’ll watch as we are completists; we generally don’t finish things that we don’t like but if we don’t absolutely hate something or think it’s completely terrible, we tend to finish watching. Servant is far superior; dark and demented and twisted, and getting even worse with each successive episode as Lauren Ambrose’s descent into madness grows worse and worse with each episode, and her brother and husband’s consistent enabling of her demented fantasies “to protect her from a truth she cannot handle”–well, good intentions and all that, you know. It’s fascinating to watch, frankly; just when we think it can’t get any more insane it laughs in our faces and yells, “Watch this, bitches!” Really, it’s quite extraordinary.

As I sat in my easy chair watching the LSU-Auburn gymnastics meet (before we moved on to our shows) I found myself writing notes for not just “The Rosary of Broken Promises” but for “To Sacrifice a Pawn” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night. It dawned on me during the uneven parallel bars performances by LSU that the primary problem I’ve had with “Never Kiss a Stranger” when writing it was because I was starting the story in the wrong place; my main character has just retired from the military after twenty years of service–he was tipped off that he was most likely going to be caught up in the next “gay sweep” before ‘don’t ask don’t tell” takes effect, so he filed the papers and got out. With nowhere really to go to start his life anew, he comes to New Orleans (around 1994/1995) and as he starts living as an our gay man, he rents an apartment from a widow whose only child died of AIDS the year before, begins coming to terms with who he is and what he wants from life while working as a barback at Oz, and meets a young man he begins to have feelings for…but he can also feel the presence of his landlady’s dead son in his apartment, and there’s a serial killer in New Orleans praying on gay men, the city itself is crumbling and decaying and dying, and how I want to pull all those separate threads together. Obviously, it’s fairly complicated, but I was starting the story with him arriving in New Orleans on a Greyhound bus and renting a room at the Lee Circle YMCA and looking for a place to live….and it dawned on me last night that that is all backstory, and the story should open with him finding the apartment and renting it….and then voluminous notes followed before I jumped into the other two stories. So I am feeling creative and getting stuff finished on that level; which is very cool and pleases me. Today I have some errands to run, some cleaning to do and as always, of course there is writing to be done because there is always writing to be done. But if I can get these next chapters done that I want to get done today, I can have an easier day tomorrow doing edits on the hard copies of the finished chapters and plan what else needs to be done this week. I am taking Lundi Gras off, so next weekend will be a lovely four day weekend following two work-at-home days, which will be really nice–and should help me get very much further on this book being completed. Huzzah!

Yesterday while I was making condom packs I decided to view my first film in what I call the 80’s Teen-sploitation Film Fest. I’ve always thought there were a clearly delineated line between movies directed for a younger audience prior to the 1980’s and those that came after; I, as always, have an uneducated film student type theory that has probably already been deeply explored, debunked, and argued about endlessly. My theory is that the one-two punch of Porky’s and Fast Times at Ridgemont High forever changed the face or youth movies; Porky’s was all about the raunchy teen sex comedy, all about sex-crazed teen boys; Ridgemont High showed that girls were just as obsessed/concerned about sex as the boys, and the idea that breaking the rules for kids–drinking, having sex, experimenting with drugs–required punishment of some sort–they needed to suffer for the experimentation, was kind of thrown out the window (although slasher films targeted at the youth market were also on the rise during this time; and as was pointed out so brilliantly in the Scream movies–the victims often were being punished for breaking the rules; another interesting theorem branching off from the original). So, I decided to revisit a film I saw in the theater and actually enjoyed at the time–and did also on subsequent viewings on cable: Class.

Reader, it does not hold up at all–if it ever did, frankly; the misogyny is so deeply embedded in this film that it’s hard to imagine there being anything left if the misogyny is removed. Class is really two movies combined into one: a coming of age movie about a young scholarship student who bonds with his wealthy roommate, which is kind of a sex comedy; and a deeply tragic story about the wealthy student’s mother. The always exquisite Jacqueline Bisset plays the mother opposite Cliff Robertson as her austere and cold husband–there was a lot of story there the screenwriters sadly chose to ignore at the expense of the teen sex comedy they were aiming for. The result is the movie doesn’t really work, and Bisset’s character, Ellen, never really makes any sense other than “oh she has psychological problems, takes drugs and drinks too much.” This is basically shrugged off like it’s nothing, nor is the damage this bad marriage has inflicted on their son ever explored or thought about or even discussed. The son is played by a young and incredibly beautiful Rob Lowe; the scholarship student is played by Andrew McCarthy in his debut film. The friendship between the two is the core of the movie; but even it never makes sense. Rob plays Skip–extroverted, beautiful, young, and rich– as an immensely likable asshole with an over-the-top sense of humor. There are some funny scenes, but the core of the movie is based in the hormone-riddled sex fever dreams of teenaged boys who drink and smoke pot and try to get laid and spend most of their time figuring out ways around the rules and partying. There are some funny moments–but for the most part the movie can’t make up its mind as to whether its supposed to be comedy or drama. One of the fun things about the movie is seeing any number of young stars of the future in small roles–John Cusack, Joan Cusack, Virginia Madsen, and Casey Siezmansko all are in the movie, as well as it being McCarthy’s debut and an early film in the Lowe canon. The retread plot, which has Jonathon (McCarthy) going to a bar in Chicago (sent by Skip) to try to get laid, being humiliated by a woman who also looked familiar, and then finally Ellen (Bisset) taking pity on him and seducing him, beginning an affair in which he meets her in Chicago every weekend. She of course doesn’t know he’s a high school student; even as young as he looks, one would assume a man you meet in a bar would be over eighteen–and it’s on a trip to New York for the weekend that his wallet falls open while he’s trying on close and she sees his student ID. She flees, and that’s the end of the affair. Later, when Skip brings Jonathon home with him, he discovers he’s been sleeping with his best friend’s mother–and then it turns truly tragic. Ellen is for some reason now obsessed with Jonathon, calling him all the time at school and begging him to meet her until he finally agrees–and of course, Skip and his buddies crash the hotel where they have gotten a room (somehow finding out their room number) and bust in on them. The rest of the movie has Skip choosing not to reveal a secret of Jonathon’s about cheating on the SAT, the two of them getting into a brutal fist fight–and once it’s over, they are friends again. Roll credits.

It is only recently that we as a society have begun to view the older woman/teenage boy sexual dynamic as abusive rather than as a fantasy; there were a rash of these type films in the early 1980’s (another that comes to mind is My Tutor, with gorgeous Matt Lattanzi being seduced by a beautiful woman hired by his father to tutor him–sexually as well as academically, and Weird Science also had the same premise–but I don’t think the boys ever had sex with their creation) which was part of the weird “boys are studs/girls are sluts” mentality that has been so pervasive in our society for so long–I’ve never seen it, but I also believe Tea and Sympathy falls into this category, as does Summer of ’42–and as I said, it is only recently, with several high profile cases, that we as a society have begun to look a little askance at this idea (we came to the conclusion that older men/teenaged girls was abuse much, much sooner). I hated A Teacher as we watched it, but now…having seen Class again and remembering these other films, which portray these kinds of relationships as something to be desired…I might have to rethink my opinion of how heavy-handed A Teacher was in its “this is a LESSON we all need to learn” stridency. There have been a score of these types of court cases in Louisiana–the Destrehan one where two young female teachers were fucking a student comes to mind–and it’s something I would really like to explore in a book sometime.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. So much to do, so much to get done….and so little time in which to do it all. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

Treacherous

And it’s Saturday, and my vacation is slowly but surely drawing to a close. Heavy heaving sigh,

It’s been lovely, actually, even if I haven’t been particularly inspired to do a whole lot this entire time. It’s always easy–and kind of a cop-out–to say, well, you needed the physical, intellectual, and emotional rest, but I really need to cut myself a break every now and again. The endless struggle between “feeling lazy” and “everyone needs a break” is an endless war inside my head; inevitably, the things I need to get done will get done and at some point, I’ll forgive myself for the rest.

I had a very strange inspiration for a short story the other day, which I scribbled down and have some vague idea of where the story will go; it’s called “The Sound of Snow Falling” and the first line is: It was the ice storm that finally broke him. I love that first line; whether it will wind up being a good story remains to be seen. But one thing I’ve never mined in my fiction is my utter hatred for cold weather; perhaps it’s time.

I actually worked on the book yesterday afternoon! It was lovely, and while it still needs polishing up some, I am confident that now that I’ve gotten past whatever the fuck it was that kept me holding back from working on it, I am certain I am going to get this done sooner rather than later–which is a very good thing, as time is running out very quickly. Today I have to run some errands, so I am planning on working on the book before I do that. The Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) is today, and LSU plays Texas A&M tonight, so I need to try to get as much done as I can before the 2:30 kick off.

I did go to the gym yesterday and today my back muscles are sore and tight, so I am going to need to use the heating pad at some point today–probably while I drink more coffee and read some more of Night of Camp David, which is kind of scarily prophetic, given it was published originally in 1965. We also watched this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, which did a marvelous job of tying the show into the the original trilogy, the prequels, and the final trilogy–apparently, it also tied the show into The Clone Wars, which I’ve never watched (and perhaps should). We also found out the Child’s name–Gorgu–and as always, the show was enormously entertaining (also: a guest spot by Michael Biehn, of The Terminator and Aliens fame!) and visually stunning and splendid. It did occur to me last night that the show–in which the Mandalorian’s quest is to find Gorgu’s people–can’t ever really separate them, as their relationship is at the beating heart of the show.

The show is really one of the highlights of my every weekend, frankly.

We weren’t ready for bed yet, and were trying to find some stand-up comedian special to watch before hand–to no avail–when Amazon Prime suggested Porky’s to us. I had actually run across the movie when looking for things to add to my watchlist, and the film–from 1981–was a watershed moment in “teen movies”–when they turned from the unrealistic fluff from Disney or message movies to sex comedies. I assumed the movie wouldn’t hold up–I remember thinking it was really funny when I was twenty and saw it in the theater–and I was correct; the humor falls very flat in almost every case; the way women are treated–and the way they are expected to simply put up with it (and do) is horrifying, It’s a comedy predicated on the idea that high school boys are always horny and always trying to get laid–none of the boys have a relationship of any kind with any women–and the only female cast members exist only as potential sex partners–Wendy is the female equivalent of the boys, and despite her easy way with her own favors, (basically the boys see her as a willing sex partner who can be persuaded to have sex with just about anyone) she is actually popular and has a lot of friends. (This struck me as wrong when I originally saw it–she would have had a bad reputation-and none of the girls would have been friends with her) The other women in the cast are Miss Honeywell (a very young Kim Cattrall)–again, everyone calls her Lassie because she gets very aroused by the smell of the equipment room and howls loudly as she gets laid–and an uptight, overweight, gym teacher known as Beulah Ballbricker, that they all call Ball-breaker and I suppose her sexual repression and determination to keep the girl students safe from the lusts and perversions of the boys is played for laughs. She represents the sexual frustration and repression of the time, I suppose, that all the kids are rebelling against; but you also can’t help feel sorry for her in some ways.

The movie clearly doesn’t hold up–there are still some moments that are funny–but it depends entirely too much on very low sex humor for laughs, and its very vulgarity was what made it funny; it was shocking, and you would laugh back then because you couldn’t believe they were doing these things in a movie for laughs. Some forty years later, it’s no longer shocking, so it’s not funny anymore and it’s just plain vulgar. They also tacked on a subplot about prejudice and anti-semitism to, I suppose, give the movie a “serious” message about how stupid bigotry actually is in reality. And yet it–along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Animal House of a few years earlier–changed the teen movie forever, and paved the way for other movies of the 1980’s like Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, and The Last American Virgin. With the enormous success of this low-budget indie film, along with Ridgemont High and Animal House, Hollywood finally got the message that you can’t go wrong with sex comedies for teens–and teen movies, while still kind of extreme in some ways, began to more accurately reflect what life was like for teenagers, as opposed to the Frankie-Annette movies of the 1960’s and the Kurt Russell films for Disney in the 1970’s; or began developing films in which the teens were actually fully realized characters–I’m not sure how realistic the notion of running a brothel from your parents’ home in a wealthy suburb is. (Although now that I’ve said that, Risky Business was probably based on something that actually happened.)

There’s a really interesting essay or dissertation or even book there, methinks, but I’m not enough of a film expert to do such a thing–although it would make for interesting reading.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The caffeine is beginning to kick in, which is most lovely, and I am most anxious to get functional and to work on the book as quickly as I can. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

The Archer

It’s always something, isn’t it? If could go back in time and tell my younger self anything in the way of advice or assistance in dealing with life, that’s the lesson I would try to get through: it never stops, there’s always something, and sometimes you just can’t get away from things–but you also can’t get away from dealing with these things. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will be minor and small annoyances; but they will inevitably include things that are an enormous pain in the ass, and if other people are involved….well, inevitably they will make things worse rather than better.

You rarely will go wrong underestimating the intelligence of others. Sometimes, rarely, they will surprise you–but those moments are both lovely and rare.

This has been a week, of ups and downs and emotions all over the place and irritations and trying to fix things that shouldn’t need to be fixed in the first place; another thing you can never go wrong with is assuming that no one will ever take responsibility for their mistakes, their incompetence, or their stupidity. I am very glad to have reached Friday with the shreds of what’s left of my sanity somewhat intact; I intend to spend this weekend cleaning and writing. I had, in a conversation with a writer friend yesterday, one of those marvelous epiphanies about why my writing has stalled or is taking me so long to get this manuscript finished; which is that I am trying to make it perfect–and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with striving to write a book that is perfect, there’s also no such thing as the perfect book; it’s an impossible standard to reach, and what I really need to be doing is focusing on writing the best book that I can.

The weather yesterday was beautiful; there wasn’t a lot of humidity, so it felt lovely and cool–even though according to the weather when I got home from work, it was 83 degrees outside and “felt like 90.” It really did not; I wasn’t even mildly hot or sweaty carrying things out to the car in the morning on my way to work or out to the car on my way home from work (condom packing supplies; and condom packs on the way in), and it didn’t feel either hot or stuffy in the house once I got inside–which it always does, when it’s miserably hot and humid out.

I also looked at the forecast, and we are getting low 80’s/mid-to-high 70’s next week; it looks like fall has arrived in New Orleans and the heat may have broken. MAYBE. Possibly. Could be. Maybe. It’s gray and hazy outside the windows this morning; thunderstorms in the forecast for the day, and a tropical system of some sort out in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico trying to form and become something. With any luck today I won’t have to even go outside, and if I do, it won’t be for very long. I do have condoms to pack today–not sure what today’s film will be, either; I may break with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and may start another–the Problematic 80’s Teen Movie Festival; Fast Times at Ridgemont High is available on one of the ridiculous amount of streaming services we subscribe to, and since it was really one of the first teen movies of its type, it seems like the perfect place to start. Has anyone ever written a book about the development of the teen movie, from its origins in the Andy Hardy films up through the sex comedies of the 80’s and to what we see today? That would be interesting.–especially in deconstructing the underlying messages imbedded in those 80’s movies we all grew up with and loved.

Which reminds me, I had an interesting point about Grease I’d intended to make when talking about American Graffiti, and never made; and of course, now I can’t really remember what it was–something along the lines of how American Graffiti, while nostalgic, was also dark; and Grease was the other extreme–nostalgia taken to the point where everything was presented as harmless…but if you look past the gloss, Grease itself is a pretty dark film as well. My point is in there somewhere, I suppose.

This week wasn’t a good one for reading; I didn’t read anything outside of the occasional email or website. I think Babylon Berlin might be a little too densely written for me to get into right now, so I am going to put it aside and read some short stories–the Short Story Project has, in fact, been idle for far too long, and I have all kinds of gems lined up to get into. I also may reread one of my long-time favorite comfort reads, either Rebecca or In Cold Blood, something like that, or perhaps a Mary Stewart ebook already loaded into my Kindle app. I definitely need to spend some more time reading and writing; I think the absence of both from my life this past week has been part of the emotional downturn i’ve been dealing with.

We’re still enjoying House of Flowers, but are now into the second season, and the changes between seasons is quite startling and may take some getting used to. We’re going to go another episode or so before giving it up; but that first season is absolutely golden, and again, there on a Mexican show is inclusion of bisexuality and transgender representation, which is quite marvelous.

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

Crazy for You

Wednesday morning, and I am awake ridiculously early. I actually woke up just before four, but stayed in bed until six–at which point I got out of bed and figured might as well be productive instead of just laying here staring at the alarm clock. It’s also my long day at the office, but c’est la vie. It is what it is. If anything, I should sleep really well tonight, at the very least.

I didn’t read any short stories yesterday, alas, as I spent most of my weekend reading Karen McManus’ One of Us Is Lying, a huge phenomenal bestselling young adult novel that’s being adapted as a TV mini-series, a la Thirteen Reasons Why.

Scan

Bronwyn

Monday, September 24, 2:55 pm.

A sex tape. A pregnancy scare. Two cheating scandals. And that’s just this week’s update. If all you knew of Bayview High was Simon Kelleher’s gossip app, you’d wonder how anyone found time to go to class.

“Old news, Bronwyn,” says a voice over my shoulder. “Wait till you see tomorrow’s post.”

Damn. I hate getting caught reading About That, especially by its creator. I lower my phone and slam my locker shut. “Whose lives are you ruining next, Simon?”

Simon falls into step beside me as I move against the flow of students heading for the exit. “It’s a public service,” he says with a dismissive wave. “You tutor Reggie Crawley, don’t you? Wouldn’t you rather know he has a camera in his bedroom?”

Well, that’s a start, isn’t it?

The book is sort of a Breakfast Club turned on its ear;  if one of the student archetypes from that film had died during detention and all the other kids in there had a reason to want him dead. It’s a clever idea (one I am kicking myself for not thinking of myself), and the story is, above all else, compulsively readable. The book is told in shifting first person point of view; we get inside the heads and see the viewpoint of all four of the kids who are now suspects, which isn’t an easy thing to do McManus not only takes us there, but by seeing their lives through their eyes–their families, their relationships with friends, their ambitions and goals and so forth–we as readers begin to care about them, which makes knowing that one (or more) of them might be a killer even more problematic for the reader because you become emotionally vested.

Like The Breakfast Club, McManus takes the typical student stereotypes–the brain, the jock, the criminal, the beauty, and the outcast–and turns them on their ears.

In the 1980’s, the teen movie was reinvented and made much more real, more relatable, and more fun than what those that had come before. Serious films about teens were usually told from the point of view of the adults (The Blackboard Jungle, Up the Down Staircase) with an occasional exception, like Rebel Without a Cause. The 60’s saw the teen movie evolve into beach and surfing movies, and of course the Disney films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes and Now You See Him Now You Don’t–silly comedies that viewed teen life as though it were something frozen in time from the 1950’s (and even that wasn’t particularly realistic–malt shops, sock hops, etc) But beginning with Fast Times at Ridgemont High, the teen films of the 1980’s evolved into something different, something else, and John Hughes was one of the driving factors of that with his films, like Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink, among others (those are the Molly Ringwald trilogy, probably the most famous and best-remembered). In all honesty–and don’t come for me–I never thought The Breakfast Club was that great of a movie; sure, the actors were appealing, there were some great scenes, some funny moments–but the most, to me, honest part of the movie was when they were sitting around talking and Claire said they wouldn’t be friends at school on Monday because that’s what I had  been thinking all along. 

But One of Us Is Lying completely subverts that and turns it  on its head; as it does with a lot of other y/a book tropes, and again, the story moves very well. As someone who has read a lot of crime (and all of Agatha Christie) I was able to figure out who the killer was early on; but most teenagers I suspect would be completely caught unawares.

I really enjoyed this and couldn’t put it down because I wanted to find out what happened to the characters, and I cared about them; and it even ends with a John Hughes moment, which was nice.

Gloria

Tuesday! I have a long day of testing facing me, capped off with bar testing tonight at Good Friends. I have my morning free, at least before I have to run my errands, so I am going to try to get some writing done. I did finish Chapter 5 yesterday, and am trying to get the next five chapters outlined before I get moving on Chapter 6. I think I know what’s going to happen next; but everything’s kind of amorphous and I really want to sit and think it all through before I try writing. Some of the stuff in the first five chapters is going to need to be redone–there’s some stuff that I might have to cut out entirely–and I am going to seriously consider that before just trying to make it all work together.

I printed out another, trimmed copy of the WIP, which is now 276 pages instead of 340. That was some serious editing I did there. I am going to wait until this weekend to read it again; although I have lots of notes about what needs to be done with it.

I also started writing another short story yesterday, “The White Knuckler.” Not sure how it turns out, but right now in my head it’s just another variation on my theme of ‘running into someone from your past on a vehicle of mass transportation,” like my story “A Streetcar Named Death.” I do seem to return to the same themes, or variations on the same type of story, an awful lot. So, I am just going to rough draft it out, and then try to figure out how not to make it just another variation on a theme. I don’t want to be reductive.

Short stories are hard.

Lisa Unger’s In the Blood continues to enthrall. We are also watching a Netflix original series, Atypical, which is about a highly functional autistic teenager and his family. His parents are played by Michael Rappaport and Jennifer Jason Leigh (of whom I’ve been a fan since Fast Times at Ridgemont High); Sam the teen is played by Keir Gilchrist, who played the gay son on United States of Tara. It’s actually a very sweet show, with strong characters played by actors very good in the roles; its focus is that Sam is now ready to start dating, or rather, thinks he should start dating. The show is both funny and touching, and we are enjoying it quite a bit.

So, this morning I am going to sign out of here, do some filing, and basically figure out what I need to do (in other words, get organized), and perhaps curl up in the easy chair with some more Lisa Unger to get inspired, as I always am by brilliantly talented people.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you:

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