That’s My Impression

Wednesday morning and we’ve somehow survived to the midpoint of yet another week; another hellaciously hot week in July, for those of us here in New Orleans.

I rewatched Mildred Pierce the other night for the first time in years (how much do I love the TCM app on HBO MAX? A LOT) and as I watched–Crawford really was terrific in the part, and the movie is so well done it actually is an enjoyable experience (although I really wish, at the end, as Bert and Mildred walk out of the police station, he would have said to her,”Let’s get stinko!” the way he did in the book; it would have made for a better ending) and it could have easily lapsed into melodrama; in the hands of a lesser writer and director, it undoubtedly would have. But it also struck me, as I watched the film, how markedly different it is from its source material, James M. Cain’s masterful novel, and that most people remember the film more so than the book. Also, it’s incredibly rare for the film version of a novel to veer so drastically from the source material, while both book and film are considered classics (perhaps the other, and best, example of this is Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, and the marvelous film version directed by Nicholas Ray and starring Humphrey Bogart and Gloria Grahame; again, enormous changes but both are excellent in and of themselves.)

The most interesting thing to me, at least in recent years, about Mildred Pierce is the character of Veda. Veda is fascinating; the daughter as noir femme fatale, which is a fascinating turn on noir. Ann Blythe does a great job playing her in the film, and it’s been a hot minute since I’ve read the book (in the To Be Reread pile), so I don’t know or remember if in the book there are any explanations as to why Veda was so awful; and I worry that in my mind I’m conflating the film with the book. When I do get around to rereading the book, I am going to pay more attention to Veda. In the movie Bert comments in the beginning, that Mildred puts the children ahead of him as well as complains that Veda is spoiled…the younger daughter, Kay–soon to die tragically from pneumonia–is “worth more than Veda will ever be.” As I have pondered about Veda, I’ve wondered if in the book Mildred favored Kay and Bert favored Veda–which would of course cause resentment in Veda, towards both Mildred and Kay.

I really need to reread that book.

I went to the doctor yesterday–actually, I saw a nurse practitioner, as the new doctor I was assigned to when my old doctor moved to Utah didn’t stay with the practice when it was recently sold (it’s very complicated; I supposedly was sent a letter alerting me to these changes, but I never received it) and when I finally called them last week to try to get the mess straightened out (one of my 2020 goals was to get all my medical stuff handled and under control and to continue, moving forward, staying on top of this and my health–ha ha ha ha, as the old saying goes; man plans and God laughs)–but I was able to see a nurse practitioner yesterday and can I just say, damn? It was the most thorough examination I’ve ever had, she was asked lots of questions, and we talked about a lot of things. Usually, they’d take my vitals, “how you doing” and then boom, out the door. The nurse practitioner actually discussed things–my lengthy illness that came and went, starting at Carnival and ending recently–she had X-rays of my lungs and chest done; got the process started for both my colonoscopy and a mammogram (I have a lump in both pecs; they’ve been there for a long time and have never grown at all–the doctors always just said, “it’s a fatty cyst” and left alone; she was the first to say “well, why don’t we make sure that’s all it is”); I had an EKG done to make sure my heart is operating properly: she felt everywhere for lumps–underarms, groin, throat; checked out ears and nose–I mean, I actually felt like I got my money’s worth out of an exam for once. But my blood pressure was good for once, which was lovely, and after the lengthy discussion about my lengthy illness, she added a different test to my regular bloodwork, to check for septicemia; as some of the symptoms I experienced could have been from an infection of some sort that could still be lurking around.

Hey, I’m all for it. Like I said, my main goal for this year it to take better care of myself and take my health more seriously.

Last night we lost the wifi with eight minutes left of the season two finale of Dark, which, as you can imagine, was enormously frustrating. I cannot rave about this show enough; but the primary problem with talking about it is that it is hard to explain how intricately clever it is without giving away spoilers–and believe me, going in blind and knowing very little about the story is WAY fun. The writing is pinpoint, and as I said, I cannot imagine how much work it is keeping the relationships, the characters, and the storylines all straight because it’s very hard as a viewer. The one thing I can say–without spoiling anything–is there’s a cycle of disappearances of children; every thirty-three years–and so while the show begins primarily set in the present, like Stephen King’s It, eventually it begins to also show what happened thirty-three years before….and you have to remember, everything is always connected. It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant, and smart. We’re really enjoying it.

I also took Cottonmouths with me to read while I was waiting at the doctor’s–you inevitably always have to wait, and I prefer to read rather than play on my phone–and it really is quite a wonderfully written novel. Kelly. J. Ford is an excellent writer with a very strong sense of place; and place is always important to me as a reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

Chiseled in Stone

Sunday! It’s raining and gray outside this morning; I’m not sure (because I haven’t looked) what that means for today’s parades (Femme Fatale, Carrollton, and King Arthur–which is over fifty floats and loaded down with gay men, most of whom I know so I always get buried with beads), but I will take a look later. This morning i need to get some work done, and I need to make it to the gym for the start of week three of my workouts–which means today is three sets rather than two of everything. However, I decided it only made sense to cut the treadmill/cardio part of my workouts during parade season; it only makes sense, you know–as I am doing a lot of standing and jumping and walking during the parades. We only went to the night parades yesterday–Sparta and Pygmalion–because Paul was sleeping during the day (it’s festival crunch time, and he stays up really late working) and yes, I could have gone by myself–but it’s not as much fun without him. If the parades are–heaven forbid–rained out, then I will have a lot of free time to get things done, rather than trying to get them done before and after the parades.

Instead of parades yesterday afternoon, I spent most of the day writing some and finishing rereading Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are the Children? It really is a hard book to put down, which was, of course, Mrs. Clark’s biggest strength as a writer–that, and her ability to tap into women’s biggest fears. I’m writing a rather lengthy post about the book already–so I won’t discuss it too much here. And if the parades are cancelled, I’ll probably get that finished today.

So, I intend to spend this morning prepping for the gym and answering emails, then when I get home from the gym I’ll get cleaned up and write some before the parades get here–if they are, indeed, coming; they might just be delayed. There aren’t any evening parades today, so of course they can all have their scheduled departures pushed back; they may also abandon the marching bands and walking crews to roll in the rain. I don’t know if we have the physical stamina to stand in the rain for four hours–neither one of us can risk getting sick at this point–but then again, there are overhanging balconies at the corner, so who knows? I guess I’ll judge how bad the weather is when I am walking to the gym this morning.

I also now have to make the all-important decision on what to read next. I think I’m going to take a break from books that I have to read and read something just for the fun of it, and I think I’m going to choose a cozy by a writer I’ve not read before. When I said I wanted to diversify my reading–and started, last year, doing so by reading more authors of color–I didn’t just mean reading books by authors marginalized by race or sexuality; I also meant books outside of what I generally read. I don’t read a lot of cozies, and I’m not exactly sure why that is; I’ve read Donna Andrews, Elaine Viets, Leslie Budewitz and others, but I am now questioning whether or not those actually qualified as cozies? I generally get cozies in the gift bags given out at conferences, and I do buy them from time to time–I support women writers, and I do feel like cozies are treated as somewhat less than by the crime  genre in general–and I also feel like it’s time to change that perception, and give cozies their due. I have an interesting looking one on hand from Ali Brandon, Double Booked for Murder, and I think that’s what I am going to read next. My cozy reading is woefully less than what it should be, and I want to start making up for that lost time. After that, I’ll probably move on back to the books I need to read and one of my reading projects, whether it’s the Reread Project or the Diversity Project (I am thinking Mary Stewart’s The Moonspinners is way overdue for a reread), or even, perhaps, some Cornell Woolrich.

Woolrich is one of those pulpy writers from the mid-twentieth century who wrote a lot of books and short stories, but was also a miserable alcoholic and a gay man who lived with his mother most of his life. He wrote the story Hitchcock adapted as Rear Window, and wrote several other important noir-esque pulpy novels. I had started reading The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but got sidetracked by something else–probably reading for an award–and never got back to it, which is a shame; I greatly enjoyed it, and I find Woolrich to be an interesting character. I wish I had the time and the energy and the wherewithal to devote more to writing nonfiction; I think a biography of Woolrich would make for interesting reading (I also have always wanted to do one of John D. MacDonald, but again–would I ever have the time to read his–or Woolrich’s, for that matter–entire canon? Not entirely likely; maybe once I’ve retired from the day job and have days to fill with writing and reading and research); I am also curious because it seems most writers from that time period–including Faulkner, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald–all had drinking problems; as did Woolrich. I’m not surprised a gay man living in those times lapsed into alcoholism–it’s a wonder more gay men of my generation don’t have lingering addiction problems.

I’m still dealing with my creative ADD problem, alas; being aware that it’s going on and happening doesn’t make it easier to control. I just realized yesterday–as I was writing notes in my journal about another short story idea (“Die a Little Death”) that I’d also completely forgotten about “Never Kiss a Stranger”; which is still yet another long story (novella?) I am in process with, along with “Festival of the Redeemer,” and still another I’ve not pulled out and worked on in over a year. It’s absolutely insane how many works I currently have in some kind of progress, which means ninety-five percent of them will most likely never be finished or see print. (Well over a hundred short stories or novellas; I have at least four novel manuscripts in some sort of progress; and fragments of at least five other novels–and none of this is counting essays in progress, either…yeah, it’s unlikely that I will ever finish all of this. And still I persist. Just like I will never read all the novels I want to read, I will never finish writing everything I want to write. Sigh.)

All right, I’m going to go read for a little while before I brave the rain to go to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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Something About You

Sunday and it’s my Saturday, which is going to really mess up my body clock, don’t you think? Today is going to be my errands-and-cleaning day; the Lost Apartment is, once again, a disaster area, and the bed linens need a-laundering, and I have to get groceries, and…and…and…

At least I have tomorrow off. Today is going to be one of those days where if I get some writing done, terrific, if I don’t, well, it’s a cleaning-and-errands day and it’s miserably hot. I am going to barbecue later on today–I’m also going to cook things for the week—and so am not really sure how much time I would have for writing today anyway.

I watched another documentary the other night–after the Tab Hunter–which also gave me the answer to the noir novel dilemma I hadn’t been able to figure out for quite some time. It was so obvious I don’t know why it never occurred to me before but whatever the reason, I’m glad I know the answer now. Now that another part of the puzzle has been fitted into place, it’s simply now a matter of figuring out the ending, and I can dive headfirst into writing it, once I’m caught up on everything else I am writing. When I get finished with the Scotty and the WIP, that’s when I’ll decide whether I am going to write the noir next or Bury Me In Satin, the y/a I want to do this year.

So little time! The fact that I lazily waste so much time makes me crazy, yet doesn’t somehow motivate me to not waste time somehow.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do a classic noir-style novel with a homme fatale instead of a femme fatale, and this particular story has always really worked for me in terms of something I want to write; I have my main character and some of my supporting characters already in place. The enigma I couldn’t solve was the homme fatale; I can see him in my  head; I know what he looks like an d what his body looks like and the charm and charisma–but the motivation was something I couldn’t quite grasp; and that missing puzzle piece was key to who he is as a character, and now I have that piece. Huzzah!

I suppose I need to get back to the spice mines. Sigh. Now that I’m thinking about these projects, I’m feeling motivated to do some writing.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway, here’s the opening of one of my new short stories from my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, “The Weight of a Feather”:

It was one of those buildings that went up right after the war, slapped together in a hurry because the city needed more living space.  The soldiers were coming home with their grim memories and the city was booming. People needed places to live if they were going to work in the city and there was money to be had. It was an ugly building, yellow brick and cement and uniform windows, with no charm, nothing that made it any different than any of the other apartment buildings that had gone up, that were still being built.

 The Christmas lights winking in some of the windows didn’t make them look any cheerier.

It was starting to snow, big wet flakes swirling around his head and sticking to his dark coat. There was no sign of life from Rock Creek Park at the end of the street. Max had walked past a small diner on the corner, a few lone customers behind windows frosted from cold. He’d thought about going in, getting coffee, but it was too risky.

Best to get it over with.

He buzzed the apartment, and the door buzzed open. There was a big Christmas tree in the lobby, empty boxes wrapped underneath. The white linoleum floor was already showing signs of wear and tear. He ignored the elevators and headed for the stairs. It was hot inside, steam heat through radiators making him sweat under his layers.

The third-floor hallway smelled like boiled cabbage and garlic and onions. He raised a gloved hand to knock on 3-L.

The man who answered the door smiled. Special Agent Frank Clinton was in his early thirties at most, cold gray eyes, his face battered from boxing Golden Gloves as a teen. He was wearing twill pants held up by suspenders over a white ribbed tank top. He looked up and down the hall. “Get inside, Sonnier.” he said in his thick Boston accent.

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Everytime You Go Away

There really is nothing like your own bed.

My inability to sleep in a hotel bed is becoming increasingly problematic the older I get; it’s hard for me to do public speaking events when I have trouble sleeping. I can rest; I just don’t fall deeply asleep and instead wind up in that half-sleep all night. In the morning I feel rested physically but not mentally, and I start getting tired. I also wind up drinking a lot more caffeine than I need to stay alert and focused, which then further complicates the inability to fall asleep. Heavy heaving sigh.

But the two events I did in Alabama this weekend–Murder in the Magic City on Saturday in Birmingham at the Homewood Library; Murder on the Menu in Wetumpka Sunday at the Civic Center–are wonderful events. They draw lovely crowds, all of whom love to read and also buy books, and are incredibly well organized. A special shout out to Margaret Fenton, who organizes Murder in the Magic City, and to Tammy Lynn Rushing and Fran Holland, who put together the Wetumpka event. If you ever get invited to speak, or have the chance to attend, you really should. Despite my inability to sleep, I always feel creatively invigorated as well as personally rewarded. I also really love the little town of Wetumpka; as weird as it sounds, I would like to go back there and spend a weekend exploring. I’ve always wanted to write about a small town in Alabama; and there’s lots of material, I suspect, there. I love that there’s a casino and a meteor crater there; one of the only concrete suspension bridges in the country; and two rivers. Driving from Birmingham to Wetumpka is always interesting; as at least a third of the trip is on state highways and not interstates, and as I drove, listening to my music and observing my surroundings, again I had many flashbacks to my own childhood and my own memories of Alabama. I also got re-inspired on a short story idea I had a couple of months back, and serendipitously an anthology it would be perfect for just popped up on my radar. Huzzah!

I took today off from work–a wise move–so I can get caught up on everything that slid while I was away this weekend. I have errands to run, some cleaning to do, some writing and editing, and a lot of organizing. *Whew*. Just thinking about it makes me feel very very tired. But I slept really well last night–there’s really nothing like your own bed, as I mentioned before–and I also need to get to the gym. I missed both Friday and Sunday workouts this weekend; I can make up the Sunday workout today but Friday’s, alas, is gone. I do miss it, and my body is all, what the hell man? And with Carnival getting back into full swing on Wednesday; it’s not going to be easy. I am going to skip cardio these next few workouts; I have to walk to and from work every day from Wednesday thru Friday, so those cardio workouts aren’t as necessary. I can go lift weights today, Wednesday, and Friday; I have Lundi Gras off so can replace the Sunday workout with one on Monday, and then get back to my regular schedule after Fat Tuesday. Huzzah!

And maybe I should start looking into eating healthier, too….sob.

I did manage to keep going on the short story project while I was in Alabama; I took Laura Lippman’s Hardly Knew Her collection with me and read the stories “Femme Fatale,” “Honor Bar, ” and  “A Good Fuck Spoiled.” (There were other stories there, like “Pony Girl” and “ARM and the Woman”, which I’d already read in their original publications; I even reprinted “ARM and the Woman” in my co-edited –with J. M. Redmann–anthology Women of the Mean Streets.) I loved these stories, and one of the things I love the most about Lippman’s short stories is how dark they are; they are most definitely hard-boiled and noir. I also love that the stories are about women who aren’t what would typically be called ‘nice girls;’ these are women with shady pasts who aren’t sorry about their pasts and will do what they need to do.

“A Good Fuck Spoiled” though, isn’t about a woman, although in some ways it is; it actually spins the tired trope of the older man/younger woman adulterous affair on its head. This is one of those stories where someone who is basically your average, every day husband and father is pushed over the edge into doing something dark in order to get out of a bad situation his own apathy kind of allowed him to drift into. It’s also exceptionally clever by playing with the entire concept of ‘betrayed wife’ against ‘golf widow,’ and of course, the husband, once he does what he needs to do–sees it exactly that way; I love how Lippman shows how someone can do something amoral and then completely justify it. God, this collection is amazing. Laura Lippman is definitely respected as one of our best crime writers today–but I don’t think she gets near enough credit as a short story writer.

And on that note, I need to make a list and start checking things off it.

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