Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.

You Make Me Feel Brand New

As you are well aware, Constant Reader, I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since I read Carrie I was fourteen all those years ago. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have with King, when I would buy the books on their release date in hardcover and then put everything aside so I could read it from beginning to end; there are numerous King novels on my shelves that I’ve yet to read–11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep, among others–and along with them, for a very long time, was End of Watch.

End of Watch is the third in what is called the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed (Mr. Mercedes deservedly won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America). I would occasionally glance at the shelf of unread King novels from my easy chair and think, “I really need to read End of Watch” but never got around to it.

So, given my discovery that most audiobooks are too long for the twelve hour trip home, I decided that I would listen to End of Watch (thirteen hours) on my way home; then I could just get the book down from the shelf and finish reading it at home. So, I got in the car Friday morning, opened the app, and linked my phone to the stereo in my car. I pulled out of the driveway, and as I was pulling onto the highway I suddenly remembered, Oh no! The reason I haven’t read this is because it’s the last Bill Hodges book, and I love the characters so much I didn’t want to finish and say goodbye to Bill, Holly and Jerome for good!

But it was too late, so I soldiered on.

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It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.

Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.

“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”

The opening chapter of this book is a perfect example of King at his best. The two EMT’s in this opening aren’t characters pertinent to the story nor do they appear again (one of them actually does, but very briefly, much later); they are simply the framing device King uses to get the story rolling. They are the ones called to the scene of the murder/suicide the opens the book, and King exquisitely captures their personalities and lives, vividly making them real and alive in their brief pages; he does this throughout the book, introducing a cameo character and bringing that person vividly to life.

Retired cop and now private eye Bill Hodges and his business partner (and friend/family) Holly Gibney are brought into the case because one of the two victims was paralyzed from the chest down by the monstrous Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartsfield, whom Holly put into a coma before he could detonate a bomb at a boy-band concert filled with screaming tweens (the very thrilling conclusion to Mr. Mercedes). And before long, some very strange things keep happening, and all the evidence, the only connection, is that everyone involved has some connection to Brady Hartsfield…who is still in a coma.

Or is he?

End of Watch takes the series, in a brilliant finale, into King’s world, of experimental drugs that can develop telekinesis (back to Firestarter), and also the psychology of  ‘herd mentality’; Brady has been given experimental drugs that have somehow given him horrible abilities…and he uses those abilities to infiltrate the minds of others, using a hand-held gaming device, and pushing them to suicide. Again, King’s genius is seriously involved here, as we go into those teen minds and see how the descent into suicidal depression works…and how easy it is to trigger that spiral. It’s absolutely terrifying, and absolutely real. And once the story gets going, it’s the usual fast-moving train that King always writes, and when I got home from the trip Friday night I couldn’t wait to get my copy down from the shelf and read the stunning, brilliant, utterly satisfying conclusion.

And immediately became sad. I love the characters of Bill, Holly and Jerome, and was deeply sad to realize I had indeed, reached the end of the watch with them.

Highly recommended.

(one caveat: I did struggle with the depiction of one of the suicide victims–a gay teen–but finally decided that it was okay because he was depicted sympathetically, if stereotypically, and King is making an effort to diversify his work. So, I gave him a pass on the gay teen character.)

Hold Me Tight

Monday morning of a short work week, as I am traveling to Alabama on Friday, returning to New Orleans on Sunday, and then it’s off to Ole Miss and Oxford, MS for another event.

It was a rather lovely three day weekend, quite frankly; I wish there was some way to make every weekend three days, to be honest. Having the extra day makes all the difference, really. I spent one day running errands and cleaning, another day cleaning and reading, and the last day reading and writing. I now feel completely relaxed and rested and thoroughly prepared for this week, as opposed to whining about how the weekend never lasts long enough. Alas, there won’t be another such three day weekend until Memorial Day at the end of next month. Heavy heaving sigh.

I finished reading Finders Keepers yesterday, and I did really enjoy it. It was an excellent follow-up to Mr. Mercedes, and it was fun catching up with the remaining cast of that novel: Bill Hodges, Holly, and Jerome, who team up to help out a teenaged boy who has discovered a treasure trove–a buried trunk full of money and manuscripts, the haul from the robbery/murder of noted American author Joel Rothstein. Like all of King’s novels, it was compulsively readable, highly entertaining, with strongly built characters and relationships, brilliants touches of pop culture, and a good story. And, like so many of King’s novels/stories, at the center of the story was an author and his work–not to mention how that work affected his readers. Like Misery, one of his readers takes the work too seriously and becomes overly attached to the main character, doesn’t like what the author does to the character, and that fanaticism is what leads to the robbery/murder, and triggers the rest of the story.

I often chastise myself for writing about writers; I’ve always considered it more than a little self-indulgent, and as I get older and further along in my writing career, writers as characters continue to pop up in my work. “Quiet Desperation” is about writers and writing; and an author character popped up in The Orion Mask– Jerry Channing, a character I became so attached I brought him back for Garden District Gothic, and even considered giving him his own stand-alone adventure. It also occurs to me that the unnamed protagonist of several short stories I’ve written–an author–are really early incarnations of Jerry (the only short story about him that’s been published so far was “An Arrow for Sebastian”). Yesterday I started a second draft of “Quiet Desperation”–an actual rewrite, rather than an edit (which is, I think, long been a part of my problem with writing; I don’t rewrite, I simply edit what I’ve already written, which is lazy) and it will eventually require me to drive out to New Orleans East, because where the new opening of the story takes place is a part of New Orleans I haven’t seen in over ten years, and I am pulling from my memories–and Katrina occurred since then, so the topography of that part of the city/parish has undoubtedly been changed by the hurricane and aftermath. Of course, now that I have a new car, that’s not an issue; nor is driving out there. It’s just a matter of finding the time. Next weekend is definitely out, since I’ll be in Alabama, and when I’m  not in Alabama I’ll be too busy preparing for the trip to Mississippi–although I could drive out that way on the way out of town to Alabama on Friday; it’s on the way.

Hmmmm. ’tis a thought.

We also watched last night’s Feud, and I have to say, both Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon are absolutely killing it. I’m not sure who’s going to win the Emmy, but my guess is on one of them–with Nicole Kidman’s performance in Big Little Lies giving them both a run for their money.

We also started watching Thirteen Reasons Why, and got through the first three episodes. Had I not needed to get up this morning for work, we would have watched more. There are some questionable aspects of the story/plot for me, but the young actors are incredibly appealing, and Dylan Minnette, who plays main character Clay Jensen, is quite compelling as the quiet loner. I have some thoughts about him, his character, and where this is all going, but I will keep those to myself and continue to watch.

dylan minnette

I also have a copy of the book in my TBR pile, where it’s been forever, and might just go ahead and read it now–reading Big Little Lies while watching the show didn’t hurt either, frankly.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Stoned Soul Picnic

In a bizarre blog twist, my entire entry about Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, other than the opening paragraph, has completely disappeared from here, which is very strange. I don’t know how that could have happened; and it’s disappointing, as I made some very strong points about racism and the erasure of the brutality of slavery from our history. I did wonder why it, as opposed to so many of my other entries, wasn’t getting ‘likes’ by anyone, and now I know why–it’s not that it offended people, but rather that the entry is now simply, mostly gone.

How fucking annoying. And, of course, I always write the blog directly here, rather than using Word and cutting and pasting. So, it’s simply vanished into the ether, gone forever. Heavy heaving sigh. As for as writing losses go, it’s pretty low on the scale but at the same time…it hurts to lose any writing. Ever.

Heavy sigh.

I spent some more time reading Stephen King’s Finders Keepers yesterday between doing some cleaning (I never did get to the windows, but will today) and relaxing. I got caught up on Riverdale, ran some errands, cleaned the living room thoroughly (although I needed the ladder to do the ceiling fans and the windows, it was upstairs and so when I moved upstairs to I cleaned up there before bringing the ladder down, and by then I just wanted to relax and read), and did sit in my easy chair thinking about things I am working on. Today, I am going to do some straightening up around here, the windows and the ceiling fans in the living room, and I may finish cleaning upstairs. I don’t know, quite frankly; I am also feeling the lure of Finders Keepers, which I am really enjoying. It’s the middle book of his Bill Hodges trilogy, which began with the Edgar-winning Mr. Mercedes, which I also greatly enjoyed. I am almost halfway finished with the book, and King’s ability to create great characters the reader can understand and even empathize with, no matter how awful the characters may actually be, is on display here.

I also cleaned out some books for the donation pile, which is always a lovely start. I need to stop buying books, really, is what I need to do, but it’s a lifelong problem, and at almost fifty-six, I’m not sure I can effect behavior change anymore, but it’s certainly worth a try. I am also going to go to the gym later on today as well; and lift weights. If I go back to the old system–let’s face it, I am never going to motivate myself to do cardio–of what I did when I lost weight originally–go to the gym, do a full-body workout with more reps and lighter weights, and do some stretching–in addition to eating healthier, I should be able to get rid of that pesky fifteen pounds and get back down to 200. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to get back to 180–my oddly shaped frame would make finding clothes that fit properly an issue (the ten pounds or so I’ve already lost has made all my pants too big in the waist, but they are still tight in the legs, and the small waist and big quads/hamstrings has always been an issue for me with pants), so I don’t know that I’d want to get back down that far. A flatter stomach and more definition is all I really want, anyway, so that I can at least get to the point where I don’t mind going to the beach, as I would really like to get tanned again. And going to the beach is always lovely, anyway.

Apparently it’s going to rain today, so doing the windows is out. Heavy sigh. It does look gloomy out there. There’s always next weekend.

Friday I am driving up to Montgomery for an appearance at the Alabama Book Festival, and driving back to New Orleans for a day before heading up to an event at the Sarah Isom Center for Women at Ole Miss in Oxford. I am very excited, if a bit nervous, to do both events. It’s so lovely having a new car so that I don’t have to worry about the driving, though. I love my new car; and almost three months after I bought it, it still has the new car smell.

I’ve also figured out how to revise “Quiet Desperation”, which is something I’d like to get to work on this week. My work schedule is sort of normal for the week, despite a late night on Thursday. As I start getting back into the groove of writing and rewriting, I am hoping to get a lot more done from now on. I also no longer have to get up ridiculously early for work on Tuesdays anymore–I don’t have to be at the office until 11 henceforth–which makes the week a bit more palatable for me; I won’t be tired and sleepy from Tuesday on anymore. Here’s hoping.

I want to kick my writing up a notch or two, push myself harder. Fingers crossed.

Here’s an Easter Sunday hunk for y’all.

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A Beautiful Morning

I belong to a Facebook group devoted to collectors and fans of children’s mysteries, either the series (i.e. Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys, the Three Investigators, etc.) and the ones that stood alone, like Phyllis A. Whitney’s and Mary C. Jane. The stand alones you generally got from either the public library, the school library, or the Scholastic book catalogue. The subject of the Scholastic catalogue came up on that thread, with some of the collectors posting their copies of the books. I recently ordered, from ebay, some of the ones I remembered from my childhood–The Ghost of Dibble Hollow, The Ghost Rock Mystery, and some other Mary C. Janes–because the one thing I am sentimental about is books/TV shows/comic books/movies that I loved when I was a kid. My favorite day of school at Eli Whitney Elementary was the day the Scholastic catalogue came, and I got to go home and my parents would let me pick out two or three books to order. Remembering that also made me remember how my mom used to always deposit my sister and I at the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library while she ran errands, like to Walgreens and other places, like going to the dentist, and would retrieve us when she was finished with my big stack of books. The first Phyllis Whitney book I read was checked out of the library–The Mystery of the Hidden Hand–which was set in Greece and had to do with a long lost statue of Apollo, thus combining my love of mysteries, mythology, and history. I loved to read when I was a kid because the world was such a strange place to me, and I didn’t really fit into it. I didn’t like to do the things that boys supposedly were into–baseball and other sports, playing outside, fishing, etc. All I ever really wanted to do was curl up somewhere with a book, or make up my own stories.

I’ve been questioning my writing lately, more along the lines of my career rather than the actual writing. Yesterday was quite a lovely day; I slept late and Paul went into the office, and I started cleaning the kitchen while listening to music on my iPod. (I still haven’t done the windows yet.) I started reading Finders Keepers, am about a chapter in, and am enjoying it. I’ll get back to it today, of course, at some point. Paul’s going to run errands with our friend Lisa today–they like to haunt second hand stores, and he wants to get another individual small dresser and small bookcase–which means I’ll pretty much be home alone again for most of the day. I intend to finish the living room today, run to the grocery store and post office, and then maybe work on the upstairs. I also want to get another three to four chapters of the secret manuscript reread and outlined; I am very pleased with the quality of it, for a first draft, and I think I can really turn it into something good. Letting it sit for so long the way I did has really helped me with it; I now have the proper distance to get back to it and read it/edit it/revise it, rather than being so deeply immersed in it. I am, Constant Reader, rather excited about this turn of events–and it’s been awhile since I’ve been this excited about something I’m writing. I am also going to critique some short stories I’ve written today, see if I can whip them into submission shape….the market for short stories is, alas, so limited these days.

I may even go to the gym today. We’ll see how the day plays out. I am kind of planning out the day, while accepting that it may not go the way I am planning, and I am also fine with that. Yesterday was such a lovely day–I got to have drinks with my friend Laura, who is in town for the weekend, and we had a lovely chat about books and writing–and it was perfectly timed; sometimes the things I think or even write about on here, need to be SAID ALOUD TO SOMEONE to attain their full power.

There’s something about saying things out loud. I know it doesn’t make a lot of sense, but there you have it. Bearing this in mind, I’ve come with some daily affirmations to say to myself in the bathroom mirror every morning. Feel free to mock me for this; I did it this morning and saying the words aloud, I don’t know, made it seem real, made it seem possible.

A lack of belief in myself has often been my downfall throughout my life. It’s the one piece of the puzzle that’s missing, so I am going to work on that.

And now, off to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk for Easter Eve for you, Constant Reader.

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