We Gotta Get Out of This Place

Saturday morning in New Orleans and all is right–for now–in the world. I slept in this morning, which felt great, and while I have some errands to run–mail, drop off a return, make groceries, take books to the library sale–overall I pretty much have the day free. The LSU-Kentucky game isn’t until six thirty, and I don’t have any need to actually watch any of the other games today–although I will undoubtedly have the television on and tuned into said games–but I want to work on cleaning today, getting organized, and potentially doing some writing. I started writing another Blatant Self Promotion (BSP) post for Bury Me in Shadows the other night, and I really would like to get that finished and posted (I had hoped to write a post a day to try to sway you, Constant Reader, into opening your wallet and buying the book, but there’s only so much time in a day and I do need to rest and refresh both body and brain) at some point either today or tomorrow. But the book–and therefore the self-promotion–walk a line that I have to be very careful with, which always makes me nervous. It’s never my intent to ever offend or upset anyone, but my books are my books and my personal politics, values, and beliefs do affect what I choose to write about–and if you’re looking for a conservative point of view (or a white supremacist one) you are definitely buying the wrong books should you buy one of mine.

Yesterday was actually kind of lovely. I did some work, I made some condom packs, and I rewatched a film from the 1970’s that fits both into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival as well as the Halloween Horror Film Festival: Brian de Palma’s The Fury, based on a book by John Farris, which I read at the time (I eventually originally saw the film on HBO; I never rented it nor saw it in the theater). Horror fiction and films made an enormous comeback in the 1970’s; one could see the genre actually achieved never before see heights in that decade. Part of this, naturally, was the publication of Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie, and the enormously successful, Oscar-nominated film adaptation of it a few years later (still one of the best King adaptations of all time). Both publishing and film responded accordingly, and also in the late 1970’s the one-two punch of Halloween and Friday the 13th took the slasher film to new heights, taking the horror genre along with them. The 1970’s also saw the debut of Anne Rice’s Interview with the Vampire, which wound up spawning an enormously successful series of books that completely changed the vampire dynamic in fiction–following the lead of Dark Shadows and making vampires into deeply flawed, romantic heroes. But horror was everywhere in the latter part of the decade (you should really check out Grady Hendrix’ marvelous Paperbacks from Hell, which examines the proliferation of horror titles in the 1970’s and 1980’s, through the window of their cover art), and so, naturally, The Fury–with the same director as Carrie, Brian de Palma–was primarily viewed as a rip-off trying to cash in on the success of Carrie.

But if The Fury is similar to Carrie in some ways, it is much more like Firestarter than any other King work; as I rewatched I kept being reminded of Firestarter and thinking about it (and thinking it, too, was due for a reread). The premise of the film/book is that there is a secret government agency (1970’s paranoia again) tasked with exploring and examining the potential of young people with some psychic gifts, whether it’s ESP, telekinesis, etc., with an eye to weaponizing them as well as advancing science (the government will turn anything into a weapon of war; this moral debate is mentioned very briefly during the film but to no great degree). Kirk Douglas plays the father of an extremely gifted young man, played by Andrew Stevens (which may or may not have been my first exposure to the handsome son of Stella Stevens; he also appeared in a two-part television adaptation of John Jakes’ The Bastard, and I don’t remember which came first. Nevertheless, he was quite handsome and had a terrific, sexy body). The very first scene of the film shows them on the beach somewhere in the Middle East; there’s a terrorist attack and Douglas is the target, but Stevens is kidnapped by the bad guys and Douglas manages to escape, embarking on a lifelong quest to find and rescue his son from these bad guys operating under the aegis of the government (I cannot emphasize how deeply distrust of the government ran in this time, in the wake of Watergate and Vietnam, there was a definite shift in public perception). The movie then switches over to Amy Irving, daughter of wealthy parents attending an extremely exclusive girls’ school in Chicago. Amy (another tie to Carrie) also has powers she doesn’t understand and can’t control; a bully starts harassing her in the cafeteria, and Amy blurts out the girl is pregnant–and the girl starts bleeding from her nose profusely, causing a panic, etc. Amy is then recruited to a school to test her talents–the same people who kidnapped Andrew Stevens, but their end game is never really explained; they’re all just bad guys who work amorphously for the government. Amy and Andrew are somehow connected; being able to see each other’s thoughts and so forth, so Douglas helps her escape from the school and they go looking for Stevens. SPOILERS: Stevens and Douglas finally end up dead, basically killed by the government people–not really, but they are definitely the reason they do–and in the final scene Amy uses her powers to punish the bad guys (again, very similar to Firestarter, which The Fury predates by several years). It’s not a bad movie, per se, but it’s also not a great one; it’s certainly not as engaging as Carrie–and I remember thinking that about the book as well; that it was just a quickly written attempt to cash in on King’s success.

What was interesting–what is always interesting–about watching these old movies is seeing actors who have not yet made it big in bit roles. There were three I picked out in this one: Melody Thomas, yet to become Nikki Newman on The Young and the Restless for decades; Daryl Hannah as one of the bitchy mean girls at the private school Irving attends; and Dennis Franz, playing a cop years before NYPD Blue.

We watched the season finale of Ted Lasso (oh, Nate, you poor broken man) which made us both laugh and cry, as it always does; the show really is a joy and I am rather distraught we have to wait now for the next season, and then a new show on Apple TV called Acapulco. This show is interesting; a wealthy older Latino man is explaining to his nephew his life story; how he came up from nothing to become wealthy, and how it all began with him getting his first job at a ritzy resort hotel in Acapulco called Las Casinas when he was a teenager. The parts with the older man talking to his young nephew are not engaging at all; there’s a mimicry of The Princess Bride with just a hint of the story-telling structure of How I Met Your Mother as well; it didn’t work for me in this instance. But the teenagers working at Las Casinas back in the 1980’s? Very charming, engaging, and likable. We’ll keep watching, but I want to see less of the present and more of the past, which is the show’s true strength.

That’s about it here from the spice mines. I think I’ll have some more coffee and try to get that BSP post finished. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader!

What a Difference You’ve Made In My Life

Tis the last Friday of 2019 and while I only have to work a short day today, I still have to work today. I also have to work Monday, and then again have Tuesday and Wednesday off. Tuesday is the annual New Year’s Eve luncheon at Commander’s with Jean and Gillian, with special guest star Susan Larson this year–which makes it even more lovely. Huzzah! Tomorrow is LSU’s playoff game against Oklahoma, which I am trying not to get overly stressed about. Yes, it would be WONDERFUL for the Tigers to win the national championship; but this past season has been such a terrific ride that anything additional at this point is just gravy, really.

I’ve not written a word since last week, and most likely won’t again until after the holidays are past. I’m not beating myself up over it–there’s no point, and I spend way too much of my time beating myself up over shit as it is–but if the opportunity or window presents itself, I’ll try to get some writing done when I can. I will most likely be too tense to write or do much of anything Saturday before the game, so I’ll most likely run errands, maybe even brave the horror of Costco on a Saturday. It’s been too long since I’ve been, and I have a reward certificate somewhere I can use to reduce the final horrifying bill at checkout. (I miss having a supply of Pellegrino in the house.)

I did start my reread of The Talented Mr. Ripley again this week, and one of the things that really is striking me on this read is Highsmith very subtly slips in references to Tom not being on the up-and-up from almost the start; I think the Minghella film missed a serious beat in how it opened; in the film Tom is part of a hired musical act at a party for wealthy people and is wearing a Yale jacket he borrowed–which is why Mr. Greenleaf approaches him about going to Italy to retrieve Dickie from his decadent, lazy life in Italy. That never really quite rang true to me, which started the film off on a strange note–hard to believe someone quite that wealthy could be so naive. In the book, Tom is leaving his job when he notices someone following him and he is paranoid, as he is running several scams that violate the law–including one where he calls people he’s picked out and tells them their taxes were filed incorrectly and they owe more money. He is doing this just for fun–the checks they send in are generally made out to the government and are completely useless to him; but again, he’s doing this primarily to see if he can get away with it. That missing piece from the film undermines Tom’s character for the audience, but in fairness I don’t see how that could have been conveyed on film. There are also off-hand references to Tom getting help from wealthy men and so forth–sly references to Tom’s ambiguous sexuality that most readers–especially of the time–wouldn’t catch.

I am also trying to decide what my reading project for 2020 should be. 2018 was the Short Story Project; 2019 the Diversity Project, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. I didn’t read as much this past year as I would have liked; but I read for an award all year in 2018 and that, I think, fried my reading brain a bit. I think 2020 might just be the year of rereads; obviously I will read new books too, but there are some titles I’ve been wanting to revisit and simply haven’t had the time to get to–and another goal is to continue working my way through the TBR pile. There’s some Ira Levin novels I’d like to revisit, and of course I want to reread Stephen King’s  Firestarter for a while now; and of course, the joy that is Highsmith…I also haven’t done my annual reread of Rebecca for two years now. SHAMEFUL–and I also should reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Perhaps I should make a list of the rereads I plan for the new year….hmmm.

I also have to write that Sherlock Holmes story.

And I need to get ready for work. Have a lovely last Friday of 2019, Constant Reader!

 

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Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

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

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Do I Have to Say the Words?

GEAUX TIGERS!

It wasn’t a pretty win by any means, but a win is a win–and LSU is now the only team to have beaten four teams that were ranked at the time of the game. With Ohio State’s stunning blow-out loss to Purdue, the Tigers should be ranked in the top four (probably number four) when the rankings come out..and also setting up a huge game against Number One ranked Alabama… look completely unbeatable. Regardless, this has been a wonderful dream season so far–particularly when you take into consideration everyone had LSU dead and buried before the season started. The defense looked amazing against Mississippi State last night; the offense moved the ball decently at times, but for the most part looked sluggish and off. But on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking, we still managed to beat a top 25 team 19-3.

Yes, this season has been joyous, for the most part.

I did all my chores and ran all my errands yesterday. I was too nervous about the game to get much else of anything done, other than random tasks that don’t require much thinking; filing, organizing, cleaning, dishes, putting groceries away, and so forth. I did some thinking about writing while my  hands were busy, which sort of counts, and I did look over the Scotty book. I do like getting organized and preparing my thoughts. I am going to try to get my revisions done this morning before the Saints game; knowing I will become completely useless afterwards. But at least I don’t spend as much time as I used to parked in front of the television, flipping back and forth between games I don’t care very much about.

That’s something, at any rate, isn’t it?

The Saints game isn’t until two this afternoon, so I have plenty of time to answer emails and do some editing/revising/cleaning in the meantime. This is actually kind of nice; I slept later than I’d intended this morning but again I feel amazingly rested, which is kind of nice; and I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to get everything done that I need to get done today. It would be lovely to get three chapters finished; but I’ll have to see how that goes as I start writing. I’d also like to get my floors done today, and maybe some more reading of Empire of Sin; I also need to mark up my old journal with sticky notes for ideas on works in progress so I don’t forget about those notes. I used to have such an amazing memory; it’s almost tragic how much my brain has slowed and how overloaded it has become in my late fifties. Tragedy, truly.

Yesterday, in the afternoon lull before the LSU game, rather than reading something new I took down my hardcover copy of Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, and dipped into it again from the beginning. If The Stand is my favorite King novel–of several to choose from; if pressed I name it as my favorite but it’s on a pretty equal par with several others, including Christine, Carrie, The Dead Zone, It, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, and Firestarter, to name just a few–‘salem’s Lot also holds a special place in my heart for any number of reasons. For one, it’s a book I bought solely because of the name of the author–the first time I did this with King, and from this one on I anxiously awaited the new King novel every year–because I’d never read anything remotely like Carrie before, and I was curious to see what he would do in this new book. I was living in Kansas when it was released in paperback; I actually saw in the grocery store line at Safeway with my mother and I asked if I could have it. She said yes in this instance–I always was asking for a book whenever we were anywhere shopping; whenever we went to malls she would send me into a bookstore while she shopped; the most exciting thing my mother could ever say to me was You can have a book–and I started reading it in the car on the way home. I remember it was a Saturday; I  remember retiring to my room with a bag of taco-flavored Doritos (also a treat; my mom would either get me a bag of those or barbecue Fritos whenever she went to the grocery store and I would spend the afternoon methodically eating the entire bag while reading in my bed), and starting to read. Living in Kansas I had no idea what books were about–there were no book reviews in the Emporia Gazette, the only paper we had access to–and so I could only go by the blurb on the back of the book or on the first page inside the front cover. I had no idea what was going on in this little town in Maine until King revealed it halfway through the book. Also, when you bear in mind that Jerusalem’s Lot’s population at the beginning of the book was just over a thousand and I was living in a small town with a population just under a thousand; it was raining that day and as I read, the rain turned into a thunderstorm that seemed to last for hours; and right at the time King revealed that the secret supernatural thing going on was vampires the wind blew a tree branch against the screen of the window directly next to my bed–well, you can see why I may have uttered a half-scream and dropped the book. I remember my heart was racing and I was breathing hard; I had to go wash my face and take some deep breaths before I could pick up the book, find my lost page, and finish reading it. I stayed up until three in the morning finishing the book. ‘salem’s Lot has always had a place in my heart as the first book I ever read that truly terrified me; I’d read horror fiction before but I’d never had such a major physical reaction of sheer terror and shock as I had in that book. (I had also barreled through Carrie in one day, but it didn’t terrify me so much as suck me into a fast-moving train of a story about a horrible tragedy; I’d never read anything like it before–and this would prove to be the case with so many of King’s novels for me.) Reading ‘salem’s Lot made me a King fan for life; a Constant Reader, if you will. Eventually, other distractions and changes in my life also changed my King fandom; I don’t always necessarily buy his new novel the day it is released and put everything else on hold as I read it in a day or two, shutting everything else in the world out. (I just, for example, bought The Outsider yesterday; I still don’t have a copy of Sleeping Beauties, and I’ve never finished reading The Dark Tower series, haven’t read Bronco Billy or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Black House or Doctor Sleep or 11/22/63 or End of Watch yet; I know, I am a terrible King fan.)

But one of the things I loved the best about King–one of the reasons I always felt, back in the days when he was dismissed as simply another hack genre writer–was the way he depicted small towns and the people who populate them; Jerusalem’s Lot was the first of his great small towns, to be followed by Castle Rock and later, Derry. King’s small town, and the people who populate them, are so realistic, so real, so these are my next door neighbors, that I’ve always loved his work and characters and their reality, their realness. This is why his horror works so well–the reader is invested emotionally with his characters–which is also one of the reasons why my least-favorite King novel, The Tommyknockers, is my least favorite. (I also want to revisit that novel at some point; just as I want to reread Pet Sematary again. Both are amongst the few earlier King novels that I’ve only read once and never went back to; I used to reread King all the time.) This is also, I think, why Netflix’ adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was so powerful, and why I enjoyed it so much: so much was done with character and their relationships with each other that I became vested; I cared what happened to the Crains.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what makes any work resonate with the reader? The ability to identify with, and care about, the characters?

I am really looking forward to continuing my return visit to Jerusalem’s Lot.

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