I Almost Do

The days storms come ashore elsewhere–but still close by– are always weird.

There’s the guilt and shame at the relief that it’s not coming to where you live–which means you are relieved that others will suffer instead of you–and there’s still a lot of tension. While New Orleans will have nowhere near the damage or destruction western Louisiana, and particularly Lake Charles, will suffer yet again a mere six weeks or so after the last time they were hit hard, you never know. We are–or were–supposed to experience only the effects equivalent to a tropical storm, and those aren’t exactly nothing. Will trees come down, will power be lost, will streets flood? Will the high winds cause destructive tornadoes? And while suffering isn’t a contest, even typing those words riddled me with guilt yet again.

The sky has been mostly gray all day, with only occasional glimpses of the sun and blue during all-too-brief breaks in the cloud cover. The wind picks up and drops off–and some of the gusts are extreme. I went into the office for a few hours to help out with the syringe exchange, and both coming and going there were a couple of times when I could feel the wind battering my car, trying to move it–never strong enough to make me nervous, but just enough to be unsettling.

Scooter is currently sleeping on my backpack, next to my desk, and Paul is still upstairs working. I have laundered the bed linens today–it’s Friday, after all–and I currently am in the process of cleaning up my iCloud drive (and finding new frustrations with the MacBook Air, but it’s not as bad as it could be, and really, once I get the dongle adapter thingamabob to connect the back-up hard drive to to it, it should be fine. And at some point I will take it into the store in Metairie….unless I can still get help on-line for free), which is taking some time, but it has been a mess for quite some time, and therefore I have no one to blame but myself.

We finished watching Utopia this week, which we greatly enjoyed, odd as it was, and last night we started watching The Good Lord Bird on Showtime, which is also odd, weirdly entertaining, and kind of interesting. It’s about John Brown, the abolitionist hero of the 1850’s, and I am never entirely certain whether Ethan Hawke, who’s playing Brown, is giving an incredible performance deserving all the Emmys, or if he is overacting in a manner worthy of Nicolas Cage at his worst. It’s told from the point of view of a young Black slave, freed by Brown in the opening minutes of the first episode, who Brown for some reason becomes convinced is a girl and for another reason (you’d have to watch) starts calling by the name Onion. I’m sure we’ll keep watching–I was always raised to believe that John Brown was a monster, and while he was certainly not the sanest individual, his hatred of slavery was not wrong–and the show is set during the days of bleeding Kansas, which I’ve been thinking a lot about lately (the town in the Kansas book is called Liberty Center, and it’s called that because it was founded as a free town during those days–it’s also a call-out to Philip Roth, because it’s the town where When She Was Good was set), and wanting to write about at some point.

We’ve been holding off on watching The Boys’ second season until all the episodes were loaded (yes, binge-watching has spoiled us; we hate to have to wait) and I do want to go back at some point and finish Penny Dreadful: City of Angels, and I also want to watch The Haunting of Bly House, which just dropped on Netflix (Paul never got into The Haunting of Hill House for some reason), and there’s some other movies and so forth that are streaming now that we want to see (I keep meaning to watch Boys State on Apple Plus–I actually went to Boys State when I was in high school in Kansas, and why I have never written about that I honestly do not know).

But since it’s October and I had forgotten, I decided to start watching some horror this month while making condom packs. I watched Carrie yesterday (still wonderful) and today I watched one from the 1980’s called April Fools’ Day, which I think I watched on HBO or Showtime back in the day. It stars Deborah Coleman from Valley Girl and My Chauffeur (why she never became a bigger star is beyond me), Deborah Goodrich (probably best known for playing the imposter Silver Kane on All My Children), the guy best known for playing Biff in the Back to the Future movies, Tatum O’Neal’s brother Griffin, and a big crush of mine from back then whom I’d forgotten, Ken Olandt (he was also in Summer School, where he played a stripper so of course he caught my eye). It takes the ‘stranded on a desert island’ conceit of And Then There Were None (also similar to the one season favorite Harper’s Island) and plays the trope of the slasher film against it/–but it’s not very gory (back then I had no interest in the genre of slasher films because I didn’t like gore and buckets of blood everywhere, although I made an exception for the Nightmare on Elm Street movies; Paul was the person who got me to watch Halloween and Friday the 13th for the first time). It’s a fun little movie, scary and suspenseful enough, and entertaining enough, but a trifle that didn’t really leave much of an impact on the horror genre or on film in general. I added some more horror movies to my lists on various streaming services–I can give the Cynical 70’s Film Festival a break for a while, I think–and it’s actually amazing to me how many horror classics I either don’t remember, or haven’t seen–Fright Night, for example, and The Fog, for another–and so with so much streaming content, there’s no reason not to finally view these movies, right?

Right.

I’m also going to rewatch Christine, and some other King adaptations I’ve not seen (primarily because I heard they weren’t good).

And on that note, I am going to head into the living room with some wine and maybe watch some highlights of last year’s LSU season until Paul is ready to join me.

Have a lovely and quiet Friday evening, Constant Reader.

Happiness is An Option

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery with a supernatural edge to it; the line between crime fiction and horror is often blurred. Take, for example, The Silence of the Lambs. It’s often lauded as the first horror film to win an Oscar–but there’s no supernatural beings involved, no ghosts or vampires, or anything like that; the protagonist is an FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer…so is it really horror? Are slasher films/books actually horror or crime? (I think it depends on whether or not the slasher is actually something not human–like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, or just crazed human killers, like the Scream movies or even the first Friday the 13th, which is the only one I’ve actually seen.)

But then it’s really hard to define and delineate what work falls into what genre; and oft-times, there’s crossover between the various ones–there’s western horror, for example, just like romantic suspense bridges the line between romance and mystery. So where precisely on the spectrum of genre does the work of Barbara Michaels lay? There are often supernatural elements to her fiction; sometimes there aren’t. Ammie Come Home is my favorite ghost story of the many I’ve read–and I enjoy it just as much every time I reread it–but it’s also a mystery, and there’s also some romance in the book. The romance itself is rarely the focus of her books, but it is there and cannot be ignored; likewise, most stories that have supernatural elements (ones that are actually supernatural in origin or man-made frauds) inevitably have some mystery to them; what do the supernatural forces want–or in the case of fraud, what are those who are committing the fraud after? What do they want?

House of Many Shadows was the second Barbara Michaels novel I read, and remains one of my favorites to this day.

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The sounds bothered Meg most. Calling them auditory hallucinations helped a little–a phenomenon is less alarming when it has a proper technical name. Meg had always thought of hallucinations as something one saw. She had those, too, but for some illogical reason it was easier for her to accept visual illusions as nonreal than to ignore the hallucinatory sounds. When you were concentrating on typing a letter, and a voice says something in your ear, it was impossible not to be distracted.

The problem was hard to explain, and Meg wasn’t doing a good job of explaining. But then it had always been difficult to explain anything to Sylvia. Sylvia knew all the answers.

“The dictaphone was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t hear what Mr. Phillips had said. Voices kept mumbling, drowning out his voice. Once the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir cut out the second paragraph of a very important memo.”

She smiled as she spoke. It sounded funny now, but at the time it had not been at all amusing.

Sylvia didn’t smile. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Why them?”

Meg shrugged helplessly. “No reason. That’s the point; they are meaningless hallucinations. The doctor says they’ll go away eventually, but in the meantime…Mr. Phillips was very nice about it, he said he’d try to find an opening for me when I’m ready to work again, but I couldn’t expect him to keep me on. I had to listen to some of those tapes three times before I got the message clear, and there was always the chance I’d miss something important. And I’d already used up all my sick leave. Three weeks in the hospital…”

“You should be thankful you weren’t killed,” said Sylvia. “To think they never caught the man who was driving the car! New York is an absolute jungle. I don’t know how you can stand living here. May I have another cup of tea?”

Meg poured, biting back an irritated retort. She couldn’t afford to offend Sylvia, especially now, when she was about to ask a favor, but the cliches that were Sylvia’s sole means of communications had never annoyed her more. Why should she be thankful she hadn’t been killed? She might as well be thankful she didn’t have leprosy, or seven-year itch; or thank God because she had not been born with two heads. It was just as reasonable, and a lot more human, to feel vexation instead of gratitude. Why me, God? The old question, to which there was never any answer…Why did it have to be me in the path of that fool driver; why did I have to land on my head instead of some less vulnerable part of my anatomy; and why, oh, why, God, did Ihave to have these exotic symptoms instead of a nice simple concussion? Why do I have to be the poor relation, with no savings to fall back on, while Sylvia…

Sylvia’s close-set gray eyes were intent on the teapot. “Such a nice piece of silver,” she murmured.

I love Barbara Michaels’ work, and one of the happiest days of my reading life was the day I discovered she also wrote as Elizabeth Peters, which meant even more reading joy for me (and eventually, I came to prefer the Peters books to the Michaels; but make no mistake, I love all the books). The set-up for House of Many Shadows is right there in the beginning; poor Meg’s life has been upended by being hit by a driver who didn’t stop, and because of the hallucinations she suffers from as a result–with no idea of how long she will suffer through them–she is unable to work, and her distant relative Sylvia–whom she doesn’t seem to care much for–is her only hope. Sylvia–we all know people like Sylvia; without a sense of humor and whose response to any crisis is to come up with a plan and make it work–has a house in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, she’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but Meg can stay there rent-free, and Sylvia even comes up with a “make-work” solution so Meg won’t feel like she’s freeloading (it isn’t until much later she realizes that is what Sylvia was doing; at the time she kind of resents it); doing an inventory of the contents of the house and its attic, as Sylvia is thinking of donating the house to the local historical association. Sylvia’s stepson from the previous marriage that wound up with her owning the house is living on the property as a caretaker, in a cottage behind the main house–Meg remembers him from their childhood as a horrible tease she couldn’t much stand–and soon she is off to the wilds of the Pennsylvania country side.

At the end of the second chapter-the first after she arrives at the house–Meg experiences a hallucination in front of Andy, the stepson, and their relationship hasn’t changed much, apparently–which rattles Andy terribly; when it happens again a chapter or so later is when Andy confesses that he, too, has seen the same hallucinations she did–so are they hallucinations? Or are they seeing ghosts?

This set-up, of course, is absolutely brilliant: what better heroine for a supernatural story than a woman who’s had a brain injury that causes her to see hallucinations? The chilling touch that Andy has also seen the same hallucinations in the house that she has is terrifying; and as she slowly gets to work in the attic, she and Andy start discovering things about the history of the house, including the fact that the original property owners, back before the American Revolution, were brutally murdered in the original house that stood on the property; the current one was built over it. So, what happened 250 years earlier? Both Meg and Andy become a bit obsessed with the ancient murders, and as they continue to see things in the house, they slowly but surely start putting together the truth of what happened to the original property owners–while falling in love, of course.

One of the great things about the Michaels books is that she brooks no foolishness with her supernatural elements; it’s clear Dr. Mertz (her real name) was well read on the subject of the occult and other belief systems–they pop up, again and again, throughout the Michaels novels, and in many instances, I first heard of certain occult books and cults from reading them. I know I first read of The Golden Bough in a Michaels novel; Dr, Mertz knew her folklore and occult religions, and made very good use of that knowledge, not just in this book but in others–Prince of Darkness comes to mind–and of course, she was an excellent, excellent writer.

House of Many Shadows also holds up; despite the dated quality of the book–no Internet or computers or cell phones–it’s still a great story.

I’ve Been In Love Before

And just like that, it’s Friday again in New Orleans, with a weekend dawning full of promise and potential. How I choose to squander that promise and potential remains to be seen, quite frankly.

But I am sure I will earn another Olympic gold in procrastination and justification. I am getting rather good at it.

So last night we watched the season finale of American Horror Story: 1984. Sigh. Another season of  great potential, an interesting and diverse cast, and a terrific idea….yet the entire season left me feeling meh. Paul and I laughed our way through the finale, which, for a “horror story” is perhaps not the best intended reaction? I guess making an homage to slasher films from the 1980’s, including a summer camp, and then making it completely camp wasn’t what I was expecting, and frankly, when it comes to clever campy homages Scream set a bar so damned high that its sequels couldn’t even clear–but they came close. For a brief moment, as I watched, I did think oh, this is clever–he’s doing a pastiche of an entire series of slasher movies, like following the arc of the Friday the 13th’s first few films or so…but no, I wasn’t right. But that would be a much more clever idea than what we were given, frankly.

I’ve always said that the line between the horror and crime genres–be it film, novels, short stories, or television–is a very thin one that gets crossed rather frequently. The Silence of the Lambs is considered a horror film (I’ve not read the book; it’s in my TBR pile along with Red Dragon, and I will eventually get to them both), but it’s also very much a procedural: Clarice Starling, federal agent, is part of the team trying to catch a brutal serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Filming it as a horror film made it suspenseful and terrifying; much more so than had it been filmed as a straight-up procedural (which is why I am very curious about the novels). I’ve always wanted to do a straight-up novel about a mass, or spree, killing–which is what slasher movies really are at heart–that begins in the aftermath of a night like Halloween, when the police are called to the scene of a mass killing with brutalized, butchered bodies everywhere–or when the state police arrive at the camp at Crystal Lake; the first quarter/third of the book is the discovery of the bodies and the lead detective trying to place together the time-line of the murders. That’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with the idea, honestly; if I can ever figure out where to go from there, I’ll probably write it (although it occurs to me that what would be rather clever would be to alternate between the night before, when it’s happened, and the following morning as the detective puts the time line together….hmmmm *makes note*).

I also have an idea about a novel set in a ghost town in the California mountains–I’ve had this idea for quite some time, going back to the 1980’s (almost all of my California ideas were born in the 1980’s, when I lived there), and my mind keeps coming back to it from time to time. I think the idea was born from reading Stephen King’s short story “The Raft”, and then seeing it on film in Creepshow 2 (Paul Satterfield in that skimpy yellow speedo made quite an impression on me; it even occurs to me now that may have subliminally had a connection to my short story “Man in a Speedo”); the basic concept was the same–five or six college students decide to spend a weekend camping in a ghost town, getting drunk and high and having sex–only to have it all go South in the most terrifying way. I also realize that the “group of young people come to a remote location and all get killed off gradually” is probably the more hoary of the horror tropes; in order to do something like that one has to not only do it exceptionally well,  but say something new. I wanted to call it Sunburst, because that would be the name of the remote ghost town; a town that sprung up around a gold mine that eventually petered out and the town died with it. I also wanted it to be set in the mountains because–well, because the mountains in California are so beautiful–I wanted to set it on a mountain top that had a lovely view across a valley or canyon to Yosemite National Park.

This is why I never get anything done, really–I have so many ideas, and get new ones all the time, and so things get pushed to the side and forgotten until something reminds me of the original idea. I also like to think that I will eventually come back around to the idea and write it…it has happened before, of course–Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Dark Tide all come to mind–and so it’s not so hard to believe those ideas’ time will eventually come. Hell, even Bury Me in Shadows was originally conceived of in the 1980’s, as a short story I wrote called “Ruins”–and the idea was always there in the back of my mind; which is partly why I finally decided to write the damned thing.

Finishing it, on the other hand, seems to be an enormous problem thus far. I am hoping to break this lengthy non-writing streak–well, I’ve been writing a bit here and there, just not producing on a daily basis the amount I not only should be but can do as a general rule–this weekend. The LSU game is Saturday night, and while yes, Auburn-Georgia is in the afternoon, I’m not so sure I care that much about watching it. Background noise, maybe, and if it’s a Georgia rout I can always turn it off….and I’m not so sure when the Saints game is on Sunday. I am also falling into the trap of thinking oh I have a week off for Thanksgiving come up and I can finish it then. No, no, NO. I should finish it before then, so I can spend that week polishing it and making it pretty before sending it off on December 1.

I seriously don’t know what to do, to be perfectly honest. I just know I need to be writing more than I am–and if not the book, then a short story or something. AUGH.

And since I don’t have to go in until later, I might as well do some this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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With or Without You

Well, today is going to be one of those days.

I had to take the day off from work to take care of some dental issues for Paul, which means driving uptown this morning and then out to Harahan. The good news about all of this is I can read Rob Hart’s The Warehouse while I sit around waiting most of the day–there’s nothing I loathe more than sitting around and waiting all day–but the book should make an enormous difference. It’s starting to pick up steam, as I knew it would, and I can already see why Rob Hart is getting all the starred reviews and a movie option deal with Ron Howard; this book is cleverly written and the premise is absolutely genius, dystopian and all-too-realistic.

Clearly, there’s more upside than down to today, am I right?

We started watching American Horror Story: 1984, but for some reason Hulu cut out on the last five minutes or so, and I couldn’t get the show to reload on the television app again so we could see the end. That was disappointing and more than a little irritating, but hopefully whatever the issue was will clear up today so we can find out how the episode ended. As many others have noted, this season is playing with 80’s slasher movie tropes; the way it is filmed is clearly an homage to the heyday of the slasher horror film, with references and character archetypes and of course, the ever-popular trope of the summer camp. (I’ve thought about taking on that trope myself; while Lake Thirteen was kind of like that it wasn’t a slasher novel  but rather a ghost story. I really want to take the trope of a group of people going off somewhere remote and secluded to party and have a good time and then encounter something horrifying; I still might do it sometime) I never really got into slasher movies at the time they were popular; I assumed they were bloody and gory and yes, I was right about that. I think I started watching the Nightmare on Elm Street movies on videotape rental, and enjoyed them thoroughly, but eventually abandoned the series after maybe the third or fourth. Paul is a huge fan of the Halloween movies, so he got me to watch the original two, and many of the reboots/sequels of the last twenty years or so. And of course, I loved the Scream movies. I only recently watched the original Friday the 13th recently on Prime–Prime has a lot of the movies of the golden age of the slasher film available to stream, if you’re interested. I do have high hopes for this season–I love that there’s a trans actress in the cast, and Gus Kenworthy might not be talented–he hasn’t really had much of a chance to do anything other than look really hot and sexy so far, and he can actually do that quite well–but he is, as I said, great eye candy.

I’m not sure when I’m going to get home from all this running around today, but I hope to get home early enough to get some writing done, and to get the house cleaned. I made pho yesterday, which of course always creates an enormous mess, and I have to get that cleaned up at some point today. I’m still a little disoriented and emotionally hung over from the energy it took to complete the volunteer project, but I’m going to have to power through that because I just can’t keep letting things slide. I have deadlines, I have responsibilities, I have things that have to get done. And seriously, so much has slid over the last few weeks–my email inbox is a complete and utter nightmare–that I literally cannot have another slide day.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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I Write the Songs

Another good night’s sleep, with gloomy Sunday glaring at me through my kitchen windows. I wound up wasting most of yesterday–although organizing and filing and so forth doesn’t really seem like a hardship to me–and then last night there was some drama involving my phone again not being recognized by my computer, so yeah, there was that. So, I managed to get next to nothing done yesterday but relaxing and some little bit of my organizing, which means today I have to do a lot of it. Which is fine–I usually dread the morning of the day I pushed everything off to arriving; because nine times out of ten I will almost always feel just as lazy on the Sunday as I did on the Saturday.

It happens.

But I am not feeling quite so out of sorts–or lazy–this morning; which means I am going to start tearing through the to-do list once I finish this entry. I am determined to get my inbox emptied once and for all; I am going to get some work done, and I am going to finish the organizing and cleaning I started doing yesterday. I cleaned off and organized most of the stuff on the top of the kitchen cabinets–eighteen foot ceilings give you a lot of storage space on top of your kitchen cabinets, in case you were wondering–and while there is still stuff up there that should probably come down, I may leave that up for a while just yet…until I can figure out what to do with the stuff. I mean, I don’t want to give away my food processor, but the truth is I rarely, if ever, use it–maybe three times once I first got it and was impressed with the novelty of having one. Or my electric wok; again, used maybe once or twice. Again, a nice thing to have…but I never use it. Maybe I should store these things in the attic. I don’t know.

Yesterday afternoon (and early evening) we watched Venom and the remake/reboot/latest sequel in the Friday the 13th series–the 2009 version with Jared Padalecki of Supernatural in the starring role. Believe it or not, I’d never watched the original until a few years ago, when it became available on a streaming service, and while I can see why it was so enormously successful at the time and am willing to recognize it as a landmark film in the resurgence of horror cinema in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, the production values are only slightly higher than that of a home movie of the time–which led me to think about how The Blair Witch Project, with similar production values and maybe a slightly higher budget, also revolutionized horror cinema and made a fortune. The reboot (or whatever it was, a sequel with no number, whatever) wasn’t a bad film, it just wasn’t a great film; it was perfectly adequate, but added nor removed anything from the canon or iconography and therefore just seemed like an attempt at a cash grab. Likewise, Venom, despite its impressive effects and being about one of my favorite Marvel characters…just didn’t fire on all cylinders for me and was actually kind of dull. And I love me some Tom Hardy; perhaps the problem was that giving Venom an origin story that doesn’t involve Peter Parker was a misfire…and Stan Lee’s cameo at the end of the film just made it sadder, knowing he’s now dead.

So, today I have to make a quick and easy grocery run, deal with my taxes once and for all, and want to finish revising some chapters of the WIP while also putting together the proposal for the suspense thriller I may want to write later in the year. I also want to read the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s and get started on Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home. I also have some other things I need to work on as well. And there’s always cleaning that needs to be done, and organizing. Always. I just have to make sure I don’t get into one of those oh I feel lazy and this can wait until another time moods, you know?

Which is, sadly, easier and easier to slip into these days.

But that cannot happen, I cannot keep letting things slide, so today is the day when I need to get it all together and get it all done.

Beginning with the goddamned emails.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Sara Smile

Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.

I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.

I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?

Apparently, not a very good one.

I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that)I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.

And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and  not just in reading, but in life. 

I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.

I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.

The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?

My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.

So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Sara

Memorial Day Monday, and I haven’t gotten near as much done as I intended, according to the “long weekend stay-cation to-do list”, but I got so much more else done that I cannot feel defeated or disappointed in myself.

Which, of course, is a step in the right direction. I’ve also gotten used to waking up in the morning between nine-thirty and ten; tomorrow’s alarm is going to be a very rude awakening, I fear. But it is what it is, I suppose, and at least this is only a four day work week, so that’s something, right?

Always find the upside, you know?

I took a lot more notes in the journal yesterday, figuring out how some other stories are going to play out, and even started brainstorming on Muscles. I know this doesn’t seem like I’m getting very much done as far as actual writing is concerned, and that may be true; but what I’ve done this entire weekend is make the actual writing possible. Today I am going to try to get some of that actual writing done–I know, right? SCARED OF THAT. And I also have some reading to do; I’m participating in a panel of readers to choose some short stories for an anthology. I also have some other busy-work to take care of today as well; so I am going to try to get that done before I start writing.

I am still reading that Roth novel; it’s not very quick going, despite being so well-written and the characters aren’t really quite as awful as the ones I recall from Letting Go, but it’s kind of slow going; there’s not really a reason to keep turning the page, which is always the problem, at least for me, with literary fiction. On my shelves, TBR, are two big literary fiction books that are massively long, Hanya Yanaghara’s A Little Life and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, and while there are  gay characters and themes in both…they’re so long. Since they have gay characters, I kind of feel, as a gay author, some responsibility to the community to read them, dissect the gay characters, etc. It is representation, after all, and that representation should be critiqued by someone within the community.

I am sure that was handled by Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, which is a lovely magazine, and yet…I feel like it’s sort of my job somehow; a need or feeling which I definitely need to get past and over as quickly as possible. I am sure I will finish reading the Roth this week and I can get back to reading crime novels. (Yay!)

So, yesterday’s journal entries included work on my short stories “The White Knuckler” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “Hold on to the Night” and “This Thing of Darkness” and “And the Walls Came Down”; and the novels Muscles and Bury Me in Satin. I am writing a lot in my journal, which is convenient and easy, of course; I love having my journal, and I love having it handy, so whenever something occurs to me I can write it down and riff on it for a little while. This has been working tremendously; I solved the problems with the Scotty novel this way, made progress on the WIP; and at the rate I am going when it’s time to work on Bury Me in Satin the entire thing will have already been written or planned out in my journal.

Which will certainly make the process easier.

I’m all about it being easier, in case you’d never noticed.

As I page through my journal I also see notes I made for two essays; one about the evolution of teen movies from the 1950’s to the present (triggered by watching the original Friday the 13th last night, with a very young, dewy and beautiful Kevin Bacon), and another about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory, and yet another about whether Carrie White from Carrie was a villain or a victim (this popped up on Facebook this week, and the question was very strange; I always considered Carrie a victim and certainly never as a victim; I also made the connecting thought that varied interpretations of what role she played in the novel/film has everything to do with the reader/viewer’s life experience as well as how they see themselves; which is an interesting direction to take, essay-wise; I was also thinking it might not be a bad idea to include Christine’s Arnie in the discussion. I consider both novels to be excellent depictions of teenage life and high school; no one really does childhood or high school quite the way King does).

So, that’s it for today, the end of my stay-cation. I got a lot of brainstorming and problem-solving finished for my writing; the Lost Apartment is in some sort of order at long last, and I am of course making myself all kinds of promises I won’t keep; about staying on top of the household chores and staying on top of the writing and the reading and using my journal to get myself out of sticky situations with both. I am very glad I took the stay-cation, even if I didn’t get close to getting all the things finished that I needed to get finished. My visit to the storage facility had to be postponed because of the recurring back pain; hopefully I can get that handled one day this week; either Thursday or Friday.

Always keep moving forward.

Next up in the Short Story Project is “The Jockey” by Carson McCullers, also from The New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade:

The jockey came to the doorway of the dining room, then after a moment stepped to one side and stood motionless, with his back to the wall. The room was crowded, as this was the third day of the season and all the hotels in the town were full. In the dining room bouquets of August roses scattered their petals on the white table linen and from the adjoining bar came a warm, drunken wash of voices. The jockey waited with his back to the wall and scrutinized the room with pinched, crepy eyes. He examined the room until at last his eyes reached a table in the corner diagonally across him him, at which three men were sitting. As he watched, the jockey raised his chin and tilted his head back to one side, his dwarfed body grew rigid, and his hands stiffened so that the fingers curled inward like gray claws. Tense against the wall of the dining room, he watched and waited in this way.

I’ve never been ashamed to admit that often I don’t get McCullers’ work; but I like the way she writes and the insights into her characters that she shares. This short story, about a damaged jockey who enters a crowded dining room during the season at Saratoga and confronts three people, dining together, who’ve had some impact/will have some impact on his life, and their complete disinterest in him as anything other than an object to be pitied, eventually to be scorned, is well drawn and depicted; and very telling about human nature; how we are with people who are of use to us and who we, as a society, generally are to those who cease to be of use to us. I have to confess, my revisitation of McCullers, between this and Reflections in a Golden Eye, has made me a lot more interested in her and her work; just as reading some of Flannery O’Connor’s stories recently has raised my interest in her work as well.

As I have said before, I often find my failure to get certain writers, seen as masters or geniuses, or in other ways celebrated by the so-called Academy, as a failure not only as a reader or a writer but as an intellectual and even, possibly a moral failure; but my recent reread of The Great Gatsby went a long way towards curing me of that mentality; likewise, the recent re-approaches to the works of McCullers and O’Connor have also made me realize that in some cases, I may not have been intellectually and morally ready to read these works. I am going to give Hemingway another chance at some point  as well, and I do want to read more of Faulkner. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser a great deal more as an adult than I did in college courses. I didn’t enjoy reading Jonathan Franzen, and I’ve come to believe that David Foster Wallace is a cruel joke played on unsuspecting readers and students of literature by bitter professors. I also found Styron’s Set This House On Fire more readable, more enjoyable, and more of an achievement than Sophie’s Choice or The Confessions of Nat Turner; but I also read the latter when I was in my early twenties, so it may be possible for me to appreciate them more greatly now; I do consider myself to be a more sophisticated reader now than I was in my callow youth.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Wrapped Around Your Finger

The temperature took a dip here Thursday evening, and has kept falling, even further than was projected. That means the heat is on and my space heater is back at work here in the kitchen/office, as I try to get the kitchen cleaned and the bed linens laundered. I slept later than I’d intended this morning–not a big deal, just got me off to a later start on my day than I’d wanted–and am now in the process of getting the things done that were on my Saturday agenda. I remembered that the last cold snap, coupled with my illness, had knocked me off my daily abdominal workout plan, so I got that started again this afternoon after running my errands, and it really is amazing what a difference that makes. I have an errand to run on Monday, but tomorrow if I rise early enough to get the things done that I want to, I am going to venture out into the cold temperatures and head to the gym to lift weights, stretch, and get on the treadmill. (I have all those lovely films on Starz to watch; movies I want to rewatch and others–like Friday the 13th–that I’ve never seen. Yes, I’ve never seen any  of the Jason movies, can you believe that? Shame on me! Bad, bad Gregalicious!)

Also, when I was talking about watching The Towering Inferno, I neglected to mention that the film was based on two books (I am a firm believer in mentioning the source material; so many people don’t know films were based on books, which is a shame). Two novels about fires in skyscrapers were released in the same year, so when the film was being prepared Irwin Allen bought the screen rights to both books to protect against another similar, competitive film being made. The two books were The Tower by Richard Martin Stern (which I did read) and The Glass Inferno by Thomas N. Scortia and Frank M. Robinson (I didn’t see any need to read a second book about a fire in a skyscraper). Whew. I feel better having giving them credit now.

As you are probably aware, the Short Story Project is really proceeding apace. Last year I tried to read a short story a day for January; I am reading a lot more than two a day this year, particularly since I decided to expand the project to last the entire year. In fact, blogging only once a day (although I blogged twice yesterday) isn’t enough for me to devote an entire entry to simply one story; I am having to at the very least double them up per entry, and I am still getting behind on the blog entries! Madness!

But after these three stories, I am caught up through Saturday.

Whew! The pressure is so intense.

These next three stories, of course, are from Sarah Weinman’s anthology Troubled Daughters Twisted Wives. The first is Helen Nielsen’s “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

It was exactly ten minutes before three when Loren returned to  her apartment. The foyer was empty–a glistening, white and black tile emptiness of Grecian simplicity which left no convenient nooks or alcoves where a late party-goer could linger with her escort in a prolonged embrace, or where the manager–in the unlikely event that he was concerned–could spy out the nocturnal habits of his tenants. Loren moved swiftly across the foyer, punctuating its silence with the sharp tattoo of her heels on the tile and the soft rustling of her black taffeta evening coat. Black for darkness; black for stealth. She stepped into the automatic elevator and pressed the button for the seventeenth floor. The door closed and the elevator began its silent climb. Only then did she breathe a bit easier, reassuring herself that she was almost safe.

There was an apex of terror, a crisis at which everything and every place became a pulsing threat. Loren wore her terror well.

Loren, you see, is a second wife; thoroughly organized and ruthlessly efficient as a secretary, she first became the other woman when he was married to another woman. When that marriage inevitably ended in divorce, Loren not only got her man but she also got a big promotion. But Loren, you see, has a secret past she doesn’t want her husband to know about, lest he might go back to his former wife. And when the man who knows her secrets shows up–in the company of the first wife–she knows she has to do something about it. So, thoroughly organized and ruthlessly efficient, Loren comes up with a plan. But…even the best planner can get caught off-guard by a twist of fate they never foresaw, never considered. And as the suspense rises, as does Loren’s paranoia and fear…well, what a fantastic story.

The next story is by Dorothy B. Hughes, the master of suspense who crafted such brillaint novels as In a Lonely Place, The Blackbirder, and The Expendable Man, amongst others. I can attest to the particular brilliance of the first and third mentioned novels; the middle is in my TBR pile. Her other books are sadly out of print, and hard to find; but I am on a quest to read her entire canon, and I will not be denied.

Her contribution in this collection is a strange little story called “Everybody Needs a Mink.”

One was dusty rose brocade, tranquil as an arras in a forsaken castle. One was a waterfall of gold, shimmering from a secret jungle cache. And there was, of course, the stiletto of black, cut to here and here–the practical one, as it would go everywhere–and she had the black evening slippers from last year, like new for they only went to the New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras dances at the club, and the annual office executive dinner at the Biltmore. With her pearls, single strand, good cultured, Christmas present two years ago from Tashi–black and pearls, always good.

She selected the gold. She’d dash down to Florida and pick up a copper tan before the Christmas party, or maybe Hawaii. Or a week in Arizona, quite chic. She could buy gold slippers and hunky gold jewelry. When you were selecting, you didn’t have to think practical, you could let yourself go.

This is an excellent character study of the interior life of women, or at least this woman, shopping the before school sales for her children at a department store in Manhattan, pretending that she’s a socialite with money to burn, trying on clothes she couldn’t possible afford and pretending for a moment, before she has to get back to reality, get the sale items for her kids and catch the train to her little suburb north of the city, Larksville-nearly-on-the-Hudson and her life as a middle-class wife and mother who must scrimp and save…but she tries on a mink, encouraged by an older man. an eleven thousand dollar coat, which he buys for her without her knowledge and then disappears. Terrific stuff.

The last story to catch me up on the Short Story Project is a deeply disturbing little tale called “The Purple Shroud” by Joyce Carrington. Originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, it won the Edgar for Best Short Story for 1972. Dark, told in a distant, observational voice, it’s the kind of dark little story with a twist that would have been perfect for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Mrs. Moon threw the shuttle back and forth and pumped the treadles of the big four-harness loom as if her life depended on it. When they asked her what she was weaving so furiously, she would laugh silently and say it was a shroud.

“No, really, what is it?”

“My house needs new draperies,” Mrs. Moon would smile and the shuttle would fly and the beater would thump the newly woven threads tightly into place. The muffled, steady sounds of her craft could be heard from early morning until very late at night, until the sounds became an accepted and expected background noise and were only noticed in their absence.

Then they would say, “I wonder what Mrs. Moon is doing now.”

You see, every summer Mr. and Mrs. Moon come to an art colony at a remote lake in the woods, and Mrs. Moon weaves while her husband George instructs others in art, because he is the best instructor the art colony has ever had. But George has a bad habit of having affairs with young girl students at the colony every summer, ending them when it’s time to go home again, of course, and everyone knows and kind of feels sorry for Mrs. Moon, but this summer…this summer it’s different.

And now back to the spice mines.

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