Mirrorball

The sun is shining and there doesn’t seem to be any wind at all outside my windows this morning. The sidewalk is littered with leaves and some small branches, and even that’s not really indicative of much beyond having a thunderstorm here last night. I don’t remember hearing any thunder, nor even any rain last evening–but I am rather nervous about seeing what damage Delta did to western Louisiana. The road to recovery there is going to be long, sadly, and even longer because this was the second time they got hit in less than two months. Just awful.

Today I have a lot of writing to do; I have to finish revising an essay as well as a short story, and I also have some website writing to get done. I was thinking about this yesterday afternoon, after I finished condom packing for the day and was going about cleaning the Lost Apartment–I don’t know where my doldrums and malaise about both writing and my career has come from lately; if it was merely a combination of overwhelming factors (COVID-19, the news on a daily basis, stress from my volunteer work, or a combination of them all, coupled with the shift in my routine from the changes at work that are COVID related, and of course, the dying desktop–JFC, what a shitty year this has been) but yesterday I seemed to snap out of it somewhat. I spent a lot of the evening last night cleaning up my Cloud drive–it still needs work–but I also started thinking about all the writing I’ve done and all the writing I need to do and literally it was like slapping myself in the face. There are a lot of things about this business I have no control over; but one thing I do have control over is the writing itself. All I can do is write the best work that I can, focus on making it the best it can be, and send it out into the world and hope for the best. I’m going to try to not beat myself up so much over everything as much as I have been doing this year–in other words, I need to stop being so hard on myself and give myself a break every now and again.

There are only so many hours in every day, and sometimes it’s okay, and necessary, to spend some time letting your brain recharge.

Sometimes I feel like this entire year my mind has been functioning as though through a fog of some sort, and it’s perfectly okay. It has been a traumatic year for everyone, and there’s no guarantee that next year will be any better–remember when we all couldn’t wait for 2019 to end?–but I plan on moving forward while trying to stay positive about everything. There’s plenty of negativity in the world already, and there’s certainly no need for me to add anything to that. But I think what’s been missing this year, at least for me, is my ambition–I’ve not been particularly ambitious this year, and I’ve sort of been letting my life happen rather than trying to take control of it, which is what I did the first thirty-three years I was alive, drifting through life aimlessly to see where it led me, and that’s a horrible waste of time. Obviously, there are certain things that are completely out of our control, but I’ve also not been grasping the reins of the things I can control. I’ve been allowing myself to simply be a pinball bouncing around in a game being played by a master, who’s managed to keep the ball in play, sending me from flipper to bumper to flipper to slingshot to bumper to flipper again–and I need to grab hold and start steering again.

Because the LSU-Missouri game was moved to Columbia from Baton Rouge, the game is now airing at 11 CDT, which means in only a couple of hours. I am going to finish this, go through my emails, and then retire to my easy chair with my laptop and work on the essay during the game. It should be over by three, and then I can work on the website writing–I don’t feel like spending the rest of the day watching football games, frankly, but my mind could easily be changed/distracted and head in that direction later–and if I can get the essay and the website writing done today, I can focus on the short story revision tomorrow, and maybe even move on to Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows, which I would love to have a finished draft of by Halloween, so I can spend the next month or so polishing and revising it before I send it in–early, even, if I am lucky. The final revision and polish of #shedeservedit is going to take longer than this one, so giving myself more time to work on it is probably the wisest course of action.

And then….it’s on to Chlorine, which I am really excited about.

There are also some calls for submission I’ve seen lately that I might have something for, which is exciting, and there’s also the possibility that I could write something new as well. I really want to get back to my pandemic short story, “The Flagellants,” which I am not sure anyone will want to publish but the story has taken some shape in my head; there are a couple of others I can revise and send out there to markets–“Death and the Handmaidens,” “Moves in the Field,” “This Thing of Darkness”–and some others I want to finish–“Please Die Soon,” “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “No Place Like Home,”–as you can see, Constant Reader, I am feeling particularly ambitious this morning–and there’s another period Sherlock story I would like to write, “The Mother of Harlots.” (Look at me, writing another Sherlock story with no market for it!) There was also a submission call for stories set in the 1960’s, and methinks I would love to write a short story around the Clay Shaw trial, which would be kind of fun to do (God, New Orleans history is so richly layered and textured it’s not even funny!) and of course, I need to be reading.

We started watching season 2 of The Boys last night, and it’s still very well done, just as the first season was, and of course, the entire concept of super-heroes as assholes remains perfect–and it got me to thinking about Superman and what’s been wrong with the recent adaptations of the Man of Steel on film. Henry Cavill is absolutely perfect in the role, but the issue I have with the films is this angsty look at Superman they’ve been giving us. Superman is suppose to be a beacon hope–the great American Boy Scout–as opposed to his darker counterpart, Batman. There will be more discussion of this at a later blog date, once we’ve finished The Boys.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and if you have some spare cash, can you donate something to western Louisiana hurricane relief? It would be most appreciated.

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.

Haunted

It’s gray outside this morning, and right now the trees and the crepe myrtles are swaying in a strong wind. It must have rained at some point during the night because the sidewalk looks wet, but I’m not sure. We’re supposed to experience tropical storm conditions, and it looks as though that won’t be until later this evening; we’ll see how that turns out though. Our syringe program may be short-staffed today so I am probably going to go into the office to help out–the storm may not reach us until around five thirty and I should be able to get home by then (am I crazy? The jury, as always, remains out on that one).

I’ve been sleeping really well lately–stress reduction has occurred on many different levels over the past week. My back and shoulders feel relaxed and not knotted anymore–I hadn’t noticed how much of my stress was being carried there until it wasn’t there anymore–and maybe I am going to be able to start focusing with laser intensity again. I miss that, frankly; the ability to focus all my brain and creativity and intelligence (such as it is) on one particular thing and get it finished; I think I may even go back to being able to keep all the plates spinning again–stop that crazy talk, Greg!–so we shall see. As I said, some things that have been weighing heavily on my mind–and knotting my shoulders–have wrapped up now and if i can finally manage to get myself organized, look out world.

Do keep Lake Charles and western Louisiana/eastern Texas in your thoughts, Constant Reader, as they are going to get hammered again tonight.

Yesterday as I made condom packs I queued up Terence Malick’s debut film as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, Badlands,which starred a very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek playing a version of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril (in the movie they are Kit and Holly); as they embark on their killing spree–although in the movie it’s South Dakota and Montana, as opposed to the Nebraska and Wyoming in reality. It is set in the 1950’s, which is also when Starkweather went on his spree (makes you think about how everyone remembers the 1950’s as this idyllic time; what I call Leave it to Beaver Syndrome), and the performances are stellar. The movie is narrated by Spacek’s Holly, in an almost unemotional monotone that captures the spirit of the movie itself. The movie doesn’t explain why Kit decided to start killing people, or why Holly chose to go with him, other than they fell in love and her father–the first victim–disapproved. (It’s also very weird seeing President Bartlet on a shooting spree, really.) Both are terrific in their roles, and the movie is visually stunning, really hammering home the isolation of the countryside in those rural states and their vast emptiness–and literally, how on the great plains or in the badlands there is no one to hear you scream. It made me think also of In Cold Blood; and of course, gave me some story ideas.

I decided to make it a Sissy Spacek double feature and queued up Carrie next–it was also a cynical 70’s movie, after all; and while it can hardly be termed a teen movie, it was about high school, after all, and the only adults in the film are supporting characters–Miss Collins the gym teacher; the principal; and of course, the piece de resistance, Margaret White–and everyone else is theoretically a teenager/high school student. I’ve not rewatched Carrie in years, and I’d forgotten what a great film it is; it’s one of the best (if not the best) Stephen King adaptations ever made–I might even go so far as to say it may be one of those rare instances when the film is better than the book. (And as a big King fan, I am quite aware of what blasphemy I just uttered.) Both book and film might be the first time bullying was addressed so strongly, and an argument can even be made that Carrie is one of two Stephen King novels that could be classified as young adult novels (Christine is the other one). Reading Carrie was a revelation to me as a teenager; it was the first time I’d ever read anything in fiction that depicted high school as I knew it that closely; most books and films at the time that did so were completely unrealistic. I had found junior and senior high school to be jungles of cruelty and viciousness with a rigid caste system; it was the first time I’d ever read anything centering the poor kid whom nobody likes, everyone picks on or mocks, and did it with sympathy. It was the first time I saw high school girls depicted as “mean girls”–it later became a trope–and the book was also the first time I ever saw in fiction anyone try to explain the weird, visceral group reaction to a figure who is more to be pitied than hated. (The book was also the first time I realized that we all love an underdog story–is there anything more popular in American popular culture than rooting for the underdog–while in real life the majority of us all will kick the underdog in the ribs or stand by and do or say nothing when they are being abused; King got that, as well as the shame decent people feel about doing nothing later) The movie is incredibly well done; there’s more gratuitous female nudity than perhaps necessary but it doesn’t feel exploitative; the locker room scene that opens the book features female nudity but it would be unrealistic to not show some–and later, we see Spacek’s nude body when she bathes and washes the blood off herself. It’s also very well-cast: Betty Buckley is terrific as the gym teacher who goes from irritated with poor Carrie until she realizes the girl has no idea what her period is; Amy Irving as Sue Snell, the decent girl who participates in the taunting but later feels remorse–a difficult role to be believable in, but she manages it; Nancy Allen is perfectly cast as spoiled hateful bitch Chris Hargensen; and of course John Travolta, playing against type as Chris’ low-life drop-out boyfriend and co-conspirator, which was really a brave move on his part–he was a star already and a teen idol from Welcome Back Kotter, and making his screen debut as a dirtbag thug was a risk (and his next film was Saturday Night Fever); but the movie truly belongs to Sissy Spacek, who is perfect as Carrie, and Piper Laurie as her mother, Jesus-freak Margaret White. Watching them again, I can’t help but feel that each deserved to win Oscars (they lost to Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, both in Network). The use of music in the movie is perfect, and the whole movie seems to be shot with this weird, slightly blurry, out of focus dreamlike style, like the camera was coated in vaseline or covered in gauze. And the clothes and hairstyles! The prom tuxedos with the ruffled shirts and in bizarre color choices! The feathered hair and the gym shorts pulled up so high they barely covered the girls’ asses! William Katt as Tommy Ross, the nice guy who takes Carrie to the prom! Even a young Edie McClurg as one of the teenaged girls, I think the character name was Frieda? As I rewatched the movie, I couldn’t help but think how King subverted the trope of the underdog story by making Carrie so sympathetic to the viewer, and then of course she blossoms at the prom with her make-up and her hair out of her face, in the beautiful dress she made herself, escorted by the most popular boy in the school, and elected Prom Queen–only to have it all come crashing down around her.

The movie differed from the book in several important ways, too–in the book, they do all laugh when Carrie is coated with the pig’s blood; the election for King and Queen isn’t rigged in the book; and in the book Carrie wreaks havoc and destroys the entire town on her walk home. The book also–a stylistic choice I may have questioned as an editor–made it very clear almost from the very beginning that Carrie’s story has a terrible ending, by intercutting the chapters with clips from news reports, books, etc. talking about the Black Prom–the reader just doesn’t know what happens at it, and whatever we may have been expecting, it certainly wasn’t the extreme it turned out to be–and my sympathies were entirely with Carrie, all the way to the very end.

I may need to reread Carrie.

It’s been such a fucked-up year that I forgot that I usually spend October reading horror novels, to celebrate the Halloween season. So maybe tonight, after I get home and the storm rages around us, maybe I’ll take Carrie down from the shelf and give it a reread.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and I will catch you later.

I Wish You Would

Hurricane Delta is moving ever closer by the moment to our shores. This is one of the worst parts–the inevitable waiting, the need to be completely flexible, and the need to be ready to pack up and get out of Dodge in a hurry if need be. In that regard we are luckier than most when it comes to natural disasters; we have warning so we can get out while there is still time. Tornadoes and earthquakes don’t give you those options; with tornadoes sometimes it’s merely a matter of minutes (those years in Kansas…); earthquakes give you no warning whatsoever. Hurricanes clearly trigger PTSD in me–and have, ever since Katrina–but I would still rather deal with them than tornadoes or earthquakes (been through those during my years in California).

Ugh, natural disasters. Earth’s way of reminding us how unimportant and insignificant we really are.

There was a thing going around Twitter the other day, reading something along the lines of : Fellow authors, creatives… do you think it’s wise to tweet your policital opinions using your author/creative twitter account, or should you keep politics out of your creative timeline? Do you think it might lose you followers, readers, even work, or hurt your cause?

It did make me think a little bit at first. I generally don’t talk about politics much about my social media, or here on my blog; but it’s not about worrying that I might offend and lose readers, for fuck’s sake. The funniest thing to me about that tweet was precisely how privileged it was, and how the person tweeting it didn’t even have the slightest clue about the place of privilege she was coming from.

Simply stated, any writers that are not cishet white heterosexuals has had their very existence politicized, over and over and over again. Two Supreme Court justices, just this very week, very nastily announced that they don’t think queer people are entitled to equality in the eyes of the law; no surprise it was dumpster fires Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito. I would love to have the privilege of not having my existence, and my status as an American citizen, politicized and reviled and attacked by bigots and monsters masking their demonic tactics are “religious liberty”; and a little louder for those of you in the back: if your religion is teaching you to treat any other human being with anything less than empathy, understanding, and compassion, you are doing religion wrong.

Period.

Frankly, I don’t exactly see how I could possibly lose any readers who are homophobes or racists or transphobes or fire-breathing conservatives because they would never buy books by a gay man centering gay men and themes in the first place. These are the ones who don’t buy your books but will waste their lives away going on Amazon and looking for queer writers to one-star, with a sentence about “not wanting a political agenda shoved down (their) throat.”

Books by and about queer people are political by nature of their very existence–and this is something which we, like writers of color and any other underprivileged minority in this country do not get to have a choice. The personal is the political for us; it is very interesting to me to see how much privilege is on display in tweets like the one above; while assuredly the intentions of the tweeter were good and she was genuinely curious what other people thought on the subject–other straight white people, obviously. It is an interesting subject, after all; moral stances don’t pay the bills, obviously, and at what point does your survival outweigh your principles?

Some authors are big enough, and successful enough, to not have to worry about offending or losing readers–which is another kind of privilege; recently seen on display with J. K. Rowling, and previously seen with writers like Orson Scott Card, among others–while those writers who aren’t marginalized for something beyond their control and are barely scraping by, hoping their sales will warrant yet another book contract, trying to figure out how to get the word out about their books and sell more copies while balancing a day job and family and everything else, possibly cannot afford to alienate any portion of their reader base if they want to keep writing. I get that, I really do; part of the reason I am so productive (per other people) is a definite fear that at some point my writing career will end–although I have also come to realize that while my career as Greg Herren might end, I could always create a new name and start over again–but it would be really nice to have the kind of reality that makes asking that question even possible to consider. As a gay male writer who writes about gay men and their experiences navigating this country and this world, obviously my books make a political statement; just my existence makes such a statement.

I refuse to closet myself or my work for the convenience of making homophobes more comfortable.

Suck on that, bitches.

Honestly.

Anyway, a friend reminded me of a short story the other day, and it had been quite the hot minute since I’d read Ray Bradbury’s “The Whole Town’s Sleeping,” and so I thought, why not reread it for the Short Story Project?

So I did.

The courthouse clock chimed seven times. The echoes of the chines faded.

Warm summer twilight here in upper Illinois country in this little town deep and far away from everything, kept to itself by.a river and a forest and a meadow and a lake. The sidewalks still scorched. The stores closing and the streets shadowed. And there were two moons; the clock moon with four faces in four night directions above the solemn black courthouse, and the real moon rising in vanilla whiteness from the dark east.

In the drugstore fans whispered in the high ceilings. In the rococo shade of porches, a few invisible people sat. Cigars glowed pink, on occasion. Screen doors whined their springs and slammed. ON the purple bricks of the summer-night streets, Douglas Spaulding ran; dogs an boys followed after.

“Hi, Miss Lavinia!”

Isn’t that a lovely start? I have to confess, I’ve not read much Bradbury–I’m not even sure how I read this story in the first place, but I remembered it; there must have been a short-story collection I picked up somewhere and read that I don’t recall. I know that I read it sometime after I had read Night Shift by Stephen King; because when I originally read this story it made me think of his story, “Strawberry Spring,” both in its style, voice and content SPOILER: both are serial killer stories, and both are written in that same Norman Rockwell Americana type voice; look at this sweet, picturesque American community, isn’t it lovely and aspirational and oh, by the way, there’s a serial killer on the loose. Before rereading the story, all I could remember was that weird Rockwellian voice, the Americana of the depiction of the town, and the ending. I also remembered the suspense of the scene where Miss Lavinia, after walking her companions home after seeing the Chaplin movie, thinks someone is following her as she hurries home alone. I’d forgotten that she and one of her friends found the body of the latest victim on the way to the movie, and yet continue on; that was extremely weird, and I also remembered the wonderful twist of the final sentence of the story, once she has safely gotten home. The serial killer, The Lonely One, kills a woman every month–and yet, in this pristine little slice of Americana small town life, no one in the town seems to take the killer all that seriously, or worry all that much about becoming his next victim. The voice vs the content is a masterstroke of writing, frankly; and I must admit, I’m not really sure why I haven’t read more Bradbury. I remember reading Something Wicked This Way Comes–I also remember thinking recently that I should reread it–and Dandelion Wine, and there must have been a short story collection I read as well; but I never read any of the science fiction–my education in Heinlein and other science fiction greats is also sorely lacking (although I have read quite a bit of Azimov and of course, Dune). I think I’ve avoided the great science fiction writers of back in the day because the advances in technology in reality have made some of those stories probably obsolete–watching 2001 recently, along with Blade Runner, was interesting in seeing what major corporations of the time they were made are no longer around (Pan Am and Howard Johnson’s, for a few) that people of the time couldn’t possibly imagine wouldn’t be around in the future. Perhaps I’ll move Something Wicked This Way Comes closer to the top of the reread pile. I didn’t enjoy it all that much at the time–I was expecting something a little more Stephen King-ish–and with more of an adult, better read mentality, I might enjoy and appreciate it more. I am certainly intrigued by that voice, which is very similar to the one he used in the short story.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely and safe Thursday, Constant Reader!

A Place in This World

Here we are on Wednesday, halfway through the week and a storm is barreling down on us yet again. 2020 is just gonna keep on 2020’ing, y’all. The intensity of the storm–and how strong it will be when it comes ashore–keeps being increased, but everyone keeps insisting that it will slow down and de-intensify before it comes ashore, which is most likely going to be somewhere in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

But such is life on the Gulf Coast–even though we technically aren’t on the Gulf Coast.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately–always a dangerous thing–and a lot of it has to do with my seeing myself, and defining myself, as a crime writer. I am best known for two series featuring gay private eyes set in New Orleans: Chanse MacLeod and Scotty Bradley. (And while characters and places crossover from one series to the other–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague are the police detectives in both series; Paige from the Chanse series has shown up in the last two Scotty books; the disreputable gay strip club the Brass Rail in the upper Quarter; etc. etc etc etc. I have to this date resisted the urge to have the two characters cross over; and I do think that was a wise choice.) It isn’t all I’ve written of course; the two series total about fifteen or so novels out of thirty-three or so I’ve done overall. I’ve dipped my toes into young adult and new adult; romantic suspense and domestic suspense. I’ve done erotica, of course. But the two books I just signed contracts for are stand-alone novels; one will undoubtedly be called new adult and the other young adult, and while crime is in both books and affects the characters and helps shape the stories, they aren’t traditional type crime novels in which a mystery or a crime is solved. (The young adult is more of one of those than the young adult.)

I’m more curious now about criminals, or people who do bad things, and why they actually do them. I have always been drawn to noir–desperate people doing desperate things to get what they want (or feel they deserve)–and I’ve been exploring those interests primarily in short stories. I love what I’ve been doing in my short fiction lately (note to self: must revise short story this week), and I’m starting to think I want to explore those interests on a bigger canvas than a short story can or might provide for me.

A friend recently wrote me about my story “The Carriage House,” recently published in Mystery Tribune, and said, “You know there’s a novel in there, don’t you?” I kind of laughed to myself, because of course I originally envisioned the story as a novel first; before realizing yet again that I only have so much time left in my life to write all the books I want to write (I will go to my grave wishing I had written more books), and a while back I finally came to the conclusion that if some book ideas can be adapted and edited down to a smaller story, something shorter, that was probably the smart thing to do–even though short stories are much harder for me to write than a novel, weird as that sounds. And it’s not always possible–I also suspect some of the in-progress unfinished stories are unfinished because they really don’t work as a short story. But then again, I could be wrong and just haven’t figured out how to write the story yet.

We watched a few more episodes of Utopia last night, and it’s really quite something. Lots of violence and lots of action as the onion gets peeled back and the story of what is really going on in the show becomes more clear, it’s really creepy and terrifying, because it really isn’t that difficult to see it happening in the real world–it also doesn’t help that the show is centered around a lethal pandemic.

The weather outside my windows is solemnly gray this morning, lots of clouds. Yesterday the light was also strange; we’re in that weird pre-storm time. The storm seems to be shifting slowly west, which puts New Orleans on the wet side of the storm, and we’ll be feeling it beginning sometime tomorrow late in the day, and then most of the day Friday with some residual on Saturday. They’ve moved the LSU-Missouri game to Missouri’s home stadium officially this morning–I won’t say anything about the Florida-LSU game that was postponed years ago because of a hurricane because Florida refused to move the game day to Baton Rouge instead–and it’s also now a day game rather than a night game. I hope we still have power so we can watch; at least if we do lose power it won’t be completely unbearable in the Lost Apartment since the weather has shifted into fall.

The loss of morning coffee, on the other hand, will be horrific.

I also found some time to read a short story last night, and I chose “You Go Where It Takes You” by Nathan Ballingrud from North American Lake Monsters: Stories. This was the story that was adapted for the first episode of Monsterworld–which we will undoubtedly go back to once we’ve finished Utopia–and while there are significant differences between the show and the story, both are done really really well.

He did not look like a man who would change her life. He was big, roped with muscles from working on off-shore oil rigs, and tending to fat. His face was broad and inoffensively ugly, as though he had spent a lifetime taking blows and delivering them. He wore a brown raincoat against the light morning drizzle and against the threat of something more powerful held in abeyance. He breathe heavily, moved slowly, found a booth by the window overlooking the water, and collapsed into it. He picked up a syrup-smeared menu and studied it with his whole attention, like a student deciphering Middle English. He was like every man who ever walked into that diner. He did not look like a beginning or an end.

That day, the Gulf of Mexico and all the earth was blue and still. The little town of Port Fourchon clung like a barnacle to Louisiana’s southern coast, and behind it the water stretched into the distance for as many miles as the eye could hold. Hidden by distance were the oil rigs and the workers who supplied the town with its economy. At night she could see their lights, ringing the horizon like candles in a vestibule. Toni’s morning shift was nearing its end; the dining area was nearly empty. She liked to spend those slow hours out on the diner’s balcony, overlooking the water.

As you can see, Ballingrud has a beautiful writing style; easy and uncomplicated, but complex in its simplicity. The story, about a working single mother in a small Louisiana coastal town whose life changes when she meets a mysterious stranger at the diner one morning, paints an exceptional portrait of desperation. Toni, short for Antoinette, is only twenty three and has a young daughter still of daycare age; the child’s father walked out on her years earlier and left for New Orleans–no child support, little to no contact, nothing. Toni is desperate, trapped in a rut, and there’s something wrong with her daughter mentally–she needs specialized help that Toni is unable to afford to provide for her, so she is basically simply coasting along through her life, one day at a time, some days better than others, occasionally dreaming about a better life. The stranger is someone who has the ability to wear other people’s skins and transform into them; metaphorically changing lives with every transformation, and this experience convinces Toni to do something terrible herself, in order to free herself–shedding an old skin and acquiring a new one, starting over with a new life somewhere else, free of the child she cannot take care of properly, in the way the child needs. Ballingrud conveys that sense of desperation and the numbing acceptance of defeat–that undoubtedly any number of people feel–and by using a paranormal/supernatural experience to snap her out of it, shows convincingly how the medium of horror can be used, in the hands of a masterful writer, to say something deeply poignant and meaningful about the human condition.

I’m really looking forward to diving into more of his stories.

And on that note, that spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

Red

Getting up early is the bane of my existence, and has been for nearly my entire life. I think alarms are evil, frankly–necessary sometimes, admittedly, but there’s nothing worse than being ripped out of a deep sleep by the incessant braying of a fucking alarm clock. My preference would be to wake up naturally every morning; those are the days when I never feel tired the rest of the day–waking up to an alarm inevitably means being tired at some point, and depending on how difficult it is for me to wake up after said alarm goes off, I could quite easily be tired for the rest of the day.

We’re not enjoying The Vow nearly as much as we did in the earlier episodes, and with no offense to Catherine Oxenberg, the documentary’s shift from being about what the cult (NXIVM) is doing and how it hounds people who try to leave–and their attempts to bring it down–and to a focus on her attempts to rescue her daughter was jarring; those original episodes were a lot more interesting than these last few focusing on Oxenberg and her daughter. It’s like the series shifted focus in mid-stream, and while I know Oxenberg played a very important role in bringing NXIVM down, this shift felt strange, awkward, and weird–almost inorganic.

There’s another storm out in the Caribbean Sea, and New Orleans is almost entirely the cone of uncertainty. When I looked at it last night, it looked like it could become a category 2 by the time it makes it ashore at the end of this week. This is Delta–an ominous name for people who live in the Mississippi Delta, or rather just above it–and while I am not necessarily feeling any stress about this storm just yet (give it another day or so, or another cup of cappuccino) it’s definitely not pleasing to have such a thing out there, looming and lurking and slowly making its way towards us. It’s projection right now is a dead-center hit on New Orleans as a Category 2, but let’s keep our fingers crossed that this will be another near-miss or a big old nothing.

This morning, Delta seems to be strengthening in the Caribbean Sea, with it possibly getting up to Category 4 in the Gulf, but only coming ashore as a 2. A 2 is still rough, mind you; that’s what Laura was in western Louisiana and she wrought havoc and destruction; so am I getting a little unsettled and unnerved by the presence of this storm lurking out there, with almost two full months left in the season? Damned straight I am. I don’t seem to be having any PTSD at the moment, unlike the previous storms that threatened here this year, so that’s a good thing–unless I am so beaten down already by the year that I no longer have the bandwidth to spare any emotion anymore, which is probably a very strong possibility.

But it will certainly make the end of the week interesting, at any rate.

We started watching the new Gillian Flynn show–she’s producer, writer and show-runner, I guess–on Prime, Utopia. I’m still not quite sure what I think of it, but it’s pretty amazing. Very hard-boiled, very realistic, very interesting, surprising twists, and boy is it ever dark. I’m not even sure I can describe the plot adequately enough to do it justice–it’s like trying to figure out how to explain Orphan Black to someone; you inevitably give up and say, “you have to watch. It’s marvelous.” The acting and writing are top notch, the direction and editing and overall visual aesthetic are cinematic at the best of the meaning of the word, and you can’t really look away from it. It’s very violent. But I really hated to stop watching when it was time for bed last night. Oh, and John Cusack is in it. There’s this amazing sense of paranoia that runs through it, that is also reminiscent of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the decade of conspiracies and theories and cults.

Note to self: rewatch the original Fame movie. It’s very dark, as I recall, as was Saturday Night Fever.

Paul actually got home early last night so I wasn’t able to get any writing done–or reading, for that matter–which of course has me still behind the 8-ball with everything I need to get done. I did make some progress yesterday; I got a lot of my emails responded to, which was lovely, and hopefully I can get the rest of them cleaned up and cleaned out today and tomorrow. I also need to clean the kitchen this evening; I kind of let things slide last night because I wasn’t expecting Paul to be home so early and then we started watching Utopia. I also want to start wading into Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories; I’d hoped to be able to get that started yesterday. Since I’m having so much trouble focusing enough to read novels, it might be time to get back to the Short Story Project, and there are certainly enough single-author collections and anthologies lying around the Lost Apartment to keep me reading for quite some time. I also realized that I do have two short stories that are almost completed; “This Thing of Darkness” and “Moves in the Field”–the two stories that were rejected by the markets I sent them to–that can be reread, revised, and sent back out into the world, which I’ve been thinking about again lately–the need to get some more short stories out on submission again. I need to be writing more–scheduling and exhaustion (both mental, emotional and physical) cannot be allowed to defeat me and keep me from writing. Writing is what keeps me level and sane (or what passes for it around here), and it’s when I am not writing something, anything, that things tend to go off the rails around here.

And more than anything else, I need to keep things on the rails as much as possible.