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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Typical Male

The male gaze.

Per Wikipedia (which isn’t always accurate):  In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Or, as Laura Lippman likes to quip about crime fiction written by men: A beautiful woman is dead and a man feels bad about it.

Lippman is joking, sort of; much of male-centered crime fiction can be boiled down to that sentence. The sexualization of women in crime fiction, particularly in hard-boiled fiction or noir, has been a thing since the early pulp days; classic English crime fiction, like that written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and their other contemporaries, probably didn’t sexualize their women characters…although I do seem to recall that Arlene Marshall in Christie’s Evil Under the Sun was not only sexualized, but also highly misunderstood; it isn’t until Poirot solves the crime at the end of the book that we finally begin to understand Arlene as something other than a sex object who devours men like a praying mantis; the Christie version of a femme fatale being softened, as it were, in the final reel.

It is surprising to read books published in prior decades with their attitudes towards women–sometimes my jaw literally drops at how writers used to describe women, reducing them to their sexuality and their sex appeal; older, or less attractive, women, are written about in an almost contemptuous manner. This still pops up from time to time in modern fiction, but it’s not nearly as common as it used to be.

I was sitting at a literary luncheon, for example, while the speaker was talking about his admiration for John D. MacDonald–an admiration I share–and in particular, about MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. I was nodding and smiling when a female author friend leaned over and whispered to me, “I wonder if he’ll mention McGee’s magic wand.”

I was startled at first, and then I stifled a laugh–it wasn’t the appropriate time in the talk to laugh–but the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. One of the major things about Travis McGee, and the novels written about him, was how he ‘sexually healed’ the damaged women he was assisting during the course of the book; even his friend and cohort often referred to him as a ‘knight-errant coming to the rescue of the lady.’ It never really dawned on me, when I was reading the books–either the first time or any of the successive times I’ve reread them–that he was actually fucking them back to good emotional and mental and physical health; I always thought, since it usually involved them going sailing on his houseboat and fishing and doing the mindless, physical work while relaxing and getting tan and enjoying life away from the worries and problems of the world and day-to-day life.

I missed the bit about the magic wand because I’m gay and it never crossed my mind.

Which is doubly ironic, considering how much MacDonald and McGee influenced my Chanse MacLeod character and the series I wrote about him; but despite the influence in the creation of the character/series, my series was dramatically different from MacDonald’s.

Being a gay crime writer, while limiting in many ways, is incredibly freeing in others. I fully acknowledge that my books are firmly centered in the gay male gaze; that when I write either Chanse or Scotty, I often devolve in description of male characters the way male writers used to/sometimes still do write about women; their looks, their sex appeal, their fuck-ability factor. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what people mean when they talk about my books being all about sex; because Chanse and Scotty view men as sexual beings and that is something readers aren’t accustomed to seeing?

Perhaps.

Something to ponder.

Today’s short story is “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson, from  The Best of Richard Matheson collection:

X–This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch.

This day it had water falling from upstairs. It fell all around. I saw that. The ground of the back I watched from the little window. The ground it sucked up the water like thirsty lips. It drank too much and it got sick and runny brown. I didn’t like it.

Mother is a pretty I know. In my bed place with cold walls around I have paper things that was behind the furnace. It says on it SCREENSTARS. I see in the pictures faces like of mother and father. Father says they are pretty. Once he said it.

And also mother he said. Mother so pretty and me decent enough. Look at you he said and didn’t have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it it alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldnt reach. Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how I saw the water falling from upstairs.

Richard Matheson isn’t as well known as he should be; he is a giant in the horror community and deservedly so, but he should also be highly acclaimed as one of the great writers of any genre from the twentieth century. His novels were filmed frequently–so even if you don’t think you know his work, you do. SOme of the films based on his novels include The Incredible Shrinking Man, Legend of Hell House, I Am Legend (The Omega Man), Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and countless others. His short stories were often adapted for episodes of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery–probably the most famous being “Nightmare at 50,000 Feet.” Just a creative genius.

This story is chilling, absolutely chilling. We never really know much about the poor young man (or woman) chained in the basement of this family’s home; other than he was born of their union and something went terribly wrong. He is treated terribly and not educated well and they feed him, but they also are so repulsed and horrified by him that they beat and abuse him and keep him chained against the wall…but as the story progresses his pathetic need for love and company turns.

And it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the rest of his family…who are about to become his victims.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Feelings

Since October is, for me, the month of Halloween and therefore irrevocably tied to the horror genre, as Constant Reader already knows, I have decided to write only about horror in this month. I am casting my mind back, as it were, over the years and trying to remember what films and books drew me to the genre in the first place. As an author, I am often asked in interviews or on panels about influences, and while there are certain answers that I always give–Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, James M. Cain, Daphne du Maurier–there are often authors, books, films and television programs I forget at the time. (I once made a list of my favorite movies in response to a meme…and somehow forgot to name what could possibly be my favorite film of all time: The Princess Bride. In my defense, I often do these things very quickly and off the top of my head. )

So, in talking about the genre this month, I am also trying to dig deeper and not write about influences I have talked about before; or at least I am going to try not to–there is simply no way I can write about horror and not, for example, talk about Thomas Tryon’s terrific The Other, or Ira Levin. I do feel as though I’ve talked about Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House ad nauseum already; likewise with Daphne du Maurier’s sublime “Don’t Look Now.” (I may give in to the inevitable temptation and do so before the 31st; but I am going to honestly try to resist those temptations.)

 

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I think I was twelve when I first read something by Richard Matheson: I Am Legend. It had recently been made into a film starring Charlton Heston (I’ve seen the film, renamed The Omega Man. It’s okay, but not as good as the book.) I Am Legend, for those not familiar with the story (it was also filmed again sometime in the last decade or so, with Will Smith. I have not seen the remake), is one of those “last man on earth” stories; only in Matheson’s world, a terrible plague has turned everyone who has not died into vampire-like creatures. The last man on earth is Robert Neville, who somehow is immune to the plague. He barricades himself up into his home at night while the vampires try to find a way to either get inside or taunt him, hoping to lure him out–while during the day he scavenges for supplies and kills vampires by staking them through the heart (the matter-of-fact description of him doing this is chilling and has always stayed with me; there are several scenes in Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot where the gang of heroes also hunts and stakes vampires during the day–when I first read ‘salem’s Lot this reminded me of Matheson’s book. Likewise, when I read Stephen King’s apocalyptic novel The Stand, it again reminded me of Matheson’s book.) I Am Legend isn’t just a scary book about the aftermath of the end of the world though; there’s a lot of thought given to what it means, what this new society of people, this Brave New World of vampire-like people will be like, and what it’s like to be the last of your own kind. I didn’t catch a lot of this when I was a kid, and frankly, as it delved more into philosophy towards the end the unsophisticated reader I was found it a bit disappointing. When I revisited the book in the 1980’s–I went on a Matheson kick, and was delighted to discover that many episodes of television shows, or films, that I greatly enjoyed were actually based on Matheson’s work: Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes–it’s quite an extensive list.

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I also read Hell House when I was about thirteen, but didn’t connect that Matheson had written both books. Hell House, about “the Mount Everest of haunted houses”, was similar in structure to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but also very different. It was made into a terrifying film called The Legend of Hell House, which I recently rewatched, and actually holds up. (As a weary, cynical adult, I can see how cheaply the film was made now; but it’s just as spooky and scary as it was when I was a teenager and it terrified me.)

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That was the version I originally read; this is the one I reread:

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Again, I would love to spend a week in a mountain cabin sometime revisiting Matheson’s work.

And now, back to the spice mines.