All Down the Line

I did not want to get out of bed this morning. I didn’t sleep as deeply or restfully last night as I have been, but it was still a good night’s sleep–at least, one that wasn’t riddled with insomnia, so I’ll take it and be grateful. I mean, I don’t feel fatigued or anything. I’m still fighting this cold I caught in New York (the COVID tests have been consistently negative since my return, but I haven’t taken one this morning yet, either) which is miserable, and means I’ll probably continue masking at work. They lifted the masking requirement yesterday, which was kind of a surprise, but…making those kinds of decisions is way above my pay grade. I don’t know why people were so hateful and nasty about the masks, but I know I’ve kind of enjoyed not getting sick (other than COVID) over the last three years–which is why I hate this cold even more than I ordinarily would because I haven’t had one in three years.

Sigh.

I made more than quota yesterday, which was also nice–the deadline looms, which makes every word more important–and I hope to do so again tonight. I also managed to get some dishes done last night, some cleaning up around the kitchen, and even made dinner, which I rarely do on weeknights (mainly because Paul gets home so late, but yesterday was his work-at-home day, so he was here and it wasn’t an issue). I need to do some more dishes tonight and more clean-up/organizing around the kitchen. I have to do that signing event for two hours at ALA on Saturday at the Convention Center (which I keep forgetting about, like I keep forgetting about my doctor’s appointment tomorrow, which isn’t good or smart), so getting ahead of the game is better for me and I should take advantage of the writing being easy and write as much as I can when its flowing, right?

We also started watching Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime last night. I like John Kasinski, but have never been much of a fan of Tom Clancy’s. I did read The Hunt for Red October when it was the “it” book of the year, but didn’t much care for it and never went back to Clancy afterwards. It’s just not my thing. I preferred Alistair MacLean, to be honest–no one really talks about him anymore, but I read a lot of his canon; I think if there’s any one book he might be known for it’s either The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare. My personal favorite was the one whose name I cannot recall right now, but it was about a lifeboat full of people escaping Singapore in December 1941; their ship is torpedoed and sinks, and they are trying to make it to Australia. South by Java Head! I also enjoyed Circus and Bear Island. I’ve been meaning to revisit MacLean again now that I’m an older and more sophisticated (!) reader, just as I’ve been meaning to revisit Robert Ludlum (the actual Ludlum) in the last few years. I’ve also been meaning to revisit Helen MacInnes–her The Salzburg Connection is one of my favorite espionage thrillers (you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains, seriously). I’ve also wanted to reread Ian Fleming for the first time since I was a teenager as well; I think I would appreciate the books more than I did then. Anyway, we weren’t terribly engrossed by Jack Ryan and I don’t think we’ll be continuing with it.

This morning’s COVID test is negative, as I had suspected and hoped, so I know this is just a cold. Is it annoying that I still have it? You bet your ass it is. I can’t believe I used to get colds and think nothing of it and just went about my day and business like it was nothing. Clearly, I am out of practice with being ill. I don’t think it’s just me, either; I finished off my DayQuil yesterday so it was on my list on the way home from work and they didn’t have much in stock–either DayQuil or NyQuil, and none of the extra strength kind I always use. Supply chain issues? One thing I’ve really been noticing over the last year or so is how empty the shelves in the grocery stores are, and things that I used to pick up regularly without concern sometimes aren’t there. I don’t know if this is a New Orleans issue–it really became noticeable after Hurricane Ida, and the stores here never have seemed to bounce back from having to toss all that food back then–or if it’s across the board, but it’s strange and one of those things that makes you wonder about how serious the decline of the American democracy actually must be. (It also goes to show how spoiled we are–do other countries even have supermarkets? They didn’t in the village in Italy we vacationed in all those years ago–and I never saw one in either Florence or Venice, but wasn’t looking either. Or is even thinking that part of American exceptionalism? It’s hard to know anymore.)

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

Right on the Tip of My Tongue

Tuesday and it’s back into the office with me today. Huzzah.

Yesterday I entered data until my eyes crossed, but I got everything caught up. I also, once I was finished with my work for the day, walked over to Office Depot and got some more organizational items to try to make the kitchen workspace–and the kitchen overall–better organized and pulled together. It’s better now–looking around at the space this morning it certainly looks better than the hot mess it’s been for quite some time–so that’s something, I think. I slept fairly well last night, so as I am slowly waking up this morning over my coffee I am thinking this looks pretty good around here this morning. I also decided that since it’s still Pride Month my reading should continue to be queer books, at least for this month, so I plucked John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind out of the TBR pile (it did win the Lambda Award for Best Mystery this past weekend after all) and hope to start reading it this evening when I get home from work. I made a binder for “Never Kiss a Stranger” as well as ones for Chlorine and Mississippi River Mischief–which definitely helped getting loose piles of paper and file folders off the counter tops, and at the same time felt strangely like I actually was making some kind of progress, which is always enormously helpful with feeling like you’ve gotten some place, accomplished something.

I just feel like I’m not getting anywhere with anything these days, but my mind has really worked strangely over the past few years. My concept of time is completely altered–not that it was ever really strong to begin with, honestly–and I struggle with memory lapses; my memory doesn’t really work the way it used to, which is incredibly concerning, or used to be; it seems like everyone is having the same kind of problems, and it probably is pandemic/interesting times causing it for everyone that seems to be affected (of course, if this was a suspense thriller, some mad genius would have done something to trigger this in people around the world for their own nefarious purposes–you can tell I watched a James Bond film last night), but it still is distressing to say the least.

I am also glad I took the weekend off. I feel like it was absolutely necessary, and there’s a three day weekend coming up this weekend, which is really nice as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to take the entire weekend off again this weekend–certainly not all three days–but it’s a very pleasant thought, I must say, and I am looking forward to getting through the rest of this week so I can rest up this weekend.

Whine, whine, whine.

And yes, we did watch the final Daniel Craig as James Bond thriller No Time to Die last night. It was gorgeously shot, and Craig is much closer to the Bond Ian Fleming wrote about in the books so many decades ago (I was very young when Fleming died), and while watching last night I thought about the original thirteen Bond books that Fleming wrote all those years ago and how badly those stories have aged–and how little the movies based on them resemble the books. The book Live and Let Die was horrifically racist (I read it again a few years ago, since it’s been decades since I read them) and then watched the movie again, which is also bad in that respect. Live and Let Die was also the first Bond movie I saw in the theater–and parts of it were filmed/set in and around New Orleans, so that part of it has always been sentimental for me in some ways…but yikes. The stereotypes! And the Bond books themselves celebrated imperialistic colonialism–many of the books are set in Jamaica or other possessions of the British empire, and that oh-so-British sense of superiority is very present in the books. But No Time to Die was a perfectly adequate Bond thriller film; Daniel Craig is a commanding presence on the screen, even if the villain, played by Oscar winner Rami Malek (which prompted me to say, “Freddie Mercury would have made a great Bond villain”) wasn’t really developed enough to really hit hard as the bad guy.

Then again, are any of the Bond villains ever really developed?

But watching a James Bond movie, coupled with me reading The Great Betrayal about the 4th Crusade, has me in mind of writing a Colin thriller again–I could of course set it at any time, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be current; the lovely thing about a Colin series is I could literally go back and set them in and around Scotty books, which would/could be very fun to do–but I am just not so great about writing action, I suppose–and thrillers are a lot of action, from beginning to end. I also don’t know enough about guns, really–how can I write about a gunfight or being shot at, or shooting back–but it could be fun….I already know the opening scene (set in 1204, as the city is on the brink of falling; the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church calls in a couple of warrior priests to smuggle something to safety, and that something is the MacGuffin the entire story turns on: the Pope/Rome wants whatever it is, and the Patriarch would rather burn in hell than let what he considers the Roman heretics have it) and I also know what the first chapter would be–Colin rescuing a politician’s daughter from the terrorists who kidnapped her–and then we would get into the MacGuffin/treasure hunt, with of course the Vatican being the bad guys (seriously, only Nazis make better bad guys than the Vatican) and all kinds of fun stuff.

Someday, perhaps.

And on that note, tis time for me to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

White Christmas

Well good morning, Constant Reader, and I hope your Saturday is off to a lovely start. I actually missed blogging yesterday–I had started the entry, but wasn’t able to finish before I had to start my work-at-home start time, and by the time I was finished for the day, it was time for the gym, and somehow I never got back here to finish. Deepest apologies, Constant Reader.

It’s chilly this morning in the Lost Apartment, but the sun is bright and shining and it looks absolutely beautiful outside this morning, which is kind of cool. I don’t have to leave the house all weekend other than the gym tomorrow, which is lovely, and I’m hoping to get some good work on the book done today. The last two days I was low energy and unable to think about getting much done, let alone do anything, so today I really need to press my nose to the grindstone and push myself to get back on track. Chapter Eighteen is proving a very tough nut to crack, but I am very pleased with the book (for a change) and am looking very forward to getting back into the groove with it.

LSU’s final game of the football season is today, against Mississippi (I refuse to call them ole miss anymore) and this can go either one of two ways: the Tigers can show up ready to play, for each other, Coach O, and the fanbase; or they can be cocky and overconfident after the Florida win, and get punched in the mouth. I’ll be watching, laptop in my lap, under my electric blanket (honestly, last night I honestly felt that human evolution, progress and civilization all culminated in the invention of the electric blanket), and hoping for the best. It’s a rivalry game called the Magnolia Bowl, and Mississippi hasn’t beaten LSU since 2015, so you know they’re hungry under their new coach, Lane Kiffin. LSU loses and they have their first losing season since 1999; win and they finish 5-5 in a crazy season.

But whatever happens, nothing can take away that win over Florida and ruining their season last weekend, which I am just petty enough to really enjoy.

We finished watching The Flight Attendant Thursday night, and the final episode was perhaps the best one of the entire run; as I have mentioned before, Kaley Cuoco is quite charismatic and likable, like Jennifer Aniston, and even though her character is primarily not very likable, she always is, and that’s an important quality for an actress…although I am rather curious about their flight schedules, because unless things have changed, I don’t think flight crews would work Rome flights as well as Bangkok. There was also a really convoluted secondary subplot that apparently only existed as a reason for one of the other flight attendants to have a gun which he needed to have, in the season finale (it was an incredible length to go to avoid the appearance of contrivance, actually; one almost has to respect the authorial commitment to it), but all the main story was properly wrapped up by the end of the finale, and there was even an opening left for a continuation of the show–also not probable, but it was kind of a nice bow tied up on the final package.

And of course, last night was the conclusion of The Mandalorian. No spoilers, but it was a pretty epic way to end the series, and I am really looking forward to The Book of Boba Fett. I think the series is now officially over–they certainly tied everything up neatly and concluded the story of the Child and Mando–and that pleases me if it is the case; the show was absolutely perfect, and as someone said on Twitter last night, “The best Star Wars movie is The Mandalorian” and I cannot disagree with that sentiment.

It’s hard to believe Christmas, frankly is next week; but this entire year has been a weird one, time has seemed to drag more than any other time, while at the same time it’s almost a relief to have made it this far. 2020 was a deeply unpleasant year, but there were some bright spots. I see everyone doing their “best of 2020” lists and I frankly can’t remember what I’ve watched and what I’ve read, other than I enjoyed almost every bit of it. I had long dry spells where I didn’t write anything, and long spells where all I wrote was the first 500 to 1000 or so words of short story before being stopped dead in my tracks. I still need to get this book revision finished so I can finish my story for the MWA anthology submissions deadline. This final part of the book is the hard part, so I suppose it’s not a surprise that it’s kind of kicking my ass.

This week was a double-feature for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, beginning with The French Connection, an Oscar winning film (including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Actor for Gene Hackman) which doesn’t, I’m afraid, play well through a modern lens. I can see why the film was so impactful and impressive back in 1971, but now it plays like a lesser episode of NYPD Blue or Hill Street Blues. It was a gritty, dirty, almost documentary-like movie about a drug investigation, based on a book about a real drug bust–with the cops’ names changed to protect them. Gene Hackman is terrific as Popeye Doyle; Roy Schieder is equally good as his partner..but all I could think as I watched was, “well, that’s a violation of their civil rights” or “ah, nothing like glorifying police brutality” or “well, that entire scene was a fairly accurate depiction of racial profiling.” Popeye is an unashamed racist; the n-word pops up every now and then, and of course ethnic slurs abound–Little Italy is referred to as “Dagotown”, there’s some anti-Semitism, and of course, the French are referred to as “frogs”–but it does also have some great moments: the chase scene involving Popeye trying to catch a fugitive on an elevated train was pretty impressively shot and edited. Hackman is terrific in the role, even if Popeye is the kind of cop who would think nothing of killing a suspect in his custody….The French Connection ultimately is a pro-police violence film that tries to justify the behavior of cops who violate civil rights and are violent and abusive as necessary, and that, to me, is problematic. As far as awards go, among the films it beat out for the Oscar are The Last Picture Show (which is one of my favorite movies of all time), Fiddler on the Roof (the kind of big-budget, lavish musical that would have won the Oscar a few years earlier), Nicholas and Alexandra (another big budget extravaganza I started watching but quickly got bored with–and would have been a shoe-in for Best Picture in the 1980’s) and of course, Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.

Second up was the 1974 film version of Ian Fleming’s Live and Let Die, which was the eighth Bond film and the second novel in the series. It’s also one of the few Bond films I ever saw in the theater, and was my first Bond film. It was Roger Moore’s first outing as Bond, and it was also when the tone and tenor of the Bond films switched, IMHO–I’d have go back and watch the Connery ones again to be certain. But while Connery occasional got off the clever quip or one-liner, the films were very serious and almost grim; Moore had more of a comic sense of the character and with him in the role, the character became more cartoonish and the films more outlandish (Moonraker was completely absurd) and there are many moments in Live and Let Die where, if you think about them too long, don’t make sense: how did he know to bring a deck of tarot cards with him in which all the cards were “The Lovers,” and where did he get that deck in the first fucking place? (And this doesn’t even take into consideration the fact that he basically manipulated Solitaire’s belief in the cards to get her into bed–which is rape because she was deceived into giving consent, PROBLEMATIC) There are any number of these contrivances in the plot of the film; but at the same time Live and Let Die also gave cinema it’s first Black Bond Girl, Rosie Carver (played by Gloria Hendry) and Bond’s first interracial romance, as well as the series’ first Black villains. The movie isn’t nearly as racist as the book–but it’s not exactly an achievement the Bond series should be proud of, either. But it gave the under-appreciated Yaphet Kotto a good role as Prime Minister Kananga, and introduced Jane Seymour to the world. I think I may need to read the book again–I should revisit the original Bond series, really–but one thing about Live and Let Die I do appreciate is that parts of it were filmed in New Orleans and along Bayou Des Allemandes; Louisiana looks beautiful, as does the Quarter–and this is one of those early influences on my youthful mind where I first felt the pull of New Orleans and Louisiana.

But it also boasts one of the best Bond theme songs, by Paul McCartney (or rather, Wings); it was the first time a pop band was selected to do the theme song, and it was the first Bond theme to be nominated for an Oscar for Best Song.

Yesterday I got my copy of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson by Robert Hofler in the mail yesterday, which is the final piece (or one of the final pieces) of Chlorine background research I need to get started on the outline/plotting. My main character is a pretty boy with not much discernible talent who has a Henry Willson-like agent, whom he shares with the murder victim; I have to say the entire story of Willson, his pretty boy clients and their sexuality, endlessly fascinates me, and I am really excited to be writing a period piece gay Hollywood noir–well, eventually, at any rate. I started dipping into the book some last night and am enjoying it thoroughly. I also got a copy of Lawrence Block’s anthology From Sea to Shining Sea, which is crime stories inspired by ‘great American paintings’, and am really looking forward to digging into that. I also got a copy of Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson, because you can never have enough ghost stories around to read.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold, a dishwasher to unload, and writing to do–so if you will excuse me for a moment, Constant Reader, I am going to head back into the spice mines.

Style

I often talk about how my education in the classics is sorely lacking; this applies across all spectrums and all genres. I was in my thirties when I began to appreciate John D. MacDonald, for example; I didn’t start reading Ross MacDonald until I was in my forties. There are any number of classic works of fiction I’ve not read, and I am sorely under-read in my own genre. I am trying to rectify that as I age; it’s, like almost everything else I do, a project.

I am not nearly as well read in spy thrillers as perhaps I should be; I certainly went through a Robert Ludlum phase (although I am not entirely sure that’s where Ludlum belongs–only rarely are his main characters, at least in the volumes I’ve read–actual spies), and over the last decade I’ve started reading Eric Ambler. I also gave, back in the day, both Helen MacInnes and Alistair MacLean a whirl; and of course, I’ve read some Ian Fleming–but not all. (I really want to reread Live and Let Die to see if it’s as racist as I remember; I also want to rewatch the film again–and not just because a lot of it was filmed in Louisiana; I want to see if the book’s racism carried over into the film, which I strongly suspect it did)

So, John Le Carre. I’ve never read his books nor seen anything adapted from one of them (other than the wonderful The Night Manager starring Tom Hiddleston; highly recommended, and now I need to read the book), but of course I’ve heard of him. His most famous book is probably The Spy Who Came In From the Cold, and I acquired a copy of it from somewhere at some point. I recently decided to give it a read–my attempt to improve my education in crime classics at work–and I finished it this morning.

The American handed Leamas another cup of coffee and said, “Why don’t you go back and sleep? We can ring you if he shows up.”

Leamas said nothing, just stared through the window of the checkpoint, along the empty street.

“You can’t wait forever, sir. Maybe he’ll come some other time. We can have the polizei contact the Agency: you can be back here in twenty minutes.”

“No,” said Leamas, “it’s nearly dark now.”

“But you can’t wait forever; he’s nine hours over schedule.”

This is how the book opens, and it does draw the reader directly into the story; the action is already underway, and LeCarre masterfully choses this method–entering the story in progress, with dialogue–to draw the unwary reader into the story. The use of polizei and the year it was written gives the clue that this is very likely occurring in Germany, and most likely the divided city of Berlin. Alec Leamas, a British agent, is the main character of the story, and one of his spies on the other side–East Berlin/East Germany–has had his cover blown and is trying to make his escape to the west. As Leamas watches, the mission fails spectacularly and his final agent on the other side is shot to death by guards as he tries to make through from east to west. Leamas is tired of spying, tired of betrayal, tired of dealing with the worst aspects of international espionage and how it exposes the smallness of most people on either side of the capitalism/communism divide; he is alsi very tired of deaths that eventually mean nothing in the long run. Agents are merely pawns of their states, expendable and disposable. Brought back to England, he is informed that his counterpart in east German intelligence, who has been killing off his agents left and right, must be brought down, and his final job for British intelligence will involve deep cover and a plan that will inevitably lead to the Communists bringing their master intelligence agent, Mundt, down on their own as a traitor.

The Berlin Wall came down during my lifetime; 1989 to be exact, and its construction began the week before I was born. The division of Germany into two halves–one a democracy, the other a Communist autocracy–occurred after the utter defeat and collapse of Nazi Germany in 1945. The Berlin Wall was itself a symbol of the ideological divide between east and west; the cold war itself a world-wide struggle for hearts and minds that didn’t always go so well for the west–primarily because of the West’s determination to uphold Fascist dictatorships that violated the freedoms of its citizens repeatedly as bulwarks against Communism. It’s been thirty-one years since the Wall came down and Communism collapsed in most of the world, and there are at least two generations of Americans who have grown up without the the constant threat of the mushroom cloud’s shadow–yet the right’s constant portrayal of the left as communist/socialist/enemies of American freedoms and liberty persists to this day, and there are any number of American voters still alive (and voting) who will knee-jerk reflexively react to anything being labeled socialism or communism. The Republican party began their decades-long policy of red-baiting during the Truman administration, initially behind the demagoguery of Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin. Nixon was an acolyte of McCarthy’s (which should have been enough to disqualify him from public office thereafter); and it was under Nixon that the right began its gradually lurch toward authoritarianism which we see bearing fruit today.

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold is dramatically different from any other “international espionage/intrigue” spy novel I’ve read to date–and while LeCarre despised Ian Fleming’s work and often stated that he wrote his novel in reaction to the popularity of the Bond novels, the same moral ambiguity permeates both. Both Bond and Leamas are merely doing their jobs in both, and neither is particularly vested in ideology or politics or even nationalism. They are simply professionals, doing their jobs. LeCarre’s novel isn’t very action-packed, but it is written stylishly, and the suspense comes from whether or not Leamas will prevail in his task of bringing down an important figure in East German intelligence. Once the book got going-after an admittedly slow start–I simply couldn’t put it down, and now I am definitely interested in reading more of LeCarre’s fiction. It’s extremely well done, deeply cynical, and there are twists and turns that not only come as complete surprises–but really, shouldn’t have.

I highly recommend it.

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

Stand by Your Man

Sunday morning and I’m feeling fine. Yesterday was kind of lovely; I am enjoying this healthy feeling I’m experiencing, and it’s been a while since I’ve not been feeling like shit, so this recovery has been absolutely lovely. Yesterday I managed to be productive yet again–I finished the floors and some odds and ends; there are a few odds and ends that I need to get done today as well–and I got some wonderful reading done; I also managed to get some writing done.

What’s that, you say? Actual writing? Yes, indeed. I wrote about a thousand words on the Sherlock story, give or take; I started writing two new short stories (don’t @ me, I am well aware, but I wanted to get both “Officer Friendly” and “The Pestilence Maiden” started, else I’d forget what they were about or the ideas), and I also did some thinking about all the books and projects that I have in some stage of completion, which was also lovely. It’s nice to slowly be working my way back into my writing again–I was beginning to think I’d never get there, frankly–and yes, it felt really good to be writing again. Today I have to make a run out to get some groceries–my first time leaving the house other than taking out the trash or using the grill–since I got sent home from work over a week ago. I have a mask and gloves, and portable hand sanitizer attached to my key ring. My goal for the morning is to finish this blog, do some other puttering around the house that I need to do before leaving, and then head to the store. When I get back home, I am going to sit down and bang out some more writing, and then at some point I’ll retire to my easy chair to do some more reading.

Now that I’ve actually started to read ebooks, I have to eat a lot of crow. I’ve been resisting reading ebooks for years–I’ve done it, when required, for book award judging, but never really like it and resented having to do it–primarily because I don’t like change, for one thing, and for another, I already spend far too much time looking at screens; the last thing I need to do is read something electronically to relax after staring at a computer screen for a minimum of eight hours a day. My eyes continue to get worse–and it’s a combination of age and blue screen effect, I am fairly certain–and reading electronically was probably not going to help that. But now that I’ve gotten started, I can’t seem to stop. I finished reading This Rough Magic yesterday morning–or was it Friday night? I don’t remember–and yesterday I read a Scott Heim story, “Loam”, and then moved onto another Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting, which is also fantastic. We watched Zombieland Tap Twice (it was something like that) which was much funnier than I thought it would be, and then the Octavia Spencer horror thriller, Ma–which could have been better, but was perfectly adequate. I do love Ms. Spencer, and wish she would get some better material to showcase her talents more.

I think we’re scheduled to  have shitty weather today, too–rain and so forth–and it looks kind of hazy and sepia-toned out there this morning, and windy–so I should probably get my act together faster this morning and get to the store  so I can not only get it over with, but get back home before the weather turns ugly. Good thing I just looked up the weather–that isn’t going to happen until this afternoon, and I should be able to get there and back before that occurs. It’s also fun to sit at my desk and write during crappy weather, I don’t know why that is, but I like having that tiny barrier of glass between me and the nastiness outside. I’m not sure why that is….but the only thing I like about driving in rain is the coziness of being warm and dry inside my car while only a thin sheet of glass and metal protects me completely from the elements. It’s weird, I know, but everything about me is actually pretty weird; always has been (and for the record, I never became truly happy until I stopped fighting and accepted the weirdness).

I greatly enjoyed Scott Heim’s “Loam”; he’s always been one of the finest writers that our community has produced over the last (gulp) thirty years, and his lack of production has always been a pity and a shame. I read and loved Mysterious Skin years ago, and have always intended to reread it; reading “Loam” got me to find my old copy and place it on the Reread Project pile, which now consists of it, two more Mary Stewart novels (Madam, Will You Talk? and Thunder on the Right), Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, Moonraker by Ian Fleming, Sing Me a Death Song by Jay Bennett, Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler, A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt, and Harlan Ellison’s collection Strange Wine (I also have Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank on deck in my Kindle app).

“Loam” is a long short story about three triplets from the small town of Collingwood, Kansas (is this a nod to Collinwood from Dark Shadows? Perhaps), who are returning for the first time in years, to arrange and attend their father’s funeral. The story begins with the three of them dealing with the rental car arrangements at whatever airport they flew into–I assume Kansas City, which is where I’d fly into if going to visit my part of Kansas–and then slowly, as they make the drive, Heim begins to peel back a trauma the triplets–and the other kids in their first grade class–possibly survived when they were very young; a Satanism scare, in which the teacher and her mentally handicapped son were accused of using (and abusing) the children. This begins to resurface when they stop at a second hand store and find a stack of pictures of their classmates and themselves at that age, possible evidence from the case, which was eventually dismissed as a hoax and a scare–similar to the Satanic scare that happened somewhere else, where the cops basically convinced the children they were abused and to accuse the day care operators of Satanism and abuse–and so we’re never really sure, as are the kids themselves–whether or not it actually happened. It’s very gruesome, and very Gothic, and extremely well written. I recommend it highly; and I wish Scott would write more. I’d never gotten around to his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear; I’m going to make the time this year, methinks. “Loam” is a Kindle single, part of a group of six stories called “Disorder collection,” whatever that is, and you can get it here for 99 cents. You won’t regret it.

And then I started rereading Nine Coaches Waiting. Again, this is a Mary Stewart novel that I read once, long ago, as I was making my way through the Stewart canon as a teenager; I remember enjoying it, but it didn’t make a strong impression on teenaged me. But as I begin rereading it again yesterday, I could not help but marvel at Stewart’s skill. Nine Coaches Waiting consists of the perfect Gothic romantic suspense set-up; a young orphan girl comes to a huge mansion near the French/Swiss border (she has to fly to Geneva to get there) to be governess to an orphaned young French comte; his estate, Chateau Valmy, is being managed for him by his aunt and uncle; he usually lives with another uncle in Paris, but that uncle, an archaeologist, has been called away for six months to a dig in Greece, and so he has returned to his ancestral home to live with his other uncle. Linda, our twenty-one year old heroine, is half-French and fluent in both languages, but it’s made fairly clear to her during the hiring process that they prefer someone who only speaks English, so that the young Phillippe’s English also will become fluent–as she can only speak to  him in English. Under the cover of that lie Linda comes to Chateau Valmy, and becomes attached to her young charge…while not entirely trusting Phillippe’s aunt and uncle, her employers. What Stewart is doing with this novel is completely subverting the meek governess trope of romantic suspense, that began with Jane Eyre; her employer even mockingly calls her “Miss Jane Eyre” at one point. Victoria Holt went back to the governess well over and over in her novels, from Mistress of Mellyn to The King of the Castle, sticking to, and mirroring, the original trope; I love what Stewart is doing with it, and this is yet another example of what a master writer Mary Stewart actually was.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Easter Sunday, Constant Reader.

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