Soon You’ll Get Better

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is as well as can be expected in this hellish timeline we are all living through at this point. I’ve been sleeping exceptionally well lately–not sure why, but don’t want to question it and simply enjoy it for as long as it lasts, frankly–and I may even just stay in bed as long as I want to tomorrow; I could have easily lazed in bed much longer this morning. I may treat myself to cappuccinos while I get everything on-line done that I need to get done before closing my browser and shutting the Internet down for the rest of the day so I can get to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which I haven’t even looked at all week, much to my deep and abiding shame. I’ve not completely adjusted to working 8:30 – 5 every day, really; and am always tired and mentally fatigued when the daily shift comes to an end; too mentally fatigued to read anything, let alone write anything. I did manage last night to clean up/organize some electronic files, though.

While I was condom packing yesterday (I filled three boxes of them, a personal best thus far) I continued my journey through 1970s cinema, with yesterday’s theme being paranoia. Paranoia was a big thing in the 1970’s, and the films and novels of the decade reflected that–not surprising, given it was also the decade where Vietnam came to an end (1975), when Watergate occurred (1972-1974), and of course, the decade where terrorism really became a thing–it was the decade of the Munich Olympic massacre, the Entebbe skyjacking, etc. It was a decade where trust in institutions began to erode and fade; where conspiracy theories really began to come into their own; and cynicism replaced optimism–if optimism could be said to have ever been an integral part of the American outlook and not simply another part of the mythology we were being sold. It was the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, the Amityville horror, UFO’s, and countless other strange conspiracies and/or cover-ups; when Area 54 really entered the public consciousness, and a time when it became much easier to believe that the government was lying to us about everything and that corporations and billionaires were truly running the world for their own benefit and profit. (This was, of course, the primary theme of Taylor Caldwell’s bestselling novel Captains and the Kings, a thinly veiled history of the Kennedy family’s rise to wealth and power, which was made into a mini-series later in the decade.)

The two films I watched yesterday while condom packing were definitely reactions to the paranoia of the times: The Parallax View (starring Warren Beatty) and Three Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford). Both were based on novels; both were about conspiracies and/or cover-ups led by incredibly powerful people; and both had very cynical endings. The Beatty film was about the cover-up of a political assassination, in which Beatty played a crusading journalist trying to get to the bottom of the story; the Redford film was about a man who worked for a CIA front (the American Literary History Society) and whose job was to read books, articles, journals, etc., looking for coded references to spy organizations and conspiracies (which was, in and of itself, another example of paranoia); the Redford character finds some curious reoccurring references in some South American and Greek novels and articles and writes a report. One day when he goes out to pick up lunch for the office he returns to find everyone dead; even the guy who called in sick was murdered in his apartment. Redford, whose code name is “Condor”, is not a field agent and has no idea what is going on, other than his life is in danger and he needs help. He winds up taking Faye Dunaway hostage at some point at gunpoint and getting her to help him–she eventually succumbs to Stockholm syndrome, winds up helping him rather than escaping, and they even have sex together*–and throughout the course of the movie you never are certain who can be trusted or who cannot, as people keep switching sides, including the professional assassin (played by Max von Sydow), and the end of the movie is also cynical, implying that not even journalists can be trusted (subverting the popular 1970’s trope of the crusading reporters, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of Watergate).

It was an interesting decade to experience puberty and adolescence through, that’s for certain.

We’re nearly finished with The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and are really enjoying it. I think we’re going to go with Never Have I Ever next; we’ve pretty much been watching non-stop noir-like heavy crime dramas for quite some time now (although the foreign ones have been absolutely delightful) but I think some light comedy will be welcomed gratefully into the Lost Apartment.

We also had an astounding thunderstorm/flash flood warning yesterday afternoon, which seems to be happening almost daily now. I love rain–I don’t even mind being caught in it as long as I am not having to lug shit into the house while it pours–and there’s nothing quite so comforting as being safely warm and dry inside while it pours outside and the sidewalks get covered in an inch or so of water. I’m not sure if it’s going to rain today–there’s nothing but sunshine and blue sky outside my windows this morning–but I feel fairly confident it will at some point; after all, it’s pretty much a daily occurrence now.

I also realized belatedly last evening that part of the funk I’ve been in lately has to do with the impracticality and uncertainty surrounding the football season for this year. I usually spent most of August excitedly reading everything I can about the Saints and college football, wondering what the coming season will hold; will it be an exciting one or a disappointment; but no matter what happens, I am always entertained–and last season was, as Paul reminds me pretty regularly, one for the books. As huge LSU fans last season was like a fairytale, a Disney film come to life–with every element in place for a great uplifting movie, and the ending was perfect, too; LSU stuck the landing and gave all us fans a season we will always remember with a smile. I am deeply grateful I got to see that championship team play twice in Tiger Stadium–we went to the season opener against Georgia Southern and the Florida game, which was one of the best times I’ve ever had in Tiger Stadium, and we’ve been to exciting games before but that one was everything–and am even more grateful I got to see Joe Burrow play, not only those two games last year but in the games we were able to see the year before. Not knowing if there’s even going to be a season, or if there is, what it will look like, has been kind of depressing on top of everything else; it’s as though all the things in life I find joy in are all gone, with just the bullshit left in its place. I’m not even sure how I feel about the conferences trying to make a limited season happen; it just seems vastly unfair to the players to put them at so much risk, and I don’t know if I should encourage that by even watching the games if they do happen and air on television.

I will never forgive the non-maskers for the loss of this football season, or however it turns out–whether it’s shortened, messed up, or cancelled. NEVER. Thanks for being such complete selfish assholes! You, for the record, are why we can’t have anything fucking nice–although the loss of college football is the LEAST of your crimes. Enjoy meeting your God with that black sin on your soul.

So, I am going to finish this and head back into email hell for a while, before showering and getting back to work on my book. I’ll probably try to do some cleaning and organizing while I’m at it; I still haven’t started–or even selected–my next fiction read, although Poe Dameron; Free Fall is sitting right there….but I also want to read Lovecraft Country before I start watching the show.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

*This is the same trope that Robert Ludlum used in The Bourne Identity, in which his character, Jason Bourne, who has been shot in the head and now has amnesia and no idea why everyone is trying to kill him, kidnaps a woman and takes her hostage; by the end of the novel they are in love and making a future together–and no one thinks anything of this, and it’s presented as normal; another sign of the times, I suppose. I’ve been meaning to reread The Bourne Identity as well as revisit Ludlum; his career as a novelist actually began in the 1970’s with a paranoia novel, The Osterman Weekend, which was also made into a movie, and almost all of his books have some sort of paranoia at their heart. I loved Ludlum when I discovered him in the late 1980’s; I’ve meant to revisit him for quite some time now, to see how he holds up. My favorites of his were The Chancellor Manuscript, The Gemini Contenders, and of course, The Bourne Identity, but I read all of the books he wrote himself until he died–I’ve not read any of those written by other authors since his death.

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Hold on My Heart

It is rare, so rare, that something random can lead to an enormous breakthrough in something you are writing. And yet that very randomness is almost some kind of weird cosmic force. Imagine, for example, that you, a writer, have been working on a novel for nearly two years–off and on, really, around other books and other projects–but something has always been missing from that manuscript; something doesn’t work, you can’t quite get it to work, you write draft after draft after draft, you ask other friends to read it and give you input, you talk to other writers about it, and still…something’s just not quite right, not quite there. You know it’s missing something and you agonize over it, try to write it out in your journal.

And then one day, wasting time on a break scrolling through social media, someone posts a link to an essay which is basically a hatchet job on a writer you’ve come to appreciate, while still having some reservations about that writer’s art, and where it comes from, and the eye with which said writer sees the world might be colored in some ways by their own experience which might also not allow them to see things as empathetically as they might, as you yourself might wish they had. And during the course of this hatchet job, the essayist posts a link to a piece written by the problematic artist, and you arbitrarily click on the link–which only offers a strange title, the title the problematic artist gave to his/her piece.

And suddenly, you realize that this piece, originally published in 1992, was part and parcel of a much bigger story that you distinctly remember and completely forgot about. And as you read this piece, which you’ve actually not read before but had read other reportage of the story, you realize and remember that this is the thread of the novel you are writing and having so much trouble with.

This true crime story, in 1992, inspired you to create the town and characters and the story you are writing now…only you’d forgotten the inspiration, the original plot, everything but the town and the set-up and the characters.

And you realize that THIS is your answer. Using this as your basis for the story solved every single problem you have with your manuscript, your story, and its resolution.

And had you not been bored, had you not been scrolling through your Facebook feed, had some random friend not shared a random essay for some random reason, you never would have remembered, you never would have solved the problem.

And this is why writers drink.

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