Yo-Yo

A little bleary this Monday work at home morning–another good night’s sleep in the books–and my morning coffee should do the trick–and thus I will be reacclimated back to my normal life and some sort of what passes for my normal reality and real life again. I had a very relaxing day yesterday trying to unwind from the trip and get my land legs, as it were, back; I got some things done yet not enough, which is par for the course. Paul and I also finished Ozark–I imagine its ending is controversial; I wasn’t really surprised by it, to be honest–and dove back into Severance, which is truly bizarre and a very slow, unemotional burn–and then we both went to bed early. I have to work at home today and run a couple of errands at some point (Scooter needs to be retrieved from the kitty spa and I need to get the mail and groceries), as well as my work-at-home duties (data to enter, condoms to pack) and all kinds of others things. There never seems to be enough time in the day to get to everything i need to go to, but sometimes you just need to keep your head down and work your way through your to-do list.

The trip last week was invigorating and definitely raised my spirits; it was a needed and necessary reconnection with my crime community, which was marvelous. It is terrible and sad that I haven’t seen some of my friends in nearly (if not more than) four years; my last pre-pandemic appearance out of town was Bouchercon in St. Petersburg, so 2018. That’s a very long time to be away from connecting with the community and could be a significant part of the strange distance I’ve been feeling from…well, everywhere, to be honest. It was lovely dressing up (even if the pants I wore two weeks earlier in Albuquerque were suddenly strangely tighter in the waist) and putting on nice clothes; I also survived my brief stint at the podium on Edgar night. (The temptation to drink was very strong, but I declined all alcohol until I was off-stage.)

But now, it’s Monday morning after and the afterglow has somewhat faded and we are back to the cold harsh light of reality this morning. I have writing to do and chores and all kinds of other tasks and things to do. I am speaking as a guest at Spirit of Ink on Saturday; being interviewed by Jaden Terrell, whom I’ve known for years since we were both on the MWA board together. That’ll be nice, and I think at some point this week that Ira Levin ZOOM thing I did from my room in New York will be up and available somewhere on-line (I’ll share the link should I ever get one; it was a bit fun talking about Ira Levin and surprise twists). I am not feeling terribly overwhelmed this morning, or daunted; that will come soon enough, no doubt–it always does–but I am feeling a lot better about the non-stop Imposter Syndrome that is pretty much my entire life these days. It’s also gorgeous outside; it’s May so the heat is back and the humidity won’t be far behind; nor will the stinging caterpillars and the swarms of Formosan termites that generally return with Mother’s Day like the swallows of Capistrano.

And soon it will be summer, with the sweating and the misery and the high Entergy bills. But I want to also start working out again more regularly (it’s been a hot minute since I’ve set foot in the gym, so I am going to have to slowly start working my way back into it again, Jesus) and should probably start eating more healthy; the tightness of the waist of my pants at the Edgars was yet another signal that it’s only going to get harder to lose weight the older I get (which is sadly true for everyone–so don’t keep putting off your fitness regimen, people–don’t be Gregalicious) but I think discipline and dedication will do the trick.

And on that note, I think I am going to get another cup of coffee and try to dive into my emails before I have to start working. Have a splendid Monday, Constant Reader–I will be back here at the crack of dawn tomorrow as I ease back into my day job at the office.

Help Me Make It Through the Night

I actually slept last night here at my hotel, and slept late this morning, both of which are so unusual it does bear remarking on. I also walked a lot yesterday here in Manhattan; it’s about fourteen blocks from the hotel to the MWA office; a straight shot up Broadway. That’s a lot more walking than my tired old fat-ass is used to, so perhaps that had something to do with the deep sleep. I also met a friend for drinks with Paul last evening (here in the hotel bar), and then we came back up to the room and I read for a bit before I got cross-eyed with sleep (I am really enjoying this Raquel V. Reyes novel tremendously; although I probably won’t get much chance to finish it before the flight home Saturday, which should give me plenty of time to not only finish reading Mango Mambo and Murder but to read (or make good headway on reading) one of the other books I brought along for the ride. (There will also be giveaway books at the banquet tonight…)

It really is remarkable how much I dislike working on a laptop, thought. Mostly it’s because the screen is too small for my aging eyes (note to self: make an eye appointment stat, maybe new glasses will take care of this for me) but I have my wireless keyboard (I hate typing on a laptop most of all) and my wireless mouse with me, which makes it a bit easier for me to deal with.

I was also surprised that I slept so well last night mainly because, well, the banquet is tonight and I have to be up on stage to begin with to welcome everyone and do some thank you’s and introductions, which I have to be stone cold sober to do–which, given there’s an hour of cocktail reception before hand, isn’t going to be easy for one Gregalicious, who never likes passing up free wine or champagne–and of course being stone cold sober is going to make it a bit more stressful, although the days when I used to drink heavily to deal with the stage fright anxiety are long in the past and let’s face it, was never a particularly smart thing to do (ah, the wisdom that comes with age). The awards are going to be broadcast live on our Youtube channel (if I were better at my job as EVP I’d share a link, but I am not better at the job so oh well) which means it will also be recorded and always be up there for all eternity (the Internet is forever, after all) so the possibilities of me doing something stupid and going viral, therefore burning MWA to the ground, are much higher than say, my speaking for a few moments at the Lefty Banquet. But I am trying very hard to manage my anxiety and stress–I handled the travel here very well, after all–and so this new calm centering thing I am doing seems to be working. I feel remarkably relaxed and rested this morning, in fact, which is highly unusual.

After I finish this and do some more emails, I will probably work on my short story a bit more.

Oh! I also did a ZOOM thing yesterday for the Jefferson Performing Arts Society (JPAS) for their upcoming production of Deathtrap; which of course was a huge Broadway hit comedy/thriller written by one of my literary heroes, Ira Levin (who also wrote A Kiss Before Dying, This Perfect Day, Rosemary’s Baby, The Stepford Wives, and The Boys from Brazil, for a few highlights). It was actually quite fun–I love the opportunity to talk about other writers; talking myself up is an entirely different subject–and I am not sure when or where it will be available to view on-line, but I don’t think I made a fool of myself.

I’ve been wrong before.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work on that story some more. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will recap the banquet for you tomorrow.

Don’t Pull Your Love

Ah, New York.

The travel day wasn’t bad at all, really; I didn’t allow anxiety to seize control of my day OR my mood, and everything went smoothly. We had an open seat in between us on our flight, our bags came right off the plane, and the only really problem was our car service was late picking us up and bringing us to our glorious hotel on Times Square. I did manage to read Ernest Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not on the trip (do not recommend, but am willing to give one of his better works a shot, although there was plenty of reasons in this particular volume to make me never read Hemingway again ever)–I am certain there will be more about that later–and I think I am going to dig into Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder next; I also brought along Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man , L. C. Rosen’s Jack of Hearts, and the divine Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Lost Languages. I won’t probably get to all of them on this trip, but I should make a significant dent into this traveling TBR pile while I am here. I do have some other things to keep my busy–I really need to finish writing that short story this week, and I am doing a ZOOM thing about Ira Levin’s Deathtrap for the Jefferson Performing Arts Center tomorrow, between going into the MWA office to work as well as then meet some folks later for drinks.

Nonstop action in New York, y’all.

I was very tired when I got here yesterday, and by the time we were all checked into our hotel and unpacked, we just ordered room service and chilled in our room. I got about two chapters into Mango, Mambo and Murder before the words started swimming in front of my eyes and I had to put it down and go to sleep. The bed was very comfortable, and I slept really well–if off and on; but compared to Albuquerque it was like getting the sleep treatment in Valley of the Dolls–so I at least feel very rested this morning. I am about to get into the shower and walk down Broadway to the MWA office to do some last minute work pre=banquet (I still am not entirely sure what I am going to say about there, but one thing I do know for sure is I am not going to get up there and try to wing it; but I am not nearly as stressed about this as I was at Left Coast for some reason–maybe my decision to try to tamp down the anxiety is working? I managed to remain calm and relaxed all throughout my travel day yesterday, and I am not really stressing much about the banquet itself.

After all, there’s plenty of time for me to freak out about it tomorrow, right?

Well, I need to get a move on, so have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Half of My Heart

And now it’s Friday. It’s hard to imagine that it’s almost Thanksgiving already, but the initial pandemic shutdown also seems like it was more than a million years ago–when dinosaurs roamed the earth–rather than a mere eight months or so ago. Eight months we’ve been dealing with this; even though it seems more like eight fucking decades. But I’ve noticed that time has sped up lately–for the longest time it felt like time was dragging and was taking forever to pass, but now…now time is flying.

I suspect it’s the looming deadlines and being behind on everything, quite frankly.

The sun is bright this morning in my eyes and I cannot find my baseball cap–it’s probably stashed somewhere I thought I’d remember where it was–so I’ve had to move my chair and I am writing this while sitting at a weird angle to my desk. I’m working at home again today, and will be walking to the gym for today’s workout when I am finished with this afternoon’s work. Yesterday for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival I watched The Boys from Brazil and The Towering Inferno–more on those later–and I think that for today I might just dip back into some more Halloween horror. We also started streaming Mr. Mercedes, which is now available on Peacock for free–I am actually impressed with everything they are offering; it’s very similar to HBO MAX, but am still not willing to pay for another premium service yet–and I have to say, I am enjoying this adaptation. It’s fairly true to the books–at least as I remember, although I don’t remember the neighbor Ida, played by the amazing Holland Taylor–and I have to say, the three Bill Hodges novels (Mr. Mercedes, Finders Keepers, End of Watch) have been my favorite Kings of this century thus far; Mr. Mercedes very deservedly won the Edgar for Best Novel some years back, and as much as I loved the books, I was very sad when I reached the end. King himself was an executive producer, and the television series adaptation was written by David E. Kelley, who has also been responsible for a lot of good television over the years, including Big Little Lies and The Undoing, which we are greatly enjoying as well. There are three seasons of this adaptation, and I assume each season covers one of the books.

The Boys from Brazil is an interesting film, and very much of its time. Based on the novel by Ira Levin, both book and film were very much of the 1970’s, and also encapsulated that cynicism and paranoia of the decade perfectly. It was also one of those stories that permeated the zeitgeist; everyone knew what”the boys from Brazil” were without reading the book or seeing the movie. The movie is a very close adaptation of the book–Ira Levin was known for his brevity as a writer, so rarely did things need to be cut out of the books for the screenplay. The Boys from Brazil was actually Levin’s longest novel–I could be wrong, but I don’t think so–and the film has some impressive star power, with Laurence Olivier, Gregory Peck, and James Mason in leading roles, and an incredibly impressive supporting cast, including Rosemary Harris, Anne Meara, and Uta Hagen. The film also opens with a focus on a young character played by an extremely beautiful young Steve Guttenberg (whatever happened to him? He was a big deal in the 1980’s and then just kind of faded away) as a young Jewish-American man who goes Nazi hunting in Paraguay, and is actually the one whose investigation tips off the big Nazi hunter played by Laurence Olivier about what’s going on and kicks the film into gear before he is, of course, caught and murdered by the Nazis.

It’s hard to imagine now that the 1970’s were forty years or so ago now; the world has changed so much…but the 1970’s were also only a few decades removed from the second world war and Nazi war criminals were still being hunted down worldwide by the Israeli secret police. (The Germans were also hunting them down for trials; the Israelis were killing them.) The Lieberman character played by Olivier (he got an Oscar nomination; ironically, he also got one for playing an escaped Nazi war criminal in Marathon. Man a few years earlier) was based on Simon Weisenthal; does anyone even remember Weisenthal today? (Weisenthal was one of the people who helped track down Eichmann.) It’s no secret that many Nazis escaped to South America after Berlin fell, and Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay in particular; so much so that it was so much a part of the zeitgeist that everyone knew and a casual reference was easily picked up on. Levin took that, decided to make Josef Mengele, the escaped Nazi “angel of death”, and put him at the center of the story. And the scene where Leibermann finally realizes what Mengele’s plans are–that is the scene that earned Olivier the Oscar nomination. The film doesn’t pack the same emotional wallop that the book does–probably because by the time the film was released, most people knew what the title referenced and what it was about (Levin was a master of the huge surprise twist), which killed some of the suspense. Gregory Peck isn’t very good as Mengele, either; paired with his listless performance in The Omen, Peck was clearly phoning it in for the most part in the 70’s and cashing the checks.

And as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains. The two best Indiana Jones movies have him fighting Nazis; you just can’t come up with better villains–having the opposition be Nazis alone immediately makes your hero pure of heart and decent and makes you root for him. (The Vatican, however, is an excellent fallback choice.)

There’s also an excellent essay to be written about The Boys from Brazil, comparing and contrasting it to Robert Ludlum’s The Holcroft Covenant, which is also about an attempt to resurrect the Third Reich, with the the seeds planted in the waning days of the war.

The Towering Inferno was part of the big wave of disaster movies that was a thing in the 1970’s, spawned by the huge success of Airport and The Poseidon Adventure. Like all disaster films, it boasted an all-star cast chock full of award winners and household names–Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway, Jennifer Jones, Fred Astaire, Robert Wagner, Susan Blakely, and Richard Chamberlain, to name a few–and a terrible script that was focused more on the adventure than the actual characters. (It’s also jarring to see O J. Simpson in a supporting role; and to remember he had a fledgling acting career before he murdered two people) Disaster movies inevitably fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival because they are always about preventable disasters that wind up happening because of greed and people in positions of power that invariably shouldn’t be; there’s always one scene where the person in charge of cleaning up the mess and solving the problem sanctimoniously lectures the person they feel is responsible for it: in this case, fire chief Steve McQueen lectures architect Paul Newman about the irresponsibility of building skyscrapers from a firefighter’s point of view (and having witnessed 9/11….yeah, watching the scene made me squirm more than a little bit)–but Newman, you see, is the hero; the fire and the building’s failure to be properly prepared isn’t his fault; construction manager Richard Chamberlain cut corners on the electrical wiring and so forth to stay on schedule and under budget to please building owner (also his father-in-law) William Holden. I watched the movie for the first time several years ago–and couldn’t make it all the way through on a rewatch. The acting is too bad, the writing too awful, and the story not compelling enough. It was nominated for like seven Oscars, including Best Picture–which should give you an idea of what a bad year that was for film. It was based on two novels, published around the same time, that covered the same ground–a fire in a new skyscrape–so the rights to both had to be secured to prevent lawsuits: The Tower by Richard Martin Stern, and The Glass Inferno, by by Thomas Scotia and Frank Robinson, with their titles blended into The Towering Inferno.

Around the time I originally watched The Towering Inferno I rewatched three other big disaster movies of the time–Airport, The Poseidon Adventure and Earthquake–and none of them really hold up. There were scores of other disaster movies of the time too–several Airport sequels, a movie about killer bees, etc.–but if the BEST of the time don’t hold up, the ones that weren’t considered good at the time must be really horrific.

And on that note, it is back into the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you tomorrow.

Change

I stretched yesterday.

I don’t mean that in a metaphorical sense, either; I mean, I literally cleared a space off on our cluttered floor and gave my ossified muscles a good, old-fashioned stretch, going through exercises memorized as a teenager from warm-ups for various sports, but enhanced and modified for my Gymnastics classes. I was always flexible, you see–and the one thing no one ever tells people about flexibility is that it isn’t something you have to be born with–you can actually work on it, gradually becoming more and more flexible and pliant the more you work on stretching those muscles. Sure, they will tighten up again after a while, but the next time you stretch you’ll be able to go a little bit further than you did the last time.

Yesterday’s stretching felt good; so good, in fact, that I will probably do so again today.

And now I will talk about stretching in the metaphorical sense.

I am signing two book contracts today; one for Bury Me in Shadows and the other for the Kansas book, whose title (for now) is #shedeservedit. Both are books that I have been working on for an eternity now it seems; the pandemic and it’s bizarre effect on time doesn’t help with that mentality, of course. Both books are stretches for me, in that neither is a series book (sorry, Scotty and Chanse fans) but rather stand alones. I don’t know how they will be marketed, but Bury Me in Shadows has a college student as the main character and #shedeservedit is about high school. Part of the reason I finally went ahead and pitched the books is because I can’t seem to discipline myself to get them finished; the pressure and stress of a deadline, which I’ve been trying to avoid for the last few years, apparently is needed in these troubled times in order for me to get the work done. Both have required me to stretch as a writer–taking me into themes and plots that ordinarily I would avoid, and forcing me to go further and deeper into the characters themselves in order for the stories to work. Whether I have managed to succeed with either book remains to be seen, I guess. Signing the contracts is scary, of course; I am a bundle of jangly nerves this morning as I sip my coffee and get ready to face what has already developed into a challenging day before I even got to the computer.

I watched Chinatown yesterday as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and it really is quite a marvelous film–the costumes! The sets! The cars! The cinematography! Also a very twisty and sometimes confusing plot; with strong performances all around from the cast, particularly Jack Nicholson in the lead; Faye Dunaway is also gorgeous, if a little mannered and stiff; and John Huston just oozes evil from every pore as Noah Cross. It was a great homage to the classic noir films of the 40’s and 50’s; I was also a little amused at the conceit of the private eye having an office with a secretary and two operatives–obviously, Jack Gittes was quite successful as a private eye chasing adulterers around Los Angeles. Chinatown, with its focus on the systemic corruption of money and power in Los Angeles at the time, with a focus on the war over water (and seriously, given its history, why is Los Angeles not considered as corrupt a city as New Orleans and Chicago?), I enjoyed the film immensely. Dark and lush and with great attention to detail, I can see why it was a hit and achieved such critical acclaim; however, given that it is a Roman Polanski film, there was always this edge of guilt as I watched it again. I first watched it about twenty years ago and didn’t really think too much about Polanski’s status as a convicted child rapist and fugitive from American justice; same with Rosemary’s Baby, which I think, despite being from the late 1960’s would also fit in this film festival. I like both films and enjoy them both; but in modern times it has become increasingly difficult to separate the art from the artist. I did make a decision years ago never to watch a Polanski film made after his conviction and escape from justice, somehow justifying that his earlier films should be exempt from a justified boycott.

Separating art from the artist is a difficult debate, with many nuances and points of view from both sides that I kind of agree with. The fact that Roman Polanski committed a crime and then fled the country to avoid punishment should have, by all rights, ended his career–yet somehow that didn’t happen. He has continued making films–even won an Oscar for Best Director, I think–and has enjoyed success and critical acclaim. Should his art be judged separately from his personal life? Am I hypocritical for refusing to read Orson Scott Card because of his vigorous anti-gay activity back in the day because it affected me directly, yet still watching pre-crime Polanski films? In all honesty, I doubt I will ever watch Chinatown again after this second viewing; I most likely won’t go back and rewatch Rosemary’s Baby either, despite its being based on a terrific Ira Levin novel and the brilliance of Ruth Gordon as Minnie Castevets, and the fact that it fits into this film festival–the cynical movies which flourished in the 1970’s actually started being made in the 1960’s, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of the best films about paranoia ever made, frankly.

Something I really need to put some more thought into, definitely.

I need to get cracking, too–I have an essay to edit, another one to write, a short story to edit and revise; and of course the manuscripts that need working on. I have bills to pay and emails to answer, and I also have to go into the office today to get some work done there, stopping at the grocery store on my way back home. We literally have no food at all in the house, sigh.

And so on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

I Know Places

This has really been a most unsettling year.

Remember as 2019 was coming to a close and we were all looking forward to that hellish year ending and a brand new start in 2020? Yeah, that’s why I am pointedly not looking forward to this year ending and a different year beginning for 2021. I’ve certainly learned my lesson.

And at least in 2019 we had the greatest LSU football season of all time to enjoy from September through January. (And yes, I still go back sometimes, when I am feeling down, blue, or depressed, and rewatch games from that wonderful season. And I won’t feel bad about it, no matter how much you try to shame me, primarily because I’m not ashamed of it.)

Today is a strange day, in which I am either working at home or taking a personal day of some sort; I haven’t really yet decided what I am actually going to do today; I have condom packing supplies and as long as I have Internet access I can do work-related things. I wasn’t quite sure what precisely I was going to wake up to this morning; the dreaded Cone of Uncertainty kept shifting gradually more and more to the east as yesterday progressed, until when I checked before going to bed New Orleans, and in fact all of southeastern Louisiana, was no longer in that dread Cone anymore. That bullseye was squarely on the panhandles of Mississippi and Alabama, and the storm had also slowed; landfall moved from the wee hours of tonight/tomorrow morning to tomorrow evening, possibly Wednesday morning. My heart breaks for that stretch of the Gulf Coast, and my friends in harm’s way–and of course, we still don’t know what to expect here. Ah, the lovely, unbearably bearable stress and suspense of hurricane season–and there’re even more systems out there in the Atlantic basin.

Hurray!

But now that I’ve checked, I see that we are going to be missed; it continues to creep forward with now landfall projected to be sometime tomorrow night, and we’re back down to merely a tropical storm warning. It’s a relief, of course, but horrible for where it’s coming ashore, as I mentioned earlier. The weather here is weird and hazy, yet still sunny; the sun is behind some haze, making it seem grayish-yellow outside my windows this morning, but there you have it.

We started watching a most delightful Mexican dramedy last night on Netflix: The House of Flowers, or La Casa de las Flores, and it is absolutely wonderful. We probably would have stayed up all night watching; fortunately, Paul had the strength and fortitude to stop the binge in its tracks.

As I was making condom packs yesterday afternoon, I continued with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, watching American Graffiti and Marathon Man. That might seem like an odd pairing, and one might not think American Graffiti actually fits into the Festival, but I remembered the one time I saw the film, decades ago, and remembered it being rather a dark film. It’s debut brought on a wave of nostalgia for the 1950’s in the 1970’s–the music, the clothes, the things the teens did in the movie–but the movie was actually set in 1962, not the 1950’s, but most of the music was from the 1950’s. American Graffiti‘s success led to another revival, for example, of the Beach Boys; eventually led to the series Happy Days (which also starred Ron Howard–although in the movie he was billed as Ronnie Howard, a holdover from The Andy Griffith Show); and sparked that 50’s nostalgia trend I mentioned earlier. The movie really doesn’t have much of a plot, other than it’s the last night in town for Steve and Curt, who are leaving the next morning for college in the east somewhere. Steve is dating Curt’s sister Laurie, who is head cheerleader and will be a senior when school starts, Curt is having second thoughts about leaving for college; Steve cannot wait to get away from the unnamed town, which was director/writer George Lucas’ hometown of Modesto. These three are played by Thomas, a very young Richard Dreyfuss, and Cindy Williams. Basically, the movie follows them and a few of their friends throughout this last night, as Steve and Curt decide about their futures. It’s really about growing up and making decisions about who you are and what your life is going to be, and while rather light-hearted in tone for the most part, there are dark elements to the movie as well–and the end, with Curt flying east, and as the plane is silhouetted against the clouds, a scroll lets us know what happens to the four male characters: Steve is an insurance salesman, Curt is a writer living in Canada, Terry is missing in action in Vietnam, and John was killed by a drunk driver. There’s a definitely 50’s feel to the movie, even though it’s set in 1962–some say the 50’s didn’t really end until the JFK assassination–but it’s not as “feel-good” as one might think. There’s sadness and poignancy in the movie, as well. And of course, it’s the film that launched numerous careers, including Lucas’; the afore-mentioned stars, Mackenzie Phillips, Suzanne Somers, Harrison Ford, and Kathleen Quinlan, among others. It wasn’t as heavy drama as The Last Picture Show, which was another dark film about teenagers in the 1950’s, but it’s still darker than most people think of it.

Marathon Man definitely belongs in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. William Goldman adapted his novel for the screen–I read the book, never saw the movie (although the sadistic dentist scene is legendary; it was much worse in the book)–and now that I’ve seen the film, there’s no question about it. The film opens with an old man going to a ban and checking his safe deposit box; his car stalls, which starts a road rage incident with another old man, with the two men swearing at each other in German and the second man realizing the first man is anti-Semitic, if not an actual Nazi, and so begins a car duel between the two that ends with both of them crashing into a fuel truck and being killed. The film then cuts to Dustin Hoffman, who is training to run a marathon. He is also working on his PhD in history, trying to clear his father’s name–his father was smeared during McCarthyism in the 1950’s and ruined, finally killing himself. Because his brother, played by Roy Scheider, works for a mysterious secret agency for the government (doing the things in that gray area between the FBI and CIA), is somehow involved with actual Nazis who escaped from Germany at the end of the war (we never really learn why our government helped those Nazis escape–although that’s actually true; in most cases it was scientists we set to work on the space program), Hoffman actually becomes involved peripherally with this case through no fault of his own, and people are now trying to not only kill him but torture him as well, trying to find out “if it’s safe”, and he has no idea what they are talking about. This is the ultimate paranoia/conspiracy movie: an innocent person being stalked and his life threatened and he has no idea why, and all he can do is try to stay alive and figure it all out (this is also the underlying story of some of Hitchcock’s best films, and many Robert Ludlum novels), and there is quite literally no one he can trust: not the woman he is seeing, not his brother’s fellow agent, and certainly not any of the Nazi henchmen. It’s a good thriller, but I don’t think it would make it today because of the pacing and the slow developing plot, but once it starts rolling it really goes quickly.

It also reminded me that another element of the 1970’s was actual Nazis; Israelis were still hunting down and exterminating war criminals, and the war and the Holocaust were still in recent enough memory that it was still very much in the public consciousness. War novels still proliferated (this was the decade Herman Wouk published both The Winds of War and War and Remembrance), it also brought forth William Styron’s Sophie’s Choice and Ira Levin’s brilliant The Boys from Brazil. Ludlum’s career also got rolling in the 1970’s, and one of his first novels dealt with Nazis–as I always say, you can never go wrong with Nazis as villains, with the Vatican a close second; one of my favorite Ludlums, The Gemini Contenders, used both.

And now back to the spice mines.

Why Don’t We Live Together?

Saturday, I think, right?

God, it was miserably hot yesterday. I know, it’s New Orleans in July; the dog days of summer (I’ve never really quite understood what that meant, honestly; probably something about how a dog pants or something–so hot I was panting like a dog, or something along those lines anyway–it always makes my think about my grandmother’s mutt dog, Shag, lying down in the shade and panting) as it were, but it still does bear comment periodically about how motherfucking hot it is here sometimes in the summer.

I slept deeply last night, and didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning. I’ve been feeling tired again lately–not that horrible exhaustion I had for those months earlier this year, thank the heavens–and yesterday was one of those days again. It may be the heat, which is the most likely explanation, but I am not wanting to go back out into it today either–I am debating the wisdom of waiting to go to the grocery store until tomorrow or even seeing if it can be put off until next week sometime–which is probably self-defeating in some ways; but I also need to write this weekend (since I didn’t do much of that this past week) and I worry that going out into the heat and lugging bags of food into the house will defeat me for the rest of the day (which is always a possibility).

Decisions, decisions.

During our The Faking of the President on-line promotional appearance the other night we were talking about the 1970’s–if I considered myself a child of the that decade, and I actually do; I do remember bits and pieces of the 1960’s, but I turned nine in 1970 and that decade more shaped who I am rather than the 1960′–and as I mentioned yesterday, I’ve kind of started looking into the films of that decade a bit more. I kind of wanted to watch more Hitchcock movies yesterday–I was going to go for some of his 1970’s work, Frenzy and Family Plot, to be exact–but they are no longer on Amazon Prime for free (they were for quite a while) and that interface has also changed again and become even more user unfriendly; I cannot understand why Amazon cannot get its shit together on their streaming service, but came across the original film version of The Stepford Wives, either on Prime or the TCM app on HBO MAX, and settled in to watch that again. It’s a film (and novel) that is firmly anchored in the paranoid zeitgeist of the 1970’s, and fits very well into a reexamination of what was going on in that decade.

As I mentioned on the live stream the other night, the 1970’s were still a decade where wives were still defined as people in terms of their husbands; it was still very difficult for women to get credit on their own (this was actually how the subject came up–student loans and student credit cards), and I mentioned that my mom’s first credit wasn’t actually in her name, but as Mrs. (Dad) Herren. She had been working as long as I can remember, but her financial identity was still as the spouse of my father. The Women’s Liberation Movement began in the late 1960’s–espousing the radical concept that women were actual human beings in their own right and didn’t solely exist in terms of the man in their lives–and the 1970’s was when the stigma of divorce began to lessen; women no longer stayed in bad marriages or with abusive husbands. Rape was still basically a misdemeanor; spousal abuse was accepted and almost expected, and women were very much second class citizens, primarily defined as wives and mothers (this has changed somewhat, but really, not enough). Ira Levin wrote The Stepford Wives as a sort of social satire, but it was no less terrifying as a result; the revenge of men against women’s liberation. (You never hear the terms Women’s Lib or ‘libbers’ anymore) The Stepford Wives basically took the concept of how dehumanized women were to the nth degree; men really only want beautiful women who don’t think for themselves, think they’re wonderful lovers, live for their men and children, and should primarily focus on making sure their homes are spotless and perfect so their men don’t have to worry about anything but their jobs. The film leaned into this fully; I think the best part of the book was the fact that it never really explained what was going on in Stepford; it was alluded to, of course, but the truth was so terrible that the women–main character Joanna and her friend Bobbie–couldn’t possibly imagine what it was.

But seeing the actual Stepford wives, played by actresses, up on screen, truly epitomized not only how horrible what was happening in Stepford was, but how strange it was for Joanna and Bobbie to deal with, strangers who had only recently moved into town. Paula Prentiss played Bobbie–and why she was never a bigger star was something I never fully understood–and of course, stunningly beautiful Katherine Ross played Joanna–which made it all the more terrifying; she was so perfectly stunning and beautiful, how could you possibly improve on Joanna? The film of course couldn’t leave the truth ambiguous and merely hinted at; which was part of the power of the book…you never were completely sure if Joanna was simply going crazy because the truth of Stepford was presented so casually and normally. (Don’t bother with the remake; despite a stellar cast, it’s truly a terrible movie.)

The Stepford Wives, book and movie, both also fit perfectly into the paranoia of the decade; the 1970’s was a time where conspiracy theories abounded; there was a lot of interest in UFO’s and the Bermuda Triangle and Revelations/the end of the world, not to mention after Vietnam and Watergate mistrust of the government and elected officials were higher than ever before. But I also see The Stepford Wives as part of another literary trend/trope of the decade; the 1970’s was also a time when, as I mentioned on-air the other night, that white flight from the cities to the suburbs and rural eras began in earnest (although it was never, in the books, attributed to its real root cause: integrated public school systems and neighborhoods). There are at least three novels I know of that take the white flight to the rural areas (better schools! clean air! zero crime!) and turn them into horror novels–Burnt Offerings, The Stepford Wives, Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home– where the urbanites discover far greater horrors out in the country than they ever encountered in the city; there are probably more (I am not certain The Amityville Horror fits into this category), but those three would make a great starting point for a thesis/essay. (Interesting enough, both book and movie of The Stepford Wives ends with a throwaway bit about the first black family moving into Stepford; I would absolutely LOVE to see a reimagining of the film by Jordan Peele from the perspective of the black family moving in, because the paranoia of the wife beginning to suspect that all is not right with all these white women who are devoted to housework and their families could also be played with from a racial as well as gender perspective.)

And as I watched the film again yesterday, I realized that my mother, with her obsessions with cleanliness and order, kind of was/is a Stepford wife.

I plan on spending the rest of this morning getting my kitchen/office–horribly out of control yet again–into some semblance of order before diving back into Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get the changes necessary done to the next three to four chapters today, and perhaps another four to five tomorrow, which would get me almost to the halfway point. I also need to compile a comprehensive to-do list for the coming week. I also want to spend some time with Blacktop Wasteland today as well.

We started watching a new series last night–Curon, which is an Italian show set in the Tyrol, in a region that changed hands between the Austrians and the Italians numerous times. The town is built on the shores of a lake, where the original town was submerged when the river was dammed; all that remains of the old town is the church’s bell tower, jutting up out of the water. There’s a story that if you hear the bells ringing, you’re going to die–and some seriously weird shit is going on in this town. The show opens with a flashback to the past, when a seventeen year old Anna is hearing the bells ringing and her father orders her out of the massive luxury hotel they live in; she’s not sure but she thinks she sees herself shooting her mother–a nightmare that haunts her the rest of her life. Flash forward to the present, and Anna is coming back to Curon, after leaving an abusive (it’s hinted at) husband with her twin children, now seventeen–Mauro and Daria–from Milan. Her father makes it clear they aren’t welcome there–but when Anna disappears the next day the twins are there to stay. It’s filmed very well, and there are apparently tensions still in the village from the olden days of the war between Austrians and Italians; Mauro is also hard of hearing and wears a hearing aid; Daria is boisterous, outgoing, and kind of a badass; and the teenagers they encounter, both outside of school and in it, are also kind of weird. There’s all kinds of history there, slowly being revealed to the viewer, while the tension continually builds. What is the dark secret of the town of Curon?

I also, while typing that last sentence, realized Curon also fits in with the trope of the urbanites coming from the big city to the country, and discovering far greater horrors there than they left behind in the city.

Interesting.

What a Difference You’ve Made In My Life

Tis the last Friday of 2019 and while I only have to work a short day today, I still have to work today. I also have to work Monday, and then again have Tuesday and Wednesday off. Tuesday is the annual New Year’s Eve luncheon at Commander’s with Jean and Gillian, with special guest star Susan Larson this year–which makes it even more lovely. Huzzah! Tomorrow is LSU’s playoff game against Oklahoma, which I am trying not to get overly stressed about. Yes, it would be WONDERFUL for the Tigers to win the national championship; but this past season has been such a terrific ride that anything additional at this point is just gravy, really.

I’ve not written a word since last week, and most likely won’t again until after the holidays are past. I’m not beating myself up over it–there’s no point, and I spend way too much of my time beating myself up over shit as it is–but if the opportunity or window presents itself, I’ll try to get some writing done when I can. I will most likely be too tense to write or do much of anything Saturday before the game, so I’ll most likely run errands, maybe even brave the horror of Costco on a Saturday. It’s been too long since I’ve been, and I have a reward certificate somewhere I can use to reduce the final horrifying bill at checkout. (I miss having a supply of Pellegrino in the house.)

I did start my reread of The Talented Mr. Ripley again this week, and one of the things that really is striking me on this read is Highsmith very subtly slips in references to Tom not being on the up-and-up from almost the start; I think the Minghella film missed a serious beat in how it opened; in the film Tom is part of a hired musical act at a party for wealthy people and is wearing a Yale jacket he borrowed–which is why Mr. Greenleaf approaches him about going to Italy to retrieve Dickie from his decadent, lazy life in Italy. That never really quite rang true to me, which started the film off on a strange note–hard to believe someone quite that wealthy could be so naive. In the book, Tom is leaving his job when he notices someone following him and he is paranoid, as he is running several scams that violate the law–including one where he calls people he’s picked out and tells them their taxes were filed incorrectly and they owe more money. He is doing this just for fun–the checks they send in are generally made out to the government and are completely useless to him; but again, he’s doing this primarily to see if he can get away with it. That missing piece from the film undermines Tom’s character for the audience, but in fairness I don’t see how that could have been conveyed on film. There are also off-hand references to Tom getting help from wealthy men and so forth–sly references to Tom’s ambiguous sexuality that most readers–especially of the time–wouldn’t catch.

I am also trying to decide what my reading project for 2020 should be. 2018 was the Short Story Project; 2019 the Diversity Project, and I thoroughly enjoyed both. I didn’t read as much this past year as I would have liked; but I read for an award all year in 2018 and that, I think, fried my reading brain a bit. I think 2020 might just be the year of rereads; obviously I will read new books too, but there are some titles I’ve been wanting to revisit and simply haven’t had the time to get to–and another goal is to continue working my way through the TBR pile. There’s some Ira Levin novels I’d like to revisit, and of course I want to reread Stephen King’s  Firestarter for a while now; and of course, the joy that is Highsmith…I also haven’t done my annual reread of Rebecca for two years now. SHAMEFUL–and I also should reread We Have Always Lived in the Castle. Perhaps I should make a list of the rereads I plan for the new year….hmmm.

I also have to write that Sherlock Holmes story.

And I need to get ready for work. Have a lovely last Friday of 2019, Constant Reader!

 

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Do They Know It’s Christmas

Christmas Eve, and all through the house–not a kitty is stirring, and we don’t have a mouse.

It’s a bright sunshiny morning here in New Orleans, and I slept very late because we stayed up watching a show on Acorn TV (a streaming subscription I’d forgotten I had) called Loch Ness, which was highly entertaining, fairly well written, beautifully shot, and well acted. I do recommend it–there were some definitely unanswered questions in the resolution, but it pretty much wrapped itself up for the most part, and as I said, we really enjoyed it. Loch Ness also looked incredibly beautiful; I always pictured it as cold and gray and foggy–assuming, of course, that it was shot on location.

I also woke up this morning–late–to see that Romance Writers of America is burning to the ground this morning, having had their board make a decision that being called a racist is much much worse than actually being a racist, or doing and saying racist things. I have my own issues with RWA, of course–a long-standing policy of passively encouraging homophobia and queer exclusion, which I thought they were getting better about, but active institutional support of racists and racism against authors of color has completely and irrevocably erased those thoughts once and for all; because quite naturally pointing out homophobia would mean being punished for doing so–because the only thing worse than homophobia is being accurately accused of it. Shame on you, RWA, shame on you.

Yeah, not going anywhere near that dumpster-fire of an organization.

So, what am I going to do today, with this gorgeous day? Am I going to try to get writing done? Am I going to try to do much of anything on this fine Christmas Eve here in the Lost Apartment? Or am I simply going to curl up in my easy chair with a book? Probably going to just curl up in my chair with my book. I am getting further into Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, and greatly enjoying it the deeper I get into this interestingly twisted tale. I do have some cleaning and straightening up to do around here, but I can save that for later this evening. We are venturing out to see Rise of Skywalker tomorrow–thank you, everyone on my social media feeds for not posting spoilers–and of course, this weekend is the college football play-offs, with LSU facing Oklahoma in one semi-final.

But there’s plenty of time between now and Saturday for me to get stressed about that.

I’ve also been looking through Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, which is one of my favorite romantic suspense novels of the mid-twentieth century (originally published in 1962!) primarily because it has a unique spin on the genre of the preyed-upon heroine: she’s pregnant with the heir to the family fortune and estate. A pregnant romantic suspense heroine? I think Kirkland Revels might even be the only romantic suspense novel with a pregnant heroine–I can’t think of many novels of any kind where the heroine was pregnant almost the entire course of the story, other than Rosemary’s Baby–which is actually an interesting observation. (I also believe that Rosemary’s Baby is perhaps one of the most brilliant studies in paranoia ever written; Levin did much the same with The Stepford Wives; no one wrote paranoia better than Levin, and he is also one of my favorite writers. His canon is well overdue for a revisit.)

I also may rewatch the premiere of Megan Abbott’s television series adaptation of Dare Me. It was really quite good, and a second viewing will possibly enable me to write a post about it that doesn’t simply say “OMG it’s so good you have to watch it.”

GAH. SO little time to do all the things I want to do!

And on that note, I should probably finish this and go do something, anything, else.

Have a merry Christmas eve, everyone.

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