Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

I Want a Lover

Sunday morning and I’m sipping away at my first cappuccino (the cappuccinos went so well yesterday morning that I decided to treat myself to them again this morning) and I feel pretty good. It’s absolutely lovely outside this morning–the temperature is in the low eighties–and bright, sunshine glowing everywhere. New Orleans has the most beautiful sky when the sun is shining, and the light here is exceptionally gorgeous.

It also occurs to me that cappuccinos are probably the most cost effective way for me to get my morning caffeine as well. If I used the Keurig, I can go through as many as four K-cups each day, and even the cheaper ones from off-brands aren’t exactly cheap. But cappuccinos require me to grind beans, and bags of beans are certainly cheaper than boxes of K-cups (I also have the reusable ones, but they don’t work that great; I always wind up with grounds in my coffee, grounds in my coffee and you’re so vain…oops, sorry for the musical interlude) and they also go further. I also only need two of these every morning, and they are kind of delicious.

Yesterday was kind of a nice day, really. I slept really well on Friday night, and so was rested, and of course, the cappuccinos gave me an awesome joly of caffeine that gave me the energy to power through some work I had to do yesterday. I finished that around two, and then went to the gym. I worked out very hard, which felt amazing, and then I came home to do the dishes and laundry. I also intended to do the floors, but my muscles were worn out and tired, and instead I repaired to my easy chair, where I watched the last two episodes of The Movies, and, being kind of mentally exhausted, just curled up with Barbara Tuchman’s essay collection, Practicing History. I do love Tuchman, and I also love that she didn’t really have any background in studying history, yet became a major historian.

I went to bed relatively early last night as well, and again, had yet another lovely night’s sleep. And here I am this morning, with a cup of cappuccino, preparing to answer some emails and try to get my inbox cleared out (for now, at any rate) and then I am going to try to work on the Secret Project for a while. My goal was to get it done and out of the way today, so I can send it off into the wilds tomorrow; wish me luck. Most of this is revising and rewriting, with very little new writing needing to be done. I actually enjoy revising and rewriting, surprisingly enough; it always seems easier to me than writing the first draft, which inevitably is a disastrously written horrible mess. I love making order out of chaos; which also explains why I let messes build in the house and the filing to pile up. I simply love making order out of a mess. I’m not sure what that says about me and who I am, but it’s true.

However, I’m also kind of hoping today that I’ll be able to dive into Night Has a Thousand Eyes. I do want to reread Faggots for the Reread Project, but it can wait, and the Woolrich has been waiting far too long for me to get to. Besides, it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve read something new to me, and I really want to start reading more of the Woolrich canon. I’ve got one of his short story collections on my Kindle, and between reading one of his novels and adding him into the Short Story Collection (which reminds me, I need to read W. Somerset Maugham’s “Rain”, which I started reading a while back), I think I can start developing an appreciation for him, as well as an understanding for his work. I want to enjoy reading them for what they are, but I will also, of course, be looking for that elusive “gay sensibility” in his writing that is most likely there and has been ignored by critics for decades.

It was definitely there in “It Had to Be Murder.”

And on that note, I’m going to head back into the spice mines. The sooner I get the work finished, the sooner I can get back to my easy chair with a book, and is there any better way to spend a Sunday afternoon than with a book?

I think not!

Leaving

Hey everyone! It’s Wednesday already! HUZZAH!

That’s one lovely thing about three day weekends; inevitably it also means a shorter work week at least once. I know, I am simply doing nothing more than wishing my life away; but so be it. I don’t really mind the day job, really; I just wish I had maybe another hour or two free to write every day. Somedays I don’t write at all; some days I write over three thousand words; some days, like yesterday, I only manage six or seven hundred, and I basically was sweating blood to get those done. The three thousand I did on Monday? In the blink of an eye, without even putting any real conscious thought into it; I simply opened the document, knew where the story needed to go, went back to the beginning and corrected and deleted and rewrote and by the time I got to where I’d left off I was in a groove and I had not only managed to correct and revise about 1200 words, I was able to add 3700 to them. I only need one more chapter, and I honestly do think if I go back over the first two again, I can break it down into three, and revise it again to get them to a fairly proper length. Since the painful six or seven hundred words today were an attempt at a third chapter…well, I’ll just take a look at that document tomorrow, hope that I have more energy, and maybe I can have the same writer’s luck I had on Monday.

I’ve pretty much decided to read Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes next; I can’t think why I didn’t pick it back up once I was done with prepping for moderating that panel, whenever and wherever it was. I think I forgot what I had read–I have a vague memory of it being about a man walking home alone late at night in Manhattan along the river, near a park of some sort, and he starts noticing debris on the path–personal belongings, like things that may have fallen out of a purse. He eventually catches up to the woman whose things they are; I vaguely think that she was on a bridge, or standing by a rail along the water or something, like she was going to jump; instead she starts telling him this strange story–which I don’t remember; I don’t know if I didn’t read that part–I think I may have started; I seem to recall her father, an airplane crash, and a prediction that his plane would crash–but I can’t remember anything else. I do remember that the opening section I was reading was very well done–just as his short story “It Had to Be Murder” was very well done and clever. I think I may embark on a Woolrich Project next, in fact.

I was also thinking I should probably reread Joseph Hanson.

Today’s pay day, and most of the bills aren’t due until next week; so I am thinking I may just wait to pay them until say, the weekend, and bask in the false sensation of having money in the bank for a few days. It’s such a lovely feeling, really, even if it’s entirely false.

We continue to watch White Lines every night; it’s really quite a bizarrely entertaining show. One of the things I’ve noticed about Spanish productions (or co-productions, as in this case) is that when it comes to drama, there’s no limits for the writers. For example, White Lines also features, in one of the warring Spanish/Ibiza Mafia families, an extremely twisted mother-son relationship that is physically inappropriate on every level–but never quite crosses over into full-on mother/son incest. The funniest thing about White Lines is the primary story–in which Zoey has come to Ibiza to find out what happened to her d.j. brother Axel twenty years earlier after his dead body turns up–is the least interesting part of the show. If you simply took Zoey out of the show entirely, you could still do the murder mystery about Axel’s murder (he was fucking both mother and daughter in the bizarrely incestuous Spanish mafia Calafat family, as we discovered last night) and you’d eradicate the least interesting part of the show. Zoey makes no sense whatsover; she had a complete mental breakdown when Axel disappeared, wound up in therapy and institutions for a while, married one of her therapists and has a daughter–she has abandoned both husband and daughter to go to Ibiza to solve this mystery…and is having an affair with the head of security for the Calafats (his name is Boxer and I don’t blame her for this in the least), has gotten involved in a cocaine cover-up and a couple of murders…her motivation doesn’t really make any sense, and she can’t seem to make up her mind whether she wants to salvage the marriage her behavior is slowly disintegrating or embrace the party-hearty freedom of life in Ibiza. Unless there’s a big twist coming, she exists solely so this show is bilingual; partly in English and partly in Spanish.

And apparently, my HBO app today is going to transform into HBO MAX today. I am curious to see what difference that may make. More shows to stream! As it is, I often forget about Amazon Prime–and frankly, their streaming service isn’t the best; primarily because a single show will have each season have its own link, rather than having sub-links per season under a single link for the entire show–probably has to do with some of the stuff needing to be rented or purchased, I suppose, but still annoying.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines and back to work. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone!

Later Tonight

So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.

But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.

Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.

I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.

I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.

Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.