Free Ride

So, where were we?

I managed to finish that enormous volunteer project, with lots of thanks due to the others who worked on it with me; it’s so lovely to not have to worry about being organized because you are working with the “ur organizer” of all time, frankly.

Whew. I do know some pretty amazing people, you know?

I need to get started revising the Kansas book, but have just been so worn out and tired lately…it’s a big deal to finish a draft, a short story, and an enormous volunteer project all at the same time, you know? I now have to write an essay, a short story, and get to revising this manuscript but at the same time…it’s kind of lovely knowing I got all that other shit done.

I also managed to do something to my back yesterday at work–sitting in my chair wrong–and it’s been aching ever since. I used the heating pad last night (using it again this morning) and it’s horrible, of course–I can’t imagine what I did to make it hurt, but then…this is just another one of those lovely surprises about getting older: new aches and pains every day and you don’t know where they came from or why or what caused it.

But my book comes out in less than a week, so I should probably talk about it some more, right?

As I mentioned yesterday, I pretty much only regularly watch The Real Housewives of New York and Beverly Hills. I do keep up with Atlanta, and will check in on Orange County every now and then. I tried both Dallas and Potomac (I never watched DC or Miami), but didn’t get through the first seasons–but I’ve heard they’ve become more entertaining, so might check them out. I’ve not watched New Jersey in a long time; I really gave up on it after Caroline left the show; I know she was problematic to a lot of viewers and she did get on my nerves from time to time–but when she left and the show centered Teresa, I was down with it. While watching these shows, and having my loyalties and allegiances shift over the seasons, as the producers manipulate story-lines and decide what the audience will and won’t see, has been interesting. I’ve also been interested in watching the cultural phenomena around the Real Housewives, and while I rarely (if ever) agree with Camille Paglia, she is also a Housewives fan, and in an interview, when the shows came up, she compared them to soaps, and in particular, the popular prime time soaps of the 1980’s: Dallas, Dynasty, Knots Landing, etc. It was an interesting comparison, and not one I agreed with immediately, but the more I think about–and the way people talk about the shows–the more I think she was right. The prime time soaps were addictive, considered guilty pleasures no serious viewer would ever watch, and while several of them were driven by strong male leads, the women were centered and usually more interesting. There were never any male characters as interesting as the women on Knots Landing, and Blake might have been the main character on Dynasty, but the real driving force behind the show were the two women main characters, Krystle and Alexis. The housewives appeal to, like the prime time soaps, primarily women and gay male viewers. When I wrote my thesis on daytime soaps in college, one of the cultural impacts I wrote about the shows having was the decline of what was called “women’s pictures”–movies centering women characters and female stars. Whereas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford and many other women were big stars of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, it was the 1950’s and the rise of television that not only killed the studio system, but also killed off the popular genre of women’s pictures…and I do think that was not only due to television, but because all of daytime television centered, and was focused on, women. Women no longer had to pay money to go lose themselves in a fantasy world focused on strong women facing difficult situations heroically; they could spend all day watching heroic women facing difficult situations–and situations they could relate to more–Monday through Friday. The decline of soaps–both prime time and daytime–created another vacuum, and Bravo and these shows stepped up to fill that void.

There have been already some terrific books centering reality television; Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister was, like her debut novel Luckiest Girl Alive, absolutely fantastic. But as I said, I thought it would be interesting to write my own version of a murder mystery centered on a reality show filmed in New Orleans. I’m fascinated by these people, who are willing to have their lives and interactions be filmed for the entertainment of the masses, be judged for it on social media and in recap columns, and ripped to shreds on message boards and Facebook groups. Some of them use their reality show to promote not only themselves but their businesses–the most famous of these is Bethenny Frankel, who became rich through her various Skinnygirl enterprises, all of which were boosted by her popularity on reality television, and Lisa Vanderpump, who used her reality fame to promote her restaurants in Los Angeles, even getting a spin-off show centered around the staff at one of her restaurants, Vanderpump Rules, which is even more popular than the housewives (I abandoned that show somewhere after season two). I think the Frankel/Vanderpump model is the golden ticket these women are looking for when they agree to be cast; but not everyone is as smart about controlling their image as those two are–nor have the kind of influence on production as they enjoy.

My fascination with these women, and their shows, and who they are and why they would do such a show, gave birth to the idea that eventually became Royal Street Reveillon. I liked the idea of Scotty being a fan, and interacting with the women on the New Orleans show while trying to get to the bottom of a murder…or two, or three. It was also kind of fun to write, frankly, and the older i get and the more I do this, the more important it is to me to enjoy myself while I am doing it.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

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The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Goody Two-Shoes

Friday! I made it through another week! Huzzah!

Have you ever wondered how my mind works? Let me give you an example from yesterday:

Before I started the car to run my errands on my way to the office, I saw a headline on my phone as I was stashing it in the center console. The headline had something to do with Melania Trump; I don’t remember what it was. And this is how my thought process went:

Melania is an interesting name, I’ve never heard that name before, but then Michelle Obama was the first First Lady named Michelle, and Laura Bush was the first Laura…they’ve all had unique names, really, Hillary and Barbara and Nancy and Betty and Pat and Ladybird and Jacqueline and Mamie…Mamie is an odd name, I wonder if it was a nickname…those awful bigots in Auntie Mame called her Mamie..gosh I love that movie and haven’t seen it in a long time…I wonder why no one has ever written a book or made a movie called Auntie Maim? It seems like such a natural.

And after I chuckled over the horror novel/movie Auntie Maim:

Rosalind Russell was so great in that movie, she was friends with Joan Crawford, they were in The Women together, it was that unflattering picture in the paper with Roz that convinced Joan to  never go out in public again…I should write an essay contrasting Baby Jane with Sweet Charlotte..Olivia de Havilland was terrific in that but what a movie it would have been with Crawford in that role, I always wanted to write something like Sweet Charlotte…I remember I had that idea twenty or so years ago, what was it called… oh yes, that, how could you write something like that today, oh maybe instead of having the Charlotte character be a woman she could be a gay man, which would have been equally scandalous to be having an affair with a married man but then how would you do the Miriam character they couldn’t both be gay men because that would be a stretch well maybe instead it could be that the lover was murdered and that outed the character and the character ran away and instead of being her cousin the other character is his sister and now Papa’s dying and the thrown away gay son is coming home to make peace with the dying homophobic father and the old crime was never solved…

And then as I pulled into the parking lot at work I wrote the opening in my head, and typed into the Notes app on my phone on my way into the office.

That’s how my mind works.

If you think that’s scary, imagine having to deal with that imagination all the time.

Heavy sigh.

I have maybe three chapters of line edits to input before this bitch of an edit is finished. Only. Three. More.

And I’ve been keeping notes on what and where to tweak.

And for the record, the last time I looked, I’d trimmed 101, 265 words down to around 78,000, give or take a few.

That was a serious line edit.

So, it will probably end up being around 80-85,000 when it gets queried to agents.

Fingers crossed.

And here’s your Friday hunk to slip you into the weekend:IMG_2769

 

I Say a Little Prayer

Today I venture north to Oxford, Mississippi, home to one of my literary heroes, William Faulkner, and also home to Ole Miss, aka the University of Mississippi. This isn’t going to be a quick ‘in-and-out’ like Montgomery; I am spending two nights there (the event is tomorrow night) and will drive back down to New Orleans on Wednesday. I have to work later that evening, which is daunting and will make for a long, exhausting day, but I feel like I will sleep rather well that Wednesday night, if for no other reason than pure exhaustion. I am feeling rested this morning, but not quite awake; I am going to continue with coffee-swilling before I shave and shower and depart. I am already packed; all I have left to do is put the current book I’m reading (Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll) and my iPad into my bag. I believe the event is tomorrow evening, so I will have all day to explore Oxford. I will be taking the camera with me, and I plan on making a pilgrimage, at the very least, to Faulkner’s home. (In an aside, sometimes when I mention that Faulkner is one of my literary heroes I get mocked, or get called pretentious; but I truly enjoy reading Faulkner. He isn’t easy to read, or follow, but the language! The way he builds the story! I still think The Sound and the Fury is the greatest American novel, no matter what–but I have been thinking lately I should, as an adult and more mature reader, give both Hemingway and Fitzgerald another try.)

I did finish reading Thirteen Reasons Why yesterday afternoon, and no, it didn’t end in the same was as the television series, and yes, it’s ending was just as dissatisfying to me, although it made sense. The book makes no judgments of the characters, including Clay, although the relationship between Clay and Hannah wasn’t as developed or as evolved in the show; I didn’t get a sense of why Clay would care as much as he did from the novel. But it was a fun read, and let’s face it–as I said on the panel Saturday, what could be more noir than high school? All of my young adult fiction, frankly, is based on that principle.

We also finished Feud last night, along with the rest of the country, and Jessica Lange was absolutely heartbreaking. Sarandon really was great as Bette Davis, but for some reason, I just think Lange was better as Crawford. The whole cast was terrific, really, and it was horrible what happened to both women as they aged, how the industry turned their back on them, what it’s like to be a woman in Hollywood–and how that hasn’t, really, changed. Ryan Murphy is an interesting writer/producer. American Horror Story seems to go off the rails every season; I never got past the second episode of Scream Queens; and I never watched Nip/Tuck–but really enjoyed Popular. But with American Crime Story and Feud he’s done an extraordinary job; but then again, in both instances he didn’t have to really come up with a plot or an ending to the story he was telling: both were based in reality. I also am terrified of his Hurricane Katrina season of American Crime Story. It could be terrible, absolutely terrible; all I can do is hope that filming in New Orleans–as he did with American Horror Story–made him fall in love with the city the way Jessica Lange did (she now lives here).

Obviously, I’ve not written a word since I left for Montgomery on Friday (other than here), and hope I’ll have both the time and the energy while in Oxford.

And now, back to the spice mines.6f72d89ae05ea0959513f24176fd12e5

A Beautiful Morning

Well, I finished reading The Underground Railroad yesterday, and will most definitely be blogging about it, once I’ve digested it some and thought about it some more. It was, to say the least, very powerful, and not only did it made me think about the subject matter–it also made me think about a lot of other things, which I will be more than happy to discuss once I’ve digested them. I also started reading The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney, which I am enjoying as well.

We were supposed to get heavy weather yesterday, but it arrived over night instead–everything out there is wet and dripping, which is always a joy. Ah, well.

I didn’t write yesterday, or at all over the weekend, which is, of course, terrible. I did get some cleaning done and some organizing–not as much as I would have liked–but we’re also working on getting caught up on our shows and I did want to power through and finally finish the Colson novel, which I did manage to do, and then we got caught up on The Walking Dead, watched last night’s Feud, and then it was bedtime.

I am greatly enjoying Feud, and am very impressed with how it’s taking on the issue of how Hollywood/entertainment treats women; which also, in some ways, goes along with another show I am looking to finishing watching–the season finale of Big Little Lies was also last night; which we will undoubtedly watch tonight as well as continuing to get caught up on Bates Motel (a show that is KILLING it now in it’s final season). The way two of my favorite old Hollywood actresses–Bette Davis and Joan Crawford–are being depicted is brilliant, and the two women playing them, Jessica Lange and Susan Sarandon, are turning in stunning, award-worthy performances. Last week’s episode, in which both Davis and Crawford are still not fielding any offers before the movie opens–and then it becomes a huge hit–was particularly brilliant; the moment when Joan Crawford, leaving the theater after the preview of the film that ended with a standing ovation, is recognized in the lobby and then mobbed with fans–when this happens, the look on her face–surprise evolving into pure joy at being treated like a star again, is so poignant it’s heartbreaking.

Last night’s, Oscar night when Crawford was snubbed in favor of Davis, was also almost painful to watch; the naked need Davis had for that third Oscar, the pain and anguish Crawford felt about being overshadowed once again by her rival (the scenes where Crawford talks to Geraldine Page and Anne Bancroft, asking them if she can accept for them, and the pity and sympathy Page and Bancroft feel for her, agreeing to let her do it because she needs to…wow)–and Judy Davis is also killing it as Hedda Hopper.

And last night, for the first time, Catherine Zeta-Jones actually delivered as Olivia de Havilland.

I got the idea for an essay yesterday about women’s fiction–using three novels to not only compare and contrast to each other but also to talk about how fiction by, for, and about women is so regularly disdained and dismissed as somehow lesser–the three being The Best of Everything by Rona Jaffe, Peyton Place by Grace Metalious, and Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’ve been toying with the idea for quite some time, and I thought about it again yesterday, partly because of Feud, but also partly because of Big Little Lies. Of course, I have no idea where to publish the thing…and it’s not like I don’t have a million other things to write as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, back to editing.