Touched by the Hand of God

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee and eating coffee cake and trying to wake up. I slept very well again last night, and am starting to feel more…normal, whatever that means for me, since I am anything but normal. I have things to get done today, but the apartment is starting to feel like home again for the first time in a while (since everything went haywire week before last). The laundry room is mostly reassembled, and the book shelves in there look neat and tidy and organized, which rather pleases me. The living room is….well, the living room. I am always going to have too many books in my house (even typing that a voice inside my head was shrieking you can never have too many books what are you talking about?); but I am developing a certain heartlessness as I continue to fill boxes with books for the library sale. At some point, I am going to have to start going through the boxes of books on top of the kitchen cabinets and the ones in the storage attic, and my goal is to have cleaned out not only the attic but the storage unit I’ve rented for far too long.

We finished the first season of Very Scary People on HBO last night, concluding with the two-parter on Jim Jones (we skipped Gacy–have seen enough of him lately already–and Aileen Wuornos, because we watched one on her already recently) and will be moving on to season two probably this evening. I am way behind on Superman and Lois–mainly because it’s something I started watching without Paul and so, rather than trying to get him caught up, I am just going to continue watching without him (I always, inevitably, have to fill him in on super-hero backstory and so forth anyway in most cases, though I think he knows enough Superman lore–doesn’t everyone, really–that he wouldn’t need explanations in this case).

I’ve started–sort of–working on Chlorine this weekend, mostly free hand and mostly in my journal, mapping out backstory and so forth for the main character, and I’ve also started working on the backstory for the body in the surf, and the plot–which was kind of amorphously planned in my head, but yesterday I started nailing down specifics in the plot. It’s going to be kind of fun to write, I think–I always think that going into a manuscript; ever the optimist–and while it’s very tempting to use real people as characters, I think I will make the ones who actually are on the page and participating in the story fictional, but mention others–Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, etc.–in passing. I know the studio is going to be fictional–tempted as I am to use Fox or MGM–and I also know I need to sprinkle in some of the conservatism that reigned then, as everyone was afraid of Communists and having to testify in front of HUAC in Washington; it was the time of ‘the lavender scare” (also the title of a terrific history of the period and this very thing, by David Johnson; I highly recommend it) and so homosexuality was also driven even further underground because we were seen as security risks, particularly if we worked in government since it put us at risk for blackmail by Communists (I touched on this briefly in my story “The Weight of a Feather”, collected in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories).

I also worked on getting organized yesterday. I did a lot of filing, and took a lot of books off my desk and replaced them with ones I’ll be using for research and background for this book. I kind of feel like I already know my main character (even though I couldn’t remember his name yesterday as I wrote notes in my journal); he grew up in Kansas, was caught by his father in a “compromising position” with his high school basketball coach in the tiny little town he grew up in and was forced to enter the military at age 17–going into the Navy and serving in the South Pacific, where he found other men like himself, and thus became familiar with the underground gay community within the military, as well as in Honolulu and Los Angeles (on leaves). After mustering out in 1946 he comes to LA to become a movie star, is discovered by a Henry Willson type agent, and at the start of the story his seven year control with Pacific Pictures is coming to an end, they aren’t going to renew his contract, and he is in fact being sacrificed to a tabloid in order to protect another client, a rising star the tabloid was going to out–loosely based on how Henry Willson sold out Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter to Confidential to save Rock Hudson; but unlike them, my character’s agent has a plan for him: a long-term contract to work with an Italian film company making sword-and-sandal epics.

It’s a great set-up, and one that I hope to not let down…right now I am feeling confident that I can write this and it will be amazing; of course, once I start the doubts and imposter syndrome will start creeping in and I will spend most of my time wondering what the hell I was thinking to try to write such a thing in the first place.

I couldn’t have picked a better career path for a neurotic, could I?

I also lined up all the potential short story calls I am interested in submitting to, matched them up with an in-progress story that fits their call (or at least what does in my mind; I am really not that great a judge of these things, in all honesty) and need to plan out when to reread and when to rewrite. It’s very strange; now that I am coming out of the exhaustion from the writing of the two books back to back I am amazed at how light I feel; I don’t feel that oppressive burden nor the stress that comes from carrying it. I know both manuscripts need work and I need to revise and rework and edit one last time with each, and there’s a deadline for the first for sure–but I am going to put that off until next weekend, when I have the time to sit and go through Bury Me in Shadows from beginning to end, making notes, making corrections, and so on and so forth to get it polished into a diamond…or as close to one as I can get one of my books.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning swilling coffee and trying to finish reading The Russia House. I love LeCarré; he is such a terrific writer I can get lost in his sentences and paragraphs forever–but I find myself not loving the plot or the characters in this one, which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this one, I think. He also does an excellent job of taking me back into that 1980’s world/mentality of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union–that halcyon time when the fear of nuclear annihilation began to fade somewhat but at the same time the worry of what would fill the vacuum created by that collapse was almost nearly as intense (it didn’t take long for conservatives to replace Communists with Muslims as the scary other from another part of the world determined to destroy us); not to mention the wondering if glasnost and perestroika weren’t real or sincerely meant; LeCarré does an absolutely amazing job with that cold intelligence paranoia.

And then, for something similar yet completely different, I am going to reread Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

I also would like to get back to the gym today; it looks absolutely lovely outside, and the walk will be lovely.

Until tomorrow, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

World in Motion

Ah, Sunday.

Last night I kept waking up, even though it felt like I was getting good rest, if that makes any sense. I finally got tired of trying to get some more sleep and went ahead and got up before eight–around quarter till, to be precise–because I have work to do and the deadline is ticking. I made some excellent progress yesterday, and have a lot more to do today. I am hoping to get the final chapters of the book completely refinished and rewritten today; so I can do mop up the rest of the week–and there will be lots of mopping up to do. This is maybe the ninth draft of the book since I wrote the first draft in 2015–but in complete fairness, all those revisions were of the first half of the book rather than the second; this is the third draft of the second half–I was struggling to find the right voice, to find the correct tense, and really, trying to figure out who my main character is or was. Most of this work has been, since I first wrote the first draft six years ago, scattered and disorganized and, in retrospect, primarily a case of me not trusting myself or my abilities and be intimidated by what I was writing about–with the occasional dose of imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure.

We watched the ice dancing final last night, and remain completely mystified by the results. Perhaps we’re partisan, but we simply failed to see the same magic in the routine by the Canadian team that resulted in them placing second in the free dance, and capturing the bronze medal somehow. But ice dance has always been controversial, and the judging has never made much sense. The Russian team that won was clearly the best in the competition; no question about that–but I also felt the second place Russian team, that finished fifth, was also better, more athletic, and more artistic, than the Canadians. But yesterday afternoon I also took some time to watch the men’s final, and it was delightful to see Nathan Chen make a comeback from a fall in the short program to win it all, his third world title in a row–the first American to do so since Scott Hamilton–and if he wins the Olympics and a fourth world title next year, he’ll be in even more elite company. The women also managed to earn the US three Olympic spots, which I wasn’t expecting to happen, so at least we’ll have as full a team as possible; I think Nathan winning automatically earns us three men for the team–but the rules may have changed, and I must confess I don’t pay nearly as much attention to figure skating as I used to. I hate this new points system; always have since it was implemented, and I don’t believe it forestalls arrangements between judges the way the old system did–not to mention the guarantee of anonymity so no one knows how any judge scored any competitor; I fail to see how this will stop collusion, but I am not the ISU.

The humidity has been ruinous on my sinuses lately; it’s so weird for it to be so hot and humid already this year. My windows are covered in condensation this morning, which is unusual for this time of year–that new HVAC system clearly works extremely well–an I am going to head to the gym later this morning for my weekend workout. The rain kept me from going earlier in the week, so for the last two weeks I’ve only had two workouts per week; not goo, but better than one and much better than not going at all. I need to get some new workout clothes, though; I haven’t bought workout shorts in well over ten years and thus they not only don’t fit properly but are also a little on the worn out side, and the more hot and humid it gets the less likely I am to want to wear sweat pants to the gym. I found some T-shirts in my T-shirt drawer back from the days when I could squeeze into a medium (I now wear extra large) and so I disposed of them as well. I really would like to get this book finished and turned in on Thursday the 1st (this week!) so I can spend my three day Easter weekend cleaning out books and going through my clothes.

I’d also like to spend some time finishing The Russia House. I read another chapter yesterday and greatly enjoyed it; I am really looking forward to spending more time with LeCarré. I also want to start reading more of these books that I keep buying and adding to my TBR pile, which is mostly out of control these days–I also need to recognize that many essays I have wanted to write about books and authors I enjoyed won’t ever happen because I will never have the time to write them, nor will I ever have the time to go back and reread the books; there simply isn’t enough time for all the reading I want to do, and I have to be more realistic. Some are simply too long–much as I loved Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke, there’s simply no way I can (or will) ever find the time to reread those books; let alone anything by Michener (I’ve been wanting to reread my favorite Michener, Centennial, for quite some time, but probably will never happen).

And once I have this book finished and turned in, I have to do some revisions of Bury Me in Shadows by May 1; I don’t think it’s anything major, really; a much more thorough copy edit, an additional clarifying sentence here and there, and then it will be finished, and then comes the first draft of Chlorine….at long last. There are also some submission calls I want to write for as well; we’ll see how that turns out, won’t we? But I think my stories “Death and the Handmaidens”, “The Blues Before Dawn”, and “Le Feu Follet” might actually have homes I can try to get them into; and there’s another call for a humorous mystery I’d like to take a shot at as well; my stories always seem to turn out to be darkly comic anyway.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Weirdo

What a lovely night’s sleep I had last night. I’m not sure what’s been up lately, but my sleep hasn’t been as good as it could be (or should be) but yesterday I got my order of pillow spray from This Works (I’ve used it before; my friend Lauren recommended it to me years ago. It’s what they give the first class passengers on British Airways flights to spray on their pillows to help them sleep during a flight; it does work…it’s just not inexpensive. I ordered two bottles with my stimulus check and they arrived yesterday–and last night I slept deeply, restfully, and well–and through the night.) I woke up at six–thanks, early mornings–but was able to go back to sleep for a few more hours. This is a very good thing, as I have–outside of some errands to run this morning–to spend the entire day working on my book–the same with tomorrow. It’s due on Thursday–but I may take the next weekend to go over it one more time.

I finished reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln yesterday; it’s been quite a voyage. I’m not sure, frankly, how long it’s taken me to read it–I think I started it sometime last year–but I was reading a few pages a day rather than curling up with it. I love the way Vidal writes–he uses a weirdly distant, almost but not quite omniscient third person point of view–and the characters he follows are interesting choices. I’ve read another one of his chain of books Narratives of Empire (Empire) and rather enjoyed it; I’ve enjoyed most of Vidal’s work that I’ve read (Julian the Apostate is a particular favorite) and now I suppose will seek out others in the series; 1876 sounds kind of appealing, if for no other reason that it is a little-known but incredibly important year in American history. I’ll do an entry about Lincoln at some point, but I did really enjoy this, and do recommend it.

It’s very weird feeling so rested this morning–it makes me realize all those other mornings when I thought I was actually rested, well, I was wrong. It was just an improvement over insomnia, I guess.

It’s sort of gray outside again today–my windows are covered in condensation, which means it’s very definitely humid outside this morning. I am going to drop off two boxes of books at the library for their sale this morning and I need to stop at Whole Foos–I’ve been carrying a gift card valued at $25 in my wallet for nearly two years at this point, and as horrific as the Whole Foods on Magazine will be on a Saturday with all the uptown Karens out with their yoga pants or tennis skirts with a latté in hand will inevitably prove to be, I may as well make use of the extra trip uptown. I made groceries yesterday already, so I am just going to check out their berry situation as well as see if they have blackened catfish at the prepared food bar–it’s been a long time since I’ve had that, and Whole Foods’ is pretty good–and then head home to hibernate. Tomorrow all I have to do is work on the book and go to the gym–I am also doing some cleaning around the house, when I need a break and to clear my head–and hopefully, will be able to make some great progress on the book. We shall see, shan’t we?

The World Figure Skating championships are also currently going on in Stockholm–spoiler! I just checked results and Nathan Chen made a comeback from third place in the short to win the free skate by enough points to win the gold medal by a decisive margin–he hasn’t lost since the Olympics in 2018–which makes him the favorite for the Olympics next year. Pretty cool. We may win two medals in the ice dance, which finishes later–and the ladies finished fourth and ninth, so we can send three women to the Olympics next year as well. Our best pairs team finished seventh–not bad, since they’ve only been skating together for less than a year, and they are probably the best pairs team we’ve had in decades; they certainly have the potential to be at any rate. I just wish we could get another ladies’ champion again….particularly when you take into consideration we won two medals (gold and bronze) in 1992; a silver in 1994; gold and silver in 1998, and gold and bronze in 2002 (also a silver in 2006; the last time an American woman won an Olympic medal in figure skating).

The Tennessee Williams Festival also comes to a close this weekend, and I will shortly have my marriage back. Paul was actually home last night in time for me to make dinner–the Festival is virtual, so he doesn’t have to live at the Monteleone this weekend and can actually come home and watch things as they air on his computer–so we actually had dinner together for the first time since Valentine’s Day, really; and even that dinner together was an outlier. I’ve barely seen him for several months now, and perhaps that’s part of the reason I slept so well last night; because it was also a return to some semblance of what passes for normal around here; we ate dinner together and watched the rhythm dance competition.

It was kind of nice, actually.

I also reas Sara Paretsky’s introduction to a new edition of Dorothy B. Hughes’ Ride the Pink Horse. Hughes is one of the great crime writers of the past, probably best known for her In a Lonely Place, which is certainly stellar; but I’ve never been disappointed by a Hughes novel, just as I never have been with anything written by her contemporaries Charlotte Armstrong and Margaret Millar. I got a cheap ebook edition of Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, which I remember enjoying tremendously–I loved the early books in the series, but in one of them Gilman gave her a love interest whom she also married, and I felt the books weren’t really the same after that and I stopped reading them. I reread the first two pages of the book last night and was instantly charmed, just as I had been decades ago when I read it for the first time (I honestly don’t know why I picked up the first one in the first place), but the idea of the CIA hiring a widowed grandmother as a courier because no one would suspect the nice elderly American lady always has entertained me tremendously. It also occurred to me, as I set my iPad aside to come make dinner, that I am currently reading John LeCarré’s The Russia House..another novel of spies and international intrigue, and that I should perhaps read the two books back to back, comparing and contrasting them; spy thrillers coming from such vastly different perspectives…and voices.

Ah, my coffee tastes marvelous this morning. My brain is shaking off the vestigial fog from the sleep and my body is waking up. I am going to take this delicious cup of coffee with me to my easy chair, where I shall spend the next hour reading LeCarré, before doing the dishes and then venturing out to get my errands completed. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Dub-vulture

Sunday morning and the end of the weekend looms, which means I need to get up at six for the next three mornings. Groan. These last two mornings I’ve been a lag-a-bed; which of course delays Scooter’s morning insulin shot–which means I need to be certain I give it to him at the correct time tonight because I can’t given it to him later tomorrow. It looks lovely outside this morning–which is nice, since I am going to go to the gym in a moment, after finishing this and cleaning the kitchen, so I can come home and work on the book all day. I didn’t get as much done yesterday as perhaps I would have liked–I did manage to get a working timeline for the events of the book in place, something I didn’t do for Bury Me in Shadows (and my editor requested it in the notes she gave me) and as I began doing it, I realized how fucked up the timeline for the book actually was. Over the course of numerous drafts, the time of the book changed–originally, I had the book set over Homecoming weekend (why not give into every cliché of writing about high school, right?) and then, at some point, I casually did some research about the Kansas high school football season and, much to my own horror, discovered that the regular season generally ends around Halloween–I’d forgotten that it has to end earlier so it doesn’t overlap with basketball season (which is the most important sport in Kansas–always has been, always will be) unless your team goes to the actual play-offs. Yesterday I had to verify when the school semester starts, and double-checked the football season again, which was important. I had left it as Homecoming weekend but had to move it earlier into the season…and then realized in a much later draft that the story doesn’t work with that much time passing between the pivotal points of the story and Homecoming….so I realized I had to move it to the first game of the season (which makes the most sense) but I was also still going by my vague memory that my birthday in late August was always right before school starts….assuming the start of the school year hadn’t changed over the last forty years, which it obviously has; school starts in early to mid-August now; the first game of the season is inevitably either the Frida before or after Labor Day, depending on when the holiday falls, and that of course changed everything about the current timeline in the book–which will now have to be changed. There’s another pivotal event of the story that happens over the summer, and I’d planned to use the county fair as the backdrop for it, so I looked up when the Lyon County Fair is…and it’s right before the start of school–late July/early August–which again fucked with my timeline of the story until I realized I don’t have to have the fair take place when the real one I am fictionalizing does; and it’s a perfect timeline now, really; it makes so much sense for the county fair to happen, my main character’s family vacation to follow that, and for him to come back in time for the start of football season but missing the big kick-off event for the community: the bonfire, which is the night the event that serves as a catalyst for the story occurs. It means tweaking the story even more–and I still have things to add to it–and I am probably going to have to rewrite almost everything from Chapter Seventeen on, but that’s okay. I now know how to end the story, which means I have a shit ton of writing and revising to get done in the next ten days or so (since the deadline falls on the Thursday before Easter weekend, with Friday as a paid holiday, I may go ahead and take that final weekend to make sure everything is okay with it before turning it in). I have to get Bury Me in Shadows fixed in April, and I have some short stories I want to work on that month as well for upcoming deadlines. So May will be most likely when I start working on Chlorine–which means June will be when I start writing the first draft of the next Scotty; if I am able to stay on this schedule. Please God, let me stay on schedule.

So anyway, I am very pleased with what I was able to get done yesterday. When I get home from the gym today and get cleaned up, I am going to settle into my easy chair with the laptop and with Fleetwood Mac blaring on the home stereo–I made a wonderful playlist on Spotify Friday, which I will likely expand upon this morning–primarily adding every Fleetwood Mac album in order, from Fleetwood Mac thru Say You Will, with probably some solo work from the band members mixed in as well. Fleetwood Mac has really been helping me get inspired to write this past week or so; I’m glad I’ve rediscovered how much I love their music again (I never forget, I just don’t think about listening to them as much as I used to–an enormous mistake I will never make again); likewise I find listening to Taylor Swift while I am writing enormously inspirational as well; not sure what that’s all about, but whatever it is, I’ll take it. Music has always been an important part of my writing process–I’ve always loved music, and wished I had some musical talent of any kind–but alas, that was not to be. I generally do listen to music–I can remember back when I was writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine I used to put three Madonna CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle (The Immaculate Collection, Like a Prayer, and Ray of Light) while I was writing and then I would suddenly realize the music had stopped playing and I’d written a shit ton of words.

I never got around to reading The Russia House yesterday; maybe today I’ll be able to get some work done and spend some time with LeCarré. I did take eight boxes of books to the Latter Library to donate to their book sale, picked up my own mail, and then made groceries before coming home to put everything away and work on the book. I was tempted to watch the Snyder version of Justice League, but it’s four hour length is rather daunting; it’s definitely on queue for condom packing this week. We watched the SEC Gymnastics meet last night (LSU finished second, and just .125 out of first) and then the season finale of Servant, which remains as much a mystery as it was when we first started watching, but it’s done so well and it so fucking creepy and bizarre–the acting is also pinpoint sharp, and Lauren Ambrose certainly deserves at least an Emmy nomination for her complicated and crazy Dorothy Turner, for whom motherhood has proven both a tragedy on a Shakespearean level and an all consuming passion that drives her–and those who love her–down an insane path they never should have taken, and of course everything keeps spinning insanely out of control for everyone.

And of course there’s only one more weekend of me being a Festival widow, which I am really looking forward to. I miss Paul, and spending the evenings together watching our television programs and having dinner. Scooter misses having him around, too.

I did read a short story yesterday; from Nikki Dolson’s Love and Other Criminal Behavior, called “Georgie Ann.” It was marvelously delightful, dark and twisted and chilling; just what the doctor ordered:

Georgie Ann is dead. Her husband and all of our crowd around her coffin. They stand with their backs to use and their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. We, the dutiful spouses, black suited and Prada heeled, sit waiting for our cue to cry.

The casket is open. We’ve all done our viewing and we agree she looks great for a dead woman her age. She is ten years our senior. Was.

One of us says what we’re all thinking, “How much hairspray do you think they used? Her hair never held curls like that.”

A very stark, nasty opening the sets the mood, tone and attitude of the story very much into place: Georgie Ann wasn’t a very nice person, and her “crowd” didn’t like her very much. Our narrator certainly didn’t, and as she remembers Georgie Ann’s sins and conduct to her and all of their friends, the reader also begins to dislike Georgie Ann…and wonder how she wound up dead. This story actually reminds me very strongly of Liane Moriarty’s works, or Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, the little hurts and slights and tiny issues that grow into darker, bad things. “Georgie Ann” could very easily be one of those novels, exploring the complexities and competitions between a group of friends that turns into something darker, possibly criminal. Definitely looking forward to delving into this collection even further.

And on that note, tis time for me to start tidying up so I can head to the gym with a clear (relatively) conscious. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will catch you the next time.

Dracula’s Castle

Hey there, Saturday! Hope all is well with you, Constant Reader. Yesterday was a lovely day, really–I managed to get a lot done, made a Costco run, loaded all the boxes of books into the car to drop off at the library today, cleaned and organized, and even went through the books again to fill up two more boxes, which need to be loaded into the car this morning. The Latter Library no longer requires appointments to drop off books to donate for the library sale–provided you drop them off during the sale, which runs from 10-2 on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. The decluttering of the Lost Apartment is off to a great start; with a goal of cleaning out the storage attic and the storage space as well, preparatory to closing the storage space rental once and for all. I put on the new Fleetwood Mac playlist I made on Spotify and just went to town, and of course as I washed dishes, reorganized kitchen cabinets to make room for the new stuff I’d bought at Costco (and seriously, I am not going to have to buy jalapeños or Reynolds wrap for several years now; I also bought an insanely box of garbage bags; again, won’t have to buy them for months again), my mind was off being creative, which is one of the reasons I love cleaning and organizing while I am working on a book. I did think a lot of stuff through with the book–always important, as I am in the final stretch–and then moved on to other book ideas and short stories and so forth, the way I always do–unharnessing my creativity is always a lot of fun, to see where it goes–and this morning’s job, before going to get the mail, stop at the library, and possibly–just possibly–make groceries (I cannot decide whether I should get it out of the way today and just go to the gym tomorrow; or if I want to do the groceries and the gym on the same day). Once I am safely home from the errands I am going to work on the book some more, and possibly read some more of the John LeCarré book I started this past week, The Russia House, which I am really enjoying.

One of the more interesting things about doing a sweep of the books was, of course, the memories–I often will buys books at a conference written by other attending authors whom I’ve just met and listened to on panels, as well as those of my friends who are writers–but once I’ve read the book, there’s really no need to keep it. I love being surrounded by books; I love books and always have, and prefer to always be surrounded by them. There will always be more books, and I will always continue to buy more books than I will ever have the time to read–although I am remembering with much fondness the week we spent in Acapulco back in 2006, and all the reading I got done on the balcony listening to the waves crashing ashore, or the time we went to the tennis spa north of Tampa for a long weekend, so Paul could play tennis and take lessons while I stayed in the adorable rental apartment on the property, writing and reading. My dream is to eventually live somewhere that has a spare bedroom so I can have an office, and then of course put out the books; I would have bookcases in both my office and the living room so there would be books everywhere. I think the next thing I need for the apartment is a taller file cabinet; the small two drawer one I currently use isn’t enough, and while obviously I would eventually fill up a taller filing cabinet (there’s always so much paper around here) I will cross that bridge when I come to it.

Sigh. Someday.

It looks gray again outside, and it must be in the sixties because the air isn’t on. I don’t think it’s going to rain, there’s just a massive cloud cover blocking out the sun–not a bad thing, now that the trees are gone (I’m still bitter about the loss of the crepe myrtles)–and I am very curious to see how our new system handles the summer. I suspect it will be much more bearable downstairs now, and those little portable air conditioners I bought last year will no longer be of use (although I may use one next to the bed to help me sleep better), which isn’t a bad thing, really. My sleep last night wasn’t as deep as I would have liked; I woke up several times but was always able to go back to sleep. I’d love to have one night of deep, long-lasting unbroken sleep, but I do feel rested this morning and not at all sore from yesterday’s workout (which, again, I had to make myself do); if anything, I feel like I stretched perfectly and the weight lifting actually has made everything feel better, which is quite lovely, if I do say so myself. Paul will be at the office again today and tomorrow–this weekend is the Writer’s Retreat for the Tennessee Williams Festival–and then he only has next weekend’s Festival itself to get through, and then it’s over for the year and hopefully, next year will be in person–still stressful and a lot of work, but at least everything will be over the same weekend rather than spread out over three. I also realized part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from New Orleans lately has been a combination of two things: I no longer work at the office on Frenchmen Street in the Marigny, so I don’t drive thru the Quarter anymore on my way to and from work, and I’ve not really had much of an opportunity to enjoy the Festivals in the past three years. I was on a tight deadline the last time the Festival was an in-person event, so I didn’t get to stay down there for the entire weekend, plus I had to come home to tend to Scooter. I am still holding out hope that Bouchercon will happen this year…depends on how infections go this summer, I imagine.

I am also thinking I need to do some exploring. Maybe once this book is finished…

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you tomorrow.

Crystal

Friday!

It’s gray outside this morning; and the temperature has dropped since the rain of the other night. Yesterday’s high was in the 60’s; today’s apparently will be as well. I don’t mind this–surprise!–because I was a bit concerned about it already climbing into the 80’s in March already, which didn’t bode well for this coming summer. So this cool break is a bit nice–and it’s also nice to not go get into my car and start sweating because the sun’s been shining into it all day plus it being hot outside. Yesterday was also a bit nice because 1) Paul was able to get his second vaccination for COVID-19, and I spent the day making condom packs and doing other, various work-at-home duties. As my fingers and hands worked through the condom packing, I spent some time thinking through what I need to do with the book this weekend, which is always helpful. I also got caught cup with this week’s episode of Superman and Lois, which I am greatly enjoying; the television adaptations of DC Comics continues to outshine the film universe. I am debating where I want to spend four hours watching the Snyder cut of Justice League–four hours is a big commitment–and I also discovered, browsing through my many streaming apps last night, any number of films to add to my watchlists.

(Aside–they are hanging new gutters on the house next door and I can see them going up and down those shaky, rickety extension ladders–whose bases are braced against the wooden fence between the properties. As they go up and down the ladders shake–which is one of many reasons I will never climb an extension ladder–and watching the corresponding movements/shaking of the wooden planks in the fence. I should also add that Michael, our neighbor to the front with his partner John, has retired from his job and has started working on the flower beds that run alongside the fence, which have been disaster areas ever since Katrina, and is doing a very nice job making them look pleasant and appealing and all cleaned up.)

As I looked through HBO MAX looking for something to watch for the rest of my condom packing, I came across Inside Daisy Clover, a film from the mid-60’s that is supposedly one of those “gritty insider looks at Hollywood”. It stars include Natalie Wood, Christopher Plummer, and Robert Redford; and I vaguely remembered Ruth Gordon was nominated for an Oscar for it. I also had a vague memory that the character of Daisy Clover was, in theory, based on Judy Garland, so I thought what the hell and queued it up. This morning, I cannot believe I sat through the entire thing–it was really that dreadful and pointless–and it really was squirm-worthy. When the story opens Daisy is fifteen, leaving in a trailer along the boardwalk at Angel Beach with her not-quite-all-there mother (Ruth Gordon) who has a great natural singing voice, records it and sends it to Swan Studios. Daisy has basically, for all intents and purposes, been raised by wolves, has no manners or filters, and while she is quite pretty beneath the grime and strange haircut (those eyes! Natalie Wood was so beautiful), her getting signed by Swan Studios and being groomed by studio head (Ray Swan–played to odious perfection by Plummer) seems a bit of a stretch. She is marketed as “America’s Little Valentine” and immediately becomes hugely successful. She also becomes involved with another star, Wade Lewis (Redford), who is heir to a vast fortune and a completely one-dimensional cad–which becomes really creepy on two levels–first, she’s supposedly a teenager (Wood was at least in her late twenties by then) and Wade is in his late twenties/early thirties, which is creepy to say the least (studio head Swan refers to her as “America’s Little Jailbait” in one cringeworthy scenes), and then, after he deflowers her, is ordered to marry her or be arrested for corruption of a minor. (The second creepy part is Wade lives on a sailboat anchored just off the coast; seeing Wood on a sailboat or heading to and from one on a motorboat, given how she died, is foreboding and squirm-inducing) They do marry; they spend their wedding night in a motel in some remote location in Arizona, and when she wakes up he’s left her there without a word, stranded. After her mother’s death, she has a breakdown of sorts on set and is unable to continue working, which delays the picture and puts her at odds with the studio–which has spoiled and indulged her so far, but not anymore. The movie’s ending is neither a conclusion or an actual resolution, not a real end; it just….ends. We don’t know what Daisy is going to do–but again, it’s cringy. Inside Daisy Clover could have been a chilling and realistic exposé of the old studio system; it could have shown how an innocent but strong-minded young woman is corrupted and changed and turned into a monster by the system because of her talent–the film does none of these. Daisy is still the same impulsive, emotionally needy mess at the end that she was at the beginning, and such an incredible waste of Wood’s talent. She plays the character without any depth or interior; she plays her like an uncontrollable brat, and the performance doesn’t really ring true. All I kept thinking as I watched was that Wood was miscast–the lip-syncing was especially bad–and about half-way through I thought, this script is terrible and the direction equally bad, but Liza Minnelli could have killed in this part; it was perfect for her. The truth was the title was a misnomer–at the end of the movie we’ve not gotten “inside” Daisy at all but rather skimmed over the surface….and to make matters worse, by the end of the movie she is only seventeen.

America’s little jailbait, indeed.

It is a shame; Hollywood did some amazing films that exposed stardom and the Hollywood machine quite expertly; think of Sunset Boulevard and even though it was set in the theater world, All About Eve. Quite frankly, both book and movie of Valley of the Dolls handled the same subject–the coddling of talent resulting in the creation of a monster–much better.

I started reading The Russia House by John LeCarré yesterday while I waited for Paul to get his shot and then wait to make sure there was no reaction to it; it’s quite good–the writing in particular and voice are exceptional; it’s also world-weary, snarky and funny–and am really looking forward to getting back to spend some more time with it. It will depend on how the work goes, of course; my priority around my day job is going to have to be the book until April 1. (although…April 1 is the day before Good Friday and in theory, I could use that three-day weekend to finish the push to finishing the book; or I could finish on time and spend that weekend relaxing and preparing myself for the next project on the list)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you tomorrow morning.

Don’t Do It

And now it’s Thursday, a work-at-home-make-condom-packs-while-watching-movies-or-bingeing-something-on-television kind of day. I also get to. take Paul in for his second vaccination today (huzzah!) and then this evening will undoubtedly work on the book some more–and possibly squeeze in a trip to the gym. Last night’s weather was horrible–it was windy all day, and then around seven o’clock last night all hell broke loose: high winds, extreme thunder and lightning, and a downpour that had me worried about the street flooding. But the sky is clear of clouds this morning and the sun is shining–I haven’t checked the temperature yet, but it looks pleasant outside, if not outright gorgeous.

I finished the first final run through of the book last night, and as I did, I knew exactly how to end it all and tie all the loose strings together and so forth. It’s going to mean more writing–but I knew that going into it–but the primary problem was the structure of the book, really, and last night I figured it out. A mere two weeks before the final deadline, but better late than never, and I am kind of excited again to whip it all together and into shape. I got rid of most of the repetitions–some of which were actually rather good, so I am going to have to decide this weekend whether to leave things as they are or switch in some of the repetitive stuff for the stuff I left in. I think it’s going to actually turn out to be what I had envisioned from the very beginning….which is very cool. The nice thing is that I have about ninety thousand words already; will probably have to add about five thousand more, while trimming and revising some of the rest out. The book kind of goes off the rails somewhere around chapter seventeen, which is where the reworking is going to really have to start, and there are also going to be some brief inserts from a podcast that goes between some of the chapters, to give the backstory and also keep the overall narrative moving. I’ve never written anything like #shedeservedit before, either subject matter or structurally, so this is a big leap for me….and why not take a big experimental leap before working on Chlorine?

I am taking my library sale copy of John LeCarré’s The Russia House with me to Paul’s vaccination appointment; I am rather excited about reading another LeCarré, to be honest. I thought The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was exceptional and extraordinary, and from looking at the first page of The Russia House, it looks like this one will be as well. I’ve not really been doing much reading lately; when I am in the weeds with a book it’s not easy for me to read anything else as my mind is too distracted to focus much on someone else’s narrative, and so when I get this novel wrapped up and finish The Russia House I expect to be doing a lot of reading in April–and I have some short stories I want to get worked on while prepping to write Chlorine in April. I also need to call the library to make an appointment to drop off this first batch of donated books to them–so I can start boxing up the next batch of them as well. I also want to start making the long-overdue Scotty Bible in April–I can work on that while I am prepping Chlorine and working on these short stories (I really want to get some more things out on submission, the sooner the better)–so that I will really be prepared to start working on Twelfth Night Knavery once I have the first draft of Chlorine banged out.

I’m actually kind of excited about all this writing to come, if a little daunted. I will inevitably, of course, have lazy moments where I will simply blow everything off, but again…that’s kind of inevitable. I slept so well last night I didn’t want to get up out of bed this morning, but I have simply too much to do to be a lag-a-bed this morning. I’m going to be a Festival widow for the rest of this week and all of next, and then I’ll have to get back into a routine of making dinner every night and watching something with Paul–and there’s plenty for us to watch. I have to get caught up on Superman and Lois, which I am really enjoying, and of course Paul and I started the third season of Mr. Mercedes–but are only able to catch an episode here and there whenever he gets home early enough since I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday thru Tuesday nights. I am also thinking about treating myself to phô from the Vietnamese café next door to the Cat Practice at some point over this weekend as well–it’s been a hot minute since I’ve had some good phô, and I just say that my favorite place to get it in Midcity–Namese–has closed permanently, which is a shame. (note to self: you need to write about the Vietnamese community of New Orleans at some point) But I am really really looking forward to a big bowl of phô; I love me some noodles. I’m also thinking about making Swedish meatballs again this weekend. We shall see, I suppose. I may put off the Costco run until next weekend; while there are definitely some things I need from there, there’s nothing really pressing. (I was also thinking last night that I need to stop thinking about going to Costco in terms of periodic visits where I spend a shit ton of money; there’s no reason I can’t, for example, make a short trip to get a few things on weeknights after I get off work, for example; I-10 makes it insanely easy to get there from the office. Rethink things, Greg, rather than remaining in stasis and doing things a certain way simply because you’ve always done them that way.)

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines. Them condoms aren’t going to pack themselves, for example, and much as I want everything to simply take care of itself without my assistance, that’s not terribly likely. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday.

Californian Grass

I really didn’t want to get up this morning–the bed was incredibly comfortable and loving–but Scooter needs an insulin shot every twelve hours so I hauled myself out of bed to make sure he got his shot when he needed it, and then I was up, so I stayed up. I am feeling incredibly lazy this morning as well–never a good sign, ever–particularly as I have so much to get done today. Our HVAC system was acting strangely yesterday–it didn’t automatically turn off the way it was supposed to when it reached a set temperature; at one point it was 60 degrees downstairs, so I turned it off. This morning it doesn’t feel like it’s freezing downstairs–and that’s not the hot coffee’s effect, either–so maybe it’s working the way it should now. The electricians who installed it are coming by today, so I intend to get some more information about how it works from them–I must have been doing something wrong yesterday, I would imagine. I just looked–the current temperature is what it is set to and it’s not on–so I think maybe I didn’t have it set on fan auto but just on fan, which I think means it will just run and run and run.

Yesterday was a thrilling day of data entry and condom packing; I got the date entry done and so this morning will be reading up on things on-line about developments and so forth with the COVID-19 virus before repairing to my easy chair to make condom packs and watch movies or binge a show (I still am looking at you, Dare Me, for a rewatch all at one time to see what I missed watching weekly). Yesterday I watched Friday the 13th again, and then, as though to punish myself further, I watched Friday the 13th Part II for the first time (I grimly was considering watching the entire series, but I really don’t think I have the patience or fortitude to do so). As I watched the original again, I was struck–just as I was the first time I watched it, right around the time we got our first “smart” television–how cheaply it was made. The entire thing looked like it was filmed with a camcorder as a high school class project (but I don’t think camcorders were readily available when the film was made), the writing and dialogue is terrible, and about the only thing it has going for it is a very young Kevin Bacon (straight from his role on Guiding Light) in a bikini and having a sex scene before getting killed by an arrow coming up from below the bed through the mattress. I always forgot Bacon was in the first one of these…but I decided to watch the second because–well, I still had condom packs to make and Prime suggested it, so here we are. You can tell the first film was an unexpected hit out of nowhere, because while the acting and writing in the sequel are equally as bad as the original–you can see they had a bigger budget. Better lighting, better sets, better cinematography–all the technical aspects of making a film were greatly improved from the first film….if the acting and writing remained as bad and trite and one-dimensional. The story also left something to the imagination–how did Jason survive in the lake all those years? Is he a demon or a ghost or what? It was also interesting to see he hadn’t yet donned the hockey mask yet–apparently, this was added in the third film, which I may watch at some point but certainly don’t have the stomach for today. The cast of the second was also larger than the first, and it also never explains why Camp Crystal Lake becomes, after the last string of murders, a place for camp counselors to go get training for their jobs, and it doesn’t even look it was filmed in the same place…although the nearby town seems to be the same place, and some of the townies from the first movie carry over to the second. I never got into the got slasher movies of the time when they were popular when I was a teen–I later came to appreciate Halloween and Nightmare on Elm Street–but these films were also a bridge from the almost infantile, cheesy teen-targeted movies of the 60’s and 70’s to the teen films of the 1980’s, when John Hughes basically flipped the script on what a teen movie looked like.

Saints and Sinners begins today (well, it actually launched last night) and there’s all kinds of lovely things–panels and so forth–over the course of the weekend that are completely free to watch on the Tennessee Williams Festival’s Youtube channel. Check it out! (I’d post a link to the actual page, but there doesn’t seem to be one, which is odd….here is the link to the opening video, which will take you to the page. ) I am doing a panel on Sunday at 3 CST (don’t forget we lose an hour overnight on Sunday), talking with four women mystery writers (Carrie Smith, Cheryl Head, Carsen Taite, and J. M. Redmann) about crime and romance and inspiration and why do we all write about crimes and justice–or the lack thereof. It’s weird that both it and the Tennessee Williams Festival are both virtual this year; that’s two years in a row I’ve not spent the long weekend living at the Hotel Monteleone in the Tennessee Williams Suite (I look forward to that every year). Next year, though….

I picked up a library book yesterday: Eric Arnesen’s Waterfront Workers of New Orleans: Race, Class, and Politics 1863-1923. Yes, it’s more research into New Orleans history, but that’s a terrific time period to cover, and if I am going to continue to take inspiration from New Orleans history as well as write historical fiction set here, I need to know more about it. My current knowledge of New Orleans and its history is but a mere drop in the Lake Pontchartrain of fact and information that exists out there–I have yet to even get down to the Quarter to use any of the archives and collections housed there–and I haven’t even read all the New Orleans histories I have here in the Lost Apartment…but I am getting there. I also saw a sign that the Friends of the Library were having a book sale, so I walked back to the carriage house of the Ladder Library, and browsed briefly, conscious of time and that I was on my half hour lunch break. I found a nice hardcover copy of John LeCarre’s The Russia House and picked it up, along with a couple of better copies of several Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries to replace worn copies in my collection (for those who like to keep track of these things, the Nancy Drews were The Clue in the Diary, The Haunted Showboat, and Mystery of Crocodile Island; the Hardy Boys were The Secret of the Old Mill, The Twisted Claw, and The Hardy Boys Detective Handbook, which I’ve never had a copy of and was delighted to pick one up in such good condition, practically mint!), and then as I was rather leaving and feeling rather self-satisfied, I glanced at the “free book giveaway” table, and saw one of the few Elizabeth Peters novels I’ve never read, The Camelot Caper, and believe you me I grabbed it and kept walking. I also learned that I can donate books to the library for their sales (intellectually I knew this in the back of my brain; but only recently have I started seriously thinking about pairing down the vast library I own, and it was good to not only get this confirmation but to learn how the process works–baby steps, Constant Reader, baby steps).

And if you’re ever In New Orleans and are a bibliophile, I do recommend the Ladder Library, housed in what used to be the Ladder estate. The library and its grounds are simply beautiful, and I kind of want to set a story of some kind there.

And on that note, I’m heading into the spice mines. Maybe your Friday be lovely and fulfilling, Constant Reader.