For Your Own Good

As Monday rolls around again–huzzah?–and we’re in the last week of April. These last two months have certainly lasted forever, haven’t they? Christ the Lord.

I did something really strange yesterday morning; or rather, more strange than my usual, which is pretty strange. I started writing another Scotty book. It may come to nothing, but ever since the title Quarter Quarantine Quadrille popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, my mind has toyed with the thought over and over again. And since the intro to every Scotty book opens with an homage to the opening of a truly famous classic novel (Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Lolita, Peyton Place, to name but a few) the thought crossed my mind that I could do an homage to “The Masque of the Red Death”, so I looked it up on-line and cut and pasted the first two paragraphs into a word document, and started playing with it a bit. I’ll probably look at the openings of other pandemic-related fictions, like Death in Venice or The Plague before finally deciding on which one to actually use–or even if a Scotty quarantine book is something the world wants or needs–but the actual opening of the first chapter came to me on Saturday night, while we watched that dreadful Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary movie: as I watched a fight scene where Hemsworth’s character took on basically a team of soldiers by himself and killed them all in less than two minutes, Paul said, “I wonder how long this script was? Two pages of dialogue, maybe?” and I thought to myself, this is probably what a Colin novel would have to look like, and from there I leapt to Scotty, Frank and Taylor sitting around during quarantine, watching a movie like this, and Taylor saying, idly, “This is what Colin actually does when he’s not here, isn’t it?” and then forces the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few books–especially in the last one–about morality and ethics and how do Scotty and Frank and the family look past what Colin’s source of income is? And since I signaled at the end of the last book that Colin was on his way home…and it did come up, during the book, that being involved with Colin makes them targets…that maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with that in a Scotty book. So I wrote the first few paragraphs of a first chapter, where exactly that happens: they are watching an action/adventure movie when Taylor makes the observation, and the awkward conversation that ensues from it.

It might be a false start and a dead end–Lord knows I already have enough on my plate without trying to write another Scotty book on top of it–but…stranger things have happened.

I also reviewed my Sherlock Holmes story, which was actually much better than I ever dared dream; revising it and making it stronger will not actually be the odious chore I feared it might. On the other hand, I cannot be certain that the editor will feel much the same way about the story as I do, so it must be honed and refined and polished till it gleams in the light of day. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the end….) But I did a much  better job than I thought I had–yes, I am my own worst critic, this is absolutely true–and this pleases me to no end. The story itself works, and just needs a little bit of tweaking the language and an added sentence here, a subtracted sentence there…yes, I am very pleased with it. Once I get it in shape, off it goes–and I think my other one that’s due this week only needs a tweak here and there as well.

HUZZAH!

Always good news.

We also watched Hustlers–didn’t care too much for it; sorry, felt like it could have been much better–and then the first episode of the Penny Dreadful spin-off, City of Angels, set in Los Angeles in 1938, and I liked it. A lot. It has a very noir sensibility, crossed over with some supernatural/horror elements, and it addresses not only race but Nazi infiltration into Los Angeles in that year–and pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, but I thought it was terrific, and look forward to watching the rest of the season. Nathan Lane is very well cast as a hardboiled LA homicide detective, and you can never go wrong with Natalie Dormer. I then watched–while Paul got ready for the week–watched a historical mini-series on Starz called Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, I think a multi-language production? Sometimes it sounded like French, sometimes like German, sometimes like something in between; perhaps Flemish? Anyway, it’s quite well-produced and this royal couple never gets the attention they quite deserve, given their marriage resulted in nearly five hundred years of wars between France and Germany (through its many iterations, from Holy Roman Empire to Austrian Empire to German Empire). The fifteenth century is an interesting time; one of blood feuds between branches of both the royal families of England (the Wars of the Roses) and the French Valois (the Orleans and Burgundy branches, respectively; ending with the Burgundy branch being absorbed into the House of Habsburg…so yeah), and a tighter unifying of the Holy Roman Empire into a hereditary throne for the Habsburgs. It was also the century in which Spain was freed of Moorish occupation and unified into Spain again–and once again, the Habsburgs wound up getting involved there and absorbing another throne. I’d known about the series for quite some time, and was glad to see it finally available to stream on one of my (too many) services. Yay, HISTORY!!!

I woke up feeling tired this morning, so I decided to make today another vacation day, stay home and get some things done around the house. I may venture out to the grocery store, but then again, I may not; those trips always seem to exhaust me, and why push it if I don’t have to? I have to be jealously guard my health these days, and my energy–bearing in mind the subconscious depression and angst can also be wearing down my body fairly regularly; another post-Katrina lesson–sometimes you’re not even aware of the depression bogging you down until it actually does. I spent the weekend pretty much in a complete state of exhaustion; it was very odd, and limiting in what I was able to work on and get done. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted I reread all these in-progress short stories that have been languishing in my “edit” folder for so long–so much so that I actually got ideas on how to fix and rewrite and revise them all; there may be a massive flurry of submissions coming to the few publications out there that take crime stories–but the lack of energy I experienced for the majority of the weekend wasn’t very helpful, really.

And it seems to have carried over into today as well. Yay? Not really.

But I have about a million emails to reply to, several more to initiate, and then I’ going to probably head first into the spice mines, where I need to stay for most of the day. Since I am taking a vacation day, I need to make it worthwhile.

And so, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely and productive Monday, Constant Reader. I know I hope to.

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Hey Good Lookin’

Hey there, Sunday morning, how’s about you doin’?

Well, we’re still here, aren’t we? That’s something to be grateful for, I suppose; I don’t know what horrors today might still have in store for me, or what fresh new ones await on the morrow, but for now–I am okay, we’re all okay, and it’s always okay to take a step back away when you need to because it can be so overwhelming.

Yesterday was lovely. I slept in, I read some emails, I did laundry and cleaned the kitchen. I organized the stuff on the cabinets on the stove-side (downtown in New Orleans) of the kitchen; I had a protein shake for lunch and peanut butter toast for breakfast. I worked on the laundry room shelves, and reorganized the bathroom vanity. I read Daphne du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” which was both creepy and charming at the same time–which only makes it creepier, doesn’t it? I made a shopping list for the next time I go to Costco. I made progress on getting organized, despite the on-going irritations with my computer which finally resulted in it doing a deep crash, but now it seems to be working just beautifully. I didn’t lose anything but time, and well–the one thing to come out of the dramatic shift and change in my work schedule is eight hour days, five days a week–and despite getting up early and having to go to bed early as a result–I find myself with more free time than I had before. There’s no sports to watch on television; this weekend I would have been running around getting exhausted (but having a great time doing it) at TWFest/S&S. That’s correct; that is what would have been the normal madness of life I associate with this time of year–part of the reason, I suspect, I feel so unmoored most of the time; this is anything but a normal time–and I also know, from past experience,  that normal is going to be different from now on. There’s no going back to December 2019, when we were all looking forward to the end of an annus horribilis; we had no idea what horrors our eldritch reality had waiting in store for us in 2020.

An innocent, more carefree and hopeful time. Hard to believe it’s only been three months since Christmas.

But yesterday I stayed away from the news and scrolled past it on the rare occasions I ventured into the Internet yesterday; it made for a much more relaxed day, and I even refused to worry about how many bad things might be happening while I wasn’t paying attention–and then realized with luck, some of the stuff that probably shot by in our daily dystopian news reality, the stuff I’ll never go back and get caught up on, hopefully won’t be necessary. The only news I want to hear at this point is that this whole situation has miraculously resolved itself and everything is back to normal, and if that were the news, I’ll find out soon enough, right?

Right.

But it was lovely to feel like it was my life again, and a normal Saturday. I could feel the tension slowly easing itself out of my shoulder blades as the day passed and I grew more and more relaxed, as the ease of repetition and mindless work put me into a more zen-like state, where my mind could release itself from its bonds and be creative; think creatively and solve problems and get organized; and of course the memories from AFTER Katrina, of going to the gym to develop a routine for every day and sticking to that; setting a routine of things to do to keep me occupied, my mind focused elsewhere than what the reality was outside my front door. None of this is possible now, of course; but I am going to start stretching every morning so at least I am doing something to take care of my body. But I am trying to adapt and change to a new system, a new normal, a new reality; and finding time to write–which I am going to do today–goes a very long way to reestablishing a new reality for me.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, and I already miss it. It’s quite an excellent show; and as I mentioned already, Kiernan Shipka is perfectly cast as Sabrina (I also kept thinking, as I watched, what a good Nancy Drew she would make); in fact, everyone is pretty much perfectly cast, and the high production quality of the show is something to see indeed. After we finished Sabrina, we started with the third season of Ozark, and if you haven’t been watching that show, you need to start from the beginning and go to binge-heaven. Cleverly written, beautifully directed and filmed, and remarkably cast–Julia Garner as Ruth is a particular stand-out–Ozark is one of the best shows of the last few years. And then we moved on to Tiger King, the docu-series everyone is talking about, and wow–what an interesting show. The funny thing is I had always wanted to write a book built around the Big Cat Rescue organization run by Carole Baskin; I had a base idea formed around it, and when Paul and I stayed at the Saddlebrook Tennis Resort north of Tampa a few years ago (probably more than a few years ago; I think it was 2012? 2013? Time holds little to no meaning to me anymore) I had considered contacting them to do some research while we were there. The name of the book was going to be The Stripes of the Tiger and I actually came across my file with notes a few days ago when I was organizing and filing in the kitchen. (I often have ideas that hold my interest for a little while and then I see another new, shiny object and move on)

“Ganymede” was a chilling and charming story, as I mentioned earlier–and I can see why it’s compared to “Death in Venice’; there are definitely similarities under the surface of the stories; an older tourist comes to Venice on holiday, becomes obsessed with a much younger, extremely beautiful teenager, and the end result of both stories is death. The Mann story, of course, ends with the death of the tourist from a cholera outbreak; the du Maurier ends very differently. Naturally, I prefer the du Maurier story, which is dark and twisted, and I’ll say it if no one else wants to make the comparison: “Ganymede” also has a lot in common with Lolita. I’ll have more to say about “Ganymede,” but I think I’ll save that for a dedicated post.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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The Chair

I finished reading “Death in Venice” last night, and it occurs to me that I might have been better served rereading “The Masque of the Red Death,” actually. I’ve not read it since high school, and yet it is always there, somehow, in a corner of my mind. There have been several instances, for example, in my life where the story has come to me as the perfect analogy for whatever was going on or whatever situation I found myself in; and its underlying theme–there is no escape from death–is one I’ve always wanted to write about, but whether to do it in fiction or non-fiction form; that is, as ever, the question.

Don’t get me wrong, “Death in Venice” was perfectly fine, and I can see why it is so acclaimed. It didn’t really connect with me as much as I would have liked to engage with it, but Mann’s style is so formal and distant that the characters are kept from the reader as a sort of arm’s length; it’s a very distinct picture of a particular character and I got a very strong sense of who he is from it–but he isn’t someone who particularly interests me very much, nor is the strange obsession with the beautiful young Polish boy Tadzio–absolutely pure, of course, and entirely intellectual; nor sordid thoughts of lust or physical desire to be found on that particular beach on the Lido in Venice, interesting. The extraordinary passivity of the man as he is subconsciously aware that his inability to leave Venice because he must continue to look at, follow, and stalk this teenager will inevitably lead to his death was something I never really quite grasped or understood; perhaps, as ever, I am too stupid to understand the big underlying point of the story, with my low peasant tastes and faulty, not classically educated intellect. It was sort of a Lolita-esque type story, and I think my tastes are too honed to favor writers like du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith to not expect there to be some dark noir twist to it at the end, and to be disappointed to not find it there. (I also thought the whole part of him having his hair dyed and his face painted wasn’t really anything to do with trying to look younger or because Tadzio made him care about his appearance more, so much as it was like getting the corpse ready for the viewing; but your mileage, as always, might vary.)

It has been a long, trying week, and like everyone, I am trying to muddle through the best I can using a combination of judicious amounts of alcohol and prescription medication. I love my day job (although I will now and forever always reserve the right to be highly annoyed by it from time to time), but even under the best of circumstances, it can be emotionally and mentally exhausting–and when you’re both emotionally and mentally exhausted, you feel that way physically as well. I find myself having to force myself to do normal, every day routine things; putting the dishes away seems like an unconquerable chore and when it’s finished, I need to sit for a bit. I watch the clock every night dreading the inevitable time I have to go to bed–because then I have to wake up to what has been almost consistently worse news every morning since before Carnival started, and somehow pull myself together to go to work. I also know that I’m lucky to have a job to go to every day, and I am hopeful I’ll remain lucky.  But…my primary whine now is that I have to get up at six to be at work every day–yesterday, today, and Friday, at any rate–and that just is too early for me to be completely functional. But it beats the twelve hours days I usually put in when I get up this early, I suppose.

Today my goal is to get through most of my emails and try to get some things settled; as much as I can, at any rate, and make some decisions about things I have to make decisions on. Maybe tonight I can get some writing done; if not, I am going to finish reading du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” and reflect on the influence/effect of Venice on not only her two stories (including “Don’t Look Now”, which i reread this past weekend) but on “Death in Venice,” as well as whether I can see influences of the Mann story on her two stories on death in Venice. It’s an intellectual challenge of the sort I used to rather enjoy; the kind of essay and/or article I love to write that no one wants to publish or see from me. (And maybe I can find a copy of the “The Masque of the Red Death” somewhere on line free to download; all of Poe’s work is in the public domain, so it shouldn’t be difficult to locate, frankly.)

At some point I also need to get to work on some of these short stories and the Secret Project again, but who knows when that time will present itself again? I find myself so tired when I get home from the office–at least yesterday, and certainly those days of last week when I went in rather than working from home–and this getting up so goddamned early is also a challenge for me, to not be tired when I get home; although it is rather lovely to get home so quickly, regardless of the time of day.

Last night we continued with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is truly so much better than I ever dared to hope. It did occur to me last night, as we watched two episodes back-to-back, that the show is following the same trajectory as both Dark Shadows and True Blood–a small town with all the typical dysfunction any soap viewer knows to expect from a show centered in a small town; and how the supernatural aspects begin to amp up in an accelerated fashion once the show actually begins. Dark Shadows brought forth first ghosts and then a phoenix; after that came the vampire and the flood gates opened. Likewise, on True Blood, once Bill the vampire showed up, the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps began the epicenter of all kinds of crazy and bizarre supernatural events and creatures. I understand the necessity of it all, but once you go so far, there’s really no dialing it back. I’m glad they decided to send Sabrina to the witch school and leave her traditional school; by embracing the witch half of DNA and signing her name to the Book of the Beast it defied the way these types of shows usually go, with the mortal half always holding sway over the witch half, and not using her powers, etc. etc. etc.–which has always felt…contrived to me; after all, if Darren had no problem with Samantha being a witch and using her powers, 90% of the plots of Bewitched wouldn’t have been possible. (More on that later–and the implicit sexism of that show, which really needs to be explored.) But we’re enjoying Sabrina, and hoping that it doesn’t eventually–as these shows always, inevitably do–“jump the shark”–which is why we finally stopped watching Supernatural a few years ago (although we still love the show and remember it fondly; we have no desire to go back and watch the last few seasons).

And on that note I now have to go get ready for another day in the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, as much as you can.

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Tonight She Comes

Reality television.

I started watching in back in the original days of The Real World on MTV; the social experiment of picking vastly different young people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, to see whether or not they can learn from each other and grow; or simply clash and create drama for the cameras. I enjoyed watching, I’m not going to lie–I didn’t lose interest until later seasons, when it became all about the kids getting drunk and hooking up and so forth. But the influence of The Real World–and its sister show, Road Rules–on reality television is unmistakable.

I’ve stuck my toe in the water with several reality shows–I used to be completely addicted to Project Runway, until it left Bravo for Lifetime and I lost interest–and the same with RuPaul’s Drag Race–after the Adore/Bianca/Courtney season I didn’t see how it could be anything other than a disappointment going forward so I stopped (although I did tune in for the glory that was RPD All-Stars Season Two), but I never got into Survivor or The Bachelor or any of the others. But I do watch the Real Housewives–New York is, without question, the gold standard, with Atlanta a close second with Beverly Hills trailing them both substantially; I can’t with Potomac, Orange County, and Dallas. 

I also really enjoyed the first season of Lifetime’ UnReal, but got behind on Season 2, heard bad things, and so never picked it back up again.

My love of (some of) the Housewives shows has resulted in my winding up on two Housewives related panels over the years at Bouchercon (Albany and New Orleans, to be precise), which were enormously fun; and I have also managed to observe what a cultural phenomenon these shows have become. There are recaps everywhere all over the Internet; there’s the Bravo website itself; and these women are often sprawled all over the tabloids I see while in line at the grocery store. (And no, I have only ever watched about twenty minutes of a Kardashian show and it was so horrible I never went back. More power to you if you’re a fan, but they are just not for me.

I even wrote a very short book–which is no longer available anywhere–based on the filming of such a show in New Orleans; it was pulled from availability primarily because I was never truly satisfied or happy with it. I wrote it very quickly in a window between deadlines and never felt I was able to explore all the things, the issues, with reality television that I wanted to with it. And yes, I decided to use that same backstory–a Real Housewives type show filmed in New Orleans–to write the new Scotty book because 1) it’s a great idea and 2) since I am writing off dead-line I can do it the way I want to and hopefully say the things I wanted to say in the first. Some of the original elements of the story I used before still exist in this Scotty book, but there’s a lot of changes I’ve made so it’s not the same story. The draft is very very rough, and since I’ve finished it and put it aside I’ve had a lot of great ideas for it; fixes and changes and so forth.

I think it might be the best Scotty yet, and it’s certainly the most complicated.

I started reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister yesterday, and before I knew what happened most of the afternoon was gone and I was about half-way through. Her book is also built around a reality television show, and boy, is this book biting. I loved her debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, and this one is just as good. You’ll get a full report, Constant Reader, when I finish it.

Next up for the Short Story Project: “Don’t Walk in Front of Me” by Sarah Weinman, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

I wanted honest work and got it at Pern’s. A Jewish bookstore is a strange place to work for a guy like me, but I didn’t have much choice; a month of job hunting left me frustrated and ready to break things, and the ad stuck on the store’s main window was as close to salvation as I could get.

Thus Sam–we were on a first-name basis from the beginning–was very particular about which items I could handle and which I couldn’t (“Anything with God’s name on it, leave it to me”), he left me to my own devices when it came to  handling teh cash register, stocking the books, and helping out customers. I hadn’t know much at all about Judaism, but I sure learned fast.

When I told my mother where I was working, she was understandably confused, but got over it quickly enough. I had a job, and a pretty decent one, and that was what mattered to her most.

“I worried about you, Danny, the whole time you were incarcerated. She articulated each syllable, just as she did every time she used the word. Which was a lot, because my mother adored big words. It was her way of showing how much more educated she was than the rest of the mamas in Little Italy.

Sarah Weinman is a fine short story writer; her stories in Lawrence Block’s stories-inspired-by-art are two of my favorites. Her upcoming study of the kidnapping case that inspired Lolita, The Real Lolita, will be out this fall and I can’t wait to dig into it. This story is another one of her little gems: a guy with a criminal past takes the only job he can get, and slowly but inexorably gets drawn into trying to help his boss solve a personal problem, and how things get out of hand from there. Brava, Sarah! WRITE MORE SHORT STORIES.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Flashdance…What a Feeling

Tuesday! I finished the second draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday; I think the ending still needs some work, so I am going to let it sit for a while longer; maybe look at it again next weekend. I also got started on the prologue for the next Scotty, Crescent City Charade, but I think that was merely procrastination to keep me away from line editing. This time, I am making the first paragraphs of the prologue a play on Nabokov’s opening for Lolita, but am not entirely sure that will not change; I was also thinking The Great Gatsby would be a good, maybe better, fit. I also spent some time reading Lyndsay Faye’s The Gods of Gotham, which is so fucking good I want to live inside its pages.

Which is pretty damned good, quite frankly.

I had severe back pain yesterday; last night I treated it with Ben-Gay and a heating pad, and that seemed to fix it. This morning there’s still some pain and tightness, so I am using the heating pad again as well as slathering my back with Ben-Gay. I’m not sure if I strained my back muscles during my Saturday workout, or if they’ve simply tightened up from being stretched before the workout; which is irritating. If they’ve simply tightened up, then I should stretch them again–but if they’re strained, I don’t want to make it worse.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Looks like I’ll be bringing the heating pad to the office with me. The only thing I truly hate about getting older is the aches and pains, along with the loss of energy. It is amazing what a difference heat can make to sore muscles, though. As I’ve sat here with the heating pad against my back while I type, my back feels better. So weird. So, so weird.

Which makes me tend to think it isn’t a strain…oy.

All right, I’m heading back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you:

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