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!

Lay Your Hands on Me

I managed to get all the errands done yesterday, and didn’t feel exhausted until I was in the process of putting away all the groceries and things. I went to both the grocery store and Costco yesterday; I was rather impressed that I wasn’t worn out much sooner. I did get the bedding laundered as well. But I didn’t get any writing done; I am going to need to do that today.

There are a lot of things I am going to need to do today. Sigh.

I’ve been invited to contribute to an anthology; and I am not certain I have anything ready to send along. I do have this one incredibly disturbing story that I would like to make even more disturbing–that’s just how I roll–and I need to get back to work on the Scotty draft. I’d like to revise Chapter 11 a bit today, get it cleaned up more so it isn’t nearly as sloppy as it currently is, and I want to get these other two stories cleaned up as well. I need to spend some more time with “Don’t Look Down” than I have been; I need to get inside the characters more, understand who they are better, and then I think the story will wind up being a lot more strong. The same goes with the Chanse story; the story is really about his relationship with his brother and that’s not strong enough in the story as it sounds right now. That is also, I think, the problem with the Scotty book. I need to spend some time today with it as well, figuring out motivations and so forth.

Ah, being a writer. Always such a challenge.

We finished watching Collateral last night, and I was rather pleased with it; it was written by David Hare, the playwright, and you could tell it was written by someone good. Carey Mulligan was terrific, and I highly recommend it for anyone who enjoys complex, multi-layered crime dramas. I think tonight we may watch Justice League, to just to see if it really is as terrible as everyone seemed to think; I didn’t hate either Man of Steel or Batman vs. Superman, so I am not going into it as a hater.

I’m also still reading Tinseltown, which I am greatly enjoying. I don’t know a lot about the early days of Hollywood; the early 1920’s and late 19-teens, other than what I know from reading biographies of David O. Selznick, whose father was a producer and tried to build up a studio at the same time Adolph Zukor was building Paramount, and before the big merger that created Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). So all this is new information to me, and William J. Mann is a terrific historian and researcher. (I am more familiar with later periods of Hollywood, but hardly an expert.) I’ve always wanted to write about Hollywood’s past; I have an idea for a noir novel to be set in the late 1940’s, but my lack of familiarity with the nuts and bolts of Hollywood in that period makes it difficult–or rather, makes my already vast insecurity about writing about another period even stronger. Although I’ve already written one short story about that time–an ambiguous setting of the early 1950’s–I don’t know. Maybe I should try it as a short story first, see if I can get the sense of the period?

I don’t know.

I’m also saddened to say that I’ve now finished reading both of Lawrence Block’s art-inspired anthologies, In Sunlight or in Shadow and Alive in Shape and Color, but I’ve heard through the grapevine that he is putting together another, which is great. So, for today’s edition of the Short Story Project, I am sad to say this is the last story from a Block anthology: “A Woman in the Sun,” by Justin Scott, from In Sunlight or In Shadow.

Could she change his mind? Four steps to the open window, lean out and call, “Don’t.”

Or walk to the window and call, “Go ahead, do it.Good luck.”

Or stand here and do nothing.

He had left her his last cigarette. She had talked him into leaving the gun and he had kept his word. It was still on the night table, wrapped in one of her stockings. She had the time of the cigarette to make up her mind. More time, if she didn’t smoke it. Let it smoulder.

This is an interesting story; in that it leaves more questions unanswered than it actually answers. We never know the characters’ names, nor do we really know what has brough them to this point. All we do learn, as the story progresses, is that both are at the end of their ropes and done, basically; they are both ready to die. The only question is whether she will stop him or will she join him, and this rather uninvolved, distant approach makes the story even more poignant and sad; there’s a very strong sense of melancholy that runs throughout this story, and the reader soon realizes you don’t have to know the whys and hows and whats of their pasts–all you need to know and feel is their now.

Powerful.

I then started reading through Jim Fusilli’s Crime Plus Music, and the next story up was”Me Untamed” by David Liss.

She covered the black eye with makeup, but I could still see it was there, something alien and unaccountable. Like a vandal’s scrawl across a museum painting, the dull outline of her bruise was an outrage. Carla smiled and greeted everyone good morning, defying us to say a word, to let our eyes linger too long. It was, I supposed, how she protected herself.

Jim Baron, the senior partner in the practice, met my gaze and flicked his head toward Carla as she walked past with a stack of case folders under her arm. Carla was getting ready, as we did every Tuesday and Thursday, for surgeries–no office visits on those days, just procedures. The practice felt a bit like a gastrointestinal assembly line, and sometimes I hated how we moved patients in and out, hardly taking the time to look at them, but Jim cracked the whip. It was volume, volume, volume as far as he was concerned. We were there to heal, not to socialize, and the more healing, the better.

The point of view is that of a divorced, shy, quiet Milquetoasty doctor,  who is kind of in love with Carla, or maybe he is not. She’s married to a thug of a guy, a man’s man, who works out and so forth, the kind of man a Milquetoast would hate. And he decides to do something about Carla’s abuse…decides to make himself into the kind of man he’s always wanted to be, the kind of man that he thinks Carla would like and love. This is a terrific story, with a terrific twist at the end that lifts it up even higher in terms of craft. Well done, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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