New Year’s Day

2021 dawns, and theoretically, at any rate, it’s a new year and a fresh start–at least that’s the mentality everyone else seems to embrace. I don’t get it, myself, never really have. But far be it from me to rain on anybody’s parade–or their New Year’s hangovers.

It’s a lovely morning again in New Orleans; blue skies and sunshine. I’m going to swill down some coffee this morning and then head to the gym–they are only open until 2 this afternoon–before coming home to put one last coat of polish on Bury Me in Shadows before I turn it in, on time, later today. I finished it last evening–there are still some holes in the plot that need filling, as well as some contradictory elements I need to catch–but it’s essentially finished. I have not, in fact, finished a book since early 2019, when I turned in Royal Street Reveillon; so it’s very nice to have another one done. I go back and forth between thinking it’s really good or the worst thing I’ve ever written, so there’s that part–par for the course, really.

I also got my first inoculation for the COVID-19 vaccination yesterday. It wasn’t so bad, really–my shoulder is kind of sore still this morning, glad I had them do my left arm–but I felt off for most of the rest of the day; which could have been the inoculation, could have just been the fact that I was tired. I’ve not really slept that great this week, and the fluctuations in the weather have not helped in the least–sinuses, you know–and I’ve not really had much of an appetite lately, either, so I’m probably experiencing low blood sugar and all of that. But the next inoculation will be in 28 days, and then my life sort of can go back to normal? Not really–I’ll still be wearing masks everywhere I go, and washing my hands religiously as often as I can, but at least I no longer have to worry (too much) that I am going to get infected and sick.

2020 was one of those years, like 2005, that we will look back on and wonder about. A lot of my memories of the year just past are foggy and gray; I don’t remember much of the year rather like I don’t really remember much of the year and a half after Katrina. It’s always weird when there’s a major world paradigm shift; Katrina really only affected those of us in Louisiana and Mississippi and coastal Alabama–while the rest of the country and world looked on in horror, they also were able to move on within a few weeks whereas we were not. The COVID-19 paradigm shift affected everyone in the world, and as we (hopefully) are beginning to move past it–which will not finally happen until we achieve herd immunity, and who knows how long that’s going to take–things aren’t going to go back the way they were before the world came to a screeching halt. Things have changed, whether for the better or not remains to be seen; but one lesson that everyone has learned is that almost everyone actually can work from home and be productive, something employers resisted like the plague before, you know, an actual plague forced them to adapt. Now businesses and companies have to ask themselves–do we really need all that overhead of having an actual office, when our staff can do their jobs efficiently and effectively from home? Same with book signings–publishers probably aren’t going to be paying to send their authors on tours anymore since virtual ones actually get a higher attendance. What about conferences? They also became virtual–but in all honesty, I will want to continue to go to in-person conferences once they are feasible; drinking at home on Zoom isn’t the same thing as hanging out in the bar with friends and laughing our asses off.

I do miss seeing my friends.

I usually set goals on New Year’s Day for the new year; I’ve not really put much thought into goals for 2021, to be honest. I did achieve one of my 2020 goals, despite the pandemic: getting back into a regular gym routine and going regularly. I’ve noticed a change in my body, even though I’m not really pushing myself as hard as I could–I don’t want to overdo it, nor do I want to injure myself again, which started the whole spiral ten years ago in the first place–but it’s nice to see my muscles hardening and getting more defined. My weight hasn’t changed at all, but I can see a difference in my face and my pants/shorts/sweatpants, which were already a bit too big, have gotten even bigger (I really need to wear a belt). I do want to continue focusing on taking care of myself a bit more in 2021; dental work and vision exams and new glasses and possibly the occasional massage. I have a number of secret projects lining up as well, which is kind of exciting, and of course, I need to finish the Kansas book now and I want to get to work on Chlorine. I think there’s probably another Scotty or two in my head, and I also want to experiment with novellas–I have at least three or four or five in progress, and I really need to finish them. I also want to get some more short stories finished and out for submission.

I watched a movie for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival yesterday afternoon as I made condom packs: Something for Everyone, starring Michael York and Angela Lansbury, based (or rather, according to the credits, “suggested by”) on the novel The Cook by Henry Kessing (recently brought back into print by Valancourt Books), which I recently read about as “the queerest movie of the 70’s”–and yes, it is indeed very queer. (It’s not streaming anywhere, but there’s a bootleg of it on Youtube, which is what I watched) It reminded me somewhat of The Talented Mr. Ripley in several ways, and it also made me think about how amazing Michael York would have been playing Tom Ripley. York plays Conrad, a drifter from no one knows where and, like Tom Ripley, we really never learn about his past or who he is. He shows up on screen in Bavaria, riding a bicycle and wearing cut off khaki trousers that are cut very high; Daisy Duke-ish in fact, and he looks splendidly beautiful and alluring in the German sun. He decides he wants to get a job working for the local impoverished Countess and her children, who no longer have the money to maintain their castle or live in it, but it’s entailed so they can’t sell it. (Neuschwanstein, the fairy castle of Mad King Ludwig of Bavaria–who was also queer) stands in for their castle.) Angela Lansbury plays the Countess, and she is truly splendid. Conrad begins killing people who get in his way, but is also doing it to help the family he now work for, while slowly seducing and sleeping with everyone in sight in order to get what he wants–he seduces the Countess’ son and eventually the Countess, and York is simply breathtakingly gorgeous to look at in all his youthful, lean beauty. (I had an enormous crush on him in the 1970’s.) But Angela Lansbury is truly fantastic. She’s beautiful and slender and elegant, and those expressive eyes are perfect for expressing the Countess’ malaise and ennui with her situation and with the world. Watching her slink around in gorgeous clothing, I could but marvel an wonder why she was never a bigger film star, and in all honesty, I’ve never really seen her as Mame Dennis before. Yes, I know she played the part on Broadway and it was a huge smash hit, but for me Rosalind Russell was definitive….but having watched this movie now, I am now convinced the casting of Lucille Ball as Mame in the film instead of Lansbury was an even bigger crime than I considered it before–I watched the Lucy version and it was awful; but the crime that was casting Ball is now even more egregious. I could literally imagine Lansbury as Mame as I watched this movie. It’s cynical and a bit cold, but it definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival in that Conrad never is punished for any of his own crimes–he’s outwitted in the end, but not really punished…and knowing Conrad, I am also confident that at some point after the film ended he got the upper hand back.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. One more cup of coffee and I am off to the gym; and then its back to home and the grindstone. Happy New Year, everyone!

Seven

Saturday morning and it’s rather chilly in the Lost Apartment . The sun is shining and there aren’t many clouds in the sky–I see plenty of blue up there at the moment–and I haven’t checked the weather yet. All right, I just looked and it’s currently forty-nine, with a high of fifty-three predicted for the day. Sounds like the kind of day when one just wants to stay indoors all day and under a blanket, does it not? I have a lot to get done this morning–the sink is full of dirty dishes; more than will fit in the dishwasher, so I am going to have to do two loads–and of course, there’s filing to do and organizing to be done; notes to be read on the work-in-progress as well as chapters to be revised; and I’d like to be able to read some more of The Bad Seed, if not finish reading it today. LSU is playing Alabama tonight, and it’s not going to be pretty, but at least it won’t be disappointing. It’s very weird, there’s always a minor hope, even in bad years, that we might beat them, but not this one. I love my Tigers and I’ll tune in–but I am under no illusions that they’ll pull off a major upset here. Our only hope is a sustained three and a half hour miracle, really; but this entire football season has been such a wash anyway–I really think it should have been skipped, which is what I’ve thought all along–yet here we are.

I do occasionally think that LSU having one of the greatest football teams and seasons of all time last year somehow broke the world, and if LSU having a shitty season is what it takes to reset everything, I can live with that sacrifice.

Yesterday was a good day. I had to swing by the office because I had run out of lube for the condom packs–I brought home flavored–so I had to swing by there to pick up regular lube tubes–and then after returning home, I made condom packs while watching Logan’s Run, yesterday’s entry into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. I had never before seen it; I, of course, remember what it’s plot was–a world where everyone dies at thirty; the title character is about to turn thirty and he runs. Well, turns out that was a vast over-simplification; Logan, played by a stunningly beautiful young Michael York (I’ve waxed euphoric over his beauty before; I had a major crush on him throughout the 1970’s; have continued to appreciate his work as I got older; and he came to the Williams Festival one year, so I not only got to meet him but was delighted to find he was very charming), is a “sandman”–in the future, after over–population and depletion of resources and so forth, society collapsed and a utopian human city was built under a dome, and all humans devote themselves merely to pleasure, and when they turn thirty, they are renewed; in a ritual, everyone gathers to watch them sacrifice themselves, to be reborn–someone has to die in order for someone to be reborn. The “sandmen” are those who hunt down the ones who decide they want to live and run for their lives. When caught, they are killed and are dead forever–no chance of being reborn. Logan actually has about four years left before he turns thirty, but he is given the job to search for Sanctuary–a place all the runners try to get to safely–and the controlling computer also speeds up his life, turning the life clock in his hand all the way up to almost time for him to die. Jenny Agutter plays the love interest who can help him get to Sanctuary; they run, and it becomes very weird once they escape. The special effects are pretty bad–the movie was pre-Star Wars–and so are the sets and costume designs. It does, I decided, fit into the film festival because the film itself is kind of cynical; it basically took American youth obsession and created a world based entirely in youth; and it’s interesting they chose thirty as the end point of life–after all, the youth movement of the 1960’s always said “never trust anyone over thirty.” As I watched, I couldn’t help but think of all the possibilities they couldn’t explore in a two hour film–and thought, you know, this show could easily rebooted as a mini-series that could go into all of those explorations–the collapse of society, who built and created this new world, who actually is in power in this utopian paradise, how did they get the initial buy-in necessary–and so on and so forth. And with our country growing evermore obsessed with youth and beauty–yeah, this could be really good. Logan would be a good role for someone like Nick Jonas or Alexander Dreymon or any number of beautiful young actors in the business today.

The lovely thing about HBO MAX is they are continually adding more and more films to their TCM app–you can only imagine my delight to see the delightful Peter O’Toole film The Stunt Man was recently added; The Ruling Class is already there. I am a huge Peter O’Toole fan–the fact the man never won a competitive Oscar despite giving career-defining performance in those two films, along with My Favorite Year, The Lion in Winter, Becket, and Lawrence of Arabia never ceases to amaze me. Both The Stunt Man and The Ruling Class certainly fit into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival–they have also added the original The Omega Man and Soylent Green, both of which I intend to watch despite the fact both star Charlton Heston, the king of over-acting. But…both definitely belong in the Festival, and I really wish they would add Serpico.

I also would like to watch Cruising again–to see it from a present day perspective.

The Mandalorian continues to delight as well, and our favorite raunchy junior high puberty comedy, Big Mouth, also came back yesterday.

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

Love is a Catastrophe

Friday morning and I am home from work.

I got sent home yesterday; I started feeling bad on Tuesday afternoon, took a vacation day on Wednesday and got up yesterday morning to go to work. I felt terrible; dehydrated, exhausted, and some stomach issues I’d really rather not explain. I didn’t see how I was going to make it through the entire day, but of course, once I got to work they recognized that some of what I was experiencing could be COVID-19; so I was sent to get tested and then sent home to wait for the results to come back. This morning I am not as exhausted; I slept really well last night, but going up and down the stairs makes my leg muscles ache, and my joints are all achy, so today I am going to continue to try to take in as many fluids as I can–still dehydrated this morning–and rest.

Since I was so tired I decided to just sit in my easy chair yesterday and watch movies–the streaming services to the rescue! I watched the film version of Mary Stewart’s The Moon-spinners on Disney; they adapted it as a starring vehicle for a teenaged Hayley Mills, and thus had to make changes to the plot and story that didn’t really work as well as the original plot, plus having her be a teenager took away one of the main strengths of every Stewart story; the agency of the heroine. She was still pretty capable, but it came across as a watered down version of the kick-ass heroine I remembered from the book. But Crete looked absolutely beautiful.

I then moved on to a rewatch of Cabaret, which holds up really well. It’s a really chilling film, and visually it’s stunning; but the more times I watch the film the more I appreciate Michael York and Joel Grey, and the less impressed I am with Liza. Don’t get me wrong–she’s fantastic, and the musical numbers showcase what a powerful performer she is, but I don’t think she really brings as much depth and sadness to the character as is warranted; but she certainly has star power. I think that Sally is actually a rather sad character, and while Minnelli beautifully captures the vulnerability, the sadness isn’t really there…and I found myself not wondering, at the movie’s end, what happened to her from there on; which isn’t usually a good sign. But she probably didn’t wind up happily married with a brood of children, did she, and who wants to think about that?

From there I moved on to a rewatch of How the West Was Won, one of those sprawling epic pictures from the time when that was what the Hollywood studios churned out to compete with television. Even small parts have stars in it, and I remember watching this movie when I was a kid and being impressed by its sprawl and sweep. I decided to watch it again, partly because of the recent discussion about Gone with the Wind and its problematic depictions of the slave owning South, the Civil War, and its aftermath; so I wanted to rewatch this picture through a modern lens and as an adult. I remembered in the second half of the film there was a scene where a US Army officer, who negotiated with the natives (Indians, of course, in the film) being angry because the railroads kept breaking their promises–which was pretty progressive for the early 1960’s, and to see how that could be viewed through the modern lens. The movie doesn’t really hold up, plot-wise; it’s very cheesy and corny, but there are some good performances–particularly Debbie Reynolds–and Spencer Tracy’s narration is quite excellent. The scene I remembered was there, and plays very well through a modern lens; George Peppard in all his youthful beauty plays the officer. Just the title itself is problematic though; but this, you must remember, was how the white settlement of the western part of the continent was viewed: the west was won by white people. I suppose How the West Was Conquered doesn’t have the same ring, but “won” is essentially the same thing. Anyway, the story hinges on the Prescott family–Karl Malden, Agnes Moorhead, Carroll Baker, and Debbie Reynolds–setting out for the west and encountering the problems of the frontier as they go; mostly white people who prey on those moving west. The parents are drowned when their boat encounters rapids; Carroll Baker has fallen for James Stewart, playing a mountain trapper, and they decide to settle on the land where the parents are buried while Debbie Reynolds keeps going west, winding up in St. Louis, where she becomes an entertainer and eventually winds up in San Francisco. As an older, bankrupt widow she moves to a ranch she owns in Arizona, and invites her nephew (the George Peppard character) and his family to join her there…and so on. I think it was nominated for a lot of Oscars, primarily for its high production values and it was a big hit at the time…but yes, definitely doesn’t hold up.

Paul came home shortly thereafter, and we watched the finale of 13 Reasons Why, and the less said about that the better. The cast is appealing and talented, but the finale was so manipulative emotionally–it does work, by the way, because of the cast; I was teary–as was the entire season that it’s hard not to be angry. Plus there was some serious misinformation included…maybe I will post about it, but it needs its own entry.

And now I am going to go lie back down again because I am not feeling so hot again.

Happy Friday, everyone!

Save the Best for Last

Thursday!

My Bouchercon homework continues, with me now reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone. I am very excited to read this; I’ve heard nothing but great things about his books, plus he’s a pretty good guy. I had bought the first in his series–still in the TBR pile, alas–so am kind of glad that this book became a homework assignment. I am really enjoying it thus far, and if it’s going where I think it may be going–well, that would be awesome, but I am sure I am going to love it even if it doesn’t.

I started watching the BBC series The Musketeers on Hulu this evening. I did a half-day today; one of my co-workers and I tested at a conference at the Riverside Hilton for four hours, after which I walked home on an afternoon in August. Heavy sigh. Any way, ’tis a good thing I did work only half-a-day, because alas we are having to clean everything in the house because Scooter had a couple of fleas. His medication is working–the fleas we’ve found were dying or dead–but it’s August and we live in a swamp, and so while there have been no signs of infestation thus far, we aren’t going to take the risk. So I’ve been cleaning all day ever since I got home; taking breaks now and then to watch something on the television, and having it on as I launder things and vacuum things and well, it needed to be done, didn’t it?

That’s a rather tired and round about way of getting to the point, isn’t it? Long story short: I’ve always been a big fan of The Three Musketeers, ever since I was a kid, and I’ve been meaning to watch this BBC series for years…but kept forgetting about it. Someone posted somewhere on Facebook last night asking people to name their favorite d’Artagnan, and as I always do, whenever I get the chance, I replied Always Michael York. Always. But someone else posted a picture of the young actor who plays him in the television series and I thought, yes, I’d been meaning to watch that, hadn’t I? So I watched a couple of episodes as I cleaned–and am intrigued. More watching is most definitely called for.

Next up in Florida Happens is “A Postcard for the Dead”, by Susanna Calkins.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Susanna Calkins lives outside Chicago with her husband and two sons. Holding a PhD in history, Susanna writes the award-winning Lucy Campion historical mysteries as well as the forthcoming Speakeasy Murders, both from St. Martin’s Minotaur. Murder Knocks Twice, set in Prohibition-Era Chicago, will be out Spring 2019. Her first short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier,” featuring a 19th century poisoning case, is up for an Anthony Award (and can be read on her website at www.susannacalkins.com).

Susanna says: “A POSTCARD FOR THE DEAD” is my second published short story. When I saw the call for the Bouchercon anthology, on a whim I began to read through 1920s Florida newspapers, since I was already researching the Roaring Twenties for my Prohibition-Era novels. There, I stumbled across the rather odd story of Lena Clarke, a postmistress who had embezzled huge amounts of money from the Post Office and then framed a local playboy for the crime. What struck me most about this story was how Lena gave her testimony in court using a crystal ball, having been part of a wild West Palm Beach Bohemian set, before being declared insane. Although I altered the case substantially in my version, I retained the embezzlement aspect and of course the crystal ball. After a little more digging, l discovered that Lena’s brother had died of a snakebite, which just seemed too Florida of a detail not too include. I thought about setting the story in a courtroom, but given that my FIRST short story, “The Trial of Madame Pelletier” featured, well, a trial, I thought I’d better frame it a little differently.

Calkins author photo outside

West Palm Beach, Florida

July 1921

Lily Baker peered inside her mailbox before reaching in to retrieve her mail. Back when her half-brother had been West Palm Beach’s postmaster, he had delighted in leaving snakes in mailboxes as pranks. Of course, the last laugh had been on him, when he had died of a snake bite last Christmas.

There was only one piece of mail today, though—a postcard featuring a swanky hotel in Orlando, a city she’d never been. She turned it over to read the message but was surprised to find it blank. Only her name and address had been printed on the postcard, in careful block letters.

Curiously, she studied the card. The stamp had been cancelled in Orlando two days before. July 27, 1921. Flipping the card back over, she looked at the picture more closely. The hotel was the San Juan, which the postcard informed her had been built in 1885 by C.E. Pierce. Built for the filthy rich, from the looks of it.

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Lily was still by her mailbox when she saw Officer Danny Jamison coming down the street on his bicycle.  She had known Officer Jamison since they were kids—he’d been just one year ahead of her in school. After high school they’d gone in different directions, although on occasion their paths crossed. She was about to wave as he passed by, when instead he stopped in front of her and dismounted his bike in one easy move.

“Hey Lily,” he said, leaning his bike against her palm tree. “Your sister around?”

Lily shifted from one foot to the other. Why was Danny asking after Junie? Though she and her older half-sister had lived together since their parents had passed away a few years before, Junie tended to be tight-lipped about her goings-on. But Lily would catch whispers about illicit gin, late night séances, Ouija parties, and other secret doings connected with West Palm Beach’s furtive Bohemian scene. A far cry from her day job heading the town’s Post Office, which Junie had taken over from their brother some eight months before.  “She must have left for work early,” Lily said.  “I didn’t see her this morning.”

“I see. But you saw her last night?”

Great beginning, right? It’s a terrific story, but what I think I enjoyed the most about it was the narrator’s voice; I really liked the character of Lily, how Calkins gradually let us into Lily’s life, and through character, built a very clever crime story.