Me and Mrs. Jones

So, the vacation is going swimmingly so far. Yesterday I simply ran errands–prescriptions, making groceries, picking up the mail–and once I got home and put the groceries away, I decided to take the rest of the day off. Being out in the heat and humidity, even for that brief period of time, was exhausting and draining.

I also kept thinking it was Saturday–as the above is my usual Saturday routine–and actually went upstairs after putting the groceries away to start stripping the bed linens for laundering them before realizing, dude, it’s only Wednesday.

So, I retired to my easy chair and finished reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury.

And wow, do I ever have some thoughts about that book.

When Sarah Weinman brought up Mickey Spillane on Twitter the other day  by asking if Mickey Spillane was camp, I responded with oh god yes, which led to  further conversation with the end result that I decided to read, at long last, a Mickey Spillane novel; I just happened to have a copy of I the Jury on hand. (My references to Spillane being camp had everything to do with his image, reflecting back when Spillane was a public figure and doing everything from print ads to commercials; I’d also briefly watched the Mike Hammer television series starring Stacy Keach) I’d gotten a copy of I the Jury after reading an appreciation of Spillane somewhere (Crimereads? Perhaps) which made a very strong case that Spillane and his work was dramatically underrated in the crime genre, and was long overdue a study and another look;  furthermore, he was vastly more important to the genre than he was ever given credit for. I’d never read Spillane, primarily because as a gay man I was clearly not the target audience for his work; as I’ve said before, many times, I stopped reading crime novels in the 1970’s because I was very tired of the many, over-worn tropes of the genre and the toxicity of the fragile masculinity contained within the majority of the books/series.

The cover of my copy of the book also contains the tag line: Before there was Jack Reacher…there was Mike Hammer.

An intriguing bit of marketing by the publisher, don’t you think? I have greatly enjoyed Lee Child’s Reacher series, and think it is one of the best of our modern times; however, I also stopped reading the series over ten years ago. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the quality of the series or the character or the writing, but more to do with falling behind in my reading of the series and the next thing I knew, I was five or six books behind and I gave up on even attempting to catch up; this has happened with numerous other writers and series I enjoy, so this is not a shot at Lee Child, whom I also like personally.

It’s just one of those things that can happen with prolific writers.

But in reading the book, I don’t really see the correlation between the two characters, other than, perhaps, their size. Reacher is an enormous man who takes up a lot of space; so is Hammer. But Reacher is more of a philosopher than Hammer–I’d say Reacher owes more to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than to Mike Hammer; although I suppose it could be argued that MacDonald and McGee may have been influenced by Spillane and Hammer.

I would also argue that Spillane also owes an enormous debt to Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, because there are some similarities in plot and structure.

I did start taking notes and writing down ideas, because I would really like to write a critical essay on I the Jury, because there’s an awful lot there–misogyny, homophobia, racism–that, while it may reflect the time in which it was written and published (1947), is problematic for the modern, present-day reader. Hammer is, in some ways, the embodiment of a masculine ideal that is very problematic, a personification of the type of a toxic masculinity that might not have ever truly existed, even in that time. The books were wildly popular, and I also believe the popularity of the books can be tied into the societal and cultural definition of what a man was supposed to be, but so rarely was in reality.

And frankly, the PTSD from World War II drips from every page.

The book is highly reflective of its time, and I think writing about it critically, both as a product of its time as well as through a modern lens, could make for a fascinating and interesting essay. We shall see.

I also started reading Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, yesterday, and while I only managed to get through the prologue, I was blown away by it completely, and look forward to delving more deeply into it during the course of today.

I am rather enjoying this life of leisure. I did do some other things around the house yesterday, starting reorganization/cleaning projects that can be leisurely finished over the course of my vacation.

And now, it’s time to repair to my easy chair with Ms. Kim’s novel.

Have a lovely holiday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again on the morrow.

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Frankenstein

So, vacation. Five glorious days off, which are not to be wasted, but utilized productively; but I also intend to pace myself and give myself plenty of time to relax and read. It would be completely awesome to be able to get about three or four books read over the course of this holiday/vacation weekend; there are also some films I’d like to watch in the evening–and since I cannot watch any of the shows Paul and I are watching together, that definitely frees up some more time. There are some Hitchcock films available on Amazon Prime; I may do a Hitchcock film festival this weekend. Who knows? We shall see. The possibilities are endless, after all.

One chore I have to do is read the galley proofs for Royal Street Reveillon, which means the book is that one more step closer to becoming, you know, an actual book; which is of course incredibly cool and never truly ever gets old. At the rate I am going, of course, there’s no telling when there will be another book by me; I can’t seem to finish anything these days, but hopefully over these next five days there will be progress made and I can take great joy in getting something done. I am very scattered–that creative ADD I talk about all the fucking time–and seriously, it is rather daunting to think about all the things I have in some sort of progress–a collection of essays, two short story collections, at least three (now four, if you count the Chanse first chapter I wrote last week) novels in some sort of stage of being finished, and countless, endless short stories.

I’d like to send some more stories out to markets; perhaps this weekend, if I don’t get sidetracked and distracted, as I always seem to be. I always tend to think I’ll get more done over this little vacations than I wind up getting done, but on the other hand, I am also going into this vacation more well-rested than I usually do. I am not in the least bit tired this morning, and I wasn’t tired after I got home from work last night; which is a good sign. Perhaps I am adjusting, at long last, to getting up early in the mornings again and maybe I can go back to the times when I used to get a lot done in the mornings.

Then again, it only takes one shitty night of insomnia to derail everything, doesn’t it? But that didn’t happen last night again–thank you baby Jesus–and so this morning I am awake, rested somewhat, and thinking lazy thoughts already. Oh, I don’t need to do that today, I have five days after all–which is, quite naturally, how it always starts, you know? “Oh, sure, why don’t I just be lazy for two days–take a weekend–and then the last three days of the vacation I can be getting things done.” And then nothing ends up getting done at all…why not simply get everything done to begin with, and then take the weekend?

I got further along in I the Jury yesterday at the office between clients, and it is definitely something I’m glad I’ve taken the time to read—despite the limits on my reading time–and the essay I rather glibly assumed I’d be able to write after reading it is sort of taking form in my mind. It’s a short book, fortunately, but the philosophy behind it is one that generally doesn’t appeal to me; if toxic masculinity were a book, it would be a Mike Hammer novel. But at the same time, I can also understand and see why these books sold so ridiculously well, and why they appealed to so many (mostly) male readers; Hammer is an exaggeration of the so-called masculine ideal, the ‘lone wolf rugged individualist American man’, which goes hand-in-hand with so many of our societal and cultural problems–past of the mythology of this continent and this nation is based in that loosely defined (and periodically redefined) sense of freedom; this wild frontier and wilderness that had to be settled, tamed, reframed and repurposed. (I sometimes marvel at how remarkably beautiful this continent must have been before European civilization; it’s still stunningly beautiful today, with all the taming and civilizing that has happened.) After the second world war, as the American economy steamed full forward and the society/culture was itself reframed, modernized, and changed forever into what is now looked back at as the great modern society–that sense of wildness and freedom was gradually lost, and it was also the first true generation that didn’t really have that same sense of “hey let’s go west and start a new life” because the west was already “won”, and what men were taught as traditional forms of American masculinity, developed over decades and centuries (with the poison pill of white supremacy inside) were no longer possible and as the so-called good life of career, home and family became sanitized and suburbs and home ownership and consumer culture began subsuming and redefining American masculinity, writers like Spillane tapped into that dissatisfaction and gave them heroes/idols like Mickey Spillane, the rugged masculine ideal who all women wanted and desired; who lived by a strange code; whose methods were steeped in violence; and had no problem taking the law into his own hands–and was SUCH a ‘man’s man’ that even the police never tried to rein him in even as he violated the law and civil rights and the foundations of law and justice the country was built upon.

As you can see, the essay about Mike Hammer/Mickey Spillane is already starting to take form in my brain.

Maybe I could have been an academic, after all.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? I want to do some cleaning, and some writing, and I also have galleys to proof as well as a cover design to look over and approve (it’s so remarkably beautiful! It’s one of my favorite covers ever–Lake Thirteen will probably always be my favorite cover, but this one comes very close to supplanting it in my affections), and I also want to finish reading I the Jury. I also have to go pick up prescriptions and the mail today; I might make a grocery list and stop at Rouses as well–the less time I have to spend outside the house this weekend the better, quite frankly. After I read I the Jury I am most likely going to read either Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, or perhaps dip into some horror; I’ll have to see how the spirit moves me once I get everything going. I also want to clean out my email inbox–there are emails in there I’ve ignored and done nothing about for far far too long, and they need to be gone.

It’s always such a lovely feeling when your inbox has been cleaned out completely, isn’t it? And it’s been far too long.

As for right now, though, I need more coffee and something to eat…so on that note, I shall leave you for the day and return to the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Drift Away

Good morning, Tuesday; the last day before a long and glorious fourth of July celebratory vacation weekend for the Gregalicious.

I managed almost two thousand words on the WIP last night when I got home from work last night, before Scooter’s lonely neediness kicked into full gear. I also managed to get the rest of the dishes done and loaded into the dishwasher, so all in all, the evening was a win on every level. Huzzah!

I also slept well somehow Sunday night and was totally rested and fine all day yesterday’; no being tired, no being brain dead, none of the usual nonsense on one of my long days, and I suspect that was primarily adrenaline from knowing I don’t have to work all week (HUZZAH!). I also got the final version of the manuscript i was editing into the publisher (check that off the list) and then also got started reading a short story I am reading for a friend–it’s quite a good story, in fact, I’m sure you will all get to read it someday.

So, it was quite a Monday for one Gregalicious. Let’s see how long I can keep this roll going.

I slept well again last night; I went to bed around ten and slept beautifully and restfully the entire night; not even waking up once, which was quite lovely. So this morning I am feeling extremely rested and able to get going, which is again quite lovely. Tonight I will come home and watch the season finale of what is one of the worst seasons ever of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills; so bad, in fact, that I may not continue watching when the next season rolls around. I have, however, apparently replaced it in my affections with Southern Charm New Orleans, which has sucked me in completely and I am not certain why; it’s first season was so atrocious, and the only explanation I can think of is that it’s the bromance between Jon Moody and Jeff Charleston; we’ll see how long they can hold my attention before i get bored and move on. Although I am hearing things about this season of Real Housewives of Potomac that might bear investigating.

Tomorrow I can sleep late and do whatever it is that I want to do, because I am on vacation and Paul is out of town. I want to finish reading I the Jury, which I will probably also work on today between clients–I did come up with an interesting idea for an essay, using Mike Hammer to extrapolate out further to toxic masculinity and the American male, and can even tie in Ayn Rand, who I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time–I even wrote the intro to the essay last night. I have no market for essays, of course; but I am doing a collection, which is slowly but surely coming together. Will my collection of essays find an audience? Highly unlikely, but it’s something I’d like to do. I’ve done so much essay writing and journalism over the years, it would be kind of nice to collect it all in one place, and an essay collection is certainly more easy than writing a memoir no one would want to read.

And after I conclude reading the Spillane, I am either going to move on to Kristin Lepionka’s first novel, or to Angie Kim’s debut; I’ve heard terrific things about both, and I was on a panel with Kristin in St. Petersburg and she impressed me with her intelligence and wit. She also has picked up the baton on promoting queer writers, which I appreciate.

I have to say that working on the Diversity Project this year has been incredibly enjoyable for me; I am only disappointed that it took me so long to diversify my reading list.

I will do better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Little Willy

Today’s title song always kind of amused when it was a hit; I was a tween at the time and since willy is also a euphemism for…well, you can see where this is going.

I found it highly (if more than a little bit juvenile) amusing that someone wrote a song about a small penis.

Hello, Monday morning of my sort-of-vacation! The vacation starts Tuesday evening when I get off work, actually, but it’s also kind of lovely to know I only have to work my two long days at the office this week before I can lounge around the house and do what I want when I want to do it. How lovely, right?

I did manage to squeeze out about thirteen hundred words or so on the WIP, and I also printed out the pages of the manuscript i am suppose to be dedicating myself to finishing in July. (I’ve already redone the first four chapters of it before I had to push it to the side for Royal Street Reveillon, whose time had come.) I did look at the first few pages again, and liked what I was reading. So, I’m still undecided about what to do. Should I push through on the WIP, getting that first draft finished, or should I get back to work on what I scheduled myself to do for the month of July? Truth be told, I am actually thinking that what with the five day vacation looming, I could theoretically go back and forth between the two; but the voices are so terribly different, I’m not sure how well that would work.

Yet another example of why writers drink.

I started reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury yesterday as well. It’s a short novel, really, and I can’t imagine it taking a long time for me to finish. I’ve never read Spillane, but of course I know all about him, his writing, his character Mike Hammer, and everything he kind of stood for. Spillane was one of the last writers who kind of became a folk hero/celebrity of sorts; it was a lot more common back in the 1950’s and 1960’s; Hemingway, Spillane, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer all were celebrities of sorts; I believe Spillane even played his own character in one of the film versions of his work. He also used to regularly appear in commercials and advertisements as Mike Hammer in the 1970’s, which is kind of hard to imagine now. It would be sort of like Stephen King being hired to do commercials and print ads for, I don’t know, Jim Beam? The author as celebrity is something I’m not sorry we’ve gotten away from as a society and a culture, quite frankly. The idea behind reading I the Jury as part of the Diversity Experiment is precisely because it’s the kind of book I’d never really read; Sarah Weinman asked the other day on Twitter if Spillane counted as camp (I personally think it does; my responses was something along the lines of “Imagine Leslie Nielsen playing him”) and then realized I needed to read at least one of the books, as part of the Diversity Project.

But Gregalicious, you might be wondering, why are you reading a straight white male novelist writing about what basically is the epitome of toxic masculinity in his character Mike Hammer?

Well, first of all, the name of the character itself: Mike Hammer. It almost sounds like a parody of the private eye novel, doesn’t it, something dreamed up by the guys who wrote Airplane! and not an actual novel/character to be taken seriously. We also have to take into consideration that Spillane’s books were also, for whatever reason, enormously popular; the books practically flew off the shelves. (Mike Hammer is actually one of the best gay porn star names of all time; alas, it was never used in that capacity.)

But it’s also difficult to understand our genre, where it came from, and how far it has come, without reading Spillane; Spillane, more so than Hammett or Chandler, developed the classic trope of the hard-boiled male private eye and took it to the farthest extreme of toxic masculinity. Plus, there’s the camp aesthetic I was talking about before to look for as well.

Chanse was intended to be the gay version of the hardboiled private eye; I patterned him more after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than anything or anyone else. But reading a macho, tough guy heterosexual male character from a toxic masculine male author is also completely out of my wheelhouse; and therefore, it sort of fits into the Diversity Project along the lines of well, the idea is to read things you don’t ordinarily read; not just writers of color or different gender identities or sexualities than your own.

And there’s also an entire essay in Ayn Rand’s nonfiction collection of essays on art devoted to Mickey Spillane; it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever read any of Rand’s fiction that she was a huge fan of Spillane. Given what a shitty writer Rand was, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement–but it also gives me something else to look out for as I read Spillane’s short novel.

There’s also a reference to Spillane in one of my favorite novels, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show–in which some of the  boys are wondering if blondes have blonde pubic hair, and “the panty-dropping scene in I the Jury” is referenced.

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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You Are The Sunshine of My Life

Sunday morning. It took me awhile to fall asleep last night; the last time I remember looking at the clock it was around three in the morning and I was still pretty much awake.  I did manage to doze off around that time, though, and while I still woke up around eight thirty, I feel somewhat rested this morning.

I didn’t do any writing yesterday; I wound up cleaning and organizing and doing that sort of thing for most of the day, interspersed with reading. It was, despite having to go out in the heat and humidity of the early afternoon, kind of a lovely day, really. It wasn’t as terribly hot as I feared it would be, and once I was back inside the cool of the inside of the Lost Apartment, I was able to get some things I needed to get done finished; I also need to finish the organizing I started yesterday but never quite finished. I also came up with some amazing and key things for the WIP, which technically I should be finishing up today–big surprise, it’s not finished nor will it be by midnight–so I am also trying to figure out what I want to do; should I follow my schedule and reluctantly put it to the side, to go back and spend the month revising the other I’d planned on working on for July, or should I go ahead and work my way through this first draft, trying to get it finished this week, and then diving back into the other?

Decisions, decisions.

I suspect I’ll keep working on the WIP, if I am going to be completely honest. Yes, it’s been horrible, like extracting teeth by gripping them with my fingers and yanking really hard, but also last night I had some more breakthroughs about the main character as well as the story I am telling. I also remembered some more things I need to go back and litter through the first sixteen chapters I’ve written–not that big of a deal, as they are all early draft and intended to be worked on more any way–but I am always feeling pressed for time, as is always the case.

Paul is departing to visit his mother for a week, starting tomorrow; I am taking a stay-cation of my own built around the 4th of July holiday. I am only working Monday and Tuesday this week before having a delightful five consecutive days off from work; suring which I have deeply ambitious plans to get a lot of cleaning, organizing, and writing done…as well as a lot of reading. I am going to step away from the Diversity Project with my next read–triggered by a Twitter conversation with the amazing Sarah Weinman–and am going to read Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury next. In a way, though, it’s really still a part of the Diversity Project, just not the way I’d originally seen it: a necessary adjunct, or rather, corollary to the Diversity Project should be reading, and examining, and critiquing, the crime genre’s long fascination with a particular type of masculinity; the Mike Hammer novels are certainly the perfect examples of that, almost to the nth degree.

And can I really call myself a student of my genre without reading Spillane?

I am sure the books themselves are problematic; almost everything from that time period is in some ways (I still remember reading a James Ellroy novel–I don’t remember which one–which had some incredibly horrible homophobia in it; it was painful and difficult to read, but absolutely in line with the thinking of cops in the 1950’s; and I do believe sometimes it’s necessary to read these problematic texts, to critique and understand them and the time period from whence they were originally written and published.

A conversation I had on Twitter with Rob Hart (whom you should also be reading; his next novel The Warehouse, sounds absolutely terrific and I am eagerly awaiting its release) also triggered a thought; that perhaps a non-fiction/memoir type book about me, my reading life, and queer representation in mainstream crime novels might be an interesting thing to write; whether or not there’s an audience or a publisher for such a work remains to be seen, of course, but it does sound like an interesting intellectual challenge.

It might also be horrifically difficult, but reading is about learning, isn’t it?

And on that note, none of this stuff is going to get done unless i start doing it, you know?

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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