I’m Real

Reality television goes above-and-beyond to convince the viewers that it’s “real” and “authentic”; but it’s kind of weird to me to think that people can actually go about their day-to-day lives with a camera crew following them, constantly having to set up and break down, without that having some sort of impact on their behavior and relationships with each other. In the case of the Real Housewives shows, obviously they aren’t being followed 24/7 the way The Real World always claimed they did with their casts…which was exposed for bullshit to me when MTV was filming The Real World: New Orleans and they lived in the Bellefort mansion on St. Charles Avenue–essentially in my neighborhood. Periodically I would see a group of them–young people I assumed were the cast–walking around in the neighborhood with a camera crew following them on their way to someplace they were going to film…which meant that obviously they weren’t being filmed 24/7 as the camera men were not filming them as they walked. That breaking of the fourth wall for me was kind of a spoiler in some ways (I never really spent a great deal of thought on the show or how it was made; if I had spent a minute or two thinking about it rather than just blindly accepting what I was told I would have realized how ludicrous the 24/7 filming thing they claimed actually was–but I never cared enough to question anything). After that fourth wall was broken for me, I wasn’t as into The Real World as I had been previously; plus, the longer the show went on, the more it became focused on blackout drinking, sex, and violence–none of which I particularly wanted to watch, really.

When Bravo–which used to be a more higher-minded channel showing Inside the Actor’s Studio as well as syndicated repeats of Law and Order and The West Wing–chose to capitalize on the success of their first forays into reality television with Queer Eye for the Straight Guy and the great reality competition shows Project Runway (we were obsessed with it) and Top Chef by going for something a little more Real World-ish with The Real Housewives of Orange County, I wasn’t particularly interested. As Sonja Morgan was told by Bethenny Frankel in one memorable encounter on the New York franchise, “it’s a cheater brand”–something branded similarly to something vastly more successful as an attempt to piggy-back on that success; in this case, they were copying ABC’s breakout hit Desperate Housewives AND The OC. The ubiquitous previews–run constantly during the syndicated repeats we watched as well as the competition programs–did nothing to inspire me to want to watch even a little bit. The show was successful enough to spawn another franchise in New York, and then another in Atlanta. These shows became part of the public consciousness, really; you couldn’t get away from them, particularly if you watched anything else on Bravo–you began to learn what some of the women’s names were; began to know who was friends with whom and who couldn’t stand who; who was fighting with who and why and so on. Sometimes on weekends while Paul slept on the couch and I sat in my chair reading a book or revising something I was working on, I would just put the channel on Bravo because they always ran marathons on the weekends–whether it was The West Wing, Law and Order, Project Runway or a Housewives franchise–primarily because I always need some sort of noise in the background whenever I do anything. Occasionally Paul would wake up and watch for a few minutes, or I would look up and watch for a while, slowly figuring out what was actually going on with the show, but not interested enough to watch as they aired or become heavily involved. Paul and I actually started watching Atlanta when it started airing–we were drawn in by previews featuring NeNe Leakes, who was hilarious–but I wasn’t very comfortable with it, to be honest; my liberal white guilt made me wonder whether this was a kind of “look at the how funny and weird Black women are!” kind of show. I also didn’t like that the first show to feature Black women had a token white woman on it–none of the other shows with all white casts ever added a minority to the mix; why couldn’t Black women have a show that was all about Black women without needing a white woman to round out the cast? And I was definitely not a fan of Kim Zolciak, so we gradually stopped watching regularly; after all, there was always a marathon going to be aired at some point on a weekend.

I also gave Beverly Hills a whirl when it first aired, primarily because I remembered Kim Richards from her days as a child actress and wanted to see her as an adult. Seeing what she’d become was a bit of a shock, but I watched that entire first season as it aired in amazement, falling in love with Lisa Vanderpump (as so many did) and kind of liking Camille Grammer. She was a bit unfiltered and came across as a very spoiled, privileged white woman…but she was fun to watch and I couldn’t stand Kyle Richards, who was her primary antagonist. But I stopped watching when the show became too dark in the second season, dealing with spousal abuse of one of the cast-members and her husband’s eventual suicide.

A little too real, frankly.

But some friends got me to start watching New York again as it aired in a later season, and this time, I embraced the lunacy and the madness, seeing it for what it was: entertainment. Sure, there was an element of people being rewarded for behaving badly, and whether the madness I was watching was authentic and real, filmed as it occurred, or was “produced” really didn’t matter. I didn’t need to see how the cheese was made, nor did I care; but as I started watching the others so I could talk about them with my friends, dissecting characters and behaviors, I began to realize that these shows were the nighttime soaps of this new age; addictive shows about people with money behaving badly that we talked about (I used to watch Dynasty with a huge group of friends, every Wednesday night: Bong Hits with the Carringtons and the Colbys). Each new edition/franchise of the show was uniquely different from the others; some I never got into (DC, Miami) and others I watched religiously (New York, Atlanta, Beverly Hills), and others I’d keep up with generally (Orange County, Potomac)–my viewing habits for the ones I didn’t watch religiously eventually evolved into simply watching the reunions–which essentially summed up the highs and lows of the season without all the filler.

But I also became interested in watching from a sociological point of view as well; it wasn’t just entertainment, the shows actually provided all kinds of looks into things like group dynamics, how some minor understanding could become blown completely out of proportion, how betrayals of trust are difficult to come back from with a friend, and watching how these women’s evolution was potentially altered, even contaminated, by exposure on camera to a wide audience. Success on the shows might lead to success away from the cameras, but primarily in business more than anything else; these shows were not a jumping off-point into any kind of scripted acting, other than stunt casting on Broadway in shows very late in their run (see: NeNe Leakes, Cinderella; Erika Jayne, Chicago). Bethenny Frankel, seen as the primary success story to arise from the shows (I’ve never cared for her, to be honest), has never managed to translate her popularity as a Housewife into anything successful that wasn’t linked, in some ways, to her original show (her talk show failed, her ripoff of The Apprentice for HBO also failed); and like Trump, her business is really now just licensing the “Skinnygirl” label to other companies marketing products since she sold the alcohol company for a lot of money to Jim Beam years ago.

This interest eventually, as always, evolved into fiction for me. I had always been interested in writing a Scotty book rooted in a season of a Real World-type show filming here; that gradually evolved into my own version of the Housewives shows, The Grande Dames. That eventually worked its way into Royal Street Reveillon, which might be one of my personal favorite Scotty books. I still do watch New York, although I’ve had to back away from Beverly Hills because I cannot stand to see alleged criminal conspirator and ruthless narcissist Erika Girardi on my television; I feel that giving them that extra streaming view somehow condones the fact they didn’t fire her and continue to give her a platform to spin her lies and evade prosecution and restitution.

So, I was very interested when I saw this book talked about on one of the Facebook fan pages I belong to:

As a reward for the procedure the other day, I decided to download this, and in my exhausted state Thursday evening, I started reading it on my Kindle.

If you’re a fan of the shows, you will definitely enjoy this. Essentially, it’s an oral history, with Quinn interviewing not only actual Housewives but also members of production and people from the network about the casts, things that happened on the show, and the controversies. It’s fascinating; production and the network people are always very quick to justify their own questionable behavior in the actions they did or did not take when something bad was happening in front of the cameras (which was to be expected). What was truly interesting to me was the women themselves, and their commentary on their castmates, and the absolute zero fucks they give about lifting the curtain and letting us all see how the sausage was made. What’s particularly weird, though, is you do find yourself wondering–just as you do when you watch the shows–how much of it is real and how much of it is the women either covering their own asses or staying in “character” from the shows; Sherée Whitfield makes absolutely no bones about how much she loathes NeNe Leakes…and actually, nobody spoken to from the Atlanta cast, past or present, says anything nice about her other than she makes good TV. (Likewise, New Jersey castmates are very quick to point out that cast-mates Teresa and Melissa, sisters-in-law, still very much hate each other despite the “reconciliation” for the cameras.)

But again, are they just playing a part still, or are their answers authentic? It’s hard to say. I do think some of the former cast members who are bitter about their experiences (looking at you, Carole Radziwell and Heather Thomsen) are being honest, since they have nothing to lose; the ones who are still on their shows perhaps not so much. (Props to Teresa Guidice, too; she literally is who she appears to be, both on television and in this book–so either she’s very good at playing “Teresa” to the point of staying in character all the time, or she basically is that person. I’m not sure she’s a good enough actress to pull off a performance, though.)

Reading the book was a lot of fun, though, and I think if you are a fan of these shows, you’ll also enjoy it. I greatly enjoyed reading it, and it also reads, as oral histories tend to do, very quickly. Does it actually give the reader an accurate view behind the scenes, or any insight into who these women really are off-camera and in their own lives? I don’t know, and that, I guess, is part of the fun; it’s a very good extension of the shows for fans.

I have recently begun to wonder about whether I should continue to watch these shows. I go back and forth between embracing the enjoyment I get from watching (there’s no such thing as a guilty pleasure; we should never feel guilty about finding joy in anything in life; one of the producers even says towards the beginning, that guilty pleasure thing pisses me off because it’s always directed at things women enjoy–a man can sit in front of the television all day watching football yet no one calls the NFL a “guilty pleasure”–which is a very good fucking point) and wondering if I am part of a system that glorifies and rewards bad behavior. do the shows demean women, make them look bad and infantile and childish?

Reading this book gave me no answers other than I should continue to enjoy what I enjoy without spending a lot of time questioning or over-analyzing both myself and my motivations. I also don’t care if people judge me for anything I get enjoyment from; after all, I get judged by people for my sexuality and I really don’t give two shits about the people who do that, either.

But if you don’t watch the shows, I wouldn’t suggest or recommend you read this book; none of it will make any sense to you once they start talking about what happened during the seasons and the conflicts/relationships between the women.

Holding Out for a Hero

Wednesday and sixty has crept yet another day closer. In fact, today is Sixty Eve Eve! All About Sixty Eve Eve?

Honestly, I can barely stand myself sometimes!

Yesterday I started the long process of the revisions/edits/tweaks the Kansas book needs; God, I am so heartily sick of those opening chapters I don’t even know how to begin to describe just HOW sick I am of those chapters. This book has had more drafts than any other one I’ve written since maybe Murder in the Rue Dauphine–which I’ve always thought had an excessive amount of draft versions–but in fairness, I’ve told and retold and made up my mind how to tell this story and then changed my mind yet again and so…draft after draft after draft after draft. So many changes, so many corrections, so many characters had their names changed, and then whole thing is really just a big old mess. The manuscript I sent my editor was probably so bad it counted as creating an abusive workplace environment. But as I started going through it all again last night–I couldn’t help but feel the excitement I did have about this project at one time; and I look forward to its release when I can share everything with you, Constant Reader.

But oy–cleaning up this manuscript mess is going to be a challenge and a half. But I CAN DO IT. I know I can.

I also want to go over “The Sound of Snow Falling” one more time. I think it needs yet another tweak I missed the last time around–I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how well it played out in the original draft–my original drafts are inevitably messy, sloppy, and too embarrassing for me to let anyone else see. (Another issue with donating my papers somewhere–the last thing I want to do is have people reading my horribly patchy and sketchy initial drafts of anything–although for someone who finds that sort of thing interesting, I suppose the journey from horrifyingly sloppy first draft to final, polished draft might be their cup of tea.

I mean, as an intellectual exercise to see how a book or story might come together, sure. But I would tend to think it would get tedious rather quickly.

Then again, maybe that’s just me.

I was tired yesterday when I got off work; I was definitely out of the habit of waking up early over the last few days–not that I ever really get used to getting up early. I could have this schedule for the rest of my life, five days per week, and I would still grumble and be sleepy and tired and slightly crabby all day every single time I have to get up early. I had planned on going to the gym after work, but I was so tired by the time I was done for the day I didn’t really feel like I had much of a choice; just the thought of the walk in the heavy humidity-it rained off and on all afternoon–also would have curled up my hair if I had any. Instead, when I got home I took a quick shower to wash the day off me and curled up in my easy chair with purr-kitty and The Other Black Girl. (I am going to read Megan Abbott’s latest, The Turnout, next; I’ve been itching to get it started) Yesterday was a definite low-energy day; hopefully I’ll have a bit more energy today to get things done. It also started pouring down rain when I got home, which wasn’t exactly encouraging me to go outside and walk for ten minutes to get there, either. I read about another fifty or sixty pages of the book, enjoying it tremendously still–perhaps I can finish it tonight–and then watched the A&E bio of MTV before going to bed last night. I slept really well again last night–it goes without saying that I really didn’t want to get up this morning, but I am not as sleepy/still tired the way I was yesterday, which is also fine; perhaps I won’t be too tired to get things done today the way I was yesterday. It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray for pay day?), so I will definitely be having to spend some time doing exactly that this morning.

Huzzah?

At least I can pay them; that’s probably the best way to look at the situation.

I still haven’t made that crucial to-do list, either. Maybe today? But at least tomorrow is the work-at-home day this week, and then of course Friday is the big birthday. What am I going to do for turning sixty? Going to drive out to Metairie and get a deep-dish pizza from That’s Amore, for one thing; which is most likely going to be all I do for the day. I’m not a big let’s do something major for my birthday person; haven’t been that in quite some time, and frankly, just being able to laze around the house without guilt–a day off where I don’t feel like I am wasting the day, or like I should be doing something other than being lazy–is actually sufficient. If I don’t have The Other Black Girl finished by then, I will most likely get it finished on Friday, and then will curl up with Megan Abbott. I really need to dig into my reading more–I am getting further and further behind in my reading, as the TBR Pile continues to grow larger at an increasingly terrifying rate–and I am most likely going to go back to placing a moratorium on buying books for a little while again; at least until I make some more progress on the reading.

The dishwasher started leaking last night–it’s always something around the Lost Apartment, seriously–and so I am going to have to start doing the dishes by hand again. At least this time I have the dishwasher to load them into to dry, which is something I didn’t have the last time the dishwasher conked on for a while–so they’ll be, at the very least, out of the way until they dry–but it’s still a pain in the ass. I don’t recall how old this dishwasher is–my sense of time is so fucked up and skewed I don’t remember how old anything is; I still can’t get over how old my old desktop was by the time I finally replaced it–but it should have definitely lasted a while longer, methinks; the failure of appliances to last for decades is something that still catches me off guard and by surprise.

Obviously, in some ways I am still stuck in my childhood, remembering things like how my mother’s first washer and dryer lasted for over twenty years….

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

Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

certain dark things

Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.

We’re An American Band

Wednesday, Hump Day, and the slow slide into another weekend. It’s also pay day, which is really Pay the Bills Day–never a pleasant task, no matter how much I try to make it into one (“Oh, isn’t it satisfying to get this done?” Um, no, not really.)

I woke up after a lovely night’s sleep to a horrendous thunderstorm; we are now in a tornado warning, which I think means one has been spotted; I’m not really sure where precisely–I can never remember the difference between watch and warning. 

Okay, I looked it up and I was right: warning means one has been spotted. Looking at the radar map, it’s not in our area, but it’s rather close to where the office is.

Which should make for an exciting day at work, no?

I had planned on running some errands this morning before heading in, and now I am not so sure I want to do that, understandably, unless this all lightens up before it’s time to go in. We’re also in a flash flood warning (through Sunday on one, JULY 23RD on another, because the river is already high and this tropical thing out in the gulf could send a storm surge up the river. (Aside: it is raining so hard I keep thinking the sink is running and start to get up to go turn off the spigot before catching myself.)

I haven’t written much this week so far; I’ve primarily focused on rereading things I’ve already read and editing them and making notes for revisions as I go. I know I should reread everything I’ve written for the WIP–in order to possibly trigger where to go with the next chapter, which I’ve been stuck on for quite some time–but I am feeling particularly writing-lazy, and I also know I am going to regret that should we have to evacuate in the face of the coming storm this weekend. But an evacuation would sort of change everything anyway–all bets are off!–so there’s also that.

I watched the season finale of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills last night when I got home from work–I wasn’t so tired Monday night after work, but for some reason last night I was exhausted–and it entertained. It’s very strange, and more than a little unsettling, to see it without Lisa Vanderpump; if any of the original cast still left was going to go, my money and preferences would have been Kyle Richards, whom I have never been able to stand or bear for very long. This season was really not very good, and there were more than a few times when I considered, seriously, stopping watching. The only thing I liked about this season was the addition of Denise Richards.  I didn’t have high hopes for her as an addition–Paul and I actually tried to watch her reality show years ago, Denise Richards: It’s Complicated, and didn’t last beyond the premiere episode. (We usually will give any new show we try a couple of episodes, unless it is so beyond redemption in the premiere we assume it isn’t going to get better; alas, Denise’s original foray into reality television fell into that category–and we wanted to like it. We loved her in Drop Dead Gorgeous, which is a vastly under-appreciated comic classic.) Paul came home in the middle of the episode–he doesn’t really watch my reality shows with me, he has more discerning tastes–and as I explained things to him, I stopped at one point and said, “And it is truly frightening that I know this much, not only about the show, but about their lives outside of the show.

But as Laura Lippman says, one should never apologize for anything in this world that one enjoys, as there are so many things and experiences we don’t enjoy–we should definitely allow ourselves to enjoy things that might earn us scorn from others. She’s right, of course; I don’t give a shit if someone looks down on me for enjoying reality television; hell, I’ve written a book around reality television (Royal Street Reveillon, coming this September, from Bold Strokes Books! Preorder now!). I’ve watched reality television going back to the very first season of The Real World on MTV, which, while not the first reality show, was certainly the precursor to the reality show boom of this century.

It’s also payday, and I have to pay the bills this morning. My favorite chore, but it must be done.

Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader. I look forward to giving you another Gregalicious update tomorrow.

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Blades

Reading these stories, and revisiting the music, has drawn me into something I rarely do: reminisce and think about the past. I generally try not to think too much about the past; it’s the past and there’s nothing to be done about it, after all. Sometimes, though, when writing, I try to draw on my past and my own experience.

The 1980’s were a difficult decade for me, but one of the things I remember fondly about that decade was always the music. I’ve always had a soft spot for 1980’s music, and it was a weird, transitory time for it. MTV changed everything; exposing Americans and young people to new music and bands and artists they might not have ever heard, and the visual medium of the new “music television” channel also allowed us all to experience music visually, and there’s no question that interesting video presentation helped artists like Culture Club, Cyndi Lauper, Duran Duran, and many others to an even greater success than might have otherwise been possible for them.

The Go-Go’s videos were almost always very simplistic; probably “Vacation” was the most complicated video they ever made. Rewatching their videos recently kind of made me laugh–“Head over Heels”, for example, looks like it cost $20 to produce–and I’m not certain if this was because they didn’t care, or the record company thought they were big enough to not need the push from a terrific video.

The next story up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is “Blades,” by Steve Weddle.

cover-west-murder-go-gos-front

He was on his fifth Tequila Sunrise when his head hit the table.

“Everything, guys. Everything.”

We’d talked Nick into coming for drinks because he hadn’t been out of his apartment since twenty-nine days back when he and Laura had called it off. We had to get him out. Even without the wedding, the three of us considered ourselves his groomsmen. Until death do us all part, it seemed. Though another few drinks might take care of that.

The Thursday night crowd at Wingin’ It was worried more about the Cowboys-Eagles game than about the four of us concussing ourselves on a table.

Raphael slid the emptied tumblers away from Nick’s head. “She didn’t take every- thing, man.” Raph was the jokester among us, the one we sent in to cause a scene if we needed it, the one thinking he was just one prank away from going viral. When we’d go to games, he was the one who would sneak us in a diaper bag full of White Russians in baby bottles “You’ve still got your health,” he told Nick, pulling a coaster from the side of Nick’s face. “And that nasty cold sore.”

Truth be told, Nick was a bit of a late bloomer. We were all in our late thirties, but he hadn’t even gotten through his first marriage, yet. And with Laura dumping him a month before the wedding, he was even further behind us.

“Look,” Sam said, “if it wasn’t meant to be, it’s best you know now. The two of you can move on, find new people. It’s good news to find out now.”

“We’re still registered,” he said.

Ralph, Sam, and I looked at each other, then back to Nick.

“Sure,” Sam said, “I’m sure she didn’t even think about it. Probably moved on. You should too, man.”

“At Target,” Nick continued, ignoring Sam. “I checked. Target still thinks the wedding is going to happen. On the nineteenth. That’s next weekend.” He’d raised his head, apparently just he could drop it, rattling on the table again. “Next weekend.”

Sam said he’d get the next round, then walked across the room to the bar.

This story is different from the preceding ones in that the crime committed during the course of this story isn’t a felony; and the crime itself, while the driving force behind the story, isn’t really the focus of the story. The story is about friendship, and the things guys do to help out their friends, whether it’s a smart thing or not, and the ending of the story might be a little dark–the story itself is dark, emotionally–but it also leaves the reader with a strong sense of satisfaction; justice, of a sort, has been done, and everyone feels better about things. It’s about male bonding and male friendship, and not done in a way that feels non-relatable to not-straight men.

Quite good, and I loved the change of pace.

And now back to the spice mines.

This Town

I am technically considered a baby boomer; I was born in one of the last years that falls into that classification. But I’ve never felt like a child of any decade other than the 1980’s; even though I remember the 1960’s I was too young to be anything other than a passive observer. Likewise, most of the 1970’s I was young-ish; I graduated from high school in 1978 while I was still sixteen (turning seventeen the first week of college), and not turning twenty-one until 1982. So, if anything, I was probably mostly shaped by the 1980’s, even though I wasn’t a child of that decade. The 1980’s changed and shaped me and what I went through in that decade probably had the biggest impact on the person I was to become. The 1980’s were an interesting decade–horrific in some ways, terrific in others–but without question, I always think of the Go-Go’s when I think of that decade.

I remember the first time I heard “Our Lips Are Sealed” on the radio; it was different from anything else in the transitioning world of music; disco was dying everywhere except gay bars and so was operatic hard rock. New wave and punk were starting to make their presences felt on the charts, and of course the launch of MTV changed the world of popular music forever. I bought the Beauty and the Beat album the day it was officially released, at Tower Records on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno (I spent a lot of money in that Tower Records over the years). I loved it. It was one of the few albums I played cover-to-cover, over and over again. I wound up buying their albums on their release dates (alas, in the 1980’s there were only two more–Vacation and Talk Show–before they broke up the first time and an era ended), saw them multiple times in concert, and even bought their solo recordings (Jane Wiedlin’s solo recordings are spectacular and never got the attention they deserved).

I was distraught when they broke up.

So, naturally, when I heard Holly West was doing an anthology of crime stories based on the music of the Go-Go’s, I unashamedly contacted her and asked if I could write one for her. (I never do this, by the way. I will submit to open calls, but I never directly contact an editor to ask if I can write something for them.) Much to my delight, she said yes, gave me a list of song titles to choose from, and I picked “This Town.”

I honestly don’t know where the story came from. I cued up Beauty and the Beat on my computer one morning and blasted it while cleaning…listened to “This Town” on repeat a couple of times, and then sat down at the computer and started writing the story.

I was rather pleased with it, and so was Holly. The rest is history.

And when I found out Jane Wiedlin had written an introduction and the book was blurbed by 80’s MTV veejay Alan Hunter…what a fucking thrill.

And here’s the opening, for a taste.

Our IDs were fake, but no one seemed to care. Even when a burly bouncer asked to see them, his bare meaty arms adorned with tattoos, his bored eyes just flicked over the laminate before waving us inside. Celia was right about that, like she was right about everything. She could always find someone with coke to share or sell, or who was happy to share their blunt with us. She was a golden girl, the kind I used to think only existed in books or movies, the girl that’s too perfect to exist, the one every other girl wants to be friends with, wants to be. The one all the guys notice first, their eyes wide open and their jaws gone slack.

 She always had the trendiest new make-up, the first to try out a daring new look we were too cowardly to try but quick to copy, always the first, the one everyone else imitated. She seemed to glow from inside, drawing everyone’s eyes to her effortlessly, and she somehow managed to always look perfect, even when she was drunk, even after dancing for hours when our make-up was running down our cheeks and perspiration dampened our armpits. Her skirts were just the tiniest bit shorter than everyone else’s, her tops seemed to fit her in a way they didn’t fit anyone else, her hair thicker and shinier and bouncier. She pulled in guys like night insects to a white light, caught up in her magic, wanting her. They only noticed the rest of us once she’d turned her attention elsewhere. We didn’t mind taking second place to her because it seemed like the natural order of things. She always knew the right thing to say—whether kind or insulting—and we all gravitated to her, wanting to be her friends, to be her. She was our pledge class president, organized, efficient, determined we be the best pledge class our Omega Psi chapter had ever seen. Even the sisters seemed to be a little in awe of her, grateful she’d picked Omega Psi out of all the offers she’d had—every sorority had offered her a bid, I’d overheard one sister telling another at Monday night dinner, her voice awed as she went on to say that had never happened in the history of the Greek system at Tulane.

And she made us all feel special, whispering “Sisters” to us as we hooked our pinkie fingers and whispered the word back to her, committing to a lifelong bond with her.

She was Celia, and we were better for knowing her, special for being her sisters, like she’d selected us to be pledges and not the actives.

She somehow even knew the best places to catch the parades at our first Mardi Gras, and wasn’t from New Orleans.

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