Love is Alive

And so am I!

It’s Wednesday morning and it’s also pay day; which means I get to spend a goodly portion of my morning paying bills and watching my paycheck disappear. Huzzah! My desktop computer is currently updating its software–which, ever since the Great Data Disaster of 2018, always gives me a little pause. I do always hold out hope that every time this happens since then that perhaps, just perhaps, this update will fix the problems that I’ve been having with the Mohave operating system since it launched; which is enormously frustrating. It does, however, work beautifully in my Macbook Air, which makes me tend to think the issue is some software conflict within my system–which probably means I need to take the thing back into the store and have it looked at/worked on/possibly repaired…none of which things bode well, I have time or patience for, and could prove to be enormously frustrating in the meantime. But I do have the Air and this HP Stream, so I do have back-up computers just in case.  The Stream is good, but neither as fast, intuitive, or user-friendly as the Air; but it’s a good computer and I would recommend it to anyone looking for an inexpensive laptop.

I told a friend yesterday, and this is how I’ve been feeling, that I finally feel like my life is actually my life again; I’ve been feeling unsettled and not quite right ever since the Great Data Disaster–but the off-kilter actually began before that; the Great Data Disaster simply brought everything to the forefront. I am, as I get older, someone who draws comfort from routine; last October our long-time office on Frenchmen Street closed. I’d been working out of that office since 2005, and before that I volunteered there. The room that housed my actual office had been my office since 2010. We moved in October to our new building on Elysian Fields on the lakeside of Claiborne Avenue, which meant a whole new routine of getting to work and getting home from work. That was, I think, the first step out-of-place in my usual routine; I had to change everything and my weekly schedule of when I pick up the mail, etc. I was just getting adjusted to the changes when I left for Kentucky; then I came back to have to start over adjusting, and then the Great Data Disaster happened right around the holidays…and then came Carnival and the Weekend o’Festivals and the death of my old Air and yeah–it’s no wonder that I’ve felt off for months now.

This week is the first week I feel like me again, and it’s actually quite lovely.

But despite feeling like me again–and feeling like I can get everything done that I want to get done; that I can handle anything and yeah motherfuckers bring it the fuck on, I am a little scattered still this week. I think, actually, that paying the bills this morning might actually help in that regard. For one thing, it’s a short work week as I had Monday off to recover from the weekend and to try to put the house back together after TERMITE ARMAGEDDON; and that has me rather confused every day as to what day of the week it actually is. But I am going to persevere. I am going to make a to-do list and start getting through that. I am going to get back to work on the WIP so I can have a clean, strong first draft in hand by the end of April. I am going to get to all those emails in my inbox that have been reproaching me in silent judgment for weeks now. (Okay some of them have been there for months.) Paul’s home at night now (rather than coming in at midnight or later) and so we can get caught up on the shows we’re watching.

Oh, and the books I thought I’d lost? I found them. They were in a different pocket of my backpack. Seriously. I feel like an idiot–but at least the books were found before  I bought new copies–which would have sucked, utterly.

So, I feel like Gregalicious again, and it’s a terrific feeling.

With that in mind, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy Hump Day, Constant Reader!

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We Don’t Get Along

Music has always been a part of my life, and has, in many ways, influenced my writing. I’ve gotten book and short story ideas from songs I’ve enjoyed; I write more effectively and more efficiently when I’m listening to music; and I used to go into what I always referred to as the zone when I was writing with music on. I used to put several CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle before sitting down to the computer; hours later I’d come out of it with several thousand or so words written and the stereo had stopped playing.

I don’t allow myself a lot of regrets in life–life is too short to spend time mourning things you didn’t get to do–but one I do allow myself is having no musical training. I cannot play any instruments, I cannot read music, and I have no talent for it whatsoever. I thought at one point I could possibly write lyrics…but no, I have no gift for lyrics or poetry, either.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy music, and I do.

Which brings me to our next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s, Diane Vallere’s “We Don’t Get Along.”

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There’s more than one way to tie a knot, I thought. I yanked on the ropes, putting my weight into the move to increase the tension and tighten the cord. Kristine Chamberlain’s wide, brown eyes watched me in the reflection in the floor-to-ceiling mirror that was propped against the opposite wall. That was about the only thing she could do. The gag in her mouth kept her from a verbal response.

“Does this hurt?” I asked. “I don’t want it to hurt. It’s important to me that you’re not hurt. You’re not hurt, right?”

Kristine shook her head.

“Good. I didn’t want to tie you up.” Kristine raised one eyebrow. “This was Morgan’s idea. He said you wouldn’t be home. I told him to make sure. I told him I’ve been watch- ing your patterns every night for the past two weeks, so I could learn your schedule be- fore we picked a time to break in—a time when you’d be out. We needed to be patient. Morgan is impatient, so here we are.”

Kristine nodded again. Her eyes didn’t indicate fear. That was good. Fear made people do crazy things, and if tonight was going to go off without a hitch, everybody needed to act exactly as expected.

Kristine Chamberlain was a once-hot eighties pop star who’d lost her fame but held onto her wealth. She lived in the Hollywood Hills, where any number of houses fit the profile of potential target. She was like every other formerly famous celebrity hiding out in a too big house with too much stuff that cost too much money.

I was very pleased to see Diane Vallere in the table of contents, as she was an author whose work I’d been wanting to read. I have several of her novels in my TBR pile–I think the first two of her Costume Shop mystery series. She’s quite prolific, as you can see by clicking on that link, and if “We Don’t Get Along” is a barometer of her writing ability, I have a lot of hours of pleasure ahead of me in reading her backlist.

“We Don’t Get Along” is a very tightly written story, and quite a lot of fun. Morgan and Ginger (Ginger is a our POV character) are a married couple who burgle the homes of the wealthy in the Hollywood Hills…but after ten years of marriage they are calling it quits, after one last job–robbing former pop star Kristine Chamberlain’s home. As the burglary progresses, Ginger takes us through their “meet-cute” and then the years of marriage, from the happy early years to the slow growing realization that not only do they not get along, they don’t like each other very much. I love the entire concept of married-couple-as-criminals, and Diane does a great job here of fleshing them out and making Ginger–a criminal–not only likable but someone the reader can root for; we want her to succeed and get away from her loser husband.

And then the story takes a turn.

Great, great fun.

An American Dream

I am waiting for the other shoe to drop about Spotify, because I am really enjoying having it. Although I suppose…how do the artists get paid? Obviously, the music has to be paid for at some point–for the right to stream it, right? Then again, that isn’t how radio worked, and this is kind of like “choose your own radio/be a disc jockey”.

Talking about Pat Benatar the other day, of course, led me to make a Pat playlist, and of course the Go-Go’s anthology has led to a Go-Go’s playlist as well. I also made one for the Carpenters (on the Benatar thread I mentioned how noir their music is),Stevie Nicks (was there any doubt?), the Monkees (Peter Tork’s death), and copied some 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s pop hits ones. It’s actually been kind of fun.

Oh! TINA TURNER! Be right back.

So I managed to get two chapters revised yesterday; two more today and the thing is done. Oh, I still need to redo the prologue and write the epilogue, then copy edit one more time, but if I get these two chapters done today, I can do the prologue and epilogue on Monday, and do the final copy edit next weekend.

And then it’s finished.

I’m actually excited to get back to my short stories and my other WIP, to be honest. I want to get the WIP finished in its first draft by the end of March, then put it aside to rework another manuscript for the month of April before returning to the WIP.

Huzzah!

I am also very tired this morning. Muses last night apparently wore me out. My lower back hurts a bit and my legs are tired as well. It may have something to do with I bought a new brand of over-the-counter sleeping pills at Costco yesterday, the Costco brand at that. I tried them out last night and obviously they worked. I didn’t even wake up until almost nine this morning, and am still very sleepy and exhausted. Today’s goals are to wash the bed linens, do some more cleaning, cook some things, and do the last two chapters of Scotty. I doubt I’ll have much of a chance to work on it again until Monday; Paul and I always drink on Iris Saturday which makes the day a total waste, and Sunday is parades all day and recovery. I would like to power through today and get those last two chapters finished today, so I can go ahead and use Monday to write the epilogue, and then do one last copy edit on Fat Tuesday while the rest of the city parties and celebrates, and then I can be done with it.

It’s been a long haul, but I am very pleased with this Scotty book.

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

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Good for Gone

Music always brings back memories. One of the greatest disappointments of my life is I have absolutely no musical talent. I can’t read music, I can’t sing, I can’t play any instruments. My singing voice probably curdles milk.

But I love music, and I love all kinds and types and styles of music. I like Top Forty pop music from the 60’s and 70’s to album-only rock to country to jazz to rap to what I used to call ‘Ecstasy music’–gay dance remixes that were clearly mixed to enhance drug-dance marathons at three in the morning. My music collection has always been varied. I listen to music when I write, when I clean, when I do data entry at work, and it has always made the work go better.

The music of the Go-Go’s always brings back fond memories, of the times I saw them in concert, of other friends who were fanatics about them, and of course, from “We’ve Got the Beat,” Go-Go’s music really makes us dance!

Next up in Murder-a-Go-Go’s is Jen Conley’s “Good for Gone.”

cover-west-murder-go-gos-frontI’m going to tell you the truth. You don’t have to believe me, but I need to be heard. I need to tell you what love did to me.

Earlier tonight, I stood over my husband at the side of the bed holding a gleaming butcher knife, my hands shaking, my mind saying, He deserves it. Kill him.

My husband didn’t know I was there. He just snored on. His mouth open. His sleep apnea creating short quick pauses, then the chig chig sound burbling from his throat, followed by the release of breath. Sometimes he put the mask on before bed, looking like he’d emerged from some Rod Serling creation, and I’d once joked about it. “Episode 39, Season 7.”

“There is no season seven in The Twilight Zone,” he snapped, the snark dripping through his mask.

I met Jen at Bouchercon in Toronto; we were on an Anthony Awards Best Anthology Nominees panel, along with Jay Stringer, Sarah Chen, and Eric Beetner, if I am recalling correctly. It was an early morning panel, I think on either Friday or Saturday, and I’d stayed up much later than God intended, drinking with friends, and therefore wasn’t at my best on that panel…and in fact, I don’t remember much of it. I just remember liking them all, and thinking they were all smart and had terrific things to say, whereas I babbled like a complete moron. Jen was also at a disadvantage, in that she was nominated for a single author collection, Cannibals: Stories from the Edge of the Pine Barrens, whereas the rest of us were nominated for editing anthologies–so many of the questions thrown at us had to do with editing, rather than writing. But she was smart, she had terrific things to say, and I remember thinking I should read her collection.

It’s still in the TBR pile, alas, and this is my first time reading her work.

“Good for Gone” is a story about quiet desperation, about choices made and having to live with those choices. The older I get, the more these stories resonate with me, and the more I tend to write stories about bitter disappointment with life, and looking back with regret at the time you possibly chose the wrong path at a fork in the road. I’ve been thinking alot lately about how much the world has changed and evolved, as has society, since crime fiction started being published, and how motives for murder have also evolved. Do people still  kill to get out of bad marriages when divorce is so much easier to obtain these days?

The answer is yes, obviously, we see it in the news every day, and yet what works for real life doesn’t always work for fiction.

But Jen does a very deft job of getting inside her character’s head, of making us see the choices and the life and possibilities wasted and lost, about her wrong choices and regrets, and how that translates into the potential for murder.

Well done, Jen!

Misled

Saturday morning, and everything is dripping outside. A thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night, but the rain lulled me back to sleep almost immediately. I feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing. Today I am going to write and edit and clean and go to the gym; it’s been a while–I haven’t been to the gym since before the Tennessee Williams Festival, which is not only shocking but scandalous–and I have to make sure this mess of an apartment is under control. I also want to do some reading today; I am rather behind on the Short Story Project, and I really want to finish that Bryan Camp novel. (Preorder it, seriously.)

I reached the halfway point of the Scotty novel yesterday, which was both a relief and a little off-putting. It’s not very good so far, but it’s also a messy first draft; first drafts are supposed to be messy. This weekend i am going to reread it, as well as track the various plots while doing an outline of the first half; this will hopefully help me to catch mistakes and errors, and places where the story may have gotten off track. Sigh. The drudgery that must be done. It’s lovely to not be on a deadline, though, so I don’t that horrible pressure, that sense of time running out. I think that’s all part of the reason I have never felt satisfied with anything I’ve ever published; I always feel like I ran out of time.

So last night I watched the end of Jesus Christ Superstar, and then, bored, scrolled through all of my Apple TV apps until I found Red Dawn–not the remake, but the 1984 original–and thought, Hmmm, I wonder how this holds up, particularly in reading Molly Ringwald’s piece about The Breakfast Club, so I watched that, and have some thoughts. (And yes, I know it was remade recently, and perhaps that might be worth a watch at some point–Chris Hemsworth–but I was more curious to see the 1984 version as a time capsule of its original period).

So, Jesus Christ Superstar. I remember when it originally surfaced in the late 1960’s, a new take on the New Testament and the ubiquitous Christ story. It’s hard for people who weren’t alive during that time to understand how different the world was then than it is now; the changes that the 2016 election was a reaction to were beginning. Christians felt Jesus Christ Superstar was an abomination, a heresy, an attack on their faith; a modern day reinterpretation of the story, an attempt to make all the characters of the New Testament human was seen as an attack on their faith. Telling the story from the viewpoints of Judas and Mary Magdalen was even more offensive; the betrayer and the fallen woman? An attempt to justify and understand Judas, who committed the biggest crime in the history of the Christian faith? And well, the whore?

It was, regardless, incredibly popular; it made Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber stars (paving the way for everything they’ve done since; so in some ways we can blame Cats on Jesus), and the music was everywhere. “I Don’t Know How To Love Him” and “Superstar” played on Top 40 radio incessantly; even Helen Reddy recorded the former and had a hit with it. Ben Vereen was the original Judas and it made him a star. It was made into a film by Norman Jewison, which sparked more outrage and yet the soundtrack was a huge seller, with Yvonne Elliman playing the Magdalen again, with Carl Anderson as Judas and Ted Neeley as Jesus. I loved the film soundtrack–those vocals by Ted Neeley are intense–and listened to it all the time. I think I know the score by heart; but I also remember being criticized by classmates when I moved to Kansas for loving it so much.

I was rather dreading this live concert staging, to be honest; I like John Legend, but just wasn’t sure he had the vocal power to hit those intense notes. I also liked that they had cast a man of color as Jesus; Judas has always been a role for a man of color, and knowing that Brandon Victor Dixon, who’d played Burr on Broadway in Hamilton and Sara Bareilles was playing the Magdalen was reassuring. I didn’t watch it as it aired; we were watching something else Sunday evening, but I was following the live tweets and Facebooking, and the reviews were definitely mixed. But when I watched it myself, despite my misgivings and how much I associated the roles/vocals as already having been definitely performed, I thought it was very powerful and beautifully done.

Even as a child, certain tenets of Christianity, and the mentalities that went with it, made no logical sense to me (I know, trying to find logic and reason in religion is a fool’s game; which is why it’s called faith). The vilification of Judas, for example, never made sense to me. If Jesus is venerated, not just as the son of God but because his sacrifice made our salvation possible, didn’t it stand to reason that had he not be crucified our salvation through faith and Christ wouldn’t be possible? So, to me, it only made sense that Judas also should be venerated; without his betrayal the rest of it wouldn’t have happened. Likewise, the anti-Semitism reverberating through the century, based in the Jews being Christ-killers; if Christ hadn’t been crucified there would be no Christian faith, and no salvation. 

No one I ever asked these questions of were ever able to give me an answer that made sense to me.

So, my watching Jesus Christ Superstar as an adult who no longer considers himself to be Christian was vastly different from the twelve-year-old who saw the film after church on a Sunday. As I watched this time, I was able to see it from a new perspective, a new appreciation of the story; how would people see something like this happening in their lives, in their reality today? Over the centuries Jesus’ Jewishness has been whitewashed out of him; images of the blond blue-eyed Jesus are everywhere (Ted Neeley in the original film is one of those great examples) and I also realized that all the fiction about the mythology of the Christ (and there are a lot of them, from Ben-Hur to The Robe to Quo Vadis and on and on and on; the enormously successful mid-twentieth century author Taylor Caldwell wrote enormous, bestsellers taken from these stories–Dear and Glorious Physician about Luke, Great Lion of God about Paul of Tarsus, and I, Judas) always played up the supernatural and religious aspects of the story; Jesus Christ Superstar is one of the very few I am aware of that actually tells the story from a human perspective. Who were these human beings, these apostles, who listened to the message of Jesus and saw religion and faith and the world in a new light? Who witnessed the events described in the contradictory gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John?

To me, looking at the story from that perspective–“he’s a man, he’s just a man”–is a lot more interesting, and can provide fresh insight; make it relatable to newer generations. I always thought the resistance of organized Christianity to Jesus Christ Superstar, which made the story more accessible to younger generations, was kind of strange. But times, as I said, have changed. In 1970, the possibility of a live broadcast of Jesus Christ Superstar was unthinkable. And yet here we are today.

Red Dawn, in its 1984 original version, is a whole other ball of wax. And yet, as a historical document, watching it again now was an interesting experience. We forget the paranoia of the Cold War years, and people now in their thirties don’t remember the Cold War, the Soviet Union, the anti-Russia anti-Communist sentiment that was, in truth, the precursor to the prejudices of today. The fall of the Soviet Union and eastern European communism, the fear of world domination by Communism and the end of “Western freedom” as understood by Americans, was a serious thing; and while it heightened after the end of the Second World War, it existed since the Romanovs fell and the old Tsarist Russian empire became the USSR. Cuba was a huge part of that, too, and the anti-Castro hatred; a Soviet outpost just ninety miles from Florida, the fall of Central American countries under the sway of Cuban Communism…the geopolitical world of that time is incredibly hard to imagine today if you didn’t live through it, and even I forget…yet watching Red Dawn brought it all back vividly.

This is not to say it’s a good film, because it’s not. As a film it fails on many levels, not the least of which is acting and the script itself.

At the time of its original release, the movie was a big deal. People my age–early twenties, teenagers–made it into a hit, and also saw themselves as the characters in the movie, which even then I was all, yeah, right. (We always identify with the heroes in movies; we never see ourselves as the quislings.) The movie is about the outbreak of World War III and a Soviet invasion of the United States; it opens with Patrick Swayze dropping off his younger brother (an incredibly young Charlie Sheen) and his best friend (C. Thomas Howell) at the local high school. The score from the last football game is still up on the scoreboard; a loss for the local team, some good natured joshing about how it’s a disgrace and an embarrassment, the usual straight boy ribbing, and then it’s time for school. During History class soldiers start dropping in from the sky; when the African American teacher goes out to see what’s going on, he becomes the first casualty of the invasion (and my first thought was, of course the only black character in the movie is killed in the first five minutes). There is chaos, a group of the boys escape when Swayze comes back for them–why they drive past any number of commandos and soldiers who are killing everyone in sight and blowing shit up and aren’t targeted or killed themselves is move magic) and then rush out to hide out in the nearby mountains and forests, armed and dangerous, with no idea of what’s going on. Eventually two sisters join them–Lea Thompson and Jennifer Grey–and again, there’s really not much development of the characters; ‘something happened’ to the Lea Thompson character which is never discussed, but it’s changed her. Eventually, the kids become the Resistance, calling themselves Wolverines after their high school mascot, fighting back against the invaders.

There’s also a rather telling shot in the opening of the film, where you see the bloodstained back of a pick-up truck, with a close up of the bumper sticker reading You can have my gun when you pry it from my cold dead fingers. The camera then pans down to the dead body holding a gun; a commando reaches down and literally pries the gun from the cold dead fingers.

Eventually, they hook up with an American soldier who teaches them strategy, tactics, and they become an impressive teen fighting unit; he also explains to them how it all happened (paraphrasing): “All our allies in Europe stayed out of it because they’ve forgotten how to fight especially when they’re not the ones being invaded” and “Cubans infiltrated the country, coming in through Mexico pretending to be refugees from Central America or workers, and were able to get into our bases, ready for the signal.”

You can connect all those dots for yourself. All I will say was I sat there, watching and listening to all of this, and was like, really? And they talk about Hollywood’s liberal agenda?

There’s also a scene where the invaders have lined up a bunch of Americans who refuse to be re-educated, to be machine gunned, and they start singing “America the Beautiful” just before the Wolverines take the invaders out.

I also found myself wondering if anyone in 1984 saw this film as problematic, but I also rather doubt it. I know all my friends thought it was amazing, imagined themselves as freedom fighters, etc.

I know I thought about writing a book about an invasion of the United States; a seed of an idea that over the years has encompassed many themes and realities. Rewatching Red Dawn when my imagination had already been triggered by Jesus Christ Superstar  was an interesting experience.

But the most interesting thing was to see how much my own perspectives have changed over the last thirty or so years.

And now, to get some shit done.

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