Speak Now

I’ve always been fascinated by politics and history; the two go hand-in-hand, and you really cannot understand one without understanding the other. (Economics are also a lot more important than is ever given credit in most histories–wars and exploration and colonization was, inevitably, always about markets and trade and thus money) I’ve maintained for years that history should be taught as the advancement of individual rights–the ups and downs of individual freedoms, rather than dates and battles and Kings and Queens and Emperors–and that study of individual rights also needs to examine prejudices and bigotry and zealotry, and how those three factors have poisoned civilization and humanity throughout much of its history. I also feel that, while the study of wars are important for their impact, the fact that the impact these wars had on the citizens of the country (countries) being invaded was also important. Putting humanity in the study of human history would not only make it more interesting, but would also further the understanding that should come with the study.

I tend to avoid books about politics, or political thrillers–the news provides enough stranger than fiction moments every day–and as a general rule, fictional films about politics rarely interest me, either. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years, thinking a fictional show about our government couldn’t be interesting enough for us to get vested in; we were clearly wrong (but I still refuse to watch The American President.) Fletcher Knebel, a long forgotten writer of the mid-twentieth century, wrote political thrillers, and while I was aware of him when I was young, I never read any of his books; why read about fictional politics when actual history is available to read and study? But a few years ago, I read an article about one of his books, recently brought back into print, and intrigued me enough to want to read it.

It’s premise: what if a sitting American President begins to slowly lose his mind and grip on reality?

And I am sure you can imagine why that premise was intriguing.

Jim MacVeagh’s burst of laughter came so unexpectedly, his hand jiggled the stem of the wineglass, and a splash of champagne spotted the linen tablecloth. Sidney Karper, the Secretary of Defense, sitting on his right, grinned in shared appreciation and shook his head.

“Unbeatable, isn’t he, Senator? He just won’t be topped.”

“Nobody can touch him when he’s determined,” agreed MacVeagh. He wiped at his eye with a corner of his napkin and turned back toward the center of the long head table, cluttered with late debris of ashes and crumpled menus amid the sparkle of glassware.

The speaker, President Mark Hollenbach, was mock-solemn again after flashing a responsive smile for the spray of laughter which greeted his first sally. His was the honor chore of the night–the brief reply to the toast to the President of the United States which signaled the closing of another annual Gridiron dinner. The news correspondents had lampooned the Hollenbach administration and its foes in a series of musical skits, some sharp as stilettos but one belabored in its buffoonery, while the Marine Band orchestra in shining scarlet coats. played for the 550 diners.

I finally read this book while I was on vacation over Thanksgiving week, and found myself enjoying it tremendously. It’s a thriller, of course, and the main character is junior Iowa senator Jim MacVeagh. Jim’s a good guy, without too much ambition, with a wife he loves and a tween daughter he adores; he also is having an affair with the chair of the DNC’s secretary–not really a smart thing to do, but we see this self-destructive behavior from politicians all the time (although the idea that adultery is disqualifying for higher office has long since been shown up as a lie). After the Gridiron Club dinner, Jim is invited by the president to join him for a talk at Camp David–and it is there the story kicks into gear. Enormously popular President Mark Hollenbach has decided to dump his vice-president for the upcoming campaign–he’s been tainted with a whiff of scandal regarding a building project a campaign donor was awarded–and the President is interested in having Jim join him on the campaign trail.

Naturally, this is very exciting for Jim, awakening ambitions he wasn’t aware he’d even had, and realizing that, if selected, this would make him the front runner for the top of the ticket in four years–which of course is very exciting for any politician, particularly a young one–but as the conversation continues, Jim begins to become concerned, as some of the things the President wants to do in his second term are not only unconstitutional but borderline insane–for one example, he wants to wire tap every American’s phone, so as better to track and prevent crime, espionage, and foreign agents–and he also displays paranoiac tendencies. As Jim gets closer to the President and one step closer to being on the ticket, more and more evidence of the president’s instability is revealed to him….and he has to. ask himself–party or country? Patriotism or partisanship?

This is a terrific read, and certainly one any American today could identify with and get caught up in the story.

I’m now curious to read other works of Knebel’s, and then of course, Allen Drury’s terrific series of novels about Washington, beginning with Advise and Consent.

I do remember reading an Arthur Hailey novel about politics–yes, government was one of the industries he turned his research and writing to–called In High Places. (I read this during my Arthur Hailey phase; I learned alot from his books. I read The Moneychangers when I worked at a bank; he was spot on about day to day operations on the floor. I reread Airport when I worked at an airport; again, pretty spot on, despite the decades of changes to the industry since he researched and wrote the book.) And The Coyotes of Carthage, which I read earlier this year, was one of the best books I’ve read about rural politics.

I think you might enjoy Night of Camp David. I certainly did.

The Outside

And the vacation is over and it’s back to work this morning. Huzzah?

As I mentioned, I didn’t get nearly as much done as I had hoped over the vacation, but that always happens. I got back into the writing of the book, and that’s really the most important thing to me; I was beginning to think I was just going to keep blowing it off and then wake one morning and realize fuck it’s due next week and I haven’t done a fucking thing.

You know, like I always do.

But I made some good progress on the book; I started a couple of new short stories (whether they will amount to anything is a completely different subject, of course); I got a lot of rest, and I also managed to get some cabinets cleaned out and organized. Looking back, of course, it feels like I didn’t get an awful lot done and I am not entirely certain where all the time actually went–but I am counting the week as a win and will not give it to my tendency to be negative about myself, which is far too often my default.

I did finish reading Night of Camp David yesterday, and it’s timeliness was a bit astonishing, really; the concept of a president having a mental breakdown and being extremely paranoid is something I’ve seen at least twice in my lifetime, and hope to never see again. I started rereading William March’s classic The Bad Seed yesterday as well–I read it originally a very long time ago–when I was a teenager, I think; I checked it out of the library, as I recall–and I don’t really remember as much of it as I would like. I suspect most of my memories of the story are from the film, frankly.

We finished watching The Undoing last night, and I wasn’t terribly pleased with how it ended; it was an interesting episode, but it didn’t feel earned…no spoilers, of course, but I felt the ending was a bit of a cheat for those who’d watched the entire time, and too much was left unanswered, I felt. Your mileage might vary, of course. Overall we enjoyed it–the performances were great–but we were disappointed with the final episode, is all. We also watched another episode of Murder on Middle Beach, which was interesting–some new added twists and suspects mixed into it last night, and there’s only one more episode. I suspect the mystery of who actual committed the murder isn’t going to be solved in the final episode, but I do hope the young man making the documentary (about his mother’s murder) gets some kind of closure here, otherwise I am not sure what the point of the documentary was, other than the true-crime craze we seem to be experiencing right now in popular culture.

It’s very cold in New Orleans this morning–right now it’s forty-nine degrees, and not getting warmer today. The forecast for the week is abysmal–forties at night, sixties during the day–which is going to make getting up early and going to work a pain in the butt, as I am not a big fan of the cold under any circumstances.

And on that note, I need to start getting ready to head into the office. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

…Ready for It

And here we are, the last day of my vacation. As much as I hate to see the time off come to a bitter end, I am also kind of ready to get back to the office and get back to work.

It’s rained off and on all weekend, which has wreaked havoc with my sinuses, and it’s rather dreary outside my windows this morning. I slept fairly decently last night–waking up every now and then–but overall, it was a good sleep. I feel a bit sore and tired this morning–I got a blister on my left heel walking to the gym Friday, which is really and truly annoying, particularly since I’ve had the shoes I was wearing for several months and have worn them every day without incident; so why all of a sudden did the damned shoe rub a blister onto my foot? I really don’t need more irritation, and now I am worried about whether walking to the gym today will exacerbate the problem. My back is also sore and my legs feel tired, but skipping today would mean having to go after work tomorrow and Wednesday, and really, neither of those is a really likely option. I prefer my Sunday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, thank you very much. Maybe if I bandage it up well….

The LSU game was terrible, just terrible, on both sides of the ball. Texas A&M didn’t look much better than LSU, frankly, and the announcers kept talking about how A&M could get into the play-offs…and I was all, really? The game just seemed like a lot of offensive ineptitude from both sides. And while both freshman quarterbacks got into the game, neither really accomplished much–and that’s on the offensive line. Nobody was blocking anyone, and when you don’t block anyone, your quarterback ends up getting sacked. The play calling was also a little suspect to me; this has been such a weird football season thus far–the Denver Broncos are coming to play the Saints today without any quarterbacks–the more I think it should have just been cancelled and all players given an extra year of eligibility. I really don’t see how they can legitimately have a play-off and crown a champion when some schools haven’t even played all the limited schedule games they had scheduled. Ah, well. The Saints game should be interesting today, at any rate.

I worked on the book some yesterday and feel a lot better about the whole thing overall. If I can get through this draft relatively quickly–one or two chapters per day–I can then let it sit for a week or so and then go back in with my red pencil and build up the subplot threads running through it as well as come up with the perfect ending to the book; it came to me last night, and I think it is the right ending. We shall see, I suppose.

I also finished reading Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! by Stephen Rebello last night, which is the behind-the-scenes, gossipy look at how the movie version of Valley of the Dolls came to be. I love both book and movie, so I’ll have a separate entry about that book. I read some more of Night of Camp David as well, which is an interesting animal as far as political thrillers are concerned. (Granted, I’ve not read many political thrillers.) I’m over halfway finished with it, which will then lead to the dilemma of what to read next. Heavy heaving sigh.

I fell into an Internet wormhole last night on my iPad during the Iron Bowl (which was just as disappointing than the LSU game; I watch the Iron Bowl because it usually is a good–if bizarre–game full of crazy plays, freakish scores, and the feeling that anything can happen at any time; a trouncing by Alabama isn’t particularly interesting to watch, frankly), and it started with someone posting a picture of a really hot guy on one of the Facebook “hot guy” groups I belong to–I did a little bit of research into the guy, and it turned out he was an actor, did some porn in the 1970’s, and then became a private investigator in Hollywood–someone else had already claimed the title “private eye to the stars” but this is basically what this guy also does. Yes, you can hear the wheels turning in my head, can’t you? As I daydreamed and explored this concept in my head–the games, as I have previously mentioned, weren’t really holding much of my attention–I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether this would be a better series to write about in the 1970’s or in the present. But I really love the concept of the porn-star-turned-private-eye, and even came up with a title for the first story: Slow Burn.

It’s kind of fun feeling creative again, I have to say, and to have finally picked back up the reins of the book at last. I think it’s a good book, too; the story is involving and evolving as I revise this most recent draft. (I’m also amazed and more than a little saddened, at how bad some of the writing is; but that’s what drafts are for, aren’t they?)

As my vacation slowly winds down, I am surprisingly not disappointed by how little I have gotten done over this week. I got some things done; started two new short stories, got the book back in progress, did some absolutely necessary tidying of kitchen cabinets and so forth, and I did get some reading done. I think I can face the office tomorrow without an issue, either–other than getting up early, which is going to take some serious readjusting again–and over all, feel pretty good about everything.

And now back the spice mines.

Treacherous

And it’s Saturday, and my vacation is slowly but surely drawing to a close. Heavy heaving sigh,

It’s been lovely, actually, even if I haven’t been particularly inspired to do a whole lot this entire time. It’s always easy–and kind of a cop-out–to say, well, you needed the physical, intellectual, and emotional rest, but I really need to cut myself a break every now and again. The endless struggle between “feeling lazy” and “everyone needs a break” is an endless war inside my head; inevitably, the things I need to get done will get done and at some point, I’ll forgive myself for the rest.

I had a very strange inspiration for a short story the other day, which I scribbled down and have some vague idea of where the story will go; it’s called “The Sound of Snow Falling” and the first line is: It was the ice storm that finally broke him. I love that first line; whether it will wind up being a good story remains to be seen. But one thing I’ve never mined in my fiction is my utter hatred for cold weather; perhaps it’s time.

I actually worked on the book yesterday afternoon! It was lovely, and while it still needs polishing up some, I am confident that now that I’ve gotten past whatever the fuck it was that kept me holding back from working on it, I am certain I am going to get this done sooner rather than later–which is a very good thing, as time is running out very quickly. Today I have to run some errands, so I am planning on working on the book before I do that. The Iron Bowl (Auburn-Alabama) is today, and LSU plays Texas A&M tonight, so I need to try to get as much done as I can before the 2:30 kick off.

I did go to the gym yesterday and today my back muscles are sore and tight, so I am going to need to use the heating pad at some point today–probably while I drink more coffee and read some more of Night of Camp David, which is kind of scarily prophetic, given it was published originally in 1965. We also watched this week’s episode of The Mandalorian, which did a marvelous job of tying the show into the the original trilogy, the prequels, and the final trilogy–apparently, it also tied the show into The Clone Wars, which I’ve never watched (and perhaps should). We also found out the Child’s name–Gorgu–and as always, the show was enormously entertaining (also: a guest spot by Michael Biehn, of The Terminator and Aliens fame!) and visually stunning and splendid. It did occur to me last night that the show–in which the Mandalorian’s quest is to find Gorgu’s people–can’t ever really separate them, as their relationship is at the beating heart of the show.

The show is really one of the highlights of my every weekend, frankly.

We weren’t ready for bed yet, and were trying to find some stand-up comedian special to watch before hand–to no avail–when Amazon Prime suggested Porky’s to us. I had actually run across the movie when looking for things to add to my watchlist, and the film–from 1981–was a watershed moment in “teen movies”–when they turned from the unrealistic fluff from Disney or message movies to sex comedies. I assumed the movie wouldn’t hold up–I remember thinking it was really funny when I was twenty and saw it in the theater–and I was correct; the humor falls very flat in almost every case; the way women are treated–and the way they are expected to simply put up with it (and do) is horrifying, It’s a comedy predicated on the idea that high school boys are always horny and always trying to get laid–none of the boys have a relationship of any kind with any women–and the only female cast members exist only as potential sex partners–Wendy is the female equivalent of the boys, and despite her easy way with her own favors, (basically the boys see her as a willing sex partner who can be persuaded to have sex with just about anyone) she is actually popular and has a lot of friends. (This struck me as wrong when I originally saw it–she would have had a bad reputation-and none of the girls would have been friends with her) The other women in the cast are Miss Honeywell (a very young Kim Cattrall)–again, everyone calls her Lassie because she gets very aroused by the smell of the equipment room and howls loudly as she gets laid–and an uptight, overweight, gym teacher known as Beulah Ballbricker, that they all call Ball-breaker and I suppose her sexual repression and determination to keep the girl students safe from the lusts and perversions of the boys is played for laughs. She represents the sexual frustration and repression of the time, I suppose, that all the kids are rebelling against; but you also can’t help feel sorry for her in some ways.

The movie clearly doesn’t hold up–there are still some moments that are funny–but it depends entirely too much on very low sex humor for laughs, and its very vulgarity was what made it funny; it was shocking, and you would laugh back then because you couldn’t believe they were doing these things in a movie for laughs. Some forty years later, it’s no longer shocking, so it’s not funny anymore and it’s just plain vulgar. They also tacked on a subplot about prejudice and anti-semitism to, I suppose, give the movie a “serious” message about how stupid bigotry actually is in reality. And yet it–along with Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Animal House of a few years earlier–changed the teen movie forever, and paved the way for other movies of the 1980’s like Risky Business, Sixteen Candles, and The Last American Virgin. With the enormous success of this low-budget indie film, along with Ridgemont High and Animal House, Hollywood finally got the message that you can’t go wrong with sex comedies for teens–and teen movies, while still kind of extreme in some ways, began to more accurately reflect what life was like for teenagers, as opposed to the Frankie-Annette movies of the 1960’s and the Kurt Russell films for Disney in the 1970’s; or began developing films in which the teens were actually fully realized characters–I’m not sure how realistic the notion of running a brothel from your parents’ home in a wealthy suburb is. (Although now that I’ve said that, Risky Business was probably based on something that actually happened.)

There’s a really interesting essay or dissertation or even book there, methinks, but I’m not enough of a film expert to do such a thing–although it would make for interesting reading.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. The caffeine is beginning to kick in, which is most lovely, and I am most anxious to get functional and to work on the book as quickly as I can. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Lover

And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.

No thank you.

I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.

So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.

Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?

I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)

All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.

There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Way I Loved You

I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.

Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.

I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.

I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.

I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.

The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.

Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.

Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.

I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.

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