Meet Me Half Way

LSU won last night, 58-37, over Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; but the defense gave up a lot in the second half–yards and touchdowns–and at times had me wondering if this would indeed turn into a trap game. A couple of offensive mistakes that the Rebels capitalized on, and suddenly they had pulled back within two touchdowns to 44-30 before the Tigers scored twice more to effectively ice the game. I may have sworn at the television a few times, as LSU’s pristine, well-oiled precision in the first half got sloppy in the second.

I suppose it is a measure of LSU’s success this season that a 21 point win in a rivalry game on the road felt disappointing; I guess this is what it means to become a member of an incredibly spoiled fan base. 58 points and over 700 yards on offense–and I was swearing at the television. Lord.

But the defense is going to have to play better than this if LSU is going to win the SEC title game against Georgia, who clinched the East by beating Auburn yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day on many fronts. I cleaned and organized, which of course always makes me happy; I didn’t get to the floors yesterday, but everything else is cleaned and organized, with a few more things to finish off this morning before I get back to work. I did have a relatively good day yesterday–cleaning and organizing capped by an LSU game is always the best Saturday possible for me. I also managed to read some more of The Ferguson Affair, and making notes on it. It’s not one of the stronger MacDonald novels–definitely not as good as some Lew Archers I’ve read–but it’s an interesting story, and I do like how the entire case begins with the main character, an attorney, being called in to represent a young woman accused of stealing, or rather, being part of a burglary gang robbing wealthy residents of the small city–and how it unrolls from there. I also made some notes on my current work-in-progress; dissecting why the story isn’t playing well in my head and realizing that it’s my own stubbornness and refusal to change things–even when they aren’t working. I always try to  make it work somehow before recognizing finally that it’s not working and must be changed; I have to go back and redo the first chapters of the book–which I’ve already kind of done. Part of the reluctance to see things clearly is because I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done—but if the work doesn’t work, accept that the time was wasted and redo it, for fuck’s sake. And so that is the task that lies before me today. I am going to go ahead and finish redoing chapter 13, because I’ve been in the middle of it for quite some time now–not finishing because deep down I knew I was going to have to go back and rework the earlier stuff, and why keep going when you know you’re going to have to revise and edit and rewrite what you are currently revising and editing and rewriting? Not an effective use of time or energy…and sometimes you have to just accept that you’ve wasted the time and be done with it. But I do believe I have now solved the key problem with my story, and it will now work going forward.

The other day I talked about the Stephen King short story “The Raft” (filmed as part of Creepshow 2), primarily in the terms of a book idea inspired by the trope of the story–essentially, four (or more) young people go somewhere no one knows they are, and something bad happens to them there–and they know rescue isn’t coming because no one knows where they are, and even if they did, it would take a while before anyone figured out they needed help–and wouldn’t know where to find them. Because of this, I kept thinking about “The Raft,” and finally at one point yesterday I got down my copy of Skeleton Crew and reread the story.

It’s extraordinary, really, and a good reminder of why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke’s Camaro. Deke didn’t waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camaro walk and talk.

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft. Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

Deke’s eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper’s eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably) and then fixed on a point.

“It’s there!” he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camaro. “Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

“The Raft” is a terrifying story, and one that is all too easy to relate to. Randy is the main character of the story, and we see it all through his point of view. Deke is his best friend and roommate, on a football scholarship, handsome and well-built and holding the world in the palm of his hands; things come easily to him, especially women. The two girls with them on this adventure are Rachel, Deke’s current girlfriend, and LaVerne–who, as it turns out, isn’t a particularly nice girl in how we tend to define that sort of thing. Randy likes Rachel but really is into LaVerne; one of the dynamics of the story is that Deke and Rachel’s relationship is ending (but she isn’t aware) and LaVerne is poised to move in on Deke–and it happens during the course of the story. Randy loves Deke, Deke is his best friend and he admires him and would do anything for him; but he also harbors a bit of resentment for his beloved best friend–for whom everything seems to be easy, and women willing to crawl into his bed are easy to find; he also resents that women don’t seem to notice him when Deke is around. This is excellent character building by King; this makes Randy relatable.

(When I first read this story in the mid-1980’s, I had already become accustomed to being the “friend no one notices”; I always had male friends who were good looking and well-built and a lot of fun to be around, so I always felt eclipsed and that no one noticed me. This continued for many years, even after I came out in every aspect of my life–that weird mixture of love and resentment one can have for a friend who is always the center of attention who doesn’t even try to be; it just happens. It also reminds me of the dynamic at the root of A Separate Peace, which I read as a teenager; I need to go back at some point and reread that book to get a better sense of the novel and the queer undertones that even I–a closeted and terrified thirteen year old–was able to pick up on.)

The building of suspense–and the terror that comes when they realize the weird little oil slick on the water not only has intelligence but is a predator–is phenomenal, and yet another example of King’s story-telling genius.

I also could relate to the story because when I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a nearby lake we often went to, for swimming and so forth; it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it, too, had a raft you could swim out to and sunbathe on. (I used that lake in my novel Sara; in what I think is probably the best, most frightening horror I have ever written–that chapter at the lake is absolutely terrifying–or at least I think so, at any rate.)

But remembering–and rereading–“The Raft” also reminds me of the Short Story Project from last year, which I hadn’t intended to stop doing, but I got sidetracked with this year’s Diversity Project, among other things. But it’s time for me to get back to work on everything this morning, and so, Constant Reader, I bid you adieu as I head back into the spice mines.

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Right on Track

I’m going to go vote as soon as I post this, as it’s run-off election day and the gubernatorial race is far, far too close for comfort, to be completely honest. It’s astonishing to me that this is even close, but hatred of Democrats runs deep in some sections of Louisiana. We have, despite our laxness in so many ways here, a deeply conservative streak running through the state; which is fine, a lot of states do, but here in Louisiana the fact that Bobby Jindal was so popular–even as his economic policies dismantled and destroyed the state while he used Louisiana as a launching pad for the White House–that he essentially ran for reelection unopposed, is absolutely terrifying. Louisiana has not completely recovered from the horrors wrought upon on every level by Jindal, whose desire for power and attention overruled any common sense approach he might have towards governing, and the thought we could return to those very policies that nearly bankrupted the state and could have resulted in our universities being shuttered, is absolutely terrifying. As I said, this shouldn’t even be close….and yet it’s going to be.

Tonight LSU goes to Oxford to play Ole Miss in the Magnolia Bowl; the renewal of another storied SEC/Southern college football rivalry, perhaps best known as the rivalry that  featured Billy Cannon’s run on Halloween night in 1959, as the Number One and defending national champion Tigers took on third-ranked Ole Miss. The punt return for a touchdown was LSU’s only score and a goal line stand as time ran out–Billy Cannon made the game-winning tackle as well–and LSU won. (Alas, LSU lost a later game in the season and didn’t win a second national championship; and just like in 2011, the Sugar Bowl was a rematch of that ‘game of the century,’ with LSU losing the rematch–also like in 2011, only with Alabama–21-0–which was also the score of the Alabama rematch in 2011.) The first time Paul and I went to a game in Tiger Stadium was the Ole Miss game in 2010; we went to the Ole Miss game in 2012 as well. Ole Miss always, somehow, manages to play LSU really tough, even in years when they should be a pushover; they take the rivalry very seriously–more seriously than LSU does–and have pulled off the upset more than once. (LSU returned the favor in Tiger Stadium in 2014, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season and ending their SEC–and national– championship hopes 10-7)

I also want to break the habit of referring to the University of Mississippi as Ole Miss, which has always bothered me and I’ve wondered for years when it would be brought up. The University is in turmoil these days–and kind of has been for decades, really; you would be hard-pressed to find another university in the South with stronger ties to the Confederate/Jim Crow/racist/segregationist past. The team name in the Rebels; for years the mascot was Johnny Reb; a white-haired, white-mustached white man in a gray Confederate uniform, and the fans in the stadium inevitably waved, rather than pom-pons or towels like so many fan bases do, Confederate flags. That flag–which is really the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia, so didn’t even really have a tie to the state of Mississippi other than as a symbol of racism and white supremacy–was also seen as a symbol of the school. Johnny Reb is no longer the mascot–it’s a black bear–and the fans no longer wave Confederate flags. But there’s some serious issues going on with the selection of the new university chancellor, and there’s also a movement to get Ole Miss removed as a designation/nickname for the school. It’s going to be hard to break the habit of shortening Mississippi to Ole Miss; but the nickname, sadly, also has its roots in the racist, slave-owning past.

Frankly, I’m surprised it took this long for people to figure that out, or to think about it.

“Ole Miss” is what the slaves called the matriarch of the family that owned the plantation; whether she was the “master’s” mother or wife–there could, at times, be an “Ole Miss” and a “Young Miss.” It’s right there in the pages of Gone with the Wind; the Fontaines have an Ole Miss and a Young Miss; the slaves at Tara call the white women “Miss”–Miss Ellen, Miss Scarlett, Miss Carreen, Miss Suellen–and it’s a sign of deference; as an older white man living in a Southern city I still see signs of this from time to time with my clients; younger people of color always call me “Mr. Greg” while young white people call me by my first name only. I cringe a little whenever they do, and always thank them for their politeness, but insist they drop the mister. It also makes me sad when they find it hard to do so; continuing to slip and call me Mr. Greg.

Anyway, there’s a movement afoot to remove the nickname from Mississippi–but seriously, typing that out even seems weird, and calling them Mississippi seems even weirder. But I’ve decided I cannot call them by that nickname any more. It may not be much, but it’s the least I can do.

I went up to Oxford for an event a couple of years ago; The Radical South–got put up in a gorgeous hotel on campus, paid a rather lovely honorarium, taken out for a lovely meal by the organizer who’d invited me (Theresa Starkey, who co-edited Detecting the South, the academic book of essays on Southern Crime fiction I contributed a piece to, that recently was released; one of my proudest career moments–not the least of which meant sharing a table of contents with Megan Abbott and Ace Atkins), and I actually rather fell in love with Oxford. It’s a charming little old Southern town, complete with a picturesque Town Square, with a courthouse on one side of it; my immediate thought was oh my God, Mayberry DOES still exist. As I walked around the town and explored, I was inspired, particularly because I kept finding places that were perfect for disposing of bodies (the crime writer mind is always active), and I began putting together a novel in my head; a series of rapes on campus with the serial rapist escalating, as the university and town desperately try to keep the rapes quiet until a body is found. Obviously, that couldn’t be set at the actual campus of Mississippi; I’d have to fictionalize it. I took tons of pictures and, as is often my wont, think about that book every once in a while.

What’s also interesting to me is that there’s no airport in Oxford–LSU flew into Memphis last night, and I would imagine bussed from there to Oxford, which is about a little under an hour away and just over the state line from Tennessee–and Oxford isn’t even on the Interstate; you have to take a state highway for about twenty minutes or so before you reach Oxford. (Mississippi State’s hometown of Starkville is also not on an interstate highway; the only major universities in the SEC that are in towns not on an interstate, at least that I’m aware of. Lexington, Knoxville, and Athens are off I-75; Vanderbilt’s in Nashville, etc etc)

Hopefully, we’ll keep our streak going tonight. A lesser team without the amazing offense we are running this year buried the Rebels last year–LSU has won three straight game in the rivalry; has only lost five times this century and one of the Rebels’ wins was forfeited. But as I said, the Rebs have always (I cannot tell you how hard it is to not default to calling them Ole Miss–Mississippi seems weird, as does calling them the Rebels or the Rebs–although in all honesty, if they changed their mascot to a Minuteman or a Revolutionary War soldier or  general it would make calling the Rebels or Rebs less fraught) played tough against LSU–those games we attended in 2010 and 2012 came down to the last minute before the Tigers prevailed.

Okay, I am going to finish this and go vote. I am going to come home and read The Ferguson Affair (it’s taking longer to read than it should, and I do have a serious problem with the main character, which I’ll talk about when I talk about the book), do some cleaning, brainstorm on the book and maybe even sit down and do some writing. I’ll probably put the Auburn-Georgia game on, but will try to keep myself occupied rather than just sitting in my chair and blowing off the entire day.

I also have to get the campus serial rapist/killer book out of my head for now, too.

FOCUS.

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Little Lies

Thursday, or as I prefer to call it, Friday Eve.

Yesterday was a lovely mail day. I received my contributor’s copy of Detecting the South In Fiction, Film & Television, edited by Theresa Starkey and Deborah E. Barker. It’s from LSU Press, and I think this might be (I could be wrong, my memory is a sieve) my first appearance in an academic-type tome. I can’t wait to start reading the other essaysm, but especially the ones by Ace Atkins and Megan Abbott, two of my favorite writers as well as two of my favorite people on the planet. My essay is titled “Down These Mean Streets (Whose Names No One Can Pronounce)”, and I’ll also have to reread it–I don’t remember a damned thing about it (see: sieve-like memory). Theresa, one of the co-editors, is also the person who invited me up to Ole Miss to speak at the Radical South event either last year or the year before; when I was completely charmed by Oxford.

I still might set a book there. The campus and town are gorgeous–although I would, obviously, have to fictionalize both.

I slept fairly well last night. I had dinner with a friend, and after a pre-dinner glass of prosecco followed by another glass of Chardonnay with dinner–apparently that was enough to send me off into the arms of Morpheus to my best night of sleep of the week thus far. Dinner was lovely–we went to Saba, a Middle-Eastern place on Magazine Street in Uptown, and the hummus was magnificent, as was the lamb kebob. Conversation was lovely–gossip as always, and catching up, and lots of laughter. It was quite lovely, and then I came home to watch this week’s American Horror Story: 1984, to see how far off the rails it was going this week. The answer: pretty far. It no longer makes the slightest bit of sense, and I’m not even sure what it now has to do with anything that happened earlier in the season. I’ll keep watching, primarily out of curiosity more than anything else–to see where it winds up going finally.

And wonder why I ever worry about my plots not making sense.

I’ve not written anything fictional this week, which is, frankly, disgraceful. But between this annoying low-level whatever it is that is still wrong with me–my throat is still sore, my sinuses are completely in revolt, my nose is rubbed raw again, and I’ve been achy most of the week–and being so tired and distracted the majority of the week, yeah, it’s no wonder I fell behind yet again on my goals. But I did get some of my other writing finished, including a short interview with Crime Reads (again about being an Anthony short story finalist, for which I am getting a lot of attention and more traction than I did as an anthology finalist two years ago–not complaining, just an observation…writing versus editing are pretty different), and I got my Sisters column finished. Also, as I said to my friend at dinner last night, I’ve been getting some positive reinforcement about my writing lately–lovely reviews and compliments, emails about the most recent book, compliments on my nominated short story–and that’s been really lovely. I actually sat down and skimmed through Royal Street Reveillon the other night as well–Paul got home late from the office that night, and while I waited I started reading it over again. As I always do when I reread published work I questioned decisions I made with both language/sentence choices, as well as plot decisions, but overall, I was pretty pleased with it when I finally set it aside. Someone did direct message me while they were reading it a few weeks ago, asking me how many car accidents has Scotty been in?, to which I replied, why do you think he hates driving so much? Scotty of course not only gets into a lot of car accidents, he also gets kidnapped or taken prisoner pretty frequently as well, to the point that it’s almost an in-joke between me and the reader.

But hopefully I’ll be able to get back to writing this morning, and tonight after work; so I can get back on track and get things back under control–some sort of it, at any rate. And hopefully, around the LSU and Saints games this weekend I can get almost completely caught up.

One can hope, at any rate.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Time Has Come Today

I arrived home from a second trip in less than a week about an hour ago. I made fantastic time from Oxford; I made it back to New Orleans in slightly less than fice and a half hours, including two stops for gas. I had the best time there, as well. I have lots of things to talk about regarding both trips, but right now I am decompressing and trying to get organized because I have to work tonight…and am already running out of steam. Whine. Ah, well, I can sleep late tomorrow. I did fall in love with both Montgomery and Oxford, though, and feel strangely reconnected to my Southern roots.

But I  also want to talk about this fantastic book I read on the trip, Luckiest Girl Alive, by Jessica Knoll.

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For the record, Constant Reader, anything blurbed by Megan Abbott is generally going to turn out to be fantastic.

I inspected the knife in my hand.

“That’s the Shun. Feel how light it is compared to the Wusthof?”

I pricked a finger on the blade’s witchy chin, testing. The handle was supposed to be moisture resistant, but it was quickly getting humid in my grip.

“I think that design is better suited for someone of your stature.” I looked up at the sales associate, bracing for the word people always use to describe short girls hungry to hear “thin.” “Petite.” He smiled like I should be flattered. Slender, elegant, graceful–now there’s a compliment that might actually defang me.

And so we meet Ani FaNelli, engaged to a successful businessman from old money, and she herself has her dream job at The Women’s Magazine (read: Cosmo). Ani had a horrific experience in her ritzy private high school in Philadelphia, which her social climbing mother forced her to attend, and after this event, focused on reinventing herself and doing whatever she had to in order to get the great life she felt she deserved after that horrific humiliation. But the facade of pretending to be the perfect fiancee is starting to wear thin…and as the book flashes back and forth between her wedding planning in the present day and what happened to her back at the Butler Academy, the edges begin to wear a little thin and she slowly begins to remember who she is beneath her carefully constructed facade, and the unraveling begins.

Ani is probably one of those characters male reviewers like to talk shit about–you know, the “unlikable woman”, which has apparently become so prevalent in suspense thrillers since the enormous success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and this one has the obligatory “girl” in the title, even–but the title phrase does come up during the course of the book, and as the story of Ani’s high school experience unspools…it’s so much much worse than you think it could have been.

This was an Edgar Award nominee for Best First Novel (she lost to Viet Thanh Nguyen’s The Sympathizer, which also won the Pulitzer Prize), and it’s riveting. Highly recommended.