Caribbean Queen

It’s raining this Sunday morning in New Orleans, with the occasional growl of thunder and a constant leak from the gray skies overhead. When I woke up, this leak was a faucet, turned all the way to high and so loud I wasn’t certain it could actually  be rain; my first thought was I wonder if the streets are flooding again and my second we have tickets to see The Last Jedi at one fifteen; will we be able to make it to the Palace theater in Harahan? As my first cup of coffee brewed this morning I checked to see if there are any reports of flooding in the city; there aren’t, and none are, apparently, expected. And yet any rain here carries with it the possibility of rising water and ruined cars, fears of hundreds of dollars in repairs if you are lucky, scrambling to find the money for a new one while battling with your insurance company and your lender in the meantime.

I worked yesterday, ran some errands, came home and made myself barbecue-flavored chicken nuggets in the oven; the TGIFriday’s brand, frozen food, heated for ten minutes on each side at 375 degrees in the oven. It’s easy and quick, doesn’t taste horrible, and fills the emptiness; Paul was also at work and we were going to a Christmas party last night in Uptown so I didn’t see any need in actually making any food that would make a mess; I’ve not had time to clean and organize and file this week; but I am hoping to get all of that done this morning before we brave the storms to see our movie. There’s something comforting and relaxing about rain, though, despite its imminent and constant threat here, I’ve always found rain to be a relaxing experience, a cozy one; safe inside from the wetness and able to witness it through windows, warm and dry and somehow protected.

Yesterday I finished reading yet another book, another one that I enjoyed tremendously; Reality Boy by A. S. King. I’ve had the book for quite some time, it’s been in my TBR pile for years now. I don’t remember why I bought it, other than an interest in the subject matter; the after-effects of being a reality show celebrity as a child. I’ve always watched, enjoyed and been fascinated by reality television; one of my early ideas for a Scotty novel involved a Real World type show being filmed in New Orleans (that show has filmed here twice; the first time in my neighborhood). Even early on, I saw, in The Real World, the classic Agatha Christie set-up: a group of strangers thrown together in a confined space, forced to interact with each other and all for the benefit of cameras, some hidden and others hand-held. It seemed perfect for a classical-style locked room murder mystery; the locked room, of course, being the cameras. I toyed with it and played with the notion for several years, before finally deciding on the bizarre plot that became Mardi Gras Mambo; the first iteration of that novel was the reality show plot that I eventually lost interest in and threw away so I could start over. Reality television has taken over our culture in so many ways; you are just as likely to see a reality “star” staring at you from the covers of the tabloids and celebrity magazines in the check-out line at the grocery store as you are to see an actor or an actress or a member of British royalty. I do watch some reality television still to this day, primarily franchises of the Real Housewives, some more so than others, and other shows I absolutely will not watch, as though some of these shows are somehow more highbrow, more morally and intellectually pure, than others.

As I said the other day, I had decided to get through some of the young adult fiction in my TBR pile once I’d finished Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, and I greatly enjoyed The Truth About Alice. Reality Boy has been in my pile for quite some time; and I pulled it out and started reading it Friday night once I’d finished the Ritter and Alice. Reality Boy was, in a word, quite extraordinary; I’m not sure that I would classify it as full-on noir, but it’s definitely domestic suspense bordering on domestic noir.

reality boy

I’m the kid you saw on TV.

Remember the little freak who took a crap on his parents’ oak-stained kitchen table when they confiscated his Game Boy? Remember how the camera cleverly hid his most private parts with the glittering fake daisy and sunflower centerpiece?

That was me. Gerald. Youngest of three. Only boy, Out of control.

One time, I did it in the dressing room at the mall. Sears, I think. My mom was trying to get me to try on some pants and she got the wrong size.

“Now you stay right there,” she said. “I’ll be back with the right size.”

And to protest having to wait, or having to try on pants, or having to have a mother like her, I dropped one right there between the wicker chair and the stool where Mom’s purse was.

And no, it wasn’t excusable. I wasn’t a baby. I wasn’t even a toddler. I was five. I was sending a message.

As much as I enjoy the reality shows I watch, one thing that has always put me off about them is when adults use their children as props on these shows. It’s one thing when you’re an adult, or when your children are adults and have the kind of agency to decide whether they want their life to be turned into a circus or not. It’s entirely another when parents decide they want their young children trotted out for the cameras like some dog-and-pony show to show off what great parents they are, or how talented their children are, or how cute they are. I particularly loathed those ‘nanny’ shows, where ‘problem’ children were trained by a some Mary Poppins stand-in to be behave better when their parents can’t control them; those videos and tapes are going to, I have often felt and believed, haunt those kids for the rest of their lives.

The premise of Reality Boy is precisely that.

Gerald, at ages five and six, appeared with his family on one of those nanny shows, and his particular problem was that he defecated as a sign of rebellion and protest; in his mother’s shoes, in the hallway, etc. He became viral and forever known as the Crapper. He is now sixteen going on seventeen, his family is still just as dysfunctional as ever, and he is regularly taunted, mocked and bullied for his reality show past. Being a teen is hard enough for any number of reasons–as explored in The Truth About Alice, for example–but imagine being famous/infamous for behavior when you were a small child, on television.

Reality Boy is about Gerald’s learning to cope with his past, learning to cope with his future, and recognizing, at long last, that he could have a future. It’s exceptionally well done, and as King reveals the layers of dysfunction that led to Gerald’s behavior, the truth of his life and his own reality, why he is been labelled a problem child and a disgrace, are even more horrible. And yet Gerald has to find the strength to cope, to deal, and to by the time the book ends, there’s hope that Gerald’s life is going to get better. It’s extremely well done, Gerald comes to fully-realized life beautifully on the page, and his burgeoning relationships with new friends and maybe, even, just possibly, a girlfriend–help him to grow and understand. It’s incredibly well done, and it’s also a cautionary tale that needs to be sent to anyone who’s ever trotted their children out for the cameras for fame and money. It makes you wonder what Honey Boo-Boo’s life is going to be like when she’s seventeen, or Teresa Giudice’s daughters (they’ll probably still be on television). It also makes you wonder just how complicit those of us who watch these shows are in the possible damage being wrought on these children.

My current Scotty book has me returning to the reality well, only this time with a Real Housewives-type show. I’ve already done nine chapters, and had already decided to toss those and start over because it wasn’t going in the direction I wanted it to go; I wasn’t saying what I wanted to say in the book. I had planned on starting it over again, but now…now I am thinking I need to sit down and think through what I want to say in it, maybe plan it a little more than I’ve ever planned a Scotty book before. I don’t know, but I’ll be keeping you posted.

Lust to Love

Thursday! This week has slipped right through my fingers, hasn’t it? I looked at my weekly to-do list and was very disappointed to see many things not crossed off, that will have to carry over until next week. I am going through the WIP painstakingly; I am doing a line edit, which is something I’ve not done in a long time on one of my own manuscripts (which is really shameful to confess; in my own defense the copy editors haven’t had to do too much to my manuscripts to clean them up because I generally write very clean copy to begin with), but I am also trying to make this manuscript leaner than it came in on the last several drafts; it’s still sitting at over a hundred thousand words and at most, it should be ninety. At MOST. But it’s taking me longer to do than an usual edit, and I am having to pay more attention because I don’t have long stretches of time to dedicate to it, grabbing an hour here or there whenever I can. I will probably wind up working on it a lot this weekend because I really want to get it finished, once and for all.

I’ve also been revising a short story at the same time, and that’s coming along really well, too. I am very happy with the writing I’ve been doing, which is a lovely thing.

So, The Great Gatsby. I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I finished reading it the weekend before last, and while I am still not convinced it is either the great American novel or a masterpiece, I did enjoy it much more than I did when I was a teenager and had to read it for American Lit at Bolingbrook High.

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In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I’ve been turning over in my mind ever since.

“Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone,” he told me, “just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.

He didn’t say any more but we’ve always been unusually communicative in a reserved way and I understood that he meant a great deal more than that. In consequence I’m inclined to reserve all judgements, a habit that has opened up many curious natures to me and also made me the victim of not a few veteran bores. The abnormal mind is quick to detect and attach itself to this quality when it appears in a normal person, and so it came about in college I was unjustly accused of being a politician, because I was privy to the secret griefs of wild, unknown men.

When I read this book in high school, all I could think was how boring. As my teacher went on and on about the symbolism of the green light on the dock, the eyes on the billboard in the valley of ashes on the road from the Long Island twin villages of East and West Egg (where the Wilsons’ garage was), the valley of ashes itself, and on and on, I just rolled my eyes in the back of the room, unable to wait to get back to reading whichever Ellery Queen or Agatha Christie or P. G. Wodehouse or Victoria Holt or Phyllis A. Whitney novel was next up in the stack from the library. My primary takeaway from the book? Every character in it was awful, even Nick Carraway, the narrator who knew everything, said nothing, and allowed the tragedy to unfold.

Several years ago, I was talking about books with a writer friend and I just kind of casually tossed out the notion, without putting a lot of thought into it, that “I mean, The Great Gatsby is a murder mystery told in reverse. A crime writer would have started with the body in the pool, unpeeling the layers that led Wilson to shoot Gatsby, with the big reveal at the end that Daisy was actually driving the car.”

Laura Lippman, one of our most talented voices and one of the smartest people I know, has said that she doesn’t like when people take books that are considered ‘literature’  and use them as examples of crime novels, to give the genre more cred (and is there anything more annoying than the phrase elevates the genre? Whenever I see that it makes me homicidal, because it implies that everything else in the genre is garbage), like those who say, “well, Crime and Punishment is a crime novel.” The definition of mystery that Mystery Writers of America uses, though, (paraphrasing) is “any fiction about a crime; the commission of, the solving of,  the events leading to,and/or the after-effects of,  a crime.” Dostoyevsky’s book certainly fits that description, as does To Kill a Mockingbird, Les Miserables, Sanctuary, and so many other books. Laura’s point, though, is that there are plenty of crime novels that are literature and can be seen as such without having to pull in books that aren’t traditionally seen as crime novels to give the genre credibility.

But in all honesty, I would rather read The Great Gatsby written as a crime novel rather than the way it is written and structured. It’s fine–don’t come for me, Gatsby fans, seriously–as it is, but I think the themes could be explored more deeply in a crime novel. On this read, I didn’t find I cared or liked the characters any more than I did the first time; I’m certain that was Fitzgerald’s intent. Nick, our narrator and our introduction to the glittering world of the rich in the 1920’s, may not be the most reliable narrator. Tom and Daisy are, frankly, awful people. Tom is an aggressive bully who thinks nothing of cheating on his wife or hitting a woman; the scene where he breaks Myrtle Wilson’s nose is horrific. Daisy is a self-absorbed narcissist needing constant entertainment; the two of them are a perfect match, and one can only wonder about how awful of a person their daughter will be when she grows up. (Hmmm, now there’s a book idea: Daisy’s Daughter.)

We don’t really learn much about Gatsby at first, other than he seems to have a lot of money, lives in an enormous house in less fashionable West Egg, and throws a lot of parties. There are lots of rumors about him, which Nick dutifully records, but the reader does eventually discover that he grew up very poor, but during World War I he was briefly stationed in Louisville before deploying, where he met and fell in love with Daisy before she married Tom. Whether he actually loved her or simply became obsessed with her we never know, as readers; but not being good enough for Daisy is what drove him to get money–because he believed that his poverty was the thing that kept Daisy from his side, and also convinced himself that she loved him. They do reunite during the course of the book, but again, Daisy isn’t really in love with him. She’s just bored and knows Tom is cheating on her, but in the big confrontation scene in the apartment in New York where Tom usually meets Myrtle, Daisy just sits there and won’t commit to either man. She is the one who accidentally runs Myrtle over in the road–which leads her cuckolded husband to shoot Jay Gatsby while he floats on an inflatable raft in his pool. The funeral of the man who threw such lavish parties, filled with people, is sparsely attended; Tom and Daisy simply go away, wash their hands of the mess, and go on with their lives. Gatsby–and Myrtle–were just blips in their lives; speed bumps they had to slow for and forgot about once they moved past. Nick’s disgust with them–which they would no doubt laugh about as bourgeois middle class moralizing, also leads him to end his budding relationship with the athletic Jordan Baker, who is basically cut from the same cloth. She cares so little for Nick, it turns out–who she has been seeing for the entire summer–that when he didn’t call her for a few days she just shrugged and moved on. An embittered Nick says of them all, They were careless people, unconcerned with the people whose lives they’ve smashed.

The book sadly still holds up in its theme; the rich continue to be careless and unconcerned with other people; almost more so today than in Fitzgerald’s time. Gatsby, so desperate to be one of them, was never accepted and forgotten once he was gone.

I enjoyed the book much more this time out; as an adult, its look at classism in what was supposed to be a classless society made more sense, and resonated more, and the characters seemed more real; the thirteen year old sophomore who originally read the book didn’t know enough of the world for the book to resonate. It would be terrific if someone would do an homage-like update of the story; although the case could be made that this is a storyline that runs through almost every iteration of the Real Housewives shows.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Time for Me to Fly

Thursday. I guess the storm has passed, as all is calm and sunshiney outside this morning. It actually was last night as well; I wound up with the entire day off because all of our testing events were cancelled, so I got to watch Real Housewives of New York in real time, and then Paul and I started watching Claws, which we really like. I’d forgotten I have the TNT app on our AppleTV, so we can also watch Ellen Barkin’s new series, Animal Kingdom,  as well. Now if I could only find that Nick Jonas playing gay show, Kingdom, we’d be all set for a couple of weeks.

I wound up not working on the WIP yesterday; I needed a day off from it after working so hard to get caught up on it, and I’ll be diving into it again tonight after I get home from work. I am very excited about it–trying not to get that way; one cannot allow oneself to get TOO excited about anything in this business; that is the quickest way to madness–but I am happier with this manuscript than I have been with any other I’ve written in a very long time.

I also spent some time yesterday in my easy chair with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap while I read more of Lisa Unger’s stunning Ink and Bone, which is simply extraordinary. The great thing about discovering Lisa Unger last year with Crazy Love You is there is an extensive backlist; I have a lot of great  reading in my future thanks to Ms. Unger’s talents and work ethic. Huzzah!

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday for you, Peter Barton from his The Powers of Matthew Star days.

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Telephone

The Carnival hangover continues.

I worked twelve hours yesterday, including bar testing last night, so that could account for feeling drained this morning. It’s probably a combination of the two–long day, post Carnival malaise–but I only have to get through today and tomorrow and then it’s the glorious weekend again, which is quite lovely. These abbreviated work weeks always feel somewhat off, much as I love long weekends. I started work on Crescent City Charade yesterday morning but didn’t get very far; I am thinking it wasn’t smart to try to get it going in the wake of Carnival–smart or not, I am not beating myself up because it didn’t come easy. I do have those days when nothing really comes out on the page, and it really can’t be forced. (I mean, it can, but it usually ends up being such garbage it has to be completely redone or thrown out; on the other hand sometimes when I force it, it’s hard going at first and then it truly gets going. I can usually tell the difference, though, and I could tell yesterday wasn’t going to be one of those good days of work.)

In other good news, my editor liked Wicked Frat Boy Games, which was absolutely lovely news to wake up to. Now I just have to go over her edits. Hurray!

Paul and I are watching Big Little Lies on HBO and we’re enjoying it so far; great performances not only by the actresses in the leads (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shaillene Woodley, Laura Dern) but also good roles for the supporting males, and the kids are also pretty good. It’s beautifully shot, and the suspense is doing a slow build. Paul did comment that it seemed a little Real Housewives of Monterey-ish to him, but I suspect that any film or television vehicle driven by women interacting is going to feel that way for a while.

I do enjoy the Real Housewives, I’ve never denied that; it’s a fascinating phenomenon, and as ‘staged’ and manipulated as these shows can be (the Lifetime series UnReal did a really great job of tearing away the veil on these sort of shows; the first season was fantastic; I didn’t watch the second season but from everything I’ve read it wasn’t nearly as good as the first; I may go back and watch it at some point when I have time–I crack myself up); Alison Gaylin wrote a wonderful y/a ebook about a young girl whose family had a reality show called Reality Ends Here which I highly recommend. I explored the ‘real housewives’ in a Paige book called Dead Housewives of New Orleans (no longer available; long story) but because of rushing and publisher deadlines and so forth I wasn’t able to make that book all I wanted it to be, so I am rebooting the concept and making it the Scotty book I am working (or not working, as the case may be) on, but it will be vastly different in this incarnation. Pretty much the only thing that is going to stay the same is the background set-up of the book; a reality show about social climbing upper class New Orleans women. I really want to get this right, you know?

And on that note, I am going to get my day going.

Here’s a hunk for you, Constant Reader: