I Want a Dog

I don’t actually want a dog. I love dogs–always have–but our apartment just isn’t big enough to add a dog, and we don’t have a yard, either. Plus our work schedules are so all over the map and erratic we could never get on a proper “walk the dog” schedule for one, which isn’t fair to the dog. (However, I do love other people’s dogs. Dogs and cats always seem to gravitate toward me as well.) We never intended to even have a cat; we had a mouse when we lived in the carriage house and the advice we got from everyone was, simply, “get a cat and the problem is solved.” That’s how we acquired Skittle; and of course, after his early and untimely passing we barely went two weeks before adopting Scooter…and of course, over the years we’ve fed and befriended any number of outside strays. Currently, Tiger has been around the longest; Simba is more recent, and there’s also a tuxedo hanging around out there that’s still too timid to come close. (He did let me pet him the other day, but then bolted when I put some food out for him.) But Paul and I are the cat whisperers, and soon the tuxedo will be named and part of the herd out there.

And you got to love a tuxedo cat. Especially when their white paws look like they are wearing little white gloves!

Friday, and it’s really Memorial Day weekend eve. I am looking forward to three lovely days off, during which I have a shit ton of things to get done. This week hasn’t been a good one for me regarding energy and focus; I’m never quite sure why that is, or why some weeks I am completely useless and another week I’m highly functional and productive–here’s hoping this weekend is one of those highly productive times, because I need to catch up from this past week’s uselessness. Paul wasn’t home last evening; he was out visiting (and maintaining social distancing) a couple of friends, so I finished watching The Story of Soaps, moved on the catch up on Real Housewives (both Beverly Hills and New York), watched another episode of The Dark Side of the Ring (this one detailing the sad and tragic death of Owen Hart), and then finally went to bed early. I had a very good night’s sleep; I feel very rested and awake this morning, which is a very good thing, obviously. Today is syringe access Friday, which means standing in the parking lot in the horrible heat and humidity for five hours, and I am also getting fitted for PPE this morning–our STI clinic appears to be reopening now on June 1, so I have to wear PPE in order to see my clients. I had to fill out a bizarre questionnaire preparatory to being fitted this morning–some of the questions I simply couldn’t answer; I assumed it was a generic questionnaire used for both PPE and HAZMAT gear, based on some of the questions–and I have a bit of trepidation about this now I didn’t have before; but that’s entirely because of the questionnaire. I’ll definitely let you know how the fitting goes, because it’s going to be a completely new and different experience for me.

The heat and humidity are coming back, and of course, there’s already been a named storm, prior to the official opening of hurricane season on June 1. I am trying not to be overly concerned about this year’s hurricane season, quite frankly–how do you have an evacuation under these incredibly trying circumstances–and so that’s going to be some more added stress to the already hot and humid climes we will be dealing with.

I also don’t have a lot of confidence on how a major storm coming in this year will be handled, from prep and evacuations to the aftermath.

Well, there’s a cheery thought for the morning..

And on that note, back to the spice mines. Hope you all have the Friday you deserve! (PS The tuxedo cat just came through the fence!)

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Neither One of Us (Wants to Be The First To Say Goodbye)

Wednesday, and the midway point of the week yet again.

Today is-payday-so-I-get-to-pay-the-bills day (hurray!), so I’ve been grimly paying the bills all morning. Well, not all morning, but that’s what I’ve been doing for the last few minutes or so. It never ceases to amaze me how embittering paying the bills is; I loathe nothing more than paying bills, and it also makes me resentful. I’m not sure why precisely; everyone has to pay bills,  bills are all part of living in our capitalist society–but I cannot deny that I simply cannot wait to be finished paying off my car. I finally have the loan down to four figures, and I keep hoping that at some point there will be an end in sight. I also cannot help but think that probably the most bitter I will ever be about paying the bills will be the second-to-last car payment; knowing that I am so close to being finished with that debt, and yet so far from the end. But it’s a Honda, and if I take really good care of it, I should be able to make it last for at least another six or seven years minimum after it’s finally paid for.

And I absolutely love the car. Every time I have to drive somewhere, or get on the highway, or have to parallel park into a tight space–yeah, I am so grateful for this car it isn’t even funny.

I have been sleeping extremely well lately–and probably just jinxed it–but it was quite lovely to sleep in this morning and behold all the things that have slid over the last two lengthy days. My kitchen’s a mess, my work space is also a disaster area, and I have to run errands this morning so I have to get a move on quite soon to start getting ready for work and to run said errands. I have a tire that is losing air slowly–I should probably take it back to the dealer and have it replaced or repaired–which means not only do I have to get gas this morning I also have to put air in one of my tires. Hurray? I also had a large project land in my lap this week, and it’s time-sensitive, so I am going to have to spend some time every day working on it in my spare time. That’s what I did last night instead of writing, and will probably have to do so again today. I did watch the second part of the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion last night–which was a shit show, to say the least; I don’t understand why Camille has it in for Denise, of all people–and I also can’t help but feel this show either needs to be completely recast and rebooted, or simply canceled. The ratings don’t, apparently, bear this out; but seriously, I was only watching this season simply for Denise Richards, who is worth every penny they are paying her.

I also didn’t enjoy seeing Camille completely losing it, either. I’m not a fan of Camille, really; I felt bad for her in the first season when she was the most hated housewife of all time (I kind of felt like she was getting a raw deal), and then of course she was rehabilitated, and I’ve kind of enjoyed her ever since…but yeah this past season, the behavior on screen the producers chose to share with us, and her tweets in real life, have turned me on her again. It’s amazing how the producers can manipulate the audience into liking housewives and into turning on ones they like; it’s a real skill, and it’s also very cutthroat. I didn’t, perhaps, delve as deeply into reality shows and their behind-the-scenes machination as much as I would have liked to with Royal Street Reveillon, but I was also including murders in the plot, and the book itself wasn’t about the making of a reality show; it was about the aftermath, when no one knows what is actually going to air and be said on camera and how the plot lines are going to resolve themselves….or be created. (Jessica Knoll’s latest novel–which I loved–does a really good job with the behind the scenes stuff; The Favorite Sister is amazing)

I also just got an alert that the low pressure system in the Gulf has a 20% chance of turning into a storm of some sort. Hurray.

Ah well, I need to get this wrapped up so I can prepare for my daily venture into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Drift Away

Good morning, Tuesday; the last day before a long and glorious fourth of July celebratory vacation weekend for the Gregalicious.

I managed almost two thousand words on the WIP last night when I got home from work last night, before Scooter’s lonely neediness kicked into full gear. I also managed to get the rest of the dishes done and loaded into the dishwasher, so all in all, the evening was a win on every level. Huzzah!

I also slept well somehow Sunday night and was totally rested and fine all day yesterday’; no being tired, no being brain dead, none of the usual nonsense on one of my long days, and I suspect that was primarily adrenaline from knowing I don’t have to work all week (HUZZAH!). I also got the final version of the manuscript i was editing into the publisher (check that off the list) and then also got started reading a short story I am reading for a friend–it’s quite a good story, in fact, I’m sure you will all get to read it someday.

So, it was quite a Monday for one Gregalicious. Let’s see how long I can keep this roll going.

I slept well again last night; I went to bed around ten and slept beautifully and restfully the entire night; not even waking up once, which was quite lovely. So this morning I am feeling extremely rested and able to get going, which is again quite lovely. Tonight I will come home and watch the season finale of what is one of the worst seasons ever of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills; so bad, in fact, that I may not continue watching when the next season rolls around. I have, however, apparently replaced it in my affections with Southern Charm New Orleans, which has sucked me in completely and I am not certain why; it’s first season was so atrocious, and the only explanation I can think of is that it’s the bromance between Jon Moody and Jeff Charleston; we’ll see how long they can hold my attention before i get bored and move on. Although I am hearing things about this season of Real Housewives of Potomac that might bear investigating.

Tomorrow I can sleep late and do whatever it is that I want to do, because I am on vacation and Paul is out of town. I want to finish reading I the Jury, which I will probably also work on today between clients–I did come up with an interesting idea for an essay, using Mike Hammer to extrapolate out further to toxic masculinity and the American male, and can even tie in Ayn Rand, who I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time–I even wrote the intro to the essay last night. I have no market for essays, of course; but I am doing a collection, which is slowly but surely coming together. Will my collection of essays find an audience? Highly unlikely, but it’s something I’d like to do. I’ve done so much essay writing and journalism over the years, it would be kind of nice to collect it all in one place, and an essay collection is certainly more easy than writing a memoir no one would want to read.

And after I conclude reading the Spillane, I am either going to move on to Kristin Lepionka’s first novel, or to Angie Kim’s debut; I’ve heard terrific things about both, and I was on a panel with Kristin in St. Petersburg and she impressed me with her intelligence and wit. She also has picked up the baton on promoting queer writers, which I appreciate.

I have to say that working on the Diversity Project this year has been incredibly enjoyable for me; I am only disappointed that it took me so long to diversify my reading list.

I will do better.

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

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The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia

That baton was ON FIRE!

I do miss (original cast) Designing Women from time to time.

Today is National HIV Testing Day, so I will be working in the Carevan, parking in the Walgreens a block or so from my house, for nine hours today. We were also incredibly busy at the office yesterday, which was exhausting, but it was also nice; we’ve not been busy like that during testing hours at the new building since we moved into it.

I also managed, like a doofus, to forget to save the word document I was working on yesterday morning before I left for the office, and apparently the power here blinked on and off–long enough to make all the digital clocks blink, but not long enough to take them all back to 12:00. So, yes, the thirteen hundred words I’d done before work yesterday were gone when I got home (for some reason Word also didn’t save them as a temporary file I could recover, thanks Microsoft!) but I wasn’t irritated or overly annoyed; the words were bad bad bad, and whenever this happens and I have to reconstruct stuff from memory, it always winds up being better than what I did originally and lost.

And the stuff I lost, let’s be honest, was absolute garbage.

I was so tired when i got home last night I didn’t have the energy to reconstruct anything or do anything; the dishes remain in the dishwasher, loads of clothes remained in the washer and dryer, the mess in the kitchen remains a mess. Instead, I repaired to my easy chair, allowed Scooter to nap in my lap, and turned on the television. There really wasn’t anything I wanted to watch, so, with some trepidation, I went to Hulu and cued up the second season of Southern Charm New Orleans.

I have already confessed to my reality television addiction; it’s primarily Real Housewives franchises. I did watch the original, Charleston version of Southern Charm (always wondering how they actually managed to get actual members of the city’s upper class, with some actually old society money people, to agree to being on the show; but it got too dark for me with bad parenting, custody struggles, and drug addiction–I guess the reality was a little too real and noir for me), and it was with no little trepidation that I began watching the first episode of the first season when it originally aired a while back–but I either didn’t make it all the way through the first episode, or made it to the second before giving up.

I just absolutely loathed it.

But a friend who lives her part-time (we both tried the original season and gave up in despair and disgust) alerted me that she’d gotten sucked into season two; and I should give it another try. So, last night, to exhausted to do anything other than sit in my easy chair with a purring cat in my lap, and with Paul not home and nothing else to watch, I started.

After I got past the initial laughter at the fact the show is called Southern Charm New Orleans and the majority of the cast actually doesn’t live in New Orleans (Mandeville and Covington are on the north shore, in St. Tammany Parish, and twenty six miles across the lake from Metairie–also not New Orleans), and I kind of thought it was kind of funny the way the show simply flashed the names of their towns across the bottom of the screen when showing their homes, as though they were New Orleans neighborhoods, like Gentilly and Lakeview, but the more I watched, the more I began to get sucked into it. By the end of the second episode I had so many questions, had already taken sides in some of the oh-so-heavily-handed-manufactured-drama on the show, and had committed to watching the next two available episodes when I can.

I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, but I think I was absolutely, positively pulled in when Bravo and the producers did this amazing, amazing thing–part of the story is that a married couple from season one–Jeff, the retired Saints player, and his horrible wife, Reagan, gave up on their failed marriage and got divorced between seasons, while she has moved on to an old-flame from her college days, Reece, whom we do not see or hear about other than “Reagan’s new boyfriend” in the first episode, other than a scene of him showering from behind—and yes, we see his wet, soapy, not particularly attractive bare ass (which was when Paul, who’d come home about halfway through the episode and sat down and watched with me, bailed). In the second episode we see this again, as well as Jeff fully unclothed from behind also in the shower (for comparison sake?), and I was all, well, okay then, if you’re not going to show the two incredibly hot men of color bare-assed, why must we suffer through these white boy butts?

The big drama was, of course, her introducing the new boyfriend to her ex-husband and her friends, which she did at a party for launching her new “jewelry store” at One Canal Place; the hilarious thing was how the meeting was shown on television–the two men walk away from the party to talk (which makes everyone else freak out, of course, wondering why “they had to walk away and talk”, honestly, come up with better unscripted scripts, producers), and what was absolutely hilarious (other than hot artist Jon Moody describing the new boyfriend as “cool ranch Doritos,” which is instantly iconic Bravo shade) was that Reece, the new boyfriend, is, as so many New Orleanians, a huge Saints fan, so of course he was excited to meet Jeff, the ex-husband. What was even more hilarious was they kept cutting from the two of them having a remarkably adult conversation to first a talking head from Jeff, clearly unimpressed and quoting things Reagan had said to him about Reece, then cutting to Reece in a talking head saying what Reagan had told Jeff. 

It was, frankly, one of Bravo’s finest reality show scenes, ever.

JEFF: “Well, Reagan told me he was a huge Saints fan, so she said he’s going to have a man crush on me.”

REECE: “I’m a huge Saints fan, so I’m really excited to meet him. I already have kind of a man crush on him.”

JEFF: “And I was on the Super Bowl team. He got a Saints tattoo on his side after we won the Super Bowl, so he probably wants to date ME.”

RRECE: “He was on the Super Bowl team! Hell, I’d like to date HIM.”

And so forth.

It was amazing.

And just like that, I was sucked into Southern Charm New Orleans, damn you to hell, Bravo. I was ready to bail on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, and even starting to tire somewhat of The Real Housewives of New York (still the gold standard, but still not as good as it was), and so I was almost free of my Bravo addiction….and then, of all things, Southern Charm New Orleans pulled me back in.

Sigh. And now back to the spice mines.

Know your status, peeps.

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Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Old Oak Tree

Here it is, Wednesday already, and what have I got to show for the week thus far?

Very little, if I am going to be brutally honest. Other than losing my house keys at some point yesterday, which is incredibly annoying–particularly since we can’t seem to find the spare set of keys. Heavy sigh.

I used to misplace my keys and my wallet all the time; I can’t even begin to fathom how much time and energy in my life has been wasted looking for my keys and my wallet. When Paul and I first began living together a million years ago, he had a simple solution for the problem: simply put my keys and my wallet in a designated place every time I came home. A few years later I added a belt clip to my key ring, so I would always know where my keys were when I wasn’t home; they were clipped to a belt loop and therefore I always knew where they were. Yesterday, for some reason, at the office when I got in yesterday I tossed my key ring onto my desk, where they stayed for most of the day…and then when I got home last night, the house keys weren’t on my key ring. Which means, quite simply, at some point when I was clipping or unclipping my keys from my belt loop, the ring with the house keys must have come off. Yesterday I picked up a prescription and went out for lunch–so the keys could have come off at the pharmacy, the place I had lunch, either parking lot, or the parking lot at the office–or they could have come off on my desk when I was removing the key to my desk or the jump drive off the clip. I am hopeful they are either on or around my desk somewhere. Paul is going to have more keys made from his today regardless; but it’s still pretty fucking irritating.

But the good news, I guess, is I’ve only lost my keys twice in the last twenty-odd years. Granted, both times have been within the last three years, but it’s still a vast improvement over me spending hours per week trying to remember where I last put them.

This week I’ve been sleeping pretty well; this morning I stayed in bed longer than was completely necessary, and now I am a bit behind this morning, but that’s also fine. I tried not to let the missing keys bother me too much last night–it did annoy me, subconsciously, for most of the night, to be honest–but I just watched the snoozefest that the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills has turned into–and seriously, it’s so boring and dull and stupid these days that I am tempted to stop watching entirely because I don’t really care anymore–as I’ve said before, New York remains the gold standard for these shows. I’m very close to bailing on Beverly Hills, frankly; it’s not particularly interesting any more, plus the women on this show clearly have issues having the dirt of their private lives aired on television–as opposed to, say, New York and Atlanta, whose cast members clearly LIVE for living in front of the camera.

And yes, I probably spend far too much time with reality television.

And now back to the spice mines.

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All Out of Love

Wednesday, feelin’ fine.

Yesterday I didn’t really want to get out of bed–but not really out of a sense of being tired or not getting enough sleep; rather, it was more along the lines of it was raining and in those situations, I would always prefer to stay in bed with my blankets. Here’s hoping it rains this weekend, when I can stay in bed.

I’ve decided to go with my library book as my next Diversity read, White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig. It’s due next Friday, the first day of parades (!!!) on the St. Charles Avenue route, and so it makes more sense to go ahead and read it now and get it out of the way. That makes it sound like more of an odious chore than I intended it to sound, quite frankly; it isn’t an odious chore at all. I had a lovely time reading his first novel, and I am quite certain I’ll enjoy this one as well. There’s no reason I wouldn’t; but I also need to steer myself into reading short stories. My collection is coming out on April 1, and around that same time the anthology I’m in, Murder-a-Go-Go’s, is also coming out…so I am going to start talking about the stories in both, and I should probably get a jump on that.

The best-laid plans of mice and men…

Yesterday during the revising I was stopped cold by an enormous hole in the plot that threw me off my game. I blinked at the computer screen three times slowly, and as how to fill the hole, or patch it up, as it were, started coming to mind and I began filling said plot-hole with new words, I got exhausted suddenly, very tired and drained…so I stepped away from the manuscript, knowing that trying to force it when I’m tired would just mean having to redo it anyway, so why not just think about it, solve the problem thoroughly in my head, and reserve the energy? A good night’s sleep and a fresh start in the morning would be the most wise course to follow. And I did have a good night’s sleep last night! I feel amazing this morning–rested, awake, energized and ready to go. So, hopefully I can resolve this plot problem this morning, and get another chapter done, as well. Huzzah! I also have to pick up a prescription this morning on the way to work, so I’ll need to leave earlier than I usually do.

I also got an ARC of Lori Roy’s new book, Gone Too Long, in the mail yesterday, so I am most likely going to shunt the Diversity Project aside momentarily in order to read it. Every new book by Lori is kind of an event; her resume of awards and great reviews rather speaks for itself. And the cover copy makes this one sound terrific…and her books usually surpass the cover copy. Huzzah!

I’m in a pretty good mood this morning, no doubt due to the terrific night’s sleep I just enjoyed, and feeling better about my manuscript–despite the plot hole. I’m still on-target to get it finished by the end of the month, and I really am looking forward to getting back to work on the WIP…I may even start doing some revision work/rereading of it this weekend; we shall see. I would really like to get the Scotty done long before the end of the month, but again–we’ll just have to see how it goes, won’t we?

And of course, one of my favorite reality shows, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, returned last night, so I spent a rather blissful hour last night watching rich women setting up ridiculous drama that will carry the show through this season. My enjoyment of these shows is starting to wane a little; so a good season of this one and New York is really necessary or else I may stop watching entirely.

We started watching PEN15 on Hulu the other night, and it has potential. We’ll have to give it another episode or two before we decide whether we want to continue with it–but it currently looks very promising.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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Tonight She Comes

Reality television.

I started watching in back in the original days of The Real World on MTV; the social experiment of picking vastly different young people from vastly different places with vastly different backgrounds, to see whether or not they can learn from each other and grow; or simply clash and create drama for the cameras. I enjoyed watching, I’m not going to lie–I didn’t lose interest until later seasons, when it became all about the kids getting drunk and hooking up and so forth. But the influence of The Real World–and its sister show, Road Rules–on reality television is unmistakable.

I’ve stuck my toe in the water with several reality shows–I used to be completely addicted to Project Runway, until it left Bravo for Lifetime and I lost interest–and the same with RuPaul’s Drag Race–after the Adore/Bianca/Courtney season I didn’t see how it could be anything other than a disappointment going forward so I stopped (although I did tune in for the glory that was RPD All-Stars Season Two), but I never got into Survivor or The Bachelor or any of the others. But I do watch the Real Housewives–New York is, without question, the gold standard, with Atlanta a close second with Beverly Hills trailing them both substantially; I can’t with Potomac, Orange County, and Dallas. 

I also really enjoyed the first season of Lifetime’ UnReal, but got behind on Season 2, heard bad things, and so never picked it back up again.

My love of (some of) the Housewives shows has resulted in my winding up on two Housewives related panels over the years at Bouchercon (Albany and New Orleans, to be precise), which were enormously fun; and I have also managed to observe what a cultural phenomenon these shows have become. There are recaps everywhere all over the Internet; there’s the Bravo website itself; and these women are often sprawled all over the tabloids I see while in line at the grocery store. (And no, I have only ever watched about twenty minutes of a Kardashian show and it was so horrible I never went back. More power to you if you’re a fan, but they are just not for me.

I even wrote a very short book–which is no longer available anywhere–based on the filming of such a show in New Orleans; it was pulled from availability primarily because I was never truly satisfied or happy with it. I wrote it very quickly in a window between deadlines and never felt I was able to explore all the things, the issues, with reality television that I wanted to with it. And yes, I decided to use that same backstory–a Real Housewives type show filmed in New Orleans–to write the new Scotty book because 1) it’s a great idea and 2) since I am writing off dead-line I can do it the way I want to and hopefully say the things I wanted to say in the first. Some of the original elements of the story I used before still exist in this Scotty book, but there’s a lot of changes I’ve made so it’s not the same story. The draft is very very rough, and since I’ve finished it and put it aside I’ve had a lot of great ideas for it; fixes and changes and so forth.

I think it might be the best Scotty yet, and it’s certainly the most complicated.

I started reading Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister yesterday, and before I knew what happened most of the afternoon was gone and I was about half-way through. Her book is also built around a reality television show, and boy, is this book biting. I loved her debut, Luckiest Girl Alive, and this one is just as good. You’ll get a full report, Constant Reader, when I finish it.

Next up for the Short Story Project: “Don’t Walk in Front of Me” by Sarah Weinman, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

I wanted honest work and got it at Pern’s. A Jewish bookstore is a strange place to work for a guy like me, but I didn’t have much choice; a month of job hunting left me frustrated and ready to break things, and the ad stuck on the store’s main window was as close to salvation as I could get.

Thus Sam–we were on a first-name basis from the beginning–was very particular about which items I could handle and which I couldn’t (“Anything with God’s name on it, leave it to me”), he left me to my own devices when it came to  handling teh cash register, stocking the books, and helping out customers. I hadn’t know much at all about Judaism, but I sure learned fast.

When I told my mother where I was working, she was understandably confused, but got over it quickly enough. I had a job, and a pretty decent one, and that was what mattered to her most.

“I worried about you, Danny, the whole time you were incarcerated. She articulated each syllable, just as she did every time she used the word. Which was a lot, because my mother adored big words. It was her way of showing how much more educated she was than the rest of the mamas in Little Italy.

Sarah Weinman is a fine short story writer; her stories in Lawrence Block’s stories-inspired-by-art are two of my favorites. Her upcoming study of the kidnapping case that inspired Lolita, The Real Lolita, will be out this fall and I can’t wait to dig into it. This story is another one of her little gems: a guy with a criminal past takes the only job he can get, and slowly but inexorably gets drawn into trying to help his boss solve a personal problem, and how things get out of hand from there. Brava, Sarah! WRITE MORE SHORT STORIES.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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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.

Head over Heels

There was an article somewhere recently that described a new trend in literary fiction, inspired by Elena Ferrante: writing about women’s friendships. I literally did a double-take when I saw it; because there have been books, across all genres, about female friendships for many, many years–for example, the examination of women’s friendships and relationships with other women were at the root of every Rona Jaffe novel; the primary strengths of both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls lie in the friendships between the women; going back to Jane Eyre, there are always friendships between women at the heart of novels (hello, Jane Austen?). The point is this is nothing new, so to describe this as a ‘new trend’ is short-sighted to say the least, lazy writing at the worst.

Rebecca Chance novels kind of defy description, to be honest. They are called ‘bonkbusters’ in her native England (where they are runaway bestsellers); some call them ‘glamorous thrillers.’ She writes about what used to be called ‘the jet set’, or ‘the beautiful people’, or the ‘rich and beautiful’; territory that used to be mined by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, and Jacqueline Susann. And while I don’t mean to demean her predecessors in the field, who were quite good at what they did and wrote yarns you simply could not put down, Chance’s novels are different; in that they combine sharp social commentary, wit (at times, they are laugh out loud funny), and characters that you can’t help but like and identify with.

Her latest, Killer Affair, is no exception.

killer affair

It was an ocean liner come to rest in the heart of London, its glittering, prow-shaped facade jutting towards the Thames. From its terraces and balconies, the view was unparalleled: the beautiful curve of the Playhouse Theatre with its glowing lights, the flow of boats along the wide river, the sprawl of the South Bank beyond, London’s bounty spread like a fabulous offering of endless possibilities to the gilded, privileged guests who occupied the penthouse suites.

However, the young woman who was climbing out of the black cab outside the hotel entrance in Whitehall was in no mood for relaxing on a private balcony with a glass of champagne, resting her arms on the rail, gazing down over the glittering city as she made plans for that evening. Her jaw was set determinedly, her eyes hard. The liveried doorman, reaching into the can for her two suitcases, asked if she was a guest at the hotel, to which she responded curtly that no, she had a booking at the spa and needed to check her luggage.

If the doorman thought it was strange for a day spa visitor to arrive with a pair of large, battered suitcases, there was not a hint of that reaction on his face; his demeanour remained entirely polite and neutral as he carried them inside.

And so begins the latest Rebecca Chance novel–who is this woman, and what is she doing at the spa? The prologue ends with her discovering her target–another woman with whom she is angry–and dumping ice all over her recumbent figure as she spits out angrily, “You bitch! You’ve ruined my life!” (With hints of Shirley Conran’s brilliant, memorable opening to her novel, Lace: “Which one of you bitches is my mother?”)

The book then flashes back to the beginning of the story; how the two women met and became involved with each other’s lives. One of them is Lexy O’Brien, a reality television superstar in the UK who quite literally and ruthlessly climbed to the top of the pile of reality stars by carefully planning her every move, maximizing every bit of publicity she could gather, and is now quite happily married to a sexy former footballer who now is a TV commentator. The two live with their two children and various staff in a beautiful mansion in Sandbank, one of the most expensive places to buy property in the world, and Lexy is planning her next assault on the tabloids/entertainment journalism: writing a memoir. Of course, Lexy isn’t going to write it herself but needs a ghostwriter, which is where young, chubby Caroline comes in. Caroline works writing press releases and also writes a blog, shares a flat with four other broke young people, and dreams of becoming a successful novelist. She is quite dazzled at first by Lexy and her life; Lexy, while immensely narcissistic and self-absorbed (two vitally necessary personality traits for any reality star) is not a bad person–she just sees everyone around her as tools for her stardom and vehicles for publicity. She is actually quite generous with the bedazzled Caroline, and the young woman is grateful at first…but the more she writes, the less dazzled by Lexy she is…and the little nickname Lexy gives her at first–“Ghost Mouse”–begins to rankle…especially as Caroline, by being quiet, listening, and paying attention, learns a lot more than Lexy could ever imagine. And soon, she begins to not just envy Lexy her life, but to believe Lexy doesn’t deserve it.

To tell anymore would spoil the twisty, clever and wickedly funny plot (although it has strong elements of All About Eve), and despite all appearances to the contrary, neither Lexy nor Caroline is a villain. Chance, as always, has created three dimensional characters, strong women with good and bad sides, whose behavioral motivations make complete sense–and her keen insights into reality television, writing and publishing, and how intricate and delicate relationships between friends, family, and lovers can be, make the book completely un-put-down-able. I deeply resented having to put the book aside to work on my own writing, or go to work, or to go to bed. Yesterday I sat down in my easy chair to read for an hour before doing my own writing–and seven hours later put the book down with an enormously satisfied sigh.

Americans, you can either order the book from Amazon.co.uk; the Book Depository; or from Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s soooooo worth it, believe me.

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.

TheGreatGatsby_1925jacket

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.