Sara

Memorial Day Monday, and I haven’t gotten near as much done as I intended, according to the “long weekend stay-cation to-do list”, but I got so much more else done that I cannot feel defeated or disappointed in myself.

Which, of course, is a step in the right direction. I’ve also gotten used to waking up in the morning between nine-thirty and ten; tomorrow’s alarm is going to be a very rude awakening, I fear. But it is what it is, I suppose, and at least this is only a four day work week, so that’s something, right?

Always find the upside, you know?

I took a lot more notes in the journal yesterday, figuring out how some other stories are going to play out, and even started brainstorming on Muscles. I know this doesn’t seem like I’m getting very much done as far as actual writing is concerned, and that may be true; but what I’ve done this entire weekend is make the actual writing possible. Today I am going to try to get some of that actual writing done–I know, right? SCARED OF THAT. And I also have some reading to do; I’m participating in a panel of readers to choose some short stories for an anthology. I also have some other busy-work to take care of today as well; so I am going to try to get that done before I start writing.

I am still reading that Roth novel; it’s not very quick going, despite being so well-written and the characters aren’t really quite as awful as the ones I recall from Letting Go, but it’s kind of slow going; there’s not really a reason to keep turning the page, which is always the problem, at least for me, with literary fiction. On my shelves, TBR, are two big literary fiction books that are massively long, Hanya Yanaghara’s A Little Life and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, and while there are  gay characters and themes in both…they’re so long. Since they have gay characters, I kind of feel, as a gay author, some responsibility to the community to read them, dissect the gay characters, etc. It is representation, after all, and that representation should be critiqued by someone within the community.

I am sure that was handled by Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, which is a lovely magazine, and yet…I feel like it’s sort of my job somehow; a need or feeling which I definitely need to get past and over as quickly as possible. I am sure I will finish reading the Roth this week and I can get back to reading crime novels. (Yay!)

So, yesterday’s journal entries included work on my short stories “The White Knuckler” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “Hold on to the Night” and “This Thing of Darkness” and “And the Walls Came Down”; and the novels Muscles and Bury Me in Satin. I am writing a lot in my journal, which is convenient and easy, of course; I love having my journal, and I love having it handy, so whenever something occurs to me I can write it down and riff on it for a little while. This has been working tremendously; I solved the problems with the Scotty novel this way, made progress on the WIP; and at the rate I am going when it’s time to work on Bury Me in Satin the entire thing will have already been written or planned out in my journal.

Which will certainly make the process easier.

I’m all about it being easier, in case you’d never noticed.

As I page through my journal I also see notes I made for two essays; one about the evolution of teen movies from the 1950’s to the present (triggered by watching the original Friday the 13th last night, with a very young, dewy and beautiful Kevin Bacon), and another about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory, and yet another about whether Carrie White from Carrie was a villain or a victim (this popped up on Facebook this week, and the question was very strange; I always considered Carrie a victim and certainly never as a victim; I also made the connecting thought that varied interpretations of what role she played in the novel/film has everything to do with the reader/viewer’s life experience as well as how they see themselves; which is an interesting direction to take, essay-wise; I was also thinking it might not be a bad idea to include Christine’s Arnie in the discussion. I consider both novels to be excellent depictions of teenage life and high school; no one really does childhood or high school quite the way King does).

So, that’s it for today, the end of my stay-cation. I got a lot of brainstorming and problem-solving finished for my writing; the Lost Apartment is in some sort of order at long last, and I am of course making myself all kinds of promises I won’t keep; about staying on top of the household chores and staying on top of the writing and the reading and using my journal to get myself out of sticky situations with both. I am very glad I took the stay-cation, even if I didn’t get close to getting all the things finished that I needed to get finished. My visit to the storage facility had to be postponed because of the recurring back pain; hopefully I can get that handled one day this week; either Thursday or Friday.

Always keep moving forward.

Next up in the Short Story Project is “The Jockey” by Carson McCullers, also from The New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade:

The jockey came to the doorway of the dining room, then after a moment stepped to one side and stood motionless, with his back to the wall. The room was crowded, as this was the third day of the season and all the hotels in the town were full. In the dining room bouquets of August roses scattered their petals on the white table linen and from the adjoining bar came a warm, drunken wash of voices. The jockey waited with his back to the wall and scrutinized the room with pinched, crepy eyes. He examined the room until at last his eyes reached a table in the corner diagonally across him him, at which three men were sitting. As he watched, the jockey raised his chin and tilted his head back to one side, his dwarfed body grew rigid, and his hands stiffened so that the fingers curled inward like gray claws. Tense against the wall of the dining room, he watched and waited in this way.

I’ve never been ashamed to admit that often I don’t get McCullers’ work; but I like the way she writes and the insights into her characters that she shares. This short story, about a damaged jockey who enters a crowded dining room during the season at Saratoga and confronts three people, dining together, who’ve had some impact/will have some impact on his life, and their complete disinterest in him as anything other than an object to be pitied, eventually to be scorned, is well drawn and depicted; and very telling about human nature; how we are with people who are of use to us and who we, as a society, generally are to those who cease to be of use to us. I have to confess, my revisitation of McCullers, between this and Reflections in a Golden Eye, has made me a lot more interested in her and her work; just as reading some of Flannery O’Connor’s stories recently has raised my interest in her work as well.

As I have said before, I often find my failure to get certain writers, seen as masters or geniuses, or in other ways celebrated by the so-called Academy, as a failure not only as a reader or a writer but as an intellectual and even, possibly a moral failure; but my recent reread of The Great Gatsby went a long way towards curing me of that mentality; likewise, the recent re-approaches to the works of McCullers and O’Connor have also made me realize that in some cases, I may not have been intellectually and morally ready to read these works. I am going to give Hemingway another chance at some point  as well, and I do want to read more of Faulkner. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser a great deal more as an adult than I did in college courses. I didn’t enjoy reading Jonathan Franzen, and I’ve come to believe that David Foster Wallace is a cruel joke played on unsuspecting readers and students of literature by bitter professors. I also found Styron’s Set This House On Fire more readable, more enjoyable, and more of an achievement than Sophie’s Choice or The Confessions of Nat Turner; but I also read the latter when I was in my early twenties, so it may be possible for me to appreciate them more greatly now; I do consider myself to be a more sophisticated reader now than I was in my callow youth.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Keep On Loving You

Sunday and I have a lot of work to get done today. My kitchen is an absolute mess; I have a load of laundry in the washing machine; and I have to get back to writing and revising. I was terrible yesterday; I took the day off from doing anything and everything. I was tired, and so thought relaxing was okay for me. I did wake up early this morning and feel somewhat refreshed and relaxed, which is quite nice, actually. I intend to get a lot done. Yesterday I intended to get a lot done, but got sidetracked by the LSU baseball game (GEAUX TIGERS!), and the Tigers defeated number one ranked Oregon State for the second day in a row to make it to the finals this week; a best of three series starting Monday night. It’s an all SEC final; the Tigers are taking on the Florida Gators, whom they defeated in the SEC tournament finals and will have vengeance on their minds. Should be a fun series, and of course we’ll have an SEC team as national champion again, regardless of who wins. Woo-hoo!

I read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye yesterday. I enjoyed reading it, and McCullers has a really unique grasp of language. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s a really short novel, and I would have liked to see it go a little deeper. The book felt very emotionless and cold to me–not something I recall taking away from The Member of the Wedding all those years ago–and given the twisted personal dynamics of the characters and their interactions with each other; the adultery, the deeply closeted self-loathing,  the mental illness of Alison  and her strange relationship with her Filipino houseboy, the odd single-mindedness of the young private with whom the self-loathing closet case becomes attached to; there were just so many ways to tell this story more deeply rather than skimming over the surface the way McCullers chose to tell her story. And it’s such a fascinating story, too. I’d like to watch the film again–I saw it on television years ago and so much had been cut out it was barely understandable, but a great cast including Elizabeth Taylor, Marlon Brando, and Julie Harris.

My next read will be Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red.

We started watching Spike TV’s The Mist last night–I finally found the Spike app for my Apple TV, duh–and while the dialogue isn’t great and the acting is not good, the premise is great, and I’m hoping the show finds its voice and the actors find their characters; it’s great when a show starts out of the gate on fire, but some are more of a slow burn before they get their legs. Supernatural, for example, really got going in its second season. The Mist is one of my favorite King novellas, and I actually really enjoyed the film that was already made of it. I’m not sure why they decided to make a series out of it–there are so many great King stories and novels that haven’t been adapted, and some of the others seem much more series-friendly than The Mist…I would personally love to see The Talisman made into a series, for example, and The Eyes of the Dragon–hell, even Insomnia would make a great TV series. Or The Regulators/Desperation…oh, maybe someday when I am a television producer.

As if.

All right, I guess I should head back into the spice mines. Here’s a Sunday hunk to get your week off to a pleasant start.

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Can’t Fight This Feeling

Saturday! Yesterday was so obnoxiously humid that I was completely exhausted when I finished all the running around I had to do yesterday; it was all I could do to stay awake. Regardless, I cleaned the kitchen–even doing the floors–and started work on the living room before collapsing into my easy chair with a book in the early evening and dozed off while reading Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

Not that it’s not a good book, but I was simply tired.

I often talk about how, despite my voracious habit that goes back as long as I can remember, that there are many classics of literature I’ve not read (including Huckleberry Finn). I was thinking about that this week, because I’d ordered two sets of books–a set of Hemingway and a set of Fitzgerald–that my dad owned, having gotten them from a book club, when I was a kid (I’d already found the Faulkner set on ebay; which is where I found these others as well). I don’t remember if it was the Literary Guild or the Doubleday Book Club or what, but my dad joined one of those mail-order book clubs and got those three sets of books–I suppose thinking that we needed nice copies of classic books by three of American literature’s most shining (straight white male) lights (I think he later added a set of Steinbeck, but I could be wrong; that might have been me in my teens.)

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I took an American Lit class my sophomore year in high school, and it’s from that class–as well as the American Lit class I took in college–that my antipathy to many classic writers was born. I think reading The Great Gatsby, The Grapes of Wrath, Babbitt, The Old Man and the Sea, and A Farewell to Arms in high school, when I was too young to really appreciate them kind of ruined them, and those authors, for me. I’ve not reread the books, so I don’t know if I still wouldn’t care for them; but I do know that I’ve gone on to read other books by some of those authors and liked them (Steinbeck’s East of Eden is one of my favorite books of all time; Sinclair Lewis’ Elmer Gantry and It Can’t Happen Here are terrific; and I really enjoyed This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald). I’ve never revisited Hemingway, as my visceral response to the two books of his I did actually read was so strong. But I am going to give it another go; I am going to read The Sun Also Rises (my father thinks For Whom the Bell Tolls is the greatest American novel; but Dad and I rarely agree on anything cultural), and I am also going to reread The Great Gatsby at some point. I may even give The Grapes of Wrath another go; it actually kind of bothers me that there are ‘American classics’ that I didn’t like and may not have because I wasn’t old enough or mature enough, as either a human or a reader, to have enjoyed and appreciated.

But Christ, there is so little time to read everything!

Which is one of the reasons I am reading this McCullers novel (although calling it a novel is quite generous; it’s only 127 pages so it’s really a novella) is because I’ve not read much of McCullers (The Member of the Wedding in college, didn’t like it–but there is, I think, something about being forced to read something that makes me dislike what I am being forced to read; I should probably revisit Flannery O’Connor as well), and I am thinking that I probably should.

Ah, today’s storm is about to break, so I shall take that as indication that I should put on my helmet and get back to the spice mines.

 

Time for Me to Fly

I took today off from work; I am starting to wear a little around the edges (it happens more frequently the older I get, alas) and so two long weekends in a row, I felt, might be necessary in order for me to recharge my batteries. I’m not sure why–other than I’m older, which is something I refuse to either accept or accede to–but there it is. I started rewriting a story yesterday–this is the sixth draft, but I think I’ve finally figured out how to make it really work, and last night we watched another episode of Claws, which is really terrific; it’s so nice to see Neicy Nash finally in a complex role and she is tearing it up. We’re also going to start watching the Ellen Barkin series, Animal Kingdom, probably this evening. I can’t seem to find The Mist anywhere, though; but its reviews aren’t good, so maybe that’s a good thing? Pity, because it’s one of my favorite King novellas.

I also finished reading Lisa Unger’s Ink and Bone last night.

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Daddy was on the phone, talking soft and low, dropping behind them on the path. Nothing new. He was always on the phone–or on the computer. Penny knew that her daddy loved her, but she also knew that he was almost never paying attention. He was “busy, sweetie,” or “with a client,” or “just a minute, honey, Daddy’s talking to someone.” He was a good story-teller, a bear-hugger, always opened his arms to her, lifted her high, or took her onto his lap while he worked at his desk. Mommy couldn’t lift her anymore, but Daddy still could. She loved the feel of him, the smell of him. He was never angry, always funny. But sometimes she had to say his name like one hundred times before he heard her, even when she was right next to him.

Dad. Dad? Daddy!

Honey, you don’t have to yell.

How could you not hear someone who was right next to you?

If Mommy was out and Daddy was in charge, then she and her brother could: eat whatever they wanted (all you had to do was go into the kitchen and take it; he wouldn’t even notice); play on the iPad forever (he would never suggest that they read a book or play a game together); ride their plasma cars up and down the long hallway from the foyer to the living room. And it was only when they got too loud that he might appear in the doorway to his office and say: “Hey, guys? Keep it down, okay?”

I can’t remember who it was that insisted I read Lisa Unger, but I owe that person a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Ink and Bone is the second Unger novel I’ve read (the first was Crazy Love You, which I read last year and loved), and I enjoyed this one even more than the first one I read, and I loved that one.  Unger is an extraordinary writer; with an uncanny ability to tell her readers who a character is with a few brushstrokes that are so honest and real and true that the reader immediately knows exactly who that person is; and her ‘villains’ are all the more terrifying for being so absolutely real.

Both books I’ve read of hers were set in (or around) a small town in upstate New York known as The Hollows as well as in Manhattan. The Hollows is one of those towns; like Stephen King’s Castle Rock, a town where paranormal things happen: people can see ghosts, commune with the dead, or hear The Whispers in the woods; the dead trying to tell their stories. There is also human evil in The Hollows; whether these people are drawn there by the paranormal force (one character in Ink and Bone calls the town a ‘hellmouth’) that is active there, or if that force draws the evil out from their hearts.

The story at the heart of Ink and Bone is missing children: the Gleason family rented a woodsy cabin in The Hollows for the summer; the marriage between Wolf and Merri is teetering because of his adultery and her Vicodin addiction. Merri is too zonked out on Vicodin to go for a walk in the woods with her family; on that walk both her husband and son are shot, and her daughter Abbey taken. This disappearance, and the fact that both parents are considered suspects by the police, has further shattered the marriage, perhaps beyond repair, and Merri is convinced her daughter is still alive. She goes back up to the Hollows and hires a local private eye, Jones Cooper, to look for her daughter. Jones works with Eloise Montgomery, an elderly local psychic–but in this case, Eloise passes the case along to her granddaughter, Finley.

Finley is a the crowning achievement of this narrative; a young heroine with complicated emotions and a gift she doesn’t quite understand, doesn’t know how to control, and isn’t sure she wants. She is heavily tattooed; the ghosts she sees she has transformed into tattoos on her body. She is sort of involved with a tattoo artist, Rainer, who loves her and followed her to the Hollows from Seattle, setting up shop in the small town. She isn’t sure how she feels about him, or whether she can get more serious with him thanks to her gift/curse. She has a close relationship with her (sometimes maddening) grandmother, who sort of Yodas her about the gift; never really explaining anything and often responding to her questions with ambiguous non-answers. She has a difficult relationship with her own mother, who is estranged from Eloise and has rejected fervently the gift. Finley, though, is seeing things now; things that may lead her to Abbey.

The book is extraordinary, and while Finley is the primary point-of-view character, we get to see things from several others as well; secondary point-of-view characters who not only advance the story but also enhance our understanding of what is going on, who they are, and Unger makes us care about them, warts and all. She is an incredibly gifted storyteller, and I defy anyone to put the book down during the last hundred pages or so.

Unger has written many novels about the Hollows, and about Jones Cooper; having not read them all nor having read them in order, I can’t say whether reading them in order enhances and enriches the reader’s experience or knowledge; maybe reading them in order is a more satisfying experience. But I can say that not reading them in order isn’t a hindrance, like so many other series or interconnected books.

You need to be reading Lisa Unger, Constant Reader.

And I think next I shall read Carson McCullers’ Reflections in a Golden Eye.

And now back to the spice mines.