Gorgeous

So, as Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been working, off and on, since 2015 on something that I referred to for years as “the Kansas book”, whose actual title is #shedeservedit.

It will be released on 1/11/22 officially; if you pre-order it from the Bold Strokes website, it will ship actually on January 1 (well, probably the 2nd since the 1st is a holiday).

Here’s the cover copy:

Liberty Center High School’s football team has a long history of success, and the dying small town has nothing else to cling to. But when Lance, the star quarterback, is found dead, Alex Wheeler becomes the prime suspect in his best friend’s murder. Alex thought he knew Lance’s secrets–but Lance was keeping his sexuality private and someone else found out. How well did Alex really know Lance, and what else did he keep hidden? 

To prove his innocence and figure out what really happened to Lance that last night, Alex starts connecting the dots and finds that everything leads back to the recent suicide of a cheerleader who may have been sexually assaulted at a team party. Did online bullying and photos of her from the party drive her to suicide? Or was she murdered? Alex and his girlfriend India soon find their own lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to the horrifying truth about how far Liberty Center will go to protect their own.

I’ve been writing what I had taken to calling “the Kansas book” since I was in high school, really. While I was in high school I wrote several stories about a group of kids at a fictional high school, completely based on my own, and while it was certainly melodrama…we also didn’t have shows for teens like Beverly Hills 90210 and movies for teens like Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgement High, or Risky Business yet; all “teen fare” at the time was mostly from Disney, G-rated, and farcical; likewise, television programs targeted toward younger viewers were mostly for really young kids or what we now call “tweens.” And while I had crushes on both Kurt Russell and Jan-Michael Vincent (who didn’t?), those Disney films were little better than The Brady Bunch. I think it was in 1980 when I decided to take those stories and extrapolate them into a longer story, thinking it would be my first novel–and it expanded from the kids to include their older siblings and parents and teachers as well. I moved the story from the rural county to the county seat, and over the course of three years I painstakingly wrote about three thousand notebook pages. It was a sloppy mess, to be honest; I was thinking in terms of writing something along the lines of Peyton Place–the story of a town over the course of five years–but as I wrote I dropped characters and storylines; changed character names when a better name occurred to me; as I said, it was a total mess…and when I completed it, in the days before computers, I realized that I needed to type the entire thing up, and alas, I didn’t know how to touch type and whenever I typed anything I consistently made errors. So, I simply set it aside and went back to writing short stories before starting, in 1991, to try my hand at novels again.

In the years since, I cheerfully pulled elements from that ancient manuscript out to use for other books and other stories–there was a murder mystery at the heart of the book, and I actually used that as the basis for the plot of Murder in the Garden District; apparently I have always had crime in mind when it came to my writing–and I also pulled character names and other stories from it to use elsewhere. I reverted back to the rural county aspect of the original short stories to write Sara; one of the things I had to do recently was go through Sara and anything else I’ve written and published already having to do with Kansas to record the character names to make sure I wasn’t using them again in this book. I also originally began the basics of this book sometime before Katrina–the star quarterback’s dead body being found on the fifty yard line of the football field, and originally the primary POV character was the only detective on the small town’s police force. What I wrote was really good–I believe I got up to about five chapters–and it was also a flashback story with parallel time-lines; one in 1977, when the quarterback was murdered, and the present day, with someone who was in high school at the time becoming convinced that the person convicted of the crime was actually innocent and railroaded as a cover-up. I could never get the whole plot worked out, and it went through several changes and stages as I worked on it, still being called “the Kansas book.”

Two real life crimes–the rapes in Steubenville, Ohio and the other in Marysville, Missouri, in which girls were either drugged or pressured into over drinking and then when too wasted to even speak were sexually assaulted by athletes–inspired me to drag the framework of this story out and use it to tell a similar style story. I was, like anyone with a conscience or a soul, horrified by these rapes, and even more horrified by the aftermath; the way the girls were humiliated and shamed publicly and on social media, and I couldn’t get a hashtag that the kids in one of the towns used while shaming the victim: #shedeservedit.

That, I felt, was my title, and I could build the story from there. I could still have the dead quarterback; I could still have the town reeling from the one-two punch of the rape and the murder, only now I could layer in the victim-blaming and shaming. (I will never forget female newscasters talking about how sad it was that the boys convicted for the Steubenville case’s lives were ruined; I saved my sympathy for the poor girl they victimized; how on earth would she get past this?) I wrote the entire first draft in one month in the summer of 2015, and have tinkered with it, off and on, ever since. It was early last year, I think, pre-pandemic, when. I finally decided that two books I’d been working on between others over the last few years needed to be done and out of my hair; and the best way to force myself to finish them both once and for all was to offer them to my publisher. I did that, was given deadlines, and now, as I am finishing the final version of #shedeservedit, I also have a release date (1/11/22) and a cover to share with you all, so here it is (obviously, see above).

Writing this has been a journey, as writing any book can be; the Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head numerous times during the writing of this book–should a man be writing a book about this subject? Is telling such a story from the point of view of a young man, friend to both the rape victim and the rapists, the right way to tell it? Am I centering a young man in a story about sexual assault and the toxic rape culture that has grown up around a small town’s athletic success?

I guess time will tell.

Close Range

And suddenly it’s Friday.

Our weather is taking a turn–not quite as horrific as all y’all up north with your ice storms and blizzards and below zero temperatures, yet it still a turn nonetheless. There was a quite nasty and wet thunderstorm that passed through here yesterday afternoon, and the temperature began to drop precipitously and noticeably. The governor made an announcement of some sort yesterday–severe weather alert or something of that sort–and it’s probably something I should research a bit more, I am slowly realizing as my first cup of coffee kicks in. If we’re in a severe weather alert of some sort, I should probably know more about it than this vague recollection of something I saw in passing somewhere on social media yesterday. And if that is indeed the case, well, it’s just as well the parades were cancelled ahead of time anyway.

Parades aren’t as much fun when it’s cold and raining.

Not, of course, that cold or rain would stop us from going out to the corner.

Okay, so I looked and I don’t see anything; I’m not sure what the governor’s message or whatever it was I saw somewhere was about, but at least for today there is no threat of severe weather in New Orleans. It’s forty-eight degrees–it doesn’t feel cold in the Lost Apartment, but one never knows; the interior temperature is not always an indicator of the exterior–but it is gray and grim outside. It rained most of the night too–a thunderstorm woke me up in the middle of the night (never fear, I was able to return to sleep quite easily) and so everything outside looks wet. I don’t think I am going to go outside much today–I will go to the gym tomorrow–as I have to work at home today and once today’s work-at-home duties are over I have to dive headfirst back into my book–and so shortly will have to head back into the spice mines. I haven’t decided what film to watch during my condom-packing duties, but I am starting to lean toward the teen movies of the 1980’s. I had thought Risky Business was free to stream somewhere, but I couldn’t find it anywhere yesterday…but Prime suggested Taps to me, and since the idea was to view early Tom Cruise films performances (at least the ones before Top Gun), and he was in Taps–in fact, I think it was Taps that first got him a lot of attention–and I had never seen Taps, I thought, why not? So I clicked play.

I wsa vaguely aware of the film at the time of its release, and knew vaguely what it was about–military school being closed, cadets seize control of it–but had never seen it. I also knew that it was Timothy Hutton’s first star vehicle after he won an Oscar for Ordinary People, and that it–like many other teen movies of the early 1980’s, had a bunch of early-in-their-career stars in it who made good impressions on critics and audiences–Tom Cruise in particular. I’d forgotten that Sean Penn was also in it (if I ever knew; I think this preceded his breakout role in Fast Times at Ridgemont High; I seem to recall his follow-up to that was Bad Boys, which was set in juvie, and after that he was on the fast track to stardom), and I don’t think I’d ever known that Giancarlo Esposito was in it as a beautiful young man. There were any number of other faces I recognized–one of the younger kids I’ve seen in other things, but I couldn’t place him or his name while I watched and I still am not completely sure who he was (a quick google search turns up the name John P. Navin Jr., who played one of the cousins in National Lampoon’s Vacation)–and another was Evan Handler, young and with hair, years before he joined the cast of Sex and the City.

I’m really not sure why I never saw Taps, either in the theater or on cable, to be honest. I’ve always liked Hutton, and (surprise!) I’ve always been drawn to stories about all-male environments for teenaged boys or young men. I loved Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline (the book is a favorite; I’ve never seen the movie) and also Lucian Truscott IV’s Dress Gray (again, the book and never watched the film); I’ve always enjoyed seeing the group dynamics play out in those environments. But watching the film, I couldn’t help but reflect how dark the movie was in tone–it’s very anti-military, really–and is actually very attuned to our present day world, which the film can be extrapolated to expose and perhaps even be seen as a warning. The devotion that the headmaster, General Rache, (played by George C. Scott) and the school inspires in the young boys under his watch is very disturbing–particularly given what we know about cults and how they operate nowadays. The boys’ rebellion to save their school is misguided from the very beginning; a decision is made that they do not agree with and decide they are not going to abide by it, even if it means violence and seizing control of the school. They are obviously breaking the law–and as the movie went on, I couldn’t help but think yeah, this movie isn’t going to end well–a lot of these boys are going to wind up dead…

But then I remembered they were majority white, and breathed a little easier…because of course the National Guard and the police would never use violence against privileged white boys. The tragic denouement of the film is in perfect accord with the darkness of the plot and its warnings about how easily people can be indoctrinated and what mass delusion can look like and how dangerous that can be certainly are timely in our present day America. It’s definitely an anti-war film–more specifically, an anti-military film, and in that regard is more of a Cynical 1970’s Movie than it is an 80’s teen movie; and again, it’s a lot deeper than my original impression before watching it led me to believe. Timothy Hutton is fantastic in the lead role–all of the boys are terrific–and there’s this wonderful moment with George C. Scott, when he’s talking about how military leaders are often considered “mad” because of the decisions they have to make, knowing that the men under their command could die or be permanently maimed or injured but having to make those decisions….how can it not drive you mad? It was also interesting seeing Scott play the scene, considering he won an Oscar for playing Patton…and thought, they cast him specifically for this speech, didn’t they?

And of course, now it has me thinking about a long dormant crime novel idea I had set at an all-boys military school.

And yeah, on that note I need to head back into the spice mines.

Treacherous

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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