Last Train to Clarksville

Tuesday and I have survived yet another Monday, which I am putting in the “win” column.

It was a grim, gray, rainy Monday yesterday in New Orleans, and all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and nap. But I managed to get quite a bit done yesterday, which is always a joy–I actually had my email inbox down to almost completely empty at one point–and didn’t start getting sleepy until after lunch, when the caffeine from my morning cappuccinos wore off.

Meh, it happens.

It’s raining again–it started last night while I was sort of sleeping (yes, another one of those nights again)–and parts of the city are in a flood warning; eastern New Orleans, which I assume means the East (but then again, compass directions are so completely useless here) and frankly I’m really not looking forward to going out to the car this morning, or the drive to work; rain makes the horrible New Orleans drivers even worse than they normally are…which is pretty fucking bad. I’m also having dinner with a friend in from out of town tonight after work–hoping it doesn’t get canceled because of this weather–but on the bright side, my car will look pretty clean thanks to this non-stop downpour.

We got caught up on Mare of Easttown last night, and my, what an intense and twisty episode this was! Certain shifts and twists we certainly didn’t see coming; and then it was over, all too soon. Kate Winslet and Jean Smart are killing it in this (Smart is also killing it in Hacks, I don’t think it’s going too far out on a limb to predict two Emmy nominations for Smart, one for each show; she could quite easily win both as well–although the actress who played Liza in Halston is going to be hard to beat), and the writing is quite extraordinary. It’s the best crime show I’ve seen in quite some time that isn’t based on a novel.

Speaking of writing, I’ve not been doing any lately of note. I think I’ve started a couple of short stories, as well as a personal essay about being a sixty-year-old Swiftie; but there’s simply no motivation there. It’s entirely possible I’ve fried my writing machine by writing two books back to back; I also know there are more revisions to come on Bury Me in Shadows as well as the initial ones for the Kansas book, so perhaps my subconscious knows better than for me to get going or involved in writing something else before those are completely out of the way. But it’s frustrating as well as worrisome; although I did at least get the outline of the first act of Chlorine written last week. I know I won’t get any writing done while on my trip this week–hopefully From Here to Eternity will engage my mind and keep me entertained; I think I am going to take the iPad with me as well so I have access to all the ebooks I own in case I either hate the book so much I stop reading, or it engages me so much that I tear through it till the end. I’d rather not take another hard copy with me on the trip, but I’ll probably end up doing so because I always need options for reading when I travel. The question is what to take? I certainly don’t want to be at the mercy of the airport bookshops.

Oh yes–Stephen King’s Fever, his latest work for Hard Case Crime. That should do nicely; and I’ve not read any King since I finished the Hodges Trilogy, which is kind of strange for someone who is such a big fan of King’s. I’ve somehow managed to fall way behind on his books–still buying copies, of course–but they are so big and long and daunting I’ve not been able to face one of his big books with my addled, short attention span brain lately–and most of his books are extremely long these days. Perhaps I should make getting caught up on King a project for the summer; after all,. reading King is always inspiring to me; I love how he creates characters and relationships; I don’t think I have ever been bored reading a King book–because he just draws me into the world he creates so easily and effortlessly.

Last night as I was lying in bed with my eyes closed in the dark listening to the rain, my brain dredged up yet another memory of a horrible writing experience I had in college–it really is astonishing how little I was encouraged, and how hard my writing professors tried to extinguish the desire to write in me. I took the basic English course all incoming students take my first semester; it was an hour and a half every Tuesday and Thursday. On the first day, we had to do one of those incredibly tedious writing assignments: if you had to spend the rest of your life on a desert island, what three things would you take with you? or something along those lines. I don’t remember what three things I took; but I can assume they included music and books–because quite frankly I could easily go the rest of my life without human contact if I had both of those and a computer (there were no computers in 1978, obviously, so that wasn’t one of my three things). When I went back to class on Thursday, the professor pulled me aside and told me the assignment was really for him to assess our writing abilities, our grasp of grammar and paragraph construction, etc. etc. etc., and that my skills were too advanced (at sixteen!) for his class and he feared it wouldn’t challenge me enough; he had talked to an Honors English professor, showed her my essay, and she agreed to allow me to enroll in her class late. So after class, he and I walked to the Admin building and effected the shifting of classes, and you can imagine how thrilled I was at this turn of events–a college professor thought I was a good writer!

Unfortunately for me, I was not to experience that feeling again for many years–at least, that was the way I remembered it….

The Honors English class wasn’t hard, but the professor was horrible, absolutely horrible. There were only ten of us in the class, and we all bonded over how awful we thought she was. She had no sense of humor, and we had to construct our essays only in the way she believed essays must be written; she was constantly assigning us to read boring, uninteresting essays “so (we) could learn how to properly write one.” She never gave me higher than a C on anything I wrote for her, and she seemed to take particular relish in ripping my essays apart in class as an example of what not to do for the others. Lord, I despised that woman. The other students would often grab me after class for a soda or coffee or something and try to make me feel better; that is how awful she was. I was just grateful to get out of that class alive with a passing grade, but alas…the second semester of Freshman Honors English wasn’t much better. The professor was much nicer than the first, but she had absolutely no qualms with letting me know how bad of a writer I was–and clearly felt there was nothing to be done about it. Towards the end of the semester, as we had one final paper to do for the class, she called me into her office and told me she was regretfully going to have to fail me. “The only way you can pass this course is if you get an A on your final paper, and frankly, I don’t believe you can do that. But if you retake the class in the fall, it will erase your F for this semester–or I will sign off on you dropping the class.” I had already selected Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes as the subject for my paper, so I told her I was willing to take my chances and write the paper anyway. She was clearly not happy–I will give her credit, she clearly hated failing people and didn’t want to fail me–but I was determined.

I wish I still had a copy of that paper. It was brilliant, if I do say so myself. I had read a biography of Bette Davis (Mother Goddam), and the author actually used her films as a way to write her biography and even gave her the opportunity to comment on her performances. It was a great biography–I’ve always thought that was the best way to do one of a film star, if the star was still alive and able and willing to participate–and Davis had played Regina in the film version of the play (and was nominated for an Oscar). I had never seen the film, but I had read the play and the biography, and Davis’ insights into who Regina was served as the launching pad for my essay.

I got an A on the paper, and the professor actually wrote on it, “Well, I’ll be damned if you didn’t pull this off. Congratulations.”

But given this past history, and my psyche’s uncanny ability to keep the negative and not remember the positive, is it any wonder I have little to no confidence about writing essays? But now I do remember that I finished Honors English with an impressive triumph–the highest grade in the class on the final paper–and with that knowledge, perhaps I will be a little less hard on myself when it comes to writing essays in the future.

And on that note, I need to take a shower and head for the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

Video 5 8 6

Last night wasn’t perhaps the best night of sleep I could have had, but it wasn’t too bad. I think I may have gone into a deep sleep for a while, but spent some time in the dreaded, dreadful half-sleep I’ve come to know and despise. I am working at home today–the apartment is definitely in need of some straightening, organizing, and cleaning–and I have some phone calls I need to make. I also have to swing by the office at some point, because I ran out of lube for the condom packs yesterday, and thus need another case of it.

I love that I have a job where I can casually say, welp, ran out of lube again so I have to run by the office.

Pretty cool.

We finished watching season 1 of Who Killed Sara? last night, and then began watching a Freeform show–a teen crime drama I’d made note of when seeing previews a while back–called Cruel Summer. It’s an interesting show–not even based on a novel, which I thought it must have been–in that it has three different timelines; three consecutive summers, in which we see dramatic changes in the main character, Jeannette: the first summer, where she was nerdy with frizzy hair and glasses and braces (the typical way show business always depicts nerdy); the second summer, where she has transformed into a beauty whose is popular and beloved; and the third summer, where she has no friends, is hated, and has been accused of something–in the first episode we aren’t sure what happened; another pretty, popular girl is missing in the second summer timeline, and we don’t find out exactly what happened to her until the second episode. We watched the first two episodes–became completely absorbed into the story by the second, and there are two more to stream, after which we will have to wait every week for a new episode. A lot of new seasons of shows we already are into start dropping in mid-May; including Who Killed Sara?, so we should have plenty of things to watch in the upcoming months.

I started writing a short story in my journal last night; the idea has been niggling at the back of my brain for the last few days, and finally last night I started scribbling in my journal. The working title for the story is “The Glory in Damnation,” which is a great title but doesn’t really fit what I am writing, so I’ll have to come up with another. Don’t get me wrong, I like that title–will probably use it again at some point, but right now I don’t have a better one for this story so will leave it as is. (I won’t start typing into Word until I have the right title for it; I use the titles for the file names and changing file names is one of those things that I dislike doing, while being full aware it doesn’t make any sense.) I want to spend some time this weekend with my short stories, while getting ready to do revisions of #shedeservedit, and of course I need to outline the first act of Chlorine.

Hopefully, I won’t be a lazy slug this weekend and can get this all done–plus the cleaning.

While I was making condom packs yesterday, I rewatched a film I haven’t seen in a while, The Last Picture Show. The book (by Larry McMurtry) and film both had an impact on me when I was a teen; both remain on the list of my favorites. I tried to reread the book a few years ago, but stopped when I got to the part about the teen boys having sex with heifers; the book had such a weirdly nonchalant attitude toward bestiality, like it was a normal part of rural Texas boys’ growing up, that I was a bit repulsed and put the book down. I also loved the movie, and had been wanting to watch it again, to see if it would actually hold up as well as fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. It does, on both levels; and I kind of want to dive back into the book again. Peter Bogdonavich, who directed and co-wrote the movie, did an inspired job with it; this was the start of his hot streak, which included the superb What’s Up, Doc? and Paper Moon. The film was shot in black-and-white (as was Paper Moon), and every time I’ve watched it I marveled at the genius behind this choice. The cinematography gives the film an almost dreamy, slightly out of focus quality, which really works and makes an impact; Bogdanovich made a 1950’s style movie with an 1970’s sensibility. The acting was superb; Timothy Bottoms was fantastic as Sonny, as was Jeff Bridges as Duane, and of course, Ben Johnson and Cloris Leachman won Oscars for their pitch-perfect performances as Sam the Lion and Ruth Popper–that final scene with Leachman is staggering in its impact and she earned that Oscar. Ellen Burstyn is stunning and beautiful as Lois Farrow, and Eileen Brennan’s Genevieve didn’t get nearly the accolades she deserved. Cybill Shepherd made her first appearance on film as beautiful, selfish, narcissist Jacy Farrow, and she was absolutely the right choice for that part as well. Randy Quaid also has a small role as Lester Barlow, who is instrumental to Jacy’s story; he is painfully young in this, and years away from his break with reality. When he grins, you can actually see a resemblance to his brother Dennis–which he grew out of as he got older. The film opens with a panning shot of the main street of the town of Anarene (Thalia in the book), with the only sound the howling of the wind as dust blows, and Bogdonavich ends the film with a similar panning shot, which centers firmly the dying small town as the anchor to the story. (In the book, Sonny is the emotional heart of the story.) It’s nostalgic, but not seen through rose-colored glasses; both book and movie focus on how the town and the times warped the lives of the characters; how they endure the body blows of a hard life and yet somehow continue enduring. I’m glad I watched it again–because it does indeed hold up and is a classic that doesn’t get neat the attention it should.

And on that note, I need to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

In a Lonely Place

Okay, progress has been made.

I managed to finish reading Laurie R. King’s SUPERB A Monstrous Regiment of Women–I was right, once I got into the story I wasn’t able to stop–yet I did indeed manage to get through my own manuscript yesterday as well. Man, there is some seriously shitty writing in that manuscript, but I have until next Saturday to work my way through it and correct things, clean up language, make things stronger, and make the sentences and paragraphs more cohesive and prettier. I also caught some discrepancies in the story, contradictions, and repetitions. Heavy heaving sigh. But I think I should be able to get this entire thing fixed by next Saturday.

One would hope, at any rate.

It’s hard to believe that this coming weekend sees the end of April and the start of May. I’m not quite sure where the first third of this year has gone, but it has gone, and I’m not really sure what happened to it. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with me finishing writing a different book, and I should be terribly grateful that this year didn’t have the usual first-part-of-the-year distractions, like Carnival, to throw me off and wear me out. This morning, I’m going to write this, clean the kitchen and do some organizing, and then head to the gym. I am hoping when I get home from the gym that I won’t be worn out and sleepy, like last Sunday; I’m also trying to decide what to read as a follow-up to the magnificent Laurie King novel I just finished. There are too many options, I think; which is a lovely position to be in, really–and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the ebooks I have on my iPad to choose from. Inevitably I find myself unable to choose, and then I wind up wasting the day going down Youtube wormholes.

But all the news about the manuscript wasn’t itself bad. I did a decent job creating my main character, Jake Chapman, and the setting is very good. There were some mistakes with the pacing and the timing and there are some superfluous words–quite a few–but that’s fine; it came in long, well over ninety thousand words, so I can easily slash and burn my way through them; eighty thousand words is probably ideal for a book like this, and I also need to revise and redo the final chapter. Ideally, I’ll get through most of the stuff this week so I can spend all day Saturday polishing and revising that final chapter to make it sing. I’m actually kind of pleased with this story, despite all the remaining problems and all the issues I had writing and working on it; it was one of the more unusual experiences I’ve had in my career thus far because of all the indecision and self-doubt I experienced writing it (much the same with #shedeservedit) and I’m not really sure what that was all about; much more so than I’ve ever experienced in my career before writing anything. I mean, there’s always indecision, insecurity and massive amounts of self-doubt involved whenever I am writing anything, really; but for some reason working on these two books over this last year or so those usual issues were exacerbated and much more intense than I remember experiencing with other books I’ve written over the years.

I always wonder what it’s like to sit down and start writing without all those issues, frankly. I suppose I will actually never know, but I cannot imagine those things going away at this point in my life. I am guessing that every neurosis will go with me to the grave; God knows if I haven’t worked my way through them by the time I am nearly sixty, what are the odds I’ll ever get past them? Not bloody likely, right? I had always hoped that the insecurities and self-doubts that plagued my youth would be something I would eventually get over as I got older, and, in the spirit of complete frankness, in some instances aging has eliminated some of them; I no longer worry about not being in the best possible physical condition, or how I look, anymore–which was an insecurity/fear I was more than happy to shed once and for all. (I was thinking about this yesterday for some reason or another; I don’t precisely remember why.)

I think part of the reason I do so much thinking about manuscripts before I actually sit down to write them as a way around the self-doubt and imposter syndrome; if I don’t stop to think about my self-doubt and insecurity about my abilities surrounding my work I can move forward with it; and it’s not until later–the editing process, the galleys, the finished book–that all of the insecurities come flooding back. I thought Bury Me in Shadows, for example, was in pretty good shape when I turned it in; rereading it now I am aghast that I could have ever thought such a thing. This is when my passion for reading undermines me; I know I shouldn’t compare my own work to that of others, but I am sure that my horror at rereading and making corrections and notes for corrections yesterday was not helped in the least by having just finished reading something by Laurie R. King, for example; her mastery of voice and language and character and story, while quite extraordinary and exceptional, is one of those bars that I cannot hope to clear. And of course I am well aware that I shouldn’t compare my work–of which I am not the best judge, ever, and about which I am much too hard on myself–to a New York Times bestselling author whose work I admire and respect and of which I am an enormous fan.

However, reading great writers makes me aspire to do better with my own work, so there’s that.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines–have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader! It’s certainly beautiful here in New Orleans.

Elegia

Ugh, Monday morning.

At least I finished the draft of the book yesterday, so huzzah! It’s probably still a big old mess, and a whole lot of revision and rewriting is going to be required by my ever-patient and long-suffering editor, but it’s fucking done. And I have to say, in addition, that I’m kind of glad to be done with that manuscript, at least for now, and at least it’s in some sort of shape that makes sense and is hopefully fixable.

The espresso machine is still not making cappuccino shots, still only making an espresso shot despite having enough water for the larger shot; apparently just turning that extra water into steam. The new one should arrive today, so this morning will be the last time I have to use this old, no longer properly working one. I’ve also learned my lesson from the debacle of last Wednesday as far as how to drink the proper amount of caffeine this morning. What I should do is not make another and simply swing through the Starbucks drive-thru at St. Claude and Elysian Fields and pay a ridiculous amount of money for one of their lattes with a shot of vanilla in it…but as it also still causes me physical pain to pay that much money for one, I will most likely repeat the enormous mistake of last week and wind up over-caffeinating. I’ll be sad to get rid of this espresso machine; it was cheap and served me well for seven years almost, but I am really looking forward to using the new one, and seeing what it does.

I have tomorrow off so I can take Paul to his colonoscopy. Big excitement, right? At least I can take The Russia House with me to read while that’s going on. We don’t know what time his appointment is for; he has to go get a COVID test today, and once they get the result will call to let him know what time he needs to come in tomorrow morning (or afternoon; it could be at any time). Our new washer is also being delivered this Friday, and now of course I am stressing about how they are getting the old one out and the new one in. I’ll probably go ahead and remove the laundry room door on Thursday, as well as taking out the bottom shelf and everything on it to make as much room for them in the tight space as possible. I keep telling myself they’re used to this sort of thing and not worrying; after all, they were able to deliver and install the original one, weren’t they? And we’ve had three dryers delivered and installed over the last sixteen years, so I am probably worrying about nothing, right? Right? But so many things have been going wrong around here for so long–this weekend, we kept blowing a fuse in the kitchen–which is worrisome, especially since the last time it blew yesterday it wouldn’t flip back, and it was hot to the touch, so I let it sit for about two hours and then tried again. It worked that time–the kitchen lights are still on this morning (it’s also the same fuse the refrigerator and dishwasher are on, so I’ve not been able to. use the dishwasher as the fuse goes every time) so here’s hoping the guys can come out today and replace the fuse or figure out the problem with it so it will stop tripping.

We finished watching The Clown and the Candyman yesterday, as they tried to make the connection between the two notorious serial killers and the John Norman pedophilia ring, and as I watched and listened, I kept thinking to myself this sounds like where that QAnon pedophile conspiracy theory probably got its start–which doesn’t mean that it’s not based in some kind of fact; the QAnon conspiracy theory might actually be grounded in some kind of reality–which doesn’t, of course, mean what they are saying on those message boards and so forth is true, either. But it was interesting, to say the least, and the parallels and possible connection between these two mass murderers is fascinating to contemplate. And of course, the entire time I was watching I was scribbling down notes and ideas for stories and so forth. We also finished watching Resident Alien last night, which was exceptionally clever and rather well done; I am assuming last night’s final episode we watched was the season finale because the end was the perfect cliffhanger.

Fun!

I’ve also fallen behind on Superman and Lois, and with this draft of the book finished, I should be able to get back on track with everything else that I’ve fallen behind on–groan, my email inbox alone–and I have to do some tweaking of Bury Me in Shadows, which I am hoping to get to work on this coming weekend. I kind of want to take this week to kind of chill and relax and get a handle on everything. I’ve never felt caught up at all at any time over the past year, which is terrible and drives me crazy; there’s nothing worse than feeling behind all the time and like you’re never going to catch up.

And on that note….tis back to the spice mines with me! Happy day after Easter, everyone!

World in Motion

Ah, Sunday.

Last night I kept waking up, even though it felt like I was getting good rest, if that makes any sense. I finally got tired of trying to get some more sleep and went ahead and got up before eight–around quarter till, to be precise–because I have work to do and the deadline is ticking. I made some excellent progress yesterday, and have a lot more to do today. I am hoping to get the final chapters of the book completely refinished and rewritten today; so I can do mop up the rest of the week–and there will be lots of mopping up to do. This is maybe the ninth draft of the book since I wrote the first draft in 2015–but in complete fairness, all those revisions were of the first half of the book rather than the second; this is the third draft of the second half–I was struggling to find the right voice, to find the correct tense, and really, trying to figure out who my main character is or was. Most of this work has been, since I first wrote the first draft six years ago, scattered and disorganized and, in retrospect, primarily a case of me not trusting myself or my abilities and be intimidated by what I was writing about–with the occasional dose of imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure.

We watched the ice dancing final last night, and remain completely mystified by the results. Perhaps we’re partisan, but we simply failed to see the same magic in the routine by the Canadian team that resulted in them placing second in the free dance, and capturing the bronze medal somehow. But ice dance has always been controversial, and the judging has never made much sense. The Russian team that won was clearly the best in the competition; no question about that–but I also felt the second place Russian team, that finished fifth, was also better, more athletic, and more artistic, than the Canadians. But yesterday afternoon I also took some time to watch the men’s final, and it was delightful to see Nathan Chen make a comeback from a fall in the short program to win it all, his third world title in a row–the first American to do so since Scott Hamilton–and if he wins the Olympics and a fourth world title next year, he’ll be in even more elite company. The women also managed to earn the US three Olympic spots, which I wasn’t expecting to happen, so at least we’ll have as full a team as possible; I think Nathan winning automatically earns us three men for the team–but the rules may have changed, and I must confess I don’t pay nearly as much attention to figure skating as I used to. I hate this new points system; always have since it was implemented, and I don’t believe it forestalls arrangements between judges the way the old system did–not to mention the guarantee of anonymity so no one knows how any judge scored any competitor; I fail to see how this will stop collusion, but I am not the ISU.

The humidity has been ruinous on my sinuses lately; it’s so weird for it to be so hot and humid already this year. My windows are covered in condensation this morning, which is unusual for this time of year–that new HVAC system clearly works extremely well–an I am going to head to the gym later this morning for my weekend workout. The rain kept me from going earlier in the week, so for the last two weeks I’ve only had two workouts per week; not goo, but better than one and much better than not going at all. I need to get some new workout clothes, though; I haven’t bought workout shorts in well over ten years and thus they not only don’t fit properly but are also a little on the worn out side, and the more hot and humid it gets the less likely I am to want to wear sweat pants to the gym. I found some T-shirts in my T-shirt drawer back from the days when I could squeeze into a medium (I now wear extra large) and so I disposed of them as well. I really would like to get this book finished and turned in on Thursday the 1st (this week!) so I can spend my three day Easter weekend cleaning out books and going through my clothes.

I’d also like to spend some time finishing The Russia House. I read another chapter yesterday and greatly enjoyed it; I am really looking forward to spending more time with LeCarré. I also want to start reading more of these books that I keep buying and adding to my TBR pile, which is mostly out of control these days–I also need to recognize that many essays I have wanted to write about books and authors I enjoyed won’t ever happen because I will never have the time to write them, nor will I ever have the time to go back and reread the books; there simply isn’t enough time for all the reading I want to do, and I have to be more realistic. Some are simply too long–much as I loved Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke, there’s simply no way I can (or will) ever find the time to reread those books; let alone anything by Michener (I’ve been wanting to reread my favorite Michener, Centennial, for quite some time, but probably will never happen).

And once I have this book finished and turned in, I have to do some revisions of Bury Me in Shadows by May 1; I don’t think it’s anything major, really; a much more thorough copy edit, an additional clarifying sentence here and there, and then it will be finished, and then comes the first draft of Chlorine….at long last. There are also some submission calls I want to write for as well; we’ll see how that turns out, won’t we? But I think my stories “Death and the Handmaidens”, “The Blues Before Dawn”, and “Le Feu Follet” might actually have homes I can try to get them into; and there’s another call for a humorous mystery I’d like to take a shot at as well; my stories always seem to turn out to be darkly comic anyway.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Dub-vulture

Sunday morning and the end of the weekend looms, which means I need to get up at six for the next three mornings. Groan. These last two mornings I’ve been a lag-a-bed; which of course delays Scooter’s morning insulin shot–which means I need to be certain I give it to him at the correct time tonight because I can’t given it to him later tomorrow. It looks lovely outside this morning–which is nice, since I am going to go to the gym in a moment, after finishing this and cleaning the kitchen, so I can come home and work on the book all day. I didn’t get as much done yesterday as perhaps I would have liked–I did manage to get a working timeline for the events of the book in place, something I didn’t do for Bury Me in Shadows (and my editor requested it in the notes she gave me) and as I began doing it, I realized how fucked up the timeline for the book actually was. Over the course of numerous drafts, the time of the book changed–originally, I had the book set over Homecoming weekend (why not give into every cliché of writing about high school, right?) and then, at some point, I casually did some research about the Kansas high school football season and, much to my own horror, discovered that the regular season generally ends around Halloween–I’d forgotten that it has to end earlier so it doesn’t overlap with basketball season (which is the most important sport in Kansas–always has been, always will be) unless your team goes to the actual play-offs. Yesterday I had to verify when the school semester starts, and double-checked the football season again, which was important. I had left it as Homecoming weekend but had to move it earlier into the season…and then realized in a much later draft that the story doesn’t work with that much time passing between the pivotal points of the story and Homecoming….so I realized I had to move it to the first game of the season (which makes the most sense) but I was also still going by my vague memory that my birthday in late August was always right before school starts….assuming the start of the school year hadn’t changed over the last forty years, which it obviously has; school starts in early to mid-August now; the first game of the season is inevitably either the Frida before or after Labor Day, depending on when the holiday falls, and that of course changed everything about the current timeline in the book–which will now have to be changed. There’s another pivotal event of the story that happens over the summer, and I’d planned to use the county fair as the backdrop for it, so I looked up when the Lyon County Fair is…and it’s right before the start of school–late July/early August–which again fucked with my timeline of the story until I realized I don’t have to have the fair take place when the real one I am fictionalizing does; and it’s a perfect timeline now, really; it makes so much sense for the county fair to happen, my main character’s family vacation to follow that, and for him to come back in time for the start of football season but missing the big kick-off event for the community: the bonfire, which is the night the event that serves as a catalyst for the story occurs. It means tweaking the story even more–and I still have things to add to it–and I am probably going to have to rewrite almost everything from Chapter Seventeen on, but that’s okay. I now know how to end the story, which means I have a shit ton of writing and revising to get done in the next ten days or so (since the deadline falls on the Thursday before Easter weekend, with Friday as a paid holiday, I may go ahead and take that final weekend to make sure everything is okay with it before turning it in). I have to get Bury Me in Shadows fixed in April, and I have some short stories I want to work on that month as well for upcoming deadlines. So May will be most likely when I start working on Chlorine–which means June will be when I start writing the first draft of the next Scotty; if I am able to stay on this schedule. Please God, let me stay on schedule.

So anyway, I am very pleased with what I was able to get done yesterday. When I get home from the gym today and get cleaned up, I am going to settle into my easy chair with the laptop and with Fleetwood Mac blaring on the home stereo–I made a wonderful playlist on Spotify Friday, which I will likely expand upon this morning–primarily adding every Fleetwood Mac album in order, from Fleetwood Mac thru Say You Will, with probably some solo work from the band members mixed in as well. Fleetwood Mac has really been helping me get inspired to write this past week or so; I’m glad I’ve rediscovered how much I love their music again (I never forget, I just don’t think about listening to them as much as I used to–an enormous mistake I will never make again); likewise I find listening to Taylor Swift while I am writing enormously inspirational as well; not sure what that’s all about, but whatever it is, I’ll take it. Music has always been an important part of my writing process–I’ve always loved music, and wished I had some musical talent of any kind–but alas, that was not to be. I generally do listen to music–I can remember back when I was writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine I used to put three Madonna CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle (The Immaculate Collection, Like a Prayer, and Ray of Light) while I was writing and then I would suddenly realize the music had stopped playing and I’d written a shit ton of words.

I never got around to reading The Russia House yesterday; maybe today I’ll be able to get some work done and spend some time with LeCarré. I did take eight boxes of books to the Latter Library to donate to their book sale, picked up my own mail, and then made groceries before coming home to put everything away and work on the book. I was tempted to watch the Snyder version of Justice League, but it’s four hour length is rather daunting; it’s definitely on queue for condom packing this week. We watched the SEC Gymnastics meet last night (LSU finished second, and just .125 out of first) and then the season finale of Servant, which remains as much a mystery as it was when we first started watching, but it’s done so well and it so fucking creepy and bizarre–the acting is also pinpoint sharp, and Lauren Ambrose certainly deserves at least an Emmy nomination for her complicated and crazy Dorothy Turner, for whom motherhood has proven both a tragedy on a Shakespearean level and an all consuming passion that drives her–and those who love her–down an insane path they never should have taken, and of course everything keeps spinning insanely out of control for everyone.

And of course there’s only one more weekend of me being a Festival widow, which I am really looking forward to. I miss Paul, and spending the evenings together watching our television programs and having dinner. Scooter misses having him around, too.

I did read a short story yesterday; from Nikki Dolson’s Love and Other Criminal Behavior, called “Georgie Ann.” It was marvelously delightful, dark and twisted and chilling; just what the doctor ordered:

Georgie Ann is dead. Her husband and all of our crowd around her coffin. They stand with their backs to use and their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. We, the dutiful spouses, black suited and Prada heeled, sit waiting for our cue to cry.

The casket is open. We’ve all done our viewing and we agree she looks great for a dead woman her age. She is ten years our senior. Was.

One of us says what we’re all thinking, “How much hairspray do you think they used? Her hair never held curls like that.”

A very stark, nasty opening the sets the mood, tone and attitude of the story very much into place: Georgie Ann wasn’t a very nice person, and her “crowd” didn’t like her very much. Our narrator certainly didn’t, and as she remembers Georgie Ann’s sins and conduct to her and all of their friends, the reader also begins to dislike Georgie Ann…and wonder how she wound up dead. This story actually reminds me very strongly of Liane Moriarty’s works, or Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, the little hurts and slights and tiny issues that grow into darker, bad things. “Georgie Ann” could very easily be one of those novels, exploring the complexities and competitions between a group of friends that turns into something darker, possibly criminal. Definitely looking forward to delving into this collection even further.

And on that note, tis time for me to start tidying up so I can head to the gym with a clear (relatively) conscious. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will catch you the next time.

Don’t Do It

And now it’s Thursday, a work-at-home-make-condom-packs-while-watching-movies-or-bingeing-something-on-television kind of day. I also get to. take Paul in for his second vaccination today (huzzah!) and then this evening will undoubtedly work on the book some more–and possibly squeeze in a trip to the gym. Last night’s weather was horrible–it was windy all day, and then around seven o’clock last night all hell broke loose: high winds, extreme thunder and lightning, and a downpour that had me worried about the street flooding. But the sky is clear of clouds this morning and the sun is shining–I haven’t checked the temperature yet, but it looks pleasant outside, if not outright gorgeous.

I finished the first final run through of the book last night, and as I did, I knew exactly how to end it all and tie all the loose strings together and so forth. It’s going to mean more writing–but I knew that going into it–but the primary problem was the structure of the book, really, and last night I figured it out. A mere two weeks before the final deadline, but better late than never, and I am kind of excited again to whip it all together and into shape. I got rid of most of the repetitions–some of which were actually rather good, so I am going to have to decide this weekend whether to leave things as they are or switch in some of the repetitive stuff for the stuff I left in. I think it’s going to actually turn out to be what I had envisioned from the very beginning….which is very cool. The nice thing is that I have about ninety thousand words already; will probably have to add about five thousand more, while trimming and revising some of the rest out. The book kind of goes off the rails somewhere around chapter seventeen, which is where the reworking is going to really have to start, and there are also going to be some brief inserts from a podcast that goes between some of the chapters, to give the backstory and also keep the overall narrative moving. I’ve never written anything like #shedeservedit before, either subject matter or structurally, so this is a big leap for me….and why not take a big experimental leap before working on Chlorine?

I am taking my library sale copy of John LeCarré’s The Russia House with me to Paul’s vaccination appointment; I am rather excited about reading another LeCarré, to be honest. I thought The Spy Who Came In From The Cold was exceptional and extraordinary, and from looking at the first page of The Russia House, it looks like this one will be as well. I’ve not really been doing much reading lately; when I am in the weeds with a book it’s not easy for me to read anything else as my mind is too distracted to focus much on someone else’s narrative, and so when I get this novel wrapped up and finish The Russia House I expect to be doing a lot of reading in April–and I have some short stories I want to get worked on while prepping to write Chlorine in April. I also need to call the library to make an appointment to drop off this first batch of donated books to them–so I can start boxing up the next batch of them as well. I also want to start making the long-overdue Scotty Bible in April–I can work on that while I am prepping Chlorine and working on these short stories (I really want to get some more things out on submission, the sooner the better)–so that I will really be prepared to start working on Twelfth Night Knavery once I have the first draft of Chlorine banged out.

I’m actually kind of excited about all this writing to come, if a little daunted. I will inevitably, of course, have lazy moments where I will simply blow everything off, but again…that’s kind of inevitable. I slept so well last night I didn’t want to get up out of bed this morning, but I have simply too much to do to be a lag-a-bed this morning. I’m going to be a Festival widow for the rest of this week and all of next, and then I’ll have to get back into a routine of making dinner every night and watching something with Paul–and there’s plenty for us to watch. I have to get caught up on Superman and Lois, which I am really enjoying, and of course Paul and I started the third season of Mr. Mercedes–but are only able to catch an episode here and there whenever he gets home early enough since I have to be in bed by ten on Sunday thru Tuesday nights. I am also thinking about treating myself to phô from the Vietnamese café next door to the Cat Practice at some point over this weekend as well–it’s been a hot minute since I’ve had some good phô, and I just say that my favorite place to get it in Midcity–Namese–has closed permanently, which is a shame. (note to self: you need to write about the Vietnamese community of New Orleans at some point) But I am really really looking forward to a big bowl of phô; I love me some noodles. I’m also thinking about making Swedish meatballs again this weekend. We shall see, I suppose. I may put off the Costco run until next weekend; while there are definitely some things I need from there, there’s nothing really pressing. (I was also thinking last night that I need to stop thinking about going to Costco in terms of periodic visits where I spend a shit ton of money; there’s no reason I can’t, for example, make a short trip to get a few things on weeknights after I get off work, for example; I-10 makes it insanely easy to get there from the office. Rethink things, Greg, rather than remaining in stasis and doing things a certain way simply because you’ve always done them that way.)

And on that note, tis best for me to head back into the spice mines. Them condoms aren’t going to pack themselves, for example, and much as I want everything to simply take care of itself without my assistance, that’s not terribly likely. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a lovely Thursday.

Dream Attack

THE IDES OF MARCH!!!!

Monday and another week dawns; full of possibilities both good and bad as well as potential. We are at the midway point of March, today being the Ides, of course (beware the Ides of March) with 16 days left for me to get this manuscript whipped into shape. Once that is finished and turned in I have to go back for a final pass, with editorial notes, on Bury Me in Shadows, which is due at the end of April. This pushes my writing schedule back further for the year, but that’s okay; my writing plans inevitably are always overly ambitious.

Always.

I did manage to have a sort of productive day yesterday after all; I went to the gym around noon and came back home to get started on working on inputting the edits into #shedeservedit. I didn’t get very far, but I did manage to get some of it done, which is a start. I am hoping to get all finished this week, so I can work on the rewrites that are necessary–as well as writing the new stuff that I need for it–and so I suspect I’ll be back on track with it sooner rather than later. I just have this sense of impending doom right now–not sure why this always happens, but it inevitably does a few weeks before deadline (last month by that time I already knew I wasn’t going to be finished on time, so didn’t have that feeling last time) and believe you me, I am really looking forward to being done with this. I suspect the tweaks necessary for Bury Me in Shadows won’t take the entire month to do; so I am hoping to be able to get some short stories worked on and possibly a synopsis/outline for Chlorine finished in April as well. We shall see how that turns out.

I hate Daylight Savings Time with a passion, and frankly, could easily do without that extra hour of sleep in the fall to eliminate the loss of one in the spring. It’s pitch black outside the windows this morning, which means I may be driving to work in the dark this morning–and the next mornings until such time as the sun starts rising earlier as the earth continues tilting on its axis. At least it will still be light out when I get home from work in the evenings now, which will feel slightly less oppressive than coming home in the dark. The days are getting longer now, which means they will also be getting hotter–I am curious to see how unpleasant walking to and from the gym during the dog days of summer is going to be–but I cannot allow that to keep me from going. Yesterday’s workout was a good one, and I need to remember to stay focused and push myself when I go on days when I’ve not been to the office (Tuesday night workouts inevitably will always be half-assed, but at least I am aware of that going into it and won’t be terribly disappointed by them anymore.)

I watched the final episode of Allen v. Farrow last night, and it was rather harrowing, as all episodes were. Obviously, the point of the documentary was to present the opposite side to the Allen camp’s denials…but it’s still not easy to watch. I guess it’s important that the truth of the police investigation–they felt they had enough to go to trial but didn’t think young Dylan was strong enough to withstand the rigors of testifying or going through the trial–be put out there, particularly since the decision to not prosecute was not a vindication, as the Allen camp has claimed repeatedly throughout the years, as well as the findings of the custody trial, which was also damning yet spun; and Mia Farrow herself comes across fairly well. I’d never really been much of a fan of Mia–I’d seen some of her movies, Rosemary’s Baby being the best of them–and now I feel as though somehow I’ve never been fair to her as an actress….but watching Woody Allen movies in order to see how well she played those roles is going to be a hard pass from me. I’ve never really been much of a fan of his–I think I’ve seen Annie Hall, Everything You Always Wanted to Know about Sex But Were Afraid to Ask (homophobic as the book was), Casino Royale I(technically not a Woody Allen movie, but a movie with Woody Allen in it), and maybe a couple of other earlier ones I cannot recall at this moment, and was never terribly impressed by any of them, frankly–but just figured Woody Allen movies was one of those things everyone else got that went past me. Perhaps the most damning thing for me that came out of this documentary series was learning that if a father is accused of sexual/physical/mental abuse by a mother, the mother is often not believed and loses custody herself, putting the children into the custody of their accused abuser, which is seriously fucked up.

We really need to stop assuming all women are vicious and vindictive shrews out to ruin any man they accuse of anything, really, and start listening. False accusations made from malice are rare; so why do we always automatically default–especially our legal system–to not believing ANY woman? I don’t think I’ll ever understand this, but I also remember when it first became illegal for a husband to rape his wife–even though the wife is rarely, if ever, believed; even marriage doesn’t eradicate the need for consent; the marriage vows don’t give the husband (or the wife, for that matter) ownership over their spouse’s body.

Ah, and Drew Brees retired yesterday, which saddened me. I may do an entire entry on Drew Brees and New Orleans….it’s complicated. But I wish him and his family well, and I do thank him for what he–and his family–have done for the city.

And on that note, HELLO SPICE MINES!

Avalanche

Monday; the dawn of a new week with endless possibilities as well as the potential for endless irritations, aggravations, and anything else negative you might be able to dream up.

Yesterday I started making my way through the most recent iteration of #shedeservedit–which isn’t, or may not, require as much work as I ha originally thought–and I also had my editorial call about Bury Me in Shadows, which wasn’t the terror I feared it would be; it was most pleasant, some great suggestions for smoothing the flow of the book an making it read better than it does in its current iteration. Enormous sigh of relief in both instances. I know, I know, I shouldn’t always be so nervous about my writing, but there is a very real fear in my brain that the day will come when I will lose the ability to do this, to create and write stories an characters for people to engage with, get to know, and spend time with.

And no, I don’t know why I still have this anxiety. I have to date published over thirty novels (I don’t know how many total, really, and I don’t feel like going back and counting again) and have two more in the pipeline to get published and yet….I still suffer anxiety about being a writer, about being any good at it, and then, as if that isn’t enough, I also have anxiety about it all going away and not being able to do it anymore–and this happens any time I get stuck, or as a deadline looms, or whenever I just don’t want to do it, which is pretty much all of the time. I never cease to be amazed at how often I have to force myself to do things I actually enjoy and love to do. It makes literally no sense whatsoever.

Take going to the gym, as another example. Every single time I go to the gym, I have to make myself do it. Once I am in the gym, it’s a constant mental struggle to remain and do the entire workout without skipping anything. The great irony is that these “get back into it” workouts are actually having an effect on my body. I am down to 203 pounds–it’s been at least since 2011 since I weighed less than 205, and there were times when I thought I would never see 210 ever again–and my goal weight for this year was 200…and I am almost there by mid-March already. I can’t see myself going down much further than 200, to be honest; already my clothes are getting far too big for me and with my weird body-shape, at this point weighing less than 200 would make me look pretty strange. I need to really focus on building up my leg muscles, because that’s the real issue, but I also worry that the way they are shaped won’t make a difference if they get bigger; I need to them to get wider across when looked at from front or back–from front to back they are fairly thick already. I don’t think I can make them wider simply because of the way my leg muscles are shaped, if that makes any sense. Anyway, that’s really a long way of saying how happy I am that my body is reacting to the exercise and that I’ve lost some more weight. Perhaps that will motivate me to go and next time I won’t have to make myself.

Good one. It almost sounded convincing.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me! See you tomorrow, Constant Reader!

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.