I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.
Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.
I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.
I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.
I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.
The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.
Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.
Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.
I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.
November 1st, or All Saints’ Day; which is the perfect day for a Saints game, don’t you think? LSU lost yesterday, badly, and while it was incredibly disappointing to watch, I felt worse for the players. We always forget, regardless of how talented they are, they’re really little more than kids. And since so many starters are either true freshman or sophomores…I think they’ll be really good next year…if they can survive what looks to be a season on par with the late 1990’s. Yeesh.
I am up ridiculously early because of Daylight Savings time; I’d be up early regardless, but I am wide awake and decided, since I have to get up early the next three mornings, that it made sense to go ahead and get up now–one advantage of the so-called “extra hour” (because if 2020 needs anything, it’s more time) is that by not using that hour to get extra sleep, I can recalibrate my body clock to my own advantage for the next few mornings. The sun isn’t up yet completely, but the cutting down of the crepe myrtles next door–many of them, but not all–means that my workspace and kitchen are going to be flooded with a lot more direct sunlight, which is going to make it unbearable in here once it gets hot again; which means I am going to need to do something about window coverings, whether it’s curtains or blinds. We’ll see how much time I have before that becomes a massive priority–hell, it might become one later this morning.
I was still very tired and physically exhausted yesterday. I ran my errands, and then working on cleaning up our side of the house–leaves, branches, debris–and so I watched the LSU game, doing some cleaning and organizing around here in the meantime, and then for Halloween watched House of Dark Shadows on Hulu. I originally saw this movie in the theater–my grandmother, who got me started watching the soap in the first place–took me, and it was a very different take on the Barnabas Collins story. For one thing, there was no redemption of the character; he remained an evil, cruel vampire till the end, when he was killed for his crimes, and he also kind of killed off the entire family, other than Elizabeth and David, by the end. It was straight up more horror than melodrama, and the movie did well enough to inspire a sequel (with none of the same characters or actors), but it really wasn’t as good a story as the redemption of the vampire arc the show did.
I also took the time to read four novellas of Cornell Woolrich, collected together in one volume with the name Four Novellas of Fear (which is really not the best title, as it gives the impression that the novellas are more horror than suspense/crime; which is what they really are). The novellas are all interesting takes, some of which are dated and wouldn’t work today, alas: “Eyes That Watch You”, the first, was my favorite, in which a woman who is completely paralyzed and cannot speak overhears her daughter-in-law and her lover plotting to kill the woman’s son. Unable to communicate and warn him, the crime takes place…and then she becomes determined, somehow, to expose the murderers to the cops and send them to the chair. Great concept, marvelously handled. The next, “The Day I Died,” is about a man who finds out his wife is planning to kill him for the insurance; he comes home early from work and surprises her with the man she has hired to kill him. The hired assassin winds up dead, and the hard-boiled heroine convinces her husband to go through with the plan–they have a ready made corpse whose face they can disfigure and claim it’s suicide. But as he leaves town he runs into a co-worker on the bus…and now he has to kill the co-worker somehow. It’s very noir, very well done–but again, wouldn’t work in a modern setting because of technology and the difficulty of disappearing in the modern world. The third story, “You Won’t See Me Again,” is about a young newly married couple who have an argument, and she walks out–storming home to mother. When she doesn’t return–as he suspects and expects her to, after a day or so–it becomes a missing persons case and of course, the husband is always the prime suspect in those cases. So now he has to find not only the wife he loves to make sure she’s safe, but also to clear her name. It’s yet another story that wouldn’t work in today’s world because of technology, but it’s a charming time capsule. Likewise, “Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is about the slow descent into crime of a person who is broke and desperate and owed money he was cheated out of; rather than confronting the man and asking for his money he decides instead to break into his house and steal it. He’s caught, commits murder, realizes how easy it is to become a criminal, and starts killing people to cover his initial crime….(this is very similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, in which Dame Agatha and Miss Marple also explored the idea that once you’ve killed, it becomes easier to keep killing) and there’s a terrific ironic twist at the end, worthy of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.
Despite being dated, I enjoyed all four novellas–which were all very distinct and different, and cynical in their own ways. I certainly enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Night Has a Thousand Eyes, that’s for certain, and my own curiosity about Woolrich–who was a gay man, an alcoholic, and horribly unhappy in his personal life–deepened. (Just as watching The Other the other day, and thinking about the author of the book, Thomas Tryon–a closeted gay actor of the 1960’s who turned to writing novels in the 1970’s–reminded me that I had once thought him worthy of a biography, and I still kind of think that way; I just wish I had the time to devote to doing the research and traveling to Connecticut to examine his papers and so forth; he was also the long-time lover of the first gay porn star, Cal Culver, which is also an interesting footnote to his interesting life as well as of gay historical interest.)
I’m trying to decide what to read next, and have narrowed it down to four options (and may choose something else entirely): Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove; Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages (which I may have already read, but I don’t remember finishing it); The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; or The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. I am leaning toward to du Maurier because I am thinking it may be time to finish her canon; but the others all look tremendously good, which inevitably always makes choosing difficult. I also want to start reading short stories again–I still have two volumes, for example, of Shirley Jackson stories to read–and I need to get back to my writing–if I can only remember where I was. I know I was rereading Bury Me in Shadows in order to get a grasp of the story–I also have been thinking about the tweaks it needs–and the deadline looms. I also need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” there’s about a million emails to catch up on, and there’s also the bills to pay.
Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to make it to the gym this morning. One good thing that has happened in this past week is managing three workouts; my body feels wonderful, my muscles feel more stretched and better than they have since the pandemic closed my old gym (we belonged there for eighteen years) and that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? I think so, and I like that I am developing better workout habits. I’ll worry about correcting my diet and going full on Mediterranean diet after a few more weeks.
I’m also going to write a story–or rather, try to finish one–for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology. Getting a short story into one of those is on my bucket list, and I have two potential in-progress stories for this one; three, really: “Condos for Sale or Rent,” “Please Die Soon,” and “A Dirge in the Dark”. I guess I’ll need to read what’s been done on all four stories and then see about finishing any or all of them…it’s not a bad idea to get all three stories written, pick one to submit to the MWA anthology, and then send the others to other markets.
So many stories in progress.
The sun is rising and the loss of the trees has also made a significant difference to my view–which isn’t nearly as pretty or scenic as it was before, and will take some getting used to. The great irony is my landlady has been trying to get the property owner next door to trim the trees back for years–and trying to get her to trim them regularly, as they are problematic for hurricanes/tropical storms. It took Zeta for her to take the risk presented by the crepe myrtles seriously, with the end result that some were not only trimmed back dramatically, but others were removed entirely. I may have to hang up a small blanket or something in the meantime as a stopgap until I have the time and financial means to get curtains or blinds.
And on that note, I must head into the spice mines and start working on getting caught up, a Sisyphean task at best. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your Feast of All Saints.
I finished reading “Death in Venice” last night, and it occurs to me that I might have been better served rereading “The Masque of the Red Death,” actually. I’ve not read it since high school, and yet it is always there, somehow, in a corner of my mind. There have been several instances, for example, in my life where the story has come to me as the perfect analogy for whatever was going on or whatever situation I found myself in; and its underlying theme–there is no escape from death–is one I’ve always wanted to write about, but whether to do it in fiction or non-fiction form; that is, as ever, the question.
Don’t get me wrong, “Death in Venice” was perfectly fine, and I can see why it is so acclaimed. It didn’t really connect with me as much as I would have liked to engage with it, but Mann’s style is so formal and distant that the characters are kept from the reader as a sort of arm’s length; it’s a very distinct picture of a particular character and I got a very strong sense of who he is from it–but he isn’t someone who particularly interests me very much, nor is the strange obsession with the beautiful young Polish boy Tadzio–absolutely pure, of course, and entirely intellectual; nor sordid thoughts of lust or physical desire to be found on that particular beach on the Lido in Venice, interesting. The extraordinary passivity of the man as he is subconsciously aware that his inability to leave Venice because he must continue to look at, follow, and stalk this teenager will inevitably lead to his death was something I never really quite grasped or understood; perhaps, as ever, I am too stupid to understand the big underlying point of the story, with my low peasant tastes and faulty, not classically educated intellect. It was sort of a Lolita-esque type story, and I think my tastes are too honed to favor writers like du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith to not expect there to be some dark noir twist to it at the end, and to be disappointed to not find it there. (I also thought the whole part of him having his hair dyed and his face painted wasn’t really anything to do with trying to look younger or because Tadzio made him care about his appearance more, so much as it was like getting the corpse ready for the viewing; but your mileage, as always, might vary.)
It has been a long, trying week, and like everyone, I am trying to muddle through the best I can using a combination of judicious amounts of alcohol and prescription medication. I love my day job (although I will now and forever always reserve the right to be highly annoyed by it from time to time), but even under the best of circumstances, it can be emotionally and mentally exhausting–and when you’re both emotionally and mentally exhausted, you feel that way physically as well. I find myself having to force myself to do normal, every day routine things; putting the dishes away seems like an unconquerable chore and when it’s finished, I need to sit for a bit. I watch the clock every night dreading the inevitable time I have to go to bed–because then I have to wake up to what has been almost consistently worse news every morning since before Carnival started, and somehow pull myself together to go to work. I also know that I’m lucky to have a job to go to every day, and I am hopeful I’ll remain lucky. But…my primary whine now is that I have to get up at six to be at work every day–yesterday, today, and Friday, at any rate–and that just is too early for me to be completely functional. But it beats the twelve hours days I usually put in when I get up this early, I suppose.
Today my goal is to get through most of my emails and try to get some things settled; as much as I can, at any rate, and make some decisions about things I have to make decisions on. Maybe tonight I can get some writing done; if not, I am going to finish reading du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” and reflect on the influence/effect of Venice on not only her two stories (including “Don’t Look Now”, which i reread this past weekend) but on “Death in Venice,” as well as whether I can see influences of the Mann story on her two stories on death in Venice. It’s an intellectual challenge of the sort I used to rather enjoy; the kind of essay and/or article I love to write that no one wants to publish or see from me. (And maybe I can find a copy of the “The Masque of the Red Death” somewhere on line free to download; all of Poe’s work is in the public domain, so it shouldn’t be difficult to locate, frankly.)
At some point I also need to get to work on some of these short stories and the Secret Project again, but who knows when that time will present itself again? I find myself so tired when I get home from the office–at least yesterday, and certainly those days of last week when I went in rather than working from home–and this getting up so goddamned early is also a challenge for me, to not be tired when I get home; although it is rather lovely to get home so quickly, regardless of the time of day.
Last night we continued with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is truly so much better than I ever dared to hope. It did occur to me last night, as we watched two episodes back-to-back, that the show is following the same trajectory as both Dark Shadows and True Blood–a small town with all the typical dysfunction any soap viewer knows to expect from a show centered in a small town; and how the supernatural aspects begin to amp up in an accelerated fashion once the show actually begins. Dark Shadows brought forth first ghosts and then a phoenix; after that came the vampire and the flood gates opened. Likewise, on True Blood, once Bill the vampire showed up, the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps began the epicenter of all kinds of crazy and bizarre supernatural events and creatures. I understand the necessity of it all, but once you go so far, there’s really no dialing it back. I’m glad they decided to send Sabrina to the witch school and leave her traditional school; by embracing the witch half of DNA and signing her name to the Book of the Beast it defied the way these types of shows usually go, with the mortal half always holding sway over the witch half, and not using her powers, etc. etc. etc.–which has always felt…contrived to me; after all, if Darren had no problem with Samantha being a witch and using her powers, 90% of the plots of Bewitched wouldn’t have been possible. (More on that later–and the implicit sexism of that show, which really needs to be explored.) But we’re enjoying Sabrina, and hoping that it doesn’t eventually–as these shows always, inevitably do–“jump the shark”–which is why we finally stopped watching Supernatural a few years ago (although we still love the show and remember it fondly; we have no desire to go back and watch the last few seasons).
And on that note I now have to go get ready for another day in the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, as much as you can.
Sunday morning, and with no Saints game today I have no excuse not to get a lot done today. It’s chilly this morning and gray outside; we still have rain in the forecast but it’s calm and quiet out there right now; perhaps the calm before the storm? Ugh, such a tired cliche–but it’s fine with me.
Yesterday I got a lot of chores done–very little writing, but the chores were necessary and of course, being the Master Procrastinator that I am; I have to have a clean apartment–or at least one that’s been straightened up some–in order to have a clear conscience enough to get work done. I now have no excuses to not get everything done that I need to get done today–but we’ll see how that goes; there’s always something.
I read another Holmes story yesterday–“The Musgrave Ritual”–which I couldn’t remember the plot of, other than remembering that it was one of my favorite Holmes stories. Like “The Gloria Scott“, it’s a “let me tell you a story” story; I really don’t remember the Holmes stories being like this, of course, but it’s something to think about as I prepare to write my own pastiche. It’s a style of writing/story-telling I’m not so certain I want to try, but then again–the entire point of me writing a Holmes story is to push myself as a writer and get better overall, so perhaps…perhaps I should try it that way and see how it goes. Anyway, as I reread it, I remembered why I liked it so much; it’s a treasure hunt story, and I absolutely love treasure hunts. At least two Scotty books–Jackson Square Jazz and Vieux Carre Voodoo, are treasure hunts.
I also rewatched the original film version of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, 1963’s The Haunting, directed by multiple Oscar winner Robert Wise, and starring Julie Harris as Nell. I saw this movie long before I even knew there was a book, let alone read it; my grandmother loved old black and white movies, and she especially loved crime and horror–probably where I get it from, and she also introduced me to the novels of Mary Stewart, Victoria Holt, Ellery Queen, and Erle Stanley Gardner. I was very young and the film absolutely terrified me–to this day, even remembering the scene with the door expanding and contracting unsettles me. I was, of course, quite delighted as a teenager to discover it was actually a novel (I had read Richard Matheson’s Hell House, with it’s similarities to The Haunting, year earlier and wondered if he’d gotten the idea for the book from the movie), and it quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time; in fact, I believe it was Stephen King who introduced me to the novel, because the opening paragraph was an epigram to ‘salem’s Lot. But I hadn’t watched the film in years; I’d watched the horrible 1999 remake, and of course the Netflix series loosely based on the book (I do recommend the series, it’s fantastic, once you get back the fact that it’s not a faithful adaptation but kind of fan-fiction; it didn’t even have to be Hill House for the story to work, but that’s a subject for a different blog. I do recommend it, though). Julie Harris is perfectly cast as Nell, and Claire Bloom does an excellent job as Theo. There are differences between the book and the film; why they changed Dr. Montague’s name to Dr. Markway is a mystery, and the later third of the film, after his wife arrives, is vastly different from the later third of the novel, and her character is completely changed; the young man who escorts her to Hill House is also excised from the movie. But the way the film is shot–the use of light and shadow, the up angles of the camera, and the ever-so creepy claustrophobia of the enclosed house–is absolutely terrifying, and you never see what is actually haunting the house. That was the singular brilliance of the book, and Wise kept that for his film (the execrable 1999 remake went completely over the top with CGI effects and so forth; ruining the necessary intimacy of the story). I still think of it as one of the scariest movies I’ve ever seen, and on a rewatch–the way you hear Nell’s thoughts, whispered, while Julie Harris’ eyes dart around–adds to the intimacy. I think that interior intimacy is a large factor in why the book is so fantastic, and why both book and original film work so well. The Netflix series does show the ghosts of Hill House, but it’s also done in a very subtle, unsettling way, which is why I think I liked it so much.
I also was thinking about rewatching Anthony Minghella’s film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley, but decided to hold off until I finish the reread of the book–which I am still in the midst of–I want to finish it before my trip this week, because I want to take two different books with me to read.
I did finish my reread of Kirkland Revels by Victoria Holt, which was much better than I remembered, with it’s haunted monastery and ghostly monk haunting the big manor house. It’s also a terrific novel about paranoia and gaslighting; the ultimate evil scheme behind everything hinges on the heroine of the story being eventually committed to an insane asylum, and hopefully miscarrying her child, or it being born dead as a result of the confinement. Holt novels often hinged on the possibility of insanity being genetic–if the mother is insane, her child most likely will be as well–and this horror, which was probably very real in the nineteenth century, makes this book terribly unsettling. The main character, Catherine, is very strong-willed and intelligent, but she marries a man without meeting any of his family, moves into the family estate (Kirkland Revels), and then he dies in a fall from a balcony, and she returns to her father’s house; only to have to return to Kirkland Revels when she discovers she is pregnant. The combination of vulnerable and pregnant heroine being gaslit into believing she is insane was pretty unsettling to me when I originally read the novel; which is probably why it’s one of the few Holts I never took down from the shelf on a rainy afternoon and reread. Rereading it, thought, makes me appreciate the mastery apparent in Holt’s writing. She never again wrote another novel with a pregnant heroine–while some of her later novels did involve pregnancies and/or motherhood (On the Night of the Seventh Moon, The House of a Thousand Lanterns) the mystery, and the plot against the heroine, never occurred during the pregnancy. Romantic suspense, and its twin sister, domestic suspense, were a kind of “women’s noir,” in that the stories always focused on what were seen as the biggest fears for women–marrying the wrong man, danger to her child, not being able to trust your husband–were the recurring thread through all of them.
I also did manage to get some work done on the new project yesterday, which was lovely and my goal for the day. Not as much as I would like–I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t fail to achieve everything in a day that I wanted to–but enough to be satisfactory. I also came up with an idea for another Scotty, one that takes place down in the bayou–Cajun Country Cavaille–but whether I’ll write it or not remains to be seen. But I’d like to address the loss of the Louisiana wetlands at some point in print, and writing about a (probably fictional) version of Lafourche and Terrebonne parishes is probably the best way to do that; I just don’t have a murder mystery to hang the story on. My interest in the Scotty (and possible resurrection of the Chanse) series is expanding outward from New Orleans to the rest of Louisiana; I’ve come to realize that not only do I love New Orleans but I also love Louisiana, frustrating and irritating as that love can be sometimes. Louisiana is so beautiful…I also want to write about the Atchafalaya basin sometime, too, and of course let’s not forget the infamous Bayou Corne sinkhole no one talks about anymore…and of course there’s Cancer Alley along the river between Baton Rouge and New Orleans, which is also begging to be written about.
And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.
I am sick, and I hate being sick. I suppose after spending many hours in crowds, exposed to the germs of over a hundred thousand people, while also wearing myself screaming and cheering and jumping up and down, it’s to be expected, but it’s still incredibly irritating. You never think about getting germs when you’re at a football game, but if you think about it–what better way for a plague to spread than Patient Zero attending a packed college football game? One of the most chilling chapters of Stephen King’s The Stand was a chapter about how the superflu spread out from the east Texas town of Arnette–I will always remember about how one woman stopped at a bar for a sloe gin fizz and left a dollar tip “that was crawling with death.”
I don’t think I have some horribly mutated super-flu, but my eyes hurt and so do all of my joints…and my throat is even worse than it was yesterday. I’ve gone from Kathleen Turner to Brenda Vaccaro in just over twenty-four hours, and it’s weird. My ears and sinuses were also bad yesterday, but Claritin-D has seemed to clear that right up, thank you, baby Jesus–the sinus pain is the worst.
I think I’m probably going to make myself some chicken noodle soup for lunch today, and I’m also terribly dehydrated–so I clearly need fluids.
I did some thinking about my work yesterday as I sat in my easy chair, curled up under blankets and watching the Saints game before watching the replay of the LSU game on the SEC Network (we used to do this all the time; watch the LSU game on television on Saturday, and then a local network would rebroadcast it on Sunday, when we’d watch it again so we could enjoy it without all the tension and emotion of the live-watch; knowing how the game ended made it a lot easier to watch!) and I made some notes from time to time in my journal. I was paging through Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, which I hadn’t put away after my annual re-read, and it occurred to me that there’s a terrific line that runs throughout the book, repeated over and over again, which would actually make an interesting title for a story: “Mrs. Dudley Clears at Ten.” I literally have no idea what the story would be, or who it would be about, or anything other than that title, which pleases me so much. I always start with titles, as Constant Reader should already be aware; it’s difficult for me to write anything unless I’ve given it a title already.–even if it’s one that I don’t care for or doesn’t really work. I also riffed on titles for Scotty books yesterday; as long as I can come up with a title I’ll probably be able to keep writing Scotty for as long as I want to, or as long as someone wants to publish them, and as long as people want to read them. Part of the fun of reading all this New Orleans history is that it’s giving me ideas for short stories and for novels, which is really a lot of fun. (Just as I will never have time to read all the books I want to, I will never have the time to write every book or short story I have an idea for. Sad reality–and one that I try to deny all the time.)
So, while yesterday sucked eggs because I was feeling poorly, at least the creative side of my brain was able to function and come up with some ideas and thoughts. I also thought some more about Bury Me in Shadows, and whether I want to go ahead and try to get it finished by the end of the month. (Saturday afternoon I realized it’s not as close to being finished as I had hoped it might be….I’m going to go sit in my easy chair with the manuscript this afternoon, after I eat my soup, and see if I can figure out what needs to be added…there’s a scene that occurred to me sometime over this weekend that I think needs to be added into the first chapter…I was trying to be oblique in the writing, but I think there are some things that need to be clarified so the reader isn’t thinking, oh, it was necessary for the story for this to happen even though it really doesn’t make a lot of sense as they continue through the story–which is a horrible thought to have as an author; that you’ve contrived something because it needs to happen otherwise there’s no story.
Just thinking about it makes my stomach clench.
And I just got a wave of dizziness, so I am going to go lie back down for a while.
Well, the Saints managed to win again yesterday. I had the game on while I went through the Bury Me in Shadows manuscript, making notes; I have to concur with the assessment I made of the manuscript initially Saturday–it’s not going to require a lot of work before I turn it in. It might even be ready to go as early as next weekend, if I stay focused, pay no attention to shiny objects, and stay on course. During the Saints game, I went over the manuscript more carefully; making notes on what to add and what to take away, and the whole thing is actually more cohesive than I originally thought. It’s not going to be easy–it never is–but getting this manuscript ready for my publisher isn’t going to be as rough a slog as it could have been.
I was very proud of myself this weekend as I got a lot done. I cleaned and organized and got so much done that was on my list of things to do–and I even got a great night’s sleep and so felt pretty rested…until the alarm went off at six this morning. I’d actually woken up at 5:52, and just stayed in bed until the alarm went off, hitting snooze twice because the bed felt nice and comfortable and warm. I’d rather not venture out into the world today–I’d much rather stay here in the comfort of my own home, and definitely would have preferred to stay in the warmth of my comfortable bed, but I have to get up and go to work and prepare myself for my two long days.
Heavy heaving sigh.
We watched more episodes of Bigmouth last night, and I can’t decide if the show is actually really uproariously funny, or if the shock of the things the show covers–all the joys of junior high school puberty, with all that entails–is what makes it funny; the whole oh my God are they really talking about that? thing that I also always wondered about South Park.
I finished my reread of The Haunting of Hill House also yesterday–it’s a very short book–and am still in awe of the genius of Shirley Jackson. The way she created a mood, and tension, with beautifully crafted sentences and paragraphs is simply amazing. I couldn’t help but think how much stronger her book is than the nearest thing to it that I can think of–Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which was excellent and used the same basic structure–a notorious haunted house, and some ghost hunters arrive to see if they can figure out what is going on there–in a completely different way. The books’ titles are even similar. But I love both books, enjoy them both tremendously, but one always makes me think of the other. Again, I’m not really sure Jackson should be classified as a horror writer–her work kind of defies classification–but she was definitely one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.
I was trying to remember how I first came across the Jackson novel; I knew of her through her short story “The Lottery,” which I read in high school. I’d seen the 1963 film version, The Haunting, which was one of the most terrifying movies I’d ever seen at that point in my life–I’ll never forget Julie Harris as Nell–but at that time I didn’t know it was a novel. I think I first became aware of the novel because Stephen King used that famous opening paragraph as an epigram for ‘salem’s Lot; and shortly thereafter came across a copy in a used book store–so naturally I had to buy it, and read it in one afternoon, completely enthralled…and I’ve never been without a copy of the book since. I started rereading it every year about ten years or so ago–the other book I reread every year is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca–and I think both books have influenced me as a writer, even if that isn’t apparent in my actual work. (I’ve never finished reading the entire canon of either Jackson or du Maurier; they are both dead and therefore the established canon is all there is…and I never want to be finished with either author. I know, it’s crazy, but it’s also just the way I am.)
And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!
LSU won big yesterday, beating Utah State 42-6 with their lowest point total of the year thus far–and it’s probably an indication of how quickly Joe Burrow and this offense is spoiling LSU fans this year that at one point in the game, I said aloud, they are really playing sloppy this game. The score was 28-6 in the third quarter–and even as the words came out of my mouth I thought, wow, Greg–they have a 22 point lead in the third quarter and you’re complaining that they are playing sloppy. Next week is the first big SEC test of many–Florida, fresh off a 24-13 win at home over Auburn (another future opponent)–and that will probably be a good read on how the rest of the season is going to go.
I was tired yesterday, very tired. I stayed in bed longer than I usually do and my sleep wasn’t that much more restless than usual, but by ten o’clock last night I was dragging. I finally went to be around ten thirty, and got up this morning just before nine. I feel very rested and refreshed this morning, which is lovely–because there’s a lot for me to do today on the agenda. It wasn’t that bad, all told–rather than writing as much as I wanted to do, I instead made some serious progress on cleaning around the Lost Apartment–reorganizing books and so forth. I also started rereading Bury Me in Shadows, which is actually a lot more complete than I thought it was; it’s also a lot more creepy than I thought–see what a different putting something away for a while can make? It still needs revising, though, and there’s more things that need to be added to it along the way, but I am overall pretty pleased with what I’ve gotten down on the page so far. I also did a little bit of work on “Never Kiss a Stranger”–now that I’ve decided it’s a novella more than a short story, it works a lot better because I’m not worried about keeping it to less than six thousand words. I was also thinking yesterday that maybe I could do a collection of novellas. Novellas are hard to place anywhere, after all, and while it’s not a bad idea to self-publish them on Amazon, maybe it does make more sense to put them together into a collection of four, like Stephen King does periodically.
I also started my annual Halloween reread of The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson yesterday, and even as I marveled at her wonderful grasp of word usage, sentence structure, mood, and character, I couldn’t help but wonder, really, how one would classify Shirley Jackson’s work? It’s not really horror, although the book is absolutely terrifying; and she didn’t really do much other work that could fall into the horror category. Her short stories are quite marvelous; and while We Have Always Lived in the Castle is also terrific, I don’t know that it could be called horror, either. Eleanor, our main character in The Haunting of Hill House, is probably one of the most fascinating and complex characters I’ve ever encountered in horror; the book is also an amazing character study. I would kill to be able to create the kind of mood Jackson created in this book…I am trying to create a mood in Bury Me in Shadows, and am not entirely certain I’ve succeeded. But just glancing through the pages yesterday, I definitely got the sense that the book is, as I said earlier, in much better shape than I originally thought; there’s definitely some revisions that need to be made and changes, but I am very pleased with it so far.
I am also glad I decided to try to get the revision of this squeezed into October rather than trying the Kansas book, which needs a lot more structured revision and needs to have a new ending. One of the things I’ve realized about the Kansas book is that I have crammed every conceivable stereotype into the book about high school you can imagine. Football players and cheerleaders? Check. Homecoming? Check. Mean girls and jock assholes? Check. Poor kids who see sports as their only way out of the stifling, dying small town they live in? Check. The primary problem with the book is that in trying to upend and subvert those stereotypes I unfortunately played into them, which is lazy writing. There were so many other things I wanted to examine in this book and somehow didn’t manage to do; class and poverty, the haves and the have nots, and so forth. I’ve also worked harder and longer on this fucking book than I have any other that was published, so there’s also that. But it’s that kind of authorial myopia that made me unable to see, all along, what I was doing, and of course there’s the innate stubbornness I always have about trying to make it work when it would be ever so much easier to scrap the shit and start over. There’s a short story I’ve been working on for a while–I’ve sent it out for submission and it’s been rejected every time. It’s called “The Problem with Autofill,” which I think is a genius title, but it’s also the problem with the story. I’ve been trying to make that story fit the title, and the only way to do so is to create a situation that literally makes no logical sense–even I have thought to myself why would anyone do anything so fucking stupid? The answer is obviously to change the title, eliminate the need to make it fit said title, and then turn it into something more creepy and dark and wicked….and yet why am I only now deciding/accepting/realizing this?
Heavy heaving sigh.
Ah, well. And on that note, back to the spice mines.
Here it is Monday morning and my first full normal week, and maybe–I think it’s possible I may have finally adjusted back. Of course, next weekend (not this coming one) is the Weekend o’ Festivals; which will of course throw me off-course yet again now that I am getting back to normal.
Heavy heaving sigh.
I’m not tired this morning; I went to bed early last night as I was sleepy (before ten!) and slept deeply and well and restfully; I woke up slightly before my alarm but I was so relaxed and comfortable I kept hitting snooze–there are many mornings when I don’t want to leave the warm nesting cocoon of blankets in my oh-so-comfortable bed, and today was one of those mornings.
But I did get up, I did drink a lot of coffee, and I’ll be departing for work relatively soon. In the dark. Where no one can you hear you if you call for help.
Sorry, had a Shirley Jackson moment.
But the big news of the weekend is I was able to finish reading what is surely going to be one of the top crime novels of the year, Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister.
I betrayed my sister while standing on the main stairs of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in a beaded Versace gown (borrowed) and five-inch stiletto heels (never worn again).
At the time, I never could have scored an invitation–or been able to afford a ticket–to the Met Gala in my own right. I was the guest of my boss, Catherine Lancaster, the editor in chief of City Woman magazine. She wasn’t even my boss. She was my boss’s boss’s boss. And somehow she had personally invited me
Well, not personally. She had her assistant swing by my cubicle to deliver the message, which turned out to be a good thing, because my immediate RSVP was laughter. Not even a normal-person laugh. More like a snort. Even back then, the so-called Party of the Year was paparazzi porn, a celebrity-soaked, fashion-focused spectacle. The idea of me–the bookish new member of the writing staff–hobnobbing with rock stars, Oscar winners, and supermodels was ridiculous. So I snort-laughed.
So, Alafair Burke.
Alafair has been in my TBR pile forever; I’ve been wanting to read her Ellie Hatcher series and earlier works for quite some time. I don’t recall precisely why I decided to start working my way through her canon with The Ex, but I was SO GLAD I DID. The Ex was so amazing, made a lot of Best of the Year lists, and also was an Edgar finalist for Best Novel.
Last year came The Wife, which was also brilliant.
So, I’ve been chomping at the bit to get to her new one (dropping officially April 16), The Better Sister, and once I started reading it last week I really didn’t want to stop reading it. It’s part of my homework for the Weekend o’ Festivals; I am moderating a panel that weekend on which one of the speakers will be she.
It’s fantastic, y’all. Seriously.
The set-up for the novel is basically this: two sisters, several years apart in age. The older sister, Nicky, is a bit of a fuck-up; the younger sister, Chloe, is a Type-A who makes other Type-A’s look like slackers. She was worked her way up from being a staff writer at City Woman magazine to editor of another female-centric, but not as big, magazine. Chloe recently has done a series of articles called #themtoo about women who have been victimized but aren’t as high-profile as some of the cases we were seeing with #metoo. This has earned Chloe the scorn of Internet trolls. Her husband (Adam) is a lawyer at a major firm, but he used to be a prosecutor. He was kind of pressured by Chloe to move into the higher-paying world of private law; she also makes more money than he does. They have a teenaged son, Ethan.
The catch? Ethan is Nicky’s son; Nicky was Adam’s first wife.
As I said earlier, Nicky was a fuck-up and Chloe is the Type-A. Of course Chloe steps in when they divorce and Adam gets sole custody of Ethan. And while this might seem lifted from the script pages of Guiding Light (Reva married every male Lewis at some point), Burke not only makes this far-fetched notion work, but it totally makes sense.
But we’re seriously starting with a fucked-up family dynamic…so when Chloe comes home from a party to their home in the Hamptons to find Adam’s dead body, stabbed to death and the house trashed…secrets and lies start coming out, and I swear to God, this plot was like riding a rollercoaster–ups and downs and swings and switches and twists until by the time I reached the end I was completely riveted and not even remotely certain which way was up and which was down…and I had to know the answers.
This book is amazing, absolutely amazing. Every character rings true, the dialogue is stunning, and the plot is so intricately plotted that one almost needs a whiteboard to keep track of everything.
Alafair Burke is a national treasure, and this book is a GIFT to us all. Buy it. Read it. Tell your friends.
So, it’s another chilly Sunday here in the Lost Apartment. It’s sixty degrees now outside, but it dipped into the forties overnight, so it’s going to take awhile for the Lost Apartment to recover–if it ever does. Today I need to pack up for the trip tomorrow morning. I’m not taking the MacBook Air with me, so I am not entirely sure how I’ll be able to crosspost the blog–should I write any entries–to Facebook and other social media because cutting and pasting on the iPad confuses me.
Don’t judge me.
The LSU game last night was a romp; never in doubt from the first snap, and ending with a 42-10 score. It was 28-3 at half-time and was never in doubt. As such, there was very little-to-no tension on my part, so I was able to sit in my easy chair like a millennial, scrolling through apps on my phone while also taking some time to read. I stopped by the Latter Library yesterday to pick up another book I’d reserved (Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken–more about that later) and also renewed Bibliomysteries Volume 2 for another week. I am taking both books with me to Kentucky, and am also taking A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; I think it’s time I got started writing A Song of Ice and Fire, now that the end of the television series is in sight with this past week’s announcement that the final season will begin airing in April.
I took yesterday as my day off for the weekend; I didn’t clean anything, nor did I organize or file or edit or write. I was basically just a lazy slug, sitting in my easy chair and flipping between football games while reading. I’m still rereading ‘salem’s Lot but have now reached the end game, the final section of the book called “The Empty Village,” and the tracking down of the vampires concluding with Ben and Mark running away to Mexico while Ben writes his book isn’t as interesting to me as the opening of the book; as I said when I discussed the reread initially, I am more interested in how King depicts the town more than anything else, which was the impetus for the reread. And how much do I love this sentence, which opens section 2, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:
The town knew darkness.
It’s very Shirley Jackson-esque, and the passage that follows is perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.
I also think I am going to give The Shining a reread; The Shining is, for most fans, critics and readers, King’s best work. I couldn’t get into it when I first bought the paperback, with the boy’s head with a blank face drawn on a shiny silver cover. I picked it up again a few years later and tore through it in one sitting; but as creepy and horrifying as it was, and how nasty the Overlook Hotel was…it was one of the few I never reread completely. I’ve picked it up and started it again, flipped through it and read sections, but I’ve never read it from beginning to end. I think the complexity of Jack Torrance as a character cut a little too close to home for me, but now that I have over fifty books out there with my name (or a pseudonym) on the spine…I don’t have to be too stressed about the failed author character being too close to home for me anymore.
At least one can hope so.
Tomorrow is the dreaded twelve hour car ride through Mississippi, Alabama, a bit of Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I need to go get the mail before I leave town and possibly stop by the bank, so I am going to be getting a later start than I would have perhaps wished, but a twelve-hour drive is a twelve-hour drive no matter when you get started, and I am most likely going to shower and go straight to bed when I arrive in Kentucky. I am still trying to figure out what digital book to download and listen to in the car–who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?–but none of A Song of Fire and Ice are available as audiobooks from the library, and the library’s app isn’t as intuitive as I would like (translated: I’m too old to figure out the easiest way to use it). I wanted to start Charles Todd’s brilliant series set during the end of the first world war, but the first book isn’t available from my library (BASTARDS!!!!) and so I have to choose something else. I’ll spend some time on there today–maybe on the library’s website, which is easier for a Luddite like me–and perhaps the second Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel might do the trick.
Or maybe The Shining. Ooooooh.
Most of today is also going to be spent on odds and ends. I may get some writing work done, or I may not. I think after the Saints game we are going to watch either Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name; both are available for free streaming on one or another services I pay for now. I also am assuming I’ll finish watching Knightfall while I am in Kentucky, as my parents both go to bed early every night.
And yesterday I also managed to read “The Gospel of Sheba” by Lyndsay Faye, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:
Letter sent from Mrs. Colette Lomax to Mr. A. Davenport Lomax, September 3rd, 1902.
My only darling,
You cannot comprehend the level of incompetence to which I was subjected today.
You know full well I never demand a private dressing room when stationary, as the very notion implies a callous disrespect for the sensitivities of other artists. However, it cannot pass my notice when I am engaged in a second class chamber en route from Reims to Strasbourg. The porter assured me that private cars were simply not available on so small a railway line as our company was forced to book–and yet, I feel justified in suspecting the managers have hoaxed their “rising star” once again. The reek of soup from the dining car’s proximity alone would depress my spirits, even were my ankles not confined one atop the other in a padlock-like fashion.
I do so loathe krautsuppe. Hell, I assure you, my love, simmers with the aroma of softening cabbage.
Lyndsay Faye has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel (for The Gods of Gotham, which I adored, and for Jane Steele, which is still in my ever-growing and enormous TBR pile), and she is also a delight to know in addition to her enormous gift for writing. Lyndsay is an enormous Sherlock Holmes fan (Sherlockian?), and even her first novel, Dust and Shadow, was a Holmes tale; she recently published an entire collection of Holmes short stories. “The Gospel of Sheba” is sort of a Holmes story; both he and Watson do appear in the story, but it’s primarily told from the point of view of a sub-librarian, Mr. Lomax; he is married to a professional singer who at the time of the story is currently on a tour–her presence in the story is either through her husband’s point of view or epistolary; we get to see occasional letters from her. Her husband’s point of view is seen through diary entries where he talks about the mystery of the Gospel of Sheba, a grimoire a member of a private men’s club with an interest in the supernatural has discovered and that makes anyone who reads it ill. One of the things I love the most about Faye is she writes in the formal style of the nineteenth century, but it always reads as organic and never forced. There’s never a sense from the reader of Oh I see what you’re doing here or from her as the author of see how clever I am? She’s somehow modernized that formal style, breathed fresh life into it, and uses it to help set the mood and the time and the setting. You can almost hear the hiss of gas in the lamps, and see the flickering gaslight. This is a terrific story, and reminds me of why I loved The Gods of Gotham so much, and also reminded me I need to dive back into her backlist.
And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me.
Well, the weekend turned out to be a total bust as far as getting anything writing-wise accomplished; this means I didn’t actually sit down at the desk and revise or write. I did scribble ideas in my journal, though, which while not counting as actual work, does count as something. I did manage to get the apartment cleaned during the LSU-Georgia game on Saturday (GEAUX TIGERS!) but on Sunday, I relapsed a bit into whatever-it-was I had last week; fevers came and went along with headaches and some nausea, some post-nasal drip. So, I curled up in the easy chair, covered myself with a blanket, and finished watching The Haunting of Hill House.
I will say that I thought the finale was a bit of a disappointment, but I thoroughly enjoyed this show. I knew going into the final episode that it would most likely be disappointing; the ending is not something Shirley Jackson would have written or done, and up until that moment, the show had done an excellent job of channeling Jackson. It was thoroughly involving from the very first moment, the writing was superb, the production values excellent, and the acting perfectly en pointe. It was chilling, eerie, creepy and terrifying; everything I would want from a Jackson adaptation. The show also had a lot of shout-outs to the original and to Jackson–I loved where in one scene one of the kids was reading The Lottery–and actually gives me hope that the film adaptation of We Have Always Lived in the Castle might be good.
So much of Jackson’s brilliance was about the internal, not the external–which is what the people involved with the hideous 1999 remake of The Haunting got so completely wrong. And while in Jackson’s novel you never see and never know what is haunting Hill House, seeing some of it in this mini-series didn’t spoil it in the least; it was done minimally, and in such a way that added to the creepiness.
But this morning I feel better. My head feels clear, my sinuses aren’t full, there’s no drip going on in the back of my throat, and I don’t feel feverish. So I am hopeful that the whatever-that-was is over and done with, history, archived, collecting dust in the file rooms. And that I can focus this week on getting the things done that I need to get done.