Brand New Me

I won’t go so far as to say there’s a new Gregalicious in town now that I’ve hit sixty, but I do feel like some things have…well, shifted a little bit in my head. Maybe that counts as a brand new me, maybe it doesn’t…but I kind of like the way things are going now that I am sixty and who knows? Maybe the world is ready for a new Gregalicious. God knows stranger things have definitely happened.

And apparently continue to happen.

I started working on the revisions yesterday–despite the welcome distraction from an out-of-the-blue phone call for advice from an acquaintance I think rather highly of; we stayed on the phone nearly two hours (which is why I abhor the phone and don’t use it very often; I lose track of time when I am talking and I can talk for literal hours, so it’s really better for everyone if I don’t ever use my phone as a phone) and I even made it to the gym. I got pretty far into it, but I suspect the real work is in the later chapters anyway–at least, I certainly hope so, or I am doing a shitty job of revising things–but this manuscript went through so many changes and revisions in the six or so years since I spat out that first draft in a month that there’s still a lot to catch–incorrect tenses, first person vs. third mistakes, repetitive things–that it will probably take me quite a while to go over everything as thoroughly as I should; and really, after I get through it all one more time, I should probably do it yet again before sending it in to my long-suffering editor. (Considering the mess I originally sent her…she probably just exhaled an enormous sigh of relief, if she read this, that is.) I got through the first quarter of the book yesterday; if all goes well and the creek don’t rise, I would love to have this out of my hair (scalp?) by the weekend.

We finished watching Sky Rojo last night (an absolutely insane crime drama from Spain, about three hookers who try to escape their pimp; it’s action-packed and quite insane–and also quite riveting) before watching the first two episodes of The Chair, with Sandra Oh, which is now on Netflix and is about the English department (Oh is the first woman, let alone woman of color, to chair the department) at a small New England almost-Ivy League college). It was entertaining enough to make us want to continue watching this evening, but it also kind of needs to pick up the pacing a little bit (in my opinion). The mileage of others might vary, of course, but I will pretty much watch Sandra Oh in everything–she always delivers–but the male love interest (and former chair of the department) is extremely irritating if not a bit on the toxic side; but he’s presented as merely an eccentric author and a brilliant teacher, so all the other shit doesn’t seem to much matter–and I don’t like that, honestly; I’m so tired of man-babies being given a pass that isn’t given to others.

Megan Abbott’s The Turnout–I am not quite to page 100 yet–is, as all Megan Abbott novels, rather spectacular. I would love to know how she creates that languid, almost dream-like mood spell she casts over all of her books; her authorial voice is so distinctive and unique you always know you are reading a Megan Abbott novel–no one else can spin magic the way she does. It’s about a ballet school in a smaller town, somewhere in the Midwest (at least that’s the impression I’ve gotten thus far) and it really is almost hypnotic the way she draws you into this magic world she’s creating. I am going to treat myself to a bit of it every night when I get home from work; I may dedicate one of my Bouchercon vacation days to curling up in a chair, forgetting about the rest of the world, and losing myself in the book. It’s an exception novel in a year that has already produced some remarkable crime novels.

It seems to be getting lighter outside now; it was pitch black when I woke up–which seemed weird; I couldn’t remember if it is usually that dark out when I get up on these early mornings (how soon we forget, right?). Who knows? I am rarely–barely–conscious before all the coffee kicks in by nine (which is why I have to get up so early, so I can be functional for my first client at nine), and God knows my memory can no longer be counted on for anything, so…there’s that. But I only have to go in today and tomorrow, and then I am off for nearly a week (I don’t return to the office until a week from Tuesday), which is going to be incredibly glorious. I am hoping to be able to get a lot finished during that time–reading, writing, cleaning, organizing–but…there’s never a guarantee with one Gregalicious that I will want to do anything on those days…

I did make it to the gym yesterday for a fairly decent workout; the renovation isn’t quite completed–the new floor is in but all the new equipment hadn’t arrived and/or been set up by yesterday–so i am very hopeful that Wednesday (I am not going to even try going after work either night this work week) everything will be where it’s supposed to be and I can get the workout in that I would like to get in. It’s funny–I had made up my mind that August was going to be the month where I really start hitting the gym hard and pushing myself….only for the gym to go through a renovation with limited workout opportunities! Ah well, when it rains and all that. September is a good month for a workout reboot anyway; it’s slightly (not much) cooler. The goal is to have dropped down to 200 or so by the end of this year, and then I will reassess and determine what the next goal is going to be.

And on that note, perhaps it is time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader!

Heart to Break

The first Sunday in August. I think we’re in the midst of yet another excessive heat warning today–I’d swear I’d heard that last night on a newsbreak during the Olympics, but haven’t bothered to check yet again this morning. I slept in yet again–again–and am only now getting to my morning coffee, which tastes marvelous. Yesterday wound up being one of those days; the ones where I get very little done and just kind of gave in to the mental and physical exhaustion, turning it into essentially a “rest and recover” day. Finishing Shawn’s book had a lot to do with it; I kind of just sat around for a couple of hours, thinking about it and figuring out what I wanted to say about it when I sat down to write my blog piece about it. I’m still thinking about the book a bit this morning, to be honest; it’s really thought-provoking and very well done. I also spent some time reading the first few chapters of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, which is also quite remarkable–definitely off to a good start, and made me feel much better about selecting it as my next read after finishing Shawn’s–and I think I’m going to have a lot of really great reading ahead of me, which is, as always, incredibly exciting. There’s also a new Stephen King and a new Megan Abbott dropping this week, too–life simply doesn’t get better than that, methinks.

All I know is yesterday I overslept, read for a while, wrote a second blog entry and before I knew it was already after four–shocking, to say the least–with the end result that yesterday wound up being an off-day, and you know what else? I think I must have needed an off-day, which is the only proper response. I am trying not to beat myself up over having a lot to do and yet still taking a day off–because most people get to occasionally take a day off, and it’s not the end of the world when and if I myself chose to take one. Today I have things to do to get caught up on, of course–my email inbox is completely out of control, as always, and the Lost Apartment could stand another cleaning, and there’s always writing to do, and I also have to go to the gym this afternoon–but all of those things will inevitably get done, as they always inevitably do. I shall have to consult the to-do list, of course; and perhaps make another one with additional things, like I want to get my various state “bibles” made eventually, starting with Alabama (in this instance, a ‘bible’ means recording names, places, geography, etc. so it’s all in one place and easily consulted when writing something new set there; I want to do one for Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas, and California, as well as one for both the Chanse and Scotty series; it’s way overdue in each instance, which is why there are so many continuity errors–but mostly in the state stories more than anything else). I guess this is what one calls “world-building”? All of my books are inevitably, in some roundabout way, connected; even the main character in Chlorine is from Kahola County (he’s from the tiny, population 63, town of Furlong, a whistle stop on the Missouri Pacific railroad line) and thus it is connected with the others, too. (I really need to finish Chapter Three today if it kills me; it’s a transitional chapter and as we know, I always have trouble with transitional chapters). I also need to type up my notes from my editorial call as a guideline to the final polish on #shedeservedit; which I need to focus on this month–which will not be easy to do with an unfinished Chapter 3 hanging over my head, you know?

But I think I am going to try to keep the burner on beneath Chlorine; it’s just on a slow cook rather than being brought to a boil at the moment. It would be great to be able to get these revisions done and then be able to get the first draft of Chlorine finished this month as well; almost too much to hope for, really. I also need to get some other things further under control, and much as I would like to take yet another day off from everything and just spend the day reading, I don’t think that’s either wise or in the cards. I am going to try to get this finished, spend an hour with The Other Black Girl, and then get to work on other things that need to be worked on before heading to the gym. I generally am exhausted when I get home from the gym–inevitable, particularly with us in a excess heat warning–and while drinking my protein shake I’ll probably spend some more time with The Other Black Girl. This is the last full week of work I have for a while; the following two weeks we are being given a long holiday type weekend with the agency closing on the 13th and the 16th; and then the following week after that second short week Im on vacation for most of it because of Bouchercon–and no matter what happens (or doesn’t, for that matter) with Bouchercon I am still going to take that time off, and then it’s Labor Day, and you know…it’s August, and August, from all indicators, is going to be miserably hot this year anyway, so I need to take what I can get from all of this.

And once the Olympics are over, and our moratorium on watching outside television ends, we are going to have a lot to watch–Ted Lasso, Outer Banks, and several others as well, which is quite interesting and exciting, methinks.

I also saw a wonderful looking Spanish series, set in the 1720’s, on Netflix that looks like it could be quite entertaining, The Cook of Castamar–and you know Paul and I are crazy about some Spanish language shows.

I am also kind of pleased to have Bury Me in Shadows all finished except for the proofing. That’s always a lovely feeling, really.

So–let’s tally everything, shall we? I am in the midst of writing a new novel, the midst of revisions of another, and planning yet a third; I am pulling together a short story collection AND an essay collection; and a collection of novellas. That’s six books right there that are in some sort of progress for me; and of course I am also co-editing the Bouchercon anthology for Minneapolis. So, seven books in some sort of progress–no wonder I am so fucking scattered and on edge all the time, always certain I am forgetting something!

And on that note, I should probably get another cup of coffee and take a look around and see what I need to get to first–after an hour of reading the Harris novel, of course.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Urgent

History is, as the adage goes, written by the winners, and that has always certainly held true of US history.

As Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware, I love me some history, and always have; ever since I was a kid. The history I learned in school, as well as how it was taught, instilled a deep pride in me, as a citizen, of my country and its history. But I never limited myself to the textbooks and the classroom; as a voracious reader with an appreciation and love for history, I often read history for its own sake, because I found it interesting, and felt that the slight overview/outline I was taught in public schools–and later, in college (I remember writing an essay for an American History course in college about the Spanish-American War on a test in a blue book–remember those? do they still use them?–and my extensive reading outside of class, throughout my life, of history enabled me to write in greater detail in my essay than most of my classmates, who had only the textbook chapters and the outside reading assigned me of Edmund Morris’ The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt to draw from; I knew from outside reading that the king of Spain at the time was Alfonso XIII and he was a child; that his mother, Queen Maria-Christina, was the actual regent, etc. etc. etc. Needless to say I got an A, and the instructor wrote in the margins how pleased he was that I had clearly done so much outside reading/study on my own, even going so far as to suggest I switch to a History major; I sometimes wonder–particularly whenever I think about writing about history–if I indeed should have. That, however, would have taken my writing career in an entirely different direction) wasn’t as in-depth as I would like, and because of all the reading I did on my own, I always found myself bored in History classes.

Again, I probably should have majored in history.

Anyway, twentieth century history was never something I was terribly interested in when I was younger. I had a vague working knowledge of it; I certainly knew more than most of my fellow citizens, but my interests inevitably always lay further distant in the past. I certainly didn’t have a strong knowledge of the First World War, other than the basics: how it started, how old-fashioned notions of government and war which hadn’t truly responded to the great advances in industrialization and modernization of technology resulted in a horrifying bloodbath that convulsed Europe and killed millions unnecessarily over old-fashioned notions of the honor of dynasties and the corresponding idiocies of secret treaties and alliances and spats between imperial cousins; that the peace that followed in the wake of a bitter war resulted in a far worse global convulsion in less than three decades; and that the entry of the United States very late in the war swung the bloody stalemate into a victory by the Allies. (Also recommended reading: The Fall of the Dynasties by Edward Taylor. )

One of my fraternity brothers was a History major, and one spring afternoon after classes, as we took bong hits and listened to Pink Floyd’s The Wall album, I asked him what his concentration was in, and he replied the First World War. What followed was a rather interesting conversation about the war and its causes, and the American entry–that was probably not as interesting as I recall; stoner conversations are never as interesting later as they seem at the time– and when I mentioned the Zimmermann Telegram, he dismissed it with a wave of his hand. “Oh, it was so obviously a forgery!” Since that was his concentration for his major, I always took that fact at his word; he was majoring in the subject so therefore I assumed he had done the research to back up that assertion, and as I was becoming rather cynical on the subject of our government and the propaganda that was public school history courses, it was easy to believe that the British and President Wilson (a horrific racist) could have quite easily collaborated to deceive the American public and thus swing public opinion in favor of American entry into the war.

As an enormous fan of Barbara Tuchman’s, I have been working my way through her canon, and so was quite interested to read her take on the telegram; she wrote a very short book on the subject, perhaps the shortest of her career, aptly titled The Zimmermann Telegram.

I generally always am reading some kind of non-fiction at the same time as I am tearing through my fiction choices; the lovely thing about reading non-fiction–particularly history–is that I don’t feel the same urgency to finish it; non-fiction is always there, waiting for you to come back to it, and since you already know how it’s going to come out, there’s not the same sense of desire to see how it all plays out. For The Zimmermann Telegram, for example, I knew the book would end with the United States entering the war; there are no surprise twists waiting for you in history when you already have a basic knowledge going into it–likewise, any biography of Mary Queen of Scots isn’t going to end differently. The historian’s analyses of the facts may be different than those of others already read, but the bare facts remain: history is history, facts are facts, and the only difference from one to another is the analyses and interpretations of the facts (I also have my own theories about Mary Queen of Scots–again, interpretations and analyses inevitably differ, and the winners do write history; which is why I deeply appreciated The Creation of Anne Boleyn, which pointed out that our modern day interpretations of her are based in letters and chronicles of the time, which were hardly fair; I could take make the same case for the Queen of Scots–but facts are facts: she was executed in 1587; she lost her throne in 1567; her marriages were her marriages and her son was her son). Tuchman’s analyses are heavily researched and formed from extensive reading–and she generally comes across as fairly impartial; she also writes in a reader-friendly style that brings the personalities of the people she writes about to life and is never, ever boring–a tendency in even the most non-academic writing styles of the majority of historians.

She makes a very strong case for the authenticity of the Zimmermann Telegram–bolstered primarily by the fact that the Germans admitted its authenticity at the time (which essentially guaranteed American entrance into the conflict as a belligerent, which was hardly in the best interests of the German Empire at the time), and there was also a follow-up telegram to the original, even more damning than the first–whose existence remained secret at the time and wasn’t revealed until after the war; because the British didn’t want the Germans to know they had broken their code and were reading their telegraphic communiqués. She also does an excellent job of setting the stage, giving all the perspectives from every side–the neutral American, the Allied, and the Central Powers–and this was a terrific, wonderful read, as are all of Ms. Tuchman’s works.

(If you are not aware of the Zimmermann Telegram, essentially it was an attempt of the German Empire to draw Mexico into the war against the US as an ally of the Central Powers should Wilson lead our country into the war; the Germans promised Mexico they would have German assistance in reconquering Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. The Germans were also trying to draw Japan into a war against the US–promising them American possession in the Pacific and perhaps even the Pacific Coast states…essentially predicting the second World War as an added, interesting twist. As you can well imagine, when this telegram was made public the entire country went from pacifism to a demand for war)

Next for my non-fiction reading pleasure: Robert Caro’s enormous and exhaustively researched The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York.

Sugarcane

My word, this week has not been an easy one for our Gregalicious. Suffice it to say that I am really looking forward to this week being over and leave it at that, shall we? I mean, Jesus Christ, already.

Being low energy low whatever it has been this week–started last week towards the end, really–has kind of sucked, to be honest. I’m not sure what the problem is–and it’s usually some kind of chemical thing in my brain, I think, these highs and lows came and go–and the lows really kind of suck; I just don’t have the bandwidth or energy to face or do anything unless it’s relatively easy and/or simple. It’a also incredibly easy for me, whilst in the grips of a low, to feel defeated by almost any and every thing that requires thought or some sort of energy, and I also find myself very short of temper–which means easily annoyed, easily angered, and easily aggravated. I got home from work yesterday evening and forced myself to go to the gym–but despite the energy and good feeling that came with the workout, it really didn’t last very long and didn’t carry over the way it usually does; pushing me into a whirlwind of getting things done and organized and dashing around the Lost Apartment cleaning and straightening. I did manage to get some laundry started, but the dishes are still is the dishwasher and the sink is starting to fill with dirty dishes again. Tonight I don’t have to go to the gym so after work hopefully I’ll have the energy to put the dishes away and finish the laundry and get my act together.

But I am glad I asked for a deadline extension. There’s no way I could have finished by Monday, and that would have made the entire low thing even worse.

I guess this is what I’ve always called the malaise before, only it usually comes around after I finished a manuscript–and yes, I know I finished Bury Me in Shadows, but usually the malaise doesn’t settle in until I have finished everything contracted–I’ve always thought it was triggered by the panic of being out of contract, but since I don’t really sign contracts far in advance anymore, I don’t think that’s what causes it and it certainly isn’t the cause of it now. Interesting that all these years I’ve always been wrong about the malaise, really. I guess I am not as self-aware as I like to think I am (nobody is as self-aware as they should be and I am very aware my self-awareness has massive blind spots; but I tend to think I am more self-aware than most people–which could also be one of the big blind spots, which is a sort of self-awareness and….yes, it’s a spiral endlessly circling back on itself, isn’t it?). I watched some history videos on Youtube last night–my mind wasn’t really functioning well enough for me to either read or write, so mostly I spent the evening with Youtube videos–some interesting ones on American history, Youtube really is a treasure trove of just about anything you could possibly want to watch to waste time–and social media, but I’m really getting a bit tired of social media. I hate the new Facebook design, and I find myself there a lot less frequently than I used to be; mostly I’ve just been sharing the blog there and not really interacting with anyone, and the same with Twitter–although I do enjoy replying to trash bag right wing elected officials with “resign, traitor”–but I also am not entirely certain that might not be a part of the general malaise.

I just want to get past it, really.

My muscles are tired this morning, the way they usually are after a workout day, and I slept deeply and well. The bed was a very comfortable and warm cocoon from which I didn’t want to emerge this morning; we’re back to the normal weather for this time of year in New Orleans–cold at night and warm during the day–which means you can never really properly dress for the weather because there’s going to be a twenty to thirty degree swing in the temperature throughout the course of the day, but rather this than last week’s frigid climes. Our new HVAC system is currently in process of being installed, which is good because while it can get stuffy in the Lost Apartment during the warm times of the day, I discovered yesterday that simply turning on the ceiling fans will take care of that issue immediately–coupled with the drop outside, of course. (I just checked today’s weather–it’s currently 46 but will reach a high of 75 today–if it was humid the apartment would be unbearable today when I get home; thank heaven for low humidity times of the year) It’s so weird to turn on the heat in the car on the way to work and have to use the air conditioning on the way home because the car has been sitting in the hot sun all day. Yay? But it also means that the temperatures are rising gradually to the peaks of the summer–and I am about to find out how the loss of the trees is going to affect the kitchen and my work space. I suspect there will be dark heavy curtains in my future….

Well, would you look at that? I never finished yesterday’s post, how unlike me this is–and yet another example of how off I have been this week; yesterday was much better than Tuesday, but there was still a lot of dragging and not wanting to get things done. I came home last night–Paul was filming a musical performance for the Festival on the roof of the Monteleone Hotel, and so wasn’t going to be home until late–and decided to finish watching It’s a Sin without him. The thought had (and has) crossed my mind that a lot of what I was experiencing this week, emotionally and energy-wise, was a reaction to watching the first three episodes on Sunday night–it certainly opened a lot of doors I had slammed shut in my mind many years ago. When we talk about representation, and how it matters…well, It’s a Sin, painful and heartbreaking as it is, was probably the first time I saw myself on screen–I saw myself in these characters, and some of the scenes could have come from my own experience. I have always compartmentalized my life–it’s how I’ve coped and not gone stark raving mad over the years–and I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all the memories this show was going to bring back to me. It’s a brilliant show, really; and while I can certainly question some of the choices made–I can also argue the counterpoint position as well. It also reminding me of so many choices made during the course of my life, and how, far too frequently, shame and fear controlled my life and the decisions made. When I rebooted my life in 1994–and yes, that is precisely what I did–I closed the doors for the most part on my past. Was that the right decision? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I also decided, in 1994, to live with the choices I made and stop feeling regret–even when you know damned well decisions were made out of cowardice. It was cathartic in some ways–I’ve realized over the course of watching the show that many of the decisions I made back in 1994 when I reinvented my life were for self-protection; a metaphorical wiping clean of the slate because remembering and thinking about things and experiences and losses was self-defeating.

I distinctly remember, at thirty-three, deciding that I could no longer live my life afraid of dying, and that no one at that age or younger should have to live with that fear. It’s also when I started getting angry, about injustice and prejudice and bias and casual hatred. There’s a lot more to unpack here, of course, and I suspect.I shall be processing this for a while.

I then decided, after the cathartic cleansing weeping from viewing the last two episodes of the show, to watch something fun and utterly escapist while I waited for Paul to come home, so I watched Richard Lester’s 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, which I actually saw in the theater when it was released. I’d not read the book (but had read the Classics Illustrated version; many literary classics have only been read throughout my life through Classics Illustrated comic books), but it was a historical and I loved history; so one Sunday after church we went to see it in the theater. It’s been a favorite ever since–the serious attention to period detail was astonishing–and again, Michael York. I think it was in The Three Musketeers that my early crush on Michael York was born–so beautiful, and those blue eyes! It was fun, even if, as I watched, for the first time I realized that the motivations for the characters–the royal and powerful ones, at any rate–made little to no sense. I have been thinking for well over a decade about writing what would basically be fanfic for The Three Musketeers…and in watching the movie again last night I was able to put my finger directly on why I’ve never been able to get that sorted and written, at least in my mind: it was precisely the motivations of Cardinal Richelieu in setting the action of the story in motion that I was never able to wrap my mind around. The antipathy that existed between Cardinal and Queen (the Spanish Anne of Austria) is well documented; and there has always been much speculation about it (I read one novel by, I believe, Evelyn Anthony called The Cardinal and the Queen that posited that Richelieu also loved the Queen and her rejections of him drove his hatred of her…although, per this novel, they eventually fell in love and Richelieu actually fathered her two sons! Yeah, I don’t believe that.) Richelieu was not someone who allowed his own personal feelings interfere with affairs of state and his plans, and his plans were to break the power of the Hapsburg family while building France–and its monarchy–into the preeminent power in Europe. The idea of exposing the Queen’s potential infidelity and humiliating Louis XIII in such a manner doesn’t fit into that plan–or perhaps I am simply not politician enough to see where it would…yes, it would be humiliating to Spain and the Hapsburgs (the Queen was of the Spanish branch of the family), but the marriage couldn’t be annulled as she had already been pregnant (losing all three children), and a divorce? I doubt the Pope would have granted such a divorce…and it surely would have meant war with Spain–at the same time that Richelieu was fighting a war against the Huguenots to unify France, and that war also meant maneuvering to keep England from interfering. But it’s good to know that there’s actually a good, historical based reason in why I’ve not been able to make the story work in my head or even as I scribble notes on it. Alexandre Dumas was able to get away with turning Richelieu into his villain without explanation of his plans and why it was politically important to publicly shame and embarrass the Queen (and the King by extension), and the flimsy “The Cardinal wants to ruin the Queen so he has more power over the King!” doesn’t work because the Queen had no power over her husband, or influence with him–she didn’t from the day they were married until the day he died, and even as he lay dying he tried to prevent her from being made regent for their son, so even then he didn’t completely trust her.

So, once I get the political situation worked out, perhaps I can finally write the book.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and apologies for never finishing this yesterday.

Dancing With Our Hands Tied

Good morning, Wednesday, how is everyone holding up so far this week?

So Laura apparently isn’t going to be too much of a thing in New Orleans, but things aren’t looking good for eastern Texas/western Louisiana. Keep safe, my friends, and everyone else, do keep them in your thoughts and send them positive energy, as I certainly shall be doing until this too has passed. It’s similar to 2005’s Rita; following the same path and intensifying pattern. We’ll still get about 2 to 4 feet of storm surge into Lakes Borgne and Pontchartrain, and a lot of sudden, intense rain (street flooding), but for the most part, New Orleans has yet again dodged a bullet.

And compared to a direct hit, yes, that’s not too much of a thing in New Orleans.

It was very strange to not have to go into the office this week (I did have to go by yesterday–and will again today–to get more supplies) to do any work; especially when you take into consideration the vacation days I took last week. I’ve not been into the office to actually work now since last Wednesday–a full seven days–and it’s made me feel very disconnected from my job this morning; I really don’t know how all of you who’ve been having to work at home all this time without ever going into your offices have managed to do that without feeling untethered at best, disconnected at worst. At this point, it feels as though the pandemic has been going on forever, and the last days of what was previously our normal existence–late February, early March–seem like ancient history to me now, and I’ve already accepted the fact that life, that world, that way of existing, is gone forever. Whatever it is we will see when this ends–should it ever end–will be completely different. This is one of those “sea change” experiences, where life and society and culture change irrevocably forever. The world before the first World War ceased to exist after it ended; the interregnum between the two wars was a kind of stasis world, where all the problems unresolved by the Treaty of Versailles coupled with the crash of the American–and by extension, world–economy created a bizarre vacuum which fascism swept in to fill, with the inevitable war that followed–one that took a look at what had been, up to that time, called “the Great War” and basically said, “Hold my beer, you ain’t seen nothing yet.” The world in the spring of 1914 was almost completely different in almost every way in the fall of 1945–a span of only thirty one years.

So what will our world, culture and society look like in a post-pandemic environment? Will we ever get to said post-pandemic environment? Or will those of us who survive this look back at this time and say, “ah, yes, the beginning of the dystopia?”

How depressing. Which is one of many reasons why I never look forward or back, and try to live in the now. The now is depressing enough as is, if you let it be.

While I didn’t work on the book yesterday or read anything, I did educate myself somewhat by watching the Kings and Generals channel on Youtube, something I discovered recently. I watched the episodes on the Battle of Lepanto and The 1565 Siege of Malta, which were extremely informative and educational. I had previously watched the Fall of Constantinople in 1453; the Sack of Constantinople in 1204; the Battle of Mojacs; and the Siege of Vienna. Most of my study of European history has always been western-centric, primarily focusing on Great Britain, Spain, and France, with a smattering of Germany/Holy Roman Empire thrown in for good measure (and primarily the Hapsburgs); it is only recently that I’ve realized how much I’ve not looked at eastern Europe, other than some post Peter the Great Russian history–which also is primarily because it impacted western Europe. My knowledge of Asian history is non-existent; and if you ignore the scanty knowledge of ancient Egypt, I really don’t know much about African history either, other than the colonial period and not much of that. I also don’t know much about Latin America, either. Several years ago–after the Italy trip of beloved memory–I started looking into Venetian history, which is entangled heavily with that of the Byzantine Empire and its successor, the Ottoman Empire–both of which I know very little about, and as I started reading more about these eastern European empires (the Venetian included), I began to get a better concept and grasp on how little of world history I actually knew.

I would love to have the time to study more of the history of Constantinople/Istanbul, as the capital of two major historical empires that covered 1500 years of human history.

We also watched a two part documentary on HBO about the Michelle Carter/Conrad Roy case, I Love You Now Die. If the names mean nothing to you, it’s the case where the boyfriend committed suicide while his girlfriend was texting him supposedly ordering him to do it. The facts of the case–which I hadn’t really looked much into before–aren’t what they seem and it was an interesting case; her conviction, held up under appeal, set a legal precedent that can be seen as either scary or good. Was she a sociopath? Or were they both emotionally damaged teenagers locked into a strange co-dependent relationship that was actually toxic, made it even more dangerous because no one else knew how toxic it had actually become? As I watched, I wondered–as I am wont to do–how I would tell the story were I to fictionalize it, and finally decided that the best way to do it would be from multiple points of view: both mothers, the sister of the suicide, and one of the Michelle’s “friends” from high school–all of whom claimed to not be really friends of hers in the first place–and the real story is loneliness, on the parts of both kis, really. A truly sad story, without any real answers.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I also continued with my 1970’s film festival by watching the 1972 Robert Redford film The Candidate, which is one of the most cynical political films I’ve ever seen–and almost every political film made since that time has been highly cynical. The 1970’s was an interesting decade for film; a transitional period where the old Hollywood was done away with once and for all and cynical, brutal realism took its place. Watching these films has also reminded me, sometimes painfully, how questionable style and design choices were in that decade–clothing, cars, buildings, etc. It was an ugly decade–remember the hair styles, with the carefully blown dry “feathered bangs” hair-sprayed into place? Sideburns and porn-staches? The bell bottoms and earth tones? The enormous steel cars that were essentially tanks? How dirty everything seemed, and how trash littered the sides of the roads and waterways? It’s all there in these films, as well as that dark, bitter cynicism.

The Candidate is about an idealistic young lawyer who works for social justice causes named Bill McKay, whose father was a powerful two-term governor of California. Recruited by a political operative played to sleazy perfection by Peter Boyle, McKay–who has always disdained politics–agrees to run for senator against a long-term, popular Republican incumbent. No one expects him to win, and McKay agrees to it so he can talk about issues that are important to him–and he immediately makes it clear he wants his campaign to  have nothing to do with his father. The movie follows him from his own first faltering public appearances and watches as he slowly develops into an actual politician. He’s perfectly fine with everything, and he wins the primary–but the numbers extrapolate to a humiliating defeat in the general…so he starts watering down his message, speaking in generalities and never addressing issues directly–and his campaign begins to take off, and winning becomes more important to him than the issues, to the point he even allows his father, played with sleazy perfection by two-time Oscar winner Melvyn Douglas, to get involved in the campaign. He pulls off the upset and wins, and as the celebrations begin, he asks his campaign manager, “So, what happens now?” as no thought has ever been put into the future should he actually win; and that’s how the movie ends, with that question unanswered. It’s a very strong indictment of modern politics, and still relevant today; essentially, he wins because he is handsome and never says anything that means anything. We never really are sure, as the viewer, what he wants and what he stands for; which is a very deliberate choice by the filmmakers–we’re basically shown a little bit behind the curtain, but mostly we see what the voters would see. This movie doesn’t have a Frank Capra ending, but the typical cynical view of the 1970’s. The screenplay, incidentally, won an Oscar.

Aliens was the second movie on yesterday’s condom packing double feature. I had originally intended to watch Alien and Aliens back to back; don’t remember why I didn’t rewatch Aliens back then, but I didn’t, but I also figured it was equally appropriate to rewatch the day after rewatching Jaws, because it too is a monster movie, and one of the best of all time. Sigourney Weaver is even better in this one than she was in the first; and while I love Marlee Matlin and think she’s a terrific talent, I still think Weaver should have got the Oscar for this (if not for Alien). Once again, a primary theme for the movie is “no one listens to the woman who is always proven to be right”–amazing how timeless that theme has proven to be–and again, as in the first film, the Ripley character is given a relationship to soften her and make her more “womanly”; in the first film it’s the cat–which really, I felt, weakened her character, while at least in this one it’s the little girl, Newt, that she risks her life to go back for when everyone else, including me, is screaming get the fuck out of there are you fucking crazy? There are also some other terrific performances in this movie, which is a non-stop adrenaline ride, including Bill Paxton’s first performance of note as Hudson; Michael Biehn (why was he not a bigger star?) in a  great follow-up to The Terminator as Hicks; and Paul Reiser, who was so sleazily perfect as the company rep (and should have been nominated for an Oscar himself) that I have never been able to stand watching him in anything else since I saw this movie for the first time because I hated him so much as Burke that I cannot see him as anything else. Everyone in the cast is terrific; but there are some small things that date the film–Hudson makes an illegal alien joke about Vasquez (would this still be a thing that far into the future?); the analog transmissions rather than digital; and of course–the cigarette smoking; would cigarettes never evolve over time?

If all goes well, I expect to be here tomorrow morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader.

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Show Me the Way

Saturday morning and I slept in, as I always seem to do on Saturday mornings. But really, things have truly come to a sorry pass when getting out of bed at nine is considered sleeping in. But that’s when I got up and I feel good and rested this morning, which bodes well for the things I’d like to get done today.

I spent yesterday afternoon getting caught up on laundry (there’s a load going in the dryer now), and doing a surface clean of the apartment. After Paul got home last evening we finished watching Dead to Me, which is really fantastic–if Christina Applegate doesn’t at LEAST get an Emmy nomination, it’s a travesty. The show is fantastically written, has two amazingly great roles for the two lead actresses (Linda Cardellini, of Freaks and Geeks/Mad Men fame, is the secondary female lead and is heartbreakingly terrific as well; I’d be hard pressed as an Emmy voter to chose one over the other), and the writing is also award-worthy; the premise is in and of itself exceptional, thematically exploring the grief of two women who’ve suffered recent great losses; but it is ever so much more than that. It’s smart, angry, funny, and oh-so-twisted, oh-so-clever. Bravo to Netflix; this is up there with Ozark for dark comedy with a crime twist. I cannot recommend Dead to Me highly enough, Constant Reader.

I also, before Paul came home, rather than falling into a Youtube vortex of LSU or Saints highlights or Game of Thrones fan theory videos or whatever might strike my fancy at the moment (music videos or Dynasty clips or whatever), switched on Starz and started watching The Spanish Princess, which is the latest Starz mini-series based on a Philippa Gregory book. We’d watched and liked The White Queen, but gave up on The White Princess relatively quickly. I’ve not read Gregory, and I’ve seen all sorts of mockery of her on-line as to her changing history to fit the needs of her narrative, but that isn’t why I’ve not read her work; I’m just not that interested in fictional biographies of royalty anymore, certainly not the way I was as a teenager. As a teenager I would have read everything Gregory wrote, anxiously awaiting the next. But I’ve read Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts, and of course others like Maurice Druon and Thomas B. Costain, so Gregory’s work has never held much appeal for me; I am more apt to read an actual biography now rather than fictionalized versions (although I do want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books). The Spanish Princess is, of course, about Catherine of Aragon, who has gotten mostly favorable press throughout history as Henry VIII’s poor, abandoned first wife; I’ve always viewed that with an arched eyebrow, primarily because she had a great PR machine in the Spanish ambassador, Chapuys, and of course she had the entire PR machine of the Hapsburg empire behind her as well–whereas Anne Boleyn, her replacement and the cause of her misery, soon enough had Henry’s PR machine blackening her name. At least this production had the wisdom and sense to ignore modern sensibilities; this is the first time I’ve ever seen Catherine portrayed on film (since the 1970s BBC The Six Wives of Henry VIII) to have the actual coloring she had in real life; she is usually shown as dark when she was actually fair; like her husband, she had reddish-gold hair; and she also had Plantagenet blood as a descendant of Edward III–her grandmother was Blanche of Lancaster, a daughter of John of Gaunt, and as such had her own legitimate but unrecognized claim to the English crown herself (since no illegitimacy was involved, she actually had a better claim than her own husband–his claim was based on his grandmother’s descent from John of Gaunt, but she was descended from his liaison with long-time mistress Katherine Swynford–whom he later married and legitimized their offspring–but Catherine’s descent was not marred by the bar sinister).

However, they did depict Catherine’s mother, Isabella, as being dark–which she wasn’t, either. Isabella of Castile was blonde and blue-eyed, but she’s a minor character we’ll never see again, so I will overlook it. (Isabella is one of my favorite historical queens; she was kind of a bad-ass but at the same time her bigotry planted the seeds for the eventual downfall of Spain from the great power she turned it into; but more on her at another time.) Anyway, I enjoyed the first episode; which also has laid the groundwork for Catherine as stubborn, proud, and arrogant–qualities that eventually led to the upheaval that changed world history forever. I’ll keep watching, of course–but at the same time, it’s not “must watch”; it was okay and can serve as a time-filler when I need to relax and when Paul’s not home and I don’t feel like actually wasting my time on Youtube.

I also want to watch the Zac Efron as Ted Bundy movie on Netflix.

So many riches, so many choices! It’s kind of like my TBR pile.

The plan for today and tomorrow is to work on the WIP and work on the article a bit, maybe even work on a short story. Given I have the attention span of a squirrel lately, I am not sure how much work I am actually going to get done today, but I have good intentions. I also have a Bouchercon subcommittee conference call later on this afternoon as well, so I should be able to bounce back and forth between cleaning, writing and reading until such time as the conference call; after which time I can call it a day and relax for the rest of the evening.

Ah, to have the energy and ambition I have in the morning after a good night’s sleep and two cups of coffee, right?

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

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