I Sing for the Things

Sunday morning and it looks a bit overcast out there. I have a lot to do today–writing, reading, cleaning–and I slept deeply and well–so much so that I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, it felt soooo comfortable under the covers. Scooter’s anguished demands for breakfast finally got me out of that marvelous cocoon of sheets and blankets, and now I am enjoying a cup of coffee and wondering how bad the weather will be today. We had lots of thunderstorms rolling through last evening, and overall, it wasn’t a terribly bad day yesterday, if not as productive.

I did spend some time with John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind (which I also hope to do today), and then headed out to Metairie for my eye appointment. I go to the Target in Clearview Mall, just off the corner of Clearview Parkway and Veterans Boulevard. After my new glasses were ordered, I shopped a bit–found some aromatherapy oils I needed, got a new Brita water-filter pitcher, and a few other things, including a copy of Casey McQuiston’s Red White and Royal Blue.On my way home I hit the drive-thru at Atomic Burger (expensive, but I do love their burgers), and came home to do some more things around the house. I finished watching The IPCRESS File, which was very twisty and surprising and incredibly well done (I’ve never read the Len Deighton novel on which it was based, but the original film of this, which starred Michael Caine, was clearly the basis for the Austin Powers movies, only played for real); I thought one of its primary strengths was showing that even allies spy on each other and steal talent, as well as how beautifully yet casually it indicted the British class system as well as its ingrained misogyny. I also watched the Fall River documentary (didn’t finish, Paul came home and I was on the final episode) about the supposed “Satanic cult ritual murders” that took place there in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s; my primary takeaway and memory of living through those peculiar “Satanic panics” that seemed to be everywhere in that decade was people really think Satan is real and exists? I thought we were more rational a nation than that….which was one of the first steps on my journey to seeing my country, society and culture as it actually was rather than the mythology I was taught in elementary school and other levels of public education as a child.

Even when I was a child being taught the Bible was literal history I knew better than to believe it was literally true. It was quite an eye-opening shock and jolt that people not only believed the Bible was literal truth, but they also believed in Satan (Elaine Pagels’ The Origin of Satan should seriously be taught in high school) as an actual being working to undermine humanity and lure us into sin. It was quite a shock, and only the first of many to come as I began reeducating myself on everything.

And yes, I am bitter that I was miseducated, and that I had to waste so much of my adulthood reeducating myself.

But I do love to learn; it’s one of the many reasons I love to read so much. I am always reading something non-fiction at the same time as I am reading fiction (although the non-fiction often takes longer for me to get through). I have been reading Robert Caro’s massive The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York for over a year now; it’s long and I am finally past the half-way point–but it’s an absolutely terrifying look at how power can be amassed and how it corrupts even those who go into public service with the purest and brightest of motives; and how that accumulation of power turns personality flaws in individuals into horrific public policy that causes more damage than good in the long run. I think after I finally finish this epic biography and study of public works in New York for most of the previous century, I may dive into some true crime to cleanse my palate and prepare me for another non-fiction tome. I of course read The Borgias while I was in Kentucky on my last trip, and I also have The Medicis to read as well as other history, but I think I want to read about true crimes for a bit once the palate has been cleansed. I have Sarah Weinman’s marvelous collection of true crime reporting on hand, as well as her recent Scoundrel, which cries to me from the TBR pile; there are several other true crime books I have on hand as well that are always fun to read for insight into my fellow (depraved) citizens and why they do the things they do (part of the reason I really was enjoying Fall River was due to getting some insight into why people turn out the way they do when they go bad), and there’s some other interesting histories I have on hand that i would like to read, too.

Someday I will have enough time to read as I would like.

My to-do list for today and this week is quite ambitious. The heat and humidity have been serious drawbacks to my energy levels and my ability to get things done (I just got the power bill and recoiled in horror), but I need to adapt and adapt quickly else the entire summer will have passed and suddenly it’s fall and I have only a few months to work on the Scotty book. (I did work on it a bit yesterday; I had some really good ideas to jot down, and I do think I am beginning to get a grasp on the story and what it’s going to be.) I want to work on the secret project I wanted to have finished by the end of the month (so not happening) and I also have to work on some short stories I want to submit and get out there. I’ve been feeling defeated lately, primarily I think by the heat (since my sleep has been really good for the most part since I got back from Kentucky, fingers crossed this will continue), and I need to get beyond that. Yes, the world is a dumpster fire raging out of control, but all I can control is me and how I react and I can feel the need for control building inside my head….so I imagine at some point relatively soon I am going to stop watching the fire blazing and work on the things I can control, while still being aware of the fire and doing whatever small things I can to pitch in to keep the blaze as under control as I am capable.

It’s getting gloomier as I type, so I am going to bring this to a close, make another cup of coffee, and retire to my easy chair for some more The Savage Kind. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Starlight

And so now it’s Sunday.

I won’t lie; I’ve lost my sense of time and date and day already this weekend and I’m perfectly fine with it. I hope everyone who has the good fortune to have the weekend off–I know there are many who do not–are in the same state of what day is this that I found myself in most of yesterday and when i woke up this morning–I overslept again, which was amazingly lovely, but i really need to stop indulging myself this way–and am now awake, on my first cup of coffee, and ready to get shit done today. I did get shit done yesterday–I cleaned and organized quite a bit (not enough, it’s never enough) and while I do have some little bit of cleaning and a lot of organizing left to get done, at least I made a start on it yesterday. My desk, for example, this morning is clean and clear; which will make writing later much easier.

I finished Little Fires Everywhere yesterday–I blogged about it already, so I won’t repeat anything other than that it’s a fantastic book I encourage you all to read–and started reading The Coyotes of Carthage, which was originally recommended to me by my friend Laura, who was lucky enough to receive an advance copy. It, too, is fantastic and unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I am really looking forward to getting more into it–I will undoubtedly take a reading break or two at some point today. It seems to be a political thriller about dark money and political consultants in a very rural county in South Carolina, with a Black male protagonist, so I am sure it’s going to be quite interesting to read.

But I really also need to write today; I’ve not looked at the manuscript since last weekend, and this “only writing on the weekends for one day” simply cannot continue to stand, really. I have too much to write, and I need to stop giving into the laziness or the tiredness or self-destructive patterns or whatever the hell it is that keeps me from finishing this damned book. Heavy sigh. I also have any number of short stories I need to wade through to pick out some to work on for submission calls.

Again, I think there’s something to that I am so overwhelmed believing I’ll never get everything done so why bother doing any of it thing.

Repeat after me: SELF-DEFEATING.

While I waited for Paul to finish working on a grant last night I watched, or rather, rewatched (although I didn’t really remember watching it before, and I figured, meh, if I’ve already seen it I can do stuff on my iPad while it’s on in the background) a documentary called Master of Dark Shadows, about Dan Curtis and how the show came about, and its legacy (I’m sure most people don’t remember Curtis also produced and directed the mini-series based on Herman Wouk’s novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). I was one of those kids who watched Dark Shadows only in the summertime, because my elementary school didn’t get out until 3:15; even though we lived only a block away from the school I couldn’t ever get home fast enough to watch even the end. I did love Dark Shadows–our sitter/caregiver, Mrs. Harris, also watched One Life to Live and General Hospital, which were my first exposures to soaps–and it always stuck in my mind; I always give it credit for my interest in horror and the supernatural. I enjoyed watching the documentary (and for the record, I loved the NBC reboot of the series in prime time in the early 1990’s, and was crushed when it was canceled; I rewatched it with Paul and he too was disappointed it ended on its cliff-hanger) and then we started watching a documentary about a double murder in India called Behind Closed Doors, in which the investigation was so incredibly fucked up–I mean, if the primary take-away from all the other true crime documentaries we’ve been watching has been man is our system seriously fucked up, the takeaway from this one is yeah, but ours is clearly better than others.

Which is kind of scary, really.

While I was also bored yesterday waiting for Paul–and only really sort of watching Master of Dark Shadows–I was right, I’d seen it before–I started looking things up on-line; which was an absolutely lovely example of how one can fall into a wormhole on the Internet. As you know, I’ve been having this Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and thinking about the rise, and proliferation of, conspiracy theories in that suspicious, paranoid decade, and one that I hadn’t remembered until yesterday sprang up into my min, completely unbidden, while I was reading about the Bermuda Triangle: Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken. Does anyone else remember von Daniken and his theories, which were based in nothing scientific or archaeological? Von Daniken believed that ancient texts–the Bible, the Code of Hammurabi, etc.–all contained evidence that in Ancient Times the Earth was visited by space aliens–Alien Astronauts, as he called them–who brought knowledge and information with them to the primitive creatures of our planet at the time, and also assisted them in the massive building projects that modern man cannot conceive of them building back then–the pyramids, for one thing, and the lines on the plains of Nazca (which I first read about in the Nancy Drew volume The Clue in the Crossword Cipher)–and those aliens with their vastly superior technology, were seen as gods by the primitives and those visits have come down to us in the form of mythology. It’s an interesting idea for sure–but it was all conjecture, with no proof. I read all of von Daniken’s books back in the day; others included The Gold of the Gods, and were simply further conjectures, but he developed quite a following, and set the stage for what is called the pseudo-science of Graham Hancock, his modern day successor. (I’ve also read some of Hancock’s work; his theory that the Sphinx is far older than we suspect based on water wear on its base is interesting, as is his other theory that the Ark of the Covenant’s final resting place is in Ethiopia; before reading that book I had no idea that Christianity was so firmly entrenched there) So, I spent some time looking up von Daniken’s theories yesterday, as well as some other conspiracy theories of the time–I also did a deep dive into the entire Holy Grail Holy Blood thing which provided the basis for The Da Vinci Code and Dan Brown’s entire career; and of course we certainly cannot forget the apocryphal writings of Hal Lindsay and The Late Great Planet Earth–which, really, is where The Omen came from; we forget how “end times” theory truly began flourishing in the 1970’s.

I’ve always been interested in stories about lost books of the Bible, or lost Biblical theory, along with the end-times prophecies Lindsay wrote about; Irving Wallace’s The Word, which was built around the rediscovery of a lost testament of Jesus which would revolutionize and make-over the Christian theology was one of the first novels of this type I read; it was also made into a mini-series, which made me aware of it in the first place (Irving Wallace isn’t really remembered much today, but he was a huge bestseller back in the day, and he wrote incredibly thick novels, mostly about international conspiracies or legal issues–The Seven Minutes, for example, was about censorship and “blue laws”; The Second Lady was about a Soviet conspiracy to replace the First Lady with a lookalike imposter who was a Soviet spy; The Prize was about the machinations around how the Nobel Prize was given out; etc etc etc). The Da Vinci Code fits clearly into this category, as does The Gemini Contenders by Robert Ludlum and The Fourth Secret by Steve Berry (which is about the fourth secret Our Lady of Lourdes–or was it Fatima?–revealed to either Bernadette or the peasant children; Irving Wallace also covered this in The Miracle); Raiders of the Lost Ark and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade also kind of fit here, as both films are about the search for Biblical relics. I’ve always, always, wanted to write one of these. Years ago I had the idea for one, in which there was a secret document or testament hidden in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople for years, and that part of the reason the 4th Crusade sacked the city was the Pope’s desire to get his hands on those documents, which were thus smuggled out of the city by the Patriarch and lost forever…this is the idea I always come around to for a Colin stand-alone (I also realize I could do Colin stand-alones set at various times throughout the last twenty years or so of Scotty books, as he is gone a lot of the time on missions), and the working title for it always is Star of Irene, because the Byzantine Empress Irene–contemporary of Charlemagne–has always fascinated me.

But I will never write a Colin stand-alone, or series, unless I get this fucking book finished, so I suppose it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

It’s A Sin

Ah, SIN.

The human concept of sin is something that has alays fascinated me; as does the societal distinction that sin isn’t necessarily a crime. Adultery, after all, made the Top Ten in the Bible; but adultery isn’t a crime, at least in our country. Maybe I’ve been reading too much medieval plague history, but as a result the entire concept of sin v. crime has been running through my head a lot. We also always tend to speak and think of historical as being more religious and superstitious than our modern, “rational” time; which is why when the religious superstitions start finding their way out of the woodwork, people are always surprised. I’ve seen that a lot, actually, since 2008; the surprise of people who were just now noticing that much of organized religion is steeped in bigotry propped up by skillful, selective usage of their “holy” book while ignoring the parts that do not prove their bigotry and ignorance as holy. I’ve been toying, since the start of this current pandemic and the beginning of my own plague readings, with a story called “The Flagellants,” based on an idea obtained from rereading Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and it’s plague chapter–about a movement of religious fanatics who believed God had sent the plague as a punishment for mankind’s sin (as fanatics have always believed in divine punishment as long as they have believed there are gods in the sky), and marched through the streets praying and repenting loudly while flogging themselves; their theory (if one can call it that) was that they were representing mankind’s penitence to God and therefore their behavior was intended to get God to take the scourge away. This set me to thinking about that Christian group that loves to show up here in the Quarter during Southern Decadence and Carnival to loudly tell us all, through megaphones and over amplifiers, that we are all sinners that need to repent and find our way back to the Lord, and wondering why they weren’t parading through the streets of the Quarter, doing something similar. (Their faith isn’t as strong as they would have us believe, apparently.) And so I started writing said story, but wasn’t really sure where to take it…I have some ideas; hopefully this weekend will help me sketch some of those ideas out.

Ah, sin.

A three day weekend is always a delight; I’m of the mind that every weekend should be three days rather than two. It generally takes me one day to rest and recover from the weekend, which is when I do my errands and clean and so forth, and then I am centered enough and rested enough (after two good night’s sleep) to get some work done on Sunday. With a three day weekend, that gives me an extra day to simply focus on writing. Naturally, of course, if every weekend was a three day weekend it would eventually prove also to not be enough time for me, I suppose, and so probably best to leave things as they are and simply enjoy those weekends when they come around. I have some plans for today; primarily a grocery run and perhaps a trip to the gym, along with some cleaning and organizing and perhaps some writing/brainstorming.

We continue to enjoy The Great on Hulu; I do recommend it, it’s very entertaining if not always the most historically accurate–and as I have stated many times, when it comes to television or film adaptations of actual historical events, accuracy inevitably goes out the window (the most egregious example of this being The Tudors. By combining Henry VIII’s sisters Margaret and Mary into one person, and then having her die without children, they essentially erased not only the Brandon/Grey line–no Nine Days’ Queen Jane Grey–but also the Scottish Stewarts; so no Mary Queen of Scots or any of the royalty since the death of Elizabeth I); and complaining about historical inaccuracies in fictional representations of actual history is low-hanging fruit, as it were.

I also want to finish reading Phyllis A. Whitney’s The Red Carnelian, and I’ve also started rereading a book from one of my favorite kids’ series, the Ken Holt mysteries by Bruce Campbell. The Ken Holt series is always neck and neck with The Three Investigators as my favorite kids’ series; they are very well written, action-packed, and well plotted as well; with a kind of hard-boiled edge to them. The first book in the series, The Secret of Skeleton Island, (a title also used in The Three Investigators series) introduces us not only to our young hero but to the people at Global News (Ken’s father is a globe trotting reporter; his mother is dead, and since his father is gone a lot Ken is at a boarding school somewhere outside of New York; I always assumed it was up the Hudson valley but it may have actually been Long Island), and how Ken meets up with, and basically is adopted into, the Allen family. I’m actually enjoying the book–and considering it was written for 9-12 year olds in the late 1940’s/early 1950’s, and it still holds up, is saying quite a bit. The fact these books never caught on or were as popular as, say the Hardy Boys, and have been out of print for decades, is disgraceful.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I look forward to speaking to you again this weekend.

IMG_1305

1999

So, I had to go to the DMV this morning to renew my driver’s license, which had expired on my birthday and I hadn’t realized it, like an idiot. The DMV is never a great experience, and yesterday was no exception to that rule. But I was able to finish reading Christopher Golden’s Ararat while I was there, which made the time pass much faster (I was there slightly less than two hours) and I did end up taking what had to be the worst driver’s license photo in history–at least my personal history of driver’s license photos. Insult to injury? My last one looked terrific. Heavy heaving sigh.

Even more insult to injury? It looks like me.

Ah, well.

You have to hate that. Anyway, I managed to finish reading Ararat, which was enjoyable, and this evening I started reading Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return, which is quite marvelous.

ararat

Just past eight o’clock on the last morning of November, the mountain began to shake.

Feyiz froze, breath catching in his throat as he put his hands out to steady himself, waiting for the tremor to end. Instead it worsened. His clients shouted at him in German, a language he did not speak. One of the men panicked and began to scream at the others as if the devil himself were burrowing up through the heart of the mountain to reach them. They stood on the summit, vivid blue sky rolling out forever before them, the frigid air crisp and pure. An idyllic morning on Mount Ararat, if the world had not begun to tear itself apart.

“Down!” Feyiz shouted. “Get down!”

He dropped his trekking poles and sank to his knees on the icy snowpack. Grabbing the pick that hung at his hip, he sank it into the ice and wondered if the six men and three women in this group could even hear him over the throaty roar of the rumbling mountain.

The Germans mimicked his actions.

I read an essay recently which discussed how, out of all the types of genres and subgenres in literature, that horror is the most faith-based of them all. It sounded absurd at first, but as I read the essay and thought about it more–and have, obviously, continued to think about it–that premise is pretty spot-on. Not all horror is faith-based, of course; there’s nothing about faith in films like Halloween or any number of horror novels I could think of (The Other, for example); but so many of them actually are that it’s kind of fascinating; especially when you take into consideration the way religious groups generally condemn horror books and films. The Exorcist is deeply rooted in Catholicism; and to name two, neither The Omen nor Rosemary’s Baby could have been written without knowledge of the Christian Bible. Ghost stories are predicated on the idea that there is life after death; that the soul continues to live on and needs to move on to another plane–whether that be heaven or hell, those books rarely make the distinction. The existence of the supernatural in a lot of horror proves that faith, and religion, are real and true; and after all, isn’t religion itself supernatural? I have made the offensive (to Christians) joke about Easter being a celebration of a zombie; and if you can get past the faith and look at any religion and its rituals, you can see what I mean.

I blaspheme, of course. I am an apostate heretic who would have burned not so long ago in our history.

I’ve read Christopher Golden before; I greatly enjoyed his Dead Ringers, and have Snowblind in my TBR pile. This week I took his Ararat out of the pile to read, and it again put me in mind of how so much horror fiction is dependent on religion for its existence. The opening scene quoted above, of an earthquake shaking Mount Ararat in Turkey, ends with a tremendous landslide, one which greatly changes the geography and the face of the mountain itself, long purported to be the final resting place of Noah’s Ark. The existence of the Ark, of course, would prove that the Bible is, at least in this instance, literally true (although Christianity is not the only belief system from the Middle East that tells of an ancient flood); there have been reports in the past that it has been found; but the likelihood of wood thousands of years old surviving is not great. But this landslide opens a new cave on the side of the mountain, high up; and soon the race is on to be the first to scale the mountain and see what’s inside the cave. The first section of the book has to do with one particular team racing to beat several other’s to the cave; risking their lives in the process. But the team–lead by adventurous couple David and Meryam, who explore and write books and make documentaries about their exploits–that arrives first soon discovers that the cave isn’t really a cave but the Ark itself…and there’s something else there that should have never been discovered.

To tell anymore would, of course, risk spoiling the story; there are so many twists and turns and scares and shocks that to give away anything more than is contained in the cover jacket blurb would be a disservice to future readers and to author Golden. But I couldn’t stop reading; resented having to put the book down, and was very satisfied when it was finished. Golden also includes diversity of characters in all of his books and does it casually; I also appreciate the fact that he chooses not to describe non-white characters in terms of food or drink–I could go the rest of my life without reading about “cinnamon” or “chocolate” or “cafe-au-lait” skin.

But just think about it for a moment–if the story of Noah is actually true, the flood changed the world and refreshed it; a reboot by God, as it were, and there are some verses in Genesis that show how different the original world was before it was cleansed–the one that readily comes to mind is There were giants in those days.

I look forward to reading more of Mr. Golden’s work.