Gloria

Friday with a tooth extraction looming. Not really a yay, but at the same time I’ll be delighted to get that pesky tooth problem finally taken care of–and yes, I am at that age, and of that heritage, where I am counting the teeth I have left (the real “heritage, not hate” of rural Southern people).

I spent most of yesterday making condom packs–the boxes are starting to take over the living room, so I am going to have to take them all into the office relatively soon–and getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (#lockherup) and Superman and Lois (which I love; more on that to come), and then doing laundry and straightening things up around the house. There’s still a lot to do, as always, and I was reflecting this morning (as I lazed in bed until nearly eight) that I haven’t matched last week’s writing production at all this week. Part of it is depleted creative batteries–I really drained them writing nearly twenty thousand words in a week–and said depletion inevitably brings self-doubt and imposter syndrome in its wake. I’m getting better about the imposter syndrome (about time, really) and feel a lot more confident about writing in general lately; I am feeling more like my normal, balanced self again. I’d love to get “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend, as well as the revision of chapter one of Chlorine–as well as deciding which novella to try to get finished by the July 4th weekend (I am torn between “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”); but that’s also going to be dependent on how the tooth thing goes and what kind of pain killers I am on for the weekend. I am hoping that I’ll be able to focus and get shit done regardless of what pain killers I am taking–but I also suspect that they aren’t going to be as free and easy with them as they were the last time I had teeth pulled, which was eleven years ago (thanks greedy trash Sackler family for creating the opioid crisis! May you all burn in hell for eternity!). My email inbox also needs attention, and I really need to sit down and write out who all I owe emails to as well as answer the significant amount of them that have piled up in the meantime.

And in a worst case scenario in which I am completely leveled by the painkillers, hopefully I can at least read, or watch movies or something. I really do want to finally watch The Godfather films–yes, I know–along with any number of classic American and foreign films I’ve never seen. One of the lovely things about working at home and doing the condom packs has been getting to watch films I’ve never seen and have always wanted to, as well as the occasional rewatch of something classic, like Cabaret or The Last Picture Show. I’ve been enjoying my education in film history, great performances, and terrific film making, even if some are flawed and don’t live up to the hype (I understand the importance of The French Connection in film history, but the plot is terribly flawed, and while it doesn’t really make Popeye Doyle into a hero…it depicts him realistically as a very flawed cop…its stark realistic approach to police brutality, civil rights abuse, and systemic racism embodied in Doyle is almost painful to watch; but Hackman earned his Oscar).

I also have some other blog entries I want to get finished and posted over the weekend–an in-depth discussion of Superman and Lois, as well as something deeply personal I may never post (that old ‘bleeding in public’ thing which I still struggle with from time to time) but I am trying to embrace my past more rather than simply moving on from it; which I also recognize is kind of strange. “You’re going to talk about things in your blog that you’ve never talked about with friends over the decades?” Yes, I get that it’s strange, but I also know in writing about things from my past–the way my mind remembers them, even if they aren’t precisely accurate–will help me come to terms with some things. My methodology of never looking back and just living in the present while planning for the future may have helped me get to where I am today, but it may not have been the most emotionally healthy way for me to grow and develop, and most of all, heal. Things I thought were scarred over have not actually healed beyond a scab, which comes off rather easily once I remember it’s there–and that isn’t healthy. Freeing myself from some of these burdens from the past could certainly not hurt in any way, shape or form.

It’s getting cloudy, which might mean a thunderstorm is arriving at any moment; not sure how I feel about that. We’ve been having a lot of rain lately–and while I do love a thunderstorm (there’s something comforting about being safely warm and dry inside while it pours down outside), we’ve certainly been having an excess of them lately. The ground is already saturated, so it’s harder for the rain to be absorbed into the ground so the streets flood more easily–and as the payoff on my car draws nearer and nearer, I worry about it being ruined more than I have…

And on that bright note, I am heading into the data-entry spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

Me!

Hey there, Saturday! It’s gray and raining here in New Orleans, which explains why I slept so deeply and well last night–there’s really nothing like the sound of rain to put me to sleep. (I wish it would rain every night, quite frankly.)

I didn’t write at all yesterday. After I finished work I went to the gym and did my workout, then came home and was quite tired, both physically and mentally. I repaired to the easy chair with a bottle of Sunkist (I’m trying to reduce my caffeine by not drinking as much Coke, but I also like sugary fizzy drinks, so non-caffeinated Sunkist works just fine as a substitute; I am also considering 7-Up) and switched on the television, going into a loop of Ted Lasso reviews, clips, etc. Everyone is already starting to prepare their Best of the Year lists, and I wish that I could do the same, but trying to remember 2020 isn’t particularly easy. I know I didn’t read as much as I usually do, and most of what I did read I’ve forgotten already–even forgotten that I read them, to be completely honest. I also really can’t remember much of what I watched on television or what films I watched or what short stories or documentaries or movies. But Ted Lasso continues to stand out for any number of reasons–it also helps that I regularly recommend it to people who then wind up loving it as much as Paul and I did. I know a book I read early in the year–Elizabeth Little’s Pretty as a Picture–is making a lot of Best of lists; I read that before the pandemic shut down when the world changed, and literally, it seems like it was a million years ago when I read it.

Then again, I also don’t limit myself to things that came out during the calendar year when I make a best-of list; my list is the best things I read or watched during the calendar year, regardless of when they were actually released. My list, my rules. So, at some point I guess I will go through my blog entries and find the things I enjoyed enough to talk about on here, and will thus pull together a list of what I enjoyed most in 2020. (I know that television is going to be a three way tie between The Mandalorian, Schitt’s Creek, and Ted Lasso–and I am also going to have to come up with a foreign-language television so I can mention Dark and Elite and Toy Boy.)

Today I plan to write all day–or most of it–around doing household chores and so forth. There’s literally no need to turn on the television and watch football–although as a diehard LSU fan I’ll have to tune in to the horror that will be the Florida game tonight–and so I might as well take as much advantage of a free-from-football day to write and get caught up on the book. Two chapters a day this weekend will take me to Chapter 21, with only five left in this draft, which will–again, as I have reiterated over and over–give me some down time to let it rest before going over it one last time before turning it in. I am also very excited about the prospect of getting back to work on the Kansas book one last time before turning it in and calling it a day on it as well.

I also want to spend some time reading The Spy Who Came In From the Cold. John LeCarre is widely considered one of the greats when it came to spy novels–or whatever the genre is called–and while it has been quite some time since I read Ian Fleming, Helen MacInnes, Robert Ludlum, and Alistair MacLean, I am very interested in reading LeCarre. The first few chapters of this book haven’t exactly grabbed me, but I do appreciate the writing. One of the things I love the most about the mystery genre is there are so many fascinating and interesting subgenres–the broad spectrum of what is routinely considered mystery fiction is quite vast; everything from traditional mysteries to romantic suspense to police procedurals to international intrigue. (I also want to finish it so I can move on to the new Alison Gaylin, and I also have the new Lisa Unger–and I think I have the new Ivy Pochoda as well) Spending the rainy morning reading really sounds like a lovely way to spend the morning, does it not?

Yesterday I watched The Ruling Class while I was making condom packs for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival. The film hangs entirely on yet another award-worthy performance by Peter O’Toole as the fourteenth Earl of Gurney, who is completely insane–and yet because of the terms of his father’s will (his father was into auto-asphyxiation, which finally went terribly wrong and he hung himself while wearing a military jacket and a tutu) the entire estate is his–and any attempt to break the will means everything will go to a charity. So his vile family cooks up a scheme to get him married and produce an heir, after which they will promptly have him committed. It’s a satire, and occasionally the cast will suddenly break into song-and-dance; which was disconcerting the first time it happened, but after that I went with it. Coral Browne–most famous for playing Vera Charles to perfection in Auntie Mame–is also a standout here as his grasping aunt-in-law; she really should have had a bigger career. When we first meet the new earl he thinks he’s God and insists on being called “J.C.”–and as the family continues to try to either cure him or have him committed, O’Toole could easily have started chewing the scenery and gone over the top; yet he is remarkably restrained and completely believable in the part. He was nominated for an Oscar (losing to Marlon Brando in The Godfather), and deservedly so; his great misfortune as an Oscar contender was to always be nominated against performances that became legendary. The film is quite a send up of the British class system and how it rotted and how it really didn’t make sense from the very beginning–noblesse oblige, indeed, and yes, cynical. It would be interesting to see how a remake/reboot could work, with one of our fine British actors of the present day in the role–but I also can’t see how anyone could ever outdo O’Toole.

And now, I am going to repair to my easy chair with John LeCarre, get under my blankets and hope that Scooter joins me for some kitty cuddling–if he hasn’t gone back upstairs to bed with Paul. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

I Knew You Were Trouble

And here we are, Wednesday, the midpoint of the week and somehow the last day of the month of September. The weather is changing in New Orleans, with the temperatures dropping into the mid to high sixties overnight but still getting up into the eighties during the day. The temperature, for example, dropped so suddenly last night that I became aware that the floor felt cold, and had to put on my slippers. (Slippers always sounds so weird to me; we always called them house shoes when I was growing up and so I still think of them that way; I merely used slippers in this instance because after originally typing house shoes, I thought, no one will know what that means and changed it. Likewise, as a kid, there were exactly two kinds of athletic shoes: gym shoes and tennis shoes; some people called them sneakers. I still say “gym shoes” or “tennis shoes”, in fact. I guess it’s one of my many many many eccentricities.) The colder night weather also makes sleep easier for me, unfortunately, it also makes the I don’t want to get out of bed feeling I have every morning more intensive and powerful.

I have a lot to get done today, and I also think it might be time to move on from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival today; I’m not sure there are any more of those types of films available on HBO MAX; I know there are more on some of the other streaming services; I know I added both The French Connection and Dog Day Afternoon to my watchlists somewhere, but what I really want to watch is Serpico. I also think I should probably rewatch The Godfather, and I’ve actually never seen The Godfather Part II. I was also thinking I should rewatch Chinatown, but then you get into that whole “artist vs. the art” thing. (At least I was never much of a Woody Allen fan.)

I was tired when I got home from work yesterday; Paul was finishing off a grant so I basically sat in my easy chair last night, physically tired and emotionally drained, and too mentally tired to engage with a new book, so I basically watched history videos on Youtube and wrote notes in my journal. I somehow managed to come up with some more ideas for stories yesterday; and also tried making sense of some of my notes in the journal–which isn’t always easy; sometimes I just scribble stuff down without context–for example, I wrote down the words targeted individual and when I looked at it last night I literally had no idea what I meant, what it was supposed to be, or why I wrote it down in the first place. This morning, in retrospect, I think it came from watching The Vow about the NXIVM cult; I seem to recall someone on the show talking about someone as being a “targeted individual,” which essentially means someone the cult actively pursued to get them to join, because they were important enough in some way–influential, financial, celebrity–that would lend the cult credibility and visibility if said person joined. Even as I typed that, the more right I think I am with that interpretation; I liked the whole chilling concept of the phrase to the point that I most likely thought it was something interesting enough to look into and explore fictionally, and that it would also make a great title. (I also googled it, and found that there’s an even more interesting definition of the term–loosely, people think they are ‘targeted individuals’ and think the government or some big organization is spying on them, including the planting of listening devices in their homes and bugging their phones.)

I also had some breakthroughs about both of the manuscripts I am still working on; how to make them better and even more stronger than they are and hopefully, I will be able to make those changes to the manuscripts and make them tighter, the characters more relatable and believable, and get the damned things finished once and for all.

I also got copy edits on a short story I sold; I need to give it another once-over at some point; I have an essay to finish revising and another one to edit, and some website writing to do. It never ends around here, really, and I shudder at the thought of checking my email inbox this morning. I also have some day job research to do this morning before moving on to my condom packing this afternoon; I also have to get organized and pay my bills this morning (yup, it’s Pay-the-Bills day, my favorite every two week cycle). I can’t believe tomorrow is actually October. October. As long as this year has been–this long, interminable March we’ve never seemed able to move beyond–it nevertheless is shocking to me that it’s October already somehow. September went by in a blur, and even now, looking back at it and recognizing the issues of depression and so forth I was dealing with all month–it still seems like Labor Day was just last week, and the entire month is shrouded in clouds in my memory banks.

Sigh.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader–you’ve got this.

Mama He’s Crazy

Believe it or not, back before the Internet and social media, it was possible for a book to go viral; to become so popular and so talked about it would sell a gazillion copies and establish the author–usually–as a long-time bestseller. To this day, I don’t know how I became aware of the viral books of the 1970’s (titles like Coma by Robin Cook; Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Back; Jaws by Peter Benchley; The Other by Thomas Tryon; The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty; and The Godfather by Mario Puzo, among others), yet I did become very aware of them, and read most of them (true confession: I never read Jonathon Livingston Seagull, despite being a number one fiction bestseller for two consecutive years).

Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are The Children? was a viral sensation when it was first published in 1975; I read it in paperback, and distinctly remember plucking it off the wire rack in the Emporia Safeway. I started reading it in the car as my mom drove us back home to Americus–the little town seven miles or so northwest of Emporia, where we lived; population less than a thousand, and the only time I’ve ever lived in such a small town–and couldn’t stop reading. I helped her bring the groceries in, went to my bedroom, and piled the pillows up and went back to reading.

where are the children

He could feel the chill coming through the cracks around the windowpanes. Clumsily he got up and lumbered over to the window. Reaching for one of the thick towels he kept handy, he stuffed it around the rotting frame.

The incoming draft made a soft, hissing sound in the towel, a sound that vaguely pleased him. He looked out at the mist-filled sky and studied the whitecaps churning in the water. From this side of the house it was often possible to see Provincetown, on the opposite side of Cape Cod Bay.

He hated the Cape. He hated the bleakness of it on a November day like this; the stark grayness of the water; the stolid people who didn’t say much but studied you with their eyes. He had hated it the one summer he’d been here–waves of tourists sprawling on the beaches; climbing up the steep embankment to this house; gawking in the downstairs windows, cupping their hands over their eyes to peer inside.

He hated the large FOR SALE sign that Ray Eldredge has posted on the front and back of the big house and the fact that now Ray and the woman who worked for him had begun bringing people in to see the house. Last month it has been only a matter of luck that he’d come along as they’d started through; only lyck that hed gotten to the top floor before they had and been able to put away the telescope.

Time was running out. Somebody would buy this house and he wouldn’t be able to rent it again. That was why he’d sent the article to the paper. He wanted to still be here to enjoy seeing her exposed for what she was in front of these people…now, when she must have started to feel safe.

I bought another copy of Where Are The Children? in 2014; my original copy lost years ago to one of many moves, intending to go back and rereading it at some point. The importance of Mary Higgins Clark, not just to women crime writers but to the genre in general, cannot ever be overstated. Clark was the bridge between the domestic suspense masters of the past–Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy B. Hughes, among many others–and the next generation of women crime writers that dawned in the 1980’s, as well as to the modern domestic suspense writers–women like Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day,  Catriona McPherson, and Wendy Corsi Staub, among many others–and her example–of grace, generosity, kindness, and assistance–is one other writers should emulate.

We could all use more Mary Higgins Clarks in the world.

Anyway, because of this importance, I thought I should reread her first as an homage to her importance; I’d recently met her, in passing, and was shocked when I ran into her again a year later that she remembered my name and the short conversation we’d had as I’d helped her onto the escalator at the Grand Hyatt in New York; I, of course, remembered every word and that glowing smile she’d given me. There was little doubt in my mind she wouldn’t remember me; how many thousands of people had passed briefly through her life? But she was sharp as a tack, and remembered me. “Greg! I was hoping you’d be here if I needed help with the escalator again,” she said, holding our her hand to me with that thousand-watt smile of hers. Then she winked, “I’ll be looking for you later. How did that book you were writing turn out?” When I told her I’d worked out the problem (yes, as I helped her onto the escalator and chatted briefly, I somehow managed to tell her that one of the many reasons I admired her was her dedication to working hard, and asked if she ever got stuck–because I was stuck on my WIP. She laughed and said, “Work through it. That’s the only way.” She was right.) and the book was coming out that very month, she replied, “I look forward to reading it.”

I seriously doubt that she did, frankly–but it was an incredibly kind and generous thing to say to someone many many rungs on the ladder beneath her, if we can even be said to be on the same ladder.

Her recent death obviously saddened many, me amongst them. So I decided to memorialize her by rereading her first and most famous bestseller, Where Are The Children? 

And really, it was past time, wasn’t it?

Upon finishing my reread, I would say that Clark was most like Charlotte Armstrong, of the women who came before her; she wrote about, like Armstrong, normal every day women who were simply minding their own business when something evil came across their path, and they had to dig deep inside and discover their own strength to overcome it.

In Where Are The Children?, Clark came up with a devilishly clever plot about one of the worst things that could ever happen to a woman: the loss of her children. Nancy Harmon, now Nancy Eldredge, married one of her college professors and had two children by him, only to have them snatched away and murdered. Their bodies were found washed ashore, their heads taped inside plastic bags; dead before they went into the water. Nancy was tried for their murders, convicted–and then released on appeal due to a technicality. The disappearance of the prime witness against her made retrying her impractical; so she changed her hair and disappeared from San Francisco to Cape Cod, where she found and married a realtor and had two more children–where no one knows who she is. (This would, of course, be impossible–or incredibly difficult–today; with the Internet and 24 hour news, everyone in the country would recognize her, different hair color or no.) Nancy is still haunted by her past, most of which she has buried in her subconscious–but little does she realize her idyllic new life is about to upended: on the same day the local paper runs an article exposing her past, her two children, Michael and Missy, disappear yet again; and of course, it looks like she has killed yet another set of her children.

But what Clark does is let the reader know immediately that Nancy is not only innocent of killing this set of children, but the first set as well. The book opens, as seen above, with a chapter in the point of view of the villain of the story; she does this consistently throughout the book–we see the events from other points of views, other than just Nancy’s and the villain’s, which also helps the suspense build and keeps the reader turning the page.

Also, it should be noted that the entire timeline of the book is less than one day, and probably not even ten hours; the children disappear around ten in the morning and the climax of the book happens after nightfall. Also, the book takes place during a particularly nasty thunderstorm, which includes hail.

Another excellent way she builds suspense is bringing in minor characters on the periphery of the story, puts a scene in their point of view, and of course it turns out that each one of these minor characters holds another, crucial piece of the puzzle.

Where Are The Children? is a subversive novel in many ways, and it’s easy to see how it became a phenomenon, and why Clark won the hearts of millions of readers. She plays with the tropes of what it means to be a mother; how quickly we blame mothers for anything that happens to their children or how they behave; and how quickly the admiration for motherhood can turn to contempt and scorn–and how easy that turn is made.

It can also be seen as a sequel, of sorts, to those Gothic novels where a child is endangered and the heroine has to act to save the child; this was a well Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt drew from, many many times. Instead of trying to save the child, in this case this is the aftermath of what happened should the mother (or young governess, whomever the heroine was) not have succeeded the first time in saving the children–but has a chance at redemption by finding and saving the second set of children.

It reminded me somewhat of Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, which is also long overdue for a revisit.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Kodachrome

Friday morning bliss.

It kind of feels like Saturday, which means I’m going to soon be completely disoriented, with no idea what day it is any day. Which is kind of lovely; I rather enjoy being a little off-kilter. It’s one of my many peculiarities; the vast number of weird idiosyncrasies housed inside my head. I didn’t sleep well at first last night, so I took something around two in the morning to help me sleep, so I wound up sleeping later than I usually do and am still a bit groggy this morning. While this is most definitely not a terrific start to my long weekend mini-vacation, I am going to roll with it. I am going to keep drinking my coffee, eat a little something (I forgot to eat yesterday, so my stomach is empty and deeply unhappy with me this morning), and perhaps retire to my easy chair a little later on to finish reading S. A. Cosby’s  My Darkest Prayer, which I am really enjoying.

I just hate that I have so little time to read during the week anymore. Books continue to pile up and the TBR pile grows like kudzu over a field in Alabama. But it’s okay; it’s always been that way around here; never enough time to read everything I want to read. That’s what it would say on my tombstone, were I to have one: NEVER ENOUGH TIME TO READ. (I do not intend to be buried or have any kind of tombstone/marker/any such thing; I want to be cremated and the ashes spread into the Mississippi River at Jackson Square–after all my organs are harvested)

I also suspect, given how groggy my body still feels (that first cup of coffee worked only on my brain thus far) that I most likely won’t be leaving the house today, other than taking recycling and/or garbage to the cans in the front of the house. I like those days, really; if I were given a choice I would probably never leave the house, which is one of the many reasons it’s probably best that I never have a work-at-home job ever again; I would never interact with people outside the artificiality of social media.

I do intend to write today–I have a couple of interviews I need to get done–and I’d like to maybe even get started on my next chapter of Bury Me in Shadows–and there are a ridiculous amount of emails that need to be answered or deleted in my various inboxes. A ridiculous amount–I’ve let them slide all week knowing I had a five-day weekend with which to deal with/answer them. I’m also going to launder the bed linens (it’s Friday, after all) and there’s also a load of laundry in the dryer that’s going to need to be folded and put away. The kitchen/office is messy–at least, it needs to be straightened up, and I of course need to move that stack of books off the counter, where I placed them in order to pose them for the obligatory stack of copies of the new book photos, which I took Thursday morning, methinks, or Wednesday night; I cannot be certain of when I precisely did take the pictures, as well as put together the stack of books to send to people to whom I owe copies of the book.

Which also means I need to go get envelopes to put them in–which means venturing out into the heat advisory to get them from the Office Depot on St. Charles. Heavy heaving sigh. I suppose there are worse things? I was also thinking it might be fun to get a pizza from That’s Amore this weekend (it IS my birthday weekend, after all), but that might need to wait until Saturday or Sunday.

Last night we watched Animal Kingdom, and after Paul retired upstairs to do his usual “night-before-work” prep, I watched a documentary about Bob Fosse on Youtube; Steam Heat, which was rather interesting. (As you might be thinking, my interest in Bob Fosse–and Gwen Verdon–came from watching Fosse Verdon, which was spectacular.) I find the Fosse choreographer/director aesthetic interesting; and I’ve also enjoyed watching old clips of Gwen Verdon performing live–there aren’t many, unfortunately; particularly when you consider she was one of the biggest Broadway stars of her time; she won more Tonys than any other major stage diva, including Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, but isn’t as well known as they are to modern audiences. Verdon’s virtuosity and charisma doesn’t come across as completely on film as it must have on stage, but you cannot help but admire the commitment and the dance ability she displayed. I was telling Paul how ubiquitous the music from Sweet Charity was at the time it was playing on Broadway. Everyone knew “If They Could See Me Now” and “Hey Big Spender”; it was interesting watching a clip of the latter from the film version and realizing that I knew all the words, every beat of the song, and every highlight–simply from watching variety shows on television in the late 1960’s.

And let’s face it–even the film version of Cabaret was right up Verdon’s alley had she been young enough; Sally Bowles is the kind of role she inhabited to perfection.

Which reminds me, I would like to watch Cabaret again. I watched it again a few years ago, for the first time since I was a teenager (when I didn’t get it at all; but was watching the disemboweled ‘cut-for-television’ version, where the bisexuality was completely erased from the film, which also removed the sense from the story), and was enthralled by its absolute brilliance. (I still think The Godfather is a far superior picture, but can see why Academy Awards voters went for it in so many categories at the time instead of voting for The Godfather.)

And maybe I should reread The Berlin Stories by Isherwood again. I did read most of the Isherwood oeuvre back in the day, but would probably appreciate his work more now than I did when I read them.

All right, I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read My Darkest Prayer for the rest of this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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