Also Sprach Zarathustra

Yesterday was a day.

Never mind why–it is simply too tedious for me to get into any detail and trust me, you’d be bored to tears–but the one nice thing about it was once it was finally over and donw with and I was safely inside the Lost Apartment and in my LSU sweats, with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap, I was able to rate rested and relaxed and now, hopefully I’ll be able to get my life back under some kind of control. That would be so lovely.I work a longer day now on Fridays–five hours instead of four–but shifting to coming in later in the day was an extremely smart move.

But the good news is that I was able to finally finish reading Rob Hart’s wonderful novel, The Warehouse.

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Well, I’m dying!

A lot of men make it to the end of their life and they don’t know they’ve reached it. Just the lights go off one day. Here I am with a deadline.

I don’t have time to write a book about my life, like everyone has been telling me I should, so this’ll have to do. A blog seems pretty fitting, doesn’t it? I haven’t been sleeping much lately, so this gives me something to keep myself occupied at night.

Anyway, sleep is for people who lack ambition.

The rise in popularity  in dystopian fiction since the turn of the century isn’t really that difficult to understand; the world is kind of on fire and each day we seem to be inching our way to the inevitable collapse of civilization as we now know it. I do recognize how pessimistic that thought is, but it’s one I’ve been finding myself having more and more as the years have passed since the century dawned with so much promise back in 1/1/00. Remember how exciting the new century seemed back then, when it was fresh and new and full of promises? Yeah, well. Who knew? I wonder if people felt the same way in 1919…but given they’d just gotten through the first world war and the Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions, probably.

Early in the 1990’s, as queer equality issues began to become more and more mainstream–with the inevitable holier-than-thou nasty religious pushback–I wrote down many pages of thoughts and ideas I had about a dystopian future world, one in which queer people finally obtained equality only for there to be a horrific and horrendous pushback, similar to the one depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that pushed back against feminism and women’s equality. I saw an America where evangelical Christianity was encoded into our law; where people of color and other undesirables began to disappear as they were blamed from everything wrong with modern society and the economy; and where those unaffected by those prejudices and legalized bigotry turned a blind eye to the suffering of fellow Americans as long as they could pay their bills and buy nice things for their family. Since that original idea–which was easy to scoff at by friends I talked about it with, as they weren’t queer or marginalized–I’ve come back to that idea, time and again, as the idea sometimes seems to be taking root in reality. I tend to avoid dystopian fiction, as a general rule; I’ve read Brave New World, 1984, The Stand, Alas Babylon, The Handmaid’s Tale and many others; I’ve watched the Mad Max films. I generally try to avoid it, to be honest; I find our the dystopia evident in our reality far more frightening and oppressive than anything I might find in fiction.

But I couldn’t get into The Hunger Games  or any of the others published in the twenty-first century to great sales and acclaim; just had zero to no interest. I got into the zombie apocalypse stuff for a while, with The Walking Dead, but even it eventually devolved into misery/torture porn and I lost interest.

But Rob Hart’s The Warehouse…I don’t know; for some reason as soon as I heard the concept behind it, months before its publication date, I knew I wanted to read it. Part of the exhausting frustration I’ve felt over the last few weeks as I slogged away at the volunteer project has partly been due to my inability to spend more than twenty minutes or so at a time with the book; the one good thing, as I said already, about today’s errands was the ability to sit in a waiting room for long stretches of time with nothing to do other than read–and occasionally delete emails from my phone.

What a wonderful, frightening, and all too realistic book Rob Hart has gifted the world with!

The Warehouse is set in a world in the not-too-distant future where almost everything has collapsed. This collapse of functionality of the general society isn’t explained; but it has to do with climate change and economic shifts and rising seas. One company, Cloud, which allows everyone to buy everything they need on-line and have it delivered quickly via drones, with MotherClouds scattered all over the United States, has pretty much monopolized means of production and delivery; their employees are given free housing and so forth and live in climate controlled dorms that are all connected with the warehouses and entertainment complexes; enclosed cities, where your every move and your every purchase is monitored. There’s health care and communal bathrooms and showers and you need your Cloud wristband to get anywhere or do anything.

Sound all too frighteningly familiar?

The story is told from three different points of view; the book opens with with a blog entry from Gibson, the man who thought up and founded Cloud and became worth billions as he essentially took over the United States; Paxton, a small business owner who invented a thing called Perfect Egg, so that you could make a perfect hardboiled egg in the microwave and peel it perfectly every time, a business that flourished until Cloud’s demands for deeper and deeper discounts eventually forced him out of business and has now landed a job there; and Zinnia, a young woman we don’t know much about who is also starting work there, but she has an ulterior motive. Zinnia and Paxton eventually cross paths, become friends, and as he works security, she begins manipulating him for information as she also starts to develop feelings for him.

It’s a terrific story, very well told, with very smart things to say about capitalism, consumerism, and how easy it is to compromise your principles in exchange for security. Bright and intelligent and well-written, you can’t help rooting for both Paxton and Zinnia to somehow make it through everything and somehow come out on top.

Most dystopian tales deal with the aftermath of nuclear war, or Big Government taking over, or some kind of religious fascism, but rarely, if ever, has the dystopia arisen out of capitalism and consumerism, and Rob Hart hits the bull’s eye squarely with this one. (Well, also Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, but Ayn Rand deserves many posts all by herself, and she wishes she had one tenth of Rob Hart’s story-telling skill)

This is destined to be a classic, and I do hope Ron Howard does the story justice on film.

In closing this, I’d like to thank Rob–and other writers like him, like Ben Winters and Adam Sternbergh–for pushing the envelope of the crime genre, melding crime and speculative fiction in clever, innovative stories that broaden our genre and enable them to tell bigger stories than we customarily see in crime fiction. I loved this book from start to finish, and it’s so layered and clever–the development of Gibson, through his blog entries, his justifications for his egotism and so forth, was chillingly genius.

Read this book. It’s amazing.

Invisible Touch

The last Monday in June dawns, and I am tired and sleepy and despite sleeping well, am awake much earlier than my body wants me to be. And while hot New Orleans summers are almost a stereotype at this point, it’s already hotter here than it usually is at this time; it feels more like August out there than late June. Taking the streetcar down to the Quarter both Saturday and Sunday drained me, physically; I think that’s why I am so tired and out of sorts this morning. Perhaps that will allow me to write from my subconscious this morning; we shall see how that goes.

I was so drained yesterday after I got home that I sat down at the computer and started Chapter 21; I managed about 300 excruciatingly painful words before I finally gave up and retired to my easy chair to watch the end of Cardinal and an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale; we are about three episodes behind on it. It’s hard to watch, particularly with what is going on in the country at the moment, quite frankly; the idea of children being taken away from their mothers, while always sickening, is particularly rough to watch right now.

But I just have to get through this week and I only have a two-day work-week next week; then comes a lovely six-day stay-cation, or whatever you want to call it. I am definitely looking forward to that down time to clean the house, move some things to storage, clean out some cabinets and so forth; I’ve decided that the 4th itself will be my day of rest and then I will focus on getting things done on the other days I have off, which will be lovely.

But all I really want to do right now is go back to sleep. But I must persevere. The spice must be mined.

The next story in my collection Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Disaster Relief”:

“Most of the damage is upstairs,” I said as I unlocked the front door to my apartment and pushed the door open. I stood in the doorway and allowed him to pass. “Although we did get some mold down here on the walls.” I shrugged. I’d shown the wreckage that had been my home for just two months to so many people by this time that it didn’t affect me anymore. The first time I’d walked in after Katrina had gone through I had been in shock. You never expect to see your home in that condition; mold running down the walls, plaster wreckage covering the stairs, your bed a mildew factory. It had made me sick to my stomach.

Well, that and the smell coming from the refrigerator.

It was my home, it was the same apartment I’d been so excited to move into a million years ago in June, but I didn’t feel the same way about it as I did before.

Christian Evans, my FEMA inspector, whistled as he walked in and took a look around. “Nice place.”

“It was.” I used to love the high ceilings, the two ceiling fans, the curved staircase leading up to the second floor, and the hardwood floor I polished until it was like a mirror. Now the floor was covered with dust from the collapsed ceiling upstairs. The plaster on the walls in the living room was cracked, and the true enemy was evident on the ceiling—those horrible black spreading spots of mold that looked like ink blots. But at least the ever-present stench of mold and mildew was hardly noticeable anymore.

And I’d won my epic battle with the refrigerator.

“But I imagine you’ve seen a lot worse.” I went on, hugging myself. It was a cool morning with a strong breeze blowing that made it seem colder, and of course I didn’t have the heat turned on. Not much point in trying to warm the place when there was no ceiling upstairs. Of course he’s seen worse, I scolded myself. That had been my litany ever since I’d come back.

You’re one of the lucky ones, remember that.

Christian shrugged. He was a small man, maybe about five eight, in his early thirties. He was cute in that nondescript metrosexual “is he gay or straight?” way. He had a light brown goatee, and had gelled his brown hair into that just-got-out-of-bed look that seemed to be all the rage. Before the storm, I’d always referred to that style as the freshly fucked look. I’d never really cared for it much, but it worked on him. He had a way of grinning that somehow worked with the gelled hair. “I’ve been out to the 9th Ward and Lakeview,” he said as he pulled his laser pointer out of his pocket and started measuring the dimensions of the room. “So you lost your couch?”\

This story came about because of a post on my blog I made about our FEMA inspector.

That was a crazy weekend, all those years ago. My friends and fellow authors Timothy and Becky, part of the Timothy James Beck writing team, had scheduled a book event the week before Thanksgiving as a fundraiser for Katrina relief and invited me to participate; we’d become friends through our blogs and had communicated a lot, and this was an opportunity to meet in person as well as for me to get away from the ruins of New Orleans for a few days. I had already planned on driving up to Kentucky for the holiday, and the plan was to swing through Illinois afterwards to pick up Paul and Skittle and bring them home at long last. My car needed new spark plugs and possibly a tune-up, which I planned on getting done in Houston.  My grandmother died on the Thursday I was in Houston; my mother called me on Friday to tell me the service/funeral would be on Sunday so I needed to go to Alabama on Saturday. Okay, fine, cool. Then Paul called me to tell me the FEMA instructor was coming by at 8 am on Saturday morning to go through our house, so I needed to be there.

JFC.

My car was finished at six thirty that evening, so I drove back to New Orleans from the auto repair shop and got up at seven the next morning to meet the FEMA inspector–and once he was done, I was going to drive to Alabama. The FEMA inspector was very attractive and sexy; after the tour of the apartment I wrote in my blog Is it wrong to find your FEMA inspector sexy? I could probably write a really weird erotic short story about having sex with your FEMA inspector in the ruins of your house.

Someone–I don’t remember who–commented on the blog not only asking me to write the story but promising to include/publish it; whether it was on a website or in an anthology, I don’t recall. So, while I was at my parents’ in Kentucky for the holidays, I wrote “Disaster Relief.” it was my first Katrina piece of fiction, and it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

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Secret Lovers

I slept so well last night that I didn’t want to get up this morning, which is perhaps the greatest feeling of all. Huzzah! It also means I am not heading into the weekend feeling tired, which will be yet another great feeling. Hurray! Huzzah! Of course, the kitchen’s a disaster area, but I may have the time to correct that this morning before I head into the office. One can always hope, at any rate.

I do think “Burning Crosses” is ready for a read aloud; there’s one more paragraph I need to add, and maybe a sentence here and there, but other than that, it’s close to done. I have also made progress on “This Thing of Darkness,” and I think, as far as short stories go, I am ready to get back to finish/polish/read out loud “Once a Tiger” and “The Problem with Autofill.” I also want to get back to the WIP and the Scotty; I need to read Scotty from the beginning and make notes; and likewise, Chapter Two of the WIP needs to be rewritten, may even need to be a completely newly written chapter because I need to add a scene. But I am hopeful I am setting myself up for an incredibly productive weekend. I am going to a book signing on Saturday afternoon for Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at Tubby and Coo’s (hello, Five Guys!) and I am also supposed to go to a party on Saturday evening, but we’ll see how that all plays out. I may just make Saturday an errand day and try to spend Sunday focusing on writing.

We shall see.

The Terror continues to enthrall, as it moves along to its inevitable end. The ninth episode, which we watched last night, was just non-stop misery and powerful acting from everyone involved. After we finished watching, Paul and I talked about how much we’re enjoying it and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I made the curious realization that the two shows we’re enjoying the most right now are horrific stories of human beings caught up in the most terrifyingly horrible of circumstance, and how interesting is it that we are so enthralled by what basically are, thematically, stories of survival and how much can you take, how much can you handle without giving up entirely?

The writing, and the acting, always stellar, is Master Class worthy in this heartbreaking episode. I fear The Terror will be overlooked for awards, when that season is upon us; which is absolutely wrong. It should win all the awards; I would be hard-pressed, though, to decide on which actor to vote for; there are all that good.

I have to say, yesterday was a lovely day for me professionally. The table of contents for the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology I am in was released, and it’s quite stellar. It was lovely to see the social media response; all the likes and retweets and excitement. I am very pleased to be in this book, and I am equally pleased with the story I wrote for it. The book won’t be available until 2019, alas; but it’s going to be a truly good one.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Fortress Around Your Heart

It’s Monday, and I didn’t get near what i wanted to get done over the course of the weekend; which is something I should simply refer to as Monday’s Lament from now on. I did get Chapter Twelve finished, and I got started on Chapter Thirteen; and I sort of know where the (meandering) story is going; and there are some things I am definitely going to need to go back and fill in later. And it’s Monday, of course; the start of a new week in which I can certainly hope to get a lot finished.

We watched a wonderful series from Australia this weekend on Netflix, called Deep Water. It’s a crime show, and it opens with the discovery of the body of a brutally murdered gay man. As the investigating officer starts digging into the case, she begins to suspect that this murder is somehow connected to some other murders–over twenty years earlier–of gay men in the same part of Australia. The more she digs, the more convinced she becomes, and she soon begins to suspect the accidental drowning of her older brother, on Christmas Eve, 1989, is yet another one of a string of murders, hate crimes, committed against gay men all those years ago. It’s extremely well-written, and powerfully acted; it also deals with sexism against women in the police department; the old boys’ network of the police; homophobia; cover-ups; and how much–and how little–society has changed in the past twenty-five years.

We also watched the second episode of Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale. I had wondered if the second season of this show would be near as bleak, depressing, and heartbreaking as the first, and so far the show continues to deliver. This particular episode, in addition to dealing with Offred’s situation, also brought back Alexis Bledel’s character, off at the brutal world of the Colonies, where the unwomen are sent. If you will recall from the first season, Alexis Bledel played the lesbian Ofglen/Emily; she was originally punished and then committed another crime, resulting in her being sent to the Colonies. This episode, while focusing on Offred/June as always, shows the Colonies and what her life is like there, while she remembers how the downfall of democracy and the rise of religious fascism and its impact on her as a married lesbian with a child. I love how The Handmaid’s Tale is not afraid to go there, quite frankly; and its message is quite plain: women and queers have common cause against the patriarchy.

Coupled with Deep Water, watching this episode put me into a deep, contemplative place. I haven’t really quite formed the thoughts yet, but there are some nascent ideas and thoughts forming in my head. I read a piece this weekend about Mort Crowley, The Boys in the Band revival on Broadway, and the disappearance of gay culture. I also have had come conversations with younger gay men over the course of the past two weeks. Paul and I were also listening to some gay dance remixes from our partying days of going to clubs and dancing the night away last night before bed, and we recalled those times with a bit of sadness; I do miss the fun we used to have, but do I want the full-on oppression that came with it?

It wasn’t that long ago, as Deep Water showed, that we were seen as disposable, human garbage on the fringes of society and no one cared if we were assaulted, murdered, disappeared. (There’s a serial killing investigation going on in Toronto right now that has been glossed over, ignored, despite all evidence to the contrary, for years: Toronto.) One of the reasons I originally wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine  was precisely for this reason: who cared if some gay man was murdered? I think about the story line for that book from time to time, and often shake my head, thinking, “oh, that book could never be written today; it wouldn’t hold up, no one would believe that a closeted man would or could be blackmailed today.” And yet there is a story line in my current book along those same lines, that i struggle with; is this realistic in this day and time? Is this a secret someone would be willing to protect today? On the other hand, we do still see outings; there was a recent scandal in Metairie where the parish president was outed for pursuing a teenaged boy who worked at Lakeside mall. So, it’s not completely out of the question for a crime storyline anymore.

And this also makes me reflect, again, on ambition, and my tendency to self-defeat myself; my fear of failure, and how I built my career in such a way as to guarantee that I would never become hugely successful; writing gay characters and gay themes in crime fiction essentially guaranteed, almost from the first, that i would never be a New York Times bestseller or would win an Edgar Award or get reviewed in major newspapers; I could be published, but as a gay writer of gay stories, the expectations were low; no one would expect me to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in my little niche within a niche within a niche market. Did I subconsciously set out to sabotage my own career from the very start, setting myself up for low expectations from the start? I’d always intended–and it is there, in my journals–to eventually move to writing mainstream fiction; mainstream crime fiction. And yet, in all these years, of writing millions of words and creating hundreds of characters and telling all these stories, I’ve only recently (in terms of the years of my career) begun to try to write something more mainstream. It would take very little work to make that book appealing to my current publisher; it’s always there in the back of my head as I struggle with it and try to place my finger on what’s wrong with it and why no agent seems to want it–and then I remember that I’ve actually only sent tentative queries to a handful of agents, and am I giving up on it too soon? The amount of time I’ve actually spent on this piece of work isn’t that long in the overall scheme of things; I’ve worked on it around other things I’ve had under contract.

The entire point of last year was to work on it, get it finished and polished and ready for submission, and yet I allowed myself to waste most of the year in feeling sorry for myself and paralyzed and unable to write anything; was this simply another way of defeating myself, of fearing to fail and therefore not even trying?

You cannot succeed unless you aren’t afraid to fail.

Failure is the best way to learn.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Every Breath You Take

Good morning, Sunday. Facebook and Twitter have both already warned me to ‘stay dry–rain is in the forecast’, but outside my windows here in the Lost Apartment it’s all sunshine, shade, and blue skies. Of course, in New Orleans that means nothing–in five minutes there could be a massive thunderstorm with the streets flooding–but I am going to just sit here for a moment and enjoy the sunshine. I need to get a lot done today–yesterday was sheer madness all day; Wacky Russian in the morning, laundering the bed linens, post office, testing at the office, lunch with a friend who is moving away, home to make mac-n-cheese for a party at Susan’s, and then, of course, the party itself. It wasn’t until well after nine last night that I was able to collapse into the easy chair and relax–and now that The Handmaid’s Tale is finished, and we have finished watching the latest season of Supernatural, we are looking for something new to watch, so we started watching The Magicians. The first episode was okay; but it seemed (with no offense to Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the show is based on) kind of derivative; like I’d seen it before.

Then again, there have been a lot of books/movies/TV shows set in schools for magic, haven’t there? We’ll keep going, but at least tonight there will be another episode of Orphan Black, and I am STILL waiting for the second season of Versailles to pop up somewhere I can watch it. BASTARDS! I am particularly interested in seeing Versailles because I am getting to the really good part in The Affair of the Poisons…which I am really enjoying. I never understand why people think history is boring…then again, those are the people are responsible for it repeating all of the time.

I’ve also made some progress in reading  Since We Fell, but am still not loving it. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading, but it seems as though the entire first hundred pages or so is just backstory. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you; I’m just waiting for it to get to the real story.

At some point today I need to go to the grocery store–an odious chore, but one which I usually don’t mind. I think I’m most likely going to go to Cadillac Rouse’s in the CBD; shrimp and grits might be on the menu for tonight, and I want to try maybe some different cheese in it; rather than the usual cheddar that it calls for, I may try gruyere. It was fun making macaroni-and-cheese yesterday; it’s been a long while since I’ve made it (that healthy eating thing; the recipe I make calls for sour cream, heavy cream, half-and-half, butter, and 24 ounces of cheese). If I am going to make shrimp-n-grits, I need green onions and shallots. Or, I could just stop on the way home tomorrow night and get some things–and find something in the kitchen that it already on hand for dinner. Right now, I am feeling pretty lazy, so that may be the route I choose to take. We shall see. They are also filming on my street tomorrow–actually, on the next block, so parking on MY block will be limited since all their stupid trucks and Kraft services and everything will be set up on OUR block. (I wonder if it’s New Orleans NCIS? I’ve always had a crush on what’s his name, from Quantum Leap, who plays the lead) Anyway, I need to get some shit done around the house, I need to revise three chapters today (I’ve done no revising the last two days, and thus am very behind on the revisions), and I’d like to work on my short stories as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Always, so much to do. It ain’t easy being a Gregalicious.

All right, best to get back to the spice mines. Here’s your Father’s Day hunk; a hot daddy!

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Don’t Stand So Close to Me

SATURDAY! I’ve already been to the gym–I did not want to wake up this morning and head over there, but like a good boy I did–and now am getting ready to clean the kitchen, make my post workout protein shake, and make a grocery list. I have the galleys of a pseudonymous novel to finish going over today, and I also want to get some more revisions done on the WIP. I have big plans for today, obviously, but we’ll see how it all turns out. I’m almost caught up on American Gods (one more episode to go and I’ll be current), and we also started watching 11/22/63 on Netflix this week–it auto-started after we finished this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale–and we’re enjoying it. It’s very strange to watch something based on a Stephen King novel which I haven’t read; it’s one of the few I’ve not read (including the last three volumes of The Dark Tower, Black House, The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, Doctor Sleep, Bronco Billy, and End of Watch) and wasn’t, honestly, feeling all that inspired to read it–I wasn’t all that inspired to watch it, either; the whole Kennedy thing doesn’t really interest me anymore–but we are really caught up in the show, which makes me tend to think the book (which is almost always better than visual adaptations) is probably fantastic; it’s just so damned long. Paul and I have been talking about taking a long weekend and going back to a tennis resort like we did a couple of years ago; if we do that, I’ll probably take 11/22/63 with me to read.

I haven’t had the time to really get further in Ill Will, which is also something I hope to get further along with this weekend. The writing is exceptionally good, and I love the entire premise of the book, too. I’ve not read Chaon’s Await Your Reply, but I do have a copy of it as well. I’ve heard a lot of good things about Chaon; Ill Will is certainly bearing those good things out. And isn’t lovely to find a new writer you enjoy?

Yes, it is. Always.

I’ve also been rereading Mary Stewart’s Airs Above the Ground this week, which is one of my favorite books of all time–Mary Stewart was simply brilliant. I love the premise behind the opening of this novel, just as I loved the premise of The Ivy Tree, and so many other of her books; I’d love to recycle those premises as an homage to her at some point; who knows? Every time, though, I reread a Mary Stewart novel I remember my friend Sara come up to me at a Bouchercon and telling me someone had said on a panel she was watching that “Mary Stewart’s heroines were just too passive for his/her tastes.” I was as appalled as Sara; Mary Stewart’s heroines were not passive; they had agency, didn’t need to be rescued,  and went sailing forth happily into adventures. Airs Above the Ground’s Vanessa March was one of those amazing heroines; and the premise–someone saw her husband on a newsreel somewhere he wasn’t supposed to be, and so naturally she heads off to find out what he’s doing, all the while suspecting he is having an affair. God, how I would love to use that same style of opening…but the premise of The Ivy Tree is even better; a young woman is hired to impersonate another young woman–missing for years–in order to manipulate a dying man into making sure his will leaves his estate to the people who hired her. So fucking brilliant, really.

And now, it’s probably best for me to return to the spice mines. Them galleys ain’t going to proof themselves.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you:

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Holding Out for a Hero

I finished reading The Sympathizer last night, and really enjoyed it. Calling it a crime novel is a bit of a stretch, but an argument can be made for it, and I can see either side of the argument, frankly. As I said before, it was interesting to read about the Vietnam War from the perspective of an actual Vietnamese-American, and I feel like Viet Thanh Nguyen did a really excellent job of showing how one could become a Communist back in the days when the small country was torn to shreds by war; and wind up playing a double–sometimes triple–game. I have Nguyen’s short story collection The Refugees; I am looking forward to reading some of his short fiction. And I have landed on James M. Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress as my next read. I am rather excited about it, as I love Cain.

I was in a mood yesterday; not really sure what triggered it, but am more than willing to blame it on heavy weather. It’s pretty much been raining every day and night this week; today I can see sunshine outside my windows through the condensation, and as such the humidity has been unbearable and that does affect me, even when I take a Claritin, as I did yesterday. I got home last night and we watched this week’s episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, which gets more and more viscerally disturbing from week to week. It’s very hard to watch–I can’t imagine how women watch it, frankly–and sometimes so much so that I pick up my phone and scroll through Twitter and Facebook until I can look at the television again. I’ve not read a lot of dystopian fiction, nor seen a lot of dystopian films (I’ve never read nor watched The Hunger Games, or any of the really popular young adult dystopian novels, outside of Chuck Wendig’s Under the Empyrean Sky, and I never read the other two books in that trilogy), pretty much limiting myself to Stephen King’s The Stand, and the Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome film (I’ve not watched any of the other Mad Max movies), and Harlan Ellison’s story “A Boy and His Dog”, along with the film. I’ve had, over the years, ideas for dystopian fiction novels of my own–I am often influenced by books, movies, and television programs that I enjoy; so after watching Thunderdome and reading “A Boy and His Dog” in a short period of time, my mind naturally moved to an idea for a book/story about a dystopian future where a young woman is competing in a cross country car race, across the blighted wreckage of the Great Plains (which sounds kind of Hunger Games-ish, doesn’t it?), which I called “Fox on the Run”–the drivers are called ‘foxes’ and the people trying to catch and wreck them, take them out of the race, are called “hounds”–which I’ve toyed with over the years but never did anything with. In the early 1990’s, I came up with another dystopian idea, in which fundamentalists have taken over the US government, the country had splintered into pieces, some of them at war with each other, and how the fundamentalists have started rounding up ‘indesirables’–gays, lesbians, transgender, mixed race, etc.–and putting them in ‘work camps,’ but there’s an ‘underground railroad’ of sorts to help the undesirables get out. That one was called There Comes a Tide, which was a direct result of the horror of the AIDS epidemic and the callous federal response to it. When hysterics–and this was actually happening, for those of you who don’t remember or weren’t there–were calling for quarantining gay men (and just how and when and where? Yup, concentration camps), it wasn’t hard to imagine that such a thing could actually happen. (That time was so scary, and so incredibly frustrating.) I also have yet another idea, one I’ve actually started writing, but haven’t gotten far with, and over time I’ve come to realize there’s a way to link all these stories together into a trilogy…but not sure I am the right person to write such a trilogy.

But it’s something I think about, from time to time–usually when I am trying not to work on whatever I am currently working on, which is when I usually get my best ideas for other projects, natch. Isn’t that always the way? So, of course, as I work on the revisions, all I can think about is the next Scotty book–and once I actually start writing THAT, I’ll start thinking about something else. I would love to get Crescent City Charade finished by the end of the summer, so I could go on to write Muscles this fall…but we’ll see how everything shakes out.

I’m absolutely delighted that today is Friday, of course. I am hoping to get to see Wonder Woman this weekend; if Paul doesn’t want to go I may just go by myself. On the other hand, maybe I should use that as a reward: if I get as far as I would like to in my revisions, I can go see Wonder Woman.

Hmmm.

Okay, back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Friday hunk to get your weekend started:

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Jumpin’ Jack Flash

Well, I finished the outline yesterday and am actually feeling pretty good about it. As I finished outlining the last chapters, I began to see with a much greater clarity what the problems with the manuscript were, the changes that needed to be made to it, and what would, in fact, make it a much stronger book than what I originally wrote. It’s going to require a lot of work to fix it, frankly–more than I would have preferred–but hopefully it will turn out to be exactly what I wanted it to be.

And that’s a good thing.

Yesterday was one of those days where I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked; I just felt off center and off-balance for most of the day. I’m not sure why that was; one of those eternal mysteries, I suppose. I did have some trouble sleeping last night as well, which sucked because I have a ten hour day of work today including bar testing tonight. Ah, well, I should sleep well tonight, one would think.

We watched the third episode of The Handmaid’s Tale last night, which continues to chill and disturb me. It is so incredibly well done,  and while the men are repugnant, the absolute most chilling characters to me are the collaborationist women. Atwood’s novel was such genius, really, and I love how the show is taking the time to fill in all of the backstories and develop the characters even more so than she did. The not-knowing in her book was particularly chilling, but I think the show is making it a much richer, complex tale–which is also necessary for something that is visual rather than simply read. I am thinking I need to find my copy and read it again.

We also watched a documentary about H. H. Holmes, billed as America’s first serial killer–although I would posit the Benders in Kansas were the first. I first knew of Holmes because Robert Bloch wrote a fictionalized account of his ‘murder castle’ that I read called American Gothic. (I love Bloch, and went through a period where I read all of his work I could get my hands on; Psycho is still one of my favorite crime novels) The documentary was very well done, but all I could think about while I watched was the Benders and wondering whether there were any books about them. I’ve wanted to write about them ever since I first heard about them, when I was a teenager living in Kansas, but am not sure if I want to do it as a historical crime novel, or as horror….or both. Someday!

I’m almost finished with Cleopatra’s Shadows, which I am sort of enjoying, but wish I was enjoying more. I know that sounds like damning with faint praise, because I am enjoying it, but I only have about sixty pages to go, and I will be curious to see how the author deals with the inevitable (I mean, it’s historical fiction, I know what happens) end.

I’m having lunch with a friend whom I haven’t seen in years today before work, which should be a rather pleasant experience. It’s always lovely to catch up with friends.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a Tuesday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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The Unicorn

Monday morning, and not only a new week but a new month. May, of course, is when the Formosan termites swarm; usually they join us sometime around Mother’s Day, but I saw people posting about them last night on Facebook. Maybe it was the extremely mild winter; hopefully, the early start means an early end. It really does seem like one of the plagues of Egypt when the termites are swarming; our first experience with it back in May 1997 was absolutely horrifying. Even typing about it now makes my skin crawl. We’ve been relatively lucky over the past fourteen years or so; living in the back as we do, we only get a few inside the house and once they do, off go the lights and we light candles.

It really surprises me that there really isn’t anything that can be done with these things.

Last night, we watched the documentary Tower, which is about the first mass shooting at  a school, and another episode of The Handmaid’s Tale, which continues to be riveting. I vaguely remember the events of Tower;  I was almost five when Charles Whitman went up to the observation deck of the University of Texas Tower and started shooting people. It really did seem as though the world, and the country, was going crazy. Only a few weeks before the Texas Tower murders, Richard Speck raped and murdered eight nursing students in Chicago, and in retrospect, my mother’s paranoia about our safety–a young woman with two small children and a husband from the rural South living in the big city–really isn’t so surprising. There were also some horrible riots in Chicago in 1996, and of course, the riots in the wake of Dr. King’s murder in 1968 were still to come (in the wake of those riots, some of my father’s relatives who lived in Chicago packed up and moved back to Alabama). The Democratic National Convention was also in Chicago in 1968… and the Chicago Police Department’s brutality against the protestors documented by news cameras for the world to see.

Tower is incredibly powerful, and an interesting way to film a documentary. The filmmakers interviewed and spoke to the survivors, and then used filmed actors the right age to reenact what happened, then animating them, while interspersing actual film footage and photographs from the ninety-six minutes of pure hell the city of Austin, and the University of Texas, endured. What happened that day was horrifying enough, but reliving it through the personal stories of the survivors, and their memories of what happened that day, made it even more heartbreaking and moving. The documentary primarily focuses on the point of view of two of the police officers, one of the students who helped victims, another witness who watched it all happen through the windows of a nearby building (one of the most moving moments is when this woman, a young girl at the time, says, “This sort of thing is a defining moment. I stood there in the window, knowing there were people out there who needed help, but I was too afraid of being shot to do anything. That was when I knew I was a coward.”), the University bookstore manager who climbed the Tower with the three officers to take out Charles Whitman, but the two personal stories that moved me the most was the young paperboy who shouldn’t have even been there, but was filling in on the route for another boy, and had his young cousin riding on his bike with him when he was shot in the leg off his bicycle, and of course, Claire, one of the first victims, eight months pregnant and leaving the student union with her boyfriend, who was killed instantly. Claire’s baby was killed when she was shot in the abdomen, and she lay there, on the cement in front of the Tower, with her boyfriend lying dead near her, unable to move or get helped because anyone who went out there was in the line of fire, roasting on the hot cement in the heat of an August day in Austin. A young woman named Rita ran over to her, talked to her the entire time, lying on the ground near her, keeping her conscious and keeping her alive.

I cannot even imagine how horrible the ordeal must have been for her, or how she has lived with the memories of everything she lost that day for the rest of her life.

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Simply extraordinary.

I’ve almost finished reading Cleopatra’s Shadows–have maybe another hundred pages to go, and also made some serious progress on decluttering the apartment. I’ve decided that I am going to clean out the storage space–both the one over the laundry room as well as the rented one–and try to declutter the Lost Apartment as much as I can. I am only going to  keep research books, my children’s series collections, signed books by friends, and my Stephen King hardcovers. Anything else is going to be donated. If I had more time I might try to sell them on ebay or Amazon, but I just don’t have the time and I don’t want to mess with it, to be perfectly honest. So, every Saturday morning–or every morning when I have to work late–I am going to take boxes out of the storage places, go through them, and start donating. I feel very good about this decision, quite frankly.

I also intend to finish the outline of the WIP this week, as well as a second draft of “Quiet Desperation.”

Onward and upward, y’all.

Love Is All Around

Thunderstorms are in the forecast for today–of course, it’s the first weekend of Jazz Fest, and it always rains for Jazz Fest–and I have to make a grocery store run. I’m going to have another cup of coffee while I write this and then make a dash for the store. I slept fairly well last night, despite waking up around four in the morning but it only took me about another fifteen minutes before I fell back asleep. I have a lot of things I want to get done today, so hopefully the thunder and rain will help motivate me. Either that, or I’ll curl up with Cleopatra’s Shadows, which I am enjoying. And really, going to the store early on Sunday morning is the smart thing to do–because everyone is either getting ready for church or already there.

Paul and I watched the first episode of The Handmaid’s Tale last night, and my God, was it chilling. I finally read the book a few years ago, and like so many others, thought it was exquisitely written and thematically terrifying. I wasn’t sure how they would do it as a series, though, and I have to say, it’s riveting and terrifying, and not really hard to see how something like the repressive world of Gilead could happen in reality. Elisabeth Moss is definitely shaping up to be one of the best actresses of her generation, and her choices of roles–from Mad Men to Top of the Lake to this–certainly capture her range. We’ll keep watching, of course.

I drove up to Ponchatoula yesterday to pick Paul up; he’d gone up there on Thursday to visit our friends the Marshalls on the train. His birthday was Friday, so we weren’t together on his birthday, but really, after twenty-one years together (twenty-two on July 20th), things like birthdays don’t matter as much to us as they did when we were newly coupled. I know that probably sounds terrible, but my own birthday never mattered much to me–my family wasn’t big on things like that when I was a kid, and I learned early on that caring about my birthday and making a fuss about it always ended in disappointment, so I got over it very young–and I inevitably end up hurting people’s feelings because I just don’t see what a big deal it is. I also realize that makes me sound awful and uncaring, but I really do think birthdays are for kids.

Although it’s really interesting to reflect back on my life and see how I’ve learned to lower my expectations in order to avoid disappointments. It’s very self-defeating in some ways; I’m trying to learn not to be so self-deprecating about myself. There really is something to be said for daily affirmations, which I’ve started doing. Plus not having deadline pressure is helping me relax, and it’s nice being able to take the time to really evaluate and assess everything about my writing and my career and where I want to go with it in the  future. I was so busy writing for so long I never took the time to actually sit back and think about things, make plans, set goals, and figure out how to get there.

All right, I’d best get to the grocery store before the storms start.

Here’s a hunk to start your week:

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