I often talk about how my education in the classics is severely limited, and by that, I also mean the classics in the genres as well. There are any number of great writers whose works I’ve never read–and given the ticking clock of my life, most likely will never get to–and I’ve sometimes wondered if that has had a negative impact on my own writing, on my own work; the greatest writers always inspire, and perhaps if I took some time to read their work it would improve my own.
Donald E. Westlake is one of those authors; someone I always intended to get around to yet somehow never have. Several years ago I read his Hard Crime Classic The Comedy is Finished and loved it. I also knew that the Rob Byrnes caper novels I love so much (most recently Strange Bedfellows–you really should check the books out) were inspired by Westlake’s Dortmunder series, and at some point in the perhaps not so distant past I acquired a copy of the first Dortmunder, The Hot Rock (which I knew had been filmed in the 1970’s and the film starred Robert Redford; I should add the film to the Cynical 70’s Film Festival), and even more recently, I picked it up and started to read it.
I finished it Thanksgiving day.
Dortmunder blew his nose. “Warden,” he said, “you don’t know how much I appreciate the personal attention you been paying me.” There wasn’t anything to do with the Kleenex, so he just held it balled up in his fist.
Warden Oates gave him a brisk smile, got up from behind his desk, walked around to Dortmunder’s side, patted him on the arm, and said, “It’s the ones I can save that give me the most pleasure.” He was a latter day Civil Service type–college-trained, athletic, energetic, reformistic, idealistic, and chummy. Dortmunder hated him.
The warden said, “I’ll walk you to the gate, Dortmunder.”
“You don’t have to do that, Warden,” Dortmunder said. The Kleenex was colf and gooey against his palm.
I greatly enjoyed reading this book, and I will definitely come back to the Dortmunder series again. It’s a caper book–a heist novel–and while I wouldn’t call it a page-turner, it definitely held my interest and kept me reading–mainly because I was curious to see what would go wrong next. The premise of the novel–and apparently, the series–is that Dortmunder is a very professional criminal; he plans and plans and plans, takes every possibility of what could possibly go wrong into account, and so every job should go smoothly–but of course, what he never takes into consideration is how humans will respond, and so things will always go wrong.
The Hot Rock itself is an emerald, worth (at the time) half a million dollars, and Dortmunder is brought into a plan to steal it. It is a sacred stone to a small, impoverished African nation, and was, of course, looted from their country during its colonial period. It is going to be displayed at a museum in New York City, and so Dortmunder and his gang of skilled but not terribly bright criminals plan to steal it. But things go wrong…and it turns out the stone will need to be stolen from yet another location….and on and on and on, with each successive heist more dangerous, more over the top, and more difficult, with each time the stone gets routed incorrectly; among the other places it must be stolen from include a police station, a mental hospital, and a bank.
Great, great fun; a little bit dated, but still a great read.
And now it’s the day after the holiday, where Americans ignore all sanity and safety precautions and slam into stores long before sun-up for bargains and to get their Christmas shopping finished. I don’t know if this is actually happening this year or not–I flatly refuse to participate in the nonsense of greedy consumerism (the antithesis of the holiday they intend to celebrate) known as Black Friday; for years, this was the day I drove home to New Orleans from Kentucky. In these pandemic times, I have not bothered to find out what the retailers are planning or planned in terms of safety and so forth; there was no need for me to know, frankly, and at some point today I’ll go to some news sites and see the horrors that transpired for myself.
No thank you.
I finished reading The Hot Rock yesterday, which I enjoyed very much, and then moved on to Night of Camp David, by Fletcher Knebel, which is also interesting. Knebel–I don’t know if anyone else remembers him, but he used to write political thrillers back in the 60’s and 70’s (probably the best known work of his would be Seven Days in May, primarily because it was also made into a film, and the subject–the US and the USSR on the brink of nuclear war–was timely and always in the back of everyone’s mind, right up until the day the USSR collapsed). I’ve never been a big fan of political thrillers, to be honest–political fiction has never really interested me too much, primarily because the reality is too much like fiction as it is, and for another, so much world building to do, even if you simply take the US government and political system as it is and simply graft your story and characters onto it–even if you use the actual history as the history of your new world. Paul and I avoided The West Wing for years for this very reason–why get vested in a fictional world of American politics when the real world is right there in front of you all the time–but we discovered it one day when Bravo used to do the marathons all the time, and went back and watched it from the beginning, and it remains one of our favorite shows of all time.
So, it’s entirely possible I would thoroughly enjoy political thrillers after all–I’ve certainly enjoyed, or at least never minded, when thrillers (like those of Robert Ludlum) brushed up against reality or created their own fictional American political world.
Like I don’t have enough to read already, right?
I was reminded of Knebel and his work back sometime during the past four years, as some website (maybe Crime Reads?) did a piece on this particular book, which had returned to print, and focused on a president who was losing his sanity, and the only person who really was aware is the first term, junior senator from Iowa, whom the president has taken a liking to, and keeps inviting to Camp David for late night conversations where the president tells him his insane, Fascistic intentions for his second term. (Yeah, can’t imagine what triggered the publisher to bring this back into print, can you?) I had never read Knebel back in the day, but reading this piece made me curious, not only about this book but about Knebel in general. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival has also reminded me of the deeply cynical political fictions of the time (I really want to read The Manchurian Candidate)–so many thrillers set in or around politics back in the day–and, of course, conspiracy theories flourished. (The true heyday of the JFK conspiracy theories was clearly the 1970’s.)
All in all, yesterday was a highly enjoyable, relaxing day; today will be more of the same. Sure, I did some cleaning–I cleaned out two of my kitchen cabinets, reorganizing them to make them more functional–and of course i made a turkey roast in the slow cooker, which was quite marvelous. We finished watching season one of Mystery Road, which was quite good, and then moved on to the first three episodes of the HBO MAX series, The Flight Attendant, which was based on a Chris Bohjalian novel, and stars Kaley Cuoco of The Big Bang Theory in the lead. Cuoco is tremendously appealing and quite talented. Working the first class cabin on a flight to Bangkok, she becomes involved with one of her passengers, played by Michiel Huisman, and agrees to go to dinner with him in Bangkok. She blacks out during the evening–she’s an alcoholic and in severe denial about it–and wakes up next to his bloody, dead body (his throat was cut) and has absolutely zero memory of the evening before. It’s an interesting mystery, and as I said, Cuoco is terrific in the lead, and is surrounded by a terrific cast.
There really aren’t enough books–particularly crime thrillers–built around flight crews, frankly. I kept thinking about that last night as I watched; I have a short story in progress about a gay flight attendant called “The White Knuckler”, which I’ve never finished, and it also reminded me of how much I love the Vicki Barr Stewardess mystery series for kids.
So, what’s on the agenda for today? At some point I need to get to the gym, and of course the kitchen is in ruins. I am probably going to clean up the mess in the kitchen this morning, then move onto my easy chair to read some more, and then I am going to write all afternoon before going to the gym. Since we watched all the episodes of The Flight Attendant that are currently available–there won’t be a new one again until Thursday–we’re going to need to find something else to watch tonight to entertain us. Which can sometimes prove challenging, but there are worse things.
And it’s Thanksgiving, and a holiday! Huzzah for holidays! Thanksgiving isn’t really one of my favorites (other than the obligatory four day weekend that results; I wonder who had the brilliant idea to have the holiday fall on a Thursday instead of Friday in the first place? Give that person a Nobel Prize, please, even if it’s posthumous), but I’m really not much of a holiday person now, nor have I ever really been.
For me, it was always about time off–from school, from work, from responsibility–and now as an adult? I just appreciate paid time off from work, which is always welcomed.
I actually slept late this morning, too–almost all the way to nine thirty, without waking up once and looking at the clock and thinking oh go back to sleep for a bit. This is, obviously, unusual; I must have needed the rest, frankly, so I am not going to question it at all. I am taking the day off from everything guilt-free–it’s a goddamned holiday, so my guilt can just fuck right off–and in a moment, once this is finished, I am going to take my cappuccino into the living room and embrace The Hot Rock and some short stories.
I am making a turkey breast roast (that sounds just wrong) in the slow cooker today in a nod to the holiday–it’s a very simple recipe and then when it’s done I shred the meat with a fork, so it’s really pulled turkey–and yes, I make boxed stuffing because a) it’s perfectly edible and fine and b) if you use chicken broth instead of water, it’s even better. Plus, it’s easy. And the older I get, the more I embrace easy. (I still, however, will make a cheesecake from scratch because it’s so much better.)
I try not to engage much on Twitter–tempting as it may be, the amount of trolls there is truly amazing, and I certainly don’t have the time to bother with keyboard warrior trash– but at the same time, Twitter can be highly entertaining. (My standard rule of thumb for engagement is this: if I start writing an angry and/or snarky response to something someone has tweeted, I either report the original or block the person. It’s enormously cathartic.) I remember being riveted last Christmas, for example, by the massive meltdown of RWA (hard to believe we haven’t reached the one year anniversary of that, isn’t it?).
One of the most enjoyable things I’ve watched/read/scrolled through was the conservative reaction, led by Grifter Supreme Candace Owens, to Harry Styles appearing on the cover of Vogue in a dress. Harry, obviously, doesn’t have a fuck to give about pearl-clutching trash like Owens and her audience; it’s actually lovely to see such a handsome young man with a big career secure enough in his own masculinity to don a dress on a major fashion magazine cover–and it’s also historic, as he is the first male to ever grace a Vogue cover (something Owens herself will never do, but the thirst for it is fucking real). As RuPaul has famously said, “we’re all born naked and everything else is drag.” Fashion and styles change all the time–and it really wasn’t all that long ago that men wore make-up, wigs, heels, and tights. So, apparently, Owens doesn’t believe the Founding Fathers were masculine enough for her?
Anyway, it was thoroughly enjoyable watching her get dragged for the filth she is on Twitter. Like so many on the right (and let’s be honest–there are some on the left as well) she’s in it for the grift; being the go-to female black voice for the right is apparently lucrative enough for her–married to a white male whose own “masculinity”, as defined by the right, is questionable–to continue being a sideshow barker trying to stay relevant and keep the cash coming in.
And speaking of grifts, Ann Coulter certainly has become irrelevant, hasn’t she? (I am NOT complaining. Back in the day, I used to read her books–I used to read a lot of right wing polemics passing as non-fiction political tomes because I thought it was important to not only see what they were actually selling and saying, but to try to understand their position. All it did was convince me that they were sideshow hucksters hawking snake oil and grievance, so I abandoned that around 2003. And trust me, if you’ve read one Ann Coulter pack of lies from cover to cover, you don’t need to read any others.)
There’s only so much toxicity one brain can handle, frankly.
We started watching an Australian series on Acorn last night, Mystery Road, which stars Judy Davis and a lot of indigenous Australians (which is awesome); it’s interesting and entertaining, and I would imagine is going to have a lot to say about Australian racism and how the indigenous there are treated. Judy Davis is always marvelous in everything (I can never watch the Renee Zellweger Judy Garland film because I’ve already seen a definitive Judy Garland, and that was Judy Davis’), and the rest of the cast are quite good as well. The premise is very simply that two young man vanish in the middle of a wasteland–taken from their vehicle, with the doors left open and the motor running–and it also is taking a look at the community itself; I suspect the show is a slow burn. They also bring in police detective from elsewhere who is indigenous himself (played by Aaron Pederson). The two boys who disappear are a white backpacker and a local indigenous soccer hero; it’ll be interesting to see where the show goes. (I had to look up the actor, and apparently the second season is set elsewhere, with Pederson working with a new local cop in a different location)
I’m not sure how we’ll spend today, but whatever we do, it will be relaxing and chill.
It is Saturday and I am also on vacation for a week. Huzzah!
I have a lot to do, of course, as always, and of course, LSU is playing Arkansas today at eleven–how far the mighty have fallen, to be playing a Western division conference game at eleven in the morning on the SEC Network–so I will undoubtedly watch the game while reading, making notes on things I am working on, and trying to get caught up while not getting terribly saddened by the game and how it turns out.
But of course, as always, the intent behind this vacation is to get caught up on everything, which is no easy chore, believe you me. I need to whip the book into shape and get it rolling again; I need to finish a short story that has to be submitted by January 15th; the Lost Apartment is a disgusting pigsty that desperately needs to be deep-cleaned; and I’d love to be able to finish reading The Hot Rock as well as some other short stories. I also have a goal to relax and get rested, which will also be lovely.
I am sort of looking at the vacation as a kind of reboot, quite frankly; a time to snap out of the writing malaise I’ve been experiencing for the last few months and get back into my writing again. Getting caught up would be absolutely lovely, but as I always tend to be behind on everything…it doesn’t help that Louisiana and New Orleans history is so colorful and fascinating that I will often go down a major wormhole triggered by something I come across looking for something else–I spent several days in the wormhole created by having my curiosity aroused by the Mississippi River forts, for example, and came away from it with no story ideas other than an amorphous Sherlock Holmes story and perhaps something more recent, but again, amorphous and not much else. I spent a couple of days immersed in Cajun and Louisiana folklore, looking for something I could use for the Christmas horror story, only to come up relatively empty-handed. I have the opening for the story, still don’t know what the rest of the plot is, and am not convinced I chose the correct Cajun folk story/monster to use–which is part of the reason I decided to give up on trying to get the story finished by December 1st.
I also have a sink full of dishes and papers and files and books stacked everywhere. Not good, not good at all.
Yesterday Rex–the main krewe that still parades on Fat Tuesday, and whose “king” (Rex) is traditionally considered the King of Carnival, cancelled their ball and also announced that, with no ball and no parade this season, they will not be naming a King and Queen this year. This came as a surprise to me–let’s face it, few krewes are as conservative politically as either Rex or Comus (who chose not to parade once the city passed an ordnance not allowing krewes to discriminate in their memberships) so having Rex cancel its festivities is indicative of the seriousness of the pandemic, really. I know a lot of New Orleanian traditionalists were still holding out hope that parade season would happen, but with Rex making this stand you can be pretty certain that the party’s over for 2021. While this is obviously sad–who isn’t sad that Carnival isn’t going to happen?–it also means that 2022 Carnival will be epic and balls-to-the-wall; I also hate that the last Carnival was the cursed Carnival of 2020. The Historic New Orleans Collection has a great article about the thirteen times parades were cancelled over the 150 years or so we’ve been having Carnival here in New Orleans; naturally, now I am thinking about writing something during a cancelled Carnival of the past.
It’s weird when norms vanish, isn’t it? I would have never dreamed Carnival would ever be cancelled, and yet, here we are.
But will people still turn out in costume on Fat Tuesday? It’s still a holiday, after all, and I can, sadly, see people turning out to drink all day and celebrate.
I meant to read some short stories yesterday, even got started on reading one or two, but after I got home from the gym I wasn’t in the mood and so none of them took with me; I hope to do better with that today. I did make it to the gym last evening, and it was lovely. There’s still some tightness and muscle soreness in my back, but it’s not nearly as bad it was originally, and going to the gym actually made it seem better, to be honest. We watched an episode of The Mandalorian last night–this week’s not being one of the stronger episodes, although the story of the Child progressed a little bit (note to producers: more Giancarlo Esposito, please) and then I fell into a wormhole of Ten Minute History videos on Youtube before retiring for the evening. I do feel very well rested this morning, and not especially groggy; which should bode fairly well for the rest of my day. The lovely thing about this abbreviated and bizarre football season is I am not vested in it other than in watching LSU play; and with the game on early today I should be able to get plenty of things done today (in theory, at least); but seriously, if nothing else, I should be able to make progress on my reading.
And on that note, those dishes aren’t going to clean themselves, alas, so it’s time to mine spice. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.
And here comes Tuesday, sliding into your week like a runner stealing home base.
Yesterday was kind of nice; we had a mellow day at the clinic, and I wasn’t terribly tired; I am getting used to getting up early, which really isn’t an issue as long as I remember to go to bed at a decent hour every evening. I never really thought this 9 to 5ish existence would ever work for me, but here I am, enjoying getting home from work with most of my evening ahead of me to read, write, hang out with Paul and Scooter, and watch some television. I was bad about reading this weekend–which should not be blamed on what I am reading (Westlake’s The Hot Rock) but rather my own scatterbrain and inability to focus. The weekend was…well, it was a weekend, of course, and I did manage to get some cleaning and organizing done. I took next week off, hoping that I’d be able to go home to see the family for the holiday but that isn’t going to be happening, so instead I will be home in the Lost Apartment, and what a great opportunity this will be for me to get caught up on things–cleaning, filing, writing, reading– as long as I don’t fall into the always happens trap of I have nine days off total, I can goof off today, can’t I?
That’s how it always starts, you know.
But….there’s a call for submissions (very short notice) that I would like to write a story for–a “monsters wreck Christmas” themed one–and while ironically that is how “The Snow Globe” originally got started (a “war on Christmas” anthology), I did have more time to compose that story. I really do like this idea of monsters wrecking Christmas. I have two deeply sentimental Christmas stories in my archive that I might be able to adapt–although rereading them will undoubtedly be painful; these original first drafts were written in 1996–but I also have another fragment that could easily be turned into something fitting this theme: “The Pestilence Maiden.” That could actually be kind of fun. But fifteen days? That’s a very short period of time for me to brainstorm and come up with something and write it, polish it, turn it in….ah, what the hell. I’ll go forward with it; the worst thing they can do is reject it, and I can always retool/rework/revise it and sell it somewhere else.
It’s what writers do.
Plus, it puts pressure on me to get things done. And apparently, pressure is something I desperately need else nothing will ever get done.
And seriously–a quick Internet search of monsters, legends and folklore of Louisiana certainly brings up a plethora of possibilities…clearly, my collection of horror stories shouldn’t be Monsters of New Orleans but Monsters of Louisiana.
You really gotta love Louisiana folklore. Seriously. I went into a definite Internet wormhole of Louisiana folklore, tradition, and terrifying supernatural creatures last evening, even dragged out my copy of Gumbo Ya-Ya..there was nothing in it about the Fee Folay (in French, le feu follet), aka the Cajun Fairy, which lures unsuspecting Cajuns to their deaths in the swamps, but it does have some information on letiche–which is either the ghost of an unbaptized child or a child taken and raised by alligators. Rather than helping me narrow my thoughts down to a single story, I now have a veritable plethora of Louisiana horrors to choose from; alas, I have already done the most famous, the rougarou, in a story (aptly titled “Rougarou”). But yeah, all this made Monsters of Louisiana look like a definite possibility; I may even be able to do both Monsters of New Orleans and Monsters of Louisiana as separate volumes.
I’ve actually never read Gumbo Ya-Ya–it was recommended to me years ago as an essential piece of Louisiana reading, so I got a copy. I think it was shortly thereafter that I found out, or realized, that any histories or Louisiana subjects covered by any of the three authors of the book (Lyle Saxon, Robert Tallant, and Edward Dreyer) was at best suspect and at worst untrue; the authors were certainly ‘gentlemen of their time’ (aka deeply racist, not only in their thinking but in their writings); but it’s a nice place to start looking for information, as is their other works of New Orleans and/or Louisiana history.
I slept very well last night–we watched two episodes of Mr. Mercedes, and have only the first season finale left; Peacock insists that we pay to join if we want to watch the next season, and I really am not sure how I feel about buying another streaming service. Sure, there are things on Peacock I like (and secret: they’ve optioned a series by a friend of mine that I hope actually winds up being filmed and available), but I already am paying for so many other streaming services I don’t see how I can justify paying for another–and Hulu just let me know yesterday they are upping their price ten dollars per month. Of course, I could pay to join, finish the show, and then cancel after a month, which would be way cheaper than buying the series from either Prime or Apple…heavy sigh, I don’t know. Why is the cost of everything increasing but my salary isn’t?
Ah, well, and on that note–it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.
I did the windows yesterday, and it is literally amazing how I can forget between window cleanings what a difference it makes. It had been so long since I’d done it I need to do them again–it’s never easy getting all that caked on dirt and dust and debris off the glass, even when you do it weekly, as I used to do–but it’s a start.
I woke up early and feeling rested yesterday, which was absolutely lovely–and it was an absolutely lovely day in New Orleans, if a bit warm for mid-November. Did I get as much done as I needed and/or wanted to? Of course not. I did some other cleaning and straightening around the Lost Apartment; made some notes on some projects I am working on, and reread “The Snow Globe” to get a better idea of what I am dealing with on the revision, which I am going to get done today before I go to the gym. I’m also making the week’s to-do list, doing some other chores around the house, and feeling a lot better about things. Yes, I am behind on everything, but a little bit of focus and a little bit of desperation never hurt me, or anything I’ve worked on.
Rereading the story was, actually, something i’d been dreading doing; I always hate to reread something I’ve written, as I always tend to be highly critical and negative, and this story was no exception. I do love the story a lot–it was written to be submitted to a war on Christmas anthology and wasn’t accepted (the anthology never happened, either; long ugly story)–but it definitely needs some work. I originally came up with the story for a Halloween anthology, to be completely honest; there was a call for submissions, I think maybe from the Horror Writers’ Association, for stories with a Halloween theme. I distinctly remember reading the call and then an image popped into my head–me standing on the balcony at the Pub, looking down on Bourbon Street and the front doors of Oz, as a man in a devil costume came out; and he was hot as fuck; perfect body, body paint to make his skin red, and a skimpy red bikini, and thought Satan has a great six-pack, which I then made the opening line of the story. I believe at the time the story was called “All Hallow’s Eve” or something along those lines; but the story never made it past the opening paragraph. When the chance to write a story for the Christmas anthology came along, I remembered that opening and I remembered the joke I made on the Facebook post and thread about Christmas horror stories–I wanted to write about a Satanic snow globe–and immediately saw how to turn my unfinished Halloween story into a Christmas horror story called “The Snow Globe” merely by changing a single letter in the opening line: Santa had a great six-pack.
Voila! And the story began to flow. As I said, it was rejected from the anthology I wrote it for–and in the notes I got from the editors, which was lovely (one rarely gets notes on a rejected story) they basically told me I should have made it more than it was–which I had also thought about doing, but was afraid to–and so naturally, with that confirmation that the initial instincts I’d ignored from lack of confidence were, in fact, correct, I went back to the drawing board and revised it. And clearly, it needed one more revision. I have editorial notes on this story already, which I completely agree with, and I don’t know why–other than utter and sheer laziness–that I have not gone ahead and worked on this story to get it finished and out of the way. That is my goal for this morning–get the damne thing finished and be done with it–and then I can move back on to the book that has been stalled for weeks now.
Last night we watched a few more episodes of Mr. Mercedes, which finally introduced the character of Holly Gibney, who quickly became one of my favorite King characters–which was why I was so delighted she showed up in The Outsider–and so far the character is being played as she was written in the book, which is quite lovely. I think the show has padded/built up some things that I don’t remember from the book–but since I don’t remember them from the book, I am not entirely sure there were changes made. I just know I am deeply enjoying the show–it’s really a shame it hasn’t gotten as much success as it should have. (Maybe it did, I don’t know; but I rarely, if ever, heard anything about the show and there are three seasons…so there wasn’t a lot of social media buzz about it.)
The Saints play this afternoon–I think the game starts around three-ish, if I am not mistaken–and then of course there will be a new episode of The Undoing tonight. That should give me more than enough time to get this story finished, some chores done, and a trip to the gym for a workout. This is my fourth week since we rejoined the gym, and I am eminently proud that I have gone three days a week ever since. I can’t get over how much better I feel physically–the stretching really helps, too–and that correlates with how much better I’ve been sleeping. Who knew that exhaustion would help one sleep? (Sarcasm, don’t @ me)
I also read a few more chapters of The Hot Rock yesterday, which I am enjoying. Westlake’s style in this book is very reminiscent of Rob Byrnes’ brilliant caper novels (Straight Lies, Holy Rollers, Strange Bedfellows)–although since Westlake is the influence here, I should probably say I can see his influence on that unappreciated trilogy; it still kind of amazing to me that I’ve not read more Westlake (or Lawrence Block, for that matter), which is something I am going to need to rectify. (I’ve also never read Ed McBain, but I read some of his Evan Hunter novels.)
As I have often said, my education in crime fiction is a little lacking when it comes to the classics; I’ve not read all of Ross MacDonald or Raymond Chandler, for example, and I’ve also never read a Dick Francis novel either, for that matter. I think I’ve read a Nero Wolfe or two, but not many–although I have thought about using the trope of that series for a book of my own–the brilliant investigative mind who never leaves his/her house so needs a legman, from whose point of view the story is told–and there are any number of other classic crime fiction writers I’ve not cracked a spine on. But with new books I want to read being released all the time and being unable to even keep up with the canon of current writers whose work I love–not to mention all the new-to-me writers I keep discovering–there’s just simply no way I can ever read everything I want to read.
I’ve been doing some more research on Chlorine, recently reading Confidential Confidential, about the scandal rag of the 1950’s, and Montgomery Clift Queer Star, an academic treatise of multiple essays about reading Clift performances and films as queer, which was very interesting. Reading these two books also reminded me of something else that was going on in the time period which I wish to cover–red-baiting and the House Un-American Committee hearings; another period of America not living up to her ideals. It’s probably hard to explain to people who didn’t grow up, or were old enough, to remember the existential threat of the Soviet Union that had Americans seeing Communist spies and Communist infiltration everywhere; without an understanding of the highly paranoid state created by politicians and news outlets, neither the Korean nor Vietnam Wars would have most likely happened. That fear of Communism was also used by conservatives to gin up racial hatred as well as systemic discrimination against people of color and queer people–the queers were considered a national security threat because if you were queer and worked for the government in any capacity, you were thus opened up to blackmail by Communist agents. This was an actual thing, and I all too often see that key element left out of writings about the time, both fiction and non-fiction.
It would thus be wrong to leave Red-baiting out of Chlorine, which will mean more research. Heavy heaving sigh.
And on that note, the dryer just clicked off, so I should fold the clothes and get ready to get back to to work on the story. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.
I feel so much better that I’m almost afraid to trust it, frankly.
Last night I fell back into the Internet wormhole about the protective forts built to safeguard New Orleans years ago–there are more of them than you might think, and sadly, most of them are either unsafe to visit or hard-near-impossible to reach (Fort St. Philip particularly; only accessible by helicopter or boat). I’m thinking of debuting my fictional interest in Fort St. Philip in a short story–the idea came to me last night, and while it’s not fully formed, it’s there–but while making notes (as I did madly yesterday, and not just about Fort St. Philip but about the other forts protecting the city) it started coming together for me. We’ll see–I still have to work on the revisions of “The Snow Globe” and I still need to finish writing “A Dirge in the Dark”–and I am not entirely certain how one would define the story in the first place.
I slept really well again last night, which was lovely I am apparently adapting (at long last) to this “get up early” schedule, which is, while emotionally an unappealing thought, rather satisfying. I am hoping to be really productive today–have to go to the gym tonight after work–and then back to the story. We got caught up last night on this week’s episode of The Undoing, which I am finding more and more interesting with each episode–although my initial suspicion was the plot twist at the end of this week’s episode.
I’m feeling better now than I have in a very long time. I’m not entirely certain why that is–perhaps I am finally getting used to life in a pandemic? And while I am not entirely on board with the idea that I am used to life in a pandemic–it’s not something I think any of should have to get used to, intellectually–it is what it is, and I of all people need to get out of this weird stasis feeling I’ve had since March and get back to working on my writing and getting this apartment back under control. I also would like to get back into my reading groove; I’ve not read anything in novel form in quite some time and I really do need to get back into reading again. Reading always inspires me and helps get me into my writing groove, and The Hot Rock, cleverly written and intricately plotted, should prove inspiring.
I have several other books on hand that I am interested in getting to read soon–which I will not do until I am finished with The Hot Rock–including a reread of The Bad Seed, which I’ve not read since I was a teenager, in addition to an old Fletcher Knebel story, Night of Camp David, and I do want to reread Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages–and of course, there are short stories everywhere.
The LSU-Alabama game this weekend is in question because of COVID positivity amongst the LSU team; if the game is cancelled, it’s just going to be cancelled, as LSU is out of bye weeks and has already had to reschedule the Florida game, and there simply is no more time in this abbreviated schedule to reschedule this game. I am not saying this wouldn’t be an enormous relief for LSU fans, but the way they team is playing, and the way Alabama is playing this year–well, it would be an extremely excruciatingly painful experience for the team and fans. It’s already questionable whether I would inflict such pain on myself by watching–the collapse of the LSU program this season has already been horrific enough to witness–but what kind of fan would I be if I gave up on them? I never gave up on the Saints–even in 2005–so it would be wrong for me to bail on this benighted season.
Yesterday, the preview trailer for the Hulu series adaptation of The Hardy Boys dropped, and as expected, right on cue, all the “fan pages” I belong to on Facebook went insane. IN-fucking-sane. (However I always find the collective outrage of fevered fan boys and girls most amusing.) My personal favorite was the person who stated that he “hates adaptations that don’t follow the book(s) strictly”–which made me laugh out loud.
Um…has any book ever been filmed and adhered strictly to the original text? Outside of Rosemary’s Baby and a handful of others….yeah, he must not watch a lot of adaptations.
I really need to write a Scotty book about kids’ series fans.
Yesterday was quite marvelous. As a general rule, I refrain from talking about politics, primarily because I feel I don’t really need to; anyone who knows me knows where I stand. Anyone who has ever read one of my books knows my politics, or they do if they’ve read anything I’ve ever written–essay, blog, short story, etc.. I only talk about equality when I do talk about our country or our system; and my feelings about equality should make it abundantly clear that I am pretty far to the left, and move even further left the older I get. So, when the presidential election was finally called yesterday morning, I ran upstairs with tears in my eyes to tell Paul the great news, and I pretty much realized three hours later, after viewing as much of the celebrations and reading as many articles and so forth as I could in my thirst to make it finally all seem real to me, that I was going to get absolutely nothing done yesterday. And I didn’t, either. I didn’t cook anything, didn’t wash a dish, didn’t write a word; I didn’t read my book, I did nothing constructive at all other than joy-scroll through my social media. I watched football games that meant nothing to me, since LSU wasn’t playing–Indiana beat Michigan for the first time since the Reagan administration; Florida beat Georgia; Notre Dame beat Clemson–but it was all just background noise, really, as I kept going through social media and sometimes would switch over to the news while the games were on.
Could I really afford to take the day off and do nothing? Of course not, but I did precisely that very thing. I figured that since we won’t be electing the first biracial female vice president of the United States ever again, I was allowed to take the day off and bask in the knowledge that this was another historic election.
If someone would have told me, back when I was casting my first presidential election ballot back in 1980, that one day I would be voting for the first black man to become president (and doing it twice), and another day I’d be voting for the first black/Indian woman to become vice president, I would have laughed really hard, as such a thing was completely unimaginable back in those days. (Four years later, Geraldine Ferraro became the first major party female candidate for vice president; it would only take another twenty two years for another one to be a candidate, and another thirty-six years for one to actually win. And yes, much as I am loathe to give the loathsome Sarah Palin credit she does actually count as a historic nominee–even if she is now essentially a political pariah and yet another “Christian values” candidate whose marriage has crumbled into divorce. #Palinfamilyvalues.)
And watching the international celebrations of our election results was also a reminder that, no matter what anyone thinks, despite all of our flaws and mistakes and judgment errors, the rest of the world looks to us for leadership; and despite all the inequality built into our system by imperfect men who were well aware of their flaws and prejudices, we are what they aspire to–our political stability, our peaceful transitions of power, and yes, our freedoms. (Although when they think about our freedoms I rather seriously doubt the right to bear arms is at the top of their list…)
I’ve always believed that history was taught incorrectly; our history shouldn’t be taught as dates and places and battles–those are important, don’t get me wrong, but they are not as important as the progress, throughout history, of human rights and human freedoms. As for the battles and the wars, those should be seen through the prism of whether they pushed forward (or held back) human rights and freedoms. As interesting as kings and queens and emperors and tsars might be…what was life like under their rule? Did the people suffer, or did they prosper, or were they merely seen as sub-humans not really worth the divinely appointed King’s time or consideration?
Heavy thoughts on a Sunday morning. I need to get to the gym today, and I also need to make groceries–I don’t really need to get groceries, really–there’s only a few things we need and it could conceivably wait till next weekend–but I am all about getting things over and done with and out of the way. The Saints play later tonight–an evening game with the Buccaneers–and I’ll undoubtedly watch that until around ten, when I’ll need to go to bed to wake up in time for clinic tomorrow morning–but that also gives me this afternoon to try to get to all the things I never really got around to yesterday–Westlake’s The Hot Rock, any number of short stories that need writing, the book I should be writing, and lots and lots of cleaning–but I feel good today. I feel like I can breathe again. I also am aware the results of the election simply means the start of the great work required to right this ship–and it’s going to be a struggle–and there are going to be disappointments along the way, but I am going to allow myself to ride this wave of optimism and hope as long as I can….it’s been in far too short supply these last four years.
We finished watching The Murders at White House Farm last night, and it was really most marvelously done. There was also enough ambiguity left in the crime itself to leave the viewer wondering if justice truly was done–as is the case unless there are eyewitnesses or a confession–and this ambiguity is what makes these types of shows so interesting to watch for a crime writer. In our fictions, we cannot leave our readers with that kind of complex ambiguity–we can allow killers to go free, but the reader has to understand completely that there is a miscarriage of justice occurring. Most of criminal justice is shades of gray in reality; our fictions are allowed some shades but cannot be completely gray over all.
I did spend some time wondering about the short stories I am writing, and of course came up with the idea for another one, called “The Oracle on Orange Street” (Orange Street is one of those secret streets in New Orleans that only exist for a few blocks; it was named for the orange groves that lined it back in the day–the street I live on is another one of those, and so is Camp Place, which only exists for two blocks near Coliseum Square; Camp Place is the setting for another novel I want to write some day called Voices in an Empty Room) and while I am not certain what that story is actually going to be, I kind of would like to write about a psychic (yes, Scotty is also one, but I want to write about one who makes her living as one; I’ve considered resurrecting the psychic who told Scotty’s parents that he had the gift to be the lead character; Madame Xena. But, as I mentioned the other day, it’s really a matter of age. If Madama Xena was already a psychic with a good reputation when she spotted Scotty’s gift when he was a child…how old would she be now?), but on the other hand, I kind of also want to write about a phony psychic being used in a noir fashion to convince a believer of something that isn’t true…decisions, decisions. But I like that title, and at some point I’ll figure out who and what “The Oracle on Orange Street” is about and who she actually is as a person.
But for now, I will continue savoring that title. Hell, for that matter, Voices in an Empty Room is also a really good one.
I also spent some time wondering about the next Scotty book–I know, I know, finish the two you’re already writing–and trying to figure out how best to write about this accursed 2020 Carnival season. There are also some things left over from Royal Street Reveillon that will need resolving in this book, and then I have to deal (in the next one) with the pandemic. It also begs the question, can’t you just pretend in Scotty’s world that it never happened?
It’s an interesting possibility, but in some ways for me it feels like copping out; like not writing about Katrina, or having it happen in Scotty’s world was just too easy an out. I get that people may not want to remember what it was like, or relive the horrible experience of 2020, but on the other hand I don’t see how, as series writers, we can simply pretend it never happened. I recognize that my world is fictional, and therefore theoretically in “my” world I can simply decide “no pandemic” and it never happened in this particular alternate universe; I’ve certainly never mentioned the Afghan or Iraq wars in a Scotty book, or 9/11 either for that matter (although the PATRIOT Act and Homeland Security have come up, without explaining how they came to be in existence). There’s also some reluctance in actually tying a book to a certain year–although I did that with some of the earlier ones; after all, the Saints only won the Super Bowl for the first time one time–but again, sometimes when it comes to this sort of thing I am literally spinning my wheels and being indecisive because that leaves me in my inertia…always remember: a Greg at rest tends to stay at rest.
This morning my natural inclination is to blow off both the gym and making groceries, even though I know that neither is an option. The gym is only open until one today, and since the Saints game isn’t until much later, there’s no need for me to make the grocery run so early–gym first, groceries and gas up the car afterwards. I can spend the rest of the day writing or reading or playing intellectual games about my works in progress.
But last week I started feeling the old Gregalicious–the Type A one who gets a ridiculous amount done in a remarkably short period of time–starting to break through the cloud cover and start elbowing his way out to the front of my consciousness. This morning, I strongly feel like I can breathe and sleep and rest again….and soon I’ll be writing up a storm again.
And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and get this kitchen cleaned up before I head to the gym. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.
Well, it’s Saturday morning, how are you all doing out there? I am doing well–I cannot believe how much better I’ve been sleeping lately; I almost feel completely rested for the first time in I don’t know how long–and there’s no LSU game today. You know what that means, don’t you? That means a day to clean and write and get things done as much as humanly possible. I may even clean the windows this morning–crazier things have happened, of course, but there you go.
I made it to the gym for my third workout of the week last evening, and it was the first time I’ve gone where it was dark when I set out for the place and even darker when I walked home. There was an unusual occurrence as I walked there–I actually got cat-called by a woman in a car as she drove by while I waited on the corner for her to pass. It completely caught me off guard–and trust me, it’s been a very long time since anything like that has happened to me. As I said, it was a very pleasant surprise but I also don’t think it served as an indicator of dramatic changes and improvements to my body in the two weeks since I returned to the gym, but I will say I’ve noticed that my muscles are being kick-started up again to look better than they have been–taut rather than slack, if anything. When I was a trainer I always used to tell my clients that once you’ve built a good, strong muscular base that it’s much easier to get back to that after some time away from the weights–I did notice the other night while doing my bicep curls that my arms looked better, and the definition was coming back, which was lovely. The trick is going to be my storage of excess body fat around my middle, which, coupled with my enormous ribcage, tends to make me upper body barrel-shaped–and my narrow hips and pelvic girdle always ends up looking–because of the barrel shape–like I have no ass, which I absolutely hate and despise. And yes, while the entire point of going back to the gym is to be healthier, lower my cholesterol and blood pressure, and reduce my body fat percentage, the side effect of looking better physically certainly is working as a motivator–perhaps not as strong of one as back in the day, when I wanted to run around gay bars shirtless and attracting flirtatious attention, but it is a motivating factor.
I’m also enjoying wandering around the neighborhood on my walks to and from the gym; getting to know the neighborhood better that I’ve lived in for the better part of the last twenty-four years or so. There’s an absolutely fascinating house on Camp Street, hidden behind a church, that has its entire first floor porch (or gallery, or balcony; whatever you want to call it) hidden from the street and the sidewalk by a massive, thick hedge that reaches all the way up to the second floor balcony; it’s so thick you literally cannot even see that the lower floor porch/gallery is even there. Anyone sitting there is completely hidden from the sidewalk. Likewise, the gorgeous house on Coliseum Square owned by the actress Jennifer Coolidge is similar; the back yard and its fence is completely hidden by a towering, thick hedge and trees and enormous elephant ferns–so sitting in the back yard you would feel like you were sitting in a forest clearing rather than in the heart of a city, which is a very cool effect.
We are very much enjoying the second season of The Mandalorian, to the point where I honestly think the smartest thing Disney–and Lucasfilm–could have done was do these “meanwhile, somewhere else in the galaxy” movies and series to flesh out the skeletal structure of the universe as laid out in the Skywalker stories rather than continue the sad, twisted melodrama of the Skywalkers. I rather enjoyed the final trilogy when I saw them in the theater, and of the three films The Force Awakens is probably the strongest–it’s also the only one I’ve been able to watch more than twice. The more I watch The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker the more flawed the films seem; although I will argue The Last Jedi is not as bad a film as the fanboys screamed to the ends of the known universe it was. I think they listened too much to the fan complaints and thus rejiggered the script of the final film to the point where groundwork laid in the second was completely ignored or totally betrayed by the third. But The Mandalorian is quite marvelous, and it’s the highlight of our Fridays every week,
We are also watching The Murders at White House Farm on HBO MAX, which is quite good. Based on a true story about the mass murder of a family–in which it was originally thought the mentally ill daughter murdered her parents, her twin sons, and then herself–it’s remarkably well written and well-acted; the story also hinges on a chief inspector who simply accepts the evidence at face value and asks no questions, preferring to close the case as it seems without looking any deeper. This is a problem with police investigations, which we have seen, time and again, in true crime documentaries and books and weekly series: the police tend to come up with a theory of the crime and look only for evidence that supports that theory, even if it means ignoring other evidence that contradicts their theory. This should scare everyone, as it is a terrible flaw in police investigating; they are not necessarily looking for the truth and the actual criminal as they are looking for someone they can convict in court, regardless of whether they committed the crime or not.
If you don’t think that’s a serious problem for our justice system–although this series takes place in the UK, the statement still holds—then I don’t know what to tell you other than I hope it never happens to you.
I also hope to find some time–around the cleaning, writing, and organizing–to finish reading Westlake’s The Hot Rock. I also landed a copy of Lawrence Block’s first Burglar book–Burglars Can’t Be Choosers–and I am looking forward to being immersed in that. I’ve read one of his burglar novels before–I think it was The Burglar in the Library–and really liked it, so it only makes sense that if I intend to read the entire series I would go back to the very beginning. I should also get back to reading Elmore Leonard; it’s been years since I read anything of his and I know I greatly enjoyed the ones I did read (although I disagree with his writing advice that you should never start a novel or story by talking about the weather; I do it all the time. But then again, in New Orleans the weather is a very important part of the fabric of the city).
I also want to get some work done on short stories this weekend. I really do need to prioritize the novel, though. Decisions, decisions–there is so little time in which to get everything done (as well as have the necessary down time) that it will undoubtedly make me quite mad by the end of the year, when the book is finally due.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and perhaps today will see the end of the election.
Yes, it’s cardigan/sweater/light jacket weather in New Orleans again; autumn has fallen. And yes, I recognize our weather undoubtedly would feel like spring/early summer to some people–lows in the sixties, highs in the seventies–but this is a thirty degree drop from the dreadful days of August/September, and this year it lasted into October. There’s always been something unsettling to me about the fall season–as things wither and die, as the sun recedes and is only around for about nine hours per day, and the season of rest for the earth approaches–which is undoubtedly why All Hallows’ Eve was dated around that time of change; and why the ancients undoubtedly believed the veil between the worlds of the living and the dead was so thin at this time of year.
It’s also lovely because now it’s crockpot cooking weather, which I love–soups and chilis and meatballs with gravy! Yum!
I went to bed early last night, unable to continue watching the election results. I didn’t want to check this morning when I woke up, frankly, but one cannot live in denial forever. Obviously, there are no final results and it isn’t over, as I discovered as I woke up, but my pessimism remains firmly in place. I don’t like being proven right in these instances, but I deep down believed this was going to be close, with the possibility of the results not going the way I wanted and going the way I feared. It’s not quite as shocking to me as it might be to other white people; as a gay man, I’m quite used to being hated abstractly by a majority of Americans and having my rights considered, at best, unimportant and at worst not worth thinking about. I have seen the face of American white hatred and have, in fact, been dealing with it for most of my adult life–and it’s not just white Americans, either. There’s enough homophobia and transphobia out there for white Americans to share with people of color–it’s the one thing white Americans are willing to share with people of color.
But we survived the Reagan administration, when they were letting HIV/AIDS kill us–and not-so-secretly hoping it would kill all of us–and we survived the second Bush presidency, so if the worst comes to worst yet again, I am sure somehow we can survive another four years of this. Am I tired of it all? Yes, I am. Will I go on fighting? I have to, because what other choice do I have?
It’s very easy to give in to despair, which of course is what they want us to do. They want us to go quietly into that good night, disappear from public view, get swept back under the rug or securely locked back into our closets. But I do know I am not going to listen to any analysis; I am not interested in “understanding” the other side any more than they are interested in “understanding” me and my values and my beliefs. All I am interested in is the final results, and getting on with my life for as long as I can.
I worked on “A Dirge in the Dark” last night some, in bits and pieces here and there, because I couldn’t truly focus on anything for very long. I think the story is going to turn out really well, actually, which pleases me. I’ll try to spend some more time with it today and tonight, see if I can get that draft finished, and I also need to start working with Bury Me in Shadows again. I need to rouse myself from this stupor and start getting things taken care of again. That’s pretty much all I can do, and all of the negativity of the last year or so needs to be ignored, put away, shunted aside and locked up in a dark corner of my mind. I need to focus on me, and my career, and the things I have to get done; and not worry about things that are beyond my control.
I had also intended to go to the gym last night, but I was tired and got home late from the office. I decided to take the night off from working out and just go tonight when I get home from work; at least tomorrow I don’t have to get up at six in the morning, and then I can go on Friday and Sunday quite happily. There’s not an LSU game this weekend I don’t think, so I can spend all day Saturday cleaning and writing and reading–as I mentioned after the disappointment of last weekend’s LSU game, I no longer am vested in either the conference or national races, so I only have to watch LSU games and can ignore the rest of them quite happily while getting things done that I need to get done.
I want to finish reading The Hot Rock, and I also want to get back to both the Short Story Project as well as the Diversity Project. I feel like a lot of things have slid this year, and I need to snap out of this pandemic stupor and get back to being on top of things. There’s no telling when any of this might end, and I need to stop pinning thoughts on my mental bulletin board with post-its attached reading for when the pandemic is over. We’re going into month seven, with no end in sight, and I can’t keep pushing things back on my lists–no matter how much I want to.
I feel like this morning, in some ways, I’ve woken up, shaken off the malaise and stupor of the last year, and am seeing everything with a cold, dispassionate, clear eye. We shall see how long it lasts, of course–I know I’ll get tired again this afternoon, and run out of steam at some point, and of course going to the gym tonight will be exhausting–but might as well make some hay while I can.