Jack the Lad

And now it’s Tuesday.

Yesterday was a strangely low-energy day for me; it was kind of overcast all day and I never really did seem to kick into a higher gear at all.

I did manage to rewatch Body Heat last night, one of my all-time favorite movies, and am delighted to report that it does, indeed, hold up after forty years. And what a film. I saw it originally in the theater; drawn in by a great review I read in the paper that compared it to Double Indemnity, or said that it was loosely based on it, or something like that. I went by myself–I trained myself to go to see movies alone in my late teens–and it was a matinee so there weren’t many people there. I remember that opening shot, of William Hurt’s bare, sweaty back as he watched a fire in the distance from his bedroom window while his hook-up dressed behind him, sitting on the edge of the bed. I remember thinking how sexy he was, and once the character of Kathleen Turner appeared on screen, I also remember thinking how gorgeous she was, as well. I knew who she was–I knew her from her role as Nola on The Doctors, and I also knew she’d been fired from the show for being overweight….which was incredibly hard to believe as I watched her slink across the screen, saying my favorite line ever from a movie: “You’re not very smart, are you? I like that in a man.” I also knew she’d been replaced by Kim Zimmer–I knew all of this because flipping through the channels one day I stopped on The Doctors because Kim Zimmer was on screen and I thought to myself, she’s really pretty and kind of reminds me of Jane Elliott–who’d played my favorite character on General Hospital, Tracy Quartermaine–and at first I did think it was Jane Elliott. I used to read Soap Opera Digest in those days, and shortly thereafter they did a piece on Kim Zimmer, which was when I learned about Kathleen Turner. (Interestingly enough, there was a strong physical resemblance between Zimmer and Turner as well; Zimmer appeared in the film in a supporting role as well)

Body Heat blew me away that first time I saw it; I watched it again when it debuted on HBO, and I try to watch it again periodically. It showed up when I was searching through HBO MAX, and last night I thought, as I waited for Paul to come home, why not? It was very tightly written as well; although last night I spotted a couple of holes in the plot–but the cast was fantastic an it moves so quickly and inevitably to its climax that you don’t really have time to catch those holes until you’ve watched it numerous times. You also have a pre-Cheers Ted Danson as the assistant prosecutor who is a friend of Ned Racine, the low-rent shitty lawyer played by William Hurt, and a very young and beautiful Mickey Rourke as Freddy, the arsonist client of his who holds several keys to the plot in his sexy hands, and of course, both Hurt and Turner at the peak of their youth and beauty.

As I watched Body Heat again last night, something else about the film struck me: it was the first time I can recall seeing a film where the camera sexualized a man in the same way it usually sexualized a woman. Hurt was shirtless or naked at least half of the time he appeared on screen, and his body–which was, for the time, quite spectacular–was shot lovingly by the camera. One of the sexiest sequences I’ve ever seen on film was one shot, where Hurt’s hook up for the night is getting dressed and he is lying in bed, naked, with a sheet draped over his groin but his left leg is uncovered, and you can actually see his naked hip, and the curve of his ass on the bed; it’s an incredibly sexy shot, and not the kind of thing that was standard for a male in a film of the time. He was meant to be seen as sexy and hot; and I don’t remember ever seeing that before in a movie; men were usually considered to be hot and sexy by dint of just being male in movies…I could, of course, be wrong, but at least that’s how I remember it. And as the 80’s progressed, what I call the “gay male gaze” began to be used to shoot beautiful actors more regularly–think about how Rob Lowe was sexualized in almost every movie he made, and it became more of a regular thing.

Body Heat inspired me to start writing noir, quite frankly. I had already read some James M. Cain (Double Indemnity, The Postman Always Rings Twice, Mildred Pierce, Love’s Lovely Counterfeit), but as much as I loved his books it never occurred to me to start writing in that style. Body Heat, on the other hand, inspired a story I started writing called Sunburn (which was used by Laura Lippman as a title for her own noir homage to Cain a few years ago and is one of my favorite noirs), which eventually was retitled Spontaneous Combustion, and now sits in my files, waiting to be written. When I first moved to Tampa, and went for a drive along Bay Shore Boulevard, the big beautiful houses lining the road also inspired me; one in particular seemed the perfect locale for the story of the middle-aged wealthy widow who falls for a hot young man, which kicks off the story.

I’m reminded of that idea every time I watch Body Heat, and as I watched it last night, I thought about the noirs I want to write–a queer noir quintet–and as I write this I realize Spontaneous Combustion isn’t one of them.

Interesting. And on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

Good Hearted Woman

Thursday, and Parades Eve in New Orleans. I have to work tomorrow from 9-2 rather than my usual 12-5, so that I can get home in time to get a place to park before they close the streets and the hordes from the rest of the city and the outer parishes descend upon my neighborhood for beads and other throws.

The gym is going well, thanks for asking. I’m trying not to get anxious about not getting instant results (seriously, you’d think I of all people would  know better) but my sleep is improving–IMPORTANT–and I physically feel much better than I have in years. I am still trying to go slowly, pace myself, and work my way back into it better–I suspect my impatience is what led to the constant re-injuring of my back–and I am starting to feel better about myself in general. That has been a constant battle with myself my entire life, but now that I am on the fast, downward waterslide to sixty, I think I am finally finding some sort of inner peace with myself.

It may have only taken me nearly six decades, but I’m getting there. Better late than never, right?

I watched another twenty-five minutes of The Talented Mr.Ripley yesterday on the treadmill, and I have to say each additional scene I watch makes me appreciate the script and Matt Damon’s performance as Tom even more. This is the sequence of the film in which Tom finally snaps and kills Dickie on the boat–and while certainly I don’t think Dickie needed killing, I do think he was a pretty awful person. The film sets this up in ways that Highsmith did not in the novel–by establishing Dickie as a player with a roving eye; the creation of the local village girl, Silvana, that he’s having an affair with, who ends up killing herself when she finds herself pregnant (although on my initial two viewings, I thought it was implied that Dickie actually killed her rather than her killing herself); the women he’s constantly ogling and flirting with; Marge’s tolerant acceptance of Dickie’s many many flaws because she just sighs and says “well, that’s Dickie”, which essentially turns her into a doormat who doesn’t think she deserves better–which really hurts Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance–Dickie has led Tom on (certainly in Tom’s mind) and while this isn’t really established so much in the film as it was in the novel, Tom is lonely and looking for friends and love while being torn apart inside as to who he actually is; so Dickie’s turning on him and cruelty in finally telling him to go away is so nasty and vicious Tom strikes him with the oar to shut him up–which results in further rage on Dickie’s part and Tom finally has to finish him off.

I know watching this film, after reading the book, is what is driving me to write “Festival of the Redeemer”–instead of what I really should be doing.

Ugh, creative ADHD is the absolute WORST.

But I finally got stuck last night on “Festival”, which means I can put it aside now while i think about how I want to structure it better. I also realized yesterday that it’s not a short story, but it’s also not enough story to be a novel; so a novella it is. I also have a kind of subversive idea about it not being a linear story; flashing back and forth from the present to the past.  It’s hard to get into details about it without giving too much away, but that’s the nice thing about short stories and, I suppose, novellas: you can play with things like structure and form that you can’t get away with in a shorter story or might not actually work, so best not to try it in a novel first, because if it doesn’t work straightening out the mess is a lot more work. I am rather curious about trying out more novellas, frankly; primarily because, as I often like to remind myself, some of James M. Cain’s novels, like The Postman Always Rings Twice, were closer to novellas than novels.

All of this speculation, of course, keeps me from actually writing, you know.

I started watching a series on Netflix last night about the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman: The Rise of an Empire, which was pretty interesting. I got a little bored, frankly, in the second episode, but I’ve always been interested in the old Eastern Roman Empire (rebranded by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, but it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. Western European historians managed to try, and succeed, for the most part, to erase that history by teaching that the Roman Empire ended when Rome fell in the fifth century–but the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years until Constantinople fell in 1453. Westerners, attempting to claim themselves and their culture and civilization as the rightful heirs to Rome, began calling them the Byzantine Empire and referring to them as Greeks, but the Ottomans thought of them as the Romans. It was the Roman Empire. Lars Brownworth has done some wonderful histories of the eastern Roman empire and the history of the eastern Mediterranean; I highly recommend his work–he also appears with several other historians in the docuseries, which is a mixture of reenactment and documentary style filmmaking). The first episode was interesting, but my mind wandered during the second; so I shut it off about half-way through preparatory to going to bed.

So, here I am this morning with my first cup of coffee. The weather is supposed to be spectacular in New Orleans today and tomorrow–someone posted a picture of blooming flowers with the caption SPRING IN NEW ORLEANS and I wanted to comment um it’s February but then I realized, our spring IS in February and March and early April–and summer generally kicks into gear in late April and lasts till early October. This week has been hit-or-miss with rain and sunshine, but has been warm the entire time. I’ve not taken a jacket with me to work one day this week, and I’ve only carried my hats with me because my bald head gets cold in our building. (I forgot my hat yesterday and my head was cold all evening.)

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you later.

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Think of Laura

Zulu is passing now; I can hear the drums of the marching bands. It’s a gorgeous morning, the sun is shining and I am betting the crowds up at the Avenue are deep; they certainly were last night for Orpheus. Paul and I both have to work tomorrow, so we’re ending our Carnival early; taking today to rest and recover so we can hit the ground running on Ash Wednesday. I also have a lot of things to do today; emails to answer, things to write, things to edit, things to read, a kitchen to clean. Even though it was abbreviated this year (I was in Alabama for the first weekend of parades), I enjoyed every bit of Carnival this year; and am already melancholy to see it end as always.

I’ve also been enjoying the hell out of the Winter Olympics, and like millions of people worldwide I am–what’s the word kids use now? Oh yes–stanning Adam Rippon. As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve known of Adam long before these games; I remember when he had a mop of floppy curls; when gossip websites were pairing him and Ashley Wagner as a couple (I rolled my eyes every time I saw the photos), and I remember when he came out. I blogged about homophobia in figure skating a while back; when Adam came out while still on the Olympic eligible circuit I thought to myself you’re never going to win anything now; so I was pleasantly surprised to see him win US Nationals and make the world team in 2016; he missed last season with a broken foot, and this season he is full-on out: his short program is to gay club music, and his long program, as everyone saw the other night, is breathtaking. I’m so happy for both him and Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics that same night; they earned bronze medals as part of the team competition, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them–all of the Americans on the team, to be honest. Adam is so funny and refreshingly himself; a big personality and a natural wit he doesn’t try to hold back, and that honesty…I just can’t get enough. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his long program the other night; Paul and I both screamed when Mirai landed the triple axel. Seeing the trashy homophobes on Twitter trashing him or going after him makes my blood boil; I’ve resisted the urge to reply to them He’s got an Olympic medal and you’re a fifth-rate Twitter troll. Congratulations.

So. There’s that.

And in other news of the fabulous, the lucky world of readers can look forward to the upcoming release of a new Laura Lippman novel, Sunburn. I got an ARC at Bouchercon and read it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday back in October.

sunburn

It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him. Pink, peeling. The burn is two days old, he gauges. Earned on Friday, painful to the touch yesterday, today an itchy soreness that’s hard not to keep fingering, probing, as she’s doing right now in an absentminded way. The skin has started sloughing off, soon those narrow shoulders won’t be so tender. Why would a redhead well into her thirties make such a rookie mistake?

And why is she here, sitting on a barstool, forty-five miles inland, in a town where strangers seldom stop on a Sunday evening? Belleville is the kind of place where people are supposed to pass through and soon they won’t even do that. They’re building a big by-ass so the beach traffic won’t have to slow for the speed trap on the old Main Street. He saw the construction vehicles, idle on Sunday, on his way in. Places like this bar-slash-restaurant, the High-Ho, are probably going to lose what little business they have.

High-Ho. A misprint? Was it supposed to be Heigh-Ho? And if so, was it for the seven dwarfs, heading home from the mines at day’s end, or for the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset?  Neither one makes much sense for this place.

Nothing about this makes sense.

Laura Lippman has been one of my favorite writers since I read Baltimore Blues years and years ago. I tore through her Tess Monaghan series, and she very quickly became one of my buy in hardcover authors. I’ve never regretted making that switch, and as she has expanded her skills and pushed herself with her exceptionally brilliant stand alone novels, I’ve never once quibbled but I want another Tess novel! (I do, always, but the stand alones are so fucking fantastic that it doesn’t matter–I really just want a new Lippman, and wish she was on a yearly schedule rather than an eighteen month one.)

Laura’s career trajectory has been most impressive from a writing perspective; because as a writer of stand alones, she has gone from being a literary crime writer to a literary writer about crime, if that makes sense. Each of her stand alones are unique and different from the others; about as far removed from her series as any novels can be and still be by the same author. Each one of these novels are rare pearls, individual and vastly different from the others; different themes, different explorations, different everything. The one common thread that runs through these novels is that they are, for the most part, about women, and what women face in their lives; how they deal with crimes and tragedies that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Laura also regularly experiments with form and voice and tense; enormous, dangerous risks as a writer that she somehow always manages to pull off, make engaging and enjoyable, and always manages to tell a story that makes a very compelling point.

Sunburn,  her latest, is as different from anything she has done before as it could be unless she decided to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse; but she also brings her incredibly powerful sense of empathy to this tale of murder, vengeance, and oh-so-careful planning. The book opens with the main character, Polly Costello, walking away from her husband and child on a beach vacation and winding up in the hard-knock town of Belleville; she is being observed by Adam, who is being paid to keep an eye on her, follow her–but not to become obsessed by her, which is what happens. Their story is told in a very limited third person point of view, alternating between them, and as we slowly get to know them, watch their physical attraction expand and develop into something more, the questions remain: why did Polly walk away from her family and child? How could she do such a thing? Who is this enigmatic redheaded bar waitress?

And just how fucking good does Adam’s grilled cheese sandwich taste?

The prose in this book is lean; not an extra word to be found anywhere, and it is an homage of sorts to the kind of lean, tight, dark noir that the great James M. Cain wrote. (Cain is a hero of mine, and I have always wanted to write something that dark and lean and tight…ironically, one of the ideas I had for such a noir–gay, of course–was also titled Sunburn) I’ve seen, in some of the early reviews, comparisons to Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, which seem obvious; there’s an insurance scam buried deep in the plot, it’s set in a bar/diner, it’s about an unexpected, explosive attraction between a man and a woman; there are side plots that end in mysterious deaths… but if anything, I’d say Sunburn is more reminiscent of Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress than anything else.

The book is extraordinary, and probably Laura Lippman’s best work to date; that wisecracking, tight prose; a complicated and complex plot that grows even more complicated as you read another page; fully developed characters you can help but root for, even if their motivations aren’t exactly pure; and ultimately, the book is about a woman with everything stacked against her all of her life, who  never gives up, and makes plans…risky plans; where she gambles everything, including her own happiness and desire, for her future, yet is flexible and smart enough to always adapt.

Polly Costello is a heroine Cain would have been proud to call his own.