Moon & The Sky

The first Monday morning after Daylight Savings Time kicks in–or kicks out? I never can remember if we borrow an hour or return it–and it’s an exciting day ahead for one Gregalicious. (Isn’t every day an exciting day for one Gregalicious, really?) It is rather nice that it isn’t dark outside this morning for once, but at the same time it means it will be full dark when I leave the office every day now, which always feels oppressive for me. I think I am not a fan of the winter primarily because of the shortened days (the colder weather isn’t, despite my frequent harsh reactions to it, the worst thing; as long as there is no snow and ice I can live with it, frankly). I don’t like the darkness, never have; still feel uncomfortable in the dark, if I am not entirely afraid of the dark still.

The terrors of childhood are never truly outgrown, are they?

The Saints game was eminently disappointing–never fun to lose to Atlanta, especially the way the Saints did yesterday–but I did get the sense the team is getting there, starting to gel after losing the starting quarterback, Jameis Winston–so I don’t think the rest of the season is going to be a total wash. We may not make the play-offs this year (!!!) but you know, it’s the beginning of a new era for the Saints, the post-Drew Brees era, and there’s no telling what that’s going to be like. LSU is also going to be getting a new coaching staff for next season…and again, no telling where LSU is going to end up next year either.

I wound up getting a lot more organized yesterday than I was before this weekend, which is lovely. I got folders put away, counter surfaces and inboxes are emptied for the most part, and I am traveling tomorrow. I am going to New York for a few days and then Boston for the weekend; as I have already mentioned, this is my first non-family related travel since the pandemic started, and after everything I’ve seen on-line about airports and flights being disrupted by people who think rules don’t apply to them (a personal pet peeve of mine; the rules apply to everyone else why have rules in the first place?), but at least I have a non-stop flight so the chances of misconnections and lost luggage and all of those other things that make traveling an utter nightmare have been lowered substantially.

We started watching the new season of Big Mouth last night on Netflix–this show is so funny and honest and out-and-out blunt about puberty (clearly, it couldn’t be live action) and burgeoning sexuality (and masturbation) that it still amazes me that it gets made; it would have never aired on basic cable or the original networks. I feel rested after this weekend–perhaps it’s the extra hour and my body hasn’t adjusted yet–more rested than I’ve felt in a very long time. I didn’t get as much accomplished this weekend as I would have ultimately preferred, but that’s life and beyond my control. It’s not easy to either write or edit when traveling, but I am going to give it the old college try and see what I can done while on the road. Obviously, that is something I need to get better about going forward.

But I feel good, am excited about the trip, and just have to get through today. My flight tomorrow is later in the day, so I don’t have to deal with any of the crazed “last minute” packing and so forth; I can leisurely check the weather in both places, figure out what I need to pack, make a list (the crazed list-maker never stops, apparently), and then carefully pack so as to be certain that nothing is left behind (a bigger and bigger fear the older I get, sadly) and then get up tomorrow and slowly get ready for the departure. I have an errand I must run tomorrow before heading for the airport, and there are some things around the house I need to get done before finally heading on my way out. It’s going to be weird traveling again–I did fly up to Kentucky earlier this year, but that now seems like it was an eternity ago–but I will have my phone and a book; I am taking These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall, Invisible City by Julia Dahl, Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, and a Donna Andrews with me (not sure which Andrews; I am several books behind and desperately need to get caught up on them), which definitely should take care of my reading at the airport, on the trains, and on the planes. It will also help me fall asleep at night as well in strange hotels–I never sleep well in hotels, not sure what that’s about, but it has everything to do with it not being my own bed because I experience this everywhere–and I am looking forward to engaging with these books; it’s been a while since I’ve read a book through.

I reread Stephen King’s short story “One for the Road” from Night Shift yesterday, which, like “Jerusalem’s Lot,” is about the town from ‘salem’s Lot; this story clearly takes place after the events of the novel, so the two stories are book-ends for it–the former story being set over a hundred years in the past and explains how the town became basically cursed; the other being here we are a few years later when the town has become abandoned again. I’ve always wanted King to write a sequel to this book–it’s actually one of the few that kind of cries out for a sequel, as opposed to The Talisman and The Shining, which are the books he wrote sequels to; I know I read somewhere that he had the idea already of how to open such a sequel, and in all honesty it really whetted my appetite to read it. (‘salem’s Lot will always be one of my favorite Kings, if not my absolute favorite)

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check with you later.

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Come Back…Be Here

And now it’s Thursday, and we’re sliding into the weekend slowly but surely. I’m just keeping my head down and doing what I need to get through what’s left of my life, frankly. I’m actually, as I near sixty, really grateful for being a gay American, particularly this week–because it means I am used to being disappointed in, and by, my fellow Americans.

I’ve always believed that more Americans than not would be perfectly happy if all queers were put in camps–and would be okay with people of color joining us there. I started writing a book about that very thing back in the early 1990’s–There Comes a Tide was what I called it, which is a great title I should repurpose, as I doubt I will ever write the book–which led me to study the rise of Nazism in Germany, which I knew about but not in any kind of depth. It was really a strange experience–but one I would recommend…because it put me into a mindset of looking around at my friends and family and co-workers and wondering, if they came for the queers, who would avert their eyes? Who would pretend it wasn’t happening? And who would do and/or say something? Who could I count on to hide me?

It was, quite frankly, a horrible exercise in cynicism, human nature and brutal honesty…and I also began, at the same time, to understand why the movie Cabaret was actually so fucking brilliant, and that Bob Fosse was, after all, a genius–something I recognize more and more every time I watch the film again. (Maybe it’s time for yet another rewatch, and it definitely would fit into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival…hmmm. Definitely worth a second thought for sure.) I also want to watch more of Fosse’s films–I don’t think I’ve ever seen All That Jazz all the way through, and there’s also Lenny and Star 80….hmmm some more.

I did make it to the gym last evening after work and it was quite marvelous. I was definitely too cranky, wound up and tired to go Tuesday–and while I did worry that not going was the first step onto that slippery slope of “blow it off once, you’re much more likely to blow it off twice”, I did manage to not only go after work last night, I actually enjoyed it, felt tremendous after I went, and I kind of liked the walk through the neighborhood in the dark. It was a lovely cool evening, and when I walked past Coliseum Square a “piano truck” had parked there along Race Street, and while I did leave my headphones in, I thought it was kind of charming that a freelance pianist was set up in the park. I am still amazed at how much better I feel now that I am working out again–it eases my stress, releases tension in my back and other muscles, and the stretching is simply marvelous. I’m still getting used to my new gym–seeing new people, using new machines that are slightly different from any I’ve used before, and everyone there seems really nice–but it still doesn’t feel like my gym yet; but then we belonged to St. Charles Athletic Club for seventeen years, which is an incredibly long time to belong to a gym. But then again, when you’re pushing sixty, there are any number of things you’ve been doing routinely for a very long time.

I did work on “Condos, for Sale or Rent” for a hot minute last night as well before repairing to the easy chair–I’ve become addicted to a series of Youtube videos called Lost in Adaptation, where the narrator (Dom, a British guy) compares novels to the film adaptations, including “what they kept” and “what they changed.” (My personal favorite with the David Lynch Dune vs. the novel; suffice it to say Dom found the film as ludicrous and silly an adaptation as I did. He also did good ones for Rebecca, Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief, The Bad Seed, and The Shining.)

I slept deeply and well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is great. While the election still isn’t quite yet over, I’ve reached a kind of zen-like state about the entire thing, and I find that, once again, I was carrying a lot of electoral stress in my subconscious and in my back. I feel a lot more like myself now–indeed, yesterday and today both–like I’ve finally found myself again. There are still some things that I need to handle, but I am feeling better about them–and like I can get everything done that I need to get done, which is an absolutely lovely feeling, quite frankly. This has seriously been quite the year–and that is the definition of understatement, I think. Yeesh, Carnival certainly seems like it was a million years or so ago, doesn’t it? Granted, it was also the “Carnival of Death,” with two major parades ending early after floats killed people (!), which kind of should have let us all know that it was going to be a shit-show of a year; when Carnival sucks and isn’t fun….that should be the indicator that we all need to keep our heads down and try not to attract much attention and just try to endure it all. Granted, there’s still two nearly full months of 2020 to go, of course, and there’s still plenty of time left for sucker punches and cheap shots and low blows from this annus horribilis.

A most unpleasant but highly likely possibility.

Today is a work at home day for me, and I am debating what to watch during the condom packing part of my day. I’m going to check to see if Coppola’s 1974 film The Conversation (over-shadowed completely by being released in the same year as The Godfather Part II) is available to stream anywhere–I think it may be on Amazon Prime–and I also have to get my checking account straightened out at some point today; but I also don’t have to leave the house today if I don’t choose–and I am thinking I do not choose. I have stuff to make for dinner, and I can hold off groceries until Saturday, methinks. I really feel this morning that not going outside the house–other than to take out the trash and/or get the mail and/or go to the gym–until Saturday is optimal. I’m just really not in the mood for people, to be honest, and I like this rested feeling I am experiencing this morning.

And now to tackle the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone.

Violence

So I had a new and interesting experience yesterday: a mammogram.

Yes, that’s correct, I said a mammogram. I’ve had a lump in my right pectoral for years now, and two others just below. I had asked my doctor about them several times over the years during routine exams, but they always kind of blew it off, saying it was nothing to worry about, and so I never did…although, occasionally during Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’d touch it thoughtfully, and wonder. As I said, this last time when I went to for my check-up, and she was so relentlessly thorough, she came across it while examining me and said, “How long has that been there?” and I replied, “well, a long time, frankly. I’ve always been told not to worry about it.” She frowned back at me. “Well, if it hasn’t grown or been painful, it’s probably just a fatty cyst, which is a genetic thing and nothing to worry about, but by the look on your face you’d prefer to know for sure, wouldn’t you?”

And so the mammogram was yesterday. And it was precisely that, a fatty cyst which is genetic (note to self: thank parents for that, along with tendency for high cholesterol and high blood pressure), and not only that–there were two more in my left pectoral I wasn’t even aware of. They aren’t harmful or dangerous in any way, and I was advised against having them removed–“it just leaves an ugly scar, and no one will ever notice them unless they fondle your chest”–and so made the decision not to bother with them. And yet–I felt an enormous relief when the radiologist told me all of this, so clearly on some levels it was stress and worry I was retaining.

As we tell our clients at Crescent Care, you really need to advocate for yourself. Going forward, I am not going to let my doctors with their silly medical degrees pooh-pooh a concern that is actually very real to me. There’s no reason I couldn’t have had this subconscious worry put to rest years ago. Lesson learned.

And now I can officially tell you, Constant Reader, that I have placed another short story! “The Snow Globe” will be this coming year in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder, edited by Barb Goffman, Donna Andrews, and Marcia Talley. I am quite thrilled by this–as I always am whenever I place a story somewhere–and have had to sit on the news for a few days before the official announcement. I still have two out on submission that are pending, but I’m having a fairly lovely year when it comes to placing short stories thus far. “The Snow Globe” has an interesting genesis; a thread on a friend’s wall about Hallmark Christmas Movies and an enchanted snow globe that featured in one, and I commented “I’d be more interested if it were CURSED”, and this was around the same time a publisher was doing a War on Christmas anthology, so I decided to write about a cursed snow globe for it. I messed up the story on that iteration; the notes I got with the rejection note showed me that I had, indeed, made the wrong decision with the story (which I had suspected) and so even though it wasn’t being included (that anthology would up not happening, either), I went ahead and revised it based on those notes and changed it to the way I had originally thought it should be before I second-guessed myself and changed it. And now it has found a home.

The funny part is the opening line was actually lifted from an idea I had for a Halloween story for an anthology the Horror Writers Association was doing (I never wrote this story). One night, years ago, I was standing on the balcony at the Pub/Parade during Halloween weekend (in my usual slutty whatever costume; my costume default always involved slutty in the title and involved lots of exposed skin) and someone came out of Oz across the street as Satan–horns and a wig and goat legs, but also a bare torso body painted red–and I thought, wow, Satan has a great six pack and laughed, thinking that’s a great opening line for a story. I was going to use it for my Halloween story, along with the Gates of Guinee; I never wrote the story, but when I was figuring out my cursed snow globe story, I thought, You know, “Santa has a great six-pack” is also a great opening line, and you can work Guinee into this, and thus “The Snow Globe” was born.

And yes, it’s a story about a gay man placed in a mainstream anthology, which pleases me even more. (I mean, an opening line like that would have to be the start of a story about a gay man, wouldn’t it?)

I watched two movies while making condom packs yesterday: 2001 A Space Odyssey and Altered States, which, while they may not seem similar at first glance, after watching them they kind of are. I’ve never really been a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick (I hated his version of The Shining; Barry Lyndon was probably the most boring film ever made; and while I enjoy A Clockwork Orange…it’s not something I’d care to watch again, frankly), and when I watched 2001 for the first time, years ago, when it debuted on television, all I could think was I don’t understand this movie at all. I went on to read the book, by Arthur C. Clarke (who co-wrote the screenplay with Kubrick), which sort of explained what was happening better, but it wasn’t until I saw and read the sequel, 2010, that it all began to make sense. Visually and sound-wise, it’s an exceptional film, particularly for when it was made; no science fiction space movie had looked so realistic before, and would Star Wars have been possible without 2001? But as with other Kubrick films I’ve seen, the acting wasn’t terrific (although Keir Dullea is stunningly gorgeous to look at; he came to the Tennessee Williams Festival a few years ago, and has aged spectacularly well), and there was a distinct coldness to the movie, a distance that I felt was deliberate–to show how vast and empty and cold space is. It was also kind of funny in that the flight out to the Moon in the beginning was a Pan American flight, and on the station there was a Howard Johnson’s restaurant; they had no way of knowing that either, at the time the movie was made, would be no longer in business by the actual year 2001. It was also interesting that women were still in subservient roles in this fantasy 2001, except in the case of the Soviets (also no way of knowing there would be no Soviet Union by the actual year 2001); which always makes futuristic films interesting time capsules once the future they depict has come and gone in actuality. The basic plot of the movie–sandwiched in between the strange appearances of the monolith at the dawn of mankind and encountered again at the end by Dave–is a horror/suspense tale, told unemotionally and rather coldly–about the malfunction of the computer, HAL 9000, who controls the spaceship and begins trying to kill the astronauts aboard, which undoubtedly also influenced Alien.

Altered States is a Ken Russell film, starring a very young William Hurt and Blair Brown. Hurt is still in the full flush of youthful male beauty, and like in his other early films I’ve watched lately (Eyewitness, Body Heat) his body and looks are highly sexualized; he’s naked a lot in this, and there’s even a brief view of his penis in one shot, which I am sure was quite shocking for the time. Like Kubrick, I’ve never been a particular fan of Ken Russell as an auteur; Altered States is a deeply flawed film that could have been so much more. Hurt and Brown play highly educated academics at the top of their field who eventually become professors at Harvard. Hurt is primarily interested in his field of research; he believes that in a heightened sense of consciousness, one can tap into the millions of years of human development that is locked into our brains and DNA. He is conducting experiments into altered consciousness in the beginning of the movie, by putting himself into a sensory deprivation tank (remember those?), which is part and parcel of the times in which the film was made. Eventually, he discovers there’s a remote native tribe in the mountains of Mexico that still performs, and lives in the same manner, as their Toltec ancestors; they also have visions and regress when taking a type of brew made from a certain kind of mushroom only grown where they live during a mystical ritual. (Interesting aside: Greek actor Thaao Penghlis, who gained fame playing Tony DiMera for decades on Days of Our Lives, plays the Mexican anthropologist who not only tells Hurt about this tribe, but takes him there–because he was dark-skinned with dark eyes and dark hair, of course he was convincingly “Mexican” to play the part) As expected, things go terribly wrong and he becomes more and more obsessed; by taking the drug concoction made by this tribe while using a sensory deprivation tank he is able to unlock primordial memory as well as regress physically as well, until his friends intervene and his love for Brown somehow manage a strangely weird happily ever after. It’s really just another film warning about the hubris of scientists and playing God, in the long line of tradition dating back to Shelley’s Frankenstein and Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Blair Brown is also naked a lot, for no apparent reason other than to show off her body, and it was, as I said, flawed. But the climactic scene where he changes again physically and has to fight off regressing to early man is also reminiscent of both the beginning and end of 2001–which shows the birth of mankind and intelligence, and how Dave (Keir Dullea) becomes, thanks to the strange monolith, also regresses and changes and evolves, into what was called the Starchild. (You really have to read or watch–or both–2010 for any of that to make sense.)

We also continue to watch Babylon Berlin with great enjoyment; we have but one more episode to go in Season 1.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Carrie

Saturday morning and yet another, amazing night’s sleep. I didn’t get up until ten this morning! That’s like two days in a row, and I could have easily stayed in bed had I not realized that I will eventually have to start getting up early again and going to work next week. Tomorrow I’m going to set my alarm and get up around eight or nine, just to get back into the habit.

I’ve also reached the point where I am no longer sad not to be at Bouchercon this weekend anymore. I think I just finally got numb, stopped feeling sorry for myself, and started being happy for my friends and glad they’re having a great time over there. After all, there’s no point in being sad, really–it doesn’t make anything better, does it?–and there’s really no sense in being sad or upset over things you have no control over. Those are the things you just have to accept.

You don’t have to like them, though.

Last night we binged the rest of the available episodes of Castle Rock, and Lizzy Kaplan is just killing it as Annie Wilkes. She should at least get an Emmy nod for the performance; I won’t go out on a limb and say she should win since there are so many incredible television shows and performances out there now, between all the streaming services and so forth. This truly is an extraordinary time for television shows. I love that the writers have dragged Jerusalem’s Lot and the Marsten House into this season; there’s something strange going on in the basement of the Marsten House but we aren’t really sure what it is yet…this season is making me want to revisit Stephen King’s work, which is precisely what I don’t need to do; my TBR pile is massive enough as it is without going back and rereading some of my favorite Stephen Kings. Over the last year or so I’ve reread Pet Sematary, The Shining, and ‘salem’s Lot as it is; I’d love to reread Firestarter before reading The Institute–which I think is going to be my Thanksgiving week treat.

I think my next read–after a careful examination of my bookshelves, is going to be Richard Stark’s The Hunter. Stark of course is one of Donald Westlake’s pseudonyms, and my education in Westlake (and Lawrence Block, while we’re at it) is sadly lacking. I also never read the Ed McBain novels (but I did read Evan Hunter when I was in my twenties). As I said, my education is classic crime writers of the 20th century has been sadly neglected; and I’d also like to read Ross Macdonald’s stand alones, and I’d love to immerse myself in a reread of the John D. Macdonald’s Travis McGee novels (and finish reading through his stand alones as well). I also need to finish the canons of Margaret Millar and Charlotte Armstrong and Dorothy B. Hughes.

And of course, there are all those wonderful writers of color I need to read. And queer crime writers. And…

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to finish reading  Certain Dark Things by Silvia Moreno-Garcia yesterday, and I enjoyed it tremendously. It was a very different approach to a vampire novel, and while I don’t know that I would necessarily classify it as a horror novel–not all vampire novels are horror novels–it really is quite good. It’s more suspenseful and, much as I hate to say it, it’s almost closer to a crime/suspense novel with paranormal elements than it is a horror novel. I do highly recommend it–I’ll write an entry about it at some point this weekend, perhaps even later today–and it’s precisely the kind of novel that is needed to reinvigorate the horror genre. I’ve been saying for quite some time that it’s the so-called minority writers (writers of color, queer writers) who are currently injecting new blood into, and revitalizing the crime genre–I would say that’s also the case with horror. The problem with genre fiction is that it tends to stagnate periodically and become repetitive and somewhat stale, until something comes along, shakes it up, and turns it upside down. The rise of the hardboiled female private eye novel in the 1980’s was the kick in the pants crime needed to breathe new life into a genre that was getting a bit stale; I think it’s the marginalized writers who are doing it now.

Look at me, generalizing about horror–a genre I am hardly expert in. As I always say, I’m just a fan with horror.

But I am hardly an expert in crime fiction, either. There are positively libraries of things I don’t know about crime fiction.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely day. Constant Reader.

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Causing a Commotion

Last Saturday, as you may know, the Hard Rock Hotel, currently under construction at the corner of Rampart and Canal Street in the French Quarter, collapsed. Today, they are going to set off some controlled explosions to bring down the damaged cranes, which are no longer attached to the construction and present a clear and present danger to the area. Many of the businesses in a very large radius from the construction site are closed until further notice, causing the businesses and their employees financial hardship.

Several people were also killed as a result of the collapse.

I no longer drive to and from work on Rampart Street–we moved into new offices for the day job last November; it’s much easier for me to get on the Interstate coming and going to work now–but I pretty much made that drive every day from 2005 through last November, other than the years the street was torn up in order to resurface it as well as put in the Rampart/St. Claude streetcar line. The construction site was where the Canal Street Woolworth’s was for decades; the very Woolworth’s whose lunch counter was protested during the Civil Rights era because it was segregated. I always hated that the Woolworth’s closed and was torn down, because I felt that it was of no little historic significance; particularly at a time when the Confederate monuments still polluted the city.  But Woolworth’s is no longer in existence, and what else to do with a prime real estate lot that wasn’t being used? There’s already a Hard Rock Hotel on Bourbon Street, but this complex was going to be much larger and was, I think, going to house a Hard Rock nightclub, if I’m not mistaken–because a nightclub at that corner is precisely what the city needed (eye roll).

The construction collapse also exposed some typical New Orleans corruption; the contractor is allegedly shady and has an apparently well-earned bad reputation on every level. There was also some bribery going on, and someone at City Hall, who was signing off on permits, and safety inspections that weren’t being done, was also arrested this week. I am very curious as to what that is going to mean for the future of the Hard Rock Hotel; even if they hire a reputable contractor, I would imagine everything already built will need to come down and be rebuilt; and how do you recover your reputation from that?

It will be interesting, and of course, I am thinking there’s a book or a story in this somewhere. I’ve already created a shady contractor in New Orleans, by the name of Sam Dreher, in Royal Street Reveillon; I can certainly use that character again, and who knows? French Quarter Flambeaux just might make a terrific Scotty novel.

It’s hard to imagine, though, at this point how the Hard Rock Hotel can continue to be built–I would imagine it would have to be torn down completely and started over, but what do I know? I am neither an engineer nor an architect. But I would also think it would be hard to get past the fact that several people died in a construction disaster while it was being built; here is the perfect set up for a French Quarter horror novel about a haunted hotel, don’t you think? One that is cursed with death and tragedy; similar to the Overlook in The Shining.

Interesting.

This also reminds me that Arthur Hailey’s bestselling novel Hotel, which was adapted into a television series in the 1980’s (it came on after Dynasty), was also set in New Orleans; the St. Gregory Hotel in the novel was on Common Street in the CBD, one block from the French Quarter–a grand old hotel of the city (the television show moved the setting to San Francisco; which I still think was a mistake. An anthology television series along the lines of a more serious The Love Boat, set in a hotel with guest stars every week playing out individual stories as they visit the hotel, to me, would work better in New Orleans than San Francisco; then again, I may be biased heavily) in desperate need of some financial investment.  Hailey, who is not so remembered today, was a huge bestseller of his time, and he wrote sprawling novels about industries, and the people who worked in them, and the people who got involved with said industry somehow; with the stories all intermingled. He also wrote Airport, which became one of the first disaster movies, and eventually a series of sequels about plane disasters; he also co-wrote the novel Runway Zero-Eight, also filmed–and that film was what Airplane! spoofed. He wrote about banks (The Moneychangers), hospitals (The Final Diagnosis), power companies (Overload), drug companies (Strong Medicine), car companies (Wheels), and news broadcasts (The Evening News). He also wrote a political thriller, In High Places, which was one of the most thoughtful cold war thrillers; it was written from the perspective of the Canadian government, negotiating desperately with the United States since the skies over Canada were going to be the battleground between the US and the Soviet Union.

I reread Airport after I actually went to work at an airport, and have to say, Hailey’s research was excellent; he really captured the behind-the-scenes activity of an airport impacted by a blizzard perfectly. Likewise, I read The Moneychangers when I was working at a bank–he actually researched Bank of America for the book, which is where I worked–and again, spot on.

Now I’m thinking about rereading Hotel, if only to see how it was done, and how he depicted New Orleans in the 1960’s.

Anyway. I’ll continue to follow the story of the Hard Rock Hotel collapse, and see where it goes, and maybe–just maybe–it could be the basis for something. As you can see, I’ve already had any number of ideas spring from the incident…as always.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Little Jeannie

We made it to Wednesday, Constant Reader! Huzzah!  Today is my eight hour day (after two twelves) and the rest of the week is half-days. I am always so grateful when Wednesday morning rolls around, because I survived the two long days at the beginning of the week yet again. Both nights–Sunday and Monday–were bad sleep nights; that awful half-sleep where the entire time you know if you open your eyes you’ll be awake–but last night’s sleep was absolutely lovely. I didn’t want to get out of bed this morning, but alas, there is no rest for the wicked.

I didn’t get as much done on the book yesterday as I would have liked; I was, as I said, very tired by the time I got home from work and as such, was too tired to critically read my own work (trust me, there are days when I’d rather drink bleach than read something I’ve written). So, instead we watched an episode of Homecoming, around which I scrolled through social media, waiting for bedtime. (I did go to bed early, too.)

So, The Shining.

I liked it, as I said the other day, a great deal more than I did the first time I read it; I’m not sure if I’ve read it more than once in the past as my memory is shot, but I don’t think I did read it more than once, unlike other Kings of the era (other than Pet Sematary). While I was rereading it, I was also recognizing and ticking off the boxes of why it bothered me on the first read–child in danger? Check. Abusive marriage/parenting? Check. Alcoholic? Check. Snow and cold? Check. There’s also a very strong sense at the end of the book, once they’ve escaped and are in warm climates and trying to recover from what happened there, to them and to Jack, that the hotel was to blame for everything; that also bothered me on the first read. But on second read, with more perspective on life and characters and how people cope, I realize that this coping mechanism is essential for Wendy and Danny’s recovery from their experiences at the Overlook; putting the blame for the disintegration of Jack into madness and murder on the hotel was an essential coping mechanism for them both, to try to recover from the horrible trauma of husband/father they loved trying to brutally kill them while in the grips of utter madness. But having been through my own traumas over the course of my own fifty-seven years, I can now recognize and understand the necessity for coping mechanisms. The sad truth that neither of them can face is the hotel simply ferreted out what was already inside of Jack, and brought it out; it was always there, and Jack was forever resisting it. Had they not gone to the hotel, he would have undoubtedly hurt one or both of them again, and their story would have eventually ended in tragedy, one way or another; the Overlook simply sped up the process.

As I said the other day, The Shining also is an extraordinary work in that it’s a highly claustrophobic novel, despite the fact that the hotel itself, along with its grounds, are actually quite large spaces. But the tight point of views on the three main characters, and being able to show everything that’s going on from everyone’s point of view, is an incredibly smart choice; the book wouldn’t have worked without this shifting point of view and perspective, and each of the three characters are so superbly delineated by King that the authorial voice changes enough to make each point of view clear and distinct. The character of Jack was fascinating for me to read, to watch his slow disintegration into madness and the rise of his baser self–a self King was very careful and deliberate to show was always there, but kept down by force of will and societal mores learned over time. King dives so deep into Jack and who he is–this is also a trademark of King’s characters, across all his work–that his loathing and anger and contempt and provocations to violence are understandable  even as they are horrific; Jack isn’t, of course, the villain of his own story. But there’s another layer to him that knows better, makes him question himself…and King even gives him a moment of redemption in the finale that makes it seem as though he is entirely, against his will, a tool the hotel is using to kill them all.

The finale is also a magnificent example of building suspense. It is impossible to put the book down as you zip through those last hundred pages.

As a writer myself, it’s hard not to sympathize with a wannabe writer who’s failing to live up to the early promise of a publication in Esquire magazine; of not being able to write, who experiences the self-doubt and self-questioning that I am always struggling with myself. Ben Mears in ‘salem’s Lot is also a novelist, with a little more success to his credit than Jack, but Ben’s self-confidence and lack of concern about the lack of success makes him a vastly different–and not as relatable to another writer–character.

An interesting essay, or piece of literary criticism that someone should write, would be about King’s depictions of writers in his work–there are a lot of them. Just off the top of my head, there are writers in It, ‘salem’s Lot, The Shining, Insomnia, Misery, and The Dark Half; I am sure there are even more–I think Lisey’s Story also?

And now back to the spice mines.

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It’s Still Rock and Roll To Me

Hello, Tuesday! We survived Monday, didn’t we? And that counts as an accomplishment. Don’t be a hater, dear. Considering how little sleep I’d had, making it through the first day of the week in one piece was in question. I slept better last night, so this morning I’m not quite as tired as I was yesterday, so there’s hope for this, my second long day of the week.

I made some progress yesterday with Scotty; I’m not sure why I am always so resistant to working on this book–oh, wait, yes I am: I am such a harsh critic of my own work that I think it’s not very good and the revising is going to take a lot of hard work to make it readable. Well, in reading the last five chapters last night and making notes on what needs to be fixed, I realized it’s not that bad. Yes, there’s some things that need to be added and some things that need to be removed, and there are sentences and paragraphs that are a little rough, but over all, it’s not as bad as I was thinking; it never is, and I never learn. So, I am very hopeful about getting it done now, which is also always a relief.

I also finished my reread of The Shining, and have some thoughts on it percolating in my head. I am looking forward to my reread of Pet Sematary, which will lead into my Diversity Project as well as a revival of the Short Story Project. Overall, The Shining is an enjoyable and terrifying read–the last one hundred pages are particularly spectacular; a veritable master class in how to build suspense, tension, and fear in the reader–but I have some problems with the book overall. Structurally, it’s very sound, and perhaps the most impressive thing about it is how internal the book is; how incredibly claustrophobic within the context of an enormous space King made it. I also have identified why I didn’t like it as much during that first read all those years ago; I do not, will not, and probably never will enjoy reading about small children in jeopardy. Given my general apathy towards children, this is a surprise; but it truly was a terrific book. Particularly insidious is the way King makes it seem perfectly understandable and normal as to why a wife would stay with an abuser, which actually makes the book very far ahead of its time. It’s hard to imagine but in the 1970’s, spousal/child abuse in families was just beginning to be seen as problematic; King wrote about this dysfunction long before the societal shift truly began, and made this complex psychological issue abundantly understandable–imagine how few options an abused wife had then as opposed to now (when there still aren’t many options and resources available). Both Jack and Wendy were damaged in their own ways by their parents–King also understood the cycle of abuse and how it works long before anyone else was talking about it in the public sphere. The Shining not only works as a novel of supernatural terror, but as one of domestic terror as well; the Overlook Hotel may be a bad place, but it only sped up the disintegration of the Torrance marriage–which was already on the ropes.

My kitchen is a disaster area at the moment; I was too tired yesterday to do anything about it, and I suppose I should take care of it this morning before I head into the office so I can come home to a clean home. Today I hope to get another five chapters of the Scotty read and notes taken and outlined; this weekend we are planning to go see The Favourite on Saturday before settling in for the Saints game on Sunday (GeAUX SAINTS!!!). I am curious to see the film; as I have said, I am not terribly knowledgeable about Queen Anne beyond the basics, but I am a huge fan of Olivia Colman, and I do like Emma Stone.

So, on that note ’tis back to the spice mines. Have a terrific Tuesday, Constant Reader, because I certainly plan to!

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Funkytown

Monday morning and it’s another work week staring us all in the face.

I didn’t get any writing or editing done yesterday; but that’s okay, really. Maybe not in the over-all scheme of things, but I do need to take some down time periodically, to rest and recharge the batteries. I cleaned and organized and cooked and read The Shining, mostly, which I am enjoying a lot more than I did when I read it when I was seventeen (?). I also think I know why I disliked it–well, that’s a bit strong; let’s just say I now understand why it wasn’t one of my favorites of his earlier work, and why I stayed away from rereading it for so long: I hadn’t quite gotten used to the idea of caring so much about characters who die in the end. King had already done this to me with Carrie and ‘salem’s Lot, but because The Shining had so few characters the stakes for me as a reader were higher. There’s no question the book had to take the path it took, as well as why it had to end the way it did. I’ve just finished the section that ends with the snow starting…the three standing on the veranda of the grand old hotel, watching their true isolation begin. It’s a terrifically written scene.

I also didn’t sleep well last night–hardly at all. I don’t feel tired this morning, or wrung out the way I usually do when I didn’t sleep, although I imagine I’ll hit that wall soon enough, and will be praying for death by the end of my long day today. This week returns my work schedule back to normal, which is sort of lovely and nice; trying to get used to my new work schedule while adapting my writing schedule around it got rather derailed due to the holidays….which kind of sucks because now it’ll be like starting over again, which isn’t precisely optimal. We’ll see how today turns out, won’t we?

One of the things I realized I need to do is gather all my notes on this Scotty, to make sure I am getting everything included and wrapping up all loose ends by the end of the book. As I edit, I am also outlining, trying to make sure I’ve eliminated all inconsistencies. There’s probably going to be some rewriting that’s going to need to be done–last night as I watched the Golden Globes, it occurred to me that there’s one scene in particular that either needs to be completely rewritten, eliminated, or has to be set up in a completely different way. I am going to have to put the WIP aside until I get this revision finished; it’s simply far too easy to get caught up in it rather than doing what I need to be doing.

Which is counter-productive, and more than a little annoying.

Heavy heaving sigh.

We watched the Golden Globes last  night rather than finishing Homecoming, which we will probably either finish tonight, or stretch over tonight and tomorrow. As the new year progresses, shows we regularly watch will be returning, which solves the problem of what do we watch tonight, at least for a little while. Schitt’s Creek will be returning for another season, and so is Futureman on Hulu, and How to Get Away with Murder should be coming back relatively soon; it’s gone way over the top and is completely ridiculous, but it’s still so much fun to watch.

So, onward and upward with this week. I am going to finish rereading The Shining if it kills me (I don’t think it will) and I need to start gathering all my notes on the Scotty to ensure it’s the best it can be so I can get back to work on the WIP, and make it the best it can be.

Did I mention it’s king cake season officially? I believe I shall have a piece with my coffee this morning.

And now,  back to the spice mines.

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Ride Like the Wind

Yesterday I felt fantastic. Yes, I overslept, not getting out of bed until a disgraceful almost ten am, had a couple of cups of coffee while checking social media and writing yesterday’s blog entry, and then buckled down to clean, organize and write. I got about 2400 words down on Chapter Ten of the WIP–which I originally thought was Chapter Nine but I had already written that chapter so this was ten, which means the first draft is over halfway done. How marvelous is that?

Pretty mother-fucking marvelous, if I do say so myself.

I slept well again last night, but set the alarm so I wouldn’t stay in bed as late. As it is, I set it for eight and hit snooze repeatedly, not to sleep more, but rather because I felt so relaxed and comfortable in the bed I didn’t want to get up. But I still have some laundry to do, a grocery store run to make (KING CAKE!), and I want to spend the day cleaning and editing a hard copy of the Scotty book. (Yes, I do my original edits on a paper copy. SUE ME.) I also want to finish rereading The Shining so I can move on to Pet Sematary. I am not reading as quickly as I used to, which is aggravating. Once I finish these two rereads, I am going to dive into reading for the Diversity Project, and I also want to get back into the Short Story Project. I also need to clean the apartment more thoroughly–I spent most of the day yesterday organizing and filing, as well as purging books. But I need to get the floors done today, and finish the laundry. This is my first full week of work since before Christmas, and I am hoping if I can focus on getting to bed at a decent hour on the nights before I have to get up early, I can get things done and not wear myself out too terribly along the way. I am not going to try the gym this week, as I need to get a handle on my work schedule and see how I can make that work, with plans to make it back to the gym this coming Friday or Saturday. There’s also no Saints game today, which makes today easier. One of the things that was amazing to me yesterday was how much time I had…it’s amazing how that works. No LSU or college football, and the day is suddenly wild and free. Go figure.

And yesterday was Twelfth Night, so it’s now officially Carnival. Hurray! The city will soon be festooned in purple, gold and green; the bleachers will be going up on Lee Circle and St. Charles Avenue on the downtown side of the circle; King cakes will have their own enormous display table at the grocery store; and that sense of anticipation of the coming madness can be felt in the air. It’s going to be weird not going to work on Parade Days, but it will also make life a little bit more interesting. I’m obviously hoping to get a lot done on those days, but we shall see how that all works out, shan’t we?

I also need to do some cooking today; trying to get food for the week ready and for our lunches. Which means making a mess in the kitchen and something else to do for the day; cleaning the mess. But I don’t like going into the week with a messy apartment; it gets messy enough during the work week when I don’t have the time or energy to keep up with it (or the filing, for that matter). So, there’s some touching up I need to do on my office space, and I can vacuum and so forth while I am editing.

Last night we started watching Homecoming on Prime. What an amazing cast–Julia Roberts, Bobby Canavale, Sissy Spacek, and Dermot Mulroney, just for starters. The plot is also interesting–we’re about half-way through. and will probably finish this evening. We may go see The Favourite  next weekend, which is kind of exciting. I can’t remember the last time we saw a non-popcorn movie in the theater. I’m sure the film is rife with historical inaccuracies–what historical films aren’t–but my knowledge of Queen Anne is fairly limited; I’ve not even read the Jean Plaidy historical fiction about her, so perhaps that won’t be too much of issue to keep me from enjoying it (I’ll watch the new Mary Queen of Scots movie when I can stream it for free; every film biography of Mary Stuart is rife with license and inaccuracy; but it’s always a great opportunity for two great actresses to chew the scenery. The 1971 version with Vanessa Redgrave and Glenda Jackson is probably, in my opinion, the best; I always picture Glenda Jackson whenever I think of Queen Elizabeth). I did know that Queen Anne had seventeen children that all died; she didn’t particularly want to be queen, and she had female ‘favorites’–it wasn’t common, but several English kings and queens had same-sex favorites, including Edward II, James I, and Queen Anne. Histories and biographies and encyclopedia entries would mention this, but gloss it over….it wasn’t until my late teens that I began putting together the coding and realized these monarchs were queer.

Yup, queers have been systematically erased from history, glossed over and forgotten, for centuries. Yay.

Part of the research/reading I am doing into New Orleans history is precisely to try to uncover the city’s queer past; trying to find the clues and coded language in books as we are glossed over and hidden from incurious minds. Every once in a while I’d find a glimmer of a hint in Gary Krist’s Empire of Sin, for example, that there were gay male prostitutes working in Storyville, and I kind of want to write about that. As I’ve said a million times before, New Orleans history is rife with terrific stories that would make for great fictions. One of the reasons I am so bitter about the Great Data Disaster of 2018 is not only because of the time spent reconstructing things but because it so completely broke my momentum and totally derailed me. I’m not sure how to get back on that streetcar (see what I did there?) but I’m going to have to relatively soon. But i’ve also been so focused on the Scotty and the new WIP that I’ve gotten away from it. I think diving back into The French Quarter by Herbert Asbury will help.

I also bought some cheap ebooks on sale yesterday, including Sophie’s Choice by Williamt Styron and Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. When I was checking the Kindle app on my iPad to make sure they downloaded properly, much to my horror I discovered that I have almost 400 books in that app–which doesn’t include the ones I have in iBooks or the Barnes & Noble app. YIKES. Clearly, I don’t need to take any books with me when I travel, because there are plenty in my iPad. I also have a ridiculous amount of anthologies and single author short story collections loaded in there…so yes, the Short Story Project will be continuing for quite some time, I suspect. There are also some terrific books in there I’d like to read, or reread, as the case may be…I have almost all of Mary Stewart’s novels on Kindle, for example, and a lot of Phyllis Whitney’s. I also have a Charlotte Armstrong I’ve not read, The Seventeen Widows of San Souci, and on and on and on….I really am a book hoarder, aren’t I?

Ah, well, life does go on.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

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