Two To Make It Right

Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.

I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.

It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.

I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.

I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.

We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)

And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.

And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?

But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.

And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.

Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.

But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.

I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.

It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.

We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.

We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.

After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.

And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.

I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.

And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

the nickel boys

Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Is This Love

I hope you had a lovely Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

Here it is, Friday, and the last few days of my vacation, such as it was. I do not intend to mourn not getting anything much accomplished over this week; I did get some things done and for that I am profoundly grateful. I am also truly grateful for the opportunity to relax, rest, sleep, and overall just recharge my batteries; at my advanced (advancing) age that is necessary sometimes.

Yesterday was lovely. In the morning I finished reading Colson Whitehead’s terrific The Nickel Boys (more on that later), which was simply brilliant–I think I liked it better than I liked The Underground Railroad, which I also loved–and then started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside, but didn’t get very far into before Paul woke up. (I intend to spend some times with it this morning, once I get this filthy disgusting kitchen cleaned up.) We spent the afternoon watching the first three episodes of Dublin Murders (terrib;e, terrible title), which is based on Tana French’s In the Woods and The Likeness. I’ve not read Ms. French’s work; I do know she is critically acclaimed and enormously popular–but as I always say, too many books and far too little time. I do intend, after watching the first three episodes, that I will most likely now add French to the TBR pile. I do not know, for example, if the show is a faithful adaptation; there were a few things that confused me a bit, but I imagine that is made much more clear in the novels.

We also watched the Saints game (GEAUX SAINTS!). The game was strange and sloppy and weird; the Saints had difficulty scoring touchdowns, and at the last minute it looked as though the Falcons’ furious comeback attempt might actually succeed. However, the Saints defense looked pretty amazing for the most part, and they stepped up to sack Matt Ryan on a fourth down that pretty much ended the game, with the Saints clinching the division and guaranteeing that at least their first play-off game will be in the Superdome.

As I have said before, it’s been a banner year for Louisiana football fans, between the Saints and LSU.

After the Saints game, we tried to start watching the AMC adaptation of Joe Hill’s NOS4A2, but couldn’t really get into it. I tried reading the book, but couldn’t get into it, either. I also tried with Hill’s Horns, both book and film, to no avail. Hill is a fine writer–I absolutely loved the short stories of his I read during last year’s Short Story Project–and I want to like his novels, but am afraid they just aren’t for me. I’ll undoubtedly continue reading his short fiction, and will undoubtedly try to read his novels again at some other point.

I’m also sorry I missed the bizarre end of the Mississippi-Mississippi State game; I considered switching over to it after the Saints game ended, but as I am not a fan of either team…it’s hard to watch a game simply for the joy of watching a well-played football game if you can’t root for one of the teams; I always try to pick a team in any game I’m watching when I am not a fan of either….but wasn’t up for it last night. Apparently the Rebels scored a potential game-tying touchdown in the closing seconds, and simply needed to kick an extra point for overtime. But one of the Rebels’ players mocked the Mississippi State team by going down on all fours and lifting his leg, like a dog peeing on a fire hydrant (the MSU team name is Bulldogs) and they got flagged for a fifteen-yard penalty….and then missed the extra point, so game, set and match to the Bulldogs. An incredibly stupid thing to do in the heat of the moment, although I do feel a little sorry for the player–as he will never ever live that down.

No matter how frustrated I get with college players, I always try to remember they are really just overgrown kids; most of them still in their teens.

Tomorrow will be a big day of football–with Michigan-Ohio State, Alabama-Auburn, and then LSU-Texas A&M; so I doubt I’ll get much done tomorrow. I do have some errands to run in the morning–prescriptions, mail, possibly grocery store–and after that I’ll be parked in my easy chair watching college football and reading during breaks. There won’t be a Saints game on Sunday, so I intend to spend that day trying to get organized and figuring out my writing schedule for the rest of the year–although I’ve not had much luck with scheduling writing this year so far, have I? But I do believe I’ve cracked the code of the current manuscript as well as the one on deck, and it’s just now a matter of writing it all down or correcting the computer files and pulling it all together.

Sounds easy, at any rate, doesn’t it?

And now to do these dishes, start my review of The Nickel Boys, and back to reading the Benedict novel.

Have a lovely day after Thanksgiving, Constant Reader!

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Don’t Get Me Wrong

Monday morning and I’m not fully awake yet this morning, which isn’t really a surprise; I had a feeling when I went to bed last night I’d not want to get up this morning. I was correct; I was awake when my alarm went off but the bed felt so lovely I simply wanted to stay there other than get up and get the day started. I have to work both of my long days this week, which is going to be a bit rough. But next week is Thanksgiving week already, and I have that entire week off, which is going to be absolutely lovely.

I got some very good background writing stuff done yesterday–the old “let me sit and think about this some more” mentality, and I think it worked; I am, at the very least, very pleased with the changes I came up with for the manuscript, and realized I need to go back to the beginning to input those changes rather than moving forward with it. While I’d much prefer to simply keep going forward, I need to go back and put those changes in, because they shift the tone a lot and plus, it’s excellent character backstory for my main character, who I’m starting to feel like I know a lot better. I know what I was trying to do with him–mostly make him somewhat unreliable–and in order to do that, I was keeping my distance from him; making the story told in a distant first person point of view. But I felt like this made my character distant and cold and unrelatable; there’s a way of doing this–which hit me smack dab between the eyes yesterday–where I can make him relatable and likable, even if he isn’t being completely honest with the reader.

And that, I think, makes the story work even better.

The Saints won yesterday at Tampa, putting the bad taste left in everyone’s mouth from last week’s inexplicable loss to the Falcons away. It was a good weekend for Louisiana football, what with LSU winning (if sloppily) Saturday and the Saints on Sunday. It’s looking like both teams will be in the play-offs, with a good shot at possibly running the table. It’s certainly going to be a memorable season for both, which is lovely for us fans. I did some more cleaning yesterday around the game, and finished reading The Ferguson Affair, about which I’ll probably be writing a more detailed blog entry about–knowing full well I still owe one for Richard Stark’s The Hunter.

When I mentioned I was reading The Ferguson Affair, a friend on Twitter tweeted at me, “the lovely thing about reading MacDonald is it doesn’t matter which one–as they are all the same” and I soon realized that while I was initially resistant to the statement, she was actually kind of right; and the tropes were all there in this book, which wasn’t a Lew Archer–but it might as well have been. The primary trope of MacDonald’s work–the wealthy, beautiful woman haunted by demons from her past and that of her family–was certainly front and center in this one; the main character was a lawyer in a small California coastal town called Buenavista whose wife is about to give birth any day now. I was, however, particularly interested in the book (as I read it) for two particular reasons–there was a tie to Hollywood in the story, and there was some interesting dynamics of race and class at play in Buenavista; which is why I want to give the book its own blog entry. But now that I have finished reading it, I can now move on to Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys, which I am really looking forward to. Whitehead has become one of my favorite writers–and that, of course, is entirely predicated on my reading Underground Railroad, which I absolutely loved. The Nickel Boys mines the same territory as Lori Roy’s superb The Disappearing–the boarding school for troubled boys in Florida, which is an idea I’m also terribly interested in (John Hart also wrote about the ‘reform school’ in Iron House), but with all of those heavyweight talents already covering the same material I don’t see much point in my doing so as well.

I also watched a Netflix series called Greatest Events of World War II in Colour, in which they’ve taken the actual black-and-white war footage from the second world war and colorized it. World War II fascinates and repels me at the same time for any number of reasons, but I never tire of watching or reading about it. I’ve been trying to find the old The World at War series that aired on PBS when I was a child, but can’t seem to find it anywhere. As I watched the first six episodes of ten (the war begins, the rescue at Dunkirk, the battle for Stalingrad, Pearl Harbor, Midway, and Normandy) I kept thinking about Herman Wouk’s epic novels about the war, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance, wishing I had the time to give them a reread. I also remembered the absolutely brilliant Foyle’s War series, which I loved and should probably rewatch, and also was reminded of yet another book idea–one which would require several trips to Hawaii for research. I’ve not read a lot of World War II fiction–From Here to Eternity, The Naked and the Dead, etc.–but have always meant to get around to it. I suppose one of these days I actually will. I particularly want to read the unabridged version of From Here to Eternity, which apparently includes depictions and scenes of the underground military gay scene in Hawaii on the eve of the Pearl Harbor attack. Reading I the Jury by Mickey Spillane and, to a lesser degree, The Hunter by Richard Stark, has also reminded me of the period…and I do think that essay about toxic masculinity and PTSD and how that played out in the Spillane novel could still work.

If I only had the time to write the damned thing.

We also started watching Netflix’ Unbelievable last night, and what that poor young girl went through with the cops–and everyone basically in her life after she was raped–was horrifying, and I also got the sense that the way they depicted how someone is treated after they are raped–the necessary medical exams and tests, the constant having to repeat the story of your trauma, over and over again, to unsympathetic people who clearly don’t know if they believe you or not–was absolutely horrifying. I always knew rape was underreported and part of that was due to the dehumanizing experience of reporting…I had no idea, naturally, as a man just how horrible and horrific it is.

As we watched, Paul said, “It really is a wonder any woman reports, you know?”

And this also gave me thoughts about the Kansas book.

I also started a new journal this weekend. Huzzah!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Cool Change

Saturday morning and I slept late, which felt positively marvelous. I feel rested and ready to kick some ass and take some names–at least for now, at any rate. Paul is going to be out of the house most of the day–appointments and going to the office–and therefore I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day and no excuse not to get a lot of things done. I am still planning on walking over to the AT&T store to replace my phone–who knows how that is going to go?–but other than that, my day is pretty much set for cleaning, revising, and reading.

Last night, we started watching the new Netflix show The Umbrella Academy, based on the Dark Horse comic series–and while I didn’t madly love it, I am curious enough to continue watching. For one thing, it has both Ellen Page and Tom Hopper (who I’ve been crushing madly on since his days as Billy Bones on Black Sails), and it has an interesting premise. We will be continuing with it tonight, I think. I had just started reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long when Paul got home last night, and then was distracted by getting caught up on How to Get Away with Murder and then The Umbrella Academy.

And I’ve been dealing with yet another Apple upgrade issue that has fucked with my desktop, laptop, phone and iPad since last night. Now the cloud drive is missing from both my desktop and my laptop (I managed to resolve the handheld device issues last night) and so am trying to get that resolved this morning. Seriously, Apple–when you update/upgrade your systems, is it absolutely necessary to fuck up everything for your customers? 

Seriously, Apple. Do better.

So I am trying to resolve all this before scheduling a call from Apple Support…which I also don’t understand; you used to be able to do this in an on-line chat, but now of course they make you take a phone call. Why, precisely? And how able-ist is this? What about those of us who are hard of hearing, or those who are deaf? Seriously, fuck you in the ass without lubrication, Apple. HARD.

Thank you for allowing me to vent about these issues, Constant Reader. It’s helping me reduce the future body count.

This week I got a copy of Kyle Onstott’s bestselling Mandingo from the 1950’s. As Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been trying to diversify not only my fiction reading but to learn more about the horrible history of race in North America. Part of this has taking an amorphous shape in my head around a lengthy essay, tracing revisionism of slavery and the Old South and civil rights from such novels as The Clansman (which was filmed as Birth of a Nation) to Gone with the Wind to To Kill a Mockingbird and The Klansman, which I recently reread. As I was scrolling through Amazon Prime looking for something to watch the other night, I came across the late 1970’s film Mandingo, and remembered that it was also a novel. I bought a copy from eBay which arrived this week (I wasn’t able to get far in the movie because it was just incredibly bad; not even campy bad, like Showgirls, just bad.) The book arrived this week and….just looking at the note from the publisher in the beginning was horrifying. Yet Mandingo might just be the only novel about slavery and the Old South that actually tears the veneer of respectability and gentility away and exposes the true horror of what the “peculiar institution” was actually like. (Even John Jakes’ dreadful North and South series never delved deeply into the actual horrors; Colson Whitehead’s Underground Railroad was one of the first novels to truly explore this that I’ve read.) Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, set in New Orleans before the Civil War, also does a terrific job of exploring how deeply entrenched and horrible racism/slavery were.

This essay I am thinking about would probably wind up, should I ever have the time to read the books and write it (it would, for example, require a reread of Gone with the Wind and it’s over eleven hundred pages, as well as some in depth reading of actual history) would probably be a part of Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life…which is a project I really do want to work on someday.  Mandingo takes on an aspect of slavery and the South that is rarely, if ever, touched on in fictions: the sexual abuse of the female slaves by their masters (come on, like it never happened. Really?) as well as the breeding of actual slaves for better, more valuable stock, as well as raising them for fighting–kind of a human version of cock-fighting or dog-fighting. Is it more likely that never happened, or that it did? Slavery, as Harriet Beecher Stowe repeatedly explained in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, debases both slave and master; are we really supposed to believe that slave-owners didn’t abuse their ‘property’?

Given how people of color–theoretically free and equal in the eyes of the law in the twenty-first century–are treated in the present day, I’m not buying the notion of the kind, gracious slave owner.

Take, for example, this passage from the Publisher’s Note to the movie tie-in paperback edition which I just received in the mail:

From today’s vantage point,, almost a hundred years after the cataclysm, the developing situation may be viewed objectively. Actually, the finger of blame should be pointed at no one geographical group of people. Although the factions that promoted the abolition of slavery were ethically in the right (emphasis: mine), Southern planters in general are shown to have been victims of circumstance rather than diabolical tyrants as they have sometimes been painted. (again, emphasis mine.)

Doesn’t get more apologetic than that, does it? Those poor planters. (massive eye roll)

And is it any wonder that we still have so many societal problems of racial injustice today?

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Spooky

During the Civil War, Harriet Beecher Stowe was invited to dinner at the White House. When she was introduced to President Lincoln, his eyes twinkled and he said, “So this is the little lady who made this great big war.” Stowe, of course, had authored Uncle Tom’s Cabin, published originally in 1852, and it was probably one of the most influential books ever published in the United States.

La La (Means I Love You)

Good morning. It’s a lovely Sunday morning in New Orleans, as I look at the start of a relatively easy and short week for me at work. Good Friday is a paid holiday for me, so I only have four days to get through, and I have short days on both Monday and Thursday (horrifying long days on Tuesday and Wednesday, of course), so it’s kind of a ‘win some lose some’ kind of week. I ended up not writing much yesterday; instead I read Underground Airlines (which I am enjoying) and when Paul got home from his errands, I made dinner and we watched Rogue One and then the first two episodes of Five Came Back, a wonderful documentary about five Hollywood film directors (Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, William Wyler, and George Stevens) who spent World War II making documentaries about the war rather than directing films in Hollywood. It’s narrated by Meryl Streep, and is based on the book of the same title by Mark Harris (who also wrote the documentary). It’s very well done; and it does a really good job of capturing the era it’s about, while at the same time not only exposing how easy it is for film to be used as propaganda, but raising questions about the ethics of making propaganda during a time of war. As we as Americans are currently wrestling with the notion of news as propaganda, and how to tell what is real and what is not–a horrifying place to be, quite frankly–and how the news was controlled for the American public during the Second World War to keep them behind the war effort (which was prodigious) as well as buying war bonds to finance it, it raises difficult questions about truth, ethics, and the media. I cannot recommend it enough; I’m really looking forward to viewing the final episode.

I will undoubtedly spend today in a mix of cleaning, writing, and reading. My friend Stuart is in town, and hopefully we’ll get to have lunch or an early dinner together today, if not, it will be tomorrow.

Underground Airlines, like The Underground Railroad, is not an easy book to read. I’ve never read much alternate history (Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle being one of the few exceptions), and that’s what this book is; alternate history, and one that, as you learn more about the ‘history’ of the United States and its ‘peculiar institution’ the deeper you get into the book, is terribly disturbing because you can see how it might have gone this way.

American history, as it pertains to questions of race and equality, is difficult; and the truth of American history, as opposed to the deeply sanitized version we are taught in public school (or at least, the deeply ‘rah-rah-rah’ version I was taught in the 1960’s, predicated on the manifest destiny of white Europeans to take dominion over the Americas while eradicating the natives and enslaving Africans, required a lot of unlearning; I told one of my co-workers the other day that I’ve spent most of my adult life unlearning everything I was raised to believe while re-educating myself on the truth), is actually kind of ugly. I remember reading James Michener’s Centennial when I was in my teens, and realizing everything I’d been taught, read, or seen in movies about the native Americans, and their clash with white Europeans, was actually incredibly biased against the native ‘savages’. (If you’re interested in re-educating yourself on American history, please read Howard Zinn’s histories of the United States, starting with A People’s History of the United States.)

Anyway, when Underground Airlines was released, there was some controversy, given the subject matter and that author Ben H. Winters was white and writing from the perspective of an African-American who worked as a runaway slave catcher. Questions of cultural appropriation often dog the work of white people who write from outside their own experience; yet at the same time there is also a clamor for diversity within fiction and there has long been a Twitter hashtag #weneeddiversebooks. I don ‘t think–and I could be wrong–that the problem is so much cultural appropriation as it is that authors of color do not have the same easy access to publishing that white people do; it’s easier for a white author to get a book published with a person of color as the main character than it is for an author of color to do so. I’ve personally enjoyed seeing the progress made by film and television to cast people of color; when I was a kid I would have loved to find books or television shows or films where gay men weren’t tragic figures doomed to die, or the butt of the joke, or figures of contempt; I can only imagine the positive impact this is having on young minority children to be able to see characters like themselves on films and television shows, or finding them in books.

This is not a bad thing.

The book is very well-written, and I am enjoying it tremendously, but it’s not an easy read, as I said earlier. I had always, as I’ve said before, intended to read it and The Underground Railroad back-to-back, to get a sense of comparison and to see how the differences between how an author of color deals with the issues of race and white supremacy vs how a white author does. Both books have made me think about these issues–the racial divide/conflict that is so deeply woven into the fabric of our society and culture, and how it always has been there from the very beginning.

That’s not a bad thing. Being made to think, to reexamine your values and beliefs, to unlearn things you were taught that are wrong and to reeducate yourself is never a bad thing. I think we, as a country and a society and a culture, can do with some reexamination.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning before I head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a happy Sunday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader.

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I Wish It Would Rain

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and it looks lovely outside. I may clean the windows today. I have to get the mail, pick up some prescriptions, make a grocery run, and I also want to get the car washed, and of course, as always, there is laundry to do. I also want to spend some time reading today, and cleaning the kitchen and living room. Yes, I am feeling rather ambitious today; we shall see how it turns out.

I forgot my book (The Nest) at the office on Thursday night; I worked at the other office yesterday and it’s French Quarter Fest, so getting down to Frenchmen Street would be a nightmare and would make me tired and cranky, so I decided to just start reading another book–Ben H. Winters’ Underground Airlines, recently named a Thriller Award nominee for Best Novel. I’d always intended to read The Underground Railroad and Underground Airlines back-to-back for comparison sake; I forgot and started reading something else when I finished reading the Whitehead. The Winters book was controversial when it was released; it, like the Whitehead, is sort of magical realism/alternate history; Winters’ premise is that the Civil War was never fought as yet another slave-owner appeasement compromise was reached in 1860 that prevented secession and the war; and other compromises were reached over the years since. It’s an interesting concept, and at the time the book was released there was some controversy; the main character is a free man of color who works as a slave-catcher. I’m not very far into it, but it’s well-written and I’m enjoying it thus far.

I also got a lot of work done on “Quiet Desperation” this week; the story is now well over four thousand words. I stopped working on it the other day (Thursday, to be exact) because I felt that I was getting impatient and rushing the ending, so I decided to pull back from it for a few days and then get back to it over this weekend. I also think the story may have meandered a bit. The goal is to finish it and the chapter of the new Scotty I’ve been working on, so I can really get going on both the Scotty book and another short story next week. Ambitious goals, yes, but do-able.

And I want to get to the gym tomorrow morning.

A truly ambitious plan for the weekend, no?

We’ll see how it all works out, won’t we?

Here’s a hunk to see you through your Saturday.