Only a Moment Ago

And just like that, it’s Friday again.

Of course, the emergence of a potentially major storm heading for the Gulf and our coastline–and how quickly it has happened–has certainly sucked a lot of the energy out of the room. The fact it will come ashore on the 16th anniversary of Katrina (Sunday) hasn’t triggered a lot of PTSD for me, strangely; although I was remembering it all last night as I sat in my easy chair watching Margaret Orr on local television (and checking her Twitter feed). The weather outside my condensation-covered windows this morning doesn’t look that great, to be honest–we’ve had rain all day yesterday off and on–but I don’t know if we are going to need to leave yet or not. It’s not looking good for us right now; at the very least we’re going to probably be without power for a few days (yay). But at least if we do end up leaving (probably tomorrow morning, if we go) at least I have a relatively new car, and I believe I already have a tank of gas. I have some errands to run today–I am getting my teeth cleaned later this morning, and I need to get the mail. I had planned on doing some grocery shopping today but am not sure if it’s wise to get anything perishable, so am probably just going to let that sit until afterwards.

I’m also having dinner with a friend tonight–scheduled to come in for Bouchercon, she decided to keep her trip since her daughter goes to school here anyway–which should be a good time; social contact outside of my office has remained low, so it will be sort of nice to get out of the house and spend the evening with someone whose company I enjoy…especially with a hurricane looming. If it stays on center track, it’ll pass us to the west–putting New Orleans on the bad side of the storm. I’m kind of surprised I am not having flashbacks triggered by any or all of this, to be honest. I only remember the anniversary now when I am reminded–I’d not even given it a thought until the other day when this system developed below Cuba–although I am also now remembering there have been issues with I storms in the past–Ike and Isaac, for example; one of them sat on the city for like three days and we were without power for nearly a week. The other was our last evacuation and it, too, was around this same time. Late August, after my birthday and before Labor Day–never a good combination for an I-named storm in the Gulf, apparently.

I rewatched an old Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie last night while I was waiting for Paul to come home (working late because of grant deadlines and potential hurricane; potential loss of power means everyone has to get things done earlier than they’d thought). I had wanted to rewatch Pillow Talk, which was the best of the their three films together, but couldn’t find it streaming anywhere, so settled for the follow-up, Lover Come Back, which, while not as good as the first, was still quite entertaining–if problematic. The message of the Day/Hudson movies–at least the first three; they played a married couple in their third pairing–was always that Day was an uptight and repressed career woman with no interest in men or marriage–who really just needed a good fuck. The irony that the good fuck she needed was being delivered on-screen by a gay man escaped audiences of the time, who made the films huge hits and made Doris Day the biggest money-making star in the country. It’s great, though, that she was shown as a highly successful, talented, and driven career woman; unfortunate that the screenwriters seemed to think that went along with an empty life without love or a man. Given how beautiful and sexy Day was, it’s kind of hard to believe that she wouldn’t have men hanging off her–but she’s kind of portrayed as an ice princess, who needs a man to thaw her out. The games Hudson plays with Day–mimicked in both films–where he pretends to be a shy, inexperienced (read: almost gay) man whose sweetness she falls for doesn’t really play today for a sex comedy; such a movie would never be made today.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday. I worked on the manuscript, and have maybe a third of it left to go. I’ve already edited out almost ten thousand words, making it leaner and cleaner, but it’s still such a horrible mess I cannot believe I turned it in to my long-suffering editor. But it’s getting better, and the primary issue is that there were so many different versions over the years of working on it that I missed things when merging all the versions together to get a final one–the great irony being the problem with the manuscript not ever being what I thought it was, so all those different drafts were relatively pointless; it’s terrible when you are writing a book and you aren’t really completely sure what it’s about consciously. I’ve always said this book was about rape culture, but it’s actually not–although that’s a part of it; what it’s actually about is toxic masculinity from the point of view of someone trapped inside of it who desperately wants out and doesn’t know how to get out. I didn’t completely understand that–and something else–until this final editing run; glad I figured this out before it went to press, right?

So I am going to try to get some things done around here this morning before leaving for the dentist, then I am coming home to work on the manuscript. I’d like to get this pass finished today–not an easy task, since its taking me hours to get through small sections, longer than I’d thought it would, honestly–so it can sit for a day or two; if we lose power and I have to stop working on it, I am hoping I’ll be able to at least get it sent off somehow–if I need t make my phone a hotspot and send it from my laptop or something, I should be able to get it done and in on time. I was going to try to make it to the gym today, but think I’ll just push that off until tomorrow and focus on getting the manuscript finished today. Once I finish and post this, I am going to clean out my inbox (or try to) before having to get ready for the teeth cleaning expedition (not looking forward to this either, I might add). I had wanted to spend some time getting organized–but the need to get this manuscript out of the way in case of power loss, at least getting this pass finished, at any rate, has overcome any desire to work on the other things that need to be worked on around here; I can go to the gym tomorrow and clean/organize then (if we aren’t in the car, that is).

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Too Late

Hey there, Friday, how you doing?

A thunderstorm woke me up around six this morning, as one has the last three days or so, as well as a downpour. It has since stopped raining since I got up–well, at least it’s not a deluge as it was when it woke me up; now it’s just kind of sprinkling–and again, this makes me rather happy that I don’t have to leave the house today. I do need to make groceries and get the mail, but this can wait until tomorrow if need be; or after I finish working today if the weather has cleared up.

Last night I finished reading The Man With the Candy, and the story continues to fascinate me–and the dead boys haunt me. It’s amazing to me also how little there is out there about the case–John Wayne Gacy, being caught alive and tried, essentially erased Corll from the public imagination. Had there been 24 hour news channels in 1974, there would have been so much coverage it would be impossible for the Candyman story to so utterly and completely disappear from the public consciousness; I only know the story because I lived in Houston about fifteen years after Corll was killed, and people in the city still remembered. The book will get its own review post at some point–it’s very well done–but I also can’t help but wonder if all those boys would have been murdered had society not been so homophobic at the time….but I suppose I can talk about that when I write about the book.

We also started watching an Oxygen documentary series about Aaron Hernandez last night, another case that has long fascinated me. While I always tend to reserve my sympathies for the victims, Hernandez never really had a chance, given his abusive childhood, his sexual molestation as a child, his homophobic father and then becoming a professional athlete in an incredibly homophobic sport (well, almost all the professional and amateur sports have a certain level of homophobia built into them as part of the toxic masculinity so rampant in our country as well as the systemic homophobia we still fight to this very day); not to mention all the brain damage he sustained playing football. It’s hard not to feel some sympathy for him, despite his crimes; how different would his life have been had his father not been an abusive homophobe, had he not been sexually molested, and had the society and culture he was raised in been so horrifically homophobic, forcing him to play the toxically masculine role of the stud athlete?

I suppose that’s the case with so many criminals, though–had it not been for this or that, perhaps they would have had a productive life that benefited society.

Speaking of toxic masculinity, yesterday while making condom packs I watched a Mike Nichols film from 1970, Carnal Knowledge, starring Jack Nicholson and Arthur Garfunkel (of all people; I’m curious how he wound up being cast in this). The opening sequences, with the two men playing roommates and best friends named Jonathan and Sandy respectively, was kind of amusing; it’s easy to forget that as recently as the 1970’s it wasn’t uncommon for actors to play high school or college students when they were clearly way too old (see The Way We Were); but it’s also difficult to find actors young enough to play them as college students while looking enough like them to be believable as well as being able to act as well as the stars. My prime away takeaway from this movie was, well, anyone who ever wonders why the Women’s Movement was necessary and needed should just watch this movie. To say that it hasn’t aged well is a MAJOR understatement; and while it seems the entire point of the movie (and this may just be my modern reading of it) is to point out how societal expectations and sexual mores of the time not only punished women but also poisoned men with toxicity. The movie opens with the two men at a mixer when an incredibly beautiful young Candace Bergen arrives; both are interested, but since Sandy “saw her first” she’s his for the taking (boom! not even five minutes in and we are already exposed to the sexist, misogynist notion that a young woman belongs to a man she’s not even met because he saw her first…no consideration whatsoever to what she may want or need) and she reluctantly begins to date him, although it’s fairly obvious she doesn’t really feel anything for him. We never get any understanding of her or who she is, nor do we get any sense of why Jonathan pursues his best friend’s girlfriend or why she sleeps with him. He eventually demands that she choose, and she chooses Sandy. We then follow the two friends through the years, as Jonathan becomes even more toxic and distant, unwilling to get married and unwilling to commit to any woman; Sandy’s marriage ends in divorce and he begins seeing another woman whom Jonathan also pursues, eventually convincing Sandy to “swap” with him; at this point Jonathan is living with Bobbie (played by Ann-Margret; a really terrific performance) a model/actress who moves in with him and quits working and slowly begins to crumble emotionally–he’s also abusive; we never actually see him strike her, but the verbal and emotional abuse is horrific. Sandy goes into the bedroom only to find Bobbie has overdosed on pills…which finally gets Jonathan to marry her. The next scene we see, they are already divorced and he is living alone; Sandy is visiting him with his new girlfriend (a very young Carol Kane), who is horrified by who Jonathan is and his attitude towards women–he shows them a slideshow of every woman he’s been involved with, calling it the Ballbuster Show; Susan (Candace Bergen) briefly appears on the screen and he quickly clicks past her. Appalled by him, the Kane character leaves, and the two old friends go for a walk. Sandy talks about how she is teaching him how to love and how to love himself, and that he hopes cynical Jonathan can find someone who will teach him the same lessons. Jonathan scoffs, and the final scene of the movie shows him going to a prostitute, Rita Moreno, with the hopes that she’ll enable him to get hard this time–impotence has been an issue for him going back to college, which is apparently caused–the script infers–by his inability to be vulnerable or to connect emotionally with women. And that’s all, folks; credits roll.

This definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival; it’s probably one of the darkest films I’ve ever seen when it comes to relationships between men and women. Perhaps that’s what Nichols and screenwriter Jules Pfeiffer were trying for; I certainly hope so, as that was the end result. There were several times while watching that I couldn’t help but think, this is a Rona Jaffe novel only from the men’s perspective rather than the women’s, which just goes to show how fucked up we were as a society back in those “good old days” of the 1950’s conservatives keep wanting us to go back to–no fucking thanks, for the record.

And on THAT note, tis off to the spice mines with ME. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Gorgeous

So, as Constant Reader is aware, I’ve been working, off and on, since 2015 on something that I referred to for years as “the Kansas book”, whose actual title is #shedeservedit.

It will be released on 1/11/22 officially; if you pre-order it from the Bold Strokes website, it will ship actually on January 1 (well, probably the 2nd since the 1st is a holiday).

Here’s the cover copy:

Liberty Center High School’s football team has a long history of success, and the dying small town has nothing else to cling to. But when Lance, the star quarterback, is found dead, Alex Wheeler becomes the prime suspect in his best friend’s murder. Alex thought he knew Lance’s secrets–but Lance was keeping his sexuality private and someone else found out. How well did Alex really know Lance, and what else did he keep hidden? 

To prove his innocence and figure out what really happened to Lance that last night, Alex starts connecting the dots and finds that everything leads back to the recent suicide of a cheerleader who may have been sexually assaulted at a team party. Did online bullying and photos of her from the party drive her to suicide? Or was she murdered? Alex and his girlfriend India soon find their own lives are in danger as they get closer and closer to the horrifying truth about how far Liberty Center will go to protect their own.

I’ve been writing what I had taken to calling “the Kansas book” since I was in high school, really. While I was in high school I wrote several stories about a group of kids at a fictional high school, completely based on my own, and while it was certainly melodrama…we also didn’t have shows for teens like Beverly Hills 90210 and movies for teens like Sixteen Candles, Fast Times at Ridgement High, or Risky Business yet; all “teen fare” at the time was mostly from Disney, G-rated, and farcical; likewise, television programs targeted toward younger viewers were mostly for really young kids or what we now call “tweens.” And while I had crushes on both Kurt Russell and Jan-Michael Vincent (who didn’t?), those Disney films were little better than The Brady Bunch. I think it was in 1980 when I decided to take those stories and extrapolate them into a longer story, thinking it would be my first novel–and it expanded from the kids to include their older siblings and parents and teachers as well. I moved the story from the rural county to the county seat, and over the course of three years I painstakingly wrote about three thousand notebook pages. It was a sloppy mess, to be honest; I was thinking in terms of writing something along the lines of Peyton Place–the story of a town over the course of five years–but as I wrote I dropped characters and storylines; changed character names when a better name occurred to me; as I said, it was a total mess…and when I completed it, in the days before computers, I realized that I needed to type the entire thing up, and alas, I didn’t know how to touch type and whenever I typed anything I consistently made errors. So, I simply set it aside and went back to writing short stories before starting, in 1991, to try my hand at novels again.

In the years since, I cheerfully pulled elements from that ancient manuscript out to use for other books and other stories–there was a murder mystery at the heart of the book, and I actually used that as the basis for the plot of Murder in the Garden District; apparently I have always had crime in mind when it came to my writing–and I also pulled character names and other stories from it to use elsewhere. I reverted back to the rural county aspect of the original short stories to write Sara; one of the things I had to do recently was go through Sara and anything else I’ve written and published already having to do with Kansas to record the character names to make sure I wasn’t using them again in this book. I also originally began the basics of this book sometime before Katrina–the star quarterback’s dead body being found on the fifty yard line of the football field, and originally the primary POV character was the only detective on the small town’s police force. What I wrote was really good–I believe I got up to about five chapters–and it was also a flashback story with parallel time-lines; one in 1977, when the quarterback was murdered, and the present day, with someone who was in high school at the time becoming convinced that the person convicted of the crime was actually innocent and railroaded as a cover-up. I could never get the whole plot worked out, and it went through several changes and stages as I worked on it, still being called “the Kansas book.”

Two real life crimes–the rapes in Steubenville, Ohio and the other in Marysville, Missouri, in which girls were either drugged or pressured into over drinking and then when too wasted to even speak were sexually assaulted by athletes–inspired me to drag the framework of this story out and use it to tell a similar style story. I was, like anyone with a conscience or a soul, horrified by these rapes, and even more horrified by the aftermath; the way the girls were humiliated and shamed publicly and on social media, and I couldn’t get a hashtag that the kids in one of the towns used while shaming the victim: #shedeservedit.

That, I felt, was my title, and I could build the story from there. I could still have the dead quarterback; I could still have the town reeling from the one-two punch of the rape and the murder, only now I could layer in the victim-blaming and shaming. (I will never forget female newscasters talking about how sad it was that the boys convicted for the Steubenville case’s lives were ruined; I saved my sympathy for the poor girl they victimized; how on earth would she get past this?) I wrote the entire first draft in one month in the summer of 2015, and have tinkered with it, off and on, ever since. It was early last year, I think, pre-pandemic, when. I finally decided that two books I’d been working on between others over the last few years needed to be done and out of my hair; and the best way to force myself to finish them both once and for all was to offer them to my publisher. I did that, was given deadlines, and now, as I am finishing the final version of #shedeservedit, I also have a release date (1/11/22) and a cover to share with you all, so here it is (obviously, see above).

Writing this has been a journey, as writing any book can be; the Imposter Syndrome reared its ugly head numerous times during the writing of this book–should a man be writing a book about this subject? Is telling such a story from the point of view of a young man, friend to both the rape victim and the rapists, the right way to tell it? Am I centering a young man in a story about sexual assault and the toxic rape culture that has grown up around a small town’s athletic success?

I guess time will tell.

How You Get The Girl

Friday morning and all is right in my world–at least so far so good, one would think.

The weather has been truly spectacular here these past few weeks–despite dipping into the “almost too cold for Gregalicious” category after the sun goes down–and I’ve been really enjoying it. LSU is playing tomorrow–although I don’t have very high hopes for the game, since the program is now in turmoil, not only from having a surprisingly bad season but from allegations of sexual assault from players and ensuing cover-ups, which is despicable, frankly–and of course the Drew Brees injury has things looking rather bleak for the Saints as well. Ah, 2020 football season–so much worse than I’d ever thought it could be for fans in Louisiana. Heavy heaving sigh.

I reluctantly came to the conclusion yesterday that I am not going to try to get my story finished for that “monsters of Christmas” anthology. Much as it would be fun to be in the book if accepted, while the pay would certainly be lovely and welcomed, and I also loved the idea of trying to get a story written and publishable (maybe) in such a short period of time–despite all of those things, I really shouldn’t take time away from either the book or the other story already in progress that is developing nicely. It’s not the smartest thing in the world to do, and can I really spare the necessary time to get it done? Probably not, so while I am not crossing it off my to-do list entirely, I am not going to pressure or push myself to get it done.

My back is still sore this morning–but sitting in my easy chair with the heating pad while making condom packs certainly helped dramatically. I’m still not entirely sure what I did at the gym to cause this soreness, and the last time I went to the gym I didn’t feel it getting worse as I went through my workout, so who the hell knows? More heating pad today, and hopefully when I go to the gym later it’ll be okay.

Yesterday I watched two films while making condom packs, and while both fit squarely into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, the other also crossed over, theoretically, into the Halloween Horror Film Festival–or would have, had it not been so incredibly terrible.

The first was Deliverance, which was an enormous hit on its first release, made Burt Reynolds a bonafide movie star, and has added so much to the common vernacular that people probably quote it without knowing the source material. While I knew the whole “squeal like a pig” thing came from Deliverance, I did NOT know “he’s sure got a pretty mouth” also came from the film. My parents took my sister and I to see it at the drive-in (and in retrospect, what in the name of God were they thinking? That movie is definitely inappropriate for junior high school students), and while I do not recall the other movie that played with it (which might have explained the choice better), I was pleasantly surprised in some ways by Deliverance. For one thing, it’s beautifully shot in the back woods/mountains of Georgia–breathtakingly beautiful. James Dickey wrote the screenplay based on his only novel–he was primarily known as a poet, and was also an alcoholic–and I’ve tried several times to read the book; I have a copy on my shelves somewhere right now. The film definitely fits in that paranoid 1970’s sub-genre of city people discovering how truly terrifying the country can be, despite the entire American mythology of the country and rural communities being the real America (which still rears its ugly head from time to time today). I could write an entire essay debunking that myth, frankly, as I am rather surprised no one has ever written (doesn’t mean someone hasn’t) an essay or a treatise about this entire sub-genre of film and fiction novels.

Deliverance is also an interesting exploration of 1970’s masculinity; the concept of masculinity, and what is traditionally masculine, was already starting to change and shift around the time the book was written and the film made; in its four characters we see the four masculine archetypes of the time, and how they compare/contrast with each other. The basic premise of the story–a river is being dammed to create a lake, and the dam will provide hydroelectric power for Atlanta, while the lake will flood towns and force communities to relocate away from land held in their families for generations, so these four men decide to canoe down the river one last time in a kind of “back to nature” type weekend thing that was becoming more and more popular with city-dwelling men whose city lives were beginning to make them think they were soft. Burt Reynolds, with his rubber zip up sleeveless vest, with the zipper strategically unzipped enough to show off the thick black pelt of hair on his chest, stood in for the masculine ideal; a strong man who, despite living in the city, only truly comes alive when pitting himself against nature in a game of survival; he is also the only member of the party who understands the dangers of the wilderness–the other three men in the party all think of it as a fun lark. He keeps referring to the Ned Beatty character as Chubby–he’s out of shape and not as fit; out of his element in the wilderness and often complaining and unable to meet the physical demands of the trip. Jon Voight, still at the height of his blonde youthful beauty, is prettily masculine–overshadowed by Reynolds’ machismo, but able to rise to the occasion and do what needs to be done. The fourth member of the trip–played by Ronny Cox–is yet another soft city type, definitely out of his element; while not seen as useless as the Ned Beatty type, also not as useful in a crisis as he could have been. The film’s bottom line is ultimately about survival, and who will survive when a fun weekend goes wrong. Deliverance also plays into a lot of the stereotypes about poor rural Southern white people–in fact, I would go so far as to say that Deliverance is responsible for cementing a lot of those stereotypes into the public consciousness. It’s a very good, if slightly bizarre, film; it certainly has to be one of the first films to depict male-on-male rape (and that’s one of the flaws in the film; why on earth did that happen? Why did the two rednecks attack them? Maybe it makes more sense in the book), and one of the reasons I always wanted to read the book was to see if there was more information, more explanation, to make the story work better. But I never have been able to get past the first chapter–Dickey was also one of those hard-drinking macho bullshit Hemingway-type writers, oozing with toxic masculinity, and that really comes through in the first chapter of the book, which is as far as I’ve ever gotten without putting it aside with a wince. But there’s an interesting essay to be written about masculinity and how it is portrayed in the film; reading the book and including it, with a comparison/contrast, could be enlightening.

The second half of my double header was Damien: Omen II, which is now available on Amazon Prime–but wasn’t back when I rewatched The Omen and The Final Conflict, the third part of the trilogy. Damien is just a bad movie, from beginning to end; it opens shortly after the conclusion of the first film, and the archaeologist in the Holy Land, Bugenhagen, telling a friend that Damien Thorn is the anti-Christ, proving it by showing him a newly excavated wall where a medieval monk who was visited by the devil and went mad, painted the images the devil showed him; amongst those images are the anti-Christ at numerous stages of his life–and he looks like Damien Thorn. Bugenhagen also has the ritual daggers that must be used to kill Damien…which is interesting, since he gave them to the Gregory Peck character in the first film, who was trying to use them at the end when he was killed; how did the old man get the daggers back? Was there more than one set? The rest of the movie is about Damien slowly learning who he is, while people continue to die around him, including his cousin/best friend. Damien was taken in by his father’s brother and his second wife, played by William Holden and Lee Grant (and just like in the first film, they are way too old to have thirteen year old sons), and the movie makes no sense, isn’t scary in anyway, and just really comes across as a pale imitation of the first, which wasn’t very good to begin with.

I also read a short story last night, from The Darkling Halls of Ivy, and while I did enjoy reading the story, “Einstein’s Sabbath,” by David Levien, in which a Princeton student after the second world war, one who was on the ship that sent the planes with the atomic bombs to Japan, comes to Professor Einstein’s home to blame him for the use of the bombs, and their creation. It’s an interesting story, but like the Jane Hamilton, not really a crime story per se; which is the only real problem I had with it.

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

All Too Well

Saturday morning, and there’s sunlight streaming through my windows–a lovely change from the majority of mornings this past week. I overslept this morning, something that has been happening with greater frequency over the last few weekends, but I also have been staying up later than normal and having trouble falling asleep when i finally do go to bed; I may have to change my pre-bed routine and go back to reading a bit before tumbling into bed. There was some study I read several years ago that indicated the light from screens made it harder for one’s mind to relax and turn off before bed, making sleep even more elusive than it already is for me.

The last thing I need in this world is to make it harder for myself to fall asleep.

I also realized yesterday afternoon when I finished work that I’ve been depressed for well over a week; going back to the week of my birthday. Depression is rather sneaky that way; I always forgot just how sneaky and malicious it actually is. You don’t have to feel sorry for yourself or have that ‘woe is me’ consciousness; it can manifest in being tired, having little or no energy, no desire to do your work, and thinking okay if I can just make it through this day. I literally felt myself come out of it, physically and emotionally, last evening after I finished my day’s work; the swing back to I can conquer the world was so palpable I actually can tell you what time it happened: 5:27, as I was loading blankets into the washing machine. These swings used to be much more obvious and apparent, and maybe…maybe I need something stronger than what I am taking to control all the chemical imbalances in my head. I don’t know. I worry so much about addiction that I am not even certain I should be taking the medication every day, and I also sometimes think I should take a week to wean myself off of it, to be certain, but then I remember that one of the symptoms of not taking the medication is an inability to sleep and like I need anymore assistance in THAT area.

It also never helps to have hurricane season amp up during the Katrina anniversary week. Sigh.

So, in this week’s film festival:

I watched Midway, the 2019 film about the climactic battle in the Pacific Theatre of World War II, which was the first American victory over the Japanese in the war and a major turning point; military historians consider it one of the most important naval battles in history, along with Salamis, Lepanto, and Trafalgar. I generally don’t watch war movies–I’ve never really cared for them much, and while I was watching Midway I realized why: I despise, and have always despised, toxic masculinity, and war movies are all about that amped up, testosterone driven macho bullshit. The main character of the film was someone who made me extremely uncomfortable with his posturing and, for want of a better term, dick-swinging; it wasn’t until he finally realized his posturing had resulted in the death of one of his airmen that he started to get it, and softened a bit, and became more likable (I also realize that this macho attitude is undeniably necessary for soldiers and the military; these are people who are putting their lives on the line and it really is a matter of kill or be killed; the problem is that it is incredibly difficult to shed that kind of training when you’re not on duty anymore or a civilian again, not to mention the PTSD). It also wasn’t until the end of the film, when the characters were shown as played by the actor with the story of what happened to them in their lives later, and the actor morphed into the real person on screen, that I realized that almost everyone in the movie was based on a real life person, not just the big admirals and so forth; that did make the movie a lot more powerful as I realized that not only was what I had just watched a fairly accurate depiction of the historical battle, but the individual experiences of the actual men who fought it. It’s a gorgeous film with stunning visuals, and the Pacific Theatre of the war never gets enough credit or recognition from us–we tend to remember the war primarily as being against the Nazis and the battle to free Europe from the Germans; bit the Pacific Theatre of the war is just as compelling, and the opening sequence–the horrific bombing and slaughter at Pearl Harbor–was just horrible to watch (one of the most moving experiences of my life was my first visit to the Arizona cemetery and memorial out in Pearl Harbor, where the water is so clear you can see the ship resting on the bottom, and oil bubbles are still escaping from the wreckage).

Yesterday I watched Blade Runner Final Cut  as part of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival (and yes I know it was released in 1982, but I consider it to be one of the last films that count as a Cynical 70’s film), and was most impressed. Rutger Hauer, of course, stole the film completely, and it was also a bit funny to me that the movie supposedly was set in 2019 (what an enormous disappointment 2019 turned out to be, given how Ridley Scott originally saw it forty years ago); visually it’s an amazing film, and I can also see how the visuals and art design of the film has influenced filmmakers ever since–the constant darkness and rain in Los Angeles (I kept thinking it’s rained more in this movie than it has in Los Angeles in the last year) reminded me of the  Alien film franchise and Altered Carbon and any number of other films. It was also interesting to see Sean Young and Daryl Hannah in the roles that first really brought them to audience attention–Sean Young was on the brink of major stardom for a while until she got labeled “troublesome and crazy; makes you wonder if she refused to fuck Harvey, doesn’t it?–and of course, a still young Harrison Ford just owns the screen. The concept behind the movie was interesting as well; it made me want to go back and read the source material (I’ve not really read much of Philip K. Dick, and given how influential his work was…yeah), and I still might. I bought a copy of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?–great title–a few years back, but I can’t seem to put my hands on it now.

We also watched two documentaries last night: Class Action Park, about the exceptionally dangerous water park in New Jersey and the Showtime documentary about the Go-Go’s,  The Go-Go’s. Both are excellent and I do recommend both; I’ve always wanted to write about an amusement park–I have a short story somewhere set in one based on the old Miracle Strip in Panama City Beach–and still might; I’d hoped to do a Scotty book back before Katrina set in Jazzland, which is now, of course, a derelict ruin. The Go-Go’s, of course, were and remain one of my all-time favorite bands; I still listen to their music today and of course, contributed my story “This Town” (one of my favorites) to Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

So, I am now awake after two cappuccinos (Gosh, why do I have trouble sleeping? A mystery for the ages), and looking ahead, there’s a lot to get done for me this weekend. I am way behind on both emails and the book, and of course I want to start reading Little Fires Everywhere, and the filing! Good lord, the filing. I also need to make notes from All That Heaven Allows, the biography of Rock Hudson I recently read as research for Chlorine, so I can return the book to the library this week; and it wouldn’t hurt to go through Tab Hunter Confidential and at least mark the pages that would be of use to me later.

We also finished watching The Case Against Adnan Syed, and I definitely have some thoughts and opinions about that case and show.

Watching Magic the other day, and a young Jerry Houser’s appearance in a bit role as the cab driver reminded me of another movie from the 1970’s, which I wanted to rewatch to see how it holds up: Summer of ’42, which also has one of the most beautiful scores every recorded (it won an Oscar for Michel Legrand, who composed it). I read the novel by Herman Raucher, and the book and movie are both considered seminal works and examples of the “coming-of-age” novel–and thinking about it now, how exactly would that work out nowadays? The main character was a teenager–15 or 16, I don’t remember which–and he becomes obsessed with a beautiful woman in her early twenties whose husband is off to war; when the husband is killed in her insane grief she sleeps with the young boy, who returns, even more deeply in love with her, the next day to find a goodbye note and her gone. The book and movie are told in retrospect; many years later, as an adult, he returns to Nantucket, still remembering her, and then the story is told in flashback, and then at the end he sadly looks at her old beach house and drives away. This remembrance also reminded me that I had written, as a short story, my own version of the same story–which never really worked–called “The Island”, which I still have here somewhere and could possibly at some point revise and rewrite; the primary problem for me with the story I wrote was the main character was only thirteen–RED FLAG–and just now I figured out how I could revise it and make it work (definitely not with a thirteen year old main character).

I might to actually spring for the $1.99 to rent Summer of ’42 on Prime, and see how, and if, it fits into my Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

And now it is time for the spice mines. Enjoy your Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Wanted Dead or Alive

The past month been an interesting one, so much so that I’ve not really been able to get a whole lot of anything writing related finished. This is partly my own fault, of course; I should have repeatedly resisted the urge to continue to read and refresh pages and follow links and so forth; but like a train wreck, I wasn’t able to ever tear my eyes away from the carnage.

As I said to a friend at the height of the drama, “Every time I think the last car of the train has come off the rails and the wreck is finished, here comes another train on the same tracks and I am mesmerized all over again.” I’ve read blog posts and Facebook posts and Twitter threads, over and over again, my mouth wide open and there being literally no way to keep my jaw from its permanently dropped position other than using both hands to push it up and then hold it in place.

I mean, wow. What a month it has been for both the crime and horror fiction communities.

This is a roundabout way of getting to a question that has come up a lot in the last decade or so, and one I’ve thought about a lot, but have never really addressed very much…but with all these shenanigans going on recently, I started thinking about this again, and it also played into my thoughts about reading The Hunter by Richard Stark, and my recent read of I the Jury by Mickey Spillane; two enormously popular novels by well-regarded crime writers that might not hold up as well through the modern day lens as they perhaps did when they were originally released.

And that ever-present question of the artist versus the art.

Probably the first time I’ve ever thought about whether it’s possible to continue to enjoy art despite the artist was, of course, the film Chinatown. I never saw it in the theatrical release, but it’s widely regarded as one of the best crime films ever made; I remember it was nominated for like ten or eleven Oscars in the year it was released (which, if memory serves, was the same year as The Godfather Part II, which pretty much won everything imaginable), and the debate about the movie has raged ever since Polanski fled the country to avoid statutory rape consequences. I find that abhorrent; and any defense of Polanski’s indefensible behavior irrelevant to me. But I wanted to watch Chinatown, and Rosemary’s Baby is one of my favorite horror movies of all time; I revisit it every now and then. So, how can I justify watching and enjoying these two films directed by someone who did something heinous? When I was finally able to stream Chinatown a few years back, I justified it to myself by saying it was 1. before the statutory rape and 2. if I didn’t review or talk about or promote the film on social media or on my blog, streaming it through a service I already pay for isn’t contributing much, if any, money to Polanski’s bank account.

And yes, I am very well aware of how ludicrous and torturous those mental hoops I jumped through actually are.

There was also the Orson Scott Card debacle a few years back, and I didn’t jump through hoops on that one. I had read and enjoyed Ender’s Game, and had thought about reading more of Card’s work…until I discovered he was a horrific homophobe who actually worked, donated money to, and actively sought to block gay equality in the United States. 

Nope, sorry, done.

It’s one thing to have abhorrent opinions about a minority; it’s another to actively work–and use the money you’ve earned through your art–against the rights of that minority. Fuck all the way off, Mr. Card, and never come back.

Which brings me to The Hunter.

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When a fresh-faced guy in a Chevy offered him a lift, Parker told him to go to  hell. The guy said, “Screw you, buddy,” yanked his Chevy back into the stream of traffic, and roared on down to the tollbooths. Parker spat in the right-hand lane, lit his last cigarette, and walked across the George Washington Bridge.

The 8 a.m. traffic went mmmmmm, mmmmmm, all on this side, headed for the city. Over there, lanes and lanes of nobody going to Jersey. Underneath, the same thing.

Out in the middle, the bridge trembled and swayed in the wind. It does it all the time, but he’d never noticed it. He’d never walked it before. He felt it shivering under his feet, and he got mad. He threw the used-up butt at the river, spat on a passing hubcab, and strode on.

Richard Stark is one of the pseudonyms of crime writer extraordinaire Donald Westlake. I will be the first to admit, repeatedly, that my education in not only literature but crime fiction is sorely lacking; there are many authors whose works I should have read and haven’t; Westlake is one. I read my first Westlake a few years ago, a Hard Case Crime edition of The Comedy is Finished and it was amazingly good. I ordered a copy of The Hot Rock shortly thereafter; alas, it is still in the TBR pile., and I do intend to get to it at some point.

Westlake also happens to be an inspiration to one of my favorite queer writers, Rob Byrnes, who writes witty, Westlake-like queer caper novels (if you’ve not already read him, you must do so immediately).

I first discovered that Westlake was also Richard Stark when these Parker novels he wrote under that name were brought back into print recently by the University of Chicago Press, and a crime writer I admire deeply, Chris Holm, announced he’d written an introduction for one of the books. Chris has never steered me wrong in his recommendations (for that matter, neither has his amazing wife, Katrina Niidas Holm, who was the one who steered me to Michael McDowell’s The Elementals, for which I will always be grateful), and so I thought, as is my wont, to start with the first book in the series, The Hunter.

And once I started reading it, as you can see by the opening above, I was caught up in the story and the voice.

But, as I said earlier, The Hunter was very much a novel of its time: 1960.

Parker was considered an anti-hero when the books first started coming into print–although today I suppose he would be considered a sociopath. He does live by a code, even if he is a sociopathic criminal; and one has to admire the dedication to that code, and how he never deviates from it. He doesn’t have an issue with breaking the law–in fact, he makes his living breaking the law–nor does he have a problem with meting out vengeance on those who do him wrong. In The Hunter, he is betrayed–and almost killed–by his partners in a high-stakes robbery; amongst those who wronged and cheated him are his wife–and he kills her without a second thought, and then goes after the rest of those involved in the scam, even though some of them are very well connected with the New York mob. (The mob is referred to as a ‘syndicate’ in the book; an old term I haven’t heard in a very long time, and it was a lovely piece of nostalgia. Organized crime was often referred to as a ‘syndicate’ back in the day.)

It’s tautly written, suspenseful (will Parker get his revenge, or will he be betrayed yet again?) and I kept turning the pages. I really enjoyed the book tremendously, and will go back and continue to read the Parker novels–I am curious to see how Stark developed the character and the continuing story of his life and career in crime, as well as to see how Westlake continued to develop as a writer under the name Richard Stark.

However–the casual homophobia of the time slapped me in the face a couple of times while I was reading the book:

Page Three: On the way, he panhandled a dime from a latent fag with big hips and stopped in a grimy diner for coffee.

p. 38: “She’s dead. So is your fat pansy. You can be dead, too, if you want.”

Yeah, I did kind of recoil, and in both instances I debated finishing the book. But…it was written in 1960, and the attitude towards homosexuality exhibited in those lines (including the slur pansy, which I haven’t heard in a while) was common. We can’t deny that it existed–we cannot deny homophobia exists today any more than we can that it did in 1960–and it was a sign of the times. Does that mean the book shouldn’t be read? Should it come with a trigger warning? A deep-seated contempt for homosexuality was part and parcel of the alpha male/tough guy persona of the times, and including that language in the book was an easy way to convey the no-nonsense masculinity of the character (it was also there in I the Jury–much more so in the Spillane than the Stark).

The attitudes towards women isn’t much better; but again, a sign of the times:

p. 135 He used one cord to tie her hands behind her, the other to tie her ankles. He found scissors in a desk drawer next to an inhaler, snipped off part of her slip and used it for a gag. She had good legs–But not now. After it was over, after Mal was dead, he’d want somebody then.

Ew, because killing someone is a turn-on? Although it fits with the character Stark has created; this is a man who killed his wife without a second thought.

But…I enjoyed reading the book. I suspect my enjoyment would have been greater in the past–I probably would have loved this series had I discovered it in my late teens and early twenties, but the world was a different place then, too. I am definitely going to continue reading the series; as I said earlier, I am curious to see how the character develops and changes and grows–or if he doesn’t, how bad he becomes. I am intrigued by the character, and of course, the writing is absolutely stellar.

I don’t think, for the record, books from earlier times should be held to the same standards as we would hold something newly published; times and attitudes vary and change over time. It’s hard to read an older book without the modern lenses, however; probably as little as ten years ago I would have dismissed the “pansy” remarks or the misogyny apparent in the character without feeling the need to point it out. I don’t think these books should be cancelled or not read; primarily because it’s incredibly important to have these conversations–as well as these works serve as a time capsule, a window into another time where things hadn’t yet changed but needed to, certainly.

I do recommend it; as I said, I will continue reading the Parker series and I am looking forward to reading more of the Westlake novels as well.

Can’t We Try

And just like that, this is the last day of my combination of illness/vacation. The good news is that I think I’m over everything that prevented the trip to Bouchercon in Dallas; the other good news is that I feel remarkably rested, centered, and ready to get back into the world again. I slept deeply and well again last night–and for those of you who can sleep well every night, I hope you appreciate it! I certainly never did back in the days when I could fall asleep simply by putting my head on the pillow and closing my eyes.

That seems so very long ago now.

These little vacations, I think, are very important for me. I need to recharge more frequently than I used to, and the weekends, while helpful, simply aren’t enough anymore. I have another little week-long vacation coming at the end of this month; I always try to take them around office holidays–so I am taking the first three days of Thanksgiving week off. As I said, I do need to take these little vacations every now and then in order to continue functioning; I wear out a lot easier now that I am older.

Paul and I got caught up on Catherine the Great last night, which is quite enjoyable (although as I said to Paul, “Catherine’s life when she was younger, and how she came to power, is a lot more interesting than this part of her life; but since you have Helen Mirren, it has to be about her when she’s older.” And Helen Mirren is absolutely killing it.

We also watched the first three episodes of Watchmen last night, and we are all in on this one, too. Regina King is just a goddess, and one of our best actresses working today. The story is all too apt for this time, as well–it’s themes of racism and white supremacy and fighting it, while exposing all the ugly nastiness of white supremacy, is all too too timely for our present day–and the third episode, which brings the remarkably talented and vastly under-appreciated Jean Smart into the cast, was one of the best. As a federal agent who hates vigilantes, and has come to Tulsa to help fight not only the white supremacy but to also bust “vigilantes”–which would be, in her own words, “some rich asshole with too many toys”–Smart is the anchor the show needed–the first two episodes didn’t seem as cohesive or to make as much sense as they all do now; the addition of her and her character pulled the entire show together and has essentially set up the conflict for the rest of the season. I never read the graphic novel on which the show is based; but it’s another take at superheroes (vigilantes) like Amazon’s The Boys, and it veers away from the path that DC and Marvel set up with their own hero universes.

I started reading another book yesterday, but am not sure I’m going to finish it–too much misogyny and homophobia in it already–it was originally published in 1962–but I might go ahead and finish it; it would tie directly into the essay about toxic masculinity that reading I the Jury inspired, and let’s face it, that essay needs other examples rather than just Spillane. I know I want to reread James Ellroy’s Clandestine because of its remembered homophobia; it’s one of the reasons I never read more Ellroy, despite always wanting to. He’s an MWA Grand Master; deeply respected in the field, and considered one of the giants in the genre, plus LA Confidential alone sounds terrific. And reading Ellroy to get a sense of 1950’s Los Angeles is probably the best way to get a sense for the time, for Chlorine.

I’m also still thinking about Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things. It’s just that good, Constant Reader. I also saw she has signed to do a novel for Agora, the Polis Books diversity imprint; I seriously can’t wait to read that.

I’ve done very little writing since I went on vacation; I’ve been primarily focusing on resting, doing some cleaning and filing, and getting over being sick. I’ve felt really good the last few days, and I think I can face returning to the office again tomorrow. I’d like to get some writing done today–I also want to get my email inbox emptied out–but I am not going to pressure myself; I am simply going to take the day as it comes and try to get whatever needs to be done finished as it comes along. I kind of need to reread where I am with Bury Me in Shadows anyway; I’ve not even really looked at it much over the last two weeks as I was not feeling myself. Today I feel rested and relaxed and healthy enough to possibly get some work done; and even if I don’t–if I save my energy because I am going back to work again tomorrow–I should be able to get some reading done. I may go ahead and finish reading that book I started to read this weekend; it’s kind of short, and so it shouldn’t take terribly long to read, right?

And then I can move on to something else.

I’m still enjoying Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, although I always find the early Colonial period of New Orleans a bit dull and uninteresting…although I am curious to see how the street–and the city itself–eventually became such a rough place. People in Louisiana outside of New Orleans–the ones who comment on newspaper articles and television station websites–always trash New Orleans as being “dangerous” and “full of crime” and “unsafe”; which, to me, I have always considered codewords  for racists, who can’t stand the idea of all the people of color who live and work here. They often will talk, in their little comment/rants, about how New Orleans “didn’t used to be like that” and bemoan the wonderful, lily-white days before desegregation. But my reading of New Orleans history definitely gives the lie to those comments; historically, the city has always been a hotbed of crime and murder. Always. Those lovely “white flight emigrants” are like those people who seem to think the 1950’s was this idyllic period of American history, when it was anything but that; the ones who think Happy Days was a documentary, and Leave It to Beaver was reality television. Frankly, it wasn’t particularly a great time to be white, either–McCarthyism, the widespread fear of communism and the Soviets, the shadow of the mushroom cloud, the rise of the suburbs–it was not the wonderful time we are so often told it was. What was wonderful about the 1950’s? The economy was booming in the post-war period.

Which should tell you all you need to know about white American priorities.

Over this past weekend I got an idea about what to do with a failed short story I’ve done many drafts on and has been rejected everywhere. I do think I can now do something with it, and maybe even get it published somewhere. Stranger things have happened, after all.

And now, I think I’m going to get some more coffee, work on my emails for a bit, and then repair to my chair to read for a little bit while I figure out how to best spend my last day of vacation. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Me and Mrs. Jones

So, the vacation is going swimmingly so far. Yesterday I simply ran errands–prescriptions, making groceries, picking up the mail–and once I got home and put the groceries away, I decided to take the rest of the day off. Being out in the heat and humidity, even for that brief period of time, was exhausting and draining.

I also kept thinking it was Saturday–as the above is my usual Saturday routine–and actually went upstairs after putting the groceries away to start stripping the bed linens for laundering them before realizing, dude, it’s only Wednesday.

So, I retired to my easy chair and finished reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury.

And wow, do I ever have some thoughts about that book.

When Sarah Weinman brought up Mickey Spillane on Twitter the other day  by asking if Mickey Spillane was camp, I responded with oh god yes, which led to  further conversation with the end result that I decided to read, at long last, a Mickey Spillane novel; I just happened to have a copy of I the Jury on hand. (My references to Spillane being camp had everything to do with his image, reflecting back when Spillane was a public figure and doing everything from print ads to commercials; I’d also briefly watched the Mike Hammer television series starring Stacy Keach) I’d gotten a copy of I the Jury after reading an appreciation of Spillane somewhere (Crimereads? Perhaps) which made a very strong case that Spillane and his work was dramatically underrated in the crime genre, and was long overdue a study and another look;  furthermore, he was vastly more important to the genre than he was ever given credit for. I’d never read Spillane, primarily because as a gay man I was clearly not the target audience for his work; as I’ve said before, many times, I stopped reading crime novels in the 1970’s because I was very tired of the many, over-worn tropes of the genre and the toxicity of the fragile masculinity contained within the majority of the books/series.

The cover of my copy of the book also contains the tag line: Before there was Jack Reacher…there was Mike Hammer.

An intriguing bit of marketing by the publisher, don’t you think? I have greatly enjoyed Lee Child’s Reacher series, and think it is one of the best of our modern times; however, I also stopped reading the series over ten years ago. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the quality of the series or the character or the writing, but more to do with falling behind in my reading of the series and the next thing I knew, I was five or six books behind and I gave up on even attempting to catch up; this has happened with numerous other writers and series I enjoy, so this is not a shot at Lee Child, whom I also like personally.

It’s just one of those things that can happen with prolific writers.

But in reading the book, I don’t really see the correlation between the two characters, other than, perhaps, their size. Reacher is an enormous man who takes up a lot of space; so is Hammer. But Reacher is more of a philosopher than Hammer–I’d say Reacher owes more to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than to Mike Hammer; although I suppose it could be argued that MacDonald and McGee may have been influenced by Spillane and Hammer.

I would also argue that Spillane also owes an enormous debt to Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, because there are some similarities in plot and structure.

I did start taking notes and writing down ideas, because I would really like to write a critical essay on I the Jury, because there’s an awful lot there–misogyny, homophobia, racism–that, while it may reflect the time in which it was written and published (1947), is problematic for the modern, present-day reader. Hammer is, in some ways, the embodiment of a masculine ideal that is very problematic, a personification of the type of a toxic masculinity that might not have ever truly existed, even in that time. The books were wildly popular, and I also believe the popularity of the books can be tied into the societal and cultural definition of what a man was supposed to be, but so rarely was in reality.

And frankly, the PTSD from World War II drips from every page.

The book is highly reflective of its time, and I think writing about it critically, both as a product of its time as well as through a modern lens, could make for a fascinating and interesting essay. We shall see.

I also started reading Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, yesterday, and while I only managed to get through the prologue, I was blown away by it completely, and look forward to delving more deeply into it during the course of today.

I am rather enjoying this life of leisure. I did do some other things around the house yesterday, starting reorganization/cleaning projects that can be leisurely finished over the course of my vacation.

And now, it’s time to repair to my easy chair with Ms. Kim’s novel.

Have a lovely holiday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again on the morrow.

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Frankenstein

So, vacation. Five glorious days off, which are not to be wasted, but utilized productively; but I also intend to pace myself and give myself plenty of time to relax and read. It would be completely awesome to be able to get about three or four books read over the course of this holiday/vacation weekend; there are also some films I’d like to watch in the evening–and since I cannot watch any of the shows Paul and I are watching together, that definitely frees up some more time. There are some Hitchcock films available on Amazon Prime; I may do a Hitchcock film festival this weekend. Who knows? We shall see. The possibilities are endless, after all.

One chore I have to do is read the galley proofs for Royal Street Reveillon, which means the book is that one more step closer to becoming, you know, an actual book; which is of course incredibly cool and never truly ever gets old. At the rate I am going, of course, there’s no telling when there will be another book by me; I can’t seem to finish anything these days, but hopefully over these next five days there will be progress made and I can take great joy in getting something done. I am very scattered–that creative ADD I talk about all the fucking time–and seriously, it is rather daunting to think about all the things I have in some sort of progress–a collection of essays, two short story collections, at least three (now four, if you count the Chanse first chapter I wrote last week) novels in some sort of stage of being finished, and countless, endless short stories.

I’d like to send some more stories out to markets; perhaps this weekend, if I don’t get sidetracked and distracted, as I always seem to be. I always tend to think I’ll get more done over this little vacations than I wind up getting done, but on the other hand, I am also going into this vacation more well-rested than I usually do. I am not in the least bit tired this morning, and I wasn’t tired after I got home from work last night; which is a good sign. Perhaps I am adjusting, at long last, to getting up early in the mornings again and maybe I can go back to the times when I used to get a lot done in the mornings.

Then again, it only takes one shitty night of insomnia to derail everything, doesn’t it? But that didn’t happen last night again–thank you baby Jesus–and so this morning I am awake, rested somewhat, and thinking lazy thoughts already. Oh, I don’t need to do that today, I have five days after all–which is, quite naturally, how it always starts, you know? “Oh, sure, why don’t I just be lazy for two days–take a weekend–and then the last three days of the vacation I can be getting things done.” And then nothing ends up getting done at all…why not simply get everything done to begin with, and then take the weekend?

I got further along in I the Jury yesterday at the office between clients, and it is definitely something I’m glad I’ve taken the time to read—despite the limits on my reading time–and the essay I rather glibly assumed I’d be able to write after reading it is sort of taking form in my mind. It’s a short book, fortunately, but the philosophy behind it is one that generally doesn’t appeal to me; if toxic masculinity were a book, it would be a Mike Hammer novel. But at the same time, I can also understand and see why these books sold so ridiculously well, and why they appealed to so many (mostly) male readers; Hammer is an exaggeration of the so-called masculine ideal, the ‘lone wolf rugged individualist American man’, which goes hand-in-hand with so many of our societal and cultural problems–past of the mythology of this continent and this nation is based in that loosely defined (and periodically redefined) sense of freedom; this wild frontier and wilderness that had to be settled, tamed, reframed and repurposed. (I sometimes marvel at how remarkably beautiful this continent must have been before European civilization; it’s still stunningly beautiful today, with all the taming and civilizing that has happened.) After the second world war, as the American economy steamed full forward and the society/culture was itself reframed, modernized, and changed forever into what is now looked back at as the great modern society–that sense of wildness and freedom was gradually lost, and it was also the first true generation that didn’t really have that same sense of “hey let’s go west and start a new life” because the west was already “won”, and what men were taught as traditional forms of American masculinity, developed over decades and centuries (with the poison pill of white supremacy inside) were no longer possible and as the so-called good life of career, home and family became sanitized and suburbs and home ownership and consumer culture began subsuming and redefining American masculinity, writers like Spillane tapped into that dissatisfaction and gave them heroes/idols like Mickey Spillane, the rugged masculine ideal who all women wanted and desired; who lived by a strange code; whose methods were steeped in violence; and had no problem taking the law into his own hands–and was SUCH a ‘man’s man’ that even the police never tried to rein him in even as he violated the law and civil rights and the foundations of law and justice the country was built upon.

As you can see, the essay about Mike Hammer/Mickey Spillane is already starting to take form in my brain.

Maybe I could have been an academic, after all.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? I want to do some cleaning, and some writing, and I also have galleys to proof as well as a cover design to look over and approve (it’s so remarkably beautiful! It’s one of my favorite covers ever–Lake Thirteen will probably always be my favorite cover, but this one comes very close to supplanting it in my affections), and I also want to finish reading I the Jury. I also have to go pick up prescriptions and the mail today; I might make a grocery list and stop at Rouses as well–the less time I have to spend outside the house this weekend the better, quite frankly. After I read I the Jury I am most likely going to read either Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, or perhaps dip into some horror; I’ll have to see how the spirit moves me once I get everything going. I also want to clean out my email inbox–there are emails in there I’ve ignored and done nothing about for far far too long, and they need to be gone.

It’s always such a lovely feeling when your inbox has been cleaned out completely, isn’t it? And it’s been far too long.

As for right now, though, I need more coffee and something to eat…so on that note, I shall leave you for the day and return to the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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