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.

the hunter

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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Just Another Day

So, the Saints have added a male Saintsation this year, which pleases me to no end. And of course, he’s been targeted by trash on-line; you know, the ‘keyboard warriors’ who insult and tear into total strangers from behind the safety of their computers. I am looking forward to watching Jesse perform this season, as well as the two men who are performing with the Rams. I was a cheerleader in college, and know all too well the abuse you can get from other men (and some women) for putting yourself out there. I enjoyed every moment of cheering, and that trash would have called me fag even if I wasn’t a cheerleader.

And I’d still like to see any of them try to do a string of back handsprings.

Both Animal Kingdom and Sharp Objects continue to enthrall us; both are coming to their inevitable season finales soon, but hopefully all the other shows we enjoy watching will be airing again by then; there are also some other shows I’d like to watch currently on Netflix. I watched To All The Boys I’ve Loved Before or whatever it’s name was the other night; it was adorable and sweet, if a bit predictable. But it was great seeing a young Asian-American girl in the Molly Ringwold role for a change; I also enjoyed seeing her family dynamic. I imagine the film is going to draw the inevitable haters, as such things are wont to do; but I love this new trend of representation of characters without making a big deal about it. I am, of course, conditioned to notice the minority characters–as are we all, really–but representation does  matter, and presenting it like it’s not a big deal is the best way  to go because it shouldn’t be a big deal.

I hope and pray future generations will see it that way and won’t notice.

Next up for Florida Happens is Alex Segura’s “Quarters for the Meter.”

Alex Segura is the author of the Pete Fernandez Miami Mystery novels, which include Silent CityDown the Darkest StreetDangerous Ends, and Blackout, all via Polis Books. Blackout was listed as one of the most anticipated mystery novels of 2018 by CrimeReads, MysteryPeople and Bookbub, and included in The Boston Globe’s Summer Reading List.

He has also written a number of comic books, including the best-selling and critically acclaimed Archie Meets Kiss storyline, the “Occupy Riverdale” story, and the Archies Meet The Ramones one-shot and The Archies ongoing series.

Alex will be co-writing Lethal Lit, a new fictional crime podcast launching this fall from iHeart Media.

His work has appeared in the anthologies Protectors 2, Waiting To Be Forgotten:  SStories of Crime and Heartbreak Inspired by the Replacements, Unloaded 2, Apollo’s Daughters, and Florida Happens,  the Bouchercon 2018 anthology, and in publications including The Daily Beast, The Los Angeles Review of Books, Literary Hub, The Strand, Mental Floss, LitReactor, and more.

A Miami native, he lives in New York with his wife and son. Check out his website here.

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I had this weird dream,” Pete Fernandez said. “I was in a boat, but there weren’t any paddles.”

“That is weird,” Mike said, sipping his Heineken. The jukebox was playing Waits. The Bar—a grungy gastropub located in the heart of Coral Gables—was mostly empty. It was just past six in the evening. They were in a booth a few steps away from the main bar area.

“That’s not all of it,” Pete said. He took a sip of his drink—a vodka soda—before continuing. “But then my dad showed up. He was standing in front of the boat.”

“On the water?”

“Yeah,” Pete said. The thought of his dad put a clench in his throat. It’d been only a few months since they had to put the old man in the ground, forcing Pete and his fiancé Emily to return to Miami from their home in New Jersey. “He was just standing there. Looking at me.”

“What’d you do?”

The question hung over them for a moment. The bartender, a fit blonde named Lisa, nodded at Pete politely as she walked by. He’d been back in Miami for less than six months, and he already felt unhinged.

Emily.

She had left a few days ago. He was living in his father’s house and he was pretty sure the only reason Mike, his best friend, was tolerating him tonight was because he was worried Pete couldn’t last very long alone.

“Nothing,” Pete said. He couldn’t bring himself to tell Mike he’d woken up to find his pillow wet from tears.

This is a terrific story, from beginning to end; a kind of crime slice-of-life tale that made me hungry to read more of Alex’s work. I have the ebook of the first Pete Fernandez novel, and an ARC of the most recent one, and haven’t managed to get to either as of yet. Pete and his buddy are having a couple of drinks in a bar at the end of their workday, which just happens to be when some masked bandits rush in to rob the place. The rest of the story details what happens during the robbery and how the two of them manage to avert a tragedy; and the closing line is pitch perfect.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Let’s Go Crazy

Roxane Gay tweeted yesterday where are the lists of the bad literary men?

I kind of laughed to myself when I saw that. Not, of course, that the tweet was funny; it was anything but. The reason I laughed is because I wrote a short story a few years ago that was precisely about that; a bad literary man, the women whose lives and careers he impacted, and their revenge on him. The story was called “Death and the Handmaidens,” and it was, of course, a crime story. And it should come as no surprise to anyone that the story was rejected by every single place I submitted it.

Now, of course,  it’s entirely possible that the story itself was bad; badly written, badly constructed, unoriginal, didn’t deliver on its premise, etc etc etc. That is, as a matter of fact, not at all beyond the realm of possibility.  I have always acknowledged my difficulties with writing short stories, and this one is no different. I struggled with the story, with my main character and getting inside her head, with whether she seemed absolutely realistic or not, whether the tone was right, whether the voice worked…and also with whether I was too close to the story to see its flaws and what was wrong with it. So, after several rejections and several rewrites, I consigned it to the File Drawer of Obscurity thinking maybe someday I would try to work on it again, or see if it worked better as a novel, all the things I think when I put something away because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Lately, tho, will all of the harassment/assault victims coming forward….I am wondering if maybe I shouldn’t revisit this story again? I don’t know that anyone might want it still, but at the same time it can’t hurt to revisit it, reread it, maybe figure out where I want it to go. I’d been thinking I should move it out of the literary world…we shall see. *adds to to-do list*

And my awesome friend Lyndsay Faye, whom I admire more than I can ever express, posted this experience yesterday:

https://goo.gl/iTbMiV

We’re kind of seeing a societal shift, I think, and one that has been a long time coming. There are still, of course, going to be rapes and sexual assaults and sexual harassment, but I also don’t think it’s going to be looked at and treated the same way it has been in the past. Lisa Levy also wrote this interesting piece that I read this morning, and of course, as I have mentioned before, I’ve been reading a lot about toxic masculinity and rape culture for the WIP (which needs another revision). It’s been an eye-opening experience, because even as I have read about it and have listened to women for many years, I had no idea how deep and pervasive all of this was–and I thought I had a handle on it, you know?

Yikes.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Tuesday Calvin Klein underwear ad for you, Constant Reader.

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And yes, I am aware of the irony of posting about objectification while posting pictures of scantily clad hot men.