Little Lies

Sunday morning rolling around like a marble in the Mousetrap game–do they still sell that? We never had that game when we were kids–I remember having Clue, Monopoly, Life, and Chinese checkers, but never Mousetrap. We were a game family, often playing cards–Rook, Hearts, Spades, and Pinochle were enormous favorites within the family–and much later adding Uno and Trivial Pursuit (although no one will pay Trivial Pursuit anymore because I always win; and have even won on my first turn). Yesterday was kind of a lovely day, overall; I slept deeply and late, got up and did some things around the apartment; soaked my toe and slathered topical gel over it all day; read Bobby Mathews’ quite marvelous Living the Gimmick for a while, and worked. (Bobby’s book is really good, y’all) The work wasn’t easy but it also wasn’t difficult; in fact, I was kind of enjoying myself, which for me is lovely and encouraging. I do have to run out to the grocery store at some point today, but I’m not going to get terribly worked up and/or upset about it. I slept decently last night; I feel rested this morning but managed to get up early and am hoping that today will be a good, productive one.

The Lefty Awards were given out last night in Tucson: I lost Best Humorous to Ellen Byron and her delightful Bayou Book Thief; Kellye Garrett won Best Novel for Like a Sister; Wanda Morris won Best Historical for Anywhere You Run; and Ramona Emerson won Best Debut for Shutter. Congratulations to everyone! It was both a thrill and a surprise to be nominated in the first place, completely unexpected, and just a bit sad that the “race” is over. I can’t imagine being nominated another time, to be honest, but am very grateful for everyone who included A Streetcar Named Murder.

I still get to enjoy being an Agatha nominee for another month, though.

Yesterday was pretty good, over all. I did get a lot done, and I was pleased with the work I got done. I’m feeling a lot better these days about everything, really; it’s hard for me to explain but it feels like I’ve been operating on autopilot since even before the pandemic started; like there was a dark cloud inside my head that I somehow managed to get things done, but it was harder than it used to be. I don’t feel like that dark cloud is there anymore, at least not since last weekend, and it’s delightful to be free of that whatever-it-was. Depression and anxiety, most likely; I know I’ve been worrying about Mom in the back of my mind for years now, and I still kind of tense up when I get a text message alert from my phone. I guess a lot of that worry has now transferred over to Dad, but he’s healthy–or at least has been so far. The grief comes and goes still–far less frequently than before–but it still happens from time to time that I’ll get a bit overwhelmed and have to go withdraw from the world for a while.

While I was waiting for Paul to get home and after I had finished working for the day, I decided to watch a movie instead of just endless scrolling through social media and looking for things on Youtube to watch. I couldn’t remember if I had seen Uncharted or not; I like Tom Holland and still kind of enjoy Mark Wahlberg (while admitting that he’s probably not a great person–it’s complicated), so I queued it up and started watching. As I watched, I began remembering things from it, so I had seen it before, just didn’t remember it. It didn’t take long for me to start punching holes in the plot/story, and I remembered that it became so far-fetched that I didn’t enjoy it. I was about forty-three minutes into it when I gave up; the entire premise that Magellan had a fortune in gold that somehow got lost (he didn’t; he didn’t stay anywhere long enough to amass such a treasure) was simply taken for granted without explanation; that’s the legend so we just don’t question it. Props for using an actual historical figure to give it more authenticity, but…it also lost me. We watched the SEC Gymnastics championships (LSU came in third, but it really was a matter of tenths of points), then finished watching Servant, which was interesting and different and strange and very well done before catching this week’s The Mandalorian, which wasn’t a particularly good one. I’m not feeling this season, to be honest; and of course the best part–Baby Yoda–hasn’t really had much to do except just kind of be there.

Such a shame about Uncharted, really. I love treasure hunts, but they are so rarely (outside of Indiana Jones and Romancing the Stone) featured in good movies that I’m always a little hesitant to watch one. I still want to do my Colin treasure hunt book sometime, but God only knows when. The Festivals are this week, so Paul will be moving into the Monteleone Hotel on Wednesday, most likely, and I’ll probably go down there on Friday. I’m going to have to commute, which isn’t going to be easy–the limping toe, for example–so we don’t have to board Scooter, and means I will probably be exhausted by the end of the weekend. So be it, seriously. I definitely need to make a to-do list today; I’ve been operating without one for quite some time and I think it’s necessary for me going forward to stay on track with everything,

And on that note, I am going to read some more Bobby Mathews while my coffee continues to warm me up. I have some chores to do around the house (as always) and I am going to run over to the Fresh Market at some point to get some things (not entirely sure what is needed, to be honest, with Paul going away on Wednesday), and so I must be busy and productive today. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

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As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The d├ęcor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

Candlebright

I slept in again this morning–which has been happening alot, which means I am going to have to get used to getting up early again next week because this morning’s COVID test came back negative. It’s finally over. Yesterday I still felt a little worn down and fatigued, but managed to get things done (not much, really; but some laundry and dishes and some reading and so forth–I was afraid to overdo it, even though I felt good; cautious and concerned about a relapse), but now that I can safely confirm that I am out of the woods, it’s time to start easing myself back into my life. I ordered groceries for curbside pick-up this morning, so once I get that text I’ll drive over to pick them up, but…I’m over everything. It is now safe for me to go out in public (wearing a mask, believe me; I know that doesn’t really protect me but other people, but I can’t help but remember that it was when I allowed myself to get more lax with the masking that I got infected. So yes, intellectually I know it’s not helping but emotionally it makes me feel better to do so, so I am going with the emotions over the intellect on this one) again, and it also means I can finally return to work on Monday. Monday is usually my work at home day, but having been out of the office for the last week, I kind of feel like I probably should pop in on Monday and make my presence known again.

Plus, I have to get all the sick time bullshit sorted–and might as well do that on a day when I don’t have clients.

Huzzah? Huzzah indeed.

We finished the second season of Condor last night, which was enjoyable. If you’re into espionage/political thrillers, this is a very good one. Ben Irons (Jeremy’s son) is really good in the lead as Joe Turner, a low-level CIA employee who catches on to something major in the first season and everything goes to shit for him from there–like the book and movies it was based on (the movie was Three Days of the Condor, starring Robert Redford; the book was Six not Three. I watched this as part of my Cynical 70’s Film Festival during the shutdown/work at home times). I have a copy of the book, by Richard Condon, that it in my enormous TBR pile. I’ve wanted to read it (along with The Manchurian Candidate) because these old political thrillers are interesting to me, with their extreme paranoia and evil Communist archetypes. I want to read them not only for their value as political thrillers but as remnants of a past time that could be said to also border on propaganda–painting the Communists, particularly the Soviet Union–as the bad guys. (This is not to say that the Soviet leadership weren’t bad people–some of them most definitely were–but their national interest also opposed to ours, so from their point of view Americans were the bad guys; that whole “no villain sees themselves as a villain” thing we talk about in character workshops and panels.)

It was also incredibly weird and strange resting so much over the last eight days. I have to recognize the fact that part of how I am feeling–the strangeness–is because I am actually no longer tired. I am always tired, apparently; not really sure why that is other than not getting enough sleep or something along those lines, but this morning, after sleeping off and on almost regularly for eight days, I feel rested this morning. Which means I can get all kinds of things done today–slowly easing myself back into my life, as it were–and plan to spend some time with Sandra SG Wong’s riveting In the Dark We Forget, should do some writing and editing, and then there’s of course all the cleaning and filing and organizing that needs to be done. I need to update my bills list, I need to make a new to-do list, I need to reread and revise a story one last time before submitting it to an anthology I want to get it into; and may I add how lovely it is not to have the brain fog this morning? My head is clear, and that feels amazing. My throat still feels a little bit more raw than I would prefer, and now I know that post-nasal drip is sinus related and a Claritin-D will take care of it. Huzzah!

I also don’t feel terribly daunted about getting started digging out from under the piles of everything that gathered while i was sick and foggy and exhausted, either–which is another good sign. I know it sounds weird, but now that I am sixty (sixty-one in less than a month; there’s still time to get a card and buy a gift, you know) I always worry that things aren’t necessarily related to an illness but rather are a permanent change to my life and my body and my brain. Our bodies and brains don’t come with user manuals, after all, so we are best off just getting by the best we can and always have to wonder. I was worried that the brain fog, for example, wasn’t something related to the COVID plague but rather a shift in my head that goes along with my age, you know? My memory has already become a lot more specious and less-specific than it used to be; I no longer remember things that were committed to memory just a few years ago. Admittedly, a lot of it was trivial information that really only came in handy when you’re playing Jeopardy or Trivial Pursuit, but damn it, I used to always run the categories and rarely, if ever, lost at Trivial Pursuit and those days are sadly long past me now.

And I also feel relatively certain you’re tired of listening to me whine about being sick–well, you don’t have to worry about reading about that any longer, Constant Reader. I was even taking notes on some thoughts about Mississippi River Mischief yesterday in my journal.

And on that note, I am going to get cleaned up so that when I get the text that my groceries are ready I can head down to the store for curbside pick-up, which will be lovely. Have a wonderful Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.