Sara Smile

Well, I slept much later than I usually do; I did wake up at seven but through nah, too early and went back to sleep, not awakening again until nine-thirty-ish. And yes, that is late for me, but I also stayed up later than I usually do because Paul and I got sucked into a marathon binge of season three of Santa Clarita Diet, which dropped this week. We have three episodes left to go–which will probably be watched this evening–and then we have to decide which of the shows we’d already started we want to finish–either Umbrella Academy or You. There are also some other shows we need to finish, others that look like possibilities, and Netflix also added some great classic films I’ve been wanting to watch again; namely Bonnie and Clyde, All the President’s Men, Deliverance, the reboot of Friday the 13th, and the Will Smith version of I Am Legend. I also intend to start reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home, kicking the Diversity Project back into gear, and I also want to finish reading Murder-a-Go-Go’s for the Short Story Project.

I also need to start doing some sort of promotion for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, but I’m not exactly sure what and how and…you get the picture; again, I don’t really know how I have a career.

I was thinking about the Diversity Project the other day, and I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t think it’s right that I have to turn reading diverse authors into a “project” to make diversifying my reading happen. Even saying The Diversity Project makes it sound effortful, as though if I didn’t make a point of it I wouldn’t do it. And that’s clearly wrong on every level. And I’ve been failing miserably at it thus far this year, no matter how many excuses I want to make for it. This of course has me examining my own prejudices. I’ve bought the books, of course, which is an important first step and every sale helps, but I also need to not only read the books but talk about them. Here it is April and the only one I’ve talked about is Walter Mosley; what kind of an ally am I to minority writers, of which I am one?

Apparently, not a very good one.

I had already softened the project’s goal from focusing on only reading minority writers to interspersing them with others; so if I read a book by a non-minority writer the next one I have to read must be by a minority writer. That hasn’t worked overly well, either; part of it has been due to my own, I don’t know, weird ambivalence to this year–something that’s been going on since around the Great Data Disaster of 2018. I’ve also realized, just this past week, that the Great Data Disaster wasn’t really where it all started. My life has been in an almost constant state of upheaval of some sort or another since late October, just before Halloween. My day job moved from the office where we’d been located since I was hired back in 2005 (the office actually opened in 2000) into a new location, which required all sorts of adaptation. For almost the entire first month of the existence in the new office we didn’t do a lot of testing, which is what my job is, which meant I was working a weird (to me) early morning to late afternoon shift–say, 8-430ish. This freed my evenings and I was going to town on writing and revising Scotty in those free evenings, because the Festivals were also kicking into high gear and Paul was coming home late. Then came December with a readjustment to working a new schedule all over again, followed by the Great Data Disaster, the Christmas holidays, and then Carnival. During that time period I was also working on finishing up my job as a book award judge and diving into a new task for this year, also involving award judging but not actually having to read anything (I really can’t say more than that about it; but it’s a big endeavor and I will leave it at that)I don’t think I ever really got a handle on anything, which is why I felt like my life was happening and I was not actively participating in it.

And softening the goal also makes me question myself and my internal, subconscious prejudices and biases. Yes, I had to read three books to moderate my panel at the Tennessee Williams Festival, which wasn’t easy and really involved a lot of cramming at the end. Why do I automatically reach for a book by a straight white writer when it’s time to chose another book to read? Why will I justify taking that book out of the stack rather than reaching for a book by a minority writer? It is these unconscious biases and prejudices that need to be ripped out by the root and plowed under with salt so they won’t take root again; and  not just in reading, but in life. 

I think I do a better job with my life than I do with my reading, quite frankly.

I also had thought, when I started on this, that I would expand the project outside the bounds of crime fiction and include other genres as well. I’ve always believed that reading more widely outside of one’s genre will make one a better author by exposing you to different styles of writing, different stories and different characters. Horror is always my immediate go-to when it comes to reading outside of mystery, but I also need to read more fantasy, science fiction, romance, and literary fiction. I also don’t want to stop reading women crime writers, either.

The exposure to other voices, other thoughts, other mindsets, will not only make me a better writer but a better person. What better key to understanding experiences outside my own is there than actually reading books outside my own experience, and to see the common humanity?

My first thought on rising so late this morning was well, you’ve shot your day to hell. But that isn’t true. I can still get things done today as long as I don’t allow myself to bog down on generalities or give up on the day. It would be ridiculously easy, you know, to simply write the entire day off and do nothing, but I really don’t want to waste the day. I’d like to get another chapter of the WIP finished, for one thing, and I’d like to work on this proposal I’m putting together. The kitchen needs work and there’s always filing that needs to be done, and there’s a lot of mess around. I also need to make a quick run to the grocery store as well.

So, on that note, I am off to the spice mines. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Devil with a Blue Dress/Good Golly Miss Molly

I decided that for 2019 I was going not only to continue, regarding my reading, with the Short Story Project but was also to create and dedicate myself to a new reading project: The Diversity Project, which entailed reading books and stories by marginalized authors. Marginalized authors, of course, can mean anything from authors of color to queer ones to women, for that matter; pretty much anyone other than a straight white cisgender man. I’ve been reading mostly  women authors for the last few years, with the occasional straight man thrown into the mix, and my reading has primarily focused on crime novels, with the occasional horror novel thrown in. Over the years, I’ve been supportive of marginalized writers; I’ve been buying their books and helping to publicize them on social media…but I’ve not been actually reading the books, despite hearing wonderful things about the writers and seeing them win awards. I came to realize this was white privilege in a nutshell and kind of a subconscious bow to white supremacy; whether it was intentional or not I would buy the books but when it came time to select something to read…I always reached for a book by a white writer and justified it with the rationale well, women writers are also marginalized; this is why Sisters in Crime exists in the first place.

But it isn’t enough and it’s definitely the mentality of the limousine liberal–who is all about marginalized people and their rights, but never has anyone from a marginalized community in their home.

If I am going to talk the talk I need to walk the walk.

My adult life has been an education on race, an education that continues as I grow older. As I was saying to one of my younger co-workers the other day, who was telling me about visiting a Civil Rights museum…I remember the Civil Rights Movement. It happened during my lifetime, and I saw it all on television, on the news. The recent blackface scandal in Virginia? I was about the same age as the  governor of Virginia when he did his blackface. I can honestly say I don’t remember anyone in college when I was there doing blackface, but I remember horribly racist “South of the Border” theme parties and “Pimps and Hos” parties which were equally bad. The history of race in America is complex and hideous and horrible; if you haven’t read Howard Zinn, I highly recommend him to you. My elementary school education was an indoctrination into white supremacy and American exceptionalism; it’s taken me years to understand that Columbus wasn’t a hero and that Andrew Jackson committed genocide, among other historical lessons that were not accurate. Gone with the Wind used to be one of my favorite books and favorite films; now I can see how problematic they are, and I question my embrace of both. (At some point, I am going to sit down and reread Gone with the Wind, which, at over a thousand pages, is a gargantuan task. But I think reading it as a more aware adult in my late fifties, with my eyes more open to the barbarities of slavery and plantation life, would be an interesting thing to do; particularly since it, along with Birth of a Nation, did more than anything else to perpetuate the mythology of the genteel Southern plantation way of life. I tried watching Mandingo on Amazon Prime the other day–it was a much more, I think, realistic look at the barbarity of slavery than Gone with the Wind but it was hindered by being a terrible movie.)

So I selected Walter Mosley to kick off the Diversity Project (the actual first book I read for this was William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but after reading it decided it didn’t count). And Devil in a Blue Dress, the first Easy Rawlins novel, is quite a gem of private eye fiction.

I was surprised to see a white man walk into Joppy’s bar. It’s not just that he was white but he wore an off-white linen suit and shirt with a Panama straw hat and bone shoes over flashing white silk socks. His skin was smooth and pale with just a few freckles. One lick of strawberry-blond hair escaped the band of his hat. He stopped in the doorway, filling it with his large frame, and surveyed the room with pale eyes; not a color I’d ever seen in a man’s eyes. When he looked at me I felt a thrill of fear, but that went away quickly because I was used to white people by 1948.

I had spent five years with white men and women, from Africa to Italy, through Paris, and into the Fatherland itself. I ate with them and slept with them, and I killed enough blue-eyed young men to know that they were just as afraid to die as I was.

The white man smiled at me, then he walked to the bar where Joppy was running a filthy rag over the marble top. They shook hands and exchanged greetings like old friends.

Easy is a World War II vet originally from Houston who’s moved to Los Angeles to work in a factory–following in the footsteps of any number of people of color who fled the South to the factories of the West Coast and the Midwest in the post-war years, not only to escape Jim Crow but to improve their lives (poor Southern whites also did the same; my parents among them). Easy owns a house, of which he is justifiably proud, but also recently lost his factory job and is worried about losing said house…which makes him more susceptible to an offer of work from DeWitt Albright, the white man in Joppy’s Bar. Basically the job pays a hundred dollars and all Easy has to do is locate a white woman named Daphne Monet…but as ever in a hardboiled/noir novel, there is a lot more going on than that, and this simple task involves Easy in a dangerous world of corrupt racist cops, politics, and gangsters. The hardboiled sensibility of crime fiction is given a brilliant overhaul by Mosley in this novel; invigorating the genre in much the same way Sara Paretsky, Marcia Muller, and Sue Grafton did when they gave a tired genre a shot of adrenalin in the early 1980’s, bringing the genre back from the almost-dead.

Devil in a Blue Dress does much the same, and really, is there anything more noir or hard-boiled than the life of people of color in American society? As I watched the movie last night (after finishing the book I found the film on Amazon Prime, and it’s also quite good), the scenes where Easy is basically the victim of police brutality and has zero recourse come across much more vividly on the screen than on the page–and the scenes in the book were pretty fucking powerful. How do people exist in a society where justice is regularly denied them by the people who are supposed to provide it for them?

And that, I think, is the key. As a gay man, I constantly struggle with the idea that justice and fairness, the two things I was raised to believe are the cornerstones of American society and government, aren’t available to everyone. We are raised to believe as white Americans that the criminal justice system works for everyone, and it is our recourse whenever we are victims of crime. We want to–need to–believe that the police and the system enforce the law equally and fairly for everyone, and realizing, and recognizing, that isn’t true shakes our foundation of belief in everything, so we tend to look the other way and pretend that isn’t true.

But denying there’s a problem means the problem never gets fixed.

And injustice for one means there’s no justice for all.

I highly recommend this book, and can’t wait to read more of Mosley’s work.

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We Don’t Talk Anymore

Sunday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. My kitchen and living room are clean–there is a load of laundry in the dryer that needs to be refluffed and folded, as well as a load in the dishwasher to put away–but most of my chores are done for the weekend. I can either do nothing chore-related today, or I can do a deep clean on something. I am leaning toward a deep clean on something–I rarely have the opportunity to do a deep clean so carpe diem–and it’s a lovely feeling.

I finally made myself start revising at some point yesterday in the war of wills between Scooter and me. I finally decided I could go read a bit as a break from revising, so as to satisfy his need for attention for a human (or rather having a human serve as a cat bed) and set the alarm on my iPad for an hour each time. This seemed to work, and not only did I revise five chapters I finished reading Devil in a Blue Dress. I then streamed the film through Amazon Prime, and the movie was also quite good. I’ll talk about the book some more, but am thinking it needs its own entry, so when I finish this one I’ll give it a proper review. I then decided to break from both the Diversity Project and The Short Story Project in order to read a book that’s been on everyone’s lips this past week–A. J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window. I am about fifty pages in, and it is indeed giving me something to think about.

The terrific thing about the revising is that the book isn’t nearly as terrible as I’ve convinced myself that it was during the long slogs of writing it. To be sure, I am finding repetitive sentences and badly constructed ones; I also am finding paragraphs that completely repeat information from a previous chapter that must be excised. But tying everything together isn’t nearly as difficult as I had thought it would be, and the behaviors of the characters and how they react to things actually make sense. I don’t know why I’ve been avoiding working on this. It’s going much faster and easier than I thought it would…I guess I was thinking it would be a lot of work. That doesn’t mean it won’t be again as I work my way through the manuscript…but I need to get this done, and I am going to dive back into after I write another entry–my review of Devil in a Blue Dress.

Depending how all the writing and revising goes, I may walk to the AT&T Store and replace my phone today. I’ve been meaning to do it for weeks…maybe today will be the day to get it handled. Or not. I hate dealing with that sort of thing, so I always put it off…hence it’s been weeks. Heavy heaving sigh.

And this is how things get backed up. Okay, I am definitely walking to the AT&T store today and getting my phone replaced.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Heartache Tonight

Well, Constant Reader, it is mid-afternoon on Friday and I am home. I worked this morning, ran errands, put the groceries away, and am currently in the midst of laundering the bed linens. Scooter periodically howls at me because I clearly need to be sitting in my easy chair so he can nap on me, but I keep denying him…so he goes away for about ten minutes before returning to express his displeasure with me yet again. At some point–probably after emptying the dishwasher and washing the dishes currently in the sink, I will take a break. I will go into the living room with Devil in a Blue Dress, sit in my chair, and read for a little bit–giving Scooter what he wants. Then, after a chapter or two, I will get up again to do something–perhaps switching laundry loads from one appliance to another and to the empty basket–and he will curl up on the couch and sleep, sated, and forget that I’m even home.

Unless, of course, I vacuum. But I did that yesterday, so he’s in luck on that score.

Well, actually it was a noise outside that got Scooter up and out of my lap, and I am now back. I out-waited him; I heard the washer stop but continued reading. He has his glare face on now, but he won’t howl at me again since he was the one who got up.

I am really enjoying the book, though, and while I am deeply ashamed it’s taken me this long to read one of Mosley’s novels, I am enjoying it so much I won’t allow the shame to ruin it for me. And there’s such a backlist! I can savor his work for years to come without fear of running out of one I haven’t read–there’s nothing worse than having finished reading all the books an author has written and having to wait for a new one…unless of course they are no longer amongst the living. I keep putting off reading more of Shirley Jackson and Daphne du Maurier and Patricia Highsmith for that very reason. It’s insane, I know, but it makes perfect logical sense to me.

I stand corrected! I am being howled at from the doorway by a cat that wants me right NOW. Back in a bit.

Well, now it’s Saturday morning. I slept in this morning–I only woke up a couple of times during the night, which was lovely–and now I sit at my computer. Paul’s still sleeping so I have no battle of wills with the cat this morning; although Paul is planning on going into the office today, which means Scooter will slip into needy mode the minute the front door closes behind him. Heavy heaving sigh. But I read a lot more of Devil in a Blue Dress last night, which is really picking up steam. It’s really the origin story of how Easy Rawlins became a private eye, and I am really loving the way Mosley writes and tells the story…it also kind of reminds me of what I had in mind when I started writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine back in 1997. (Not that I would ever classify my work as being in the same league as Mosley’s; I just wish I’d read this before I started writing mine, as it would have been enormously helpful.)

I also got very tired last night–having the purring cat sleeping in my lap always makes me sleepy, even when I’m not really tired–so when I’m tired, watch out. I ended up watching a documentary about George V and Mary of Teck, and how they modernized the British monarchy to adapt to the first world war, and their issues with their children (who knew the current Queen had a gay/bisexual uncle? I did not), and then managed to stagger upstairs and make the bed before falling into a fabulous deep sleep. And here I am this morning, having accomplished nothing much last night, wondering how I am going to get everything finished this day that I want to finish.

Heavy heaving sigh. Same song, different day. Like always. But I am also going to repeat my last weekend methodology of closing my browser and staying off the Internet for as much of the day as possible, with a goal of only looking at it from time to time on either the phone or the iPad until tomorrow morning.

It really worked last weekend, didn’t it?

So, I think after I work on my emails this morning I am going to go read for a bit, before getting cleaned up and working on the revision and my writing. I also brought the Air home from the office, so I can also write in my easy chair if Scooter becomes too insistent with his neediness (and I think we can all reasonably assume he’s going to be a howling bitch until he gets his way this afternoon). That’s the plan, at any rate. I may watch a movie at some point this evening; Paul claims that when he gets home from the office he doesn’t want to do any more work this weekend and just wants to hang out. We shall see if that is indeed the case, won’t we?

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Stomp!

I don’t know who today’s picture is, but I feel like I have may have used this image already. He certainly looks familiar. But he’s hot, there aren’t many silver foxes whose images I’ve used, and he could stand to be used again so THERE HE IS.

I didn’t get much of anything done yesterday; which is enormously disappointing. I wasn’t tired all day, the way I sometimes am on Mondays, but by the time I got home from work and made dinner any energy or desire I had to get anything finished and/or done had long since dissipated. Obviously, this is a concern–I was doing so well with the revision over the weekend that I hate to think the momentum has stopped or slowed in some way–but I am very hopeful that today will be different. I did read some more of Devil in a Blue Dress, which I am really enjoying, and look forward to reading some more of it. Today of course is another long day at the office, but as with every week, once I make it through today the rest of the week is rather easy.

Yesterday was actually a rather lovely day; today the high will be seventy-two degrees. I know, right? February weather like this is really something to behold. We had to turn the air conditioning on last night because it was too stuffy and muggy in the apartment…go figure.

I spent a lot of time yesterday enjoying the aftermath of the New Orleans boycott of the Super Bowl–there were some absolutely classic memes on social media–the voodoo one was my personal favorite, with the actual front page of yesterday’s Times-Picayune a very close second. New Orleans is a petty city that you cross at your own peril, and you don’t mess with our Saints. (No one here has forgiven the hateful Chicago Bears fans for how nasty and horrible they were in the NFC championship game in 2007; including the signs reading such lovely sentiments as Finish what Katrina started. I had been a sort of Bears fan till then, growing up in Chicago as I did. NO MORE.)

I also spent more time than I should have on social media reading–and laughing about–the reactions to the New Yorker expose of bestselling author “A. J. Finn”–who is actually former editor Dan Mallory, who has quite the history of odd and bizarre behavior behind him. I do have a copy of his novel The Woman in the Window, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. The piece is long, but definitely well worth the read. Mallory is a sort of Ripley character, apparently, and apparently that Highsmith character was a role model for him…which makes me wonder where the bodies are buried.

Because they are undoubtedly buried somewhere.

I also got the official notice of the publication date for Royal Street Reveillon, the next Scotty book: September 10th. Huzzah!

And on that note–the spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

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Send One Your Love

Monday morning and the living is sort of easy….but wait–that’s not how the song goes, is it?

Whatever.

I worked very hard yesterday on the Scotty revision, and it’s coming along quite well, if I do say so myself. It always feels good to dive into the work and make it better–one would think by now I would remember that, other than seeing it as an odious chore–and I am feeling quite pleased with myself. If I keep this up, it’ll be done in no time. GEAUX GREG!

And speaking of GEAUX, New Orleans had an enormous celebration all over the city for the Saints, honoring them for a terrific season. We made national news…and got some snark from trash that just doesn’t get it. New Orleans is the Saints, the Saints are New Orleans. Not only do we love our team here, they love us back. Why else would former Saints players sign a one-day contract in order to retire as Saints? Just as LSU is Forever LSU, once a Saint, you’re always a Saint. The year of the Super Bowl, that Saints Parade before Carnival? We were going to have it, win or lose. If the Colts won, we’d celebrate the Saints’ terrific season and making the Super Bowl. Winning the Super Bowl made the celebration that much sweeter. Unlike other fans, we support our team and are grateful for great seasons no matter how they end…and there’s always a crowd at the airport to greet them when they return from away games. Always. Win or lose, there’s a crowd at the airport.

Can other fandoms say that?

Don’t hate us because you ain’t us.

I slept fairly well last night, and so am doing okay this morning…I am learning the value of going to bed early at long last. We watched Hereditary last night, which was…interesting. I can see why people like it, but I can also see why people don’t.

I am also still reading Devil in a Blue Dress, and savoring it.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Special Lady

Happy Sunday everyone.

Yesterday was a bit of a revelation. The other day (yesterday? Who knows? My memory has more holes than Swiss cheese) I was talking about how the Internet is such an enormous distraction, and one of the terrific things about the old dial-up modems was the process of signing onto the web was such an irritating process that it wasn’t a big deal to shut it all down when I had other things to get done and couldn’t be distracted. So, yesterday I did precisely that: I closed down both browsers when it was time to work, and guess what? Not only did I get some work done on the Scotty, I got the page proofing for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories form filled out, cleaned the apartment (the living room still needs work) and made shrimp creole for dinner. I also wound up watching the final three episodes of Titans last night (which were quite excellent, I might add), and read some more Walter Mosley before going to bed. So, this morning I am going to finish writing this blog post before cleaning out my email inboxes, after which I am going to shut down my browsers and get to work. I want to finish cleaning the living room, have some dishes and laundry to do, some minor touches need to be done in the kitchen, and then I am most likely going to make potato leek soup for dinner in the slow cooker.

Pretty cool, huh? I felt really good in getting that work on Scotty done yesterday, and I think it’s good work. I am most definitely pleased with myself. I also need to make a list of things that need to get done this week.

I have to say, shutting down the Internet on my desktop was a pretty genius thing to do. I couldn’t believe how much free time I had yesterday to get things done. I will admit I occasionally checked my phone every few hours or so, and last night while I was watching television I also pulled out the iPad occasionally, but over all it was terrific. I had already, years ago, came up with a new rule to not answer emails over the weekends (emails always beget emails), and limiting the Internet is actually kind of genius.

I was very pleased with the entire first season of Titans. This is how you launch a television series about a super-hero team; a continuing story arc where you get to know the characters as they work together or meet each other, with back story episodes mixed in here and there to deepen and enrich the viewer’s understanding of the characters. The actors are all good in their roles–they are gorgeous and can act–and the main character arc–the growth of Dick Grayson from sidekick Robin into himself as an individual rather than what Bruce Wayne/Batman wants him, has been grooming him, to be–is very compelling, as is trying to solve the mystery of who amnesiac Kory is, and who Rachel actually is and what the source of her power is. Kudos for an excellent first season.

Friday night I watched two episodes and resisted bingeing the rest…and discovered that the pilot for the Aquaman series the CW had considered doing during the run of Smallville was available on DC Universe, starring the incredibly handsome Justin Hartley as Arthur Curry/Aquaman. (He now stars on This Is Us.) The pilot is terrible, really terrible, and I can see why the CW didn’t pick it up. Hartley went on to play Green Arrow on Smallville, which was how I came to be a fan of the handsome actor with the phenomenal body. But as I watched Titans, the actor who plays Hank/Hawk (of Hawk and Dove), Alan Ritchson, looked familiar. Last night it hit me: he played Aquaman on Smallville! After the Aquaman pilot failed and the show cast Hartley as Green Arrow, when they brought in Aquaman he was played by Ritchson, who now plays Hawk on Titans–and does a great job of it, too. And of course later, when Greg Berlanti (also involved in Titans) rebooted Green Arrow as Arrow, he cast Stephen Amell as Arrow rather than spinning Hartley off, which also worked. So, how confusing is all of this? Pretty confusing. Hartley played Aquaman and then Green Arrow; Ritchson played Aquaman but now plays Hawk; Amell now plays Green Arrow. Whether Titans will cross over with the other DC Universe shows on the CW–Arrow, Flash, Legends of Tomorrow, Supergirl–remains to be seen.

But I have to give it up to this rebooted television DC Universe. And this isn’t even getting into the film DC Universe.

Right? It’s a lot.

The nice thing about the DC Universe subscription is you can also read comic books on the app for free, so I don’t have to buy them anymore. Also a really good thing, because I still haven’t read all the comics on my iPad that I’ve bought. There’s never enough time, quite frankly.

All right, on that note, Constant Reader, it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday.

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