Face Up

Wednesday has rolled around again, as it always does, and last night was another restful sleep of the same sort I had on Monday; restful but awake or half-awake the majority of the time. I am beginning to wonder, quite frankly, if this is just another affect of getting older; the inability to sleep deeply every night. Yesterday I wasn’t as tired as I feared I would be, which actually was kind of nice, and I do think this will be the case this morning too. I intend to go to the gym this evening for a workout with weights after work–so being tired will not be helpful in the least. Maybe that will put me into a deep sleep tonight.

Maybe it won’t–which is more likely.

We watched two more episodes of The Capture last night on Peacock, which is incredibly good. I still have absolutely no clue what’s going on, but the suspense is so ratcheted up that I cannot wait to get home tonight so we can finish watching it. I want to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series, but focus is so important when reading and what little focus I have these days really needs to be spend on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows, which needs to be finished by the end of the month–so time is running out on me, as always. I was thinking about how I reacted to rereading the manuscript with an eye to edits last weekend, and how I always am enormously dissatisfied with the final product when it is released. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of every book I’ve written, as each represents surmounting a struggle of some sort in some way, and finishing and publishing a novel is always an accomplishment, regardless of how it turned out in the end. I was dissecting this in my head last night while I was making tacos for dinner (nachos for Paul); my strengths are premises, titles, and character–but inevitably whenever I start writing a book most of the time I don’t know how it’s going to end. I try to figure out how to end a book before I start writing it–but on the rare occasions when I have figured out the end beforehand, I question that as I write and inevitably change my mind at least once, if not twice, and as a result, I never am completely confident in my endings. Adding to the neuroses in my brain, the last few chapters of a book generally don’t get as much attention as earlier chapters, either, which makes my insecurity even worse.

I really do wish I could slap my first creative writing teacher across the face for doing such a number on me that it has lasted all these years. FUCKER.

Then again, he typed smugly, I’m about thirty-six novels, five novellas, and fifty short stories into my career; he’s still unpublished, forty years later. So, there’s that…and the fact I never forget a grudge.

I’ve also been toying with some 1970’s research in my spare moments–looking up things and trying to remember things from my tween years–like “sissy bars” (and no, it’s not a bar for effeminate gay men, though it is a great name for a gay bar). I remembered “sissy bars” as being the high bar on boys’ bicycles that girls’ bikes didn’t have back then; turns out it’s actually the back bar at the end of a bike that the passenger behind the driver/rider can lean back on for balance. (I still remember it the other way; and that other bar doesn’t seem to have a name, which is weird.) I’ve been wanting to write about the early 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs for quite some time–I have an idea based on a murder that happened in our suburb when I was a freshman in high school, You’re No Good, which could be a lot of fun to work on and write–and my main character from Lake Thirteen (Scotty?) was from that same fictional suburb…which leads me back into that weird Greg Universe where all of my books are somehow connected, between New Orleans, Alabama, Chicago and it’s suburbs, California, and Kansas–which I completely forgot that I was doing. (Aside: Bury Me in Shadows is set in Corinth County; which is where the main character in Dark Tide was also from; where I set the story “Smalltown Boy”; and where Frank and Scotty’s nephew Taylor is from, making his first appearance in Baton Rouge Bingo.) But the early 1970’s was an interesting and somewhat volatile time, between Vietnam, the economic crisis, and Watergate; where television gave us stuff like The Partridge Family and Love, American Style and horrible variety shows; when the post World War II economic boom in the United States was beginning to crumble and fade away; when Top 40 radio ruled the AM channels and everything was still on vinyl or eight-track tapes, before cable television and 24 hour news and no Internet or cell phones. But… as I mentioned earlier, while I have a great premise and a terrific title, I don’t know the story or how it ends…but that won’t stop me from obsessively researching the period.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a great day Constant Reader!

Cornelia Street

I read a piece yesterday on Crime Reads about aging your characters over a series, and have to say it was interesting; certainly, it make one Gregalicious stop and think–muse, really.

I was–doubtless like any number of Agatha Christie readers–already aware that Poirot was already elderly and retired from the police force in his first case, The Mysterious Affair at Styles; by the 1960’s when he was still solving cases he would have had to have been, per the piece, about 130 years old. Likewise, Miss Marple was already an elderly woman when she debuted in the 1930’s in Murder at the Vicarage, and while later Marple stories talked about how old and frail she was, by the time her last case–Sleeping Murder–rolled out in the 1970’s she also would have been well past one hundred. (The piece also discussed how old Nero Wolfe would have been by the time his final case was published, if the fiction matched reality.)

This is something that has been preying on my mind for quite some time, because of course, Scotty was only twenty-nine in Bourbon Street Blues (published in 2003), which, if we follow linear time, would make him around forty-six now. That’s not terribly bad–he typed as he eyes his own sixtieth birthday coming the following year–but it’s not Scotty’s age that concerns me so much as the age of everyone else in the series. If Scotty is forty six and the youngest Bradley child, and Storm was old enough to be a senior in high school when Scotty was in eighth grade–that puts Storm firmly at around fifty-one, which would put Scotty’s parents into their seventies and his grandparents in their nineties–at the very least. Scotty is actually younger–I didn’t follow linear time in the series (Katrina forced me to start aging him; I had intended for him to be twenty-nine forever)–and so he actually was 29 in 2004 and turned thirty just before Katrina–but that only shaves about a year off his age. I’ve not wanted to deal with the deaths of his grandparents or his parents becoming frailer with age, so I just pretend when I write about them that they’ve not aged. Scotty has, but they haven’t–and also, Frank is pushing sixty himself now no matter how I arrange the ages and timing of the series, and still wrestling professionally. Again, I’ve not really wanted to deal with the age issues–he retired after twenty years of service with the FBI, as a matter of fact–retiring in the period between Jackson Square Jazz and Mardi Gras Mambo, but I have intellectually accepted the fact that Frank is probably going to have to step away from the ring and the bright lights; it’s just a matter of when. I’ve always wanted to do a Scotty case built around the professional wrestling promotion Frank works for and will need to be retiring from; this was always going to be the premise behind Redneck Riviera Rhumba…but a Scotty book not set in New Orleans?

Anyway, I’ve really not wanted to deal with the deaths of Scotty’s grandparents, but I also know I am eventually going to have to–I can’t keep having them be just an amorphous age known as “old” and live to be over a hundred (although people do live that long, but it’s patently absurd that all four of his grandparents are remarkably long-lived; perhaps I’ll start killing off the Bradley side of the family first. I never liked the Bradley side, but have always had a soft spot for the Diderots.)

I can probably get away without killing the grandparents off for another couple of books, but…the clock is ticking. Although a Bradley death being the springboard for another case would be interesting. Hmmmm. *makes notes*

I also discovered an interesting location in Louisiana yesterday, Fort St. Philip. And yes, while that may not be completely factually correct–I’d heard of it vaguely before as one of the Mississippi River forts below New Orleans that were built to help defend the city–I’d never really learned much about it, but yesterday I discovered this weird abandoned location was actually home to a religious cult from 1978-1989, when they all moved away. Interesting, no? I could easily do a Sherlock story back in the 1910’s set there, or even have it be a weird Scotty story, or even simply a stand alone; an abandoned fort once home to a religious cult is like the perfect setting for a horror novel as well, isn’t it? Hmmm. I could also do all three, frankly; a Sherlock story in 1916; a Scotty story in the present; and a horror novel at any time. SCORE.

I did watch The Conversation while I was making condom packs yesterday, and am really glad I did. The film was incredibly timely when it was released back in 1974; the Nixon administration was crumbling because of it’s illegal electronic surveillance of the McGovern campaign, and the ensuing cover-up–although Francis Ford Coppola knew none of that would be the case when he wrote and directed the film. It was also overshadowed by his other film release that year–The Godfather Part II–which is really a shame. The Conversation has a plot, of course–and a pretty decent one–but the film is really a character study of Harry Caul, a surveillance expert who works pretty much alone and is legendary in his field–which few people really know about. The entire film hinges on the performance of Gene Hackman in the lead, and it’s one of Hackman’s best performances, understated and nuanced and completely immersive; I don’t think he got an Oscar nomination for this but he definitely should have–and it should have been a very close race for him. The film opens with Harry and his team–mostly hirelings, as he prefers generally to work alone–following and recording a young couple (Frederic Forrest and Cindy Williams) as they walk around a crowded Union Square. Harry is also haunted by one of his greatest achievements–he managed to eavesdrop and record a conversation between a corrupt union boss and an accountant about their embezzling of union funds; the boss assumed the accountant had talked and had people kill not only him, but his wife and children in a particularly brutal way. Harry looks at every job as a challenge, and his particular genius is conquering jobs most experts reject as impossible. But after those murders, Harry is beginning to question his own morality and his own ability to distance himself from what results from him doing his job…and as the film progresses, he begins to distrust his own client, and suspects the client (played by Robert Duvall and only ever known as “the Director”) is going to murder the young couple–the woman happens to be his wife. (A beautiful, very young pre-Star Wars Harrison Ford plays the Director’s assistant, and Harry’s contact–and his motivations are also murky and peculiar.) Harry is already paranoid–he refuses to have a phone in his apartment, and early in the film gets a post office box so no one will have his address–and watching the paranoia and fear build in him throughout the film is very impressive. It really captures the cynicism and paranoia of the 1970’s; it could be considered a defining film of the decade, and is definitely an excellent addition to your own Cynical 70’s Film Festival.

I also watched an old horror movie from the 1980’s called Witchboard, which I had enjoyed at the time but now–well, calling it “terrible” is actually a complement. The script is bad, the dialogue is bad, the cast has no chemistry together, and none of the relationships make any sense. The cast, led by Todd Allen (who is supposedly hot and sexy–okay, 1980’s straight masculinity), Tawny Kitaen (perhaps best known for the Whitesnake music video for “Here I Go Again”, for dancing erotically on the hood of a car; this film definitely answers any questions anyone might have about Kitaen’s acting abilities–they are virtually non-existent) and Stephen Nichols, who would go on to great fame on soaps like Days of Our Lives (as Patch) and General Hospital (as a Cassadine in love with Genie Francis’ Laura Spencer), but is frankly terrible in this. It came in late for the Halloween Horror Film Festival, but dear Lord, it is terrible. I have yet to decide which films to watch during today’s condom packing adventures, but I did find some more interesting looking 70’s films–along with some really terrible-looking horror movies from the 1970’s on.

And of course, there is always a lot of writing for me to do; volunteer work, and so forth….but I intend to really enjoy this weekend as much as I can. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, as I put on my helmet and once again head to the spice mines.

Teardrops on My Guitar

Saturday, and the first blog entry of the three day Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day.

September.

Sep-fucking-tember.

I think the kindest thing anyone can say about this year is that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most people, and putting it that way is perhaps a bit of a stretch. I do feel bad for people who are actually having good things happen to them in this year of utter misery and repeated horror; as I said recently, this is why we  need to get our joy where we can find it. Adaptability is one strength (supposedly) of our species, and I do see people adapting left and right; on the other hand, I also see others desperately clinging to the past and resisting adaptation most stubbornly. This has been quite a year on every level–and it has been interesting seeing how people have adapted, and how people are handling it all so differently.

This is why it surprises me when I see authors talking about how they are going to handle the pandemic in their work–or rather, how they are not going to address the pandemic in their work. It’s so global and so intense and it’s affected everyone, changing how we do things and how we live our lives, from the most mundane things like picking up prescriptions to grocery shopping to going out to eat, to the big things like jobs and house payments and school attendance and daycare. It has affected every part of our lives, so how can we ignore it or pretend like it never happened? It’s very similar to the Katrina situation New Orleans writers found ourselves in afterwards; we couldn’t pretend like the city hadn’t been destroyed or that we’d all been through a horrible trauma. But when I, for example, started writing my post-Katrina work, we were over a year into the recovery and so I could write about what it had been like, rather then trying to figure out what it was going to be like. Pandemic writing, of course, will inevitably date your work, just like Katrina divided my career into before and after. I’m still, frankly, trying to decide how to deal with it in my own work–or if I even want to continue writing the series or not.

And let’s be honest: my first and thus far only attempt to write pandemic fiction, started in the first weeks of the quarantine/shutdown, quickly became dated; I am very glad I didn’t finish it because a lot of the work would have been wasted. I do want to finish the story, though, see if anyone wants to publish it.

Today is going to be my catch-up day; I am going to try to get a chapter revised today, but my primary concern is getting things caught up; I want to finish reading Little Fires Everywhere (I really got sucked into it for a few hours last night) and get started on The Coyotes of Carthage, and I also think I might spend some time today with some short story reading–that Sara Paretsky collection keeps giving me side-eye whenever I sit down in my easy chair–and of course, there’s always electronic files to sort and clean up as well as physical ones. The house really needs some serious cleaning, frankly, and I know I’ll feel much better once that chore is actually accomplished.

Then again, who knows? This could easily turn into another lazy day.

Yesterday during condom-packing time, I watched the season finale of Real Housewives of New York (Dorinda’s recently firing makes a lot more sense now) and moved on to the next on my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, All the President’s Men. To digress for a moment, can I just say how fucking ridiculously good-looking Robert Redford was? I know, I know, commenting on the almost insane beauty of Redford isn’t like anything new, but good lord. Dustin Hoffman was also never considered to be particularly good-looking, but he looks pretty good in this movie and isn’t completely overshadowed by Redford, which would have been expected. It’s a very good film, from top to bottom; everyone in the cast is superb (it was also interesting to see so many people in bit roles that would later become stars on television–Polly Holiday, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter Birney), and it also made me miss the heyday of the thriller featuring the intrepid, dogged, never say die investigative journalist. This is something we’ve lost with the rise of the Internet, 24 hours news channels, and the death of print: with magazines and newspapers either shuttering or cutting back staff, it’s really no longer realistic to have the crusading journalist as the heroic center of your book or movie; as I watched the show I kept thinking about the old Ed Asner series Lou Grant, and whether it was streaming anywhere.

All the President’s Men, of course, is the film version of the book Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward wrote about their investigation into the Watergate break-in in 1972, which was the tiny thread that was pulled and eventually brought down the Nixon presidency and almost destroyed the Republican party in the process. I read the book initially when I was in college–it was required reading for my Intro to Journalism class (I was torn between majoring in journalism or English; being unaware that I could have gone to college somewhere and majored in Creative Writing–but actually, I am very glad I never did that)–and it was my first real experience with understanding, for the first time, what Watergate was all about. It happened in real time during the course of my life, but I was also between the ages of 11 and 13 from the first reports of the break-in and the resignation of a president, and so I didn’t really understand what was going on and only had a vague idea as it infiltrated every aspect of the culture beyond the news. It certainly gave rise to the concept of conspiracy theories and the belief that the government couldn’t be trusted–which gave rise to Reaganism in the 1980’s–but reading the book was my first baby-step forward to shaking off the ideology with which I had been raised. I had never seen the film, and so it really seemed to be perfect for my Cynical 70’s Film Festival…although it was difficult for me to get up the desire to actually queue it up and click play, frankly; the utter failure of the 4th Estate to do its job properly in this century plays no small part in why we are where we are today. But it’s a good film, and it also depicts the back-room aspect of journalism–the battle for column inches, the struggle for the front page, the competition with other newspapers and television–which is really kind of a lost world now. (I had always wanted to write about a newspaper–which is partly why I made Paige a journalist, morphing her gradually into a magazine editor.) I will say watching this movie now made me think about writing about a modern-day journalist; the struggle between the print and on-line copy, etc. If I only had more time.

It’s also very sad to know that if Watergate was happening now, the story would be killed by an editor, and we’d never know the truth.

We also finished watching Outcry last night, which was terrific, and the latest episode of Lovecraft Country (it dropped early because of the holiday weekend), and its continued brilliance is really something. We also saw the preview for Raised by Wolves, the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, and it also looks terrific. A new season of The Boys also just dropped on Prime; so there’s a wealth of things for us to watch, and I rediscovered (oops) my Showtime watch list last night, which also has a cornucopia of delights on it.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into ye olde spice mines for the day. May you all have a lovely, lovely day today.

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Soon You’ll Get Better

Saturday morning in New Orleans, and all is as well as can be expected in this hellish timeline we are all living through at this point. I’ve been sleeping exceptionally well lately–not sure why, but don’t want to question it and simply enjoy it for as long as it lasts, frankly–and I may even just stay in bed as long as I want to tomorrow; I could have easily lazed in bed much longer this morning. I may treat myself to cappuccinos while I get everything on-line done that I need to get done before closing my browser and shutting the Internet down for the rest of the day so I can get to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which I haven’t even looked at all week, much to my deep and abiding shame. I’ve not completely adjusted to working 8:30 – 5 every day, really; and am always tired and mentally fatigued when the daily shift comes to an end; too mentally fatigued to read anything, let alone write anything. I did manage last night to clean up/organize some electronic files, though.

While I was condom packing yesterday (I filled three boxes of them, a personal best thus far) I continued my journey through 1970s cinema, with yesterday’s theme being paranoia. Paranoia was a big thing in the 1970’s, and the films and novels of the decade reflected that–not surprising, given it was also the decade where Vietnam came to an end (1975), when Watergate occurred (1972-1974), and of course, the decade where terrorism really became a thing–it was the decade of the Munich Olympic massacre, the Entebbe skyjacking, etc. It was a decade where trust in institutions began to erode and fade; where conspiracy theories really began to come into their own; and cynicism replaced optimism–if optimism could be said to have ever been an integral part of the American outlook and not simply another part of the mythology we were being sold. It was the decade of the Bermuda Triangle, the Amityville horror, UFO’s, and countless other strange conspiracies and/or cover-ups; when Area 54 really entered the public consciousness, and a time when it became much easier to believe that the government was lying to us about everything and that corporations and billionaires were truly running the world for their own benefit and profit. (This was, of course, the primary theme of Taylor Caldwell’s bestselling novel Captains and the Kings, a thinly veiled history of the Kennedy family’s rise to wealth and power, which was made into a mini-series later in the decade.)

The two films I watched yesterday while condom packing were definitely reactions to the paranoia of the times: The Parallax View (starring Warren Beatty) and Three Days of the Condor (starring Robert Redford). Both were based on novels; both were about conspiracies and/or cover-ups led by incredibly powerful people; and both had very cynical endings. The Beatty film was about the cover-up of a political assassination, in which Beatty played a crusading journalist trying to get to the bottom of the story; the Redford film was about a man who worked for a CIA front (the American Literary History Society) and whose job was to read books, articles, journals, etc., looking for coded references to spy organizations and conspiracies (which was, in and of itself, another example of paranoia); the Redford character finds some curious reoccurring references in some South American and Greek novels and articles and writes a report. One day when he goes out to pick up lunch for the office he returns to find everyone dead; even the guy who called in sick was murdered in his apartment. Redford, whose code name is “Condor”, is not a field agent and has no idea what is going on, other than his life is in danger and he needs help. He winds up taking Faye Dunaway hostage at some point at gunpoint and getting her to help him–she eventually succumbs to Stockholm syndrome, winds up helping him rather than escaping, and they even have sex together*–and throughout the course of the movie you never are certain who can be trusted or who cannot, as people keep switching sides, including the professional assassin (played by Max von Sydow), and the end of the movie is also cynical, implying that not even journalists can be trusted (subverting the popular 1970’s trope of the crusading reporters, inspired by Woodward and Bernstein’s coverage of Watergate).

It was an interesting decade to experience puberty and adolescence through, that’s for certain.

We’re nearly finished with The Alienist: Angel of Darkness, and are really enjoying it. I think we’re going to go with Never Have I Ever next; we’ve pretty much been watching non-stop noir-like heavy crime dramas for quite some time now (although the foreign ones have been absolutely delightful) but I think some light comedy will be welcomed gratefully into the Lost Apartment.

We also had an astounding thunderstorm/flash flood warning yesterday afternoon, which seems to be happening almost daily now. I love rain–I don’t even mind being caught in it as long as I am not having to lug shit into the house while it pours–and there’s nothing quite so comforting as being safely warm and dry inside while it pours outside and the sidewalks get covered in an inch or so of water. I’m not sure if it’s going to rain today–there’s nothing but sunshine and blue sky outside my windows this morning–but I feel fairly confident it will at some point; after all, it’s pretty much a daily occurrence now.

I also realized belatedly last evening that part of the funk I’ve been in lately has to do with the impracticality and uncertainty surrounding the football season for this year. I usually spent most of August excitedly reading everything I can about the Saints and college football, wondering what the coming season will hold; will it be an exciting one or a disappointment; but no matter what happens, I am always entertained–and last season was, as Paul reminds me pretty regularly, one for the books. As huge LSU fans last season was like a fairytale, a Disney film come to life–with every element in place for a great uplifting movie, and the ending was perfect, too; LSU stuck the landing and gave all us fans a season we will always remember with a smile. I am deeply grateful I got to see that championship team play twice in Tiger Stadium–we went to the season opener against Georgia Southern and the Florida game, which was one of the best times I’ve ever had in Tiger Stadium, and we’ve been to exciting games before but that one was everything–and am even more grateful I got to see Joe Burrow play, not only those two games last year but in the games we were able to see the year before. Not knowing if there’s even going to be a season, or if there is, what it will look like, has been kind of depressing on top of everything else; it’s as though all the things in life I find joy in are all gone, with just the bullshit left in its place. I’m not even sure how I feel about the conferences trying to make a limited season happen; it just seems vastly unfair to the players to put them at so much risk, and I don’t know if I should encourage that by even watching the games if they do happen and air on television.

I will never forgive the non-maskers for the loss of this football season, or however it turns out–whether it’s shortened, messed up, or cancelled. NEVER. Thanks for being such complete selfish assholes! You, for the record, are why we can’t have anything fucking nice–although the loss of college football is the LEAST of your crimes. Enjoy meeting your God with that black sin on your soul.

So, I am going to finish this and head back into email hell for a while, before showering and getting back to work on my book. I’ll probably try to do some cleaning and organizing while I’m at it; I still haven’t started–or even selected–my next fiction read, although Poe Dameron; Free Fall is sitting right there….but I also want to read Lovecraft Country before I start watching the show.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

*This is the same trope that Robert Ludlum used in The Bourne Identity, in which his character, Jason Bourne, who has been shot in the head and now has amnesia and no idea why everyone is trying to kill him, kidnaps a woman and takes her hostage; by the end of the novel they are in love and making a future together–and no one thinks anything of this, and it’s presented as normal; another sign of the times, I suppose. I’ve been meaning to reread The Bourne Identity as well as revisit Ludlum; his career as a novelist actually began in the 1970’s with a paranoia novel, The Osterman Weekend, which was also made into a movie, and almost all of his books have some sort of paranoia at their heart. I loved Ludlum when I discovered him in the late 1980’s; I’ve meant to revisit him for quite some time now, to see how he holds up. My favorites of his were The Chancellor Manuscript, The Gemini Contenders, and of course, The Bourne Identity, but I read all of the books he wrote himself until he died–I’ve not read any of those written by other authors since his death.