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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Misunderstanding

Well, Iris is over for another year and as always, the ladies of Iris were most generous to Paul and I. The coffee table is now buried in beads and throws, and there’s a whole day of parades today, plus the magnificence that is Orpheus tomorrow night. We skipped Tucks and Endymion last night–we never have really gone to watch Endymion; we used to walk up St. Charles to go out dancing on that night, and always caught tons of beads from Endymion as we walked–and our attendance today is entirely dependent on the weather. The day parades have been moved up an hour already because of potentially inclement weather; but thus far Bacchus is scheduled to role tonight at its regularly scheduled time.

Paul went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday last night, leaving me home to my own devices for the evening, and so I pretty much spent the evening watching nonsense on television and reading Lori Roy’s Gone Too Long, which is so beautifully written I have to put it down every once in a while to digest it. I am hoping to finish reading it today before and between parade.  I am glad I have tomorrow off, so I can get all the odds-and-ends of my book finished before Orpheus rides, and on Fat Tuesday I am going to probably just relax and read most of the day. I am very behind, not only on the Short Story Project but on the Diversity Project, and I also have my TWFest homework to do as well–I have three books to read for that. But once the Festival is over and I have the first draft of the WIP finished (around April 1st, methinks), I can dive back into both projects. Huzzah!

And since I am taking today off from writing, I can spend the morning before the parades get here curled up in my easy chair with Lori’s book, which is an absolutely lovely way to spend a morning…and perhaps during the brief break between Thoth and Bacchus I can get it finished. It’s a very  well written book, and the story itself, intertwining present day grief in a family with a history of Klan leadership, is stunning in its scope and what it is trying to do, and I am here for it. It’s also interesting that it fits into one of my goals for the year–which is to read more diverse books as I try to get a better handle on this country’s horrific history with race and how that currently impacts and effects our current society–which was, as I started reading it, completely unintentional…so technically, it counts in the Diversity Project because it is about racial disparities and tackles the question of race head-on by doing something incredibly daring for this day and age–a look at the Klan from inside the family of one of its leaders.

Reminiscent of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, which I reread earlier this year.

And now, I am going to retire to my easy chair with Lori Roy’s book and my iPad, with the electronic copy of Murder-a-Go-Go’s.

Happy Sunday, every one!

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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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Pop Muzik

Friday, and a new month. Rabbit, rabbit, and all that, you know.

Or did I mess that up by typing something else first?

I’m so bad at these things.

Anyway, it is now February, and Carnival is just over the horizon. Parades literally start three weeks from today. #madness

I am taking vacation during most of the parade season; the new office is too far for me to walk to and from, so I decided to simply take vacation and actually enjoy parade season for a change. I should also be able to get a lot done during those days–kind of like a mini-staycation (although I loathe that not-a-word and can’t believe I still use it from time to time). I also can’t believe the first night of the parades is in three weeks. THREE WEEKS.

Of course, as Facebook seems to remind me on an almost daily basis, Carnival is late this year. Usually at this time parades are rolling and the city is full of tourists and I am exhausted from walking and working and going to parades. So, yes, Carnival is later this year than usual and yet somehow…it still snuck up on me? Go figure.

I finished reading The Klansman last night, but as I did some things occurred to me–namely, for a book about the Civil Rights struggle and racism in Alabama, there sure weren’t many characters that were people of color. Yes, a book about civil rights and racism placed the white people at the center of the story. Admittedly, the book wasn’t aimed at or written for people of color; the audience was white people…but I can’t see racist white people in the 1960’s reading the book and not being outraged by its “sympathetic” depictions of people of color. The book also sports the trope of the white savior–the “good white man” who stands up for the people of color and therefore becomes a target of the Klan.

There’s a really good essay–and one I might try to write–about the arc from The Clansman (the horribly offensive novel that Birth of a Nation was based on; it’s actually available for free from Google Books) to Gone with the Wind to The Klansman and how Southern people and authors rewrote history to not just romanticize and glorify the Southern Cause in the Civil War, but also the Ku Klux Klan; and how those narratives have changed perceptions not only of the war and racism, and the South itself. The Klansman is an attempt to reverse that trend, but to expose racism in the Jim Crow South not as something romantic and necessary, but as an evil on par with the original sin of slavery itself.

William Bradford Huie (who also wrote The Americanization of Emily, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, and The Execution of Private Slovik) deserves a lot of credit for writing this book, despite its flaws. He was born and raised in Alabama, and still lived there when he wrote and published this book–which couldn’t have earned him a lot of fans in the state. I’ve read any number of books by white people that have attempted to talk about the Civil Rights movement–and there are always these heroic white Southern people who stood up to the Klan and fought for the rights of people of color at great risk to themselves and to their families; as well as pushing the narrative that the real racists in the South were the working class and poor whites, while the middle and upper classes wrung their  hands with dismay but didn’t try to do anything. I think that narrative is false; white people aren’t the heroes of the Civil Rights movement by any means. And while class certainly played a huge part in Jim Crow and the codification of segregation and racism into law; I find it really hard to believe that more financially stable white Southern people weren’t racists. I first encountered the class discussion in David Halberstam’s The Fifties (which I do highly recommend); but while I do believe the class discussion has merit–and discussion of class/caste in America is way overdue–I don’t think it completely holds water, or holds up under close scrutiny.

Ironically, Jim Crow and codified racism is part of the reason the South lags so far behind the rest of the country economically.

We continue to ignore class in this country at our own peril, quite frankly.

I am going into the office early today to get my four hours out of the way, and then I am going to go run errands so hopefully I won’t have to leave the Lost Apartment this weekend. I hope to get all the cleaning and organizing done today, and then I am most likely going to either read Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress or Caleb Roehrig’s White Rabbit, which I am picking up at the library today. I also am going to tackle some Stephen King short stories this weekend, rereading Skeleton Crew. I need to get back to work on both the Scotty book and the WIP this weekend; I also want to do some short story revisions so I can send some more stories out for submission. I also have some other projects in the beginning stages I’d like to organize and plan out.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines. Have a terrific Friday, Constant Reader!

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Coward of the County

Thursday! Didn’t think we’d make it this far, did you, Constant Reader?

Yesterday was cold–not as cold as it is pretty much everywhere north of I-10–but today’s not so bad. Forecast to be in the fifties with a high of 61, the sun is out and the sky is blue and full of puffy white clouds. I only have to work a half-day today and tomorrow, so I’ll be sliding into the weekend relatively casually.

I finished proofing Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories last night, and now just have to fill out the corrections form to turn in. I also watched another episode of Titans, which introduced us to Jason Todd, aka Robin 2.0, and the show has done an excellent job of casting and writing this character. The young actor who plays him–I didn’t take the time to look up who he is–is pitch-perfect; even more so than the actor playing Dick Grayson. Titans is so well-done that DC Universe really needs to use it as a guide for any other super-hero team shows it might do; so much better than Legends of Tomorrow, which I was very excited about but lost interest in very quickly; I think I only watched two episodes.

I really do miss Agent Carter.

I also read more of The Klansman yesterday, and while it is still wince-inducing, it’s actually really good–or so I think. The horror of the racism and sexism of 1965 Alabama is incredibly difficult to read, but it is in-your-face, pull-no-punches honest….a lot more honest, frankly, than To Kill a Mockingbird, which I also read for the first time the same summer I read The Klansman. One of the things the author, William Bradford Huie (who was from Alabama and lived there) does really well is pull aside the pleasant mask most racists were and expose the ugliness underneath, while also showing their humanity; a humanity that exists despite their malignant beliefs and values.

Take, for example, this paragraph:

The Atoka Hospital was the most visited institution in Atoka County. This was because the people of the county were friendly. Each day the local radio station broadcast the names of the patients admitted the previous day, so whenever a person remained in the hospital for several days he could count on being visited by most of his relatives, many of his friends, even a few of his casual acquaintances. But this visiting was not interracial. Whites visited whites; Negroes visited Negroes. In the first twenty years of the hospital’s existence, from 1945 to 1965, no white man, unless he was a doctor or a policeman, visited a Negro patient. A few white women visited their Negro cooks. But certainly no white man ever visited a Negro girl. So when Breck Stancill, after hearing Dr. Parker’s report, visited the private room occupied by Loretta Sykes at 11:20 pm, he gained invidious distinction and caused ugly talk.

(aside: I am really glad the word negro has passed out of usage; as you can see from the above paragraph, it was commonly accepted in the 1960’s and was preferred to the n word and colored. Huie also used the n word liberally throughout the book, but it’s always used in dialogue by racist characters and never in the prose, unless the prose is going inside the character’s head.)

This is the kind of world that racists want us to return to; one where ‘whites’ are superior and separated (above) from other ‘races.’ This book is set in 1965 Alabama; and I was four years old at the time. This was the world I was born into, this existed and changed during the course of my lifetime. Huie perhaps does one of the best jobs I’ve ever read of writing about the reality of racism and segregation; and by humanizing his racists he makes them all the more horrible to contemplate; the three-dimensional monster is always more frightening than the one-dimensional.

I’ll probably finish reading the book tonight, since I get off work early, and I am taking voluminous notes…but probably won’t review the book until this weekend.

And now back to the spice mines.

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More Love

So, yesterday I went to pick up the mail–I’d ordered some sleepy-time tea on line, and they’d arrived on Wednesday, and yes, this tea actually works–and discovered FOUND MONEY in the mail. Back when I worked for that Unnamed Airline (Continental), in my last year there they gave us stock–something I would imagine they continued doing–but it was Class B or something; whatever it was, we couldn’t sell it. Flash forward and they merged with United. Fine, it was only ten shares, whatever, I always get the notice every year and just toss it in a drawer.

Yesterday, I actually read the thing and discovered that–wait, it’s now the kind of stock you can sell. It took me five minutes, but I signed into the stock website and sold that. It only took another five minutes for it to actually sell. How cool! I love when found money suddenly shows up, you know? It makes me quite happy.

I knew when I woke up yesterday was going to be a marquee day for the week, and it was. Huzzah! Part of it was after feeling so low energy all week, despite being rested, was waking up with batteries recharged; that happened again this morning in time for my short day this week. I have some errands to run this morning before I go in this afternoon; and some other things I need to get done around the Lost Apartment.

I’m still reading Last Seen Leaving  by Caleb Roehrig, which I am enjoying. I hope to finish reading it today, and then I am moving on to another Diversity Project book (after reading some short stories), and I think I’ve decided to read The Klansman by William Bradford Huie. I read this book when I was about nine or ten originally; I know the book belonged to my uncle, and I read it one lazy summer I was spending in Alabama (the same summer I read To Kill a Mockingbird.) Huie isn’t really talked about much anymore–at least not that I’m aware of–and The Klansman was a look at the violence and horror of the Civil Rights Era from the perspective of a white sheriff in a small county in Alabama who’s trying to keep the peace. Huie also wrote The Execution of Private Slovik, and other books illustrating social justice issues. I liked the book a lot, and it was, I think, the first time in my life I was ever given a different perspective on civil rights other than what I was hearing at home or at school, so I am curious to see how it holds up. I can’t remember when I remembered the book and tracked down a used copy on line; but am pretty certain it was after some tragedy involving racism in the last few years–unfortunately I can’t be more specific than that because there have been so many.

So, I have a nice busy weekend ahead of me–reading, cleaning, reading page proofs, and perhaps working on the Scotty revision. I’d also like to go to the gym both days as well; it never hurts to get the working out monkey off my back and start making time for the self-care and self-improvement I desperately need to make this year a winner.

Our Internet was out last night, so we couldn’t watch anything on television–no Australian Open, no US Figure Skating championships, none of the shows we watch regularly, nothing–so I spent the night doing some cleaning and some more reading. The good news, of course, is that it back this morning and a lot faster than it was before the crash last night (or of the last few weeks or so), which is lovely.

And on that note, probably should get back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone.

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Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)

One more day to get through and then it’s vacation. Woo-hoo!

I have literally been riveted by Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall; I hated having to put it down and go to bed last night. I’m about halfway finished; Paul won’t be home until late tonight so I am hoping I’ll be able to finish it tonight. I’m probably going to read Michael Thomas Ford’s Lily tomorrow; the LSU game is on early and after that I am probably going to do a lot of cleaning and organizing and reading. (I’ve decided to take Saturday off from all projects, in order to recharge my batteries.) There’s no Saints game on Sunday, so I am debating whether I should attempt Costco before the LSU game tomorrow, or just go Sunday while everyone’s at church.

Decisions, decisions.

Of course, while I juggle these multiple projects, I’ve been thinking a lot about a couple of short stories I’ve been working on for years, “The Ditch” and “Fireflies”; this was triggered, I think, by reading the Lisa Unger novel. I’ve been also thinking about a y/a novel I’ve wanted to write for years called Ruins; rereading the two Barbara Michaels novels in October started me down that path, and the Unger kicked it into overdrive. The problem with Ruins is that I borrowed some of it for Lake Thirteen; if I am going to write Ruins I’ll have to come up with some new things to say, and replace the scenes I borrowed. The problem with Ruins, of course, is that it’s a Civil War ghost story, and you can’t write that kind of book without addressing the elephant in the room: slavery and racism. I originally wrote it as a short story a long time ago (correction: make that a really bad short story; I think it was one of the stories I wrote in the 1980’s when I was trying to emulate Stephen King. I didn’t address any of those issues in the short story; I blissfully pretended, as so many others have done, that none of that mattered. God, the naivete. I think this is why I have so much trouble with trying to write about Alabama. Is there anything more annoying than a progressive white person trying to address race issues? I loved To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it as a kid; I reread it again recently and, while still thinking it was a moving story that was beautifully written, recognized several problems with it. I have copies of the Colson Whitehead novel that just won the National Book Award and the controversial book Ben Winters published earlier this year; I also found a copy of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, about the civil rights struggle in Alabama in the 1960’s, on ebay that I want to reread. (I read it when I was young; I’d like to give it a reread as an adult.)

Maybe after I read Lily. The time has never been more ripe for reading about racism, and studying America’s history of it. I also have Philip Roth’s alternate history The Plot Against America.

Hmmmm.

Of course, actually writing Ruins is a long way away; I have so much to do before the end of the year…

But it’s lovely feeling creative again. I am making lots of notes. The book is coming along rather well, too. I may even get all these things done when I am supposed to

Scary. Who am I?

And on that note, I should probably head back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hottie for today:

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