If Anyone Falls

I absolutely loved the tag line for the marvelous television adaptation of Megan Abbott’s equally brilliant novel Dare Me: “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenaged girls.” It’s also incredibly accurate; our teen years often impact and influence who we become and can color the rest of our lives. I loved Dare Me; it was lyrically, hauntingly written, and the story it told, while actually pretty simple, showed how the intricacies of relationships between young girls and authority figures who aren’t much older than they are, can become so complicated and complex; layers of love intermingling with hate and jealousy, the power dynamic shifting and changing as the characters themselves shift, change, and grow from their experiences.

I write, sometimes, books where the main characters are young–teenagers, either in high school or college or having just completed college–and those books are often labeled and marketed as “young adult” fiction, even though I generally just consider them novels about young people. I mean, technically novels about young people are young adult novels, and yet while I am resigned to this marketing label I am never certain if my books truly qualify or not. Perhaps that’s some kind of internalized arrogance and a sense of subconscious superiority to what I consider something lesser; it’s definitely something I should unpack at some point. But I think it is also an interesting starting point for one of my endless essay ideas, and perhaps someday–when I am less scattered, less all-over-the-place mentally and creatively–I’ll be able to sit down and write all those essays I want to write.

Which brings me to John Copenhaver’s second novel, The Savage Kind, which I just finished reading yesterday.

If I tell you the truth about Judy and Philippa, I’m going to lie. Not because I want to, but because to tell the story right, I have to. As girls, they were avid documentarians, each armed with journals and buckets of pens, convinced that future generations would pour over their words. Everything they did was a performance. Everything they wrote assumed an audience. After all, autobiographers are self-serving, aggrandizing. Memoirists embellish. It’s unavoidable. To write down your memories is an act of invention, to arrange them in the best, most compelling order, a bold gesture. Some of the diary entries that follow are verbatim, lifted directly from the source, but others are enhanced and reshaped. I reserve my right to shade in the empty spaces, to color between the lines, to lie.

You may balk, dear reader, but I don’t care. I need to get this right.

I could take different approaches. I could contrast the teenage girls: the black hat and the white, the harpy and the angel, the cunning vamp and the doe-eyed boob. Or I could draw them together, a single unit: Lucy and Ethel, Antony and Cleopatra, Gertrude and Alice, Holmes and Watson, or even, I dare say, Leopold and Loeb. But neither of those angles would work. The complicated facts are inescapable. These girls are both separate and together, but many times, they followed their own paths and even crossed one another. Things are never that simple, never that black and white, that good or evil, or that true or false. I’m not writing this to assign blame, or to ask forgiveness, or to tie it up in a bow for posterity. It’s not that kind of book.After all, an act of violence committed by one may have originated in the heart of the other. That’s to say, this is a story about sisters, and like many of those dusty and gruesome stories from ancient literature, here sisterhood is sealed in blood.

I should know. I was one of them.

Great opening, right?

John’s debut Dodging and Burning won the Macavity Award*, and was quite the impressive debut. II was completely blown away by the book myself–it showed a maturity and sophistication in theme, writing, and characters that one rarely sees in a debut novel. One of the things I thought was very interesting about the book was that while it did focus on a gay story, the main voices in the book were young straight women; I thought that was a risky thing to try to pull off, but he did a really excellent job.

As good as Dodging and Burning was, I wasn’t prepared for how good The Savage Kind would be.

The heart of the book is the friendship/relationship between two damaged young women in the post-war afterglow of the late 1940’s in Washington DC. (Both of John’s novels are set in the post-war period, when the world was trying to go ‘back to normal’ after the massive paradigm alteration of a global war that left most of Europe and significant parts of Asia in ruins; tens of millions dead, billions in property damage, and the world needed to rebuild from the rubble–and normal was also being redefined; the paradigm shift caused by the war made going back to “the way things used to be” practically impossible–which makes it a very interesting time to write about.) Philippa’s mother died giving birth to her and she has a slightly adversarial relationship with her stepmother, Bonnie. Judy was raised in an orphanage and adopted by a wealthy couple who had lost a daughter in a particularly brutal way–Judy was adopted to replaced their raped and murdered daughter, but her adoptive parents are still too scarred and damaged from the lost of their own child to raise and love another, and this history also colors Judy’s personality and who she is. The two girls find each other and become very close friends; so close that their love for each other might go even deeper than the Platonic ideal of friendship–their teenaged hormones raging out of control, are romantic/sexual feelings also developing between the two of them?

They are also playing girl detectives, trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that they don’t know has anything to do with them beyond the idle curiosity (and their dangerous boredom) but as they look further into the mystery revolving around a classmate, a favorite teacher, and that classmate’s family–as well as their own–they become more and more deeply enmeshed in danger and cling even tighter to each other.

As if that juggling act isn’t tough enough, Copenhaver makes all of these characters realized, fully developed and realistic in their emotions, their feelings, and their reactions. He also tells the story in alternating points of view between the two girls while they are experiencing the events, as well as a narrator voice from the future, telling the story in retrospect as well as talking directly to the reader. This is hard to pull off, particularly the omniscient future narrator–the last time I saw this used so effectvely and memorably was in Thomas Tryon’s The Other (at least, this is the book that popped into my head as I was reading, and it’s a favorite of mine).

The Savage Kind was nominated for a Lefty Award, and it very deservedly won the Lambda for Best Mystery recently. I highly recommend it!

*I may be wrong here, but I think he might be the first openly gay author of a book with gay characters and themes to win the Macavity Award; I know I was nominated once for a short story–but my characters and themes weren’t queer.

Nightbird

Tuesday and back to the office. Huzzah?

I guess. It doesn’t feel like I accomplished much this weekend, but that’s nothing new. I always feel like I should have done more when the weekend–especially a long one–has ended; but I am trying not to beat myself up as much over stuff like this as I used to. It’s not good for my mental health, for one–always a shaky thing at the best of times–and it’s counter-productive. I feel very strongly that one should never regret things–no regrets is kind of a mantra of mine–because regret is really a waste of time and energy. You can’t change it, after all. (I am not saying this rule should apply to everything–murder, for example–but for anything that isn’t a crime, you should have no regrets. All you can do is change the behavior and not repeat it if you feel regret but wallowing in the regret is counter-productive and kind of self-defeating. I think you get the point. I’ve not had enough coffee to be certain I am making the point properly.) I didn’t finish reading my book, I didn’t write nearly as much as I could have, and I certainly didn’t get the apartment as clean and organized as I would have preferred. But it’s also a short work week, we have a regular weekend coming up and then another three day holiday after that; and then I am off to Florida for Sleuthfest–which makes that an even shorter week than usual. And since yesterday was a holiday, I actually get to use my Friday as my work-at-home day of the week. Huzzah! That will be nice, and I have all kinds of things I can take home and do this Friday.

We finished watching The Defeated last night and it’s really quite good. It was originally released in 2020 and approved for a second season, but the pandemic interfered and it looks like they went into production sometime last year, but where is the second (and final) season? It’s really good–if you enjoy Babylon Berlin or have any interest in the second world war and it’s aftermath, you’ll really like this show.

Well, yesterday I ran my errands–Metairie and the North Shore–and after I was finished and heading back home, I realized something: you can actually tell where an area falls on the political landscape based on the length of the drive-thru line at a Chik-Fil-A. The one in Metairie on Veteran’s Boulevard yesterday, for example–was so long it backed out onto Veterans and was blocking a lane of traffic. No offense to right-wingers, but there’s really no fast food in the world good enough for me to sit in a drive-thru line that would take that long (although now it occurs to me that it could also be an indication of how slow the line moves, which again–no fast food is so fucking good that it’s worth waiting in line for a minimum of twenty minutes for).

It was exhausting, of course–the heat index was well over a hundred yesterday–but it was also a beautiful day for a drive across the lake. I used to loathe driving over the causeway bridge, and it’s still not a favorite thing for me to do (the five dollar toll to come back to the south shore doesn’t help; yes, it’s free to go to the north shore but you have to pay to come to the south; just like when the Crescent City Connection was a toll bridge going to the West Bank was free but you had to pay to come back to New Orleans), but I’ve adapted and can now relax (depending on the idiot drivers, of course; there are always a few) as I drive across and enjoy looking at the beautiful expanse of water. The bridge is twenty-four miles long, so you can reach a point where you can’t see land in any direction, like you’re out there in the middle of the water with no end to it in sight–I think that was what always used to bother me about driving across the bridge. The north shore is also actually quite beautiful, too–you really feel like you’re in the South on the North Shore, more so than on the south shore, where it feels like Louisiana, if that makes sense? (although it would make for an interesting thing to write about in a Scotty book, hmmm) I do wish I had more free time, because I would like to go exploring around the city a bit more–the north shore, the river and bayou parishes–but the cost of gas is also making such explorations prohibitive. Maybe over the 4th of July weekend I can head down to the river parishes….I kind of need to for this new Scotty book. Then again, I am inventing a parish out of my imagination, but it also doesn’t hurt to ground a fictional parish in reality, either.

And on that note, I need to head into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday and will chat at you again tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Beauty and the Beast

Holiday Monday, which is celebrating Juneteenth (if you want to know more about the holiday, this is a great place to start). It’s hard to believe, and more than a little sad, that it took until recently for this to become a federally recognized holiday. Honestly.

Better late than never, I suppose–which is hardly any consolation, really.

But it’s nice to have another three-day weekend (I can’t remember which holiday we gave up for this one at my dayjob, but we only are allowed no more than eight holidays for some reason), and I slept late again this morning. The cappuccino yesterday morning had no effect on my sleep, so I am having another one this morning, which is lovely. I really do love the way they taste; I just wish making them wasn’t so complicated and dirtied up so much stuff. I made Swedish meatballs yesterday afternoon and that mess still needs to be cleaned up as well. Heavy sigh. What can I say? I got caught up in watching television once the meal was ready and stayed in my easy chair until it was time for bed. We watched the new episode of Becoming Elizabeth, which isn’t bad but it’s not overly compelling either–which is weird, because the period between Henry VIII’s death in 1547 and Elizabeth’s accession to the throne in 1558 was very fraught and very dangerous (Anya Seton brilliantly captured this period in her seminal novel Green Darkness, which I highly recommend along with the warning “it’s quite long”); but it’s not really translating to the screen very well in this production. I also spent some more time with John Copenhaver’s marvelous The Savage Kind, which I hope to do again today.

We also started watching an amazing show on Netflix that originally dropped in 2020 and whose second season was endlessly delayed by the pandemic (I checked it out on-line as we watched) called The Defeated starring Taylor Kitsch as a Brooklyn homicide detective who is “loaned” to a small precinct in the American sector of Berlin in 1946 to help rebuild their station along American police standards; which is a challenge. None of the people working as cops there have any experience in being police officers; some are young boys while the majority are women. The Germans aren’t allowed to have guns, so they have an “arsenal” where they keep their bedposts and other wooden sticks; the Russians are horrible; and Kitsch himself is looking for his brother, a soldier with mental problems who’s gone AWOL and whom Kitsch suspects is targeting and murdering Nazis. It’s extremely well done–think Babylon Berlin but only in another twenty years–and it also asks a lot of ethical and moral questions that really don’t have answers. The woman who runs the station, is the “superintendent” or captain of the squad–wasn’t a Nazi but her protestations about “we weren’t all Nazis” have the same credibility of a prisoner at Angola claiming innocence: no one admits to being a Nazi once the war was lost, after all. At one point she says, very poignantly, “The war is over and the entire world hates us because of what we did, or allowed, and who can blame them?” This seems particularly poignant given the current political climate in our country; I know it seems extreme, but I’ve seen other people comment on Twitter and other social media about how they feel sometimes like “they are living in Weimar Germany and it’s just a matter of time.”

I know I’ve certainly felt that way at times.

We also watched a classic old Bette Davis film, The Letter, which I’d realized I’d never seen yesterday so I pulled it up and started watching. I had read the original short story by Somerset Maugham a few years ago for the Short Story Project, and enjoyed it tremendously. The story is told from the lawyer’s point of view, while the movie certainly shifts the focus over to Leslie Crosbie, wife of a Malaysian rubber plantation owner, who shoots and kills a man she accuses of trying to rape her. Everyone believes Leslie…but you see, there is this letter that exists that contradicts her story, and the more lies she tells, the less her lawyer believes her–although he ultimately pays a blackmailer to get the letter back so she escapes conviction. In the story it’s all from the lawyer’s point of view; she’s merely the wife of a friend he is taking on as a favor, and he doesn’t know her well…but as he (the lawyer) discovers the existence of the letter and recovers it, he slowly begins to see through her lies and to see her as she really is. He doesn’t expose her–he allows her to escape her punishment–but he confronts her with the letter after the verdict and she confesses everything…only to return to her loveless marriage at the rubber plantation. The story and the movie both are steeped with the Imperialistic and racist overtones of the time the story was written and the film made; the ending of the movie is different than that of the story because of course, for the Hays Code of the time she couldn’t be seen as not being “punished” for her crime; she is murdered at the end by the Eurasian widow of the man she killed (his marriage to this mixed-race woman is what sets the tragedy in motion) during a party celebrating her verdict. There was one scene in particular that really made me shake my head: after she has told her story of being almost raped and committing murder to protect herself, she makes dinner for her husband, a friend of the family, and the local police magistrate and they sit around eating and talking about things like nothing’s happened. As we watched this season, Paul–who had no idea of what the movie was about–said, “Oh, he didn’t try to rape her, did he? She’s a cold-blooded killer.” GREG: “It’s Bette Davis, what do you think?”

Although it did make me think about false accusations of rape again, which is one of the myriad of reasons women generally tend to not be believed about being assaulted. There’s probably a really good essay to be written about that.

I also wrote yesterday, which was really lovely. I managed to get the first chapter of that manuscript written; I plan to look at it again today and tweak it a bit. I have a lengthy errand to run–must go over to the North Shore–and when I get home, I plan to write for a while before retiring to my easy chair with my Copenhaver book (I am really enjoying it, y’all) before we finish watching The Defeated (y’all, it’s really good). I’m not sure if what I wrote yesterday is actually any good or not; it remains to be seen, I suppose, and let’s face it, I am not (nor have I ever been) the best judge of my own work. But we shall see today, I suppose. It felt good to be creating again and it felt good to be finishing something, even if it’s just a shitty draft. I’d like to be able to get a lot more written today, if I can…

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Talk soon, Constant Reader!

Won’t Get Fooled Again

I am classified as a baby boomer because of the year I was born (1961) but I kind of think I am an exception to that rule, or should be, at any rate. My parents just missed being boomers, being born in 1942, but they don’t remember the war, and I think the war is the real defining generational moment. But I grew up around older people (they seemed ancient!) who had served. Our neighborhood in Chicago was a melting pot of various eastern/middle European refugees who came after the war, and for me that made the war seem very real as opposed to a historical event. We saw all the films in elementary school about the war–along with some extraordinary pro-American anti-Communist patriotic propaganda–and as very young children we were exposed to the films of the camps. The Holocaust was real, it was recent, and it was still absolutely horrifying. (We were also taught why using atomic weapons on Japan was the right, moral decision and hey, they started it after all–but that’s a topic for another day.) I remember watching a documentary series on PBS called The World at War, and of course, old war films were being shown on television all the time. (And somehow, Hogan’s Heroes was also on the air when I was a child–and then rerun in syndication for quite a while.) I read a lot of war fiction growing up–From Here to Eternity to The Caine Mutiny to War and Remembrance to The Young Lions to Tales of the South Pacific. I read a lot of World War II books–and there were even more books where it was a major part of the plot but it did affect the story and the characters in some way. (You can even stretch and include The Godfather–both book and movie–because Michael Corleone was a war hero at the beginning.)

I also fell in love with Hawaii the first time I went in 1991; I went every year after that until 1995 (thank you, flight benefits!) and I miss it. I would love to go back again, and I would imagine it’s very different there now than it was the last time I was there. But on one of those trips to Hawaii–I don’t remember which one–I came up with a very basic idea for a book, that would open on December 8, 1941. The wrecks in Pearl Harbor were still smoking and the entire island chain was on high alert. My idea was to then have an Army brass’ wife call the local police station to report a murder: she found the young Japanese man who worked for her doing yard work and odd jobs with his throat cut in her rose bushes. That was as far as the idea ever progressed, and I never have had the time to sit and think it through. But I love that opening idea, and that set-up; even as I type these words now characters are taking shape in my head (KNOCK IT OFF, CREATIVITY)…anyway, so it was a no-brainer that I wanted to to read Five Decembers by James Kestrel the first time I learned of its existence.

Joe McGrady was looking at a whiskey. It was so new the ice hadn’t begun to melt, even in this heat. A cacophony surrounded him. Sailors were ordering beers ten at a go, reaching past each other to light the girls’ cigarettes. Someone dropped a nickel in the Wurlitzer, and then there was Jimmy Dorsey and his orchestra. The men compensated for the new noise. They raised their voices. They were shouting at the girls now, and they outnumbered them. The night was just getting started, and so far they weren’t drinking anything harder than beer. They wouldn’t get to fistfights for another few hours. By the time they did, it would be some other cop’s problem. So he picked up his drink, and sniffed it. Forty-five cents per liquid ounce. Worth every penny, even if a three-finger pour took more than an hour to earn.

Before he had a taste of it, the barman was back. Shaved head, swollen eyes. Straight razor scars on both his cheeks. A face that made you want to hurry up and drink. But McGrady set his glass down.

“Joe,Tip said.

“Yeah?”

“Telephone–Captain Beamer, I guess, You can take it upstairs.

He knew the way. So he grabbed the drink again, and knocked it back. The whole thing, one gulp. Smooth and smoky. He might as well have it. If Beamer was calling him now, then he was going to be pulling overtime. Which meant tomorrow–Thursday–was going to be a bust. Molly was going to be disappointed. On the other hand, he’d be drawing extra pay. So he could afford to make it up to her later. He put three half-dollars on the bar, wiped his mouth on his shirtsleeve, and went upstairs.

I had heard great things about this book–it literally won the Edgar for Best Novel last month–and of course, it’s time and setting (a murder mystery set in Honolulu just before, during and after December 7? Oh hell yeah) made it a must-get. I didn’t read it as soon as I got a copy of course; it went into the TBR stack and moved up quite a few places after it won the Edgar. On the one hand, I’d heard nothing but great things about the book (and it won the Edgar)…but on the other hand, I also was worried about how this Pearl Harbor noir might affect my potential write-sometime-in-the-future-but-before-I-die Pearl Harbor murder mystery; namely, would I simply think oh this is so fucking good I can’t bear to write something that would be compared (unfavorably) to it because mine would inevitably be the weaker of the two? (I know how unhinged this sounds, but I’ve never pretended that anything that goes on inside of my brain is anything other than that.)

Yes, the book is that good, and no, it didn’t leave me thinking that I could never write my own book idea. If anything, it made me think, oh, I should try mine at some point but I am going to have to do a shit ton of research–which was something I already was aware of, to be fair–but its a good idea and could be interesting and fun to work on.

So, yeah, there was clearly no need to wait to read this outside my own neuroses.

Joe McGrady is the hero of this tale, which does indeed open in late November/December 1941 and finally wraps up the case in December 1945–the “five Decembers” of the title. Joe is ex-military and wound up in Honolulu on the police force, where he is neither liked nor trusted because he didn’t come up through the ranks; the thin blue line in Honolulu considers him to be an outsider. The case he catches while having a drink in the bar involves two bodies found butchered in a hut on a pineapple plantation; a young white male and a young Japanese female, stripped nude and essentially gutted. The case has wider implications other than the apparent (“my god, someone butchered two people in an extremely violent and gory way!”) as the young man is the nephew of Admiral Kimmel, the commander-in-chief of the Pacific Naval Fleet. As tensions between the United States and Japan are heating up to the inevitability of war, the murder of someone related to a person so high up in the chain of command could be espionage, could be any number of things that could have an effect on the security of the country and the Pacific fleet–and we, as readers, are also very aware of what’s around the corner in just a few days. Joe does note that his boss seems a bit weird about the investigation, and he’s paired with a bruiser detective who likes to beat information out of people and confessions out of possibly innocent people. He’s dating a young woman who attends the University, and may even be falling in love with her. We don’t get a lot of backstory on Joe, but the strength of the authorial voice makes unemotional, mostly internal Joe a hero you can root for. The trail of the murders eventually leads to Hong Kong, and Joe sets off on the transoceanic flight, which includes stops at Guam and Wake Island, where he picks up more clues and the trail of the possible killer–and there’s a murder victim on Wake kind of similar to the ones in Hawaii. But once he arrives in Hong Kong he decides not to immediately go to the police department there and ask assistance; rather he decides to follow the trail himself at first…a mistake, as he winds up getting arrested and framed for a rape. He is in the Hong Kong jail hoping that the US Embassy will get him out when the bombs start falling. He is taken to Japan as a prisoner of war, and the case–and the book, take a completely surprising twist and turn once he is there.

Anything else would be a spoiler, so I can’t really talk about the story anymore–but it’s compelling, convincing, beautiful and tragic and sad all at the same time. We see a lot of things through Joe’s eyes–both inhumanity and humanity; the absolute horrors of war (there’s a horrifyingly grim account of the fire bombing of Tokyo), and finally, the war ends, he returns to Hawaii, and is able to at long last close the case in a way that is enormously satisfying.

I really really enjoyed this immersive book which used a hardboiled crime story to talk about the horrors of war and the inhumanity that xenophobic and racist values and beliefs can create. It was riveting and very hard to put down once I started.

Highly, highly recommended.

It’s So Hard For Me to Say Goodbye

That isn’t really true. At least not completely, at any rate. I have walked away from a lot of people in my life, nearly all of them toxic in one way or another (in some cases, multiple ways). It sometimes takes me much longer to get rid of toxic people than it might–I will inevitably always excuse behavior, because I always think I deserve on some level to be treated like garbage (thanks, homophobic world in which I grew up! Hugs and kisses!) and so I always take the blame whenever there’s an issue.

But I do inevitably wake up, the proverbial scales falling from my eyes, because that toxic behavior will eventually continue until I’ve been pushed too far, and then–you’re dead to me. Literally. I mean, when you’ve pushed me that far there’s really nothing to discuss, and your behavior has to be pretty heinous, repeatedly, for me to walk away. It also means you’ve probably apologized for that behavior several times before–but you don’t change that behavior, and I no longer want to deal with it.

In other words, when the aggravation you provide outweighs whatever pleasure I get from knowing you–and I’ve also reached the point where I no longer care what you think about me, or what you say about me to people we both know, it’s time for you to go. PAST time for you to go.

I slept very well last night, which was marvelous. I stayed in bed an extra hour after waking up this morning, napping on and off until the call of the coffee became simply too strong to ignore anymore. The coffee also really tastes good this morning, which is weird–it’s not like it could be stronger or anything, since I have a Keurig and every cup is theoretically the same, the only difference being the kind of roast or whatever I use–do you call different kinds of coffee flavors, even though they have flavored coffee? I actually like Starbucks brand, to be honest–their French and Italian roasts, Cafe Verona, and Sumatra, as well as Folger’s Black Silk, and some generic store brand darks aren’t bad, either. I usually alternate between them all morning so as to never get burned out on a taste I like. But for some reason–the rest? –the flavors are more noticeable this morning. I knew–or was pretty certain–I was going to sleep well because I got very tired at the office yesterday afternoon. I felt fine all day, but right around three o’clock I hit the wall and was very exhausted. I came straight home from the office, did some chores around the house, and then retired to my easy chair to watch some World War II documentaries on Youtube before switching over to Ukraine war coverage on MSNBC. The eerie similarities between this conflict and the start of World War II are, while not exact, still troubling: Russian takeover of Crimea=Nazi takeover of the Sudetenland (a brazen land grab the rest of Europe allowed to “keep peace”); the invasion of Ukraine=invasion of Poland (but it’s not going as well and as easy for Putin as it did for Hitler, obviously). The US armed and loaned money to the Allies for over two years before being drawn into the conflict; we are currently supplying and loaning money to Ukraine.

And while Putin and his “intelligence” clearly underestimated the resistance and will of the Ukrainian people, they also didn’t count on Volodymyr Zelenskyy becoming, in the face of one of the greatest crises any leader can face, the true heart and soul of his country. Talk about rising to the occasion! We all like to believe we would stand up in the face of such a crisis…but would we?

Today is my work-at-home Friday. There is data to enter, condoms to pack, and chores to be done around the house. I need to finish editing a manuscript, I need to work on a short story and perhaps edit a few more, and of course there are the general weekend errands that need to be run. It’s kind of gray outside today, and the forecast is for really horrible weather later this evening–tornados and high winds and heavy rains–so tonight is going to be the perfect night to curl up with the new Alex Segura novel. I am saving it as a reward for getting everything done this weekend that I need to get done; although I will probably crack it open to get started tonight. Yay!

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Friday, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Without The One You Love

Tuesday morning!

The weather turned surprisingly lovely yesterday–seriously, March madness is how you can describe New Orleans weather in the merry month of March–which made those errands I had to run not seem nearly as irritating or awful or tedious as they usually do. It’s even darker outside this morning than usual–thanks again, Daylight Savings Time; I can’t tell you how much more I appreciate getting up when it’s darker than it has been. Hurray? It rained overnight as well; things are glistening out there in the light from my windows. I thought when I was in bed that I heard rain–not heavy–but wasn’t sure if it was my imagination or not. I woke up around three thirty, and was off and on the rest of the morning until my alarm finally went off. That means I will probably be very tired today, will probably hit a wall around two or three in the afternoon, and better sleep tonight.

God, how I hate Daylight Savings Time. My body had finally reset its clock, only to have DST fuck it all up all over again. Yay.

I finished the final revision of the book last night and sent it to my editor, who hadn’t started yet on the sloppy mess I turned in (thank God). I think there’s still some clean-up and tightening of the story that needs to be done as yet, but I feel better about getting it revised again. I also need to stop worrying about it. I think part of my problem with sleep last night had to do with that stress–ugh, fucking stress–and I really need to focus going forward on making sure that my stress levels not only go down but stay down. I already made some decisions about the future over the weekend about going forward with my life–looking ahead to the years leading up to retirement–and I really do need to make plans. I also have to get my taxes pulled together for my accountant. Heavy heaving sigh.

But I don’t feel sleepy this morning, despite the shitty night’s sleep; but I suspect I will feel very tired later. Yay.

Paul actually got home last night before I went to bed–which hasn’t happened on a weeknight in quite some time–and we watched some more war coverage before we both went to bed. I’ve often wondered what it was like to live in the United States after September 1, 1939; I guess we’re learning. (Ah, thunder just boomed. And there’s the rain. A torrential downpour, yay. That’ll make walking out to the car a lot more fun than usual. Hurray.) I’ll probably swing by and get the mail on the way home tonight. Alex Segura’s Secret Identity should be waiting for me when I get there this afternoon; an ARC of Chris Holm’s Child Zero was there yesterday. (Aside: it is pouring outside. But my morning weather alert was just about thunderstorms and wind; nothing about street flooding, which is a plus because it is really coming down out there. Definitely will need to take an umbrella with me this morning. Hopefully it will slacken before I have to leave….ah, so let it be written, so let it be done. It’s already stopped.)

Shouldn’t have looked at Twitter. Apparently it’s hailing in the Marigny.

Great.

Ah, well, the coffee is kicking in and even though my eyes feel tired (ugh, I hate that tired-eye feeling) I think it’s going to be a good day. One can keep hoping, at any rate, right? And it’s the Ides of March! Fortunately, I don’t think I am going to be stabbed by a mob in the Roman Senate…mainly because I wouldn’t be going to the Roman Senate today. I’ve always thought it was interesting that Julius Caesar was, if you want to look at this in American terms, considered to be a hero in history and is certainly taught that way; the winners write the history, after all, and while Caesar was certainly murdered–his great-nephew/adopted son Octavian eventually became the first Roman Emperor, so of course history would be written sympathetically. But…Caesar was a despot who seized power and undermined the Roman Republic; Octavian took it one step further and turned the Republic into an Empire, with himself as a god-emperor. Since the Roman Republic was really one of the very few in history, naturally Americans, in their hubris, look to Rome to compare and contract our democracy to (I am always amused when clueless Christians insist that the collapse of Rome was due to its godlessness…um, Rome reached its apex of power before the birth of Christ, and one could quite easily make the argument that Christianity undermined the Empire to the point where it finally fell…and of course, Western-centric historians never like to point out that the Roman Empire actually didn’t finally fall until the Ottomans took Constantinople in 1453.); but they rarely draw the proper conclusions. History is always taught with a sympathetic eye to the tyrants who ran Western European countries until the monarchies fell. Current events are rarely, if ever, placed into the proper historical context which makes understanding them easier.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

Up the Ladder to the Roof

It’s a gray Saturday morning, and my body clock has definitely reset. I woke up just before six again, wide awake, but stayed in bed for another hour (just like yesterday). I don’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday, though; but I have things to dig through and work to do and lots of coffee on-hand for fueling. But that’s okay; I don’t have huge plans for the day. I am going to start doing some editing, I am going to work on my short story a bit, and i am going to spend some more time with Kellye Garrett’s Like A Sister, which will be my reward for getting the other stuff done. I need to go make groceries at some point this weekend, just haven’t decided which day to do that. I also need to go to the gym, maybe later today. There’s always organizing and cleaning to do, too.

In other words, another normal weekend around the Lost Apartment.

But that’s cool, I suppose. Trying to do normal things helps me deal with the over-all concern about the world burning to the ground around us, which sometimes makes doing anything feel completely pointless. (I do remember all the hesitation from people in December about trying not to get thrilled or be happy that 2021 was coming to an end; we all felt that way every December for several years only for the new year to be even worse than the one before. Looks, sadly, like those people were right.) It’s a weird place to be in for someone my age, or in my generation, or those of us who remember the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m sure many of them, like me, had forgotten what it was like to live under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. But that’s what we did back then–we went about our daily lives with that worry in the back of our minds at all times. I remember the amazement and joy when the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany reunified; part of their punishment for causing World War II and uncountable war crimes was allowing the Russians to basically split the country, turning East Germany into a communist satellite state while West Germany became a democracy and joined NATO and the west–basically for protection from a Communist takeover. I don’t miss nuclear apocalyptic fiction and films; Neville Shute’s On the Beach was such a bleak read, and the television movie The Day After was also dark and hopeless. There was an abandoned nuclear missile base about two or three miles from my high school in Kansas (which I’ve always wanted to write about); I remember there was a PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school about nuclear war, which was also the first time it ever crossed my mind that Kansas, of all places, would be a strategic military target for the Russians (because of all the missile bases spread across the prairie), they even named the closest town to the abandoned base as a target (Bushong, Kansas, population 37 at the time). And of course, The Day After made that very clear, as it took place in Kansas City and environs. Testament is another bleak film about the aftermath of nuclear war; and I remember reading another book, War Day, by Whitley Strieber and someone else, set about twenty years after a nuclear war between the superpowers. We used to learn about all kinds of things, like the electromagnetic pulse (the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere which somehow–I don’t remember how it worked–rendered anything requiring electricity to cease working), often simplified to EMP. We were taught that iodine helped with radiation sickness, along with the grim knowledge that those killed instantly were the lucky ones. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction used to be about the aftermath of nuclear war.

I didn’t realize how lovely it had been to be able to push those concerns completely out of my mind.

And what unique privilege it is, to be so consumed with worry over what may happen that might affect me and my life, while people are literally being slaughtered by the minute and large cities are being bombed and shelled ruthlessly and refugees are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands.

And there are other atrocities occurring around the world that aren’t being reported on, or covered as widely by the western media–primarily because the people being slaughtered or bombed aren’t white.

The great irony is that we consider our current civilization as the apex of humanity thus far–that civilization continues to evolve and grow less barbaric with the passage of time, while knowing that future generations will look back to our times and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them? How could they not see how fucked up the world was, and do something about it?

What is happening in Ukraine is just another chapter in the never-ending on-going series of books showing how incredibly inhumane humans are.

I don’t know what’s going to happen over there, and I worry that a peaceable resolution is not possible. I don’t see how Putin can possibly survive this, and he is a desperate thug with a massive Napoleon complex. I don’t know how many Ukrainians have to die before the rest of the world says enough. I don’t know how you get a madman with a nuclear arsenal to stop making war on civilians.

So, I just keep going. I get up every morning and have coffee. I check my emails, read some, delete some and reply to others. I check the news to see the latest from the front. I work on day job responsibilities and my writing and MWA business and edit. I do my dishes and clean my house and cook dinner and try to read to take my mind off the nightmares unfolding in the far corners of the world. I donate what I can to relief efforts. Little things, here and there, to cope with a reality that is incredibly worrisome and stressful and so overwhelming that I can’t allow myself to spend too much time going down that road–because I have the privilege to not have to be concerned about surviving today’s bombings. I have food and medicine and access to services. I have power and water and a working car. I have resources to draw upon. I am lucky.

I create. I write novels, fictions which may or may not have any meaning, trifles that can serve as a distraction from the worries and cares of a burning world over which I have little to no control. I have always been hesitant to use the word art when it comes to my writing; I’ve always felt that it isn’t for me to decide whether my work is art or I am an artist. But literature is a form of art, so therefore by extension my work is art and I am an artist; whether good or bad, important or forgettable is for others to discuss, debate and decide. But one of the foundations of civilization is art; art can survive the centuries and epochs and tell future generations stories about the times in which we live, to give them context for our civilization and our country and what we do and how we live. Fiction can educate and distract; it can provide a needed distraction and escape from the horrors of reality and provide comfort and joy in times of stress and terror. I have always escaped into books, and as a writer, I can also now escape into worlds and characters of my own creation. Reading and writing have always been my escapes; and now, more than ever, those kinds of escapes are necessary.

So, writers–we need to keep creating even as the world burns. There is always a need for beauty and truth, especially in times like these. And with electronic books–our words can now last for eternity, forever–or at least as long as civilization as we know it exists. I have no crystal ball; I do not have visions–although there have been times I’ve felt like Cassandra screaming on the walls of Troy, ignored and mocked as she tells them their future and of their folly. I do not know how this will all turn out, I do not know where we will be tomorrow or the next day. But as long as I have the ability to do so, I will keep working. I will keep making to-do lists and crossing off the tasks as I complete them. I will go on, living my life and doing whatever small thing I can do to try to keep the light burning. I will always try to make sense of the senseless, and I will always keep going.

No matter how dark the world might seem, no matter how much suffering we have to witness.

And on that somber note, I am going to dive into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hope you and all your loved ones are safe and secure, and continue to be.

(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.

Johnny Are You Queer?

I have been wanting to rewatch Johnny Tremain for quite some time now.

When Disney Plus went live, the first thing I did (after subscribing) was search for it there; I did this at least once every two weeks since the service launched, to no avail. I would look for it on Amazon Prime, Netflix, everywhere; whenever I would sign up for yet another streaming service I would look for it. I never quite understood–and still don’t–why Disney Plus doesn’t have it; but the other day at work I realized I hadn’t looked for it for a while, so signed into Disney Plus on my browser: nope. Oh might as well give Amazon Prime a try, I thought, although Disney not having one of its own properties while another streaming service had it was, I thought, highly unlikely.

And yet, there it was: to rent or buy. I didn’t want to buy it, and I really hate paying to rent to stream something when I already pay for far too many streaming services (I really need to get past the mentality of subscribing when I want to watch something when it’s far cheaper in the long run to merely rent the movie or show), but I’v been wanting to rewatch this movie for years and there it finally was; so I did, and rewatched it yesterday whilst making my daily allotment of condom packs.

I also remembered, when I found the film, that Johnny Tremain was my gateway drug to not only my lifelong interest in American history–which eventually led to an interest in history in general. We had an assembly at my elementary school to watch the movie, and I saw it again when it aired on The Wonderful World of Disney (it may even have still been Disney’s Wonderful World of Color). I eventually read the book, which I got from a Scholastic Book Fair, and it became a treasured favorite. I also recognized, before rewatching the movie as a sixty-year-old, that it was a Disney film aimed for kids made in the 1950’s during the Red Scare when we were all living under the shadow of the mushroom cloud; Walt himself was, among many other things, a deeply conservative pro-America anti-Communist homophobe, and given all those things, it was going to most likely be–if looked at with a cold, judgmental, independent eye–a barely disguised propaganda film. (I am also curious to reread the book; since it was published in 1943, during the height of the second world war, it was also probably pro-American propaganda, when all the country needed to be united to believe that we were fighting evil to make the world a better place, and since American democracy was the be-all end-all…you see what I mean?)

I mean, once you recognize and identify Lost Cause mythology as an ideation to perpetrate and protect white supremacy, it’s also relatively easy to start reexamining all of American history and see the mythology that has been built up around the founding and creation of the country, as well as the deification of the Founding Fathers.

But while I was researching the book and movie the other day, I also came across a paper–queer theory–by Dr. Frank Henderson at Furman University that essentially reexamines the text of the novel from a queer perspective looking for subtext: the piece is titled “Could Johnny Tremain Be Gay? Reinterpretation as a Subversive Act” and was published in the Journal of Homosexuality (I read the abstract, and an article about it, rather than paying $40 to access the actual paper and read it; seriously, how do academics research if this stuff is so expensive? I will probably try to track a copy down through the library; which I guess, actually, is what academics do), and it gave me some pause for thought. I do remember that Johnny was more bratty and selfish in the book than he was in the movie (I remember being startled by this when I read the book the first time) and he literally had nothing but disdain for Cilla or any other girl in the book (which, at the time, was part and parcel of that weird societal norm or belief that prepubescent boys think girls are icky and don’t like them or want anything to do with them–again, very odd in a heteronormative culture) but when he becomes friends with Rab, an older boy involved with the Sons of Liberty, he almost idol-worships the older boy and allows himself to forget his innate selfishness and get involved with something bigger than himself–the revolutionary thinking that led Boston to revolt in the first place. That can be read, as Dr. Henderson states, as a queer relationship between the boys, and that Johnny could be read as queer. I seriously doubt that was what Esther Forbes was thinking when she wrote the book–the book was meant for boys and there was, as I said, that weird “boys don’t like girls” norm for a very long time (it certainly was a consistent theme in Disney productions aimed at boys; same with the Hardy Boys book and other mystery/adventure series aimed at boys from the time). This was in theory erased from the film…but I’m not entirely sure it was.

First of all, there’s absolutely no question that Hal Stalmaster, who played Johnny but never really worked much afterwards, mostly guesting on television shows, was a stunningly beautiful young man.

He also wasn’t a very good actor, but the heavy-handed direction of any Disney live-action film aimed at kids for a very long time didn’t inspire the best work from the cast (Mary Poppins, of course, being an exception).

The young actor who played Rab was also ridiculously good looking–and turned out to be a younger Richard Beymer (billed as Dick) who would go on to play Tony in West Side Story and later, Twin Peaks–and they certainly had more chemistry together than Johnny had with Cilla, who was turned into a love interest of sorts, with him giving her a quick peck on the cheek (their only intimacy) as he runs through the streets of Boston with the news that the British would be leaving Boston “by sea”.

The movie was very typical Americana–so yes, propaganda–which sterilized and cleaned up the period in Boston before the outbreak of the war, with rather stiff pronouncements about ideals and principles and freedom and the rights of man and liberties and tyranny–all the patriotic buzzwords cast about by people who want to silence those who don’t agree with them–without any real explanation of what that means.

And yet, as oversimplified and “cleaned up” as this is made to be in the movie, it’s still effective–it’s very stirring to think about the nerve of the American rebels, doing something practically unheard of in history–not just defying their king (there was a long history of rebellions against the worst abuses of kingship throughout the centuries; just the century before the British actually beheaded their king and did without one for eleven or so years; 150 years before Louis XVI went to the guillotine in Paris) but defying the might of the most powerful and richest empire the world had ever seen. It’s hard not to think about–although everyone in this movie is a revolutionary, all Bostonians except for the villains, and the villainous American loyalists are actually worse than the British military themselves–what that period must have been like to live through; the divided loyalties, the betrayal of neighbor by neighbor, spies and treachery and murders. (I’d love to write a historical mystery set in Boston during this period, actually.)

It’s not a bad movie, but it’s also not a great one; and it certainly does its part in upholding the mythology created about the American revolution.

And yes, this could easily be yet another essay.

Plastic

Sunday and a gray morning here in New Orleans. We’re supposed to have thunderstorms (some severe) throughout the day; of course I have to make groceries and go to the gym at some point–which means watching the weather to see when I can make a break for it. But other than that, I have the entire day relatively free; I finished the revisions of Bury Me in Shadows and turned them in yesterday to my editor. I think I caught everything; it’s a tricky manuscript. But as I revised and edited yesterday, I was pretty pleased with it, overall; which is a switch from the usual. I also realized one of my problems with reading my work once it’s finished is that I am rarely, if ever, able to turn off editor-mode; because I generally read my work with an eye to editing and fixing and making it stronger–and I use that mindset when I go back and read things after they’ve been published. I don’t know if there’s a switch in my head I can flip to make that change, but here’s hoping.

Paul went to a party last night–I could have gone, but was a little worn down from finishing the edits, so I stayed home and watched a documentary series on the Smithsonian Channel called Apocalypse: The Second World War, which was quite interesting to watch. Almost all of the footage used in the series was shot either by professional documentarians or journalists covering the war, or amateurs…I never cease to be amazed when I see how young the American military were during this conflict. World War II is endlessly fascinating to me, because it was such an enormous turning point for the world and civilization; the world was a vastly different place after the Axis surrender than it was before the Nazis invaded Poland in 1939. It’s been a while since I read any fiction about the war–when I was a teenager I read a lot of it, as well as a lot of post-war fiction–and I realized I’d rarely read any fiction from the point of view of soldiers actually fighting on the ground or in the air (other than The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, for the most part I read things like Herman Wouk’s The Caine Mutiny, The Winds of War/War and Remembrance, etc.). I’ve never read Norman Mailer’s The Naked and the Dead, for example, or any of the post-war novels that sort of glutted the market in the decades following. I got down James Jones’ From Here to Eternity–I bought a copy of the unabridged version, which was released by the estate sometime in the last decade, with all the parts the publisher originally removed restored–and I think I am going to take that with me to read when I go visit my parents later this month. It’s one of my father’s favorite books and movies–it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve seen the movie–and since my main character in Chlorine served, it’s probably not a bad idea for me to read it. I read the first couple of pages yesterday evening before I went to bed, and it’s actually quite good…so I am looking forward to reading it. After I finish the things I need to get done today, I am going to curl up and read The Butcher’s Boy with an eye to finishing it today, so I can dive into A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King.

One of the more interesting things about having all these streaming services and apps is the ability to find treasures like the Smithsonian Channel buried inside of them. As Constant Reader has undoubtedly noticed, I love documentaries, and now that we have such a glut of streaming services we pay for, I am now searching through them for documentary channels and so forth, and have been enormously pleased with what I have found thus far. (I also took advantage of a special deal for Shudder yesterday–two months at 99 cents each, before reversion to regular pricing, so am going to up my horror game for a while) There’s really never a reason to be bored, is there, with the wealth of streaming services out there? I can certainly always find something, no matter how obscure–which is also why I refuse to “rent” something to stream–although I am thinking about biting the bullet and paying to stream The Last Picture Show, which I really do want to see again.

I cleaned and organized and filed yesterday as well, which has left the kitchen looking–well, if not tidy, certainly in much better shape than it had been in–and I also started another donation box of books. I also want to start clearing out the storage attic here in the Lost Apartment, which isn’t going to be easy, and will certainly make a mess in the living room–which still looks like a storm struck it–but I really do want to start getting rid of things we don’t really need anymore, and there are a shit ton of boxes up there of unnecessary things. Progress may be incremental, but progress is progress.

And I should probably, at some point, start revising and editing the Kansas book, but I think I am going to take this week off from novels.

I started writing a short story this past week–really, just the opening sentence and a second paragraph–which also came from a novel idea. The book idea arose from a joke with some writer friends about noir fiction and noir covers, with their scantily clad sex bomb femme fatales; I joked that someone should write a noir about a strip club in the French Quarter and call it Girls! Girls! Girls! so the cover could have poll dancers and so forth on it; which then of course started the wheels in my creative brain turning and meshing the gears. A character I introduced in the later Chanse books–who eventually got her private eye license and he took her on as a partner–had worked as a stripper in the Quarter to put herself through UNO; I liked her a lot (even though her name is escaping me at the moment) and had even thought about making her the main character in a series, with Chanse as part of her supporting cast. But this was different, and called for a different character–for a while, when thinking about this, I toyed with the notion of an undercover cop or FBI agent; but then thought, in this time, could a woman be assigned to go undercover as a stripper? Maybe, but it could prove problematic. And then I remembered an intern from years ago, when I worked at the Community Center, who worked part time at the Hustler Club as a “shot girl”–her job was walking around with a tray with shots in test tubes. When someone bought one, she’d place the test tube in her cleavage and have to lean forward to dump the shot in his mouth. She hated it–she was a lesbian–but the money was so damned good she only had to work two nights a week and made enough to pay the rent and the bills and so forth. Someone could easily go undercover a shot girl–which, while still demeaning, wasn’t as demeaning as stripping. But the other day for some reason I was thinking about this again, and the thing that made the most sense was that one of the shot girls gets picked up by Vice and is forced to become an informer….which would make her walk the line between the cops and her crooked, organized crime employers, as well as with her co-workers. So, when the opening occurred to me the other day, I wrote it down and saved the file as a short story called “Shot Girl” (thereby adding yet another file to the “unfinished short story” list). I think maybe this week I’ll work on one of the unfinished stories in the drawer.

And on that note, it’s time to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.