Does anybody want to hear me vent about 2020? Because, you know, I can do it, and I will . . . that is, if anyone wants to listen. To be honest, however, I actually wrote a good deal of a first draft of this post yesterday and vented and vented AND vented . . . . and I’m feeling pretty good now, thank you. So what I’d prefer is to gather together for the reasons we actually DO gather here: to talk about books and movies and theatre and other assorted things, to look back at my year in popular culture, and to look forward to what I hope to accomplish in the coming year.
2020 was an extraordinary year for most of us. Most of it was bad, of course, and it doesn’t help that, while much of it was endured on an international scale like no other in our lifetime, most of us shared it in absentia. For me, personally, the challenges were mostly existential, and while this can be a challenge, at least I had a roof over my head, people who checked in on me by phone and Zoom, some of them from across the sea, and the wherewithal to purchase food and that one package of toilet paper left in the aisle at Nob Hill Foods.
I must confess that I allowed the combination of boredom and fear to mess with my head, which made it difficult to concentrate on books. There were few films to see and no theatre, and while I languished at home, I also paced a lot. Still, when I look back over the posts I did manage to deliver, I accomplished more than I thought:
- I joined in on some great celebrations of Agatha Christie’s centennial as a published author and managed to put together a nine-part commemoration, decade by decade, of my own;
- I discovered some new/old authors. Alas, the most successful of these, Jack Vance, only wrote two mysteries! The jury’s out for me on Harriette Ashbrook, and I seriously have to read a Brian Flynn next year before I am drummed out of the core.
- I thought it would be a clever idea to write a simple parody of a GAD mystery. It got out of control, shifting from parody to pastiche. Ten chapters in, the world started to fold in on me. I felt trapped in the stupid decision to write the whole thing in the present tense, I wondered if anyone was really reading it, and when I realized a few people were, it became imperative that what was dropping as a first draft needed to be – ulp, good?? So I stopped writing Murder at Dungarees, and for that I apologize to the three of you who still want to know whodunnit. (More on this below.)
I want to be realistic about 2021. The stroke of midnight tonight may offer some symbolic grace to us, but the problems of Trump and COVID and racial injustice and economic woe and toilet paper shortages and, yes, the new Wordpress, will not resolve themselves tomorrow morning. We Americans have mucked it up so badly this year, and we haven’t been alone in dealing with leadership that is sly, selfish, inept – you name it!
Perhaps the promise of vaccinations down the line will assuage some of our unease, even as we look on in horror at our fellow citizens who travel indiscriminately, eschew masks to the point of calling them a violation of human rights (!), and shockingly profess to believe that COVID is a political plot instead of a disease. Heck, a woman was just elected to the U.S. Senate who believes that all Democrats are cannibalistic pedophiles operating out of a D.C. pizza parlor. Meanwhile, on Christmas day, a man tried to blow up downtown Nashville because he believed that the Clintons, the Obamas, Justin Bieber, and some other high level Hollywood stars and politicians are killer lizards from outer space. There is no accounting for stupid; I simply underestimated its presence across the American spectrum. And, really, there was nothing new under the sun here, nothing at all.
Oops, I think I just snuck in some more venting. Moving on . . .
Next year, I do have some plans in mind. First, regarding Agatha Christie:
Christie has always formed the foundation of my having a blog . . . I will always include her in my activity, but I think the centennial should mark a fresh approach as often as possible. I would like to read more authors who may have been inspired by Christie’s inventiveness. There are a number of modern authors writing GAD-inspired mysteries, and I would like to give them some notice. Mind you, we’re talking about neither the Pretty-Widow-Moves-to-Small-Town-Opens-Teashop-Dates-Sheriff-and-Solves-Murder cozies nor the Gone-Girl-in-the-Window-of-the-Train-Next-Door psychological thrillers. We’re talking about whodunnit writers, like James Scott Byrnside and Dolores Gordon-Smith and Margot Kinberg and Martin Edwards and Victoria Dowd, all people I’ve chatted with, some of whom I’ve even broken bread with. And there are lots more I haven’t had the good fortune to meet. Time to explore.
My pal JJ has found himself pulled into the pre-GAD period and is gobbling up the likes of Freeman, Chesterton and the like. I find myself tugged in the opposite direction, toward the Silver Age and beyond, when psychological mystery tended to meld much better with the rules of classic whodunnits. I’m a fan of Helen McCloy, despite some missteps, and there’s a lot more to explore. The success with Jack Vance inspired this as well, and following guides like TomCat and John Norris, who are some of the best-read bloggers in the business, might cue me in to some great new stuff. Meanwhile, there’s no way I’m ignoring the Golden Age: it’s time to get back to my ACDC: Celebration of Carter Dickson. Death in Five Boxes will be my next read there, if you’re keeping track.
I hope theatres open again soon, but until they do, I still have more to say about Hitchcock and others. And things have been dropping on streaming services that deserve some attention. (I have a number of things to say about Bridgerton next year!!) For my birthday, I received this amazing smart TV, and watching things on it is like a theatrical experience (particularly with popcorn!) Might as well get some pleasure out of it and pass that on to you!
I also have been thrown for something of a loop due to retirement. Granted, my conversations with teaching colleagues only reaffirms that I made the right decision to go out one year earlier than planned. Still, my life used to be crowded with making art and guiding young artists to make their own. Retirement has made a void there, and until I can make my own art again, in whatever form, I hope to focus this lens on the new art being made out there.
And while we’re on the subject of “making art” – Regarding Murder at Dungarees, I have to see if I can muster my forces and complete it in the coming year. One thing I would like to do is go through the ten chapters I have so far and rewrite them in the past tense, then provide that as a refresher before I drop the remaining few chapters. Ultimately, the process of creative writing is a crap shoot. I know a re-read would expose the flaws (on so many levels) of the piece, but it’s not like I’m trying to publish the thing. The books I want to write in the future are probably not set in the past. But it is kind of a matter of honor, isn’t it, as well as a thank you to the people who have been kind enough to follow Dungarees and offer encouragement. Just give me a little time to see if I can heal from this mess of a year.
Finally – and considering what has come just before and what comes next – this may be the most important: in 2021, I hope to find a myriad of ways to connect with my fellow blogging community, this panoply of diverse individuals spread all over the globe who share so many of my passions. Whether it’s being a part of JJ’s podcast with Moira (only 64 novels to go!!) or sharing a conversation about books with Countdown John or trading e-mails with Kemper and Catherine of All About Agatha, or trying to drop an intelligent question at a Zoom meet with Sophie Hannah over a favorite Christie (she liked my question on The Hollow!!), I hope to do more of that. Some of us have even started a book club, which may explain why you were suddenly inundated with reviews of Thou Shell of Death. Until the day comes when we can all gather in Torquay or the British Library, or I can attend my first Bouchercon in thirty years, the internet will have to suffice, and there is nothing – nothing, I tell you – quite like engaging with people as passionate about the same thing as you. We may bicker and disagree, but we are fierce in our love of any extraordinary body of artists and personalities who affected popular culture, whether they are mystery writers or film artists or panelists on What’s My Line? (I’m coming after you soon, Jack Hamm! I can’t wait to get involved in your blog!)
So those are my plans for the coming year. Who knows how things will pan out? According to the pundits, the latest waiting time for a vaccination under the current Operation Warp Speed plan is . . . ten years. We’ll hope that Biden can do better than that. I, for one, hope to watch a lot less news after the January 20 inauguration. But first we have to survive the next twenty days, and Mr. Trump is betting that we won’t.
To all of you who have reached out with a comment, whether you agreed or disagreed with something I said, whether you offered encouragement or correction, or whether, like Santosh, you used your “in” with the powers that be to let me know about important upcoming releases, I thank you for staying involved with me during this difficult year. In the near future, look for a post on one of the greatest mystery parodists of all time, a review of the latest shin honkaku release by LRI (faster, Ho-Ling, faster!), and a piece on my next book club mystery, the one-of-a-kind noir thriller, The Red Right Hand.
Meanwhile, I leave you with this wish for all of us in the coming year. I’ve been inspired throughout the writing of this post by quotes from some of my favorite authors. This comes from Neil Gaiman
“May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you’re wonderful, and don’t forget to make some art – write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself.”