Jump (For My Love)

As Constant Reader is aware, I find short stories to be particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is–and it’s entirely possible it’s post-traumatic stress disorder from college writing classes (kidding)–but it’s a fact. Constant Reader also is aware I am a horror fan, but writing horror short stories is even more difficult than writing crime stories for me–or any other kind of short story, to be honest.

So, several years ago, when Vince Liaguno asked me to submit a story to his Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire anthology, I was very enthusiastic about saying yes; but at the same time, more than a little nervous and not certain I’d be able to pull it off…but I decided to do something particularly Louisiana: a rougarou story.

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The old woman was babbling excitedly, her toothless gums moving up and down as she gesticulated wildly with her arms. Spittle flew from her wrinkled lips, wisps of her thin gray hair floating around her head as it moved back and forth and side to side. Old is an understatement, Special Agent Tom Washburn thought, unable to understand a word she was saying. She looks ancient, like one of those unwrapped Egyptian mummies on that show I watched last night.

 It was a struggle to keep his revulsion from showing on his face.

Despite the oppressive heat, she had a white shawl wrapped around her bony shoulders as she rocked in her worn, wooden rocking chair. Her feet were bare and dirty, her toenails long and yellowed. Blue veins spider-webbed over the tops of her feet, making them look like complicated road maps. She was wearing a shapeless white cotton dress with yellow stains in the armpits. The brown, wrinkled flesh hung from her bony arms. Her fingernails were long, grown out so far they’d started curving back in on themselves. They were painted a bright red, contrasting with the brown skin and the dark liver spots on her hands. Her face was more wrinkled than he’d thought it possible for any human to be—her entire face seemed to be nothing more than folds of hanging, sun-browned skin. An enormous mole on her pointed chin had a few white hairs sprouting out of it. Her eyes were a startling blue, but seemed filmy and unfocused. A wooden cane with a brass alligator head leaned against her rocking chair, and on the table next to her a glass ashtray was overflowing with gray ash and cigarette butts.

She’s like something out of a really bad nightmare, he thought.

Tom couldn’t understand a word she was saying—she might as well have been speaking a foreign language as far as he was concerned. Every once in a while he caught an identifiable English word in her sing-song Cajun dialect that almost sounded like chanting. He closed his eyes and wished again he was anywhere but this rotting houseboat on the edge of a swamp. This is, he thought angrily, without a doubt the stupidest call I’ve ever gone out on. If I’d known how this day was going to turn out I’d have called in sick this morning.

He wiped sweat from his forehead with his already damp sleeve. It was stiflingly hot in the houseboat, which stank of collard greens, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling fan was turning but all it seemed to  do was push the heavy damp air around. The living room—if you could call the tiny space that—was crammed full of strange objects arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. He picked up a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside and shook it. He set it back down where it had been—next to a shellacked baby alligator head, some polished sea shells, a small rusting Matchbox car, and what appeared to be a copper head of John F. Kennedy. There was a thin coat of dust on everything. Cobwebs danced from the ceiling. He slapped at a mosquito and stepped closer to one of the windows, hoping for a breeze. He glanced back over at his partner.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Movie of the Week on ABC. They did a lot of mysteries and horror–the argument could be made that these television films were the best place to find horror in the 1970’s, and broadened the audience somewhat–but there was one in particular that always stuck out in my mind; it was set in rural Louisiana, and Barbara Rush played the lead female role. It was either called Moon of the Wolf or Cry of the Wolf,and it was the first time I’d heard a werewolf called by it’s French name: loup-garou.

Loup-garou. Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’ve always had that tucked away in the back of my head, and of course, I’ve always been interested in werewolves, who’ve never really gotten their due in the horror genre, particularly if compared to vampires.

Living in Louisiana, you cannot escape Cajun culture, and Louisiana, for whatever reason, is a place where the supernatural is far more easy to believe in than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There’s something about the air here; the way Spanish moss hangs from ancient trees, the heaviness of the damp air, the way the past is so much a part of the present  here. In Acadiana, the term loup-garou was Cajunized to rougarou, which to me was even cooler sounding than the original. And in Cajun culture, a rougarou didn’t necessarily have to a wolf; the creature could also be, of course, an alligator.

A gatorman? I was all in.

I had also just finished writing my Todd Gregory novel about vampires, Need, which hadn’t quite turned out the way I’d intended it to–it was a set-up novel; the sequel, Desire, was really going to get the story, and the world I was creating, going–so I was in the mindset of writing supernatural tales. I had also, years ago, kind of toyed with an idea of doing a series that would be my own version of Dark Shadows, only set in Acadiana around a small town called Bayou Shadows, loosely based on Breaux Bridge. So, with a rougarou in mind, I started writing my story.

Imagine my thrill to see, not only a great review of the collection, but one that singled out my story, on the Cemetery Dance website this past week!

Here it is, reviewed by Blu Gilliand.

While desire drives the plot of the above stories, other authors manage to embrace the theme without making it the central point. In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.

How lovely! It’s also lovely to be in an anthology with such amazing horror writers as Lisa Morton, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, and Norman Prentiss, among the other glittering names on the table of contents.

You can order the book here.

And now, back to the spice mines. Must get groceries, hit the gym, clean, write  and edit. Heavy heaving sigh.

 

The Reflex

Thursday! Today we are off to Nicholls State in Thibodeaux to do testing, and then I am testing at the office for a rather long day, but that’s okay. I also have to work this Saturday, but that’s also fine. I slept really well last night, and we also watched the finale  of American Horror Story: Cult, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The season, which seemed to be an incoherent mess and a complete waste of Sarah Paulson’s talent, really came together brilliantly and, for once, made sense. I also read some more of The Blinds, which is so clever that it’s kind of blowing me away. I also worked some more on the Scotty Bible–the only character left from Bourbon Street Blues to do is Scotty himself, and then it’s time to move on to Jackson Square Jazz, although I might edit what I’ve copied down to its bare essences. I also caught some errors in going through Bourbon Street Blues that will need to be corrected for the ebook version. Paul is going to be going away to visit his mother for a week, and I should be able to use that free time constructively to get a lot done around here.

I also woke up this morning to a lovely review of Vince Liaguno’s anthology Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire on the Cemetery Dance website. The review was a rave, which is always lovely, but they had this to say about my story:

“In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.”

As Constant Reader is aware, I have very low self-esteem when it comes to my short stories, so to get a lovely mention like that from one of the top horror magazines/websites for a HORROR short story was absolutely lovely this morning, and it has absolutely made my day. Maybe, just maybe…I’m not as bad at short stories as I think.

One never knows, really.

And so back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you.

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Hello

When I was cleaning out/working in my storage unit a few weeks ago, I uncovered the only surviving copies of two anthologies I edited pre-Katrina: Shadows of the Night (horror) and Upon a Midnight Clear (gay Christmas tales). I picked them up Saturday night during the Alabama-LSU game and paged through them, and laughed as I realized I’d published a story of my own in each anthology, but being afraid of being accused of ‘self-publishing’, I used a pseudonym. The pseudonym was one I was going to use for writing horror, and the name I chose makes me laugh really hard: Quentin Harrington. Quentin came from the old show Dark Shadows, and “Harrington” was a variation of my last name that, sometimes but not very often, people used to actually think was my name (along with Harris, Herron, Heron, Huron, Aaron, etc.).

The stories, which I’d completely forgotten about, were “The Troll in the Basement” and “The Snow Queen.”

The books have been out of print for about ten years now, and Shadows was actually a Lambda Literary Award finalist (the first time I was nominated twice in the same year; I was also nominated in the Men’s Mystery category that year for Jackson Square Jazz, and was also the first time for me to lose twice in the same year). Shadows was inspired by two thoughts: one, how much I enjoyed Michael Rowe’s two Queer Fear anthologies, and by knowing how many writer friends I had who enjoyed horror but didn’t write it. I thought it would be interesting to get a group of writers who didn’t write horror, and see what they could come up with. I can’t believe I’d forgotten about my own story; which isn’t bad, but isn’t great, either. It had one of those 1950’s EC Comics endings–something I still tend to do, even with crime stories, and is something I need to get away from.

Upon a Midnight Clear was an anthology I’d been wanting to do for a very long time before it came to fruition. I’d always wanted to do an anthology reclaiming Christmas for LGBTQ people; there is so much out there–TV shows, movies, specials, books, etc.–for Christmas but none of it exploring it from the queer outsider’s point of view. I’d gotten a story submitted for another anthology that was Christmas-themed, and didn’t really fit that particular anthology; but it also triggered the why not do a queer Christmas anthology? It could be a perennial seller at Christmas time. And that’s how the anthology was born. I got some terrific stories (of particular note: Jim Grimsley’s “Comfort and Joy,”  David McConnell’s “Christmas 1989,” and “Our Family’s Things” by Jay Quinn–but they were all lovely stories in one way or another) and the book sold a fair amount of copies. My own story was a twist on Han Christian Anderson’s “The Snow Queen,” not an exact rewrite or retelling, but something I took and twisted and made my own. I liked the story a lot, but had completely forgotten I’d written it.

Alas, I only have one author copy of each anthology; someone on Twitter was looking for queer Christmas stories and ‘Nathan Burgoine recommended Midnight Clear,  and if I had even one spare copy I would have sent it to the person looking. But I don’t, and so I can’t part with my copy.

I also was invited to write a story for an anthology yesterday, which was thrilling (it’s always nice to be asked) and the story itself is going to be a challenge to write, which is also thrilling. I do love me a challenge.

I spent most of yesterday cleaning and finishing reading Laura Lippman’s astonishing Sunburn, and started reading Alafair Burke’s The Wife last night. I have a lot of thoughts about the Lippman, just as I do about the Alison Gaylin I finished Saturday night, but will review them and talk more in depth about both books closer to their release dates. I am enjoying Alafair’s book, too, by the way.

And now, back to the spice mines.

What’s Love Got To Do With It

I finished my reread of Hell House last night, and it does, in fact, hold up rather well. It was, frankly, a most satisfying way to close out my Halloween Horror month of reading; even if it was a reread, and a book I’ve read several times before.

I first read it when I was a teenager; it was one of the many mass market paperbacks I found on the wire racks at the Zayre’s in Bolingbrook. The cover was rather non-distinct; black, with a photograph of a woman in a red halter dress, carrying a candelabra and looking back over her shoulder, a terrified look on her face, her long dark hair being blown backwards by the same wind pushing the candle flames backwards, with the title above it in red letters: HELL HOUSE. I had watched The Haunting several years earlier, and was absolutely terrified by it; I hadn’t yet realized that it was based on a Shirley Jackson novel. So when I saw Hell House, I did think that it might be the same story, and of course Hollywood had to change it to Hill House. So I bought it, took it home and started reading.

It was similar, but it wasn’t the same story. By any stretch of the imagination.

Scan

It had been raining hard since five o’clock that morning. Brontean weather, Dr. Barrett thought. He repressed a smile. He felt rather like a character in some latter-day Gothic romance. The driving rain, the cold, the two-hour ride from Manhattan in one of Deutsch’s long black leather-upholstered limousines. The interminable wait in this corridor when disconcerted-looking men and women hurried in and out of Deutsch’s bedroom, glancing at him occasionally.

He drew his watch from its vest pocket and raised the lid. He’d been here more than an hour now. What did Deutsch want of him? Something to do with parapsychology, most likely. The old man’s chain of newspapers and magazines were forever printing articles on the subject. “Return from the grave”; “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die”–always sensational, rarely factual.

Wincing at the effort, Dr. Barrett lifted his right leg over his left. He was a tall, slightly overweight man in his middle fifties, his thinning blond hair unchanged in color, though his trimmed beard showed traces of white. He sat erect on the straight-back chair, staring at the door to Deutsch’s bedroom.

What Deutsch, an old and dying billionaire, is proof that either that afterlife exists, or that it doesn’t. In order to get that proof, he is willing to pay an almost obscene amount of money, and do pretty much anything. He is, in fact, assembling a team to send to the “Mount Everest of haunted houses,” the Belasco house in Maine; more commonly known as Hell House.

Like in The Haunting of Hill House,  a team of four people are going to go into the haunted house to, basically, see the phenomena, observe and document it, and, if possible, cleanse the house of the infernal spirits haunting the house. Two teams have gone into the house in the past; with one exception, all of them were either killed or went insane.

That one survivor, Ben Fischer, is a part of this expedition.

Dr. Bartlett, though, is no Dr. Montague; who merely wanted to experience the phenomenon at Hill House and write a paper about it; Dr. Bartlett’s life’s work has been based on the theory that hauntings, or so-called paranormal phenomena, are not actually caused by ghosts or spirits, but are simply residual energy. He has designed a machine that will reverse that energy and therefore cleanse Hell House–or any other haunted house. His much-younger wife, Edith, believes in him and his work…but there are issues within their marriage; he is a polio victim and the polio has also left him impotent; Edith herself has issues with sex and her own sexuality and this sterile, sexless marriage is a refuge for her.

The other two members of the party, Ben Fischer and Florence Tanner, are both mediums. Ben was a mere teenager when he went into Hell House the first time; he was the lone survivor, the one Hell House could not kill or drive insane. He has since stopped used his psychic gift. Florence is a beautiful woman who has her own ministry and believes her gifts come from God; she believes ghosts are spirits that have not moved on and it is her duty to use her gift to help them move on, through love and the power of prayer. She and Dr. Bartlett have competing beliefs and values…and once they are all inside of Hell House, the terror truly begins.

Richard Matheson was a great writer; many of his writings were made into films–Stir of Echoes, Somewhere in Time, I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man–and many of his short stories became classic Twilight Zone episodes–he wrote “Terror at 20,000 Feet”–and Hell House was filmed as The Legend of Hell House, which I also saw as a teen and it absolutely terrified me.

It’s awesome that the book holds up.

Fall in Love with Me

A chilly Monday morning in New Orleans. I am arming myself with coffee and a thorough to-do list to get me through the week. I am confident both will hold me in good stead.

We’re binging Stranger Things, and after a slow first couple of episodes, it certainly has picked up steam. We were both regretful we had to turn it off last night in order to go to bed; if we didn’t have to work this morning we would have stayed up and finished it off. But there’s always tonight. (rubs hands together in glee).

I’m also about halfway through Hell House, which is holding up beautifully. I am again amazed at how similar, both in title and structure, the book is to The Haunting of Hill House, The tone and voice are completely different, of course; Hell House actually goes into the POV of all of the characters at one time or another, whereas Jackson focused primarily on Eleanor. And Hell House is definitely more haunted than Hill House; it’s called ‘the Mount Everest of haunted houses’–and the house has a much more infernal history than Hill House’s softer, more Gothic history of madness and death. There are times, too, when Hell House’s backstory seems almost over-the-top; yet at the same time, I can’t help but think wow, a book about everything that went on back then would be fascinating. It’s very definitely both a haunted house book and a “bad place” book.I do remember how it ended, I just don’t remember how Matheson gets the reader there. Definitely enjoying the ride thus far.

This morning I also had a breakthrough on a short story I’ve put aside. The question is, can I finish it and polish it in time for the looming deadline? I think so.

Okay, it’s time to get back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk to get your week rolling:

 

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Breaking Us in Two

Sunday. It’s one degree warmer than yesterday morning–wow, right? But you will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that I get everything on my list done yesterday other than go to the gym; and after spending two hours in the storage unit moving boxes of books around, I was pretty damned exhausted physically, and then braved Costco on a Saturday afternoon (it wasn’t bad at all, other than stupid people, which is every day). I also came across some books in the storage that I thought hey, these need to be reread and so I took them out. One of them was Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which seemed, at least to me, to be the proper reread after The Haunting of Hill House, in that they’re very similar; one could even go so far as to say Matheson basically took Jackson’s story structure and turned the dial up a notch. I am enjoying the reread very much; although I’m not very far into it thus far. I also found my copy of Michael Rowe’s groundbreaking anthology Queer Fear, which I reviewed in the Lambda Book Report many years ago when I worked there, and was to be my first encounter with Mr. Rowe; I remember he came up to me at the Lambda Awards the next year, introduced himself, and thanked me for the lovely review. We’ve crossed paths a few times since, and have become friends over the years. I do remember loving Queer Fear, and look forward to delving into it and rereading its short stories again.

I also found my high school scrapbook and my diaries from the 1990’s. I used to buy blank books and carry them around with me everywhere, so I could jot down story and/or book ideas, or write diary entries whenever I wanted to. I am always hesitant to reread my old diaries; I often wince from my immaturity and my over-dramatization of events in my life. Yet at the same time, the diaries also served as a very vital source of self-reflection and self-examination; I suppose this blog has served that purpose since I started it on Livejournal back in 2004 (the idea that I have been consistently blogging for thirteen years rather staggers the mind, doesn’t it? But I’ve been writing in a diary of some sort, off and on, since I was a teenager; this seems to be a natural continuation of that process).

I also found the three ring binder where I kept everything from the Virginia situation of 2005 and 2006; including the ACLU letter to the school board. I’d always intended to write a non-fiction book about it all, called Gay Porn Writer, in which I examined what happened to me in the context, not only of the times but extrapolating it out further into what was going on in publishing and the culture. My memory lies to me now, of course, so I am not certain that I’ll ever write such a book–I don’t know that I would remember things correctly, and even then, what is colored by my perceptions of things. I’ve since moved on, of course–I mentioned the incident in passing on my panel at Bouchercon and had to explain it a little, which was kind of crazy. It was so long ago, and I used to get invited to speak about it all the time. The memories are now hazy and unclear, but I am definitely going to keep all this information.

You never know.

I think I am probably just going to scan everything in the scrapbook, in order to preserve it electronically, and then throw it away. I don’t really need to keep programs from my high school football games, or from choir concerts, and scanning them will better preserve them anyway.

I have one errand to run today, and I also want to go to the gym for a little bit, start dipping my feet back into the water of working out regularly, and despite the cold, I am going to give that a try.

And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done, or at least something done that will move all projects forward.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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Don’t Cry

Saturday in New Orleans. I have a big to-do list to get through today, and I must get it all done so we can stream season 2 of both Stranger Things and Freakish this weekend, guilt-free. I also want to get some writing/editing/reading done on Sunday before launching into yet another week of work. I also slept late this morning; which felt wonderful–probably because it is a mere fifty two degrees here (AIEEE!) but I feel rested, which is truly the most important thing. I’d wanted to get up earlier, but hey–them are the breaks, kids. So, when I finish this cup of coffee I’ll probably make one to go and start running the errands, so as to get them over and done with. We were going to go see It tonight, but decided to wait and stream things tonight; we can always watch it when it’s available for streaming later.

I did finish my reread of The Haunting of Hill House last night before going to sleep, and as always, it was just a wonderful experience. That final sequence on the tower staircase terrifies me, as it always does; my fear of heights and my fear of spiral staircases no doubt stems from reading this book and seeing the original film, which was fantastic and remains, to this day, one of my top five horror films. (Do NOT under any circumstances watch the horrific, embarrassingly bad remake.) After I finish all my errands today, I am going to dive into End of Watch, which will probably bring my Halloween Horror reading to a close for this year. I am most anxious to dive into some of these books by authors I love (Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews, Alafair Burke, Adam Sternbergh), and then of course there are the books collecting dust for far too long in the TBR pile. I also realized yesterday that I’ve not reread Rebecca this year, but that may wind up being something I tackle over the Thanksgiving holiday season. (I was also thinking last night of the similarities between The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca last night; which might make for an interesting essay at some point…must make a note of that.)

Heavy heaving sigh.

So much to do, so little time in which to do it.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines…since I overslept I can’t get more in depth on The Haunting of Hill House  as  I would like to; perhaps later, when the errands are finished.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, Constant Reader.

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