Boogie Fever

In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”

Ah, naivete.

Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.

But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.

This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.

Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.

Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.

The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.

The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.

My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?

Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.

You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.

This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).

Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.

The Wisdom of Time

Hello, Monday morning, how are you?

It was cold when I woke up this morning–but its warming up; definitely springtime in New Orleans where the differential between night and day can range from about ten degrees to as much as thirty. Yay?

Well, that there was an interruption, wasn’ it?

I took today off because I had appointments this morning–hello, Metairie!–and thus wasn’t able to get this finished before leaving the house. Sorry about that, y’all; I know how important it is to you all to get your started with Gregalicious and coffee, and I have failed you miserably, and on a Monday, too. There’s simply no excuse for this, is there? I am hanging my head in shame as I type.

But yesterday was a good one. I started reading Alex Segura’s marvelous Secret Identity, read some issues of the Nightwing Rebirth run, finished editing that manuscript I was working on (now I have to get the edits into the electronic version; I work on hard copies because I find electronic edits make it hard for me to see the overall story and its arc–which is one of the reasons I don’t edit much anymore. y old-fashioned methodology for working shouldn’t cost us the rain forest when it’s easier for me to stop doing that kind of work. I then started watching the Young Justice series on HBO MAX–which I really am enjoying as well; looks like Alex has dragged me back into the world of comics and super-heroes again for another round. I also went down some Nightwing Internet wormholes.

I really love Nightwing, if you couldn’t tell.

So today, now that my appointments are over and I am home, I think I’m going to take the rest of the day off. Yes, there’s always work I could be doing–always, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take some time away from the world every now and then. I need to get ready for the workshop I am teaching on Friday–it’s been soooooo long since I’ve taught; I definitely will need to do some rehearsing at home–and I also need to prepare for my panel on Saturday (why I hate moderating; if you’re on the panel you can just show up), but I have so much to do I am not going to get much chance to enjoy either the Tennessee Williams Festival or Saints & Sinners this year. Sunday I probably won’t even head down at all; I’ll need to get over two consecutive days of public speaking for one thing (just thinking about it wears me out) and then I have about two weeks to get ready for the trip to Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime (my first time ever).

I also stopped in the Barnes & Noble on Veterans’ while i was out there, between appointments, and picked up Rob Hart’s The Paradox Hotel and Mia P. Manansala’s two Tita Rosie’s Kitchen mysteries, Arsenic and Adobo and Homicide and Halo-Halo. I also got The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook by Kenaz Filan because, well, why not? I don’t know an awful lot about actual New Orleans Vodoun, and since I’ve been doing all these New Orleans and/or Louisiana deep dives over the last few years, I thought it time to get something to supplement Robert Tallant’s Voodoo in New Orleans, which I don’t think I trust entirely. That pretty much is the case with a lot of the old New Orleans histories–the trinity of Tallant, Lyle Saxon and Harnett T. Kane are suspect, and that’s a generous assessment–but they are interesting to look through and read to get a better grasp of the legends and stories.

And legends and stories can make an excellent starting place for my own fictions.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Y’all have a good Monday, okay?

Joy to the World

Sunday morning after probably the best sleep I’ve had in quite some time; it felt lovely, and I am still a bit groggy as I sip my first coffee of the morning. Yesterday was a good day–not a great one–and so this morning I am going to work on some things I didn’t get around to yesterday; running errands, even as briefly as I did yesterday, always seems to throw me off my game for the rest of the day. I did get some cleaning done, did get some organizing done, and today I am going to have to finish those edits and maybe do some reading and cleaning and organizing. Tomorrow morning I am going to get up early and take the car in for an oil change–there’s no end to the excitement around here–and it’s also apparently the first day of spring today. Yay!

We finally were able to watch the latest Scream last night, and we really enjoyed it. I thought it was fairly clever–I also wasn’t really sure how they could do another one–but the meta humor was absolutely there (“it’s a requel! Not a reboot but not a sequel! THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT!”) as well as “I’m Sidney fucking Prescott, of course I have a gun.” Scream was the first slasher movie I saw that I really and truly enjoyed; I loved the addition of humor (that danced very close to the edge of camp but never quite crossed over) in addition to the tension and suspense. We also watched the first episode of The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window or whatever the hell the title is. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. Kristen Bell is so eminently likable that it’s easy to watch her (although I kept waiting for her to say that’s a secret I’ll never tell, xoxo Gossip Girl), but it seemed a bit slow. I was, however, impressed with the fact that it’s parody being played absolutely seriously; the title alone tells me it’s parody, but if you go in expecting something along the lines of Airplane! or Police Squad–which is what I thought it was–you’re going to be disappointed. I am not sure if we’ll keep watching–I might, Paul is moving into the hotel on Wednesday and I’ll be home alone until Sunday evening–which means lots of boredom and lots of free time to get things done, I suppose.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did make my to-do list yesterday so I can start working my way through it this morning. Yay! Always a plus. There’s supposed to be bad weather today, but right now the sun is out and it’s definitely New Orleans spring out there somehow, which is lovely and nice. I should start trying to make it back to the gym more regularly now; definitely should head over there today after I get some things done around here before the afternoon–reading and editing, being worn from working out inevitably keeps me from being productive after I get home; although I suppose I could go later in the day. Decisions, decisions. But it will make me feel a lot better–always a plus–and it should also help me sleep better as well. I am not sure what my work-at-home day tomorrow is going to be like; I may end up having to take the day off depending on how the oil change and so forth goes. (Maybe I should wait until next week. I can’t decide. My oil life still has about 20% use before it becomes a problem; I just worry it will become a problem on a day of the week that I have to work and can’t take it in immediately.) Decisions, decisions….

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your first day of spring.

I Guess I’ll Always Love You

Sunday, Sunday.

Yesterday morning my all-in-one printer/scanner/copier bit the dust. It was fine, really; it was cheap and a stopgap when my last nice one died; and it was hard to find the ink for it. So, I went to Office Depot before starting my errands and bought a new one–fancier, to be sure–and it took me a while to get it set up and functioning properly–and then I had issues with my computer for a bit; which was particularly annoying because I was also working on my book–and Microsoft Word kept crashing; at one point my computer restarted all on its own because the crash was so bad. But it eventually worked itself out somehow, and I was able to get the work done that I needed to get done. Tomorrow will be trickier; I have one chapter to revise and another one to write from scratch and then edit/revise…and I think there’s going to have to be at least one more chapter after that as well. I should still be able to get it turned in on time, but it’s going to be a slog and a lot of work.

I also got a contract for a story for an anthology–the Anne Rice tribute thing, and my story is called “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” which was actually a better title for the story I was actually originally using it for, to be honest; but I think I came up with a good replacement title for the story I stole the title from, which is now called “When Wrens Make Prey”–which is part of the Shakespearean quote that includes the title Alistair MacLean made famous, Where Eagles Dare (it’s from Richard III, by the way, he typed pedantically, and no, I can’t quote Shakespeare from memory; I even had to look this up to see where I got it from just now). I also spent some time moving files around from the cloud to my back-up hard drive, so I have back-ups–it’s astounding how many duplicate files there are when I look for a file. I was looking for another file yesterday, my figure skating noir story, and it wasn’t on the back-up anywhere. (It is now, in case you were wondering.) I may have a home for that story, which was started a long time ago, and I also know what it wrong with it–and maybe, just maybe, how to fix it.

We’ve started watching Archive 81, which is really creepy, well done, and interesting. I’m not really sure where the story is going–we’re only three episodes in–but so far it’s really not looking all that great for our hero. Our hero is hired to go live on a creepy estate and restore video recordings that have been damaged in a fire, which he is an expert at doing, and as he watches the videos after he repairs them–they follow a young documentarian who moved into an apartment building with the idea of making an oral history film of the building; but the truth is, she is looking for the mother who abandoned her as a child and whose last known residence was this building–from where she disappeared entirely. It’s a terrific premise, and the way it is filmed is quite excellent; very high production values, and the mystery is also somehow tied to the main character’s father in some way; the missing woman who made the tapes was also a patient of his father.

I did manage to get a lot done yesterday, but today’s work is going to be ever so much harder than yesterday’s, frankly. I have one more chapter to revise, and as I mentioned before, I have to write at least two new ones to end the book before turning it in. I don’t know that I’ll be able to get both written today; I have some other chores and tasks to do today and tomorrow as well, and at some point I need to run to the grocery store. Heavy heaving sigh. It never ends around here, does it? But there’s nothing to do but buckle down and get to it, I suppose. It’s certainly not going to do itself–the bastards never do it themselves–and realistically, I do think I can get it all done over the course of the next few days. I slept deeply and well again last night–the bed was so warm and cozy and comfortable this morning that I didn’t want to get out from under the blankets. (Plus, I knew I had a lot to get done today on my plate, and therefore…yeah, didn’t really want to get up and start working.) But now I am up and swilling coffee, and I actually feel awake and energetic, so hopefully as long as I don’t lose any steam along the way I should be able to dive into everything and get some stuff done.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Sunday wherever you are, Constant Reader, and I hope you aren’t too cold or too buried in snow to enjoy your day. Talk to you tomorrow!

I’ll Be Home With Bells On

To be honest, I’ve never really understood what the phrase today’s song title means. Did people actually used to go to things wearing bells? I suppose it’s more along the lines of oh I am going and you will SO know that I am there, but it’s puzzled me ever since I was a child. Not enough to look it up, of course, but it’s still a mystery to me. Okay, I looked it up–it means arriving in a noticeably festive way.

Although if someone literally showed up anywhere with actual bells on, they’d deserve what happened to them next, methinks.

Last night wasn’t the best night of sleep I’ve had this week, but I shall have to persevere and push through this day. I am sleepy/tired as I sip my coffee, looking out my windows at the darkness, but hopefully it will revive me enough to get me going and through the morning. Damn, I am sleepy still. Hope the groggy wears off, but that’s what the coffee is for–although doesn’t it seem unnatural to wake up before you’re ready and then to use a stimulant to help you wake up? That’s why I hate getting up to alarms, to be honest, and always have. Oh, Greg, you’re just lazy, is the response I always get when I make this comment, but doesn’t it make more sense to listen to your body’s needs? My shoulder feels better this morning–speaking of listening to your body’s needs–so I might, depending on how this day goes and how the tired/grogginess develops/fades throughout the day–make an attempt at going to the gym tonight.

Or should I let it rest another day and try tomorrow? Decisions, decisions.

But as I sit here this morning swilling coffee groggily and hoping to wake up, I am all too aware of the ticking clock on my manuscript and a short story revision that is due around the same time as well as the fact that my next book will be released around the same time as those are due; one month from today is the due date for everything, and the book will come out three days prior to that…and I will be in New York that same weekend. I worked on the book last night–the work is slow but I also don’t have a lot of time dedicated to it every day, so that’s to be expected–but it’s taking shape nicely, which makes me feel a lot better about everything. If I buckle down on the weekends, I should be able to get it all finished on time–but yes, that does require buckling down on the weekends, doesn’t it? Heavy heaving sigh.

In checking my emails this morning I’ve got an invitation to write a story for a tribute anthology for charity–it’s something I would really like to do, but it’s going to depend on the timing, really; or whether I have something on hand already that can easily be adapted to fit the theme; which basically is “gothic,” which is definitely in my wheelhouse; it’s also going to depend on whether I have the time to look for something that can be adapted to fit into the theme. I am sure I have some Gothic stories on hand that can be adapted; I love Gothic, and it’s really the only kind of horror that I do write, really–and so this means I really do need to buckle down on the weekends.

And while it’s nice to fantasize abut “all the writing I could do” if I didn’t have a day job, the truth is…I probably wouldn’t write more than I do now. I’d find incredibly creative ways to avoid writing. I know this because there were periods of time where I not only did not have a day job, but years where I only worked part time…and I’ve actually been more productive while having a full time job. Does this make any sense? It only does in Gregalicious land.

I did spend some time before Paul got home last night reading A Caribbean Mystery, and while you may remember me reading, a while back, a piece about “problematic” Christie books and titles that needed to be changed–and wondering why this book was included–I’ve come to realize I must have misunderstood the article I was reading; they meant the book when they referred to this title–which was some seriously unclear writing, frankly. But the book is incredibly racist; there have been several times where something I’ve read has made me wince–the locals on St. HonorĂ© are clearly seen by the colonialist British ruling class as sub-human, barely better than animals, and definitely uncivilized. I’m close to the end–I know who the killer is; I remember, and I also remember the clue Miss Marple missed in correctly identifying the killer earlier on in the book–and so will probably be able to finish it tonight. And then I think I am going to move on to either Vivien Chen’s Death by Dumpling or Julia Henry’s Pruned to Death.

And on that note, tis time to head in ye olde spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

It Came Upon A Midnight Clear

So, over the weekend I finished watching Chapelwaite.

What a terrific series this is!

When I started watching, I must admit I wasn’t compelled to continue watching past episode one. The story it’s based on (“Jerusalem’s Lot,” the only original story written for Stephen King’s collection Night Shift) was never one of my favorites, and I remembered it primarily as an epistolary story that never really got anywhere, if that makes sense–it really was just the letters of a man who was losing his mind, trying to get to the bottom of the weirdness going on in his inherited home, Chapelwaite, and there was something about “the worm” and so on. King described it as “Lovecraftian” in his seminal work on horror, Danse Macabre; and I had never gotten into Lovecraft, so I always figured I was missing something in the story because of that, and never revisited it. The first episode moved kind of slowly, as first episodes are often wont to do, and it did inspire me to reread the story–which I liked a lot more on a reread. But the episode started too slowly for Paul, and so we abandoned the show. A friend recommended it highly–“stick with it, it really picks up” so during my condom packing duties last week I started again with episode 2.

Very glad I did; and I really need to remember the truism that one should always give a show at least two episodes before abandoning it–unless that first episode is really and truly terrible (I’m looking at you, I Know What You Did Last Summer). Chapelwaite’s first episode was not terrible; but it was a very slow burn to set up the story. One thing I did greatly appreciate with how this show was done and cast was how the main character, Charles Boone (played perfectly by Adrien Brody), was more fleshed out and developed than he was in the short story. In the story, no mention was made of any spouse or children for him; his only family was the cousins who lived at Chapelwaite. The show gave him a Pacific Islander wife–who was already dead when the show opened, and three children, Honor, Loa, and Tane. In the show Boone was a whaler who lived at sea with his wife and children; the much-loved wife died of tuberculosis, and the younger daughter has rickets, so one of her legs is in a brace. The children are quickly seen as outsiders because of their mixed race heritage in the small town of Preacher’s Corners, the nearest town to the house; it isn’t just the mixed race children that are the source of the animus of the townspeople toward the Boone family. The Boones are blamed for a mysterious “illness” that infects and gradually kills the villagers; no one really knows what causes the illness or how to combat it effectively.

Charles is soon having weird visions, and hearing rats–or something–scratching within the walls of the house. An exterminator finds nothing in the walls, no signs of rats or mice or anything, which makes Charles think he might be going insane. He also engages Rebecca–who is not your run-of-the-mill nineteenth century young woman in small village in Maine. Rebecca has ambitions and desires of her own–to escape Preacher’s Corners, to become a writer, and she has been educated; so she comes to Chapelwaite to tutor the children and get them up to speed. Of course, the other children at the school are horrific to the Boone children, just as most of the adults are horrible to Charles. (Rebecca is played perfectly by Emily Hampshire, better known as Stevie on Schitt’s Creek, and the range she has is clear in this role; which is as far from Stevie as she could possibly get.)

But once the show starts rolling–as Charles and Rebecca and the children begin to find out what is really going on at Chapelwaite, and in the nearby abandoned town of Jerusalem’s Lot–it just keeps picking up speed. It is also truly Gothic in tone and feel; beautifully filmed and shot and the cast is perfect in their roles.

Highly recommended; one of the best King adaptations I’ve seen.

Do They Know It’s Christmas

I have to write today.

The temperature dropped overnight, and so it’s a bit on the chilly side this morning in the Lost Apartment; it felt rather muggy and humid last night when I retired to bed, so this morning I put on a T-shirt and am now realizing I should head back up and get a sweatshirt. Hang on, I’ll be right back.

Thanks for waiting–that’s much better. The sun in also shining, and I do think I am going to take the day off from the gym again. The shoulder is still sore, and I am worried that–even though it didn’t really bother me on any exercise other than the triceps pushdowns Thursday–doing anything weight-bearing could keep aggravating it, even if I don’t feel it while I am doing the actual exercise, so yeah, probably best to wait and let the strain or whatever the hell it is go away. I may go and do some step exercising–all cardio machines suck balls for me, and while using the step and doing my own little step aerobics routine probably isn’t good for my leg joints, it’s not hurting my shoulder and let’s face it…I need to do some cardio in addition to the weights if I ever want any of this extra weight to go away; lifting weights at this point is clearly not going to be enough to trim off the middle fat this time around…especially if I keep straining or injuring muscles.

Heavy heaving sigh.

But that’s part of getting older, isn’t it? I suppose I should consider myself lucky that my body has managed to hold it together for so long, that it took until I was fifty to injure myself enough to stay out of the gym for a long long time, and that it’s still capable of going to the gym at all. Better my shoulder than my back, after all, and it’s not structural at all; it’s muscle, not joint or cartilage or bone.

Yesterday was kind of a nice, if low energy, day. I finished watching Chapelwaite–more on that later–and did some cleaning around the Lost Apartment as well as did some deep thinking about the book; mindless chores like vacuuming and doing the dishes are really good for that sort of thing– so that was helpful; I know now what changes I need to make to this draft to make it better and I am going to spend today going through those first chapters, which should be enough of a trigger for me to get the next chapters done this week–and I am also going to spend some more time on the chores today as well. So, so close to having everything cleaned up and organized…and I want to finish rereading A Caribbean Mystery today, so I can move on to something else. I have so much to do, and the clock is ticking on the deadlines for so many things….AIEEEEE. But I slept very well last night, and I feel very well rested this morning, and so am hopeful that I will be motivated to get the things done that I need to get done.

And the first thing I need to do is look at the to-do list I made last week at the office and see if any of it got done (doubtful). But I did find some interesting research details yesterday (I looked up Valerie’s house and floor plans; I love that you can find all that stuff on-line; my copy of Lloyd Vogt’s New Orleans Houses is also an incredibly valuable resource), and that’s one of the reasons I want to reconstruct these first seven chapters; I also feel that the heart of the story isn’t well expressed there in my desperation to get as much done as I possibly could as quickly as I could, and the book never really flows–I always get stuck–when the opening isn’t as good as I think it should be. So, that’s my task for today, once I get through my coffee and finish some other chores around here.

The excitement truly never stops.

But there’s a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer; the living room is a disaster area; and of course, the dishwasher needs to be unloaded so I can empty the damned sink. There are piles of papers and folders everywhere here in the kitchen office, and trash everywhere. I hate how I let things slide this way, but yesterday, as I said, was an incredibly low energy day for me; it’s a wonder I got as much done as I did.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

It’s Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas

Friday morning and I have a dear friend’s retirement party to attend in the Bywater this evening. I have to run some errands–including stopping by the office–at some point during the day, and it looks like I shall have to postpone working on the book until tomorrow as there isn’t any way to make time for it today. But these things happen; sometimes life doesn’t allow an author an opportunity to write. It’s not the best possible outcome of a day, of course, but there it is.

I also further aggravated a muscle strain in my left shoulder (usually it’s my right one that becomes an issue, from an old wrestling injury) at the gym last night. I noticed the ache the last time I went to the gym–and thought I could push through it at the gym again last night. I noticed it when I was doing the chest exercise–I had to significantly lower the weight in order to do the exercise–but ironically, the only other time it was an issue was doing tricep pushdowns, when the shoulder merely works as a stabilizer for the working of the triceps. I had to abandon that entirely, and it did make me wonder as I walked home how I strained the muscle in the first place? It’s also worrying, now that I am back into the swing of actually working out again, that I now have a ready-made excuse to talk myself out of going every other day. On the other hand, it’s just a strain of some sort–not even a pull–so it can undoubtedly be worked around. The gym was also very crowded last night, which was irritating; I really need to get used to going into businesses that are more full than I’ve gotten used to over the past year or two. And especially since it’s now Christmas time; everything and everywhere is going to be more crowded.

Sigh.

While I was making condom packs yesterday I started watching Chapelwaite on Epix. I originally started watching it with Paul, but he thought it was too slow and didn’t care to continue watching it. I knew almost from the get-go that it was most likely a slow-burn; it was very Gothic in feel, which inevitably means a slow-burn (a friend asked me if I was watching, and when I said we’d stopped, told me to go back and finish–and she was right). The show is exceptional–it did take me a while to get used to Emily Hampshire playing someone not Stevie on Schitt’s Creek–and if you’re into Gothic horror and suspense, it’s right up your alley. It also handles issues of class, race, prejudice and provincialism extremely well; and the steady sense of dread and building suspense is quite remarkably done. I am really looking forward to finishing watching, to be honest. The afternoon flew past as I watched. It’s based on the story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” by Stephen King, from his Night Shift collection, and yes, it does sort of fit into the mythology of his terrific novel ‘salem’s Lot. I’m not sure if that was his intent when he wrote the story–Chapelwaite, the house in the story, is in some ways similar to the Marsden House in ‘salem’s Lot–which is yet another reason I am looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.

It also gave ma a good idea for another Alabama book, a sort of sequel to Bury Me in Shadows. So huzzah indeed!

But as Friday looms, there’s a lot I have to get done this weekend–I really need to get caught up on the book; I want to finish reading A Caribbean Mystery, and as always, there are endless chores to be done, and don’t even get me started on my email inbox–but I have faith that I shall persevere, and will come out on the other side of the weekend with much ado and accomplishment. (Yes, I do crack myself up from time to time, thanks for asking.) I slept really well last night–we got through the second season of OG Gossip Girl and are now into season three; it really is fun to watch, especially seeing bigger name stars of the present in early roles–Armie Hammer (although one can argue he no longer has a career of which to speak) was in the second season, for example, and yes, shame that he turned out to be what he turned out to be, as he was very good looking and reasonably talented–and our addiction to this show is allowing other shows we watch, or ones we want to watch, pile up so we’ll have plenty to watch in coming weeks and months, which is lovely.

I also think I am finished with Paul’s Christmas presents, but am not entirely sure. I’ll assess once they are in my hot little hands and wrapped (and hidden). And I do need to do my Christmas cards at some point–tick tock, said the clock.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again tomorrow.

Moon & The Sky

The first Monday morning after Daylight Savings Time kicks in–or kicks out? I never can remember if we borrow an hour or return it–and it’s an exciting day ahead for one Gregalicious. (Isn’t every day an exciting day for one Gregalicious, really?) It is rather nice that it isn’t dark outside this morning for once, but at the same time it means it will be full dark when I leave the office every day now, which always feels oppressive for me. I think I am not a fan of the winter primarily because of the shortened days (the colder weather isn’t, despite my frequent harsh reactions to it, the worst thing; as long as there is no snow and ice I can live with it, frankly). I don’t like the darkness, never have; still feel uncomfortable in the dark, if I am not entirely afraid of the dark still.

The terrors of childhood are never truly outgrown, are they?

The Saints game was eminently disappointing–never fun to lose to Atlanta, especially the way the Saints did yesterday–but I did get the sense the team is getting there, starting to gel after losing the starting quarterback, Jameis Winston–so I don’t think the rest of the season is going to be a total wash. We may not make the play-offs this year (!!!) but you know, it’s the beginning of a new era for the Saints, the post-Drew Brees era, and there’s no telling what that’s going to be like. LSU is also going to be getting a new coaching staff for next season…and again, no telling where LSU is going to end up next year either.

I wound up getting a lot more organized yesterday than I was before this weekend, which is lovely. I got folders put away, counter surfaces and inboxes are emptied for the most part, and I am traveling tomorrow. I am going to New York for a few days and then Boston for the weekend; as I have already mentioned, this is my first non-family related travel since the pandemic started, and after everything I’ve seen on-line about airports and flights being disrupted by people who think rules don’t apply to them (a personal pet peeve of mine; the rules apply to everyone else why have rules in the first place?), but at least I have a non-stop flight so the chances of misconnections and lost luggage and all of those other things that make traveling an utter nightmare have been lowered substantially.

We started watching the new season of Big Mouth last night on Netflix–this show is so funny and honest and out-and-out blunt about puberty (clearly, it couldn’t be live action) and burgeoning sexuality (and masturbation) that it still amazes me that it gets made; it would have never aired on basic cable or the original networks. I feel rested after this weekend–perhaps it’s the extra hour and my body hasn’t adjusted yet–more rested than I’ve felt in a very long time. I didn’t get as much accomplished this weekend as I would have ultimately preferred, but that’s life and beyond my control. It’s not easy to either write or edit when traveling, but I am going to give it the old college try and see what I can done while on the road. Obviously, that is something I need to get better about going forward.

But I feel good, am excited about the trip, and just have to get through today. My flight tomorrow is later in the day, so I don’t have to deal with any of the crazed “last minute” packing and so forth; I can leisurely check the weather in both places, figure out what I need to pack, make a list (the crazed list-maker never stops, apparently), and then carefully pack so as to be certain that nothing is left behind (a bigger and bigger fear the older I get, sadly) and then get up tomorrow and slowly get ready for the departure. I have an errand I must run tomorrow before heading for the airport, and there are some things around the house I need to get done before finally heading on my way out. It’s going to be weird traveling again–I did fly up to Kentucky earlier this year, but that now seems like it was an eternity ago–but I will have my phone and a book; I am taking These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall, Invisible City by Julia Dahl, Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier, and a Donna Andrews with me (not sure which Andrews; I am several books behind and desperately need to get caught up on them), which definitely should take care of my reading at the airport, on the trains, and on the planes. It will also help me fall asleep at night as well in strange hotels–I never sleep well in hotels, not sure what that’s about, but it has everything to do with it not being my own bed because I experience this everywhere–and I am looking forward to engaging with these books; it’s been a while since I’ve read a book through.

I reread Stephen King’s short story “One for the Road” from Night Shift yesterday, which, like “Jerusalem’s Lot,” is about the town from ‘salem’s Lot; this story clearly takes place after the events of the novel, so the two stories are book-ends for it–the former story being set over a hundred years in the past and explains how the town became basically cursed; the other being here we are a few years later when the town has become abandoned again. I’ve always wanted King to write a sequel to this book–it’s actually one of the few that kind of cries out for a sequel, as opposed to The Talisman and The Shining, which are the books he wrote sequels to; I know I read somewhere that he had the idea already of how to open such a sequel, and in all honesty it really whetted my appetite to read it. (‘salem’s Lot will always be one of my favorite Kings, if not my absolute favorite)

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check with you later.

Storm in a Teacup

I first discovered Stephen King when I was a sophomore in high school. A friend was carrying a paperback copy of Carrie around with her, and I neither recognized the title nor the author. The cover was interesting looking, in that weird kind of alternate reality type way that speculative fiction covers so often got at that time. “What is this about?” I asked when I picked it up and examined the book.

“It’s about a bullied girl with psychic powers,” she replied. “My mom was worried about letting me read it because she’s afraid I’m like her.”

It rather broke my heart a little to hear my friend, who was overweight and had very bad skin but also incredibly kind and intelligent, say this; but I could also relate a bit because I, too, was picked on and bullied. I, too, knew what it was like to walk past a gaggle of kids both pretty and “cool”, notice that they stopped talking as I approached only to whisper and laugh once I walked by…while simultaneously feeling grateful that they had the decency to whisper so I couldn’t hear what was said (and typing that really made me sad).

I opened the book to the first page and there it was, about halfway down the first page, in italics: Carrie White eats shit.

The preceding sentence, not italicized, read: “Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:”

The realism of this, its brutal reality and recognition of the horrors bullied kids face, was like a 2 x 4 across my forehead. I started reading, and kept reading, until the bell rang and I was about thirty pages in, completely drawn into the story. I’d never read anything like it before; it was so real, so honest, so like what high school was actually like as opposed to the cutesy stories I was accustomed to reading about teenagers, where the concerns were “who will take me to Prom?” or “should I go ahead and have sex now or do I wait till I get married?” This was visceral, and I regretfully passed the book back to my friend, thinking, “I’ll look for it at Zayre’s when we go there next.”

My friend, who shared my love of reading, just smiled and said, “I haven’t started it yet–why don’t you go ahead and finish it and then give it back?”

I read it instead of paying attention in my next class–it was Drama, the little play we were rehearsing for class had me assigned stage managing duties, so I really had nothing to do since I wasn’t rehearsing–so I sat in a seat in our school theater, reading. I read it on the bus ride home. I read it when I got home, sitting on my bed with my back propped up by cushions. And I finished it that night–establishing a pattern with King’s fiction that lasted for decades: I would read the book as soon as I got a copy from start to finish, usually in one sitting (It kept my up all night because I couldn’t put it down).

When I saw Night Shift on the wire racks of the News Depot several years later in Kansas, I was terribly excited. A new Stephen King! I bought it immediately and took it home…slightly disappointed to discover it was merely a short story collection, and I wasn’t a big fan of reading short stories; I only read the ones I was required to read for a class assignment.

I read the first story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and didn’t like it at all; I put the book aside and didn’t return to it until months later…the next story, however, was “Graveyard Shift” and it was amazing…suffice it to say, I read the rest of the book through in one sitting–and it’s also been my go-to for rereads and so far when I don’t have a lot of time, or I want to simply relax and enjoy reading…one of the reasons for years I would often reread a favorite book.

But last night we started watching Chapelwaite, which I knew was an adaptation of that first story I didn’t care for–and have never reread as a result–and so I decided to go ahead and revisit the story.

I am really glad that I did.

Oct. 2, 1850

Dear Bones,

How good it was to step into the cold, draughty hall here at Chapelwaite, every bone in an ache from that abominable coach, in need of relief from my distended bladder–and to see a letter addressed in your own inimitable scrawl propped on the obscene little cherry-wood table beside the door! Be assured that I set to deciphering it as soon as the needs of the body were attended to (in a coldly ornate downstairs bathroom where I could see my breath rising before my eyes).

I’m glad to hear that you recovered from the miasma that has so long set in your lungs, although I assure you that I do sympathize with the moral dilemma the cure has affected you with. An ailing abolitionist healed by the sunny climes of slave-struck Florida! Still and all, Bones, I ask you as a friend who has also walked in the valley of the shadow, to take all care of yourself and venture not back to Massachusetts until your body gives you leave. Your fine mind and incisive pen cannot serve us if you are clay, and if the Southern zone is a healing one, is there not poetic justice in that?

Yes, the house is quite as fine as I had been led to believe by my cousin’s executors, but rather more sinister. It sits atop a huge and jutting point of land perhaps three miles north of Falmouth and nine miles north of Portland. Behind it are some four acres of grounds, gone back to the wild in the most formidable manner imaginable–junipers, scrub vines, bushes, and various forms of creeper climb wildly over the picturesque stone walls that separate the estate from the town domain. Awful imitations of Greek statuary peer blindly through the wrack from atop various hillocks–they seem, in most cases, about to lunge at the passer-by. My cousin Stephen’s tastes seem to have run the gamut from the unacceptable to the downright horrific. There is an odd little summer house which has been nearly buried in scarlet sumac and a grotesque sundial in the midst of what must once have been a garden. It adds the final lunatic touch.

But the view from the parlour more than excuses this; I command a dizzying view of the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite Head and the Atlantic itself. A huge, bellied bay window looks out on this, and huge, toadlike secretary stands beside it. It will do nicely for the start of that novel which I have talked of so long (and no doubt tiresomely).

When I first read this story (and disliked it so intensely) I was a teenager completely turned off by the archaic style of writing, as well as the concept of a story told in letters and diary entries (I wasn’t aware of the concept of epistolary fiction at the time; it was also why I stopped reading Dracula when I first tried as a teenager), and the story itself was just kind of…weird–with all its references to things inside the walls and “great worms” and “horrors from beyond the cosmos”…it wasn’t until I read King’s study Danse Macabre that I became aware of Lovecraft’s work and eldritch horrors; but remembering how much I disliked this story, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go on to read Lovecraft or works in a similar vein (the cultural war over Lovecraft in the speculative fiction community over the last decade–not sure of the time line, frankly, and don’t care enough to go look; I am loosely affiliated with that community and have many friends in it, so can’t not be aware but simply observed).

But watching Chapelwaite put me in mind of this source material for the show again, and I decided to reread it this morning, since I’ve never reread the story since its initial read back in the 1970’s. I’ve since read Dracula; Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the book that cured me of my disdain for epistolary fiction–the book is extraordinary–but yet, never gave “Jerusalem’s Lot” another try.

I’m glad I did.

This second read made me appreciation the story a lot more than I did over forty years ago. A quick glance at the copyright page for Night Shift shows that the story was an unpublished work included in this collection and seeing print for the first time; a shame, because it not only shows King’s incredible versatility as a writer but also it’s chilling and creepy; it’s almost Gothic in tone, certainly using a writing style from the past (although I don’t know that a man in 1850 would mention needing to relieve his bladder in a letter to a friend); one that is very formal and I didn’t care for much as a teenager but have come to greatly appreciate in the years since. The story is simple: Charles Boone, after some ill health after the loss of his beloved wife, has inherited a family estate on the coast of Maine. There was a family rift between his grandfather and great-uncle; the death of the former master of Chapelwaite has left Charles as the lone survivor of the family. Once he and his man-servant arrive, they begin to experience strange phenomena that they originally tribute to rats in the walls; but rats don’t explain when no one in the nearby town of Preacher’s Corners will come near the place, or will have anything to do with Charles. A few miles from the house is a pristine yet abandoned village: Jerusalem’s Lot (yes, the same name of the town from King’s classic vampire novel ‘salem’s Lot), and Charles–despite being warned (do people in horror stories ever listen to warnings?) investigate the little town, and…yeah.

GREAT story, and the end is *chef’s kiss*.

Very glad I decided to revisit the story, so thank you, Chapelwaite, for getting me to do so.

And I will add there’s another Jerusalem’s Lot story in Night Shift, “One for the Road”–which I deeply love.

And now back to the spice mines.