Bad Boy

Masculinity is something I’ve always felt I viewed from the outside.

It’s very strange; for someone who doesn’t look back very often and has a rather healthy disdain for nostalgia, for some reason since the pandemic started, I’ve been revisiting my past a lot. I don’t know, perhaps it was triggered by having dinner with an old friend from high school a while back (which also inspired me to write a horribly dark short story); or perhaps it’s because of short stories or novel ideas I’ve been toying with, but lately, I’ve been thinking about my past much more so than I usually do, and what it was like for me growing up. I wrote a Sisters in Crime quarterly column several years ago about the first time I realized, once and for all, that I was indeed different from everyone else–it centered the first time I heard the word fairy used towards me as a pejorative, as well as the first time I was called a faggot. I’ve also been examining and turning over issues of masculinity inside my head for quite some time (most of my life). #shedeservedit was itself an examination of toxic masculinity and how it reverberates through a small community when it’s allowed to run rampant and unchecked: boys will be boys. Some short stories I’ve published have also examined the same subject.

What can I say? My not being the American masculine ideal has played a very major part in shaping my life and who I am; how could it not? I used to, when I was a kid, pray that I’d wake up the next morning and magically be turned into the kind of boy I was supposed to be, the kind that every other boy I knew–from classmates to cousins to everything I watched on television and at the movies.

Society and culture have changed in many ways since I was a little boy who didn’t fit so easily into the conformist role for little boys; roles for male and female were very narrowly defined when I was a child, and children were forced into conforming to those roles almost from birth. Boys were supposed to be rough and tumble and play sports and get dirty and like bugs and frogs and so forth; girls were supposed to be feminine and play with dolls or play house, wear dresses and mother their baby dolls. Boys weren’t supposed to read or enjoy reading (but I was also supposed to get good grades and be smart), and that was all I wanted to do when I was a kid. I used to love Saturdays, when my mother would go to the grocery store and drop me off at the library on her way. I loved looking at the books on the shelves, looking at the cover art and reading the descriptions on the back. I loved getting the Scholastic Book Club catalog and picking out a few books; the excitement of the day when the books I’d ordered arrived and I could go out on the back porch when I got home and read them cover to cover. I was constantly, endlessly, pushed to do more “boyish” things; I played Pee-wee baseball (very much against my will), and later was pushed into playing football in high school–which I hated at first but eventually came to love…which just goes to show, don’t automatically hate something without trying it. But yeah, I never loved playing baseball. I was enormously happy when we moved to Kansas and I discovered, to my great joy, that my new high school didn’t have a team.

One less traditionally masculine thing for me to participate in was always a bonus.

The things that I really wanted to do weren’t considered masculine pursuits, and as a general rule I was denied them as much as possible. My parents forbade me from reading books about girls–Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, Trixie Belden–which, quite naturally, made me want them more (my entire life the best way to get me to do something is to tell me either not to do it or tell me I can’t do it…either always makes me want to do it). Oddly enough, when my reading tastes became more adult–when I moved from children’s books to reading fiction for adults–they didn’t seem to care that I was reading books by women about women quite so much as they did when I was younger; either that, or they gave up trying as they finally saw me as a lost cause–one or the other; I don’t know which was the actual case. Maybe my embrace of football in high school overrode everything else suspect about me. It’s possible. My family has always worshipped at the goalposts…and I kind of still do. GEAUX TIGERS!

I spent a lot of my early life trying to understand masculinity and how it worked; what it was and why it was something I should aspire to–and never could quite wrap my mind around it. The role models for men always pointed out to me–John Wayne, etc.–never resonated with me; I always thought they were kind of dicks, to be honest. The whole “boys don’t cry, men never show emotions, men make the money and the entire household revolves around their wants and needs” shtick never took with me, and of course, as I never had any real sexual interest in women…the whole “locker room talk” thing was always kind of revolting to me, because I always saw girls as people. It probably had something to do with the fact that I was more likely to be able to trust girls than boys; I had so many boys decide they couldn’t be friends with me anymore because at some point other kids calling me a fairy began having an negative impact on their own lives all through junior and senior high school (to this day, I’ve never understood this; why were we friends before, and what changed? It wasn’t me…I didn’t suddenly switch gears from butch boy to effeminate overnight) it’s little wonder I have difficulty ever trusting straight men…but in fairness, I have trouble trusting everyone. But I never quite understood the entire “boys are studs girls are sluts” thing, but I also never truly understood the dynamics of male/female attraction. Yes, I dated in high school; I dated women in college before I finally stopped entirely. And yes, I also have had sex with women, back then–but never really enjoyed it much.

In all honesty, I still don’t understand masculinity, at least not as it was defined in my earlier decades of life. I’ve never understood the cavemen-like mentality of responding with violence (no matter how angry I get, I never get violent); I’ve never understood the refusal to recognize that women are human beings rather than life support systems for vaginas and wombs and breasts; I’ve never understood the mentality that a man’s desires should trump (see what I did there?) bodily autonomy for women. No man has a right to a woman’s body, nor does any man have a right to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body. Maybe always being an outsider looking in and observing has something to do with my mindset, maybe my difference and always having mostly female friends most of my life is what shaped me into understanding these things.

I also mostly only read women’s books, to be honest. There are some straight male writers I read and admire (Ace Atkins, Bill Loefhelm, Michael Koryta, Harlan Coben, Chris Holm, Stephen King, Jeff Abbott and Paul Tremblay, just to name a few) but I really have no desire to read straight male fantasies that reduce women to caricatures and gay men, if they do appear, as stereotypes; but after I recently read I the Jury by Mickey Spillane, a comment someone left on my post gave me a whole new perspective on how to read such books from the 40’s 50’s, and 60’s; the perspective of reading these books as examples of post-war PTSD…and that opened my eyes to all kinds of questions and potential critical analyses; that the horrors of World War II and what the veterans saw and experienced shaped the development of the culture of toxic masculinity that arose after the war (not that toxic masculinity didn’t exist before the war, of course, but the war experience certainly didn’t help any and it most definitely reshaped what “being a man” meant). I was thinking about doing a lengthier critical piece, on I the Jury, along with the first Travis McGee novel, and possibly including Ross Macdonald, Richard Stark and possibly Alistair MacLean. There’s certainly a wealth of material there to take a look at, evaluate, and deconstruct–and that’s not even getting into Ian Fleming and James Bond.

I’ve also always found it rather interesting that Mickey Spillane was Ayn Rand’s favorite writer. Make of that what you will.And on that note, I am off to bed. The last two days have been long ones, and tomorrow and Sunday will also be long days. I’m planning on driving back to New Orleans on Sunday–timing it so I get back after the parades are over so I can actually get home–regardless of what happens here. It’s not been an easy time here, and I am very tired.

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If Not For You

One of the most fun, for me, things about being a writer is being able to pay homage to books and writers I’ve enjoyed or felt a connection to in some way. I do this in at least every book I write–sometimes it’s as little a thing as having one of my characters reading a book I greatly enjoyed–and sometimes it’s a little more sly and tongue in cheek. For one example, I wondered occasionally while writing Bury Me in Shadows if anyone would notice that the name of the plantation house that burned during the Civil Was was Blackwood Hall–I only called it that once or twice; I usually referred to it as “the ruins”–and that it was a ghost story…hence The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which had always been one of my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid (my favorite books in any series were ones that dealt with ghosts, hauntings, or the supernatural–it never was anything supernatural–in them; even as a kid I had, apparently, this morbid fascination with death and the afterlife that has continued into my adulthood). Vieux Carré Voodoo was also inspired, in some ways, by The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, one of my favorite Three Investigators mysteries–a jewel stolen from an idol that cultists will kill to get back is at the heart of both stories, and I also took inspiration somewhat from Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which I had also read and loved as a child.

I’ve not picked up a Nancy Drew mystery in years to read through, until recently. I remember the series fondly–it wasn’t my favorite, nor was the Hardy Boys; but those books were more easily accessible and easier to find in stores and libraries than the other kids’ series, and with the kind of obsessive behavior I’ve always had–which hasn’t tempered much with the passage of time–once I started reading a series I wanted to read (and own) the complete set. This odd childhood obsession has never abated, even as I am now past sixty; I don’t have room to have all my series books out displayed on bookshelves (they are some of the boxes in the attic and the storage unit) and I think I am missing a few volumes from each series I do collect–but without being able to put them out, it’s hard for me to know which ones I am missing, so I’ve kind of held back on collecting them over the last decade or so. Discovering eBay in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a big impetus in getting me to start collecting (trying to finish collecting) again, but the lack of space for storage–let alone putting them out on display in bookcases–inhibited me and I began to wonder about the advisability and the point of collecting children’s book series if I was simply going to put them in boxes and store them. It seemed kind of dumb, in all honesty, and so I stopped.

But the kids’ series had an enormous impact on me growing up and as a developing writer. I honestly think that The Haunted Showboat, number 35 in the Nancy Drew series, was my first actual encounter with New Orleans and Mardi Gras; it was either the fourth or fifth Nancy Drew mystery I had actually read (I started with The Secret of Red Gate Farm, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, and The Hidden Staircase; I think the next I read was The Haunted Showboat or Password to Larkspur Lane) and I do believe it was Nancy Drew who introduced me to New Orleans (outside of US History; I knew the Battle of New Orleans and the Louisiana Purchase and all of that, but this was my first non-historical introduction to the city).

I used to be able to list the books in order as well as give some background on the story; my memory isn’t quite as reliable on that score as it used to be. I joined some fan groups on Facebook, primarily to see if there were other alternatives than eBay and scouring second hand stores for the copies of the series books I am missing (and that’s a whole other story; there’s definitely a murder mystery novel that can be built around adult fans of kids’ series, seriously), and have been taken aback by the toxicity that can show up in these groups: hatred of anything new or daring or different to do with the characters (they have gone to TOWN on the new television series for both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys–hating changes and updates with the fiery white hot passion of a dozen burning suns–and it inevitably comes down to ‘political correctness’ and ‘being woke’–despite knowing that all the earlier series books were revised in the 1950s thru the early 1970s to get rid of dated stereotypes and racism), but that is a subject for a different time (I’ve not watched Nancy Drew–literally forgot about it–but I’ve liked The Hardy Boys).

Anyway, as I am writing a new Scotty book, I decided to do some research into Nancy Drew and New Orleans–mainly deciding to reread both books that were set, at least in part, here.

So, I went on line (much easier than going through the boxes in storage–which is yet another example of how stupid it is for me to keep storing books) and ordered copies of both The Haunted Showboat and The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which, according to a synopsis I read on a Nancy Drew website, had Nancy, Bess and George come to New Orleans–which I didn’t remember. I remembered that the book was about Mrs. Putney being swindled out of her jewelry, and it had something to do with spiritualism, which eventually led Nancy and her friends to the abandoned, haunted Blackwood Hall–but I did not remember them coming to New Orleans. This struck me as strange–I certainly vividly remembered other parts of the story, particularly a scene when Ned and Nancy stumbled into quicksand (which, according to everything I read and saw on television and/or movies as a child, I thought would be more of a danger to me at every point of my life).

Both books arrived on the same day, but since I do remember The Haunted Showboat more than I remembered anything New Orleans with The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, I decided to look through the latter and read the New Orleans section again.

Yeesh.

Despite my obsession with collecting and reading the entire series, as I mentioned earlier, Nancy Drew was never my favorite of the kids’ series; I liked The Three Investigators and Ken Holt most of all, and I always thought both Trixie Belden (the original six) and Judy Bolton were better written and more interesting than Nancy (Judy was also a goody two-shoes, but she was more rounded and developed, as were her friends), and looking through The Ghost of Blackwood Hall made me remember why she was never a favorite; the books aren’t very well written. (The original texts were much better than the revised ones, but it was a very low bar to hurdle, seriously.) And yet I had to have all the books and read them all; I watched the 70s television series with pre-Dynasty Pamela Sue Martin; and I still sort of have a soft spot for good ole Nancy; but man, these revised texts are simply terrible–and the later, newer books steadily declined in quality–I remember one where Nancy and her friends, being chased by a bad guy, duck into a room and–this is so stupid, it was even shown as an illustration–hide by sitting in chairs and holding up picture frames because of course the bad guy would look at them sitting still and believe they were a photograph or a painting.

Even as a kid, I knew that was fucking stupid.

Anyway, so Nancy is hired by a jeweler to help out his client Mrs. Putney–who clearly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed–who is a widow and received a message from “beyond the grave” from her husband that she needed to bury her most valuable jewelry in the woods for safekeeping. (She’s also told to tell “no man or woman” about this; which is why the jeweler brings her to Nancy because she’s a “girl”–but the jeweler is a man…I guess in her mind he doesn’t count because he’s the one who spots that her jewelry is all fake, once she’s reconsidered her stupidity and dug the jewels back up.) There’s a lot of gullibility and superstition in this book, for the record, that doesn’t really make any logical sense. In a weird sequence of events, Nancy winds up with the name of a man from New Orleans who was an accomplished jewelry designer and “capable of making fakes that look real”–so she decides to follow the clue to New Orleans to look for information on the man. Because of course. Anyway, despite the fact that Mrs. Putney isn’t paying for this trip and in fact warns her not to go–Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, decides to foot the bill for her, Bess and George to fly down to New Orleans and follow this laughable clue that could only be a valuable one in a Nancy Drew mystery. (As I was reading this part again, I started thinking about how expensive this would be back then–the revised text was written in 1967, the original in the late 1940’s–and how amazing it was that all three eighteen year old girls had nothing else to do and could hop on a flight to New Orleans just like that; I am sure even back then it was more expensive to buy a ticket at the last minute.)

None of this mattered, of course, to young Greg when he was reading it the first time…and yes, I am being harsh about a kids’ series book which I am clearly too old for, but c’mon. And I knew when I was a kid that the books weren’t well written. (One thing that always annoyed me about this series and the Hardy Boys was they never really deduced anything or solved an actual mystery; really, the books were usually about catching a criminal whose identity was known almost from the start through a series of contrivances.)

But…

Once they are in New Orleans–after Bess tells a strange woman on their flight where they are staying in city: Nancy, seated in front of them, was sorry their hotel had been named. She had wanted to keep their visit to New Orleans as secret as possible. Um, you’re on a flight to New Orleans. So, since it’s too late to call on the suspect’s former boss, they go sight-seeing–but Nancy ducks into every jewelry and/or pawn shop they come upon.

The trip proved to be pleasurable, if not profitable. Their inquiries led them into many sections of New Orleans. The French Quarter, where the buildings were charming in their elegance of a bygone day, interested them most. Beautiful ironwork, delicately tinted plaster walls, old courtyards, once the center of fashionable Creole family life, fascinated the girls.

On a balcony, a brightly-colored parrot chattered at them in friendly fashion. A smiling woman, bearing a basket of flowers, stopped to sell a flower to each girl. On all sides, the visitors saw interesting characters, and heard the soft-spoken dialect which was a blend of French, Cajun, and Gumbo.

GUMBO IS NOT A LANGUAGE.

And since Cajun is a derivative of French…sigh. And by 1967 New Orleans wasn’t really bilingual anymore. It had begun to die out around the turn of the twentieth century, and it’s definitely a rarity here now to find anyone native who speaks both English and French, or speaks French as their first language.

The next day they visit their suspect’s former employer, who knows nothing, and then do some site-seeing before lunch “in a quaint restaurant.”

“New Orleans is wonderful!” Bess exclaimed. Counting on her fingers, she added, “We’ve seen the banana wharf, the market, the garden district, and that old cemetery where all the dead are buried in tombs above the ground.”

“That’s because this place is below sea level,” said George. “Say, do you suppose that guide that we believed the story about the tomb which is supposed to glow at night with an unearthly light?”

“He said spirits come out and weave back and forth like wisps of fog,” said Bess.

“That’s just what they are–fog,” George declared practically.

“Oh, I don’t for a minute believe in ghosts,” Bess replied quickly.

“I wish we had time to go to Grand Isle, the haunt of Lafitte and his men,” said Nancy.

“Who is he?” Bess asked.

“He was a famous pirate,” Nancy replied. “According to tradition, when burying treasure, he always murdered one of his band and left his ghost to guard the hidden loot!”

I guess Bess never studied about the Battle of New Orleans–and no one at either the Stratemeyer Syndicate or Grosset & Dunlap knew that you capitalize “Garden District.” Then comes a really weird section where the girls visit a spiritualist photographer on whose works sometimes “spirit writing” appears. Naturally, Nancy’s image has a warning to stop sleuthing, and then the lights go out and when they come back on, the photographer is unconscious, along with Nancy, are gone! This for me is a particularly weird section. Nancy is the point of view character, even if at a distance. Why would you then switch to Bess and George frantically searching for Nancy rather than showing her capture and abduction and eventual escape? WHY HAVE THE ACTION TAKE PLACE OFF THE PAGE?

Oh, and when Nancy regained consciousness, she was tied up and trapped in a basement near the Quarter.

A basement. Near the French Quarter. In New Orleans, which we’ve already learned is below sea level and therefore bodies can’t be buried in the ground. So of course we have basements.

But Nancy leads the cops back to the house, where all evidence of her being tied up and so forth have disappeared:

To their surprise the policeman remarked soberly, “This isn’t the first time queer things have happened in this section of the city.”

Ah, so it must be the Faubourg Marigny. Lots of queers lived there and in the lower Quarter back then. But I guess the girls should consider themselves lucky that they found an English-speaking cop–who would never say “this section of the city.” He’d name the neighborhood–“this isn’t the first time queer things have happened in the Marigny.” So anyway, the girls decide to go home, and fortunately, there’s a flight from New Orleans to River Heights within an hour. They pack and head for the airport just in time to catch their flight home–when Bess mentions something else mysterious that is going on that she knows about and just hasn’t mentioned before for some reason, and of course, as always, this side story subplot is connected to the main one.

And that’s where I stopped, since that was the end of Nancy’s adventures in New Orleans.

Sigh.

The Haunted Showboat, on the other hand, opens with an immediate eye-roller for New Orleanians:

“Would a trip to the Mardi Gras interest you, Nancy, and also a mystery to solve?” Bess Marvin asked.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, so basically Bess just asked her if she would interested in a trip to “the Fat Tuesday.” Yes, I am well aware that outside of New Orleans it’s all lazily considered Mardi Gras, but it’s really Carnival. Mardi Gras is quite literally Fat Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, and while I’ve grudgingly come to accept that there’s no way that people will ever not refer to the entire event as “Mardi Gras”–even I have a tendency to get lazy and say”Mardi Gras” when I mean Carnival–it will never not bother me. Of course, Bess isn’t from Louisiana and she can be forgiven for getting this wrong, and even using “the” as unnecessary definitive article can be forgiven. But–and this is something that always annoyed me about both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys–never is it mentioned in this book that Nancy and her friends have been to New Orleans before, and never was it mentioned on that previous trip in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall that Bess and George have New Orleans relatives.

Wouldn’t you think that would have come up in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall? Of course it didn’t, because when book 25 was written they had no idea that Book 35 would return Nancy and friends to New Orleans and Louisiana. (This kind of continuity thing used to drive me nuts; Nancy and the Hardys were ‘well known’ as amateur detectives, and every book opens with a reference to their first series book as well as the most recent, and closed with a teaser for the next, despite the fact that really, every mystery they solved was a stand alone with no connections to the past or the future. A couple of other continuity errors that always bugged me with Nancy is that Ned is mentioned as her boyfriend in the revised text of Number 5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch even though she meets him for the first time in Number 7, The Clue in the Diary; she finds her dog Togo as a stray at the opening of The Whispering Statue’s original text; but she already has Togo in the revised text of earlier volumes and yes, I am aware that I have spent way too much time in my life obsessing about Nancy Drew and continuity errors in the series–and there are a lot.)

Anyway.

If anything, The Haunted Showboat is actually worse than The Ghost of Blackwood Hall in so many ways, and not just in the aforementioned minor ways. First of all, the cousin of Bess and George’s, who invited them down, is named Donna Mae, because back in the day you could always make your audience know “hey this is set in the South” by giving a female character two first names–and always something Mae. (Ellie Mae Clampett is another example; for the record, out of dozen and dozens of southern women relatives there is exactly one whose name was “Something Mae”.) It takes a while for them to get to Louisiana–Nancy’s car is stolen once, and the replacement is sabotaged–because of course the criminals down in Louisiana will stop at nothing to keep this teenager from the midwest to interfere with their plans!–but there’s one part of their trip that is absolutely hilarious: they drive through Mobile on their way to New Orleans, but somehow get to the Mississippi River before they get to New Orleans or the plantation outside of town they are visiting:

Soon the girls reached the broad Mississippi and gazed at the peaceful, somewhat muddy river.

SOMEWHAT MUDDY?

Nancy then follows the River Road and turns inland. This geography makes literally no sense at all. But..it’s Nancy Drew, and the worst is yet to come.

You see, the Havers–who live at Sunnymead–have two black servants: Mammy Matilda and Pappy Cole. And oh yes, it’s just as racist and horrible as you can imagine–especially when you add in the “voodoo drums” they hear when canoeing through the swamp to get to the wrecked and haunted showboat, the River Princess. Anyway, yes, you can just imagine how dated and awful these depictions are. And everyone calls it “the Mardi Gras,” which no one does in the real world, either. The Quarter is referred to (correctly) as the “Vieux Carré”, but an aside says “or the old city”–it means “old square”, not old city–and of course they have lunch at Antoine’s.

There’s also an Uncle Rufus, who lives in the swamp in a tiny cabin and does voodoo spells.

There’s also a swamp episode and a wrecked, haunted showboat in an episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You?, which I’ve always wondered whether it was inspired (or stolen) from this edition.

So, neither book has aged particularly well–I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Gumbo as a language–and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the racist depictions of Black characters in The Haunted Showboat, but the book is still in print and kids are still reading it. Everyone knows that the original texts of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were updated in the 1950’s and through the 1960’s to get rid of problematic depictions of non-white characters; it might not be a bad idea for them to do it again now. No one should be reading The Haunted Showboat as it stands today, really.

But it was an interesting time travel to revisit the books again. At some point I’d love to talk about all the kids’ series I read when I was a child, but…time.

Straight Back

G’morning, Saturday! How you doing? I slept well, woke up sans alarm, and feel kind of rested and good this morning. The sun is ridiculously bright this morning–it was yesterday as well–but that’s fine. Today is a long day of college football, and I have one errand to run this morning later on. Yesterday was a fairly good day; I got my work done during the day and ran the errands that needed running. I made Swedish meatballs (my version of them, any way) for dinner last night, and we settled in to watch the finale of Bad Sisters and of course, Halloween Ends, which was remarkably different than what I was expecting and despite a slow start, turned out rather interestingly after all.

I did think about the book last night while I was waiting for Paul to be ready for television viewing (and while I was doing some chores and making dinner), so I think I may have some success working on it this morning. I am going to try to get this done, put the dishes away and do some other chores before taking a shower and getting cleaned up to work on the book before I have to run the errands. And while I am of course hoping that Alabama cleans Tennessee’s clock today, the LSU game isn’t until this evening so I have the day pretty much all free heading into that, so there’s no reason I can’t get some writing done today and tomorrow (note to self: check the time of the Saints game today so you can plan accordingly). I don’t need to make another grocery run this weekend–or even order anything for pick-up–so I can pretty much plan on having the time to get things done around here. I have to work Monday morning in the clinic (covering for someone) but I also don’t have to be there until eight-thirty, either. Huzzah!

I also want to start rereading ‘salem’s Lot today; but I also have some other things I want to read as well. There never is enough time for everything, seriously. I have a couple of short stories written by friends that I need to look over (I promised feedback months ago) and I also have that Shirley Jackson Edgar-winning story I want to read, too. At some point I want to drive around the city and take pictures of Halloween decorations too–maybe I can take a walk with my phone tomorrow morning around the neighborhood and the Garden District–because I feel like I don’t document life in New Orleans as much as I should.

But then this blog has never really had a theme other than really just being a kind of diary for me, more than anything else, one where I don’t really talk about personal things as much perhaps as I would in a diary but just a way of situating myself and seeing where and how I am every morning. I have some pending entries that I also need to finish–entries talking about other books I’ve written, other books I’ve read and yet not done an entry for yet–and of course that takes time out of my day every day as well as time away from my other writing. But I do have a rather funny one about Nancy Drew and New Orleans I really should finish sometime–I have a weird love/hate thing with Nancy Drew; my OCD required me to collect and read the entire series, yet she was never really a favorite of mine; there were other juvenile series I vastly preferred to both Nancy and The Hardy Boys–but I had wanted to pay homage to Nancy’s adventures in New Orleans in the new Scotty book, so I reread the two books where Nancy came to New Orleans (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) and whoo-boy, were they dated, wrong on almost every level, and horrifyingly racist. (Sidebar: I’ve always wanted to write my own juvenile series, similar to Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, and at the same time I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery set at a fan convention for one of these series–because I belong to some fan-pages on Facebook and let me tell you, those folks are interesting)

I also have my entry about Donna Andrews’ marvelous Round Up the Usual Peacocks to finish, and I also have a rather lengthy entry about Interview with the Vampire I think I’ll wait to finish until I am done with watching the show.

I am not going to lie, I was curious about Halloween Ends primarily because I absolutely hated the second film in this sequel/reboot series, or whatever the hell it is considered. I was impressed by the creative decisions made on how to handle this absolutely, finally the last chapter (the end definitively ends it, trust me); but I am not entirely sure how I felt about the focus being moved off Laurie and Michael Myers. I guess I was a little disappointed–I was hoping to see, I guess, a balls-to-the-wall Laurie v. Michael battle, which we did kind of get, but it also wasn’t the primary focus of the film? I appreciated the new story as well as the new cast members like Rohan Campbell (who plays Frank on Hulu’s The Hardy Boys reboot), but I came away a little disappointed, but that was due to my own expectations, not any failure of the film itself. (I was also really amused to no end that Kyle Richards of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, who played one of the kids Laurie babysits in the very original Halloween, was brought back to reprise the role in the new trilogy. After listening to her talk about “filming” all season, and “having to focus on learning her lines” while dealing with RHOBH drama…only to watch the actual film to see she has exactly two scenes and at most five lines made me laugh out loud–and of course, Paul shadily said “I find it really hard to believe a bartender in Haddonfield could afford all that plastic surgery” which sent me into gales of laughter. I did enjoy the movie, though, and appreciated the different direction it took. If you’re a fan of Halloween, I think you’ll enjoy it, too–but understand it’s different going in.

All right, on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and GEAUX TIGERS!

That’s Alright

Sunday morning and I slept really well last night, so am feeling rested. I believe the Saints game is tonight, if I am not mistaken, which gives me most of the day to get things done. I did manage to get some things done yesterday in the wake of the LSU debacle; my kitchen is all straightened and cleaned up (I also watched the Auburn debacle against Georgia before giving up on football entirely for the day, as it was clearly not meant to be my day at all) and I finished reading my Donna Andrews book (Round Up the Usual Peacocks, more on that later) while getting started on my revisitation of Interview with the Vampire (which I realized, once again, upon starting that it’s really not a horror story of the kind one usually associates with vampires) and I also got some other things done yesterday as well. Today I have even more things to do, including picking up the groceries I ordered yesterday, and am hoping that I’ll be able to get a lot of things powered through. My coffee tastes great, I feel rested–if a little loopy from sleep, and that should wear off rather soon. A new episode of Interview with the Vampire should drop today as well–it’s fun to reread the book while watching the new adaptation–and of course, tomorrow I have to return to the office to see how much, if any, of a difference returning to the office for Mondays will make in how my work week goes every week.

We watched Sins of Our Mother last night on Netflix, a documentary about the so-called “Doomsday Mom,” who began to believe we were living in the end times and that she and her lover were modern-day prophets, which led to the murders of their spouses, one of her brothers, and two of her children. She hasn’t been tried yet–which of course led to my “why would you make the documentary before the trial?” question–but it was interesting. I feel incredibly sorry for her son Colby, her only surviving child–how do you go on with your life after something like this happens to you?– which is why the impact of crime on people is becoming more and more interesting to me than actually writing whodunnit murder mysteries. How do you go back to your normal life? How do you carry on, go on, get past the horror of your brother and sister being murdered by your mother and her lover? That she has become almost completely insane with religious fervor? I shudder at the thought.

We also started watching the Netflix adaptation of Christopher Pike’s The Midnight Club into a series. I loved Christopher Pike back in the day, once I discovered him; I made a point of going back and reading everything he wrote, and it was reading Pike (and from him, discovering other y/a horror/suspense writers in his wake like R. L. Stine, Jay Bennett, and Lois Duncan) that led me into writing my original three young adult novels (Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel). I liked the Pike novels because they were so damned dark, and happy endings were never guaranteed in a Pike book (I always liked Pike more than Stine, even though I liked the way Stine linked his books together under the Fear Street series header), which I also liked. The Midnight Club is totally dark; the premise is that the book is set in a hospice for terminally ill teenagers, and they gather every night at midnight to tell each other stories–scary stories for the most part, but stories–and they also swear that the first one to die will try to come back and tell the others what death is like…while strange things are going on in the hospice itself, in which you can never be sure if those things are really happening or if the kids themselves are hallucinating from their drug protocols, which as I recall kept me off-balance as I read the book. Such a great premise, really; I don’t really remember much of the book other than the setting and the dying teenagers–which is pretty fucking grim, if you don’t mind me pointing that out–so there’s this almost-casual acceptance of their impending deaths as well as their curiosity about the supernatural and the world beyond–or if there even is one. I remember reading The Midnight Club and thinking “this is really heavy shit for teenagers to digest” but then…I was reading Stephen King when I was a teenager, so there’s that…but Pike was the one who made me realize my perceptions of what you could and couldn’t do in young adult fiction were heavily skewed and incredibly incorrect in almost every way. I’m not sure I am going to write any more of them, to be honest–I do have ideas for any number of others, but I think I’m going to pause my young adult writing for a while and maybe, perhaps, do some stand alones that are for adults rather than a young adult audience…(although I think mine do qualify as readable by adults, too, but I am not the best judge of any of that, really)

I really need to work on my book this morning once I finish this and get cleaned up. I want to do a little more reading on Interview today, and I have some other things that need to get done, too. The key is to not allow myself to get derailed or distracted, which is never an easy thing for me to have not happen, you know? I sometimes wonder how much I could get done if I weren’t so easily distracted from everything, but there you are; we’ll never know because I will always be distracted. Heavy sigh.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines this morning. Y’all have a lovely Sunday and if you have an NFL team you root for, I hope they do well today.

Carousel

As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The décor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

Dark Tide

I hadn’t been sure that I would keep writing young adult novels after I revised, rewrote and published the first three (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, and Sara) I didn’t know if it was a direction I wanted to keep going in. I knew I wanted to do stand-alones–always have wanted to do stand-alones–and I also like writing about teenagers and young adults.

If you remember, a few entries back I talked about a horror novel I started writing in the 1980’s called The Enchantress that only got about three or four chapters into before abandoning (because I didn’t know where to go next with it; and the first chapter I specifically remember rereading at some point in the decades since and shuddering in horror at how badly it was written), but one of the places in the book really stuck in my head–an old family owned hotel called Mermaid Inn, which sat on the shores of Tuscadega Bay (which was my stand-in for Choctawhatchee Bay–my grandparents retired to a house on that bay and I’ve always wanted to write about that area). After shelving The Enchantress (which I do think about from time to time, and wonder if I should revisit the idea) I kept thinking, you should write a book and call it Mermaid Inn.

I made a folder for it, wrote a few sketchy notes, and it sat in my files for a very long time.

If you will remember, I had originally planned to write an entire series of interconnected young adult novels, a la the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine, and one of the varied locations they would be spread out over would be Tuscadega, Florida, in the panhandle on a fictional bay. That was part of the note I scribbled for the folder–set this in the panhandle of Florida, and connect it to the fictional Alabama county you’re going to write about somehow.

I decided to write Mermaid Inn sometime after Hurricane Katrina, when I discovered yet again my own ignorance of geography. I’d just never really given it much thought, to be honest; I knew Mobile was on a bay, I knew when you drove on I-10 through Mobile you have to take a tunnel below the Mobile River. I just had always assumed there was nothing south of Mobile in Alabama–I mean, it’s ON water–and figured that those lower prongs of Alabama that reach down along the sides of the bay were uninhabitable wetlands. I discovered this to not be the case when visiting friends for the first time who lived in Alabama south of Mobile. They told me to take an exit off I-10 and drive south, which I didn’t think was possible.

It is.

I don’t remember precisely when or how or why I decided to write Mermaid Inn and set in a small town on the prongs, south of Mobile; I just know now that at some point I decided to do this–and my friend Carolyn Haines might have been involved; I know she told me some stories about closeted society men in Mobile and their hijinks and I thought, I could use this for the book and I think that may have been the impetus? And then I created my character, Ricky Hackworth, from Corinth, Alabama–po’ white trash who needs a swimming scholarship to attend the University of Alabama. (Sidebar: alert readers will recognize that Beau’s last name in Bury Me in Shadows–and at one point in the story he mentions he’s only the second Hackworth to go to college; “besides my cousin who got a swimming scholarship.”)

The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a curve in the highway on the Alabama Gulf Coast and I saw Mermaid Inn for the first time.

My heart sank.

That’s not good, I thought, gritting my teeth. I looked down at the control panel. None of the dummy lights had come on. I still had about a half tank of gas. I switched off the air conditioning and the stereo. I turned into the long sloping parking lot of the Inn, pulling into the first parking spot. I listened to the engine. Nothing odd. It was now running smooth like it had the entire drive down. I shut the car off and kept listening. There was nothing but the tick of the engine as it started cooling.

Maybe I just imagined it.

Hope springs eternal.

The last thing I needed was to spend money on getting the stupid old truck fixed. Maybe it just needed a tune-up. I couldn’t remember the last time it had one.

Dad gave me the truck when I turned sixteen. It had been his work truck since before i was born–it was two years older than I was. He’d finally broken down and bought himself a new one. This old one was dependable and had almost two hundred thousand miles on it. Dad had taken good care of it. He’d babied it, gotten an oil change every three thousand miles without fail, and I could count on one hand the number of times it had been in the shop to be repaired.

It still had the original transmission.

It might not have been the nicest or prettiest car in my high school parking lot, but it got me where I needed to go and got good gas mileage. Since I was saving every cent I could for college, that was a lot more important than horsepower and cosmetics and a loud stereo that rattled your back teeth. The swimming scholarship I’d accepted from the University of Alabama wasn’t going to remotely cover anything close to the lowest estimate of what my expenses might be, but it was the best offer I’d gotten.

And I was grateful to have it. If they hadn’t offered, I wouldn’t be going at all.

Swimming was my ticket out of Corinth, Alabama.

That opening scene!

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

For What It’s Worth

Amnesia.

I think the first time I ever encountered amnesia as a plot point was in, of all places, Trixie Belden Mystery Number Sixteen, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress. Janey, a young woman who’d been in a car accident and been found wandering aimlessly along Glen Road near the Belden farm, had amnesia–and who she was turned out to be the key to the mystery bedeviling Trixie and the other Bob-Whites.

Amnesia is actually not nearly as common as film and television (especially soaps, where it is one of the handiest tropes at hand, along with evil twins and so on) would make it appear to be, and it’s not as simple as the visual media make it appear. I had to do research on amnesia for Sleeping Angel, and it was very interesting to see how many different types there are, and what causes them–there’s physical trauma to the brain, and then there’s psychological, where something has happened to the person with amnesia that is so traumatic to their very identity that their mind erases it. So, bearing that in mind, I was curious to see how Sandra SG Wong handled the subject in her recent In the Dark We Forget.

I awake with a shiver. Full on, from toes to the tingling roots in my scalp.

Sharp corners dig into my shoulders, down the length of my spine, underneath one set of ribs. My feet twitch. I feel the backs of my shoes slip on something wet

Shoes. Why am I wearing shoes while I sleep?

I push up on my elbows, can’t hold myself up, fall back with a thump onto those sharp corners again. I blink up at a murky sky. My head aches, like I’ve taken a chill. I hear a soft rustling of leaves, a lone chirping bird. My ears are cold. A slight breeze blows grit into my cheek. My eyes widen. Why am I outside?

That sounds like a frigging nightmare, doesn’t it? Imagine waking up somewhere and not only not knowing where you are, but who you are and how you got there. Wong’s main character remembers nothing about herself–her name, where she lives, anything–and is soon found by a charitable passer-by who picks her up and takes her to a local police station, where the mystery around this woman slowly begins to unfold.

The challenge for a writer telling this kind of story is that the reader doesn’t find out anything about the character until the character does herself–which is incredibly hard to do; does the loss of memory affect the person’s personality, their character, who they are themselves? Do they behave differently? What do you do when you start finding out unpleasant things about yourself that you have to face, things you may not want to believe are true?

Wong handles it all with the accomplished skill of a master. We start caring about the character, curious to find out who she is and how this all happened, and Wong keeps the reader on the edge of their seat the entire time. As the truths begin to slowly play out–who she is, what she was involved in, what was going on in her life that somehow wound up with her unconscious in the woods–Wong deftly starts showing us flashes of who the character is, and wisely never gets into the psychological vs physical questions about the amnesia itself. Her main character is also unreliable–not just because of the amnesia, but as we find out ever more about her, and the kind of person she is, we also begin to have to wonder if she’s telling the truth about anything…everything…or something in between.

Beautifully written and dripping with suspense, I greatly enjoyed my first experience with the fiction of Sandra SG Wong, and suspect you will as well, Constant Reader. Get a copy, read it, and thank me later.

It’s Impossible

FRIDAY!

I always like Fridays mainly because I can sleep a little later than I am used to–after three completely hideous mornings of getting up at six; it really is relative, isn’t it? I mean, I just get up an hour later than I do on those mornings, and yet it feels like I slept for twenty years or something. Just can me Greg Van Winkle–although I think falling asleep in 2022 for twenty years would be terrifying when you woke up; imagine the leap from 2002 to now.

But for whatever reason I feel good this morning, whether it’s the sleep or whatever, and that’s a very good feeling. I feel rested and relaxed, which is always a lovely feeling, and I am looking forward to a three day weekend. I am going to read and write and do all kinds of things–as always, I have an ambitious plan for the weekend–but tomorrow I am doing some self-care (which is always lovely) before I run my errands, and I am going to try to get that all out of the way tomorrow, so I don’t really have to leave the house much the rest of the weekend, other than going to the gym (oh, yes, that’s on the list for this weekend) and an errand I have to run Monday. I am hoping to start and finish John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind this weekend, and while I have an enormous TBR pile, I really should just read queer books this month. I think I’ll start revisiting Joseph Hanson, and I’ve also got The Devil’s Chewtoy in the pile as well. And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done this weekend as well. I didn’t work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday; instead I worked on another project that a publisher has shown interest in, but I need to get it figured out and a draft written. I’d originally planned to get that draft written this month–I am so far off schedule this year that it isn’t funny–but it does interest me and I played around with it a while last night before we finished watching The Victim, which is really well done. We also watched the new episode of Obi-wan Kenobi, and I don’t understand what the on-line bitching by the male virgins in the basement is all about. Why is it so difficult for people to grasp that there would be non-white humans in space in the future as well as a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

Although I suppose their preference would be an all-white universe.

Sad.

I was thinking last night–while I was waiting for Paul to come downstairs and watch television with me; as pop culture list videos autoplayed on Youtube while I doom-scrolled on my iPad–about writerly ticks; things I always seem to wind up writing about a lot more than I should; like of course I am reading something Greg wrote, because here is the part where there’s a thunderstorm or ah, there it is–the car accident Scotty gets into in every book (and sometimes Chanse, too) or ah, this must be New Orleans as written by Greg because its all about hot and humid. One of the reasons I do love living in New Orlenas is because I love rain. One of the things I miss the most about my office on Frenchmen Street (besides the awesome street name) is that the building directly behind my actual office had a tin roof, so every time it rained I’d open the window so I could hear the rain drumming on the tin roof. It always made me think of my childhood; my grandfather’s house had a tin roof when I was very young–the barn’s was never replaced–so I can remember listening to the rain while I was lying in bed, all snug and warm and dry; to this day I find a weird emotional comfort when it’s raining outside and I am snug and dry and under a blanket inside the Lost Apartment. I can even remember a scene from a Trixie Belden book–The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island–where Miss Trask was driving Trixie and the other Bob-Whites to Cobbett’s Island for a vacation, and it started raining on them; I was reading it in the car on the way to Alabama from Chicago and ironically, it was raining on the car as I read. I even started writing one of my many attempts to write a juvenile series a la Nancy Drew/the Hardy Boys/Trixie Belden with the characters getting caught in a thunderstorm while driving en route somewhere–I don’t remember anything else, but I remember writing about them riding in the rain….and ever since then, it seems like I write alot about thunderstorms. There’s even a thunderstorm scene in A Streetcar Named Murder, because of course there is.

I always write about rain–and I don’t think i could ever live in a desert climate again because I would miss rain too much.

So, note to self: no rain and no car crash in the next Scotty. We’ll see if I can stick to that.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

She’s Not Just Another Woman

Well, yesterday was actually quite lovely. I slept extremely well Thursday night and of course, the Anthony Award nominations turned my week around when the news broke that night (I still can’t believe Bury Me in Shadows is nominated TWICE), and I did spend a lot of yesterday trying to thank everyone for their congratulatory tweets, posts, comments and emails–I can’t think of anything lovelier than having to say thank you to people for their kindness–AND then Netflix renewed Heartstopper for an additional two seasons, which warmed the cockles of my cold, dark little heart. I wasn’t able to get as much done as I would have liked–but I did get some important thinking done, and today I am really going to start working on my edits. When I got home from work yesterday I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in order to get it out of the way before the weekend, precisely so I could focus on my edits. We spent the evening, once I’d made dinner (Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, if you were wondering) watching this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven and then one of the two new episodes of Hacks before we turned in early for the evening. I slept marvelously again last night, and feel very rested and a-rarin’ to go this morning. I do have some errands to run–nothing major that will take me away for long; I need to get the mail and put gas in the car–and then I can settle in for a day of editing and writing, which I am strangely looking forward to doing.

It was a rollercoaster of a week, ending withe incredibly pleasant high of having two Anthony Award nominations for the same book–still having trouble wrapping my mind around this, to be honest; I don’t know if it’s ever happened before–but I am not the only person with more than one nomination. Tracy Clark is nominated for Best Novel for Runner and for Best Short Story; S. A. Cosby is nominated for Best Novel (Razorblade Tears), Best Short Story, and Best Anthology for Under the Thumb. I feel confident no one’s ever been nominated for three Anthonys in the same year, as well; Shawn just keeps breaking down barriers with his extraordinary work. The nominations list is also one of the most diverse I’ve seen in all my years in this business, which certainly also bears remarking on.

As always, I still have a ridiculous amount of work to get done; but now that I am all rested this morning and feeling great about things, I am not so worried or stressed about it as I was yesterday or earlier in the week (being tired is so unpleasant, and just opens to the door to stress and anxiety and depression); we will see, of course, how long that will last very shortly, won’t we? I have hopes–although I know going out into the blisteringly hot and humid day to run errands will suck the energy right out of me, sending me quite literally to my easy chair; but I can work in the easy chair–if I make myself do it, which I feel like I can do today. I don’t think I am going to make the deadline for that short story–its fine, really; I was thinking about it last night and realized working on it has been a way of pushing off getting the edits on my book finished because I just can’t face working on it again, but I am over it already. I still don’t know the middle of the story, and I can always finish it some other time and get it done and try to sell it somewhere. It’s a pretty good story–I just need to figure out the middle of it.

Sigh. I hate the middle.

But looking around the desk this morning, there’s things I need to put away and filing that needs to be done; I also got down my Scotty books (with the pages marked with sticky notes for each character’s history and background; this was the initial step to creating a Scotty Bible to make continuity easier for me) and have them stacked neatly on the right corner of the desk underneath some others I’ll be using for Chlorine research (should I ever get around to that, I am beginning to sense the slippage of time through my hot little fingers). This is always the first step of writing a Scotty book; gathering the copies of the old for references. I have the prologue-opening spoof of a more famous book’s opening selected and even written somewhat (A START!) and I am doing some research–I am going to pay homage with the book to two Nancy Drew mysteries (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) in this plot/story, so I actually had to sit down and reread both books (another blog post there, but you’ll have to be patient, Constant Reader) this past week–more of a skim, really; just to get some feel for them again since I didn’t really remember as much of them as I would have liked–and yes, I have thoughts (hence the blog post which I’ve already started).

But as I said, I have edits to dig into today, and some filing to do before I run the errands, so it’s perhaps best that I bring this to a close this morning and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.