It’s a Mistake

Tropical Storm soon to be Hurricane Nate is out there, drawing nearer by the minute and moving pretty fast across an incredibly warm Gulf Of Mexico. I slept very well last night–woke up a few times, one of course being the daily five a.m. purr kitty lying on me and kneading my chest with his paws, but was able to fall back into a restful sleep every time. It’s gray out there this morning, and the storm seems to continue shifting eastward (sorry, Biloxi!), and they’re now saying we’re going to get tropical storm strength winds. The west side of a hurricane is usually the dry side, too, so we won’t get as much rain. I have to stop by the grocery store today to get a few things, but I imagine it won’t be quite the madhouse it would have been yesterday when STORM PANIC mode was gripping the city. I also don’t need water or bread, so am not too worried about the few things I need to get. I can’t imagine there was a run on cat food, for example.

Paul had some late afternoon/early evening meetings last night, so while I waited for him to come home I read R. L. Stine’s The Lost Girl and started reading Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel, so I figured it fit with my Halloween Horror reading for this month. It’s also remarkably good, and while it is not my first zombie apocalypse novel (I’ve only read Michael Thomas Ford’s Z, which is really good and vastly under-appreciated), it’s not like how I imagined any zombie apocalypse novel to be (I still have one of Joe McKinney’s in my TBR pile, but I don’t think I’ll get to it this month).

Scan

What I remember most about that afternoon was the shimmering scarlet and yellow of the sky, as if the heavens were lighting up to join our family’s celebration. The sunlight sparkled off the two-day-old snow at teh curb, as if someone had piled diamonds in the street.

I think I remember everything about that day.

Running all the way home on the slushy sidewalks from my weekend job at the Clean Bee Laundry. The smell of the dry cleaning and the starch still on my clothes and my skin. I remember the blood thrumming at my temples as I ran and the feeling that, if I raised my arms high, I could take off, lift off from the crowded sidewalks of the Old Village, and glide easily into the pulsating colors of the sky.

The Lost Girl is a Fear Street novel, one of many R. L. Stine has published, set in the small city of Shadyside where Fear Street is located, where the ruins of the old Fear mansion, which had burned to the ground decades earlier, remained…only now, in this relaunched Fear Street series, the ruins have been cleared away and it’s a vacant lot. Stine built quite an empire with the Fear Street books, but his scary books for children, Goosebumps, were what really made him an industry. They were adapted into a TV show, and movies, and as the Goosebumps took off, the Fear Street books became less and less important and disappeared eventually. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows that there are, to date, 166 young adult novels written by Stine; the majority of them having something to do with Fear Street. I read a lot of those books in the early 1990’s–he and Christopher Pike and Jay Bennett, and those are the books that gave me the idea to write young adult novels in the first place–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel were written in first drafts during that time. The Fear Street books were also what gave me the idea to link all of my y/a novels in some way; not all being set in the same town because that didn’t seem realistic, but linked in some way. I did manage to do that.

The Lost Girl is an entertaining enough read–it took me about two hours to get through it before I moved on to the Whitehead–and it’s very much what I remembered of the Fear Street books; very likable protagonist caught up in something terrible and awful through no fault of his own…loses some friends to the supernatural force, but eventually figures out how to bring it all to an end. It was a pleasant way to spend the evening while I waited for Paul to come home, and that was kind of how I read Stine back in the day; I always kept a few of them around on hand to read when I had some time to kill but didn’t want to get into anything truly heavy.

Stine is also a very nice man; I met him at the Edgars several years ago, and he was a Guest of Honor at Stokercon in Vegas, so I got to arrange his travel and email back and forth with him a few times. He’s very gracious, very kind, and it was kind of a thrill for me. Since I was representing Stokercon and the Horror Writers Association, I couldn’t gush and make a fool of myself the way I probably would have otherwise–which is probably a good thing.

And now, back to the spice mines. I want to find some more markets to submit my short stories to, and get some of this mess cleaned up.

Have a great day, Constant Reader!

Heart to Heart

Gah, it’s Wednesday and the week is half over and I’ve not scratched many items off my to-do list. Heavy heaving sigh. Although the weather seems to have turned here and it’s been lovely the last few days. I worked in the storage unit for about an hour yesterday; got a few more book donation boxes together and threw some things away, which was progress of a sort. The primary problem, however, is discovering that almost everything in there appears to be cases of copies of my own books, or my kids’ series–the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, etc.–that I will never get rid of; so I think my next move is to swap out boxes of books in the attic (or decoratively hidden around the apartment), books that I want to keep (copies of books written by friends, etc.) for the cases of my own books; it only makes sense to have easier access to them in order to donate for charity auctions or for book events where they don’t have copies of my books or aren’t able to get copies of my books. Or to sell myself. I do think from time to time I should resell my used books and make some money off them, but it also seems like an incredible pain in the ass and I barely have time to keep up with everything I need to get done, let alone adding another chore.

We’ll see.

I am one step closer to sending out the query letters. With the assistance of some amazing friends, I think I had a damned good query letter put together that just needs a tweak here and there, and has also helped me figure out what tweaking, oddly enough, needs to be done in the manuscript itself. So, the goal is to send out a wave of query emails by the end of the week, work on Scotty, finish the final revision of a short story to get sent out there, and make those manuscript tweaks.

I also put another book in the donation pile this week that didn’t pass the fifty page test, and am about to start reading R. L. Stine’s The Lost Girl. I read a lot of Stein and Christopher Pike novels in the early 1990’s–which helped inspire me to write the drafts that became Sorceress, Sara, and Sleeping Angel–so I am interested to see some of his newer work. I met him, not only at the Edgars one year, but at Stokercon in Vegas, and he is a lovely, very nice man. My original thought with those y/a’s was to link them all together at some point, the way he’d linked the Fear Street novels together, and in a way, all of my young adult novels are sort of linked together–Sara is set in a small town in Kansas; that town is where Laura, the main character in Sorceress is from; the town in California Laura moves to is where Sleeping Angel is set; and Scotty’s parents in Lake Thirteen are from the small town in Alabama where my main character in Dark Tide is from…and the town where Scotty lives now, in the suburbs of Chicago, was where Glenn in Sara moved to Kansas from. All connected. I sometimes forget that my young adult books all are in the same world and are all connected…

And on that note, I’m not going to finish my to-do list by sitting here thinking about getting things done.

Today’s Hump Day Hunk is actor Aaron-Taylor Johnson.

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Every Breath You Take

I got absolutely nothing done, other than some laundry and a load of dishes, yesterday because I was too engrossed in reading Rebecca Chance’s Killer Affair to put it down. So, today, after I make my grocery run, I simply have to buckle down and clean as well as write and line edit. I’ve decided on my next book to read–Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for the Edgar for Best Novel–and I am really looking forward to reading it. Lyndsay has written five novels, and been nominated for the Best Edgar novel twice–no small feat, I might add (her other nomination came this year for Jane Steele, which I am also looking forward to reading).

So, I survived the grocery store, made brunch for Paul and have done the dishes. I’m not feeling particularly motivated at the moment; I also had to walk to Office Depot to get ink for the printer and the six block to-and-from walk (twelve blocks in total) in the heat and humidity has sucked the life and energy right out of me. Just sitting at my desk and letting the air conditioning wash over me feels so lovely that I am tempted to simply blow everything off and read Gods of Gotham, which would be a huge mistake. I simply cannot keep blowing everything off; the kitchen floor is disgusting and so is the living room; perhaps a shower will pick my attitude right up out of the gutter where it has fallen. I’m so very close to being finished with the second draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” that it’s really egregious to keep putting off working on it; and it certainly isn’t going to kill me to drag the hard copy of the WIP out and start marking it up again, either.

This laziness is why I am always playing catch-up on everything.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did manage to also finish my reread of The Secret of Terror Castle last night; the very first Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators mystery, and despite being dated, the story still holds up. The three young detectives (Jupiter, Bob, and Pete) are much better developed that the main characters in so many other children’s mystery series, with very distinct personalities, and the world in which they inhabit (Rocky Beach, California, close to LA–my assumption is it’s based on Long Beach) is interesting and also pretty well fleshed out: the Jones Salvage Yard, which is run by Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, always was interested and many of their cases came from things that Uncle Titus bought at an estate or yard sale; their headquarters, a battered old mobile home hidden from view by artfully arranged piles of junk and had secret entrances; their ability to use a gold-plated Rolls Royce (Jupiter won the use of the car in a contest), complete with British chauffeur, Worthington; and their relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, originally a bit fractious but came to be one of friendship and mutual respect as the boys proved themselves to be excellent detectives in case after case–all of these things made this a favorite series of mine. Not to mention, that in almost every book the boys had to actually solve a mystery, based on clues they found and observations they made–so the books were a bit smarter than the other series.

I’d love to update this series.

And now, here’s a hunk for your Sunday Funday, as I head back into the spice mines.

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I Just Fall in Love Again

Monday, and I have the day off. This is day three of my four-day weekend, and it feels lovely. I feel incredibly rested, and I even woke up early this morning–earlier than I have the last two days, at any rate–and so clearly, the chamomile tea last night was enormously helpful in getting me to sleep.

I finished cleaning the downstairs yesterday, and today I will be tackling the upstairs. There’s only so much I can do upstairs without rearranging or moving things, and I am not sure how well that will go over once Paul returns, so instead I am going to just clean and organize and perhaps empty out drawers and so forth before tackling the floors. I’ve done absolutely nothing as far as working on the revisions are concerned, but I am going to do that today. Yesterday I repaired to my easy chair and finished watching season one of MTV’s Scream. I’m not really sure why Paul and I stopped watching; I do know at the time the MTV app on Apple TV was kind of wonky, and for some reason we didn’t care very much for the characters. But picking up on it last night, I found myself really enjoying going for the ride. Maybe it’s because we were watching them as they aired originally? Maybe Scream works better as a binge? I’m not sure one way or the other, but I do know that I’ll have it on while I am cleaning the upstairs. And I still have yet another day off! How wonderful is that?

I did make some notes on some ideas I have for short stories in progress yesterday while I was watching Scream; I also watched a documentary on HBO about the Children of God religious cult; apparently there’s a completely different documentary on Netflix about this cult, focusing on different victims. Who knew? But watching gave me the idea for a story (of course) so I scribbled down some notes on it as well. I have yet to get back to Tomato Red, but I will probably do that today; taking an hour to revise than an hour to read, giving up on both around five, at which point I will repair upstairs and start cleaning while watching Season 2 of Scream. 

I’d hoped to get more reading done this weekend, but hey, there’s only so much time, right?

Before going to bed every night I’ve been rereading an old favorite, The Secret of Terror Castle. One of my favorite kids’ series was always The Three Investigators; although back when I was a child Alfred Hitchcock got star billing in the series, despite rarely appearing in the books themselves. The books were ‘introduced’ by Hitchcock, and there was always a final chapter where the boys met with Hitchcock, discussed the finer points of the case with him, and he asked some questions that weren’t necessarily explained in the narrative. This quite naturally caused problems when Hitchcock died; they replaced him with a fictional author, and by the time several books with this author character were published, I had aged out of the series and moved on to other reading material. I think they even replaced the writer with someone else even later, and I would imagine they had to redo the first books that had Hitchcock, since they were now dated. But The Secret of Terror Castle is even more dated than one would think; it was predicated on the idea that a silent film star’s manager and business partner would still not only be alive, but young enough to be physically active and not seem ancient to three thirteen-year-old boys. Since the silent film era was phased out in the early 1930’s–even being generous and saying it lasted until 1932 would mean that it was eighty-five years ago, and anyone old enough to be a business manager in 1932 would be well over one hundred now! The books are out of print now, and hard to find–again, my childhood collecting days has a nest-egg of sorts in my kids’ series books, which I could always sell on eBay should I ever need cash.

But as I’ve been rereading The Secret of Terror Castle these last few nights–a chapter or two per night, as I am falling asleep–I am again struck by how well-written and well-plotted the books are. The Three Investigators–originally the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series, then Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, finally just The Three Investigators–were each individuals, developed and well-rounded, never acting out of character–and there was also a strong sense of continuity throughout the entire series (I’ve never finished reading the series; when it stopped being hardcover and went to paperback originals, I stopped; the writing in the later books wasn’t as tight and the plots not as well thought out, or I was older–but rereading the books as an older man who also happens to be a mystery writer, The Secret of Terror Castle is certainly holding up); there weren’t the continuity mistakes that riddled, say, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Dana Girls–which had everything to do with transitions from original text to revisions. The Three Investigators always had to solve a mystery; following clues that often took them from a basic case–a search for a missing parrot, for example, that led them to an entire series of parrots, all trained to speak a single clue. All the clues had to be put together, and then their meaning figured out; so a lost treasure could be found (this was The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot), and I’ve always loved treasure hunts. Often times, the keys to solving the mystery lie in the boys’ abilities to observe things that they didn’t think about at the time, but later didn’t make sense–a little boy’s gold tooth led to the solution of The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure, for example–but again, the problem with the series later was getting past the death of Hitchcock, and the books becoming a little dated with changes in technology and so forth. Even when I first read The Secret of Terror Castle, when I was about twelve, it couldn’t really be current because, as mentioned before, the manager would have been borderline too old–at least older than he appeared to be in the text.

TheSecretOfTerrorCastle

I picked the book up again, really, because I watched Truffaut Hitchcock, a short documentary on HBO the other night about the famous week-long interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock about every film in his long career, his direction of them, and his vision for each film. These interviews became a book, and a very influential one, according to some of the directors in the documentary who talked about reading it and being influenced by it when they were young–including Scorsese, Bogdonavich, and Fincher. I’ve also been thinking about how, when I was a kid, there were all these anthologies with Hitchcock’s name on them–Alfred Hitchcock Presents Tales to Terrify You, that sort of thing. Hitchcock of course simply had licensed his name for these books–like he had with The Three Investigators–and of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which still exists today. (I imagine those anthologies were stories collected from the magazine.) Getting a story into AHMM is on my bucket list…and of course, I’ve never submitted anything to them. As this year is ‘cross things off my bucket list’ year, I’m going to submit something to them–one of these stories I am working on hopefully; if not, maybe something new I haven’t started working on yet. The documentary is quite good, by the way–I highly recommend it. Listening to Truffaut and Hitchcock discuss movie-making–story telling–can also be useful to writers.

Man, would I love to reboot The Three Investigators! When I was a kid, I wanted to write one, or a Hardy Boys, or a Nancy Drew. I also wanted to write my own kids’ mystery series. Maybe I should put those on the bucket list?

And now, it’s back to to the spice mines.

Walking on the Moon

 When I wrote the introduction to Night Shadows: Queer Horror, I talked about the similarities between crime fiction and horror, as a means to explain how two crime writers (myself and the incomparable J. M. Redmann) found ourselves editing a horror anthology. Make no mistake; there are a lot of similarities between the two genres. Both, for example, are concerned with death and to no less a degree justice; there’s almost always a mystery involved in a horror novel–primarily as the main characters try to figure out what is going on and what they can do about it, but still. So-called slasher films/novels are really just the horror equivalent of serial killer stories; The Silence of the Lambs notably was both crime and horror. I’ve always been interested in both, although I lean more to the crime side, since I really don’t have the imagination or creativity to write horror (or much of it, anyway; and everything I do write that is horror is undoubtedly horribly derivative).

The book I just finished reading, Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, manages to blur the line between horror and dark crime fiction as well. It is, in fact, one of the creepiest and darkest things I’ve ever read; definitely in the top ten, at the very least.

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Sometimes in the first days of November the body of the young man who had disappeared sank to the bottom of the river. Facedown, bumping lightly against the muddy bed below the flowing water, the body was probably carried for several miles–frowning with gentle surprise, arms held a little away from his sides, legs stiff. The underwater plants ran their fronds along the feathered headdress the boy was wearing, across the boy’s forehead and war-paint stripes and lips, down across the fringed buckskin shirt and wolf-tooth necklace, across loincloth and deerskin leggings, tracing the feet in their moccasins. The fish and other scavengers were most asleep during this period. The body bumped against rocks and branches, scraped along gravel, but it was mostly preserved. In April, when the two freshman college girls saw the boy’s face under the thin layer of ice among the reeds and cattails at the edge of the old skating pond, they at first imagined the corpse was a discarded mannequin or a plastic Halloween mask. They were collecting pond-water specimens for their biology course, and both of them were feeling scientific rather than superstitious, and one of the girls reached down and touched the face’s cheek with the eraser tip of her pencil.

During this same period of months, November through April, Dustin Tillman had been drifting along his own trajectory. He was forty-one years old, married with two teenage sons, a psychologist with a small practice and formerly, he sometimes told people, some occasional forays into forensics. His life, he thought, was a collection of the usual stuff: driving to and from work, listening to the radio, checking and answering his steadily accumulating email, shopping at the supermarket, and watching select highly regarded news on television and reading a few books that had been well received and helping the boys with their homework, details that were–he was increasingly aware–units of measurement by which he was parceling out his life.

When his cousin Kate called him, later that week after the body was found, he was already feeling a lot of vague anxiety. He was having a hard time about his upcoming birthday, which, he realized, seemed like a very bourgeois and mundane thing to worry about. He had recently quit smoking, so there was that, too. Without nicotine, his brain seemed murky with circling, unfocused dread, and the world itself appeared somehow more unfriendly–emanating, he couldn’t help but think, a soft glow of ill will.

The book is about, ultimately, damage: how violent crime and trauma affects people, and how that damage can be passed along to the next generation.

When Dustin was a child, his parents, along with his aunt and uncle (two brothers married two sisters) were murdered while the kids slept outside the house in a camper, the night before they were all due to leave for Yellowstone. The blame fell on Dustin’s older, adopted brother, Rusty–in no small part to Dustin’s testimony and that of his older cousin, Kate–who claimed to have resurfaced memories of Rusty forcing them to participate in Satanic rituals (this was actually a big thing in the 1980’s), and Rusty was convicted and went to jail. Recently, DNA evidence over-turned Rusty’s conviction, and he was released. Dustin’s wife has recently died of cancer, and his youngest son Aaron is using heroin while pretending to go to college. And one of Dustin’s patients, a former cop, is convinced that young college boys are being kidnapped and ritualistically drowned by a cult of some sort, and wants Dustin to help him look into it. All of these disparate threads weave in and out of each other; interconnected yet causing more alienation for this complex and completely dysfunctional family as the book careens along to its ultimate denouement, a downward spiral of hopelessness and tragedy.

The writing is spectacular, and Chaon also plays with form and even typesetting to get the feel of the novel across to the reader; this can seem intrusive and distracting at times, but as you continue to read, this style creates an irresistible mood and drive to continue reading; as the Tillmans’ past, present, and future all seem to converge in on their lives and each other, it becomes almost hypnotic.

There’s also a shout out to The Three Investigators in the text, which I also loved.

This book is amazing. It reminded somewhat of Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone, which was sublime and one of the best novels I’ve read over the past few years. I highly recommend this…and can’t wait to read more of Chaon’s work.

 

 

1, 2, 3, Red Light

Friday morning in the midst of an unusual cold spell for New Orleans. It’s the second weekend of Jazz Fest, and the high today–and yesterday– was merely seventy one degrees. It’s in the frigid low sixties right now; but it’s going to be sunny and clear and lovely all day; no rain in the forecast for the weekend. I have some appointments tomorrow, but am going to stop for groceries on my way home from work tonight so I don’t have to deal with that tomorrow. I’d like to make some further progress on the WIP tomorrow, as well; hope to do so today, too.

As I have said lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Alabama, primarily due to events I’ve done in that state this year (the first time I’ve ever done anything there). I have written short stories (full disclosure: only two have been published) set in Alabama, and only one book set there. Many years ago, I thought about doing a whole series of books set in Alabama, and all connected (what can I say? I was reading Faulkner) in one way or the other. I created a fictional town and county (thank you, Mr. Faulkner) and families and connections and the whole ball of wax, but never wrote any of them, of course. (I was always big on the ideas phase, not so much on the writing phase.) The town was Corinth, Alabama, and the county had the same name. Recently, as I’ve been doing research into Alabama history (when I’m between clients at work), those ideas have come back to me. Taylor, Frank’s nephew in the Scotty series, is from Corinth; Frank’s mother was from there and that’s the Sobieski connection to Alabama. My favorite short story of all the ones I’ve published, “Small Town Boy,” is also set there, and of course, when I started writing Dark Tide, my main character, Ricky Hackworth, was from Corinth–and somehow related to characters in the short story; we never know what the main character’s name is in the story, but the story focuses on his relationship with a Hackworth whose mother has just shot his father–“those trashy Hackworths.”

Dark Tide is one of my personal favorites of my books, and I think it’s partly because it was a return to Corinth. The book wasn’t set there–Ricky leaves Corinth for a summer job on the Gulf Coast of Alabama as a lifeguard–but Ricky was from there, and I was able to draw on the rich background I’d created for the town in my twenties as backstory for the book. I also tried to do something with the writing style that I’d never done before, which was mimic the pacing of swimming strokes with the pacing of the book. I don’t know if I succeeded, but I know some of the best work I’ve done is contained inside the pages of that book–there’s one particularly creepy scene where Ricky is swimming in the bay and he has this feeling that there are carnivorous mermen down in the depths of the bay beneath him as he swims, and then imagines it as he strokes through the calm morning waters. I also really liked the character of Ricky; he’s grown up relatively poor and motherless (the reader never knows what happened to his mother), and thinks back to how he is treated by the richer kids, how he is picked on for his suspected sexuality, how deeply closeted he is, and how he met, at a swimming camp his father could barely afford to send him to at the University of Alabama, he met and fell in love with someone who basically changed his life and helped him see that he wasn’t a freak. I loved the character of Ricky, and Dark Tide also is one of few novels I ever wrote that has a big twist that flips the story completely–there are hints, of course, I would never cheat–and I am very proud that I pulled it off.

The book was originally conceptualized and titled as Mermaid Inn. When I was a kid, I used to read comic books voraciously; I sometimes wonder how I found the money to buy as many comic books and kids’ series books as I did (I tend to suspect, now that I am in my fifties, that I was a great deal more spoiled as a child then I thought I was). DC Comics used to publish two comics that were more horror/mystery related than super hero oriented; House of Secrets and House of Mystery. EC Comics, which deeply influenced Stephen King, was no longer around by the time I was reading comics, so these two comics–with secret and mystery in their titles, which is what drew me in to them–were the first horror I read, and I loved how the stories always had a big twist at the end (and come to think of it, that’s the way I write horror, which is probably why I don’t sell any horror short stories). There was one issue that was completely devoted to a story called “Bloody Mermaids,” and I remember it to this day. It was an interesting tale; a scholar who was fascinated by the legend of the mermaid was determined to find one and thus prove they were real. He comes to an old inn along the seashore where mermaids have supposedly been sited over the years, only is horrified to discover that rather than beautiful and kind sea creatures, the ones who inhabit the sea at this place were monsters who feasted on human flesh and blood, and only come out at night; kind of like sea vampires. At the very end he finally finds one, he is horrified by the truth of what she is, and she knocks him out and is ready to drink his blood when the sun starts to rise and she has to flee back to the safety of the water. And the narrator–both comics had them–said something along the lines of ‘be careful what you wish for, the reality of what you seek may be something you don’t want to see.’ The story always fascinated me, and it inspired me to create a story of my own.

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The engine of my pickup truck made a weird coughing noise just as I came around a cruve 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.

I took a deep breath while sitting there, listening closely to make sure.

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.

Once Ricky arrives at the Inn and gets settled, he finds out the lifeguard from the summer before disappeared, and the longer he stays, the more he realizes that things in Mermaid Inn–and the nearby town of Latona–are not what they seem.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Light My Fire

Nancy Drew is eighty-seven, can you believe it?

secret of red gate farm

I first discovered Nancy Drew when I was in the fourth grade, at Eli Whitney Elementary School in Chicago. I was already reading every mystery I could get my hands on, either through the school library, the public library, or what my parents would let me order through the Scholastic Book Club, but I didn’t discover Nancy Drew–or the other series for kids–until the fourth grade. My teacher, Mrs. Pirog, had a big wooden table in the back of the room with discarded books from her own kids spread out on it. One day I noticed the above book, and decided to take it home and read it. I loved it! Nancy and her pals Bess and George helped some poor girl and her grandmother, about to lose Red Gate Farm to the mortgage, while also unmasking a ring of counterfeiters. There were two other volumes back on the table–The Mystery at Lilac Inn and The Haunted Showboat–and I was hooked. At the Woolworth’s where I usually spent my allowance, I acquired The Secret of the Old Clock, The Hidden Staircase, and The Bungalow Mystery. (On the book table was also a Dana Girls mystery, The Secret of the Old Well, but we’re going to focus on Nancy Drew for now.)

I became obsessed with reading and collecting the entire series. I still collect them, of course, even if my collection is in storage because I don’t have the room to display them in the Lost Apartment. My obsession (I guess this was probably the first example of my OCD-lite coming to light) was driven even further by my parents’ forbidding me to read them; you see, I was a boy and these were books for girls. I started collecting and reading the boys’ series, and buying Nancy Drew, and the other series for girls, on the sly; I would get, say, five Hardy Boys books and slip two Nancy Drews into the stack, and then would bury the Nancy Drews at the bottom of the book bag beneath the Hardy Boys, and pull out one of the Hardy Boys to read in the car on the way home. (I was undoubtedly not fooling my mother, who had to notice that the yellow-spined Nancy Drew collection was mysteriously growing, albeit at a slower pace than the Hardy Boys.)

nancy drew leaning chimney

This was also an early example of my stubbornness, and the streak of “if you want me to not do something, the worst thing you can do is tell me so.”

Hard to believe something as innocuous as Nancy Drew mysteries could be considered contraband, isn’t it? My sister helped out sometimes, too, when she felt like it, by buying them for me. They couldn’t very well tell her she couldn’t have them.

Ghostwriting a Nancy Drew mystery as Carolyn Keene is on my bucket-list, I might add.

While I can’t credit Nancy Drew for my lifelong love of mysteries and my desire to become a mystery writer, she was a big assist, and my first introduction to mystery series. I read almost all of the Grosset & Dunlap series (Nancy, the Hardy Boys, Dana Girls, Judy Bolton, Ken Holt, Rick Brant, Biff Brewster, Cherry Ames, Vicki Barr), as well as the Trixie Belden books and The Three Investigators (which was probably my favorite, along with Ken Holt), and have kept all of my copies all these years. In my early twenties I started finishing the sets, haunting used bookstores for used copies, since many of the off-brand series were no longer in print. After Hurricane Katrina I discovered eBay, and started finishing the sets. Once I had all of the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys series completed, I went back and started recollecting the series–there were  original texts and revised texts, and my completed sets were combinations of the two. Now I want a complete set of revised texts and one of original texts. I also belong to collectors’ groups on Facebook, and there’s a store in Savannah, Books by the Bay, that specializes in the kids’ series that I am DYING to visit (and will undoubtedly drop a ton of cash at if I ever get there).

So, happy birthday, Nancy. Thanks for all the great memories!