You’re My Best Friend

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told that I’m a terrible friend, I wouldn’t need a day job.

If I had a ten dollar bill for every time I’ve been told I am a terrible person, I would be debt-free.

Friendship has always been a tricky thing for me to negotiate. It’s something I’ve never really quite understood the rules for–like so many other aspects of life; it really needs, at least for me, a rulebook or a guide of some kind. I was a very sheltered child, and have–this always makes people laugh when I say this, but it’s true–a horrible degree of painful shyness. I never know how to start a conversation with someone I have just met, and social occasions where I don’t know anyone are excruciating, as I can never introduce myself to anyone and just start talking. Social events where I only know one person in attendance is excruciating for the person I know, as I literally glom onto them like a life preserver and refuse to let them out of my presence–and if they do manage to escape, I will find them like I’ve chipped them, tracking them down like an escaped pet.

I always feel bad about it later–wondering, as is my wont, if the poor person I glommed on to even likes me or enjoys my company in the first place. I also wonder if I should apologize.

I don’t understand the rules, you see.

So, as with everything, I have always taken my cues from books, television shows, and movies. Ah, those marvelous friendships that exist in fiction! Trixie Belden and the Bob-Whites; Nancy with Bess and George; Frank and Joe with Chet, and so on and so forth. I always wanted friends like the ones fictional characters had, wanted to be a friend like fictional characters actually were. But, as I grew older and life continuously proved to be much more difficult, as well as vastly different, from the fictional worlds I loved to escape into, I began to learn that I not only didn’t understand what friendships were like in the real world, but that there were rules I didn’t know about, and those rules were different with every person.

One of the maxims I began to swear by when I burned my life to the ground at thirty-three and started to building a life that was more in keeping to what I had wanted and dreamed of since I was a child was the common denominator in all of your problems is you. Neat, simple, and to the point; it’s also true. But there are, as I learned over the year, also corollaries to the theorems; other truths to be considered, proofs and postulates. At thirty-three, I very willingly took ownership that all the issues I had previously, either with friends or in romantic-type relationships, were mine and mine only–any blame for dysfunction or ruptures or bad behavior could only be laid at my own door. I was never able, for example, to understand or figure out where a relationship went wrong, turned sour, when knowing me and interacting with me became so problematic and difficult that it was easier for someone to just walk away rather than try to work it out (which I always believed was something that friends did; one of those rules that were never explained to me). I tried, believe me–so many hours and journal entries wasted on trying to understand what I did wrong, where I went wrong, what was wrong with me, why did this continue to happen?

I thought back to all the times I’d been ghosted by someone, or a friend had informed me that I was a terrible person and a bad friend; in retrospect, it was something that happened so regularly that there had to be some truth in it. I’d always thought, and taken pride in, being a good friend; for always being there with kind words and a shoulder to be cried upon whenever it was needed…and yet–

And yet.

And yet, as I noted on my birthday blog, I found that I was also frequently disappointed by people. Whether it was my birthday, or being included in things, or whenever I needed someone to talk to when I was personally going through something difficult…inevitably, what I made myself available for with others wasn’t being made available to me. When I tried to talk to someone about problems, it was often dismissed–or I was told, “Jesus, you’re such a downer.” I have had friends tell me, through intermediaries, that “so-and-so doesn’t really want to talk to you anymore because they just can’t deal with you anymore.”

I learned this lesson: when you expect things from people you will inevitably be disappointed.

I’m not sure how old I was, or when I discovered an all-too-important corollary to my common-denominator theorem, but it was incredibly freeing. That corollary was certain personality types attract emotional predators, and that isn’t the fault of the person who attracts them.

Narcissists, for example, seek the personality types that will feed their self-obsession–and they aren’t interested in anyone else’s self-obsession unless it correlates with their own; in other words, if listening to your problems and offering comfort will soothe their own self-satisfaction; i.e. see what a good friend I am? I am such a wonderful person.

I know that I have narcissistic tendencies and that I have an ego; I don’t really think it’s possible for someone to become a creative artist without the odd mixture of complicated and complex and contradictory personality traits that inevitably drive so many of us to drink, drugs, and/or despair; the introversion and self-obsession and ego that drives us to create and believe that others will be interested in our creations, while at the same time being harshly self-critical, self-defeating, and utterly insecure about everything.

And while I’ve also come to realize that while friendship isn’t, and shouldn’t be, something where one needs to be constantly keeping score, a lot of people do that very thing.

I also learned to be suspicious of people doing nice things for me–because in the past, that nice thing inevitably would be used to bludgeon me as an example of how much better a friend that person was than I, and therefore I didn’t deserve to have friends.

When you’re told you’re terrible in some way, especially if it comes from more than one person, it becomes easy to believe that it’ s true. I’ve also been ghosted a lot; one day I would be close friends with someone and the next day the same person didn’t want to speak to me, say hello, or even acknowledge my existence. The first time that happened to me was in seventh grade, in junior high school (junior high was a horrible experience for me, but that’s not the point of this entry), and ever since then, I’ve had difficulty in trusting people completely; whenever I met someone new, befriended someone, there’s always been a wariness inside my mind, a little voice saying remember–you can’t trust people to not turn on you and that, coupled with my innate shyness and social awkwardness, has always made it difficult for me to ever get really close to people. It was in junior high, after all, that I learned there were names for what and who I was–unpleasant, insulting names, always said in a sneering, contemptuous manner–and so I kept my true self hidden from people.

Faggot. Sissy. Fag. Cocksucker.

Even before I was completely sure I knew what the words meant, I knew they were bad–they weren’t complimentary–and whatever they meant, it wasn’t anything I wanted to be.

God knows I’ve been told enough times by people that I’m a terrible friend and a terrible person; it used to always slash me to the quick and hurt my feelings. I was ghosted in junior high school by an entire group of friends who suddenly all stopped speaking to me or acknowledging my existence–to this day I don’t know why–and that early experience, combined with innate shyness, has always made it difficult for me to trust people. And as I’ve gotten older, my trust has gotten harder to earn.

But as I said, I wish there was a manual of some kind; instructions or something. I never know what is appropriate and what isn’t; I’ve also certainly been known to misjudge politeness for friendship before. Am I supposed to reach out to someone when they’re going through a rough time, or do I give them their space? Is it more annoying to have to answer emails and messages from friends who mean well when you’re going through something, or is it better to be left alone? I also have a tendency to withdraw into myself whenever things aren’t going so well; I don’t reach out to other people for support when I am going through something, and while I do appreciate well wishes and things like that…I don’t understand the rules.

I know lots of people at this point in my life; social media has made keeping up with people from my past much easier than it ever was before. I do notice there are gaps, though; I have reacquainted myself with people I went to high school with in Kansas, but no one from before that; after high school graduation the next big gap is people I met and knew from 1978-1985. There are people I know from when we first moved to New Orleans, and various writers and authors and editors and actors and actresses with whom I have crossed paths at one time or another, and people I’ve worked with. My friends’ list on Facebook is a curious mixture of people from all over the country with me as the primary common denominator.

But one thing I have definitely learned over the years is when someone abuses you–emotionally, mentally, verbally–they will do it again, and no matter how much you care about them , or how much time or energy you’ve put into the relationship, it will happen again. I’ve gotten much better about recognizing the difference between a disagreement and an abusive friendship, and my go-to has become If I won’t let my mother talk to me like this, well, youre not my mother.

But I still wish there was a guidebook, you know? It would make things so much easier.

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The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

Vulnerable

Today’s sexy man objectification photo certainly doesn’t seem like the right illustration for today’s title, does it?

He kind of looks like the alternate world Flash from the television show and turned out to be the villain of Season 2, Zoom, Teddy Sears, and I think he is in the second season of Netflix’s The Politician, as part of the throuple relationship Judith Light’s character is involved in. He is really pretty, even if he is not the guy in today’s picture, who is also really pretty.

But then assuming that a big muscular handsome man can’t be vulnerable as well is misandry, I suppose. Everyone, after all, can and should be–and definitely shouldn’t be afraid to be–vulnerable.

Yesterday was a good day–which seems to be par for the course lately, which is absolutely lovely. I got a lot of work done yesterday–granted, most of the day was spent making condom packs, which is my lot in life when it comes to working from home these days–but they are needed and necessary for the works kits we pass out during syringe access, and it’s hard to keep up with the demand. One of the nice things about making condom packs is I can watch something while I make them; the last two Wednesdays I’ve been watching The Mickey Mouse Club production of the Hardy Boys serial, The Mystery of the Applegate Treasure, which is loosely based on the first Hardy Boys adventure, The Tower Treasure. It was interesting to see the changes Disney made to the Hardy Boys to appeal more to their young audience–the Hardy Boys weren’t seventeen and eighteen, as they were in the books (I don’t recall how old they were in the original texts; Nancy Drew went from sixteen in the originals to eighteen in the revisions), and of course, Mrs. Hardy doesn’t exist in the serials. In fairness, their mother was never much of a character in the series–her name even changed from Martha in the original texts to Laura in the revisions–and their father’s sister, Aunt Gertrude, was more of an adult parental figure in their lives than even their father, and she replaces Mrs. Hardy in the Disney serials completely. The basic premise of the book is that the Tower Mansion is robbed, and suspicion falls on the father of their friend, Perry Robinson, who worked there; the burden of being fired means Perry has to drop out of school and of course, everyone in Bayport believes his father is guilty. Even in the revised texts, where a lot of the characterizations and color is dropped from the plot and the Hardys themselves become more two-dimensional, the way the Robinsons are shamed and ostracized by the town is very well-done; naturally, the Hardy boys, who want to be detectives like their famous father, go to work to clear the Robinsons.

In the serial, Perry is a juvenile delinquent from “the city” who is sent to Bayport to get away from bad influences, and works for crazy old Silas Applegate (in the book, his name was Hurd and he had a sister; both were known as “eccentrics”); soon Perry is framed for stealing tools and the Hardys, taking sympathy on him, take him on as a client. The Applegate treasure is an old pirate treasure of Jean Lafitte’s that was stolen from the mansion some ten years before; and no one really believes that it ever existed as Silas isn’t exactly mentally stable. It’s actually not a bad adaptation, and two of Disney’s biggest child stars, Tim Considine and Tommy Kirk, play the Hardys; any flaws it has are flaws of the time and the need for Disney (and pretty much all television shows) to sanitize and clean up small towns (well, life in general); what i always call the “Mayberritization” of American life. (Peyton Place, which was published during this same period, is far more accurate–which is partly why it was so scandalous.)

I started watching the second Hardy Boys serial, The Mystery of Ghost Farm–but I can also see why the Hardy Boys serials ended with this second one. It’s not as well done or as well plotted as the first; primarily because it isn’t based on one of the books and is wholly original…and while I can certainly understand why they didn’t base it on the second boo, The House on the Cliff (the plot of which centers on the boys looking for their father, whose been kidnapped by a gang of smugglers), they could have just as easily used Book Three, The Secret of the Old Mill.

These are, oddly enough, on Youtube rather than Disney Plus, as are some of the other serials, like Annette, and some of the two-part mysteries that originally aired on The Wonderful World of Disney.

And, as I’ve talked about recently, I’m thinking about reviving my middle-grade mystery series that I’ve been tinkering around with ever since I was about eight years old and started reading the kids’ series in the first place.

We also finished Dark Desire last night, and there were a lot of surprising plot twists in those final four episodes, and a great season cliffhanger at the end as well. I do recommend it, because it’s great fun and trashy yet engaging; and of course Alejandro Spietzer is gorgeous and charismatic. It’s apparently been renewed for a second season; Paul discovered this yesterday while searching for other series and/or films starring this gorgeous Mexican actor. Yes, we’re fan, and yes, we’re just that shallow.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll shout at you again tomorrow morning.

Was It Worth It?

I’ve always been a reader; my earliest (and most of the happiest) memories of my early years is of reading books that I deeply loved. I think it was the 4th grade where I really began to read series books of mysteries for kids; I’m not sure which was the first one, but it was either The Three Investigators’ The Mystery of the Moaning Cave or Trixie Belden’s The Read Trailer Mystery. When I discovered Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys and the rest, I decided I not only wanted to be a writer when I grew up but wanted to write a similar type series. I wrote my very first “book” in the fifth grade, called The Mystery of the Haunted Mansion, and of course it was really derivative and more of a pastiche; I don’t remember the name of my main character, but I had a friend type it up for me, and then I bound it inside cardboard and drew a cover for it (which I still remember; it was basically a rip off of the original cover for Nancy Drew’s The Ghost of Blackwood Hall). The concept of a mystery series for kids has never really left me, and always periodically came up again throughout my life…until I actually started writing seriously. About fourteen years ago I thought about it again; going so far as to actually come up with a series character…and it came up again in conversation with a friend who actually writes middle grade the other day (That Bitch Ford, to be exact) and the idea has continued to swirl in my head ever since. Yesterday morning, I went through my horribly disorganized file cabinet, looking for the file folder labeled KIDS’ SERIES and took it out of the file. Inside are yellowed pages of book synopses, lists of possible titles, characters, different series…and as I paged through it, I also found traces of things that eventually showed up in my work since I actually became a published writer: the name of a town, character names, etc.

But I moved the file from the cabinet and put it in my inbox; at some point, perhaps this weekend, I’ll start going through it and seeing what might actually be of use to me. It’s not something I’m going to work on now–heavens no, there’s still too much else I have to write that I am already behind on–but it’s something to think about for the future, for sure.

And as I glanced over some of the titles, some of them were clearly “inspired/influenced” by Scooby Doo Where Are You and Jonny Quest. One–The Mystery of the Galloping Ghost–may have even been used in the Ken Holt series; I’d have to check to be certain, but I definitely think so. (And yes, I know titles cannot be copyrighted; both Ken Holt and The Three Investigators uncovered The Secret of Skeleton Island, for example) And I literally just watched the Jonny Quest episode with the gargoyle last week (on my list of titles is The Mystery of the Stone Gargoyle), and there’s also one called The Mystery of the Lost Crusade–I have thought, for many years, about writing a Colin stand alone called The Lost Crusade–and now I see that I had come up with that very title at least fifteen years earlier, before it swam up to my consciousness again. And surely The Witch of the Swamp was inspired by a Scooby Doo Where Are You episode I rewatched lately, about a witch in a swamp. And there’s The Mystery of the Crying Nun–I currently have a short story in progress called “The Crying Nun” (it’s a New Orleans ghost story). And The Mystery of the Haunted Airport was definitely a rip-off of a Scooby gang adventure.

There’s even detailed character descriptions, and plot summaries for more than ten of the “books.”

Something worth exploring, since I have nothing else to do.

We watched another episode of Dark last night, and boy, you have to hand it to the Germans when it comes to atmosphere and creepiness. They are slowly but surely explaining what is actually going on in this little German town–we’re only two episodes in–and the lovely thing is it’s most likely, based on last night’s episode, nothing we were thinking it was going to be. I love shows that surprise you like this; Orphan Black was really good at this, and I love having no idea where the story is going or what could possibly happen next. Those shows inevitably end up being my favorites to watch.

I slept very well again last night, and am working from home today with a lot of things to get done for the day job as well as a lot of things to get done for various things this weekend–both writing wise and volunteer wise–and I also have to make groceries at some point this weekend as well. The summer weather has finally kicked into it’s usual high gear–I don’t know why it always blindsides me every year, but there you have it–and so going out into the heat to do anything is always an energy-suck and exhausting. I also want to get deeper into my reading of Kelly Ford’s wonderful Cottonmouths–I’m not sure why I am having so much trouble focusing on reading this summer, but there it is–and think next will be a reread of Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree. I’m also going to spend some time culling the books again this weekend, even though there’s no place for me to take them to donate because of the pandemic. I also need to take some bags of beads to the donation drop for those as well–which will also be a lot of fun in the heat, yay–but it’s just clutter, you know.

And the thing is I want to declutter, and it’s not like we’ll go the rest of our lives never getting more beads. Catching them is more fun than keeping them, anyway.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

The Night I Fell in Love

And now begins the three day weekend. Yay!

It’s also July now, as one can tell by the tropical weather experience New Orleans is currently enjoying; heat index averaging high nineties over a hundred everyday, your occasional heat advisory (“stay indoors if at all possible”), thunderstorms and flash flood warnings out of nowhere and some Sahara sand storm dust thrown in for shits and giggles.

I finished watching the only season of the original Jonny Quest yesterday while making condom packs, and I have to say, the original writers of this show had some serious issues with Asians, and most especially the Chinese. It’s unusual that in a decade and time period when the Cold War was particularly chilly–it originally aired only a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in prime time that single season–the Russians were never the villains. Dr. Quest’s arch enemy was the evil Chinese scientist Dr. Sun; and in several episodes the villains were Chinese. They also had a remarkable number of adventures in Asia–China, Taiwan, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Nepal; and the natives were always either evil or horrible stereotypes (as were any jungle natives they encountered in either South America or Africa). Hadji, a series regular, was a particularly stereotypical magical Indian youth–who managed to charm snakes, levitate others, and numerous other magic tricks while chanting “Heem, heem, salabeem” or some such nonsensical thing. He was always in a turban and Nehru jacket, and even in beach scenes, when the others wore swim trunks, he wore a Gandhi loincloth. Why?

I also watched a couple of episodes of Scooby Doo Where Are You, and despite the simplistic, casual racism of Jonny Quest, it’s still the superior show. I’ve not watched any of the later reboots of Jonny Quest–the one from 1986 shows up on HBO MAX as the second season, and in the mid-nineties The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest launched, with the boys aged to teenagers from eleven year olds, and Race’s daughter added to the mix (I guess to deflect the deep queerness of the original); the animation in this version is perhaps the best of all three versions–with Race finally achieving his full muscle-god bodyguard perfection–but whenever I’ve tried to watch, the “it’s not really Jonny Quest” disappointment always sets in and I stop watching.

We also got deeper into Season 2 of Titans, and it gets better and better with every episode, frankly. The Jericho story is particularly heartbreaking; and I love that they are using the second season (with some continuity errors) to explore how the team came to break apart in the first place (the show begins with the Titans already broken up, and them coming back together to confront the big bad of Season One) and how, essentially, all the action of Season One really was set into motion. It’s very exceptional story-telling, frankly, and the plotting and pacing is, for the most part, superb. Also superb is the addition of several new cast members: Rose Slade, Conner Kent, and Deathstroke as the big bad, with Aqualad appearing briefly as set up for the original conflict between the Titans and Deathstroke. We only have two episodes left, and I was glad to see the show was renewed for a third season already…although, given the pandemic, who knows when it will ever be filmed or when it will actually air.

Today, as I already mentioned earlier this week, is the day I am taking off. I have some emails to respond to, and some other things I need to get done this morning, but as soon as I get all of that done I am going on sabbatical for the rest of the weekend. I want to get a lot of writing done this weekend–the Secret Project must be finished, and there’s a couple more short stories in progress I want to work on and develop, but today for the most part I’m planning on mostly cleaning and reading and chilling out, so I can just let my brain relax and recuperate and my body to rest, so that the rest of the weekend I can get the writing I need to get done finished. I am looking forward to getting back into Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths–the first chapter was blistering–and getting through all the emails in my inbox. I also have my edits for the Sherlock story, which I’ll also have to get through this weekend–perhaps today–I am giving myself until one to deal with the Internet and emails and so forth before shutting down for the holiday weekend.

It’s very strange outside this morning, neither light nor dark but sort of grim-looking and hazy. The trees aren’t moving so there’s no wind of any kind out there. I’m not sure what the weather is supposed to be like today–there’s usually not much point in checking the forecast as it’s inevitably always the same–hot humid chance of rain–and usually, after June, we surrender to it and don’t bother with daily updates and just start paying attention to tropical formations and depressions coming across the Atlantic or forming deep in the Gulf. It isn’t hot in the kitchen/office this morning yet–the absence of the blindingly brilliant morning sun has helped, and I haven’t had to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers yet (but I know it’s inevitable), but it actually feels pleasantly cool down here this morning thus far, which is rather nice, quite frankly.

I still have three stories out for submission (“The Snow Globe”, “Moves in the Field,” and “This Thing of Darkness”), but I do want to spend the summer trying to get more out there. One of the biggest disappointments I’ve found as a writer is the continual drying up of short story markets that actually pay, and while others have sprung up in their place they either don’t pay, or pay so little as to just be a token (and might as well be unpaid, for that matter). I’ve always been concerned about the decline of the short story market, because I do think the form is important to literature, and to crime fiction in particular. I personally love the short form–despite my constant struggle with it–and I also know I am just as guilty as anyone in its decline, because I don’t read them as much as I should. I do buy anthologies and short story collections–Sara Paretsky’s is winging its way to me even as I type this, along with the new one edited by Lawrence Block–and I am probably going to be putting together another one of my own at some point over the next year or so (provided the world doesn’t burn to the ground in the meantime). I was calling it Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I have to completely rethink the title story, “Once a Tiger,” and so I may need to rename it. I would also like to include some of these stories I’ve recently sold–which will delay the collection more, as the original publications have to occur first, but I was thinking perhaps The Carriage House and Other Stories, or Night Follows Night and Other Stories. I also would love to collect all my love story/romance short stories into an edition–I’ve published three or four, but have a lot more just sitting in files needing to be revised or rewritten or finished.

And on that note, I am going to head back down into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, everyone.

Only the Wind

While the official first day of the summer season isn’t here quite yet, it’s already summertime in New Orleans–with everything that means. The thick heavy wet air that clings to you like a warm wet wool blanket; the beautifully bright and yellow sunlight that burns your skin red as it pierces through the windows of your car; and the climbing electric bills as your air conditioning unit desperately tries–and only occasionally succeeds–to keep the temperature livable and breathable inside your home. Tourists who come to New Orleans often complain about the extreme difference in temperature from going inside to out and back inside again; how cold it is everywhere in doors; that the shorts and tank tops, soggy and wet from sweat, aren’t enough covering as the they dry in the cold frigid inside air. It is really impossible to know how to dress in New Orleans when it’s hot; but those of us who live here are used to it, but you never get used to how just existing and moving around outside sucks the energy right out of you, and sometimes–like when you’re lugging all the shit you bought at Costco in from the car–you have to just sit for a spell, chug some cold water or Gatorade (or a daiquiri if you planned ahead), and collect yourself.

That was my yesterday. As you may have noticed had you paid close attention, I had been unwell for a while; primarily from forgetting that I have to be more cautious dealing with heat and more careful and mindful of the maintenance required for my older body. This whole thing started with me being unable to sleep for several nights in a row, and the moved on to severe dehydration and exhaustion and stomach issues. This led to another COVID-19 test, being sent home from work, and a slow recovery. But after days of drinking lots of water, avoiding caffeine (much to my own detriment when it comes to productivity), and good sleep–as well as staying inside as much as possible–I am finally, this morning, feeling like myself once again; energetic and creative and ready to go. I took two more vacation days this week–Wednesday and Thursday–to continue my rest and recovery, and it seems to have done the trick (I was really worried about the Costco trip being a setback; but I am stubborn and I wanted to get it out of the way; but I downed lots of water before I went, took a Gatorade with me, and had another after I got home).

And this morning, yes, I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like an incredibly long time.

I’m working from home today, which means data entry and making condom packs while streaming things on the television; I should finish the first season of Jonny Quest today, since the episodes are only about twenty-four minutes long; which makes me wonder if that’s why it had such a short run on Saturday mornings when I was a child–not enough time left for commercials. Scooby Doo Where Are You? episodes are 21-22 minutes. Money is key, and despite some problematic issues with the show (it was produced in the 1960’s, after all) it still holds up pretty well. It did put me in mind of another kids’ book series I read when I was younger–the Rick Brant Science Adventures by John Blaine, which was yet another one of the many Grosset & Dunlap series. Like the Ken Holt series I talked about recently, the Rick Brant series was never as popular as the Hardy Boys (nothing ever achieved the popularity of Nancy Drew), but were much more interesting, more action-packed, involved actual detective work, and were far better written. The similarities between Jonny Quest and Rick Brant are staggering; the Quests live on an island; Rick and his family also lived on Spindrift Island, separated by tidal flats from the coast on New Jersey. The Quests sort of adopted Hadji, who became Jonny’s best friend; Rick’s best friend is Don Scott (Scotty), and the Brants unofficially adopt him into their family. Jonny and his family go all over the world having adventures and solving mysteries having to do with science, for the most part; Rick and Scotty do the same. Jonny’s father is world-famous scientific genius Benton Quest; Rick’s father is world-famous scientific genius Hartson Brant.

The first few Rick Brants I read, like Ken Holt, I obtained off the sales table in the bargain basement at Goldblatt’s in Chicago: The Rocket’s Shadow, The Egyptian Cat Mystery, The Flying Stingaree, and The Flaming Mountain. Over the years, I found more of them at swap meets and flea markets and used bookstores; I think I met have an almost complete set of them now (I did acquire some via eBay after Katrina). Some of the books are now available for download on Project Gutenberg; several volumes from a variety of those old kids’ series–including Ken Holt, Judy Bolton, and Biff Brewster–are there (and yes, I downloaded all of them). I want to start revisiting some of these series, since they influenced me into becoming a mystery writer, and while scientific knowledge has proceeded incredibly rapidly since the Brant series were published and went out of print, it’s kind of fun to go back and revisit the world of cutting-edge science (or what was seen as futuristic science) at the time; The Rocket’s Shadow was basically about how the Spindrift Island scientists (other scientists and their families also lived on the island) were racing to build and launch a moon rocket–the case involved Rick trying to solve the mystery of who on the island was a traitor and leaking secret information about the rocket project to a competitor; Scotty rescues him from the bad guys in the first chapter. Scotty was a military veteran who lied about his age to enlist and fight in the war (World War II; the book was originally published in 1947)–which was glossed over and ignored as time passed and the series continued, which would have aged him. This was twenty-two years before the actual moon landing, so to kids reading this in 1947 and the years after, it was kind of science fiction.

We will finish the final two episodes of Elite that are available tonight, and then will have to wait for season four. They had started filming before the world shut down, alas, so there’s no telling how long it will be before we get another season to binge and love. I also am not sure how the show is going to continue; this season has them all graduating and the crime this season is focusing on occurs at the graduation party. I can’t praise this show enough; it’s completely addicting, and there are never any slow parts. The way they have developed the characters and their relationships with each other make total sense and are completely believable, despite the sometimes completely over-the-top situations they find themselves in. Once we finish watching, I will devote an entire entry to discussing the show. But seriously–you won’t be sorry if you watch.

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, everyone.

Closer to Heaven

Yesterday was Friday, and I was tired.

Really, really tired.

I slept for ten hours last night and woke up still exhausted this morning–bleary-eyed and bone-tired. It makes me a bit nervous, as the last time I was able to sleep so much, or do deeply, only to still be tired, was when I was sick this last time, and whatever that was, I sure as hell don’t want to see it return again. I just feel what we used to say down south–“bone tired”. (Hmm, that’s not a bad title.) So, while I have things to do today–we need to swing by the Cat Practice to get Scooter another bag of food, for one, and I definitely need to do some writing and cleaning and organizing around here, if I have the energy–and in a worst case scenario, I can always simply curl up with some books or short stories. I did manage to do some reorganizing/rearranging of the books last night–out Netflix app on the Apple TV is all fucked up; I’m probably going to have to delete and download it again, which is an enormous pain in the ass. Our wireless was also running ridiculously  slow the last few days, so I rebooted the cable box and the wireless router yesterday, which signed me out of everything fucking thing and I just was too tired to deal with that shit last night. We wound up watching an incredibly bad gay movie on Amazon Prime–I won’t name it out of respect for the effort, time and money that went into it, plus I don’t like dumping on gay creators–during which both Paul and I dozed off here and there, before it was over and I finally retired to bed. I was also too tired last night to focus on doing any reading–which was definitely a lost opportunity, and one that I deeply regret. I’d like to finish reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin this weekend; it’s really quite wonderful, and I’d like to move on to his We Disappear once I finish it. I’ve also got a lot of short stories to read–not the least of which is W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter,” and I simply love that it’s the source material for one of my favorite Bette Davis movies, of the same name–and there’s another one, by Mark Twain, about an incident that happened at the court of Charles VI in France (I stumbled on this story somehow; the true story it’s based on is detailed in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, which is starting to seem like a really great inspiration for me, almost Biblical in its inspiration). Plus I have, as I noticed last night as I reorganized the books, The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor and the latest Lawrence Block anthology–Mr. Block does some seriously excellent anthologies, for the record–and so there’s all kinds of good reading on hand should I have the mental acuity to focus on some reading today.

It’s also not a bad idea to read the stories I am currently readying for submission by the end of the month. Perhaps I should spend the day in my easy chair with print outs of stories and perhaps spend some time with some of my favorite short story writers. It’s also not a bad idea to revisit Bury Me in Shadows, which I have decided to completely overhaul–the problem is the main character’s age, but because I envisioned it originally as being about a teenager, I was stubbornly clinging to that idea, and it actually works better if I advance his age to having just graduated Pre-Law from college and readying to attend law school in the fall; this having a free place to live in the summer and a paying job that is relatively easy makes more sense for the character to agree to what he’s doing; plus it eliminates the entire what is his mother thinking in letting him do this? It will also require me to do some other tweaking (not that kind of tweaking, those days are long in my past, thank you very much), but I also think it’ll be stronger and a better story for it.

Which is always a plus.

I would like to do some work this weekend on other stories that are currently hanging in stasis right now, not the least of which is my pandemic story, “The Flagellants.” I’m not certain why that story is nagging at me; I don’t know what it’s going to be or how its going to end; so I guess it’s one of those stories that will reveal itself to me as I write it, which is madness, really.

Recently someone–I think Gabino Iglesias? I could be wrong–tweeted asking writers to stop talking about how much they hate writing, and his tweets really resonated with me. I don’t hate writing, but it would be easy to assume that I do from reading what I post, tweet and blog about writing. I do love writing; I love everything about it, even the frustrations and irritations–which I usually have to express to get out of my system. Publishing is an entire different subject than writing; I reserve the right to always be able to bitch about the publishing industry and its quirks and utter seeming ridiculousness whenever I please, along with the right to complain about being frustrated with the writing process at any time. But I want to make it very clear that I love writing and that’s why I do it. I love writing what I write, even though I am well aware (and if I wasn’t, have been told enough times by my heterosexual colleagues) that there’s not really any money in writing gay crime stories. But I like writing gay crime stories; I like writing gay characters, and I also feel like the full potential for gay crime stories has yet to be tapped. But I’ve dabbled with heterosexual narratives in my short stories, and if I am ever going to write a novel about straight people–or centering the straight point of view–the short stories are an excellent way to practice.

And…every new story I finish writing puts me that much closer to a second collection of stories, which is very exciting to me. I was originally calling the second collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I am thinking about changing it to This Town and Other Stories, primarily because “This Town” is a better story than “Once a Tiger” and secondly, I like the symbolism of “this town” referring to New Orleans–even though that’s not what the Go-Go’s were referring to in their song of the same title, which was the inspiration for my story. (My original collection began as Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories before metamorphosing into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories.)

I also started writing a blog entry about my love of The Three Investigators, which will probably go up at some point over this weekend; depends, I suppose, on when I finish it. And there’s a shit ton of emails that need my attention in my inbox as well; but I just can’t face that yet today. Maybe later on, after I get some things done, I can spend some time answering emails (as drafts to send on Monday) as well as writing some that I need to send.

But I just heard the dryer stop, which means I need to go fold some clothes and add another load to the dryer, and my coffee cup is also empty and in dire need of refilling; my stomach is growling as well, so it’s probably time for me to push away from the desk, get more coffee, fold some clothes and then have some Honey-nut Cheerios–which has been my pandemic breakfast of choice these days.

It also looks like a beautiful day outside. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Who’s That Girl

Ah, Trixie Belden.

Not as well known or as beloved as Nancy Drew, I always kind of preferred Trixie to Nancy; and not just because she was kind of an underdog in comparison. No other kids’ series was/is as popular as Nancy Drew; even the Hardy Boys can’t compare to Nancy’s popularity.

But…I liked Trixie more than I liked Nancy. Sometimes Nancy seemed insufferable; and in all fairness to Nancy, that was more a result of the “new” Nancy that resulted from the revisions of the original texts, beginning in 1959, and this “new” Nancy appeared in the newer books as they were released as well. This Nancy was too perfect; she was good at everything, she was nice and polite, she was such a goody-two-shoes I was amazed Bess and George could stand her–although they weren’t much better. The Nancy of the original texts had more of a personality; she was a goody-two-shoes, to be sure, but she also had a lot of self-confidence and self-assurance, and she was a good person who enjoyed helping people. But when the books were revised–and this new Nancy became the Nancy of record for all new books, going forward–they basically took all of her personality away and left a one-dimensional cardboard cutout. I didn’t give up on the series, by any means, but..new Nancy was someone I wouldn’t have liked in real life.

Trixie Belden, on the other hand…seemed like a real person, or at least she did at first. Like Nancy, there was a definite turning point in her behavior in the series which happened when the original writer–Julie Campbell–stepped aside and was replaced by a bunch of ghostwriters using the pen name Kathryn Kenny. (Julie Campbell, by the way, also wrote some of the Cherry Ames ad Vicki Barr series, using the name Julie Tatham.) Trixie lost her temper, was fidgety, was a tomboy with no use for girly things, and hated doing her chores–to the point where sometimes she hurried through them so quickly she kind of did a shitty job. But she was at heart a nice kid, and regularly felt bad when she had misbehaved and tried to make up for it after the fact. She also sometimes blurted things out that hurt other people’s feelings–immediately feeling horrible about it–and these were all things, aspects of her personality, that made her relatable–as opposed to perfect paragon of virtue Nancy Drew, who was so emotionless she might as well have been a Stepford wife.

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“Oh, Moms,” Trixie moaned, running her hands through her short, sandy curls. “I’ll just die if I don’t have a horse.”

Mrs. Belden looked up from the row of tomato plants she was transplanting in the fenced-in vegetable garden.

“Trixie,” she said, trying to look stern, “if you died as many times as you thought you were going to, you’d have to be a cat with nine lives to be with us for one day.”

“I don’t care!” Tears of indignation welled up in Trixie’s round blue eyes. She scooped up a fat little worm, watched it wriggle in the palm of her hand for a minute, then gently let it go. “With Brian and Mart at camp this summer, I’ll die of boredom. I mean it, Moms.”

Mrs. Belden sighed. “You declared you’d suffer the same fate if we didn’t buy you a bike three years ago. Remember?” She stood up, frowning in the glare of the hot July sun. “Now, listen, Trixie, once and for all. If you want to buy a horse like the one you fell in love with at the horse show yesterday, you will have to earn the money yourself. You know perfectly well the only reason your brothers could go to camp is because they are working as junior counselors.”

Crabapple Farm, Trixie reflected, was really a grand place to live, and she had always had a lot of fun there, but she did wish there was another girl in the neighborhood. The big estate, known as the Manor House, which bounded the Belden property on the west had been vacant ever since Trixie could remember. There were no other homes nearby except the crumbling mansion on the eastern hill, where queer old Mr. Frayne lived.

The three estates faced a quiet country road two miles from the village of Sleepyside that nestled among the rolling hills on the east bank of the Hudson River. Trixie’s father worked in the bank in Sleepyside, and Trixie and her brothers went to the village school. She had many friends in Sleepyside, but she rarely saw them except when school was in session. Now that her brothers, Brian and Mart, had gone to camp, there was nobody but her little brother, Bobby, to play with.

Trixie impatiently kicked a hole in the dust of the path with her shoe.

“It’s not fair. You wouldn’t let me try for a job as a waitress or anything. Maybe I could have gone, too.”

“You’re only thirteen,” her mother said patiently. “Next year we might consider something of the sort. Dad and I are really sorry, dear,” she added  gently, “that we couldn’t afford to send you to camp this year.”

Trixie suddenly felt ashamed of herself, and she impulsively threw her arms around her mother. “Oh, I know, Moms, and I’m a pest to nag at you. I won’t any more, I promise.”

As I said, I greatly enjoyed the Trixie Belden series when I was a kid, and while some of the later volumes were also quite good, it was also very clear that the first six–the Julie Campbell written ones–were clearly written by someone other than those who continued the series, and were also vastly superior in terms of character, plot, setting and the writing, frankly. Just this opening of the first book in the series, The Secret of the Mansion, was quite excellent; look at everything that is set up in those first paragraphs and in the dialogue between mother and daughter: you can tell there’s deep affection there; we establish that Trixie has three brothers, two of whom are spending the summer working as junior counselors at camp; Trixie is prone to being overly dramatic; her father works at the bank and her mother likes to garden and grow her own vegetables; they live near a small town on the east bank of the Hudson River; they only have two other homes nearby–the empty Manor House and across to the road from that one is the Mansion, where a creepy old man lives (I doubt the author was using the word queer in the modern sense here; more likely the old definition, “odd.”).

That’s a lot of background and character work, yet it feels organic and not in the least like the bane of all writers, the infamous “info dump.” Soon, Trixie’s mom agrees to pay Trixie five dollars a week with help around the house and garden and sometimes watching her six year old brother, Bobby, and that way she can save money to buy her horse. Shortly after this, Trixie notices moving trucks arriving at the Manor House–her mother has forgotten to tell her that the wealthy Wheelers have bought the place and are moving in–and they have horses. Trixie grabs Bobby and they take off to meet the new neighbors, where she meets her soon-to-be best friend, Honey, who is sickly and ridiculously well-mannered and pale, along with some of the other staff–including Miss Trask, Honey’s governess, and Regan the groom.

The Secret of the Mansion was probably one of the best first novels of a kids’ series ever published. Not only did it introduce us to the Belden family, it did so slowly–we wouldn’t meet the other two members of the family until the third book, when Mart and Brian returned from camp in The Gatehouse Mystery–and we also met the boy who would become the other important tentpole of the series: red-headed Jim Frayne, crazy old Mr. Frayne’s grand-nephew, whose mother had died leaving him at the mercy of a horrible and abusive stepfather, Jonesy. Jim ran away and came to find his great-uncle, only to find out that he’d been hospitalized and in a coma. There was also some depth to the stories, as well–poor old Mr. Frayne’s wife had been bitten by a copperhead snake, he was rushing her to the hospital and their car broke down, and she died waiting for him to get help; the old man went mad with grief, left the car where it was broken down and would never allow another car on his property. The house also began to crumble and get in pretty bad shape–he supposedly had a lot of money, most of which most people assumed was hidden in his messy mansion (old Mr. Frayne was a hoarder). Trixie and Honey are trying to help Jim–Trixie is sure there is money secreted in the house–and eventually, Jonesy shows up after Mr. Frayne dies in the hospital, and Jim runs away again–leaving a note for Trixie and Honey. The old house also catches fire in the night and burns to the ground the night Jim runs away–there’s a lot of action and excitement in the book, including Trixie saving her brother’s life when  he, too, is bitten by a copperhead–and again, character development, as Honey becomes more and more outdoorsy and healthy and more like Trixie, and the two girls become more bonded in their friendship. The book also sets up the sequel, The Red Trailer Mystery, (which was actually the first book in the series I read)–in which the girls and Miss Trask hit the road to go looking for Jim–who actually inherited the small fortune Mr. Frayne had left behind, safely invested. They do find him–and solve another mystery–and it turned out that Jim’s long-deceased father was a college friend of Honey’s father, so the Wheelers adopt Jim, writing a lovely end to the story of the runaway red-headed boy with nothing.

As I mentioned earlier, there was a noticeable shift in tone, continuity, and who Trixie was as a character with the switch in authors, from one author writing under her own name (I believe her name was actually Julie Tatham Campbell, or the other way around). The last two books she wrote, Mystery off Glen Road and Mystery in Arizona, were kind of light on the mystery and stronger on the development of the characters and their friendships/relationships with each other. With the invention of “Kathryn Kenny” as a pseudonym to make other authors,  the books became more heavy on the mysteries and the new authors didn’t care so much about continuity or the established history of the characters: Trixie became more “girly” than tomboy-ish, for one thing, and they started playing up the “boyfriend/girlfriend” dynamic between, not only Trixie and Jim, but Honey and Brian Belden, as well as Mart with Diana Lynch (who was first mentioned in The Red Trailer Mystery, and joined their club, the Bob-Whites of the Glen, after being the central focus of The Mysterious Visitor). They added yet another member to their group, Dan Mangan, Regan’s nephew, in The Black Jacket Mystery–although the core group of five appeared in every book, Diana and Dan often got left out of their future adventures, begging the question of why were they added into the group in the first place? Some of the later books were good, fun mysteries–The Marshland Mystery, The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island, Mystery of the Emeralds, The Mystery of the Missing Heiress–but that core strength from the characterizations in the initial six books was missing from the rest, and as the series continued beyond those first sixteen (a long period of time passed before “Kathryn Kenny” started writing again) the stories and characters grew weaker, which was a shame.

The series gradually evolved from a “how to start a mystery series for kids” primer to “how to ruin a mystery series for kids” primer, which is a shame. I’d match those first four volumes against the first four volumes of any other kids’ mystery series and Trixie would, almost without exception, win, hands down. She was never as popular as Nancy Drew–no one was–but I always thought Trixie and her friends, having fun and adventures in the Hudson valley north of New York City and in the lower Catskills, would have made a fun television series for kids.

I’ll always have a soft spot for Trixie….and The Secret of the Mansion remains one of the best mysteries for kids ever published.

If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got The Time

One of the things I find fascinating about many people is their dedication to nostalgia; their insistence that some past time of their life was somehow this incredibly magical time of innocence (which it could conceivably have been); a utopia paradise of some sort where everything was right with the world and everyone was so happy and–you get the picture. It’s like how people glowingly refer to high school as one of the “best times of their lives” (which, frankly, is terribly sad and tells me more about their present circumstances than I’d care to know); the past wasn’t magic and neither were our childhoods. If they mean I liked life better before I knew how awful it can be, that I can understand–and I do think that is what they actually mean, even if it isn’t what they are actually saying: they preferred life when the bills and putting food on the table was someone else’s responsibility; when the biggest worries were who will I go to the Homecoming dance with and I have to study for that History test and so forth. But my teenaged years weren’t halcyon and rosy. The 1970’s was a very strange decade of reaction to the 1960’s–and for a queer kid, first trapped in a middle to upper middle class suburb of Chicago and then a small rural town in Kansas, it was hard. I’ve no desire to ever relive high school or go back to being a teenager. Sure, it might be easier to be a queer teen  in a Chicago suburb now–but I suspect it’s not that different in a rural high school in Kansas now than it was forty years ago.

Reading was always my escape from the pressures of a world into which I really didn’t fit–and one that from my earliest memories as a child I knew I didn’t belong in. Reading was a godsend for me, and I read ravenously. I was always being told to go outside and play instead of reading; the most effective punishments were the ones either prohibiting me from reading or limiting how much I could read, and the earliest signs of my obsessive/compulsive disorder were evident with my discovery of the mystery series for kids, which was the next gradual move for me as a reader from the Scholastic Book Fair mysteries. My goal has always been to finish collecting all the series I read and collected as a child: the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, The Three Investigators and Trixie Belden, as well as the lesser known ones like Biff Brewster, Ken Holt (over whom I had a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy), Rick Brant, Vicki Barr, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, Kay Tracey, and Connie Blair. (I also collected the Chip Hilton sports series.) I still have the copies I had as a child, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I discovered eBay and tried to finish collecting the series. I don’t have room in the Lost Apartment to display them proudly in a bookcase–I have far too many books; and many of them are boxed up and stored–but I refuse to rid myself of them, because I keep holding out hope that someday I will live in an apartment or condo or house where I can have a room filled with bookcases that will also serve as my office.

But eBay gradually led me to collectors’ and fan pages of these books on Facebook..occasionally someone on one of those pages will be selling a copy of something I need to complete my collections.  There is a generic page for series books in general, and then there are individual pages for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, respectively–and probably still others for the other series that I don’t know about. I know there are also fan websites and serious scholarship on the kids’ series–some of them make for interesting reading, if you have some free time (or are wasting time you should be spending on writing). Some of the fan websites also have conferences and trips–the Nancy Drew group, for example, has an annual trip to where one of the books was set, and tours and so forth to visit the places Nancy also went to look for clues in the course of her investigation. (They were in New Orleans a few years ago; I was going to register–it’s not cheap–until I realized it was more about being a fan than anything else.)

And boy, do these people take their series fandom seriously. I’m not as rabid or as devoted as the majority of them; periodically I might reread one of the series books (I’d love to write an essay about the Ken Holt series, which was darker and more hard-boiled than any of the others; which was why James Ellroy and I bonded over them–which is still so weird to me), but I don’t reread an entire series from beginning to end, and while I used to remember plot details quite vividly, as I’ve gotten older those memories are fading.

I’ve not watched the new CW series Nancy Drew–well, I watched the first episode but didn’t keep watching; primarily because I haven’t had time and Paul and I usually watch shows together–at least, I like to give him a chance to watch something I might enjoy before moving on to watch it on my own (like Riverdale). Maybe he’ll be interested in Nancy Drew, maybe he won’t; I thought he’d like Riverdale but he didn’t. Maybe Nancy Drew is something I’ll wind up watching while he’s working in the evenings; I don’t know. But I’ve also not seen the recent film adaptation, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, either. But boy, do these Nancy Drew fans take their Nancy Drew seriously. They were outraged that Nancy Drew had sex in the first episode (because Nancy of course never had sex in the series; I don’t even think she even enjoyed a chaste kiss from Ned in all 58 of the original books) and Ned Nickerson was black! Nancy Drew was not only having sex but she was having sex with a black teenager!

The pearls were clutched so tightly! And if you stuck a piece of coal up these people’s asses, it would have come out a diamond. There was a lot of moaning and whining about people’s childhoods being ruined (really? Mine is still just fine) and the “horrors of political correctness” and on and on and on. In other words, Nancy should be a virgin and only know white, straight, cishet people. Got it.

Anyway, Hulu recently announced that they are doing a Hardy Boys series; however, instead of Bayport the town is Bridgeport; their first case is their mother’s murder; and rather than being 18 and 17, their ages will be 16 and 12. Their father is off investigating the murder and so he deposits them with their aunt in Bridgeport, but they soon realize their mother’s death is somehow connected to the town–and everyone in town is a suspect.

Yes, these are significant changes to the original canon of the Hardy Boys, but also remember: The Mickey Mouse Club did two serialized versions of the Hardy Boys, making them also about 13 and 14. The Hardy Boys fans are fan with this, of course, and with the other changes Disney made…so what’s the problem? As someone pointed out, in response to all the whining and moaning about ruining characters and childhoods and “political correctness”, someone also commented, grumpily, “I suppose Chet will be slim, gay, and black”–which actually sounded kind of good to me, frankly. The character of Chet is overweight and loves to eat (kind of like Bess in the Nancy series) and also like Bess, his appetite and weight are the subject of lots of jokes, teasing and sometimes humiliation. Not really cool, if we’re being completely honest.

And yes, all of these people are grandparents with graying hair and are white people. All of this whining and complaining over two television series based on characters that have evolved and changed and been rewritten multiple times in the nearly hundred years they’ve been around–to appeal to  new generations of readers. The original versions of the books were all revised in the 1950’s and 1960’s because they were loaded with racial and ethnic stereotypes that were beyond offensive; naturally, the nice old white people prefer the original texts (big shock, right?).

And if any kids’ series need to be turned into television programs, can I vote for The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown?

I am really tired of this whole “you’re ruining my childhood” nonsense. Unless they are traveling back in time to do so, your childhood hasn’t changed.

I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fans and conventions; I might just have to now. I mean, I get it–people don’t like change, and something that was beloved when you were a child you want frozen in amber forever. But I just wish these people would unpack their issues with the updates and changes–and nothing gets my gorge going more than the ever popular whine of every racist, misogynist, and homophobic piece of shit out there: politically correct. Sorry you don’t feel safe expressing your hateful bigoted opinions any more without consequence.

I’ve also always wanted to write my own middle-grade series; I used to think about that all the time when I was a kid, even up to coming up with characters and titles for the books in the series because of course I did. I don’t know if I can write middle-grade or not; but it’s worth a shot sometime.

And of course, I can talk for hours on the subject of the kids’ series. Perhaps someday I will.

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After the Event

I’ve loved, and been fascinated, by ancient Egypt ever since I was a kid. I don’t remember when, precisely, Egypt became so lodged into my brain; but for as long as I can remember, the ancient history of one of our oldest civilization has intrigued me, and held my interest. I’m hardly an expert–not even close–but I remember pestering my parents to subscribe to the Time-Life Great Ages of Man series; the very first volume of which was, naturally,  Ancient Egypt (for the record, I still have my entire set of those books). Cleopatra, of course, also interested me; I’m not sure if my Egyptian interest came before or after watching the Elizabeth Taylor version of Cleopatra on television. (I still am terribly interested in Cleopatra; the court intrigues and politics of the Ptolemy dynasty makes the Borgias and the Medici look like pikers. I always wanted to write a book about–of all things–Cleopatra’s older sister Berenice, who briefly overthrew their father and took the Egyptian crown. The Romans sent legions to support her father, so her reign was very brief. Her younger sister, Arsinoe, who fought Cleopatra for the throne–only to be defeated by Caesar, also interests me.) I’ve always been interested in Akhenaten (loved Allen Drury’s two books about the Amarna revolution, A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes), Tutankhamun (of course), and Hatshepsut (I read a great Scholastic mystery set during her reign called The Mystery of the Pharaoh’s Treasure, and I think I bought a copy from eBay a while back; I may have the name wrong.)

But as much as I love Egypt, I didn’t love it enough to read Norman Mailer’s Ancient Evenings. I borrowed it from the library, and couldn’t get through the first chapter.

Sorry not sorry.

As a teenager who loved mysteries, I gravitated towards women authors once I’d fairly exhausted the canons of Ellery Queen, Agatha Christie, and Erle Stanley Gardner primarily because I couldn’t relate or identify with the crime novels being written by men at the time. Grim and hard-boiled and toxic masculinity wasn’t a combination I was terribly interested in at the time; I did appreciate noir (discovering James M. Cain when I was about nineteen was wonderful), though–but that was because I associated it with all those great movies I used to watch with my grandmother. I eventually came around, and started enjoying John D. MacDonald and Hammett and Chandler as I got older.

But when I saw this book on the paperback rack at the grocery store in Emporia, I had to get it. It was a mystery; blurbed by one of my favorite writers, Phyllis A. Whitney, and of course, that was the Sphinx on the cover. I bought it, read it, loved it–and forgot about Elizabeth Peters for about a decade or so (I came back to Barbara Michaels in my mid-twenties, and when I discovered she was also Elizabeth Peters, it didn’t register with me.) Then one day I was in the Waldenbooks and More on Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa when I saw a book on the end cap that called to me: The Last Camel Died at Noon, plus an unmistakably Egyptian scene on the cover. The title and the cover alone sold me–and I also knew by then that Elizabeth Peters was the same writer as Barbara Michaels. I bought it and when I got home, I opened to the first page and started reading….about a page in I stopped. Wait, Emerson and Peabody? I turned back to the beginning of the book and there it was, on the BY THE SAME AUTHOR page: THE AMELIA PEABODY SERIES, and the first title was Crocodile on the Sandbank! 

You can only imagine my delight. I loved those characters, loved that first book, and to find out now there was a series? I read The Last Camel Died at Noon cover to cover in about twenty-four hours, and the next day I went back to Waldenbooks and More and bought the entire series, and settled in to get reacquainted with two of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

crocodile on the sandbank

When I first set eyes on Evelyn Barton-Forbes she was walking the streets of Rome–(I am informed, by the self-appointed critic who reads over my shoulder as I write, that I have already committed an error. If those seemingly simple English words do indeed imply that which I am told they imply to the vulgar, I must in justice to Evelyn find other phrasing.)

In justice to myself, however, I must insist that Evelyn was doing precisely what I have said she was doing, but with no ulterior purpose in mind. Indeed, the poor girl had no purpose and no means of carrying it out if she had. Our meeting was fortuitous, but fortunate. I had, as I always have, purpose enough for two.

I had left my hotel that morning in considerable irritation of spirits. My plans had gone awry. I am not accustomed to having my plans go awry. Sensing my mood, my small Italian guide trailed behind me in silence. Piero was not silent when I first encountered him, in the lobby of the hotel, where, in common with others of his kind, he awaited the arrival of helpless foreign visitors in need of a translator and guide. I selected him from amid the throng because his appearance was a trifle less villainous than that of the others.

I was well aware of the propensity of these fellows to bully, cheat, and otherwise take advantage of the victims who employ them, but I had no intention of being victimized. It did not take me long to make this clear to Piero. My first act was to bargain ruthlessly with the shopkeeper to whom Piero took me to buy silk. The final price was so low that Piero’s commission was reduced to a negligible sum. He expressed his chagrin to his compatriot in his native tongue, and included in his tirade several personal comments on my appearance and manner. I let him go on for some time and then interrupted him with a comment on his manners. I speak Italian, and understand it, quite well. After that, Piero and I got on admirably. I had not employed him because I required an interpreter, but because I wanted someone to carry parcels and run errands.

My God, that incredible, incredible voice.

By the end of the second page, I was madly in love with Amelia Peabody; by the end of the third, I wanted to be Amelia Peabody. How could you not love her? She’s fiercely intelligent, even more fiercely independent, spoke her mind, got straight to the point, and had no desire whatsoever to deal with frivolities, sentimentality, and so forth. The youngest child and only daughter of a classics scholar, her six older brothers got married and left her home to take care of their father. She speaks four languages fluently, and frequently curses the accident of birth that left her a female. Her father died and left her everything–which her brothers thought was fair, until it turned out he was a lot richer than anyone thought and had left her half a million pounds, which was an insane amount of money in the late nineteenth century. Unmarried at thirty-two, she considers herself to be too plain, too old, and too sharp-tongued to ever marry, and has decided she is going to die a spinster. (I could never respect a man who would allow his wife to dominate him, but at the same time I could never allow any man to dominate me.) She decides to use her fortune to travel to visit the places she’s always dreamed of and read about in books–which is what brings her to Rome, along with her paid companion–whom she doesn’t care for, and just chance puts her in the forum at the same time as Evelyn, who faints and Peabody, of course, takes charge. She decides to help Evelyn–who was seduced away from her wealthy family and “ruined”, as well as cut off, and she’d come to Rome with the man she thought she loved only to be abandoned by him, with no clothes but what she is wearing and not a penny to her name. Peabody and Evelyn hit it off, she sends the paid companion back to England and engages Evelyn as her new companion, and they depart for Egypt.

So, now two of our players are now in place; it’s time to meet the other two. Once they are all checked in at Shepheard’s in Cairo, Peabody is quickly besotted with Egypt, and pyramids, in particular–and reading Peabody’s descriptions of the country, you cannot help but fall in love with it, too (not a problem for me; I was already there before I read the book). They go to the Antiquities Museum one afternoon–the director was a friend of Peabody’s father–and Peabody is put off by how disheveled and disorganized–and dusty–everything is. She picks up a dusty pot and begins to wipe the dust from it, only to have an enormous man explode with rage at her. They give each other what-for–they are suitably matched in that regard–and this is Emerson, archaeologist with a passion for discovery and knowledge and preserving the past. Emerson’s brother makes apologies, and a spark is lit between Walter and Evelyn. Soon, the Emersons are off to their dig at Amarna, and Peabody and Evelyn rent a sailboat–a dahabeeyah, to be exact–and begin their trip down the Nile.

Naturally, they stop at Amarna, and stumble into quite a bizarre mystery, which includes an animated mummy and several attempts on our troop’s lives. But the four are definitely up to the task–there are times when I laughed out loud–and hilariously, while both Peabody and Emerson become quite irritated with Walter and Evelyn, who can’t see that the other is madly in love with them; Peabody and Emerson are also falling in love, and refuse to see it, bickering and fighting and–oh, it’s just wonderful and charming, and I know I am failing to do the magnificent Ms. Peters’ work any kind of justice. Amanda is just so, so wonderfully fearless and courageous and pure, and doesn’t even worry about her own safety when those she loves are in danger. The book has a most satisfying resolution, and I remember putting it down that first (much as I do every time I reread it) with a happy smile on my face. The Peabody and Emerson books bring me a lot of joy.

I devoured the entire series, loving them all–the way Peters deftly ages her characters and deepens their relationships, and of course the children…one thing that will always make The Last Camel Died at Noon special for me was that was also the adventure that introduced our merry band of archaeologists to Nofret–and therein lies another tale, for yet another time.

I am so, so delighted I reread Crocodile on the Sandbank. If you’ve not read this series, you really should treat yourself to it, because it is just that: the most amazing gift you can give yourself.