I’ll Tumble 4 Ya

I slept very well last night and woke up to sunshine this morning. Nate kept turning to the east as he headed for land last night. We didn’t even get high winds here at the Lost Apartment; and just a little sprinkling rain. He also came ashore much sooner than originally anticipated; the weather at the Michigan-Michigan State game looked much worse than it was here. LSU also won yesterday, a nail-biting and highly nerve-wracking 17-16 win over Florida in Gainesville, which we watched while we waited for Nate to arrive.

I’m enjoying Colson Whitehead’s Zone One, and it has a lot of interesting things to say about modern society and the zombie apocalypse; basically, the theme is that modern society is just as much a zombie apocalypse as an actual one. And it’s an interesting world he’s building there, with his post-apocalyptic Manhattan. This is a zombie novel, but it’s also literary; I appreciate Whitehead’s take on zombies, but it’s more literary than zombie, if that makes sense. I’ll keep reading it, because it has a lot to say, and the insights and language are quite lovely…but nothing has happened, really, and I am about 100 pages in. When you compare that to, say, Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which is only about 170 pages long…I decided yesterday that the thing to do was read it along with something else; maybe a chapter or two a day of Whitehead while reading something else more traditionally horror. I got started on two more books that didn’t pass the fifty-page-test and went into the donation pile, and then started Stephen Graham Jones’ Mongrels, which is pretty interesting so far. The voice is pitch-perfect; and I am curious to see where it goes. I found a couple of more books in the TBR pile to add to the Halloween Horror Read-a-thon; let’s hope those pass muster.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; I did go to the grocery store but failed to get the things I really went for–so was unable to make Swedish meatballs for dinner last night. (Seriously, the most important things to get were ground sirloin and heavy cream…the two things I didn’t get.) So, today I am going to focus on getting things done. I did get the filing done yesterday, and today I need to make a packing list for the trip; a to-do list for the week; a submissions spreadsheet for the agent search and short stories; and I need to clean. I am also going to go back to the beginning of the Scotty and start revising, to write my way out of the hole I’ve gotten myself into. I’ll take the other WIP with me to Toronto to make notes. I’ve also relaunched my wrestling blog, which I kind of let slide for the last years or so, with a goal of posting at least once or twice a week. That’s something that’s just fun for me; I need to do fun things periodically in order to keep my writing fun. I was thinking last night about a short story I wrote, that was in the collection Wanna Wrestle?, and how much thought I put into structuring it and the story I wanted to tell…I think I might rush my short stories a bit, just coming up with the idea and not thinking about it before I start writing it, which could be why I am so not-confident about them as I should be.

Something definitely to consider.

And on that note, this spice isn’t going to mine itself.

Here’s a hunk to get the week started for you, Constant Reader.

 

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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).

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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!

The Other Guy

Thursday!

I survived the long day yesterday somehow, slept beautifully last night, and am wide awake and raring to go this morning. Hurray! I am still reading Background to Danger by Eric Ambler, which is another one of those “uh oh, what did I get myself into?” style espionage stories, and am enjoying it tremendously. I also made more progress on the new Scotty yesterday morning–having my usual this sucks doubts as well–and it looks like I am finally going to be getting the ebooks for Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz under way; with an eye to hopefully having them available after the first of the year.

Right? It certainly has taken me long enough.

I also want to get a short story revised and out into the markets over the course of this weekend. We shall see how that goes.

I hope to finish reading the Ambler either today or tomorrow, and then dive into The Elementals by Michael MacDowell. Toronto Bouchercon looms on the horizon; and I need to start thinking about getting ready for that.

Also, speaking of the first two Scottys, I am donating a signed copy of the first two–unavailable in any form other than second-hand sellers or ebay–since 2010 to a fundraiser for disaster relief being organized by Murder by the Book in Houston. So…this is a good chance to see where the Scotty series began, before the ebooks/POD versions become available.

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We’re very excited to announce that Murder By The Book will be organizing and hosting BOOK LOVERS CARE, a collectible book auction benefitting natural disaster relief. The book-loving community is a generous one and we’re hoping this news gets spread far and wide. Authors, readers, collectors – we’re looking at you!

We are currently soliciting donations of signed/collectible books and book-related items to be auctioned off online. While Murder By The Book specializes in crime fiction, we are looking for books of all genres.

* 90% of the money raised will go to Direct Relief, a highly-rated charity providing worldwide relief, specifically to areas affected by Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, Hurricane Maria, and the Mexico City earthquake.

* 10% of the money raised will go to the BINC Foundation – the Book Industry Charitable Foundation, providing aid to booksellers in time of crisis.

* Please mail all donations to the following:

Murder By The Book
Attn: Book Lovers Care 
2342 Bissonnet St.
Houston, TX 77005

* We will be accepting donations through the end of October, with the hope of the auction occurring in November – just in time for holiday gift-giving!

* While any donation of a book is a good deed, we are specifically looking for signed first editions, limited editions, unique book swag, and unique items that would bring excitement to an auction because of their value and rarity. We are not looking for used paperbacks. If you’re looking to donate them, we suggest Operation Paperback.

* For any specific questions or media inquiries regarding this, please contact us at the following email address: bookloverscare@gmail.com

And now back to the spice mines.

Promises, Promises

Hello, Wednesday! I’ve  been sleeping incredibly well since having to get up so early for the NO/AIDS Walk on Sunday; I’ve also added some more vitamins to my daily regimen that are supposed to help with creating melatonin naturally in my body, and have started drinking tart cherry juice, which is also supposed to assist in that. Has this change in routine had something to do with it? Perhaps. I am also trying to not look at any kind of electronic screen (other than the television) for half an hour before bed. I do feel very relaxed and rested this morning; which is lovely, since I have a very long day on deck.

I meant to take the Ambler novel with me last night to read between clients, but forgot it like a moron. I did work some more on Chapter Six yesterday, and even finished the draft of it, but it’s really terrible. But the framework is there to make it better; and that’s what rewrites are for. I also got started on Chapter Seven, so I may be on track to get this next Scotty book finished by the end of October, which was my hope (the draft, that is). I am, as always, behind on everything–I was so close to being ahead….but then the sleep issues started again last week and BAM! My energy and creativity were knocked flat and here I am, behind on everything again. Hurray.

I need to finish reading the Ambler by this weekend, since I’ve decided to  make October a horror-only reading month. I am going to start my reread of It this weekend, and I am also going to start reading The Elementals by Michael MacDowell, because I promised Katrina Holm I’d read it before Toronto Bouchercon. I also want to get my reread and re-evaluation of The Haunting of Hill House done before Toronto; and I have an enormous stack of horror that I want to get read this month. November I’m going to get back to my eclectic reading patterns, and then, of course, January is going to be Short Story Month again, where I read a short story every day for discussion. I’ve found even more short story collections scattered throughout my book collection, which is incredibly exciting.

All right, I am heading back into the spice mines. Here’s a Hump Day Hunk for your viewing pleasure:

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Come Dancing

Tuesday!

Being off yesterday was kind of nice. I started a project I’ve been meaning to start all year (it was one of my goals set on the first of the year) and went to my storage unit. The goal is to clean a lot out of it, as well as get some more copies of my books out to replenish the supply in the Lost Apartment. I was actually worried that the boxes of my books were in the absolute back, but they weren’t. I was able to assemble three boxes of books to donate, found the copies of my own books I needed (hello, Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz!) and now that I’ve actually done it–it’s not as intimidating as I thought it would be. I’ve also always kept my papers–manuscript drafts, notes, etc–in manuscript boxes or small boxes that approximate a manuscript box; those don’t end up stacking well and you can only imagine how many of those there are. I’ve decided that the smart thing to do is get rid of those small, collapsing, not-so-sturdy boxes and assemble file boxes, and move the papers in there, labelling the new boxes appropriately. That way they’ll stack better, and will most likely create more room. And when I am moving all that stuff around, I can drag out other boxes of stored books to donate. So, yes, I am feeling inordinately proud of myself.

I started reading Eric Ambler’s Background to Danger, which I believe may be his first novel. It’s really quite good; Mr. Ambler certainly knew how to turn a phrase: One sunny morning in July, Mr. Joseph Bhaltergren’s blue Rolls-Royce oozed silently away from the pavement in Berkeley Square, slid across Piccadilly into St. James’, and sped softly eastward towards the City of London.

I so wish I’d written that sentence. While it’s ostensibly about the car and the drive into London, it also tells you everything you need to know about the passenger. That’s pretty masterful.

After taking the weekend off (from writing) I managed to get back to work. I intend to get the reread of the WIP finished over this week, and then the adjustments to the manuscript that need to be made done this weekend, as well as writing the query letter. I also hope to get some of the new Scotty written this week; Chapter Six is sucking big time.

Ah, well. I don’t have to go into the office until later today, so I should be able to get some work on it finished. We are greatly enjoying Harlan Coben’s The Five on Netflix; we’re about four or five episodes in, so about halfway finished. I have an excessively long day tomorrow, but that’s cool.

All right, I’ve got things to do this morning.

Here’s a Tuesday morning hunk for you:

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Don’t Let It End

I rested well last night; I am not tired this morning. Yesterday was physical exhaustion, complete and total with mental exhaustion thrown in for good measure; but I rested well. I won’t say I slept well, because I can remember being aware a lot while I was in bed, but this morning my muscles aren’t fatigued and my mind is alert and sharp, which it wasn’t yesterday.

I started reading Linda Joffe Hull’s Eternally 21 yesterday, and got about halfway through. It’s quite charming; the voice of the main character–Maddie–is delightful, and Hull manages to pull off the how does a wife and mother get involved in a murder investigation with aplomb. I don’t know how to describe or categorize the book as far as the crime fiction category goes; whether this would be considered a cozy or a traditional mystery. Maddie is enormously likable; the set-up for the book/series is that she and her husband Frank have had an enormous financial setback; he’s a television financial broadcaster, and he was defrauded, and lost all their money, in a Ponzi scheme. Obviously, if that news got out he’d probably lose his job–who would listen to a financial advisor who lost all his own money–so they are trying to keep up appearances. She’s started a website/blog about how to save money shopping, couponing and so forth, under the name “Mrs. Frugalicious”, which is starting to take off–she also has to keep that a secret because, again, why did the financial advisor’s wife have to start saving money and being more frugal when she used to be extravagant? As the story continues, you start to realize that Maddie is the glue that really holds the family together; Frank would undoubtedly be much worse off without her as his wife; and the cool competence and efficiency she’s developed to run her household also translate to being a successful Coupon Queen; and the skills she’s sharpened saving money actually come in handy for solving a crime.  It’s very charming, and it’s also quite funny; Hull’s got a slightly twisted sense of humor that really works in the book.

I have to work today and tomorrow; tomorrow is the NO/AIDS Walk, which means getting up ridiculously early. But I have Monday off, which is lovely, and my house is an absolute disaster area. I simply haven’t had the energy this week to try to keep up with it; I am going to try to get it into some semblance of order this morning before I head down to the office. Sigh. I also want to get some writing done this weekend; I want to spend Monday rereading and making notes on the now line-edited WIP.

Okay, back to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk, Tom Hiddleston.

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Solitaire

Sleep has eluded me all week; I lie in bed all night half-awake and half-asleep, hoping that my mind will stop racing and I will somehow, as I toss and turn, find a position in my bed that will allow me to, at last, find sleep. I grow tired every evening before bed–and have stayed away from screens, since I’ve read in many places that sleeplessness can be caused by the light emitted by computer and device screens–but it is all for naught. I’m not sure what has caused this change, and I am afraid I will never sleep deeply again.

Last night I had to do bar testing, and when I got home I finished reading Lisa Unger’s In the Blood.

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There are twelve slats of wood under my bed. I know this because I count them over and over. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. I whisper the numbers to myself and the sound of it comforts me as I’m sure a prayer would comfort someone who believes in God. It’s amazing how loud a whisper can be. Surrounded down there by the white glow of my bed skirt, the sound of my own voice in my ears, I can almost block out the screaming, the horrible keening. And then there’s the silence, which is so much worse.

In the quiet, which falls like a sudden night, I can hear the beating of my own heart, feel it thudding in my chest. I lie very still, willing myself to sink into the pile of the carpet lower and lower until I don’t exist at all, There is movement downstairs. I hear the sound of something heavy scraping across the dining room floor. What is he doing?

I have come to this place before. Here, I have hidden from the frequent and terrible storms of my parents’ miserable marriage. And I have listened as their voices break through the thick walls and the heavy, closed doors. But usually I can only hear the ugly cadence of their voices, and very rarely their words, which I know to be hateful and spiked with old hurts and bitter resentments. It is a poison in the air, a toxic cloud. Onetwothreefourfivesixseveneightnineteneleventwelve. Sticks and stone can break your bones, but words can break your heart.

Over the last year, I’ve become an enormous fan of Lisa Unger. This is the third book of hers that I’ve read since the first of the year, and like the two before it, it’s absolutely stunning. The cadence of the words, the way the story is structured to build, and the words themselves, chosen with infinite care, create a thing of beauty about a terrifying darkness.

The book is set in The Hollows, a small town in upstate New York which Unger has visited before; the two previous works of hers that I’ve read were also set in this strange town where bizarre things happen; where it is not unusual for ghosts to appear, and madness is only a short step away. The Hollows is Unger’s Castle Rock, her Collinsport, her Bon Temps; a town where violent death and passionate love are possible; where the veil between the world of the living and the dead is as thin as the wall between sanity and madness.

In the Blood is the tale of Lana Granger, a damaged young college student who has come to The Hollows to attend Sacred Heart College and completely disappear from a horrific past that is slowly revealed to the reader; each revelation even more horrific than the last. Lana is heavily medicated, “flat”, as she calls it; Unger exploration of that state of mind, a drug-induced emotionless existence, seems not only realistic but tragic and sad at the same time. Lana is convinced by her faculty advisor to take a job as babysitter/nanny for a troubled twelve year old named Luke, who lives with his mother in a big Victorian house a short bike ride from the campus. Two years earlier, a young female student disappeared from the campus and was found dead a few days later; one of Lana’s roommates, Beck, with whom she has a challenging relationship, disappears after a public argument with Lana in the library.  Luke isn’t just troubled, he’s dangerous, and the two begin a dangerous dance, as he dangles bait in front of her to lure her into his games.

As Lana’s story unfolds, every other chapter is a diary excerpt; the diary of a woman trying to maintain her own sanity as she realizes, almost from birth, that there’s something wrong, something horrifically off, about her son. Is Luke’s mother’s diary, with Unger showing the reader the horror of what being a mother to a budding psychopath must be like? Or is it something else?

And there is history here as well; murder tangled up in the DNA Lana has gotten from both of her parents. And as the reader learns more and more of Lana’s secrets, the more terrifying the story becomes.

Much has been made lately of the use of the Unreliable Narrator; Unger’s main characters are always unreliable, but she manages to not make it a cliche, nor does she seem to do it in order to pull off unforeseen, out-of-the-blue plot twists on her readers; she manages to do this in a wholly organic way that completely makes sense. She is a master; her books are stunning works of art, as complexly constructed as a human personality, with all of its quirks and tics.

I was troubled by one particular plot twist; but I cannot write about that without undermining the pleasure of reading the book; pulling that thread will unravel the entire story and ruin the book for anyone who hasn’t read it, which is a pity; it’s something that I feel should be discussed, and I also see not only why it was a necessary turn for the story–it completely made sense and pulled everything together–but at the same time it made me a bit uncomfortable.

Read this book. Read Lisa Unger. And cherish the experience.