Hot Girls in Love

Friday!

What a day I had yesterday. I sent queries out to four agents, and then thought what the hell and sent two short stories out for submission. One has already been rejected; they were, alas, closed for submissions. But that’s fine; onward and upward.

I am starting to get excited about next week’s trip to Bouchercon, and Toronto. I am going to query a few more agents today, and then give it a rest for a few days while I focus on doing some manuscript tweaking and writing as well as getting the Lost Apartment prepared for our departure. We’re apparently going to be visited by a hurricane this weekend as well–hurray!–which is going to make some things a little tricky. (Must remember to gas up the car tomorrow just in case.) I also need to make a packing list for the trip; I’ve printed out my panel schedule; bought our train tickets for the trip into the city from the airport and back; fetched the suitcase from storage…and now I have to make sure that we eat everything perishable in the house before Wednesday; which is always tricky. But I’m really looking forward to seeing friends I don’t see frequently, and lots of laughter and maybe….just a little bit of snark.

It happens.

So, as we hunker down and await the arrival of Nate, I am going to be submitting more stories and sending out more queries. It’s kind of addictive, now that I’ve gotten past the hump and have started doing it. I mean, it is what it is, right? Either they want me, or they don’t. And really, it’s not about the quality of the writing and it’s certainly not about anything personal; it’s about whether they think they can make money with me…which is the same thing with publishers. Honestly, I’m so good about giving advice to others about this sort of thing rather than taking it myself.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines. In honor of Nate’s imminent arrival, here’s a beefcake shot of Jim Cantore.

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I’m Still Standing

Ah, Thursday. I am a bit wrung out from this week so far; I am hoping to get rested this weekend since I am not working. I just have some errands to run on Saturday, and other than that I am going to spend the weekend writing and cleaning the house and packing, trying to get ready for my trip next week to Toronto. Our flight is actually later in the day so I can sleep late and make sure everything is ship-shape before we head to the airport; our flight is at 3:20 so we don’t really need to leave for the airport until around 12:30. Which, of course, is absolutely lovely.

Later is always better.

We get into Toronto on a non-stop (thank you, Air Canada, for operating non-stops between New Orleans and Toronto) around 6:20 pm, and are going to take the UP Express train from Pearson Airport to Union Station. It’s less than a mile to walk from there to the hotel, and there’s also a subway…but I am leaning toward the walk, you know?  It’ll be chilly so it’s not like we’ll sweat to death or anything, and the exercise will be lovely. And our suitcases roll, so that’s not an issue.

Today I am starting to send out the queries to agents. Wish me luck, Constant Reader! I am, of course, putting it off…but seriously, I need to start doing this and getting it out of the way. I think the stress is what is actually hurting my work on the Scotty book. And so what if I get rejected? Writing is such an insane life, isn’t it? One really needs a strong ego to face down all the rejection…but at the same time, our egos are so fragile…

Ah, well. And here’s a Throwback Thursday treat: the original cover of Murder in the Rue St. Ann, from 2004. I’ve always thought this was a better book than it was ever given credit for, but it also was released during a bad time in my personal life and I did no signings, interviews, or promotion for it. Ah, well.

st ann

My Love

Ah, Thursday.

At this time next week I’ll be in Toronto at Bouchercon! Woo-hoo! Although I glanced at the weather forecast and was horrified to see that it’s apparently winter already up there; forecasts in the 60’s? Dropping into the 40’s at night? Madness, absolute madness.

My panels, if you are there and would be so inclined as to hear me speaking, trying desperately to sound like I know what I am talking about (and usually failing), are:

 Best Anthology, which is described as Meet the editors of your anthology Anthony nominees.

Moderated by Sarah M. Chen, the panelists are Lawrence Block, Jay Stringer, Eric Beetner, Jen Conley, and Greg Herren (me!).  It’s Friday morning at 10 am, in the Grand West Ballroom.

 Reading the Rainbow, which is described as An LGBTQ panel.

Moderated by Kristopher Zgorski, the panelists are  Stephanie Gayle, Greg Herren (me!),
Owen Laukkanen, John Copenhaver, and Jessie Chandler. The panel is at 2:30 on Saturday, October 14th, in Sheraton Meeting Room B.

I will also be at the opening ceremonies on Thursday night, during which the Macavity Awards will be presented; I am nominated for Best Short Story. (Eep! At least I have lots of practice being at awards ceremonies where I lose.) I’ll be missing the Anthony Awards Sunday, as we will be flying home at the time, but it’s still quite an honor to be nominated.

Look forward to seeing everyone there!

Here’s your Throwback Thursday hunk for the morning, model/actor Ed Fury:

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Heart to Heart

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

We’ll see.

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

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

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

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

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Straight from the Heart

Well, I tried to make pho last night and it was an absolute disaster. Heavy sigh. But hey, you gotta try sometimes, right? I’m not entirely sure what I did wrong–but it tasted terrible, and I overcooked the noodles, and yes, Gregalicious does have the occasional epic fail in the kitchen. I shall try again another time, of course, but I am certain it will most likely be a really long time before I try again. It was so disappointing, and I really wanted some pho last night. Ah, well.

Paul went to see a local play production last night, so I was left to my own devices. After I trashed the pho, I went on to make tacos–always so reliable–and sat in my easy chair and finished reading Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door.

Well, THAT was disturbing.

the girl next door

You think you know about pain?

Ask my second wife. She does. Or she thinks she does.

She says that once when she was nineteen or twenty she got between a couple of cats fighting–her own and a neighbor’s–and one of them went at her, climbed her like a tree, tore gashes out of her things and breasts and belly that you can still see today, scared her so badly she fell back against her mother’s turn-of-the-century Hoosier, breaking her best ceramic pie plate and scraping six inches of skin off her ribs while the cat made its way back down her again, all tooth and claw and spitting fury. Thirty-six stitches I think she said she got. And a fever that lasted days.

My second wife says that’s pain.

She doesn’t know shit, that woman.

That’s a pretty amazing image for the start of a book, don’t you think?

I was on a panel with the divine Megan Abbott several years ago where she mentioned that the suburbs are incredibly noir; I’d never really thought of it that way before, but I soon realized she was absolutely right (as she so frequently is). One of the major disconnects in our culture and our society is our idealization of children and childhood; as well as the time when children are at the in-between stage between childhood and adulthood, hormones raging and passions and emotions are their height; she has explored this beautifully in novels like The End of Everything and Dare Me. Stephen King writes beautifully about children; idealizing the innocence of childhood against the very real terrors that exist in that time; nowhere is this more evident than in his novel It. That idealized world is partly because of 1950’s sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Make Room for Daddy; a sanitized, unreal world that everyone seems to look back on and thinks was real–when it was anything but.

Jack Ketchum’s The Girl Next Door is also set in that time; 1958, to be exact, in a small suburb/town in New Jersey, a tranquil world of fairs and carnivals and playing pick-up games of baseball in the park; of trying to catch crayfish in the creek and beginning to wonder about the way your body is changing. But this ‘idyllic’ world has some dark edges–there’s a sociopathic bully up the street, beaten by his alcoholic father who also beats his mother and sister; and the three boys next door don’t seem quite right in the head, either. Their single mother, Ruth, is the “cool mom” of the neighborhood, who lets the kids drink beer and smoke in her presence. The death of her brother and his wife brings two more kids–girls–into her home, Meg and Susan. And then the dynamic begins to change…and Ruth’s own sociopathy begins to reveal itself…and soon Meg is tied up and being tortured in the basement…and the other kids in the neighborhood also soon are slowly drawn into the terrifying game in the basement.

And the main character, whose first person POV this is told in, is not exactly innocent. Told in reminiscence; looking back on what happened as an adult, exploring why he didn’t blow the lid off what was going on and how he himself got roped into helping in the torment, is as terrifying as what is going on. The descent of these kids into monsters, how easy it is for that thin line between being decent and moral as opposed to criminal and animalistic to be crossed is what truly makes this horrifying. The fact that it is based on a true story makes it even worse…because this may be fiction, but things like this happen in the real world. Every day.

And it is written beautifully; Ketchum is a great writer, knowing how to build suspense and unease, able to use words and construct sentences and paragraphs to create a chilling mood; and you keep turning the pages not only to find out how the story is going to resolve itself–obviously, it has to–but to see how the main character, Danny,  resolves his own inner conflict about what’s going on…and it is clear, just from the way the story is told, that adult Danny is still damaged by what happened, what he witnessed, what he was involved in.

The book is classified as horror, but it’s more suburban noir than anything else.

It’s also a pretty chilling indictment of how powerless children are.

And now, back to the spice mines.

All Right

It’s gloomy this morning, and my heart is heavy upon waking to the news from Las Vegas. Yay, Monday.

I have a lot to get done this week, as ever. Bouchercon and our trip to Toronto looms on the horizon; I went to work on the stuff in the storage attic over the laundry room this weekend. Cleaning out the storage spaces, of course, is an exercise in letting go; I donated three boxes of books last week and will probably donate that many more this week.

I want to get at least three more chapters on the Scotty book done this week; I also want to revise a short story one final team before sending it out into the world; and I am going to get the WIP whipped into final shape so I can start sending that out to agents. It should work, as long as I don’t get sidetracked or distracted or lazy. Tonight when I get home from work I am going to make pho, for the first time; I’ve found a ‘quick” recipe that should only take about forty minutes to make.

I started reading another book yesterday that didn’t pass the first fifty page test; into the donate pile it went, and I started reading another, The Girl Next Door by Jack Ketchum. I’ve never read Ketchum, but I’ve know who he is for years. I met him at Stokercon in Las Vegas; and since he was one of the guests of honor, I arranged for his travel and so forth. What an absolutely charming man! I bought my copy of this book that weekend, but never ran into him again after I’d bought it. It’s quite excellent so far.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me for the rest of the day.

Here’s a hunk to slide you into the week.

ed467dbea523fb9e7d271c2b364acb56

 

I Won’t Hold You Back

Being from, not only the South but also from Alabama, I am very particular about Southern fiction, and fiction set in Alabama (there is more of it than you might think; there is certainly much more of it than To Kill a Mockingbird). Robert McCammon has written some exceptional Southern horror fiction set in Alabama; I absolutely loved Boy’s Life, while I have yet to read Gone South (which is in the TBR pile). He actually  set a book in the part of Alabama I am from; it was a good book, but it bore no more actual resemblance to that county than anything other book set in the rural South; it was as though he simply put up a map of Alabama and stuck in a pin in it, said “okay this is where it will be set” and worked from there. But it was a good book that I enjoyed; it had some interesting things to say about religion–particularly the rural Southern version of it. I myself want to write about Alabama more; I feel–I don’t know–connected somehow when I write about Alabama in a greater way than I do when I am writing about New Orleans, and that’s saying something. Mostly I’ve written short stories, the majority of which have never been published; only two have seen print, “Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man.”

I remember Michael McDowell from the 1980’s, when the horror boom was at its highest crest; I never read his work but I was aware of it. I remember reading the back covers of his Blackwater books and not being particularly interested in them; there was just something about them, and their Alabama setting, that somehow didn’t ring right to me; I don’t remember what or why, but I do remember picking them up several times in the bookstore, looking them over, and putting them back.

In recent years, McDowell has enjoyed a renaissance of sorts; he was a gay man who died from AIDS-related complications in 1999. I wasn’t aware that he was part of the writing team who published a gay mystery series under the name Nathan Aldyne until sometime in the last few years, and I’d been meaning to get around to finally read one of his horror novels, the reissue of The Elementals (which included an introduction by my friend, the novelist Michael Rowe–whose novels Enter, Night and Wild Fell are quite extraordinary)–which again is set in Alabama, only this time Mobile and the lower panhandle of Alabama that sits on either side of Mobile Bay (the same area, in fact, where I set my novel Dark Tide, only my novel was set on the other side of the bay). My friend Katrina Niidas Holm recently asked me to read the book so we could discuss it drunkenly over cocktails at Bouchercon in Toronto later this month; this morning I sat down and read it through. (It’s not very long; 218 pages in total.)

the elementals

In the middle of a desolate Wednesday afternoon in the last sweltering days of May, a handful of mourners were gathered in the church dedicated to St. Jude Thaddeus in Mobile, Alabama. The air conditioning in the small sanctuary sometimes covered the noise of traffic at the intersection outside, but it occasionally did not, and the strident honking of an automobile horn ould sound above the organ music like a mutilated stop. The space was dim, damply cool, and stank of refrigerated flowers. Two dozen enormous and very expensive arrangements had been set in converging lines behind the altar. A massive blanket of silver roses lay draped across the light-blue casket, and there were petals scattered over the white satin interior. In the coffin was the body of a woman no more than fifty-five. Her features were squarish and set; the lines that ran from the corners of her mouth to her jaw were deep-plowed. Marian Savage had not been overtaken happily.

In the pew to the left of the coffin sat Dauphin Savage, the corpse’s surviving son. He wore a dark blue suit that fit tightly over last season’s frame, and a black silk band was fastened to his arm rather in imitation of a tourniquet. On his right, in a black dress and a black veil. was his wife Leigh. Leigh lifted her chin to catch sight of her dead mother-in-law’s profile in the blue coffin. Dauphin and Leigh would inherit almost everything.

Big Barbara McCray–Leigh’s mother and the corpse’s best friend–sat in the pew directly behind and wept audibly. Her black silk dress whined against the polished oaken pew as she twisted in her grief. Beside her, rolling his eyes in exasperation at his mother’s carrying-on, was Luker McCray. Luker’s opinion of the dead woman was that he had never seen her to better advantage than in her coffin. Next to Luker was his daughter, India, a girl of thirteen who had not known the dead woman in life. India interested herself in the church’s ornamental hangings, with an eye toward reproducing them in a needlepoint border.

On the other side of the central aisle sat the corpse’s only daughter, a nun. Sister Mary-Scot did not weep, but now and then the others heard the faint clack of her rosary beads against the wooden pew. Several pews behind the nun sat Odessa Red, a thin, grim black woman who had been three decades in the dead woman’s employ. Odessa wore a tiny blue velvet hat with a single feather dyed in India ink.

Before the funeral began, Big Barbara McCray had poked her daughter, and demanded of her why there was no printed order of service. Leigh shrugged. “Dauphin said do it that way. Less trouble for everybody so I didn’t say anything.”

This is an auspicious beginning to a novel that straddles the line between Southern Gothic and horror; but in using the word horror I am thinking of the quiet kind of horror, the kind Shirley Jackson wrote; this isn’t the kind where blood splatters and body parts go flying or you can hear the knife slicing through flesh and bone. This is the kind of horror that creeps up on you slowly, building in intensity and suspense until you are flipping the pages anxiously to find out what happens next.

McDowell introduces all of his characters in those few short sentences; Dauphin and his wife, Leigh; her mother Big Barbara; her brother Luker and her niece, India. Odessa also has a part to play in this story, and the only other character who doesn’t appear in this opening is Big Barbara’s estranged husband, Lawton. Lawton, like Mary-Scot, only plays a very small part in this tale, and so the reader doesn’t need to meet him until later.

(I do want to talk about character names here; the Savage family all have names that have something to do with Mary Queen of Scots; the deceased is Marian, her long dead husband Bothwell; Mary-Scot is as plain a reference as can be, whereas her two brothers were Mary Stuart’s husbands: Dauphin–her first husband was Dauphin Francois, later King Francois I of France–and the deceased elder brother, Darnley; the romantic Queen’s second husband was Lord Darnley. Marian’s –of Mary–deceased husband Bothwell bore the name of the Scottish Queen’s third husband, the Earl of Bothwell. These Savage men died in reverse order of the Queen’s husband’s though; Bothwell first followed by Darnley,  and of course, as the only one living, Dauphin will die last. Also, there’s never any explanation for why Big Barbara is called Big Barbara; usually in Southern families the reason you would call someone “Big” is because there is a “Little;” there is no Little Barbara in this story, and I’m not sure where Luker came from as a name, either. I wondered if it was a colloquial pronunciation; names and words that end in an uh sound turn into ‘er’ in Alabama; Beulah being pronounced Beuler, for example, so I wondered if his name was Luka…)

The McCrays and the Savages are families bound by decades of friendship and now marriage; they have three identical houses on a southern spit of land in the lower, western side of the Alabama panhandle in a place called Beldame; Beldame is very remote, bounded by the Gulf on one side and a lagoon on the other; during high tide the gulf flows through a channel into the lagoon and turns Beldame into an island. There are no phones there nor power lines; electricity is provided by a generator and there is no air conditioning. Oh, how I remember those Alabama summers without air conditioning! One of the three houses is being lost to a drifting sand dune and is abandoned…and as the days pass, the reader begins to realize there’s something not right about that dune…or about that house.

The book reminded me some of Douglas Clegg’s brilliant Neverland; that sense of those sticky hot summers in the South, visiting a place you’re not familiar with and is kind of foreign (the primary POV once the story moves to Beldame is India, who has never been there before); those afternoons where the heat and humidity make even breathing exhausting, the white sugary sand and the glare from it, lying in a shaded hammock just hoping for a breeze–the sudden rains and drops in temperature, where eighty degrees seems cold after days of it being over a hundred…the sense of place is very strong in this book, and Beldame is, like Hill House, what Stephen King called in his brilliant treatise on the genre Danse Macabre, ‘the bad place.”

I really enjoyed this book. A lot. And it has made me think about writing about Alabama again; this entire year I’ve been thinking that, and now feel like it’s a sign that maybe I should.

And now back to the spice mines.