I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby

I wrote twenty-three hundred and sixty-six words yesterday; a rather precise amount, I admit, but I am rather proud of them, as I’ve not written anything new in nearly two weeks, I think.

It was also new, nothing do with any of the many works in progress I am in the midst of; it was one of those things where the idea came to me, and I knew how to write the chapter, so I sat down and I did lest I forget it. I also wanted to see if I could get the voice right, the tone, and all of that. I think it kind of works, but I am going to let it sit for a moment or two (or weeks) and see what I think of it then.

It’s the first chapter of Chlorine, which is a start. Probably not what I needed to be writing or working on, but

I do want to get back to the WIP–and I’m not really sure why I keep calling it that. Why am I superstitious about sharing the title of this book? I like the title, and I believe I have even mentioned it before. I originally had the idea a million years ago, when I was a little boy. My grandmother–the not sane one–used to love to tell me stories about the past; she always swore on the Bible the stories were true, but I’ve long suspected that most of them were invented or stories she read somewhere–she did like to read, and encouraged both my sister and I to also read. I never wrote the stories she told me down, but I do remember bits and pieces of them, and one of those bits and pieces became a short story I wrote in college called “Ruins.” I wrote it as a ghost story, weaving what I remembered from my grandmother’s story into a modern-day story in a fictional county based on the one my family is from (I also planned to do a lot of writing about this fictional county when I was in college…I have published some work about the county; it’s where Scotty’s sorta-nephew Taylor is from and where Frank’s sister lives. It’s where my main character from Dark Tide  was from, and also where “Smalltown Boy” was set, along with various other short stories, like “Son of a Preacher Man”…so I’m using some of those old ideas today. There are also any number of short stories in some form of completion set there, and the current WIP is, of course, set there). I always thought “Ruins” (still unpublished) could be expanded into a pretty decent novel, and that’s what I am currently working on, have been for the last few months. I no longer call it “Ruins”–that title has already been used multiple times for a novel, and why invite comparison–but when I needed a new title, I wanted something more poetic. I started looking through poems (can you imagine? I know so little about poetry it’s staggering) and wanted something Barbara Michaels-ish. I decided to riff on her title Be Buried in the Rain, which is from a poem, and then a lyric from The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young” stuck in my head, and I started using that as the title, Bury Me in Satin. But that didn’t really work or fit, and it evolved into Bury Me in Shadows, which had the right creepy, spooky, Gothic feel to it that I wanted, that I am trying to get in the book. It’s a ghost story of sorts, it’s set in the woods of rural central-western Alabama, and there’s a ruin of a plantation back in the woods, which an archaeological team from the University of Alabama has started excavating. There’s a legend about the “lost boys” around the ruins; two boys who disappeared during the Civil War. I’m also working rural drug addiction into it, as well as the Klan, and racism and homophobia. It’s a lot, and it has to been done correctly, in order to get the points across that I want to make in the book. This is why it’s been such a slog, really. I am trying to make points about important topics without sounding too preachy-teachy, while trying to weave in an interesting story, all told from the point of view of a rather intelligent gay teenager from Chicago, who has to spend the summer in Alabama being the point person for the family while his grandmother, who has had several strokes, dies in her own crumbling Victorian style home from the late nineteenth century, and then the archaeologists discover the skeleton of a young man. Is he one of the lost boys from the Civil War, or is there something more sinister going on back in the woods?

I’m trying to write about race sensitively, without giving offense. I am trying to be conscious of my own internalized prejudices and bigotries, which is sadly a life-long process of deprogramming. (But that’s a subject for another time.) But I am hopeful that my own keen editorial eye will catch things in the editing process, and there’s also going to be my editor’s eyes on it. So, hopefully it won’t turn out to be yet another sad white person’s attempt to deal with race that turns out to be problematic.

I am also writing it in a style different than what I usually use–first person present tense, and it’s obvious when I reread chapters I’ve written that it’s not my default; I slip into the past tense very easily and naturally and because I’m so used to writing that way it’s easy for me to miss things in the wrong tense.

I’m up early because today returns normality to my life; this is my first work week that won’t be disrupted this month. First it was a brief vacation, and of course last week was disrupted by Barry. I got very little accomplished over the last few days–storm disruptions make it very hard to focus or get anything done, frankly; as you wait for the storm you don’t want to start anything in case you lose power suddenly, plus there’s the weird tension of waiting for the unexpected. When I walked to Touro to get my car yesterday and run by the grocery store, it was strange; the city was still deserted and lifeless. There were a few cars out driving but not the usual amount of people out and about on a Sunday, even in the rain. I actually think we got more rain yesterday than we did from the storm on Saturday, frankly. I was soaked by the time I got to the car–$21 is a very low price to pay to keep your car safe, to be honest–and of course, everything at the grocery store was on sale because it was old and ripe; I got a great deal on two enormous smooth avocados, and there were still some Creole tomatoes out, but the grocery store was still depleted from people stocking up for the storm. I came home, we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and last night we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me, a cute comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate MacKinnon. I love both women, and they worked very well together, and the plot was clever and funny enough to hold my attention, but it could have been better–but it was mostly the charisma of the two women, and their chemistry together, that made the film enjoyable.

So, wish me well on my first full week of work this month. It’s gray and drizzly outside my windows this fair morning; I’m hoping my shoes have dried out from yesterday as well. (note to self: order new shoes, you’re due.)

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Do That to Me One More Time

New Orleans bipolar weather has sadly struck again. And while it certainly hasn’t gotten as cold as it was a few weeks ago, when the sun is down it’s been in the forties only heating up to the high fifties and low sixties in the sunshine; but in the mornings it hasn’t warmed up enough yet as I sit at my computer, shivering in horror. But the coffee is definitely warming me up. I have a short day at work today and a short day tomorrow; I am hoping I can get most of the errands done on these two days so I can spend the weekend (other than a Christmas party on Saturday night) with my nose in my manuscripts.

Must. Get. Them. Done.

In other exciting news, the cover for Murder-a-Go-Go’s, an anthology edited by Holly West, has dropped this morning! You can view it here at BOLO Books. My story is called “This Town,” and is probably one of the most deliciously wicked tales I’ve ever written; probably deeply inspired by the work of the amazing Megan Abbott (read her books, if you haven’t; her Give Me Your Hand is making all the Best of 2018 lists).

Work on the book has slowed to an incredibly passive crawl; I did have a big burst Tuesday night, as I already mentioned, but yesterday was one of those can’t seem to get started days. When I got home from work last night I was both cold and tired; Scooter was incredibly needy, and for lack of anything better to do, I just got into bed and reread an old Barbara Michaels favorite until I got sleepy. I did sleep incredibly well last night, which was lovely, with Scooter curled up with me, purring non-stop. I hated getting out of bed this morning; after he got up and I fed him, he nagged me to come back to bed and finally gave up about twenty minutes ago. But I am being incredibly productive this morning since awakening; already finished folding a load of laundry and a second is in the dryer; once I finish this I will put the dishes away and do the ones in the sink.

Huzzah!

I am also hopeful that I’ll get the next chapter of Bury Me in Satin finished today. One can hope, can’t one?

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

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Try Again

Stephen King, in his seminal work on horror Danse Macabre, talked about two different kinds of house horror novels–the haunted house, and the bad place. The primary difference between the two is that a haunted house story is about the actual spirits and what they do; what must be done to put the spirit to rest (Barbara Michaels’ brilliant Ammie Come Home fits into this category), and the bad place where you don’t really know what is causing whatever it is that is going on in the place; it’s just a bad, bad place. Examples of the bad place  are of course Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, Stephen King’s The Shining, and Michael MacDowell’s The Elementals.

While I was traveling to and from Toronto, I read two short novels about ‘bad places’; Robert Marasco’s Burnt Offerings and Christopher Rice’s The Vines. 

I remember Burnt Offerings from when I was a kid, and we used to go to the Zayre’s department store every Saturday. I would spend the entire time my mother was shopping looking at every book in the book racks, and I picked it up numerous times only to always set it back and pick something else; I’m not sure why. I remember it was also made into a movie with Bette Davis that I’ve also never seen, and periodically it appears on lists of ‘best haunted house’ novels. Vaillancourt Books recently reissued it, and I bought a copy. It’s good, even if it subscribes to one of those horror tropes that always requires the suspension of belief–if something seems too good to be true, it usually is. A family from the city–Queens, i believe–take a summer rental out on Long Island that, of course, is too good to be true; a dilapidated but once stately manor. Husband, wife, young son, and the husband’s aunt–despite the husband’s misgivings–move out there for the summer; the only requirement of them (other than the rent) is that three times a day the wife must take a tray of food up to the owners’ mother’s suite of rooms and never knock–just leave the tray outside. The wife soon becomes obsessed with the house and cleaning it, putting it into order; finding treasures in closets and cupboards and bringing them out…and ignoring the distance growing between her and her husband, his aunt, and her son. Strange things start to happen, and occasionally she is aware that something’s terribly amiss…and then goes back to cleaning. The story is told very simply, the setting is perfect, and the descriptions of the treasures she finds are lovingly written–and the sense of growing impending doom and claustrophobia are perfect.

The Vines is Christopher Rice’s second horror novel (The Heavens Rise is the first; it’s still in my TBR pile) and it, too, is a variation of the bad place horror convention; Spring House is a gorgeously restored house outside of New Orleans with a horrifying history of its own. The night of owner Caitlin Chaisson’s birthday party, she sees her husband having sex with a beautiful young woman who works for the catering company; emotionally distraught, she leaves the house intent on slashing her wrists and killing herself in the estate’s gazebo. But as she cuts at her wrists, her husband and his one-nighter come outside to the gardening shed, and something monstrous grows up out of the ground to drink her blood and avenge her betrayal. The one-nighter loses her mind and the husband disappears; none of this makes any sense to the police who arrive and are not willing to upset the wealthiest woman in the parish. There are two other primary characters–Nova, the African-American daughter of Caitlin’s groundskeeper and a student at LSU who is there that night, and Caitlin’s former best friend, a gay nurse who has been estranged from her since he told her the truth about her husband’s infidelities–and years earlier, Blake and his teenaged boyfriend were attacked in a hate crime, the boyfriend dying…the true story of the attack has never come out, and it’s a lot more complicated than anyone ever knew. It’s a terrific tale of vengeance from the past and vengeance for the present, with the tension building as it hurries to its climax. I was also impressed with how Christopher handled the bloody, slave-owning history of Spring House–something I’ve wondered about how to handle without being too heavy-handed with a ghost story I’ve been wanting to write with its origins in the Civil War period in rural Alabama.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Walk Like an Egyptian

Monday!

Hilariously, when I was writing my blog entry yesterday, I couldn’t remember what I’d watched on Saturday before moving on to Batman v. Superman, and I actually was thinking, I couldn’t have been streaming music videos all that time, could I? And then I remembered, last night while we were getting caught up on Animal Kingdom (which is awesome), that I’d discovered some of the old ABC Movies of the Week on Youtube, and watched two of them, back to back: The Cat Creature and Crowhaven Farm.

When I was a kid, I loved the ABC Movie of the Week. Some of them were good, some of them were awful, and it was interesting to see whether two of the ones I remembered so vividly held up; a while back, I’d discovered The House That Wouldn’t Die on Youtube; it starred Barbara Stanwyck and was based on my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home. I saw the movie before I read the book–and I’ve reread the book any number of times over the years because I love it so much. I was very excited to watch the movie again..and it holds up pretty well (and BARBARA STANWYCK, for God’s sake), but it made significant changes from the book, obviously, and wasn’t quite as good. But it did hold up, and I am sure, were I not such a fan of the novel, I wouldn’t have had those issues with it.

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The Cat Creature holds up fairly well, for a television movie made in the 1970’s. For one thing, the story was developed by Robert Bloch (if you don’t know who Bloch was, shame on you–but he wrote the novel Psycho, which became the film, and was one of the great horror writers of the 50’s-80’s) and he also wrote the screenplay. I think part of the reason I loved this movie so much was because it was based in Egyptian mythology (I suspect the ‘history’ was invented for the purpose of the film; you’ll see why as I move along). The movie opens with an appraiser arriving at the estate of a now dead, wealthy collector, and he has been brought in to appraise the ‘secret collection’ of the collector–which includes a lot of Egyptian antiquities (which, obviously, must have been purchased on the black market). There’s a mummy case, which he opens, and the mummy is wearing a strange amulet around its neck, a cat’s head with heiroglyphs on the back. A burglar breaks in, takes the amulet, and then the appraiser is murdered off-camera–but you hear a lot of screaming and animalistic growling, and of course, the shadow of a cat on the wall. The long and short of it is, the cult of the Egyptian goddess Bast, based in the city of Bubastis in Egypt, was supposedly suppressed and all of its priests killed–the mummy is one of them–and there are legends and stories that Bast’s followers could turn themselves into cats that drank human blood for eternal life; kind of like shapeshifting cat vampires (I am certain this is all fiction without having to look it up). Eventually the ‘cat creature’ is captured, the amulet put back around its neck, and the strange murders all solved. Meredith Baxter (before she added, then subtracted, Birney from her professional name, and before she was a lesbian) starred; it also featured Gale Sondergaard, who won the very first Oscar for best supporting actress, as a shady magic shop owner. It was kind of cheesy on a rewatch as an adult, but it could be remade easily enough and could be quite chilling.

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The sad thing about rewatching, though, was realizing that an idea I have for a book was liberally borrowed from this story. Heavy sigh; guess it’s a good thing I never wrote that book.

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Crowhaven Farm also holds up for the most part. The movie terrified me when I was a kid, and I watched it whenever it re-aired. It’s also a supernatural story, about reincarnation, ghosts, and revenge from beyond the grave. It starred Hope Lange, who inherits Crowhaven Farm when a distant cousin dies, and the original inheritor is killed in a fiery car crash caused by a mysterious young girl. Lange and her husband, an artist, move to the farm, and on her very first day there she remembers things she couldn’t possible know; how to open secret doors to hidden rooms, where the old well is, etc. She continues getting flashes from a previous life, and begins to fear that not only is she the reincarnation of Margaret Carey, who lived there in the seventeenth century, but was someone who was accused of  witchcraft but turned in a coven of witches, who were either hanged or pressed to death. After she finally has the baby she had been longing for, the past and the present collide and she is confronted by the reincarnations of the coven she betrayed, who want her soul for Satan and vengeance. Instead, she turns over her husband to save herself–much as she betrayed the coven in a previous life–and runs away from Crowhaven Farm with her baby. In the final scene, she is in Central Park with her baby when a mounted cop stops to check on her and the baby, and then he reties a baby ribbon in the strange way her now dead husband used to tie bows. She remarks on it, and he just smiles at her and says, “Well, I’ll be keeping an eye on you now” and rides off…and terrified, Maggie quickly pushes her baby carriage down the path, looking back over her shoulder as the credits roll.

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Not as scary as it was when I was a kid, but still, not bad; and it, too, could use a reboot.

I started rereading The Great Gatsby again yesterday, and am starting to remember why I didn’t care for it so much; none of the characters in it are particularly appealing. Tom Buchanan is kind of a dick, Daisy’s not much better, and Jordan is kind of a snob…and Nick himself isn’t particularly interesting. The writing is good enough, though–but I rolled my eyes when I got to the end of the first chapter, when Nick sees the green light on the dock on the other side of the bay and witnesses Gatsby standing in his yard, his arms outstretched in the direction of the light, and remembered how my American Lit teacher went on and on and on about the symbolism of the green light.

Christ.

It’s also kind  of weird to be reading a book about rich white people in the 1920’s so soon after reading about poor white people in the present day in Tomato Red.

And now, back to the spice mines.

No Questions Asked

Monday morning. Heavy heaving sigh. Another week, a lot to do, and probably not nearly enough time in which to try to do it all. I am going to do my level best <b>not</b> to allow this to create a sense of helplessness/impossibility which will lead me to distraction and not even trying, which only makes things worse.

Yes, I’ve been here before, if you couldn’t tell.

I must not panic I must not panic I must not panic I must not panic.

And I won’t. I just have to buckle down and get it done and I know I can.

FOCUS.

Over the weekend, after finishing Triad, I reread another favorite Barbara Michaels novel, Witch, which I had not read in a long time. (I am now reading Gore Vidal’s Thieves Fall Out, originally published under a pseudonym and now reprinted under his actual name by Hard Case Crime.)

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According to the directions Ellen had received from the real estate agent, the house was in a clearing in the woods. Gently perspiring in the the hot office, Ellen had thought wistfully of cool forest glades. April in Virginia is unpredictable; this particular day might have been borrowed from July, and the small-town office was not air-conditioned.

An hour later, after bumping down rutted lanes so narrow that tree branches pushed in through the car windows, Ellen was inclined to consider “clearing” a wild exaggeration. She started perspiring again as soon as she turned off the highway. No breeze could penetrate the tangled growth of these untamed forests; moisture weighted the air.

At any rate, this must be the house, though it more resembled a pile of worn logs overgrown by honeysuckle and other vines.

Barbara Michaels, as I have said any number of times, is one of my favorite writers of all time. Witch is one of her better books, definitely in my top tiers of her novels under that name. It tells the tale of Ellen March, divorced, who has been living with her brother-in-law helping him raise his three sons (her dead sister’s) and her own daughter, but now all are leaving for college or private schools, the brother-in-law’s job with the state department is taking him overseas, and all of a sudden, she is at loose ends. As the house in one of the suburbs of DC is to be sold, Ellen decides to buy a nice place out in the country. And she finds one, spends the next few months getting it fixed up, and moves in.

But all is not what it seems in the country.

First off, Ellen has a very bizarre reaction to the house when she first sets foot in it–an exultation, kind of ecstatic joy. And then there are the stories about the house–it was originally built in the seventeenth century, and it was the home of a woman many of the local considered to be a witch–who tended the wild animals in the woods and then “committed suicide.”

And then weird things start happening–she starts seeing a white cat in the woods (the witch had a white cat); sometimes she sees shadows out of the corner of her eye in her bedroom that vanish when she looks; she occasionally hears laughter inside the house; and then she tells, as a joke, fortunes for some teenagers who hang out in the general store in the nearby village of Chew’s Corners…and the fortunes start coming true.

The town, which is dominated by a horrific fundamentalist church called the Earthly Atonement of the Wrath of God, which is even worse than it sounds. So, of course, the “good” people of Chew’s Corners think she is either a witch herself, or being possessed by the ghost of the witch.

It’s a good story–although I would disagree with the cover’s depiction of it as “a story of quiet horror”–it’s still, more than anything else, a suspense novel with some paranormal elements thrown into it for good measure. It’s a great read, and the big reveal is just as shocking on a reread as it was on the original read.

And now, back to the spice mines. This stuff ain’t going to get done on its own.

Da Doo Ron Ron

There’s really nothing like a good night’s sleep, is there?

Well, that first cup of coffee after a good night’s sleep is pretty close.

Tonight is my late night; bar testing in the Quarter, and as such I have the morning and early afternoon free. I intend to get some cleaning done as well as some writing (that’s always the intent, but it never seems to happen quite the way I have planned; primarily, methinks, because I have a tendency to over-plan what I can get done as well as the ever-popular easy distractions).

Last night, while I alternated between American Horror Story (ugh) and the final game of the World Series–nicely done, Cubs–I finished rereading Be Buried in the Rain by Barbara Michaels.

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The old pickup hit a pothole with a bump that shook a few more flakes of faded blue paints from the rusted body. Joe Danner swore, but not aloud. He hadn’t used bad language for six years, not since he found his Lord Jesus in the mesmeric eyes of a traveling evangelist. He hadn’t used hard liquor nor tobacco either, not laid a hand on his wife in anger–only when she talked back or questioned his Scripture-ordained authority as head of the family.

It would never have occurred to Joe Danner that his wife preferred their old life-style. Back then, an occasional beating was the natural order of things, and it was a small price to pay for the Saturday nights at the local tavern, both of them getting a little drunk together, talking and joking with old friends, going home to couple unimaginatively but pleasurably in the old bed Joe’s daddy had made with his own hands.

Since Joe found Jesus, there were no more Saturday nights at the tavern. No more kids, either. Joe Junior had left home the year before; he was up north someplace, wallowing in the sins he’d been brought up to hate…only somehow the teaching hadn’t taken hold. Not with Lynne Anne, either. Married at sixteen, just in time to spare her baby the label of bastard–but not soon enough to wipe out the sin of fornication. She lived in Pikesburg, only forty miles away, but she never came home anymore. Joe had thrown her out the night she told them she was pregnant, and Lynne Anne had spat in his face face before she set out on a four-mile walk in the traditional snowstorm, to collapse on the doorstep of her future in-laws. They had raised a real ruckus about it, too. Methodists. What else could a person expect from Methodists?

I loved Barbara Michaels, which was one of the two pseudonyms used by Dr. Barbara Mertz (the other was, of course, Elizabeth Peters). She was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America in the 1980’s, and her books were consistently excellent. Be Buried in the Rain was one of my favorites she published as Barbara Michaels; not quite as favorite as Ammie Come Home, House of Many Shadows, The Crying Child, or Witch, but definitely right up there with them.

The opening, which I’ve quoted above, gives you a slight picture of just how good she actually was. In those brief three paragraphs she sketches out a very clear picture of Joe Danner and who he is; without any physical description, I can see him perfectly in my head. This is shortly before he comes across a surprise in the country road; in a place called Deadman’s Hollow, where the county road cuts through the overgrown, gone to seed estate called Maidenwood–the skeletons of a woman and a baby. That discovery is the key to the story of Be Buried in the Rain, and it’s a terrific story. Julie, our first person p.o.v character (I resisted the urge to call her Our Heroine) is in medical school; her mother and family pressure her into spending the summer between classes at Maidenwood, helping care for her eighty-five year old malevolent grandmother, Martha. Martha is truly monstrous, and Julie spent four years as a child in Martha’s care at Maidenwood while her mother worked her way through college. After being retrieved by her mother, Julie has never returned to Maidenwood, and for the most part has blocked the memories of those four awful years out of her mind…but her return to Maidenwood starts bringing the horrible memories back.

At the heart of the story is the mystery of the identity of the skeletons, and where they came from. Local legend has always held that Maidenwood was the site of a British colonial settlement called Maydon’s Hundred that was wiped out in an Indian massacre; Julie has a love interest in an archaeologist named Alan whom she was involved with before, who was always interested in finding the remains of Maydon’s Hundred. Martha grimly put a stop to that, and her nastiness to both Alan and Julie also ended their relationship. Now both are back at Maidenwood…a crumbling, dirty old manse with an overgrown, almost oppressive vegetation surrounding it, as there hasn’t been money for decades to keep the place up.

The atmosphere is fantastic; Michaels is at her best at describing the oppressive heat and humidity, the overgrowth, the darkness inside the house that is not only literal but symbolic. It brought to mind memories of my own childhood summers in Alabama at my own grandmother’s–but my grandmother wasn’t a monster like Martha. It also reminded me of an idea I had for a book about Alabama…

I really do need to write about Alabama.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Spiders and Snakes

The key to writing good horror is, of course, to write about what scares you. Usually, what scares you will scare other people, as many of us have fears in common. I, for example, have many fears: the dark, situation claustrophobia (crowded elevators, tight spaces), heights, spiders, snakes, the puncturing of skin with sharp objects. (Reading Gillian Flynn’s brilliant Sharp Objects was incredibly difficult for me. In the hands of a lesser writer I probably would have stopped long before the end.) There are also things that make me uncomfortable–the woods, the open sea (again, situational; but even though I will get in the ocean, I am never really comfortable; but I am more comfortable in the ocean than I am in lakes and rivers), flying–when listing my fears, I do realize how neurotic I sound.

Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters, aka Dr. Barbara Mertz, wrote wonderfully creepy Gothic horror novels; her ability to set that creepy mood where weird things could happen and seem absolutely realistic was extraordinary. I always say that Ammie Come Home is one of my all time favorite ghost stories, but she wrote many others that were also most excellent.

Take, for example, The Crying Child.

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From the air, the island doesn’t look big enough to land a plane on. It’s a pretty sight, from above, calling to mind all sorts of poetic images–an agate, shining brown and green, flung down in folds of sea-blue satin; a blob of variegated Play-Doh, left in a basin of water by a forgetful child; an oval braided rug on a green glass floor.

Or a hand, in a brown-and-green mitten. The hand is clenched into a fist, with a thumblike promontory jutting out on one side. Across the broad end there is a range of hills that might be knuckles; at the other end, the land narrows down into a wrist-shaped peninsula. There are beaches there, like fur trim on the cuff of the mitten; the rest of the island is thick with foliage, somber green pines and fir trees for the most part. The house is surprisingly distinct from above. The lighter green of the lawns and the gray outline of roofs and chimneys stand out amid the darkness of the pines. The only other distinctive landmark is the cluster of buildings that make up the village, along the thumb promontory, and its harbor, which is formed by the junction of thumb and hand.

And that’s where the figure of speech fails. You could compare the house to an oddly shaped ring, up on the knuckles of the hand, but the village doesn’t suggest any analogy. A diseased imagination might think of sores or warts; but there was never anything festering about St. Ives. It was just a charming Maine town, and not even the events of that spring could make it anything else. There was no lurking horror in the village. It was in the house.

I certainly wasn’t aware of horrors that morning in May. I had worries, plenty of them, but they were comparatively simple ones. I didn’t know, then, how simple.

The story is quite simple. Joanne, our heroine, was raised by her older sister Mary after their parents died. Mary managed to land herself a millionaire husband, who tried to fill a father figure role for Joanne–which she didn’t appreciate or like. Long story short, the sisters became estranged when Joanne finished college and moved far away, refusing any further assistance from her wealthy brother-in-law and sister.*

*This is something I’ve never understood as a plot point; why would you refuse help from a wealthy, connected relative? This is often a plot device in melodramas/romances/soap operas, when someone marries into wealth. “I need to be my own man.” “I need to be my own woman.” I always roll my eyes; I understand it, but why make life harder on yourself than necessary?

Mary has always wanted a child of her own, and recently has suffered a miscarriage. Mary and her husband Ran are spending the summer on King’s Island, at his ancestral family home. He has wired Joanne that Mary needs her, and so of course, full of misgivings about her brother-in-law but worried about her sister, she gets on a plane and heads to Maine. After she lands, Ran–and the island doctor–tell her that Mary is having a breakdown; she keeps leaving the house at night because she claims she hears a baby crying and has to find it. The reason Ran finally sent for Joanne was because that night she almost went over a cliff.

Mary seems normal, but shortly after Joanne’s arrival, she sees a strange ghost in the family cemetery and stumbles over a grave just outside the consecrated ground…and then she, too, starts to hear the crying child.

This book is absolutely chilling, with constant twists and turns that keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat, and that sense of unease, that Gothic atmosphere, keeps up through the entire book.

I loved the work of Barbara Michaels; still do, in fact. I also love her work as Elizabeth Peters. I’d love to revisit her novels–The Dark on the Other Side and Be Buried in the Rain in particular; I do reread Ammie Come Home fairly regularly.

And now, back to the spice mines.