Afterglow

And just like that, here we are at Friday again. It’s going to be a very strange fall weekend, since we have no LSU game, but they do occasionally have bye weeks, so I guess that’s how I should look at this particular weekend. The Saints have an early game on Sunday, though, so that should be relatively normal. The question is, should I wait to run my errands until Sunday during the Saints game? I mean, Sunday mornings are the best for making groceries already because everyone’s at church, so the one-two punch of church and the Saints playing should mean abandoned aisles and a quick, easy trip. Decisions, decisions.

We’ve been having a quite marvelous cold spell this week–cold for New Orleans, of course, which means June-type weather for most of you–and so I’ve been sleeping most marvelously, which has been lovely, and of course the three-day-per-week getting up early thing has been sending me to bed earlier than I usually go, and the getting up early hasn’t been quite as awful as it once was. Is this a permanent, lasting change to my body clock? We shall have to see how it goes from now on, but it’s not a bad thing. Maybe even on the days when I don’t have to get up that early I should go ahead and get up if I wake up organically at six; more time in the morning to get things done, really, and going to bed early isn’t a terrible thing.

Remember me talking about flexibility? Maybe it’s time to start getting up every morning at six, getting emails answered, and then move on to doing some writing. Adaptability–something I’ve stubbornly been resisting all the time–is never a bad thing, and maybe part of the issues I’ve been having this year have affected me, mentally, in ways I didn’t even think about. Usually I do exactly that; I adapt to my situation and figure out ways to get everything done and stay on top of things. I’ve really not been doing a very great job of that this year, and why have I been so resistant to adapting and changing my habits and routines? Sure, I’m fifty-nine, and it’s a lot easier when you’re younger to change your habits and routines, but you shouldn’t become so mired in them at any age that you can’t change.

Yesterday’s entries in this month’s horror film festival were a rewatch of Christine (adapted by John Carpenter from one of my favorite Stephen King novels) and a wonderful old British 1970’s horror film, The House That Dripped Blood.

Christine is one of those King novels that made me roll my eyes when I first heard about it; “really? A haunted car?” (For the record, after reading Christine, I vowed I would never roll my eyes at the concept of a King novel again–because not only did it work, it was fucking terrifying.) Christine is another King novel that could be classified and sold as a y/a; it’s about teenagers, and the special kind of hell life can be for some teenagers. The empathy with which he wrote Arnie Cunningham, and the obvious love his best friend Dennis had for him, was the primary force that drove the book, and I also owe Christine an enormous debt of gratitude (but that’s a story for another time) as a writer myself. I saw the film version in the theater when it was released, and to this day, the book remains one of my favorite Kings and the movie, which had to take some liberties with the novel, is one of my favorite King adaptations. It’s flawed, of course, and isn’t nearly as good as the book, but it also holds up after all this time as well. It was directed by John Carpenter, and while it’s not one of his better movies, it’s a good one. Keith Gordon plays Arnie, John Stockwell plays Dennis, and Alexandra Paul plays Leigh, the girl who both boys wind up interested in–all three are fresh-faced and appealing, and I never really understood why none of them had bigger film careers. (The only other film of Keith Gordon’s I recall is him playing Rodney Dangerfield’s son in Back to School, which undoubtedly hasn’t aged well.) The primary difference between film and novel is in the movie, it is the car, Christine, herself that is evil; there’s an opening as she is coming off the line in Detroit in 1957 and already has a taste for blood; in the book, it was never really clear whether the car itself was evil, or if Roland LeBay, the first owner, somehow infused the car with his rotted soul–in either case, the reader comes away from the book unsure of what the source of evil was, and I think that was better served; also, in the book we could see Arnie’s point of view, and Arnie himself, like Carrie in Carrie, was much more of a victim than it appeared in the film.

The House That Dripped Blood was from Amicus Studios in the UK, rather than a Hammer Studios picture, and was written by the great Robert Bloch, best known for writing the novel Psycho. It’s an anthology film–I really miss the terrific old horror anthology films; Amicus and Bloch teamed up for another one of my favorites, Asylum; Stephen King and George Romero tried to revive the form in the 1980’s with their Creepshow collaborations–and includes both Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee in its cast. There are four stories included in the film–I don’t know if Bloch based them on his own short stories or not–about tenants in this particular large country house in England. The film opens with the arrival of an inspector from Scotland Yard, investigating the disappearance of a film star who’d been renting the house, and the rental agent for the house tells the inspector the stories. The first is about a novelist writing about a psychopathic killer named Dominick that he starts seeing everywhere; the second is about a man who becomes obsessed with a wax figure in a wax museum in the nearby town; the third is about a father and daughter who engage a governess, but are harboring a dark secret; and the final story is about the actor, who is major horror film star (and a bit of a diva) who buys a cloak for the vampire film he is making and becomes convinced that the cloak belonged to a vampire–and is also turning him into one. I had never seen this film before, and had always wanted to; I remember it being advertised in the paper when I was a kid, and it’s now free for streaming on Prime. It’s not bad–the production values were low (hilariously, the diva actor in the fourth segment complains about how low budget is on the film he is making, which is why he is going looking for a cloak in the first place), and the acting isn’t bad; you can really never go wrong with either Cushing or Lee, frankly. Asylum is definitely a better film, but I enjoyed The House That Dripped Blood but probably won’t watch it again.

As for the debt I owe Christine, that’s a little bit more complicated. I moved to Tampa in 1991 for two reasons: to restart my life and start living openly as a gay man, and to get away from my old life after a two-year transition in Houston and to start a new one, one that included me pursuing writing seriously for the first time. I had been writing all of my life at this point–I still have the first novel I completed, in long hand and never typed up, and had had bursts of short story writing throughout the 1980’s–but I wanted to start really taking it seriously, and trying to get better, and actually trying to get published. I bought an inexpensive word processor that summer–not a computer, it’s only functionality was as a word processor, and you could save your documents to a floppy disc as well as print them out on what was essentially a typewriter–and since I was at the time thinking about writing horror, I decided to take some of the framework of the handwritten book (and some of the characters, and the town) and write a horror novel about teenagers, from the perspective of an adult looking back at what happened in high school. The book opened with the main character getting an invitation to the ten year reunion, and we learn he left for college and never went back. He starts remembering high school–and the course of the novel is the story of what happened and why he’s never gone back (a concept I’ve returned to numerous times). And while the bulk of the story was going to be about high school and teenagers, I didn’t see it as a book for teens–and I was following the same book structure as Christine, right down to the framing device of the memory chapters bookending the beginning and the end. I was even going to write the first part in the first person, before switching to multiple third person points of view in the second half. I was about five or so chapters into the book when I discovered young adult horror fiction, notably Christopher Pike, and realized this book–and the two I was planning to write after–would work better if written for teens and removing the framing device. I did do the first part in first person, and switched halfway through to multiple third person POV; this was what later served as the first draft of Sara. I started remembering all of this as I rewatched Christine yesterday; as well as a lot of other things I had thought about and planned back in the early 1990’s when I wrote the first drafts of Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel.

It’s chilly in New Orleans this morning–we’re having that vaunted cold spell, which means it’s a frigid 68 degrees–and I am taking a vacation day today to try to get caught up on things, plus errands. Scooter has to go to the vet for a blood glucose level test, and I have to take Paul to Costco so he can order new glasses, and then I have prescriptions to pick up and on and on and on. I need to proof my story in Buried, I need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” the Lost Apartment is a scandalous disaster area, and I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows. There’s also about a gazillion emails I need to read and answer…it seriously never seems to end, does it?

But Scooter clearly feels better–he’s back to knocking over the trash cans and pushing things off surfaces to the floor, his eyes are brighter and more alert, and he seems more energetic; he’s running up and down the stairs rather than meandering, like he had been–and I am hopeful we will soon be able to take him off the insulin. But I’ve gotten so used to giving him the shot twice a day I don’t really notice it that much anymore, and it doesn’t phase either of us at all. He’s also a lot more cuddly than he has been, and more affectionate–which is also kind of hard to believe; I hadn’t really noticed that he wasn’t as affectionate as he had been.

It’s so lovely that it’s cold enough for me to wear sweatshirts again! I love sweatshirts, frankly; my favorite attire is sweats, and I hate when it’s too warm or humid for me to wear one. I am even thinking I might need to turn off the ceiling fans (!!!). Madness! I am really looking forward to getting home from these errands, getting into my sweats, and relaxing as I get things done all day–and I”m really looking forward to tonight’s sleep.

And now it’s off to the errands. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Best Day

And just like that, it’s Thursday again. Wow, where did this week go? It seems as though time is taking an eternity to pass–pre-pandemic times now seem as far back in the past as the Bronze Age–and yet here were are, at the Ides of October. Time keeps on slipping into the future…

I have to proof one of my stories this week; as Constant Reader may (or may not) remember, I sold “Night Follows Night” to an anthology of queer horror called Buried, being edited by Rebecca Rowland, and the galleys to proof dropped into my inbox this week. “Night Follows Night” is the story that begin its life as “This Thing of Darkness” and then was changed to “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” before I finally settled on “Night Follows Night,” which may be the name of an old noir movie? Let me check the Google…hmmm, nothing coming up. I think I ran across it sometime when researching something–maybe it’s an old Cornell Woolrich title?–and thought, that actually fits my story better than “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down”, and so I changed it. (But “And The Walls Came Tumbling Down” is a great title, and I am going to use it for another story at some point, I am sure.) Anyway, I am quite pleased with how the story turned out, and I also like the cover art for the anthology quite a bit. I’ll share it when I can, and of course will be happy to provide purchase information and so forth when it’s available.

And the story is one of the best examples of how something completely mundane can inspire a story: this story was born when I went to make groceries in a particularly bad mood one morning and wound up with a shopping cart that wobbled because of a loose, squeaky front wheel. I tried a second; same thing. The third cart was also in the same condition, so I sighed and gave up, thinking as I pushed the cart into the store (Tchoupitoulas Rouse’s, in case you were wondering) and thought to myself, why do I always get the cart with the wobbling squeaky wheel as I went to the cantaloupes, picked one up, and thumped it…and then thought, do I really know what I am listening for when I thump a melon and then the story started forming in my head…and miracle of miracles, I still remembered it when I got home from the store, and scribbled down notes before putting away the groceries…and once the groceries were safely stored, I sat down at the computer and started writing. I think I submitted it somewhere it got rejected from; but nevertheless, I am very pleased that it’s finally found a home.

The LSU-Florida game this weekend has been postponed, possibly to December, because of a coronavirus outbreak on the Gators team. (Nick Saban and the athletic director at Alabama also both have tested positive this week; maybe having even a shortened season wasn’t the best idea?) Obviously, I am disappointed–even if they lose, I look forward to seeing LSU play every Saturday–but let’s face it; this football season is abnormal and weird and should have been skipped entirely. Whoever winds up winning the National Championship is going to have an asterisk next to their name, since it was a shortened, non-normal season to begin with, whether it’s college or pro; so while I understand the need to make bank for both…it really is amazing what a difference a lack of crowd noise makes when watching a game on television. Part of the fun of home games at LSU is the roars of the crowd in the background; listening to them spell out T-I-G-E-R-S after a touchdown, etc. etc. etc. The Saints games in the Dome with no crowd are equally strange and uninvolving. Who would have ever guessed?

Certainly not me–the guy who hates laugh tracks on comedy shows.

I started writing something new this week–yes, not something I am supposed to be revising, or finishing, or anything like that, you know, like I am supposed to be doing and I don’t know if I am going to be able to finish a first draft. It’s called “Parlor Tricks,” and it’s a short story that opens at a tedious dinner party in the Garden District–a trope I’ve used before, most notably in “An Arrow for Sebastian”–and one of the guests is a celebrity medium (Easter egg alert: the same woman who told Scotty’s parents he had the gift when he was a child) who, after dinner, conducts a seance, and it’s from the point of view of a non-believing young woman. I’m not really sure where the story is going to go–having her become convinced the medium has powers would be too cliched and has been done many times–but there’s a small kernel of an idea germinating there that I can’t quite force out into the open somehow; this, you see, is precisely why I have so many unfinished stories in the files.

Scooter continues to be much better, now that he’s getting insulin twice a day; but I still continue to be concerned that he isn’t eating enough. He is permitted to have a can and a quarter of this special diet wet food, but he won’t eat it if it’s been sitting out for a while, and he also wants a fresh spoonful whenever he gets hungry. He’s always been weird about eating–he’ll eat whatever is in the center of the bowl and then act like it’s empty once he can see the bottom, despite their being a ring of food around the empty space–and this is carrying over to the wet food, with the end result that we are wasting about a half-can of it every day. He’s going back to the vet for a follow-up visit this weekend; I am hoping we can dispense with the insulin shots, frankly.

I am working from home today and tomorrow; this was my first week of three days in clinic, and I wasn’t nearly as tired last night as I thought I might be, but I was definitely getting sleepy around ten–which is when I’ve been going to bed. I woke up at six again this morning, but stayed in bed for another hour or so, but feel very well rested this morning as I drink my coffee and keep adding another spoonful of wet food in Scooter’s bowl once he can see the bottom again. We started watching The Haunting of Bly House last night, but Paul didn’t really care much for it (he didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House either; I wound up watching it on my own) so that’s probably what I’ll watch this week while making condom packs, and we’ll have to find something else to watch in the evenings. There’s only a few films left in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival any way; and this month is supposed to be my month to watch (or rewatch) horror films anyway–and since their true American heyday began in the 1970’s…they are kind of an off-shoot of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival anyway.

I also remembered that usually every October is when I reread The Haunting of Hill House, and I got down my worn and much-read copy last night after I got home from work. Christ, that opening is such genius! I also think it’s smart to read a haunted house story again while I am writing a ghost story, and perhaps maybe rereading some of my favorite Barbara Michaels ghost stories might be in order. It is the season, after all, and it couldn’t hurt to read some more of Nathan Ballingrud’s North American Lake Monsters: Stories, either. (I’ve not done my annual reread of Rebecca in quite some time, either. I guess I can’t call it the ‘annual reread’ if I am not rereading it annually, can I?)

One thing I was doing between clients yesterday was looking fora classic book opening to parody for the next two Scotty books–yes, I have two in mind; French Quarter Flambeaux and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille–and as you may know if you’ve read the series and paid attention, each book opens with a parody of a famous novel’s famous opening (amongst those I’ve parodied thus far include Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, A Tale of Two Cities, and Anna Karenina) and I’ve picked out An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser for the former and I think I found one for the latter; but right now I cannot remember what it was. For you Scotty fans, the story for French Quarter Flambeaux is already starting to take form in my mind; it has to do with a closeted Jefferson Parish elected official, the collapse of a hotel on Canal Street, Carnival, and of course the conclusion to the spy intrigue began in Royal Street Reveillon; the second book will be the recycling of a Scotty plot that was originally planned to be the fourth book in the series–and yes, there’s possibly even a third brewing in my mind. I’m not entirely certain I should keep writing the Scotty books, to be honest; I love the characters and I greatly enjoy writing them, but at the same time writing a Scotty book always seems like a safe choice for me; so I need to, if I keep writing them, make them complicated and take chances with them and push myself creatively. 2020 has been a rough year for everyone, and it’s definitely, I feel, taken a toll on my creativity. I guess we shall see, shall we not?

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

The Truck Driver and His Mate

And somehow here we are at Friday again. Christ, these weeks seem to last forever, and yet somehow I still manage to get so very little fucking done. It seems as though every Friday morning I find myself staring into the gaping maw of my email inbox, with so many emails to answer and some not only need to be answered by require me to do something; to look something up; to verify something; or make some sort of decision. I’m trying very hard not to make myself crazy (crazier, at any rate) and yet…and other emails are getting pushed down further into my inbox, and I know what I really need to do is reverse the order so that the oldest ones are at the top, but I shudder at the very thought of that. And yet, realistically, I know I have to do that one morning and deal with those emails, because with every day they become that much older.

Yesterday was exhausting. By the time I got home–after making works bags all afternoon for the needle exchange and gathering today’s supplies for condom packing (I have calls to make today, so rather than watching my next selected films–Alien and Aliens back to back on HBO MAX–I will be talking on the telephone as I make my condom packs, at least for part of the day; multi-tasking, as it were). And when quitting time rolls around later this afternoon, rather than curling up with Blacktop Wasteland, as I would much rather prefer, I am going to have to start the heavy lifting on the revisions of chapters one thru ten of Bury Me in Shadows, because in order to remain on schedule with it I need to have that finished by Sunday evening in order to begin work on chapters eleven through twenty.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I wonder if I will ever reach a point in my life where I don’t feel crushing guilt for not responding to emails within five minutes of their reception; for not having the energy after a lengthy day at the office or of doing day-job activities at home to work on my writing or read a book; for not having the drive to get things done, for not always being in motion, for not being, basically, a Stepford wife. My apartment is a disaster area, there’s another load of dishes to be done, and its Friday, the day I usually launder the bed linens. The car has a tire with a slow leak in it, so at some point I need to find the time to head over to a gas station to refill the tire with air, and also need to find the time to take it back into the dealership to have the tire dealt with, as well as have routine maintenance done. I am sleeping deeply and well every night, but so deeply that every morning I could probably, if I could, sleep several hours more and my body harbors a resentment towards my brain for forcing my body out of the bed and pouring coffee down its throat and trying to get some kind of grip on the day ahead. Even as I sit here typing I can see the number changing on the tab where my email inbox is opened; possibly more junk to simply be deleted, but there will inevitably be something in there I need to read, that will need to be responded to, will perhaps require me to think or take some kind of further action.

Partly this malaise I feel this morning is inevitably connected to the relief that the lumps in my pectorals are nothing more than genetic fatty deposits hardening into cysts that do not endanger my health nor require any further action or activity on my part; while I was doing my best to repress those worries and push them down deep into my brain and consciousness, the worry and stress wasn’t gone, and the feeling of relief has released a lot stress I wasn’t aware I was carrying. There’s probably some other sort of cathartic release of pent-up stress and energy I could and should be doing; that might help me get motivated and stop feeling so defeated every day.

And I probably should get back into therapy, if I only could carve that time out in my weeks.

Part of it has to do, I am certain, with the sense that I am not organized; but I am also very well aware that even should I carve a day out to get organized it won’t help at all with the sense of drowning and being overwhelmed; the feeling that I have that each limb and appendage is tied to a horse facing a different direction and someone is about to fire the starting pistol. And yet, even now, as the coffee and caffeine from my first cup courses through my veins and my mind begins to throw off its sluggishness and that melted feeling begins to fade from my muscles, I am aware that all the things that I allow to frustrate me (I wish I had a place where I could spread the manuscript out and piece it back together after tearing it all apart and I wish I had enough space for all my books and I wish I could rearrange my time so that I had time for everything I need to get done and I wish I could stop being so lazy or at least stop imagining and believing that I am lazy and I wish I had more self-confidence and I wish I could I wish I wish I wish) can neither be helped nor changed by simply wishing it to be so, and therefore allowing these immutable, unchangeable facts about my current situation in life to defeat or frustrate me is, ultimately, self-destructive (a regular pattern in my life deeply rooted in my consciousness from being told repeatedly that I was a loser so I started believing it, believed it for years, and revert to that mentality frequently whenever under stress or pressure) and a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So, instead I should be looking back at this past year and what I have accomplished. I have had any number of successes with short stories, giving the lie to the insidious belief that I am not a good short story writer. Just this week I sold another one, “The Snow Globe”; I had two come out in anthologies around the same time (“The Silky Veils of Ardor” in The Beat of Black Wings: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Music of Joni Mitchell and “The Dreadful Scott Decision” in The Faking of the President); I sold “The Carriage House” to Mystery Tribune and Night Follows Night” to an anthology titled Buried; I pushed myself by writing a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy,” to The Only One in the World anthology; and my story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” was sold to an anthology I really need to follow up with, as I’ve not heard anything about it in quite some time. I still have two out on submission, but those are both long shots I don’t have a lot of confidence will land–and that is not self-deprecation; both are fine stories, but are undoubtedly buried in piles of hundreds of submissions, hence the strong possibility they won’t be sold. Both stories are works I am pleased with, “Moves in the Field” and “This Thing of Darkness,” and while the short story market has certainly dried up dramatically since I started publishing, I enjoy writing stories and would love to publish more of them.

But I need to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and turned in, so I can get the Kansas book worked on one more time and turned in as well, and then I can get going on Chlorine. I can get everything done that I need to get done, and need to stop allowing negativity to creep into my brain; there’s enough negativity in life already that I don’t need to create my own.

And so I am going to go get my second cup of coffee, and I am going to start digging through the emails. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and remember–don’t let anyone, especially yourself, hold you back.