Storm in a Teacup

I first discovered Stephen King when I was a sophomore in high school. A friend was carrying a paperback copy of Carrie around with her, and I neither recognized the title nor the author. The cover was interesting looking, in that weird kind of alternate reality type way that speculative fiction covers so often got at that time. “What is this about?” I asked when I picked it up and examined the book.

“It’s about a bullied girl with psychic powers,” she replied. “My mom was worried about letting me read it because she’s afraid I’m like her.”

It rather broke my heart a little to hear my friend, who was overweight and had very bad skin but also incredibly kind and intelligent, say this; but I could also relate a bit because I, too, was picked on and bullied. I, too, knew what it was like to walk past a gaggle of kids both pretty and “cool”, notice that they stopped talking as I approached only to whisper and laugh once I walked by…while simultaneously feeling grateful that they had the decency to whisper so I couldn’t hear what was said (and typing that really made me sad).

I opened the book to the first page and there it was, about halfway down the first page, in italics: Carrie White eats shit.

The preceding sentence, not italicized, read: “Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:”

The realism of this, its brutal reality and recognition of the horrors bullied kids face, was like a 2 x 4 across my forehead. I started reading, and kept reading, until the bell rang and I was about thirty pages in, completely drawn into the story. I’d never read anything like it before; it was so real, so honest, so like what high school was actually like as opposed to the cutesy stories I was accustomed to reading about teenagers, where the concerns were “who will take me to Prom?” or “should I go ahead and have sex now or do I wait till I get married?” This was visceral, and I regretfully passed the book back to my friend, thinking, “I’ll look for it at Zayre’s when we go there next.”

My friend, who shared my love of reading, just smiled and said, “I haven’t started it yet–why don’t you go ahead and finish it and then give it back?”

I read it instead of paying attention in my next class–it was Drama, the little play we were rehearsing for class had me assigned stage managing duties, so I really had nothing to do since I wasn’t rehearsing–so I sat in a seat in our school theater, reading. I read it on the bus ride home. I read it when I got home, sitting on my bed with my back propped up by cushions. And I finished it that night–establishing a pattern with King’s fiction that lasted for decades: I would read the book as soon as I got a copy from start to finish, usually in one sitting (It kept my up all night because I couldn’t put it down).

When I saw Night Shift on the wire racks of the News Depot several years later in Kansas, I was terribly excited. A new Stephen King! I bought it immediately and took it home…slightly disappointed to discover it was merely a short story collection, and I wasn’t a big fan of reading short stories; I only read the ones I was required to read for a class assignment.

I read the first story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and didn’t like it at all; I put the book aside and didn’t return to it until months later…the next story, however, was “Graveyard Shift” and it was amazing…suffice it to say, I read the rest of the book through in one sitting–and it’s also been my go-to for rereads and so far when I don’t have a lot of time, or I want to simply relax and enjoy reading…one of the reasons for years I would often reread a favorite book.

But last night we started watching Chapelwaite, which I knew was an adaptation of that first story I didn’t care for–and have never reread as a result–and so I decided to go ahead and revisit the story.

I am really glad that I did.

Oct. 2, 1850

Dear Bones,

How good it was to step into the cold, draughty hall here at Chapelwaite, every bone in an ache from that abominable coach, in need of relief from my distended bladder–and to see a letter addressed in your own inimitable scrawl propped on the obscene little cherry-wood table beside the door! Be assured that I set to deciphering it as soon as the needs of the body were attended to (in a coldly ornate downstairs bathroom where I could see my breath rising before my eyes).

I’m glad to hear that you recovered from the miasma that has so long set in your lungs, although I assure you that I do sympathize with the moral dilemma the cure has affected you with. An ailing abolitionist healed by the sunny climes of slave-struck Florida! Still and all, Bones, I ask you as a friend who has also walked in the valley of the shadow, to take all care of yourself and venture not back to Massachusetts until your body gives you leave. Your fine mind and incisive pen cannot serve us if you are clay, and if the Southern zone is a healing one, is there not poetic justice in that?

Yes, the house is quite as fine as I had been led to believe by my cousin’s executors, but rather more sinister. It sits atop a huge and jutting point of land perhaps three miles north of Falmouth and nine miles north of Portland. Behind it are some four acres of grounds, gone back to the wild in the most formidable manner imaginable–junipers, scrub vines, bushes, and various forms of creeper climb wildly over the picturesque stone walls that separate the estate from the town domain. Awful imitations of Greek statuary peer blindly through the wrack from atop various hillocks–they seem, in most cases, about to lunge at the passer-by. My cousin Stephen’s tastes seem to have run the gamut from the unacceptable to the downright horrific. There is an odd little summer house which has been nearly buried in scarlet sumac and a grotesque sundial in the midst of what must once have been a garden. It adds the final lunatic touch.

But the view from the parlour more than excuses this; I command a dizzying view of the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite Head and the Atlantic itself. A huge, bellied bay window looks out on this, and huge, toadlike secretary stands beside it. It will do nicely for the start of that novel which I have talked of so long (and no doubt tiresomely).

When I first read this story (and disliked it so intensely) I was a teenager completely turned off by the archaic style of writing, as well as the concept of a story told in letters and diary entries (I wasn’t aware of the concept of epistolary fiction at the time; it was also why I stopped reading Dracula when I first tried as a teenager), and the story itself was just kind of…weird–with all its references to things inside the walls and “great worms” and “horrors from beyond the cosmos”…it wasn’t until I read King’s study Danse Macabre that I became aware of Lovecraft’s work and eldritch horrors; but remembering how much I disliked this story, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go on to read Lovecraft or works in a similar vein (the cultural war over Lovecraft in the speculative fiction community over the last decade–not sure of the time line, frankly, and don’t care enough to go look; I am loosely affiliated with that community and have many friends in it, so can’t not be aware but simply observed).

But watching Chapelwaite put me in mind of this source material for the show again, and I decided to reread it this morning, since I’ve never reread the story since its initial read back in the 1970’s. I’ve since read Dracula; Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the book that cured me of my disdain for epistolary fiction–the book is extraordinary–but yet, never gave “Jerusalem’s Lot” another try.

I’m glad I did.

This second read made me appreciation the story a lot more than I did over forty years ago. A quick glance at the copyright page for Night Shift shows that the story was an unpublished work included in this collection and seeing print for the first time; a shame, because it not only shows King’s incredible versatility as a writer but also it’s chilling and creepy; it’s almost Gothic in tone, certainly using a writing style from the past (although I don’t know that a man in 1850 would mention needing to relieve his bladder in a letter to a friend); one that is very formal and I didn’t care for much as a teenager but have come to greatly appreciate in the years since. The story is simple: Charles Boone, after some ill health after the loss of his beloved wife, has inherited a family estate on the coast of Maine. There was a family rift between his grandfather and great-uncle; the death of the former master of Chapelwaite has left Charles as the lone survivor of the family. Once he and his man-servant arrive, they begin to experience strange phenomena that they originally tribute to rats in the walls; but rats don’t explain when no one in the nearby town of Preacher’s Corners will come near the place, or will have anything to do with Charles. A few miles from the house is a pristine yet abandoned village: Jerusalem’s Lot (yes, the same name of the town from King’s classic vampire novel ‘salem’s Lot), and Charles–despite being warned (do people in horror stories ever listen to warnings?) investigate the little town, and…yeah.

GREAT story, and the end is *chef’s kiss*.

Very glad I decided to revisit the story, so thank you, Chapelwaite, for getting me to do so.

And I will add there’s another Jerusalem’s Lot story in Night Shift, “One for the Road”–which I deeply love.

And now back to the spice mines.

I Love Saturday

It’s true. I do love a Saturday.

Yesterday was gloomy in New Orleans–clouds everywhere; white and fluffy, but too thick for the sun to get through, so there was kind of a weird dullness to the light. I spent most of the day doing data entry for my work-at-home chores, and then starting proofing the pages of #shedeservedit, which are due on Monday. I hope to get a lot done this weekend; I have writing to do and edits to make and everything else; I am leaving on a trip on Tuesday to the northeast so writing is probably not going to be much of an option while I am traveling. I will try, however; just as I will try to write here every day so you won’t miss me terribly. (I crack myself up, seriously; no one would notice if I didn’t post! I am not that arrogant.)

But today is bright and sunshiney; I woke up feeling really good after a very lovely night’s sleep–long and deep and restful–and I feel like this morning is the start of a great new time for me. (It’s really amazing what a great sleep will do for one’s outlook, isn’t it?)

Yesterday was a work-at-home day, and by the end I was bleary-eyed from staring at a computer screen entering data for the most part. I was very glad to finish–it’s tedious, and while it does appeal to my obsessive-compulsive side as well as the completist aspects of my persona, any kind of simple data entry work can become tedious and make your eyes cross after awhile. After Paul got home last night we caught up on this week’s episode of The Morning Show and started watching Chapelwaite, with Adrien Brody from EPIX, which is, of course, based on Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” from the Night Shift collection (which I now want to go back and reread, at least this particular story). “Jerusalem’s Lot” was never a favorite of mine of King’s, and I never revisited it; it was written a very old Gothic style, like Dracula–mostly epistolary, in the form of letters and journal entries–and King himself has said it was very Lovecraftian in influence and style (I’ve never read Lovecraft; something I should perhaps remedy at some point. I’ve always admitted my education in classics is sorely lacking.) and I didn’t much care for it as a callow youth. But as an adult I’ve become more enamored both of epistolary tales (I love the concept of people writing incredibly lengthy letters to each other; and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, one of my favorite books and stories of all time, is completely epistolary), and I suspect a quick reread of the story will actually give me a better appreciation for it. Plus, I think to get back into the habit of reading again, I may need to revive the Short Story Project. I’ve been struggling with my reading again lately, not sure why, but maybe reading short stories will help me work my way around it.

Today I have writing to do, as always. I am going to finish writing this and continue to swill coffee while finishing some odds and ends here in the kitchen; I’ve made some impressive (to me) progress with the organizational project I’ve undertaken (goal: to be completely organized by the end of the year), and I might even sit outside and read for a bit this morning. It’s definitely fall here now–yesterday it was in the 60’s–and quite lovely. I do want to go for a walk in the neighborhood where my book is set, to get another feel for it–so that will probably be on the agenda for either today or tomorrow.

In other exciting news, I may have found a home for one of my own short stories, a particularly dark and twisted tale no one I’ve submitted it to wants to touch. An editor compiling an anthology of gay-themed and written crime stories reached out to me this week; I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and realized that this story actually, with a few tweaks, could easily be made into something that fits this theme. So, add that to the list of things to do. I didn’t really do anything in the world of short stories this past year–something I hoped wouldn’t turn out to be the case; I’d been hoping to write and sell a few every year going forward, but this crazy year has just slipped through my fingers and as such, don’t really have much in the way of short stories to show for myself, which is terribly disappointing. Then again I rarely cease to find myself disappointing….

And on that note, I am going to grab my iPad and read that Stephen King short story. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you yet again tomorrow.

Hello Hello

Monday morning and here we are again. But the good news is I actually wrote something yesterday that wasn’t this blog and I haven’t done that since Before the Power Went Out. Granted, it wasn’t much of anything; a listicle of books I used as inspiration for Bury Me in Shadows and how their mood, style, voice and point of view helped me develop my own Gothic style for my own book. Bury Me in Shadows isn’t my first Gothic, of course; Sorceress, Lake Thirteen, Timothy, and The Orion Mask could all be considered Gothics (the latter two definitely more so than the first two; but the first two do have touches of Gothic in them).

But writing this listicle (and yes, I do hate that word but it works) got me thinking about Gothics in general, and what is/isn’t considered Gothic when it comes to literature (and no worries, Constant Reader–I refused to take the bait and name The Castle of Otranto, Dracula and all the others that inevitably turn up on these lists; I even left the Brontë sisters off my list); likewise, I often think about noir in the same way and what it is or isn’t (I maintain that Rebecca is noir to the heart of its dark soul), which makes reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night such a joy. Yes, I was able to sit down yesterday and spend some time with this delicious noir that is just as velvety in its writing as its title implies; it was after I walked to the gym on a beautiful late September Sunday and worked out, then walked home and had my protein shake, watching the end of the Saints game while sitting in my easy chair and reading. So, yes, yesterday was quite the marvelous day for one Gregalicious. Yes, I slept later than intended; but I made it to the gym, I wrote the listicle piece, and I spent some time reading. I really need to set aside at least an hour every day to spend reading; I’m not sure why I’ve had so much trouble reading since the power came back. But I have some amazing things in my TBR list I want to get to, and I definitely want to hit the horror/spec fic hard for October, to honor Halloween. Definitely want to reread The Haunting of Hill House again, perhaps grab one of those thick Stephen King first editions down from the shelf and dig into it, and there’s a Paul Tremblay on the shelves, waiting for me to read it. I can also get back into the Short Story Project for October–there’s no better short story writer to study than Stephen King, right, and I haven’t even cracked the spine of If It Bleeds.

Yes, that sounds like a great plan.

I also need to start working on the book I just signed a contract for that is now due in January. I haven’t settled on a pseudonym yet, but the book’s title is (pause for effect) A Streetcar Named Murder, and I am really looking forward to getting back into writing this again. I’ve been thinking about it a lot lately and making lots of notes…I do think I am getting to the point where I am going to start writing fiction again, and regularly. I still feel more than a little bit overwhelmed, but it’s not as paralyzing as it has been Since The Power Went Out…but I am also aware, from past experience with this sort of shit, that it also goes from day to day and changes. Today may be a good day; yesterday certainly was, but it can also change on a dime at any moment.

We also finished watching Curse of the Chippendales after the Saints game–the final episode was a bit of a letdown–but the overall story was fascinating. I was more than a little surprised that none of the Chippendales dancers were gay–or certainly not the ones they interviewed, at any rate–because I would have sworn that several of them were; I mean, as I said to Paul while we were watching, “I find it really hard to believe none of these guys were gay–especially with worked out bodies at a time when the majority of men who did work out were gay.” Then again, it could be a stereotype, but I do remember when if someone looked like they worked out, the odds were in favor of them being gay. (While I am aesthetically very happy that gay body culture has crossed over into the mainstream with the result that even straight guys of all ages are working on keeping their bodies in shape, I do miss the days when a hot-bodied guy would catch my eye and I’d be able to think, ‘yeah, one of us most likely.’)

After that, we got caught up on Titans–I cannot emphasize how well Greg Berlanti’s television adaptations of the DC Universe are done–and then we started watching Midnight Mass on Netflix. It’s creepy and weird and sad and more than a little spooky; all I could think while watching was ugh how miserable it would be to live on that island…while I am not a fan of living in enormous metropolitan areas like New York or LA or San Francisco etc, I am also not a fan of living in little communities like the one depicted in this show. There’s such a claustrophobic, insular feel to living in small rural towns or communities that I don’t think I could stand for long. But it was a lovely, relaxing Sunday around the Lost Apartment (and the Saints won!), which was greatly appreciated by me at the very least.

And on that note, I should head into the spice mines. Y’all have a lovely Monday, okay?

Vampires

And now we found ourselves at the dawn of a Saturday, the first day of a new weekend, which are always, inevitably, far too short.

I have requested a book from the library which is the beginning of my research into Chlorine; and I will be picking that up today as I run a couple of errands in the heat of the day. My goals for the weekend are to finish reading Blacktop Wasteland and get Chapters 1-10 of Bury Me in Shadows completed; which of course is preparatory to getting the next ten chapters revised and redone and rewritten over the next week. It is a rather ambitious program, to be sure–and I am also certain at some point I’ll get tired and stop, then berate myself all week that I’m not further along with it than I am. You know, second verse, same as the first.

Yesterday–hell, this entire past week–was not a particularly pleasant one, and my usual go-to when I am not having a good week–being kind to people and trying to help them–also blew up in my face, which, while incredibly unpleasant, is actually fine. Usually, when there’s not a pandemic, I get to be kind and caring and helpful to my clients pretty much every day of the week, and that, inevitably, always makes me feel better about the world (and people) in general. I miss having that daily release of kindness and caring, of being sympathetic to people and listening to their concerns and helping them to feel better about things, but…I also need to recognize that outside of my job, in the real world other people don’t necessarily give a shit about my help, or need it, or particularly want it, and that the people I help at work are actually my clients, and they want help, they’re worried and need someone to be empathetic and kind and ease their fears. I also need to remember that people in my every-day-not-coming-in-for-an-appointment life might actually see my offers of help and caring as something else entirely, and not receive it well. I also need to remember that people I only know through pleasant enough internet interactions actually aren’t people I know, and I should save my empathy, caring, and kindness for people who actually are my friends–of whom there are, in fact, a lot.

It was, all in all, a stressful week, an up and down rollercoaster of emotions and triggers and psychological distress. As I tell my clients at the office, it’s normal to feel stress and worry and fear about getting any kind of diagnostic medical test, even when you’re absolutely mostly certain there’s nothing to worry about–there’s always that gnawing fear that this will be the time the news is bad, and being who I am, I inevitably try to prepare myself for the news to be bad. This is no doubt the psychological residue of years of getting HIV tests and nervously waiting the two or more weeks to get the results back while people I knew were going into the hospital and not coming back out; of going in and having the blood drawn and going through the entire session of data gathering and demographics and behavioral risks that always –while not the intent of the counseling, of course–left me feeling like an irresponsible drunken whore who deserved to die. One of the reasons I went into this line of work was to make sure that everyone who comes in to get tested knows that the person testing them cares about them, doesn’t judge them, and is doing everything in their power to make them more comfortable and relaxed. I treat all my clients with dignity and respect and empathy, and I have found that actually works, for the most part, in the world outside of my testing office as well.

I really miss doing my job every day.

And yesterday, of course, I had to take Paul out to Metairie to get his eye cleaned, and while it’s been sixteen years, being reminded by something as innocuous as an eye cleaning appointment inevitably still weighs heavily on me emotionally. Some years I make it through the anniversary without thinking about it; most days it doesn’t cross my mind, and sometimes can go for great stretches of time without thinking about or being reminded of it; it’s now mostly a part of the distant past. Yet it still lives on in my memories, even if they are pushed to the back most of the time, they are still there, and when something like yesterday’s appointment rolls around those memories will crowd their way up to the front of my mind, and even though I try not to allow them to affect (for fuck’s sake, it’s been sixteen years) me emotionally, they still somehow weigh heavily on me and drag me down. All the way to Metairie yesterday I was snapping and cursing out other drivers–okay, I do that every time I drive because New Orleans seriously has the worst and stupidest and most careless drivers of anywhere I’ve ever lived–but yesterday I felt particularly angry with them all for putting our lives at risk with their carelessness and stupidity.

Which is why I never understand how people are amazed about the anti-vaxxers and the anti-maskers; all you ever have to do to see how little most people care about anyone else’s lives or safety is go for a drive. I saw a meme months ago about the “shopping cart test” being an excellent way of determining what kind of person someone is; do you leave the cart abandoned in the middle of the parking lot, blocking a parking space, or do you return it to the front of the store or to a cart corral which is a short walk, at most, from wherever you are parked? (It should come as no surprise to anyone that most people just abandon the carts where they are once they’ve finished using them–which means a low wage employee has to walk around the entire parking lot retrieving the carts, sometimes in the broiling sun. I always either put the cart in the corral or walk it back to the front of the store–but with the caveat being that in college I worked at Toys R Us and sometimes, in the broiling heat of 115 degree summer days, had to go on cart duty. I know firsthand how shitty of a job that is, and so I try to do my little part to make it easier for the unfortunate soul whose job it is. On the rare occasions when I eat fast food I always throw my trash away and leave the tray on the space provided in every fast food place for them, usually on top of the actual trash bin. I honestly don’t think it’s mean-spirited; I think it’s thoughtlessness for the most part–someone else will take care of this for me. And sure, it is someone’s job–but there’s no rule that says we can’t make things easier for someone doing their job by doing something as simple and easy as dumping your trash or returning a shopping cart to a corral–just like I don’t understand why people don’t drive with a concern for the safety of themselves, let alone others.

We finished the second season of Babylon Berlin last night with a massive binge of almost the entire season in one sitting, beginning at seven pm and finishing just after eleven–I hesitate to think we actually watched as many as seven episodes, but I really think we must have, because I seem to recall finishing Season One and watching the first episode of Season 2 on Thursday night. I cannot praise the show nearly enough–Paul and I are getting to the point where we have very little interest in watching American television programs anymore, because the foreign ones are so much better. There are about, on a quick check, three or four books in the series; I do have the first one on hand, and I may move on to it when I finished Blacktop Wasteland, hopefully this weekend.

So, my plan is to shake off yet another shitty week and get my head cleared and back on straight and dive back into my work. I am treating myself to making cappuccinos this morning rather than having my usual coffee; grinding beans and frothing milk and making espresso–it’s really not a lot of trouble, honestly; it’s more about the mess it makes more than the process–a lot of moving parts that need to be cleaned afterwards more than anything else. (I love the smell of beans being ground!) The kitchen/office is, as always on a Saturday morning, messy and in need of being put in order; the ongoing battle to get organized rages on.

Yesterday, after making my phone calls and while making my daily quota of condom packs, I discovered that the old ABC Movie of the Week The Night Stalker was available on Youtube –a lot of those old made for television movies from the early 1970’s/late 1960’s are on Youtube–. but not particularly good copies; whenever I try to watch one I am inevitably disappointed by the poor quality of the film. It seems like someone used their VCR to record them as a general rule, and then uploaded them–with all the usual glitches and scratchiness and poor reproduction one would expect from an old VCR tape (this was the case with some I have watched, like Go Ask Alice and The House That Would Not Die, which was based on Barbara Michaels’ brilliant novel Ammie Come Home); I was delighted to see that this was not the case with The Night Stalker–it was almost like the film had been digitized before uploading. The picture was very clear, the colors bright, and absolutely no fuzziness. The sound quality was also very high. The Night Stalker, and its sequel, The Night Slasher, were two of the more popular ABC Movies of the Week, and wound being the basis for a series, Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which was kind of a mid-to-late 1970’s version of The X Files. The series didn’t do very well, was pretty roundly mocked for cheesiness and poor quality, and didn’t last more than a season, but surprisingly enough, The Night Stalker holds up pretty well, despite being obviously dated and produced on a shoestring budget (the producer was Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame); but the heart of the movie is Darren McGavin’s brilliant portrayal of Carl Kolchak, a world-weary, down on his luck investigative journalist who has been fired from many major newspapers in his career and had wound up working at a paper in Las Vegas, which at the time was kind of a backwater casino town (its still a casino town, but a much bigger city now; I don’t know if one would consider it a backwater or a comedown from Boston or Chicago or Washington anymore; maybe). The premise of the film is young women are being murdered, and their bodies drained of most of their blood; the second body is found in a dried out gulley with no footprints around it; which means it must have been thrown quite a distance to get where it was. Kolchak begins to slowly believe that there’s a vampire in Vegas (Vampire in Vegas is actually a great title), despite resistance from both the higher-ups at the paper and the police, and he begins to gather the evidence. He tracks down the vampire finally, and kills it by driving a stake through it’s heart just as the police arrive–and of course, his story is spiked and he is threatened with prosecution for murder if he doesn’t leave town. The girl he is seeing, who works in a casino, is played by Carol Lynley; she is also forced to leave town without even getting a chance to say goodbye to him. The story holds up pretty well–and it is interesting seeing Las Vegas as it was in the early 1970’s, which is vastly different than it is now; and watching it made me a little sad–the death of print journalism for the most part over the last twenty years has forced that kind of character, once so integral to the crime genre–the crusading, world-weary journalist–into retirement. Journalists and journalism was also a popular genre of television and film, too–remember Lou Grant? I had always wanted to write a book about a newspaper and how it operates, a kind of Arthur Hailey type thing, with characters at every level, from the publisher down to the copy clerks. Maybe it could still be done today; I don’t know. It’s an interesting idea, but one that has languished in my files for decades and will probably continue to do so.

I also think a study of the evolution of the vampire story would be an interesting read, going back to pre-Dracula writings and then tracing its evolution through modern times; how Dark Shadows and Chelsea Yarbro Quinn changed the face of the vampire tale and made Anne Rice’s novels possible; and all the other vampire stories, like ‘salem’s Lot and Poppy Z. Brite’s Lost Souls. Maybe someone already has? I know Stephen King covered some of this material in Danse Macabre, but that is nearly forty years (!) out of date, and I doubt he will be doing an updated version anytime soon.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Only One Love In My Life

Hey there, Friday. Here’s looking at you, Kid.

So all the stuff with Romance Writers of America finally came to an end yesterday with the resignations of their president (good riddance) and his partner in crime, the executive director (see ya!). What does this mean? It means that perhaps the long and slow and painful process of rebuilding the organization can begin–and a lot of the nasty racists outed themselves, which is always a good thing. Me? I’d rather know who they are myself–same with the homophobes and the misogynists and all the others.

But all of this reminded me of one of my favorite mystery novels of all time: Die for Love by Elizabeth Peters.

Elizabeth Peters is one of my favorite writers of all time, bar none. I am also an enormous fan of her more supernatural pseudonym, Barbara Michaels. Her novels as Peters, though–my God, so clever and witty and laugh out loud funny. I absolutely adore her Amelia Peabody series; decades of reading pleasure as we follow the adventures of heiress Amelia as she meets, falls in love and marries  her Egyptologist husband Emerson–all the while solving murders and catching antiquities thieves. The series was wonderful.

But Die for Love isn’t a Peabody novel. Peters also wrote two other series; one featuring an assistant museum curator named Vicky Bliss (some of the best opening lines ever), and another, featuring Jacqueline Kirby, head librarian at a small Midwestern college who is sharply intelligent and knows how to not only take advantage of an opportunity but squeeze every bit of use out of it as well. The earlier Kirby novels are quite intelligent and well done; The Murders of Richard III is a particular standout, in which a Richard III society’s members begin to be murdered in the same manner–and order– as the King’s victims in the Shakespearean play of his life.

Jacqueline, as head librarian, has a budget that allows her to travel to literary events–in order to increase her knowledge and to find authors/books to highlight and stock in the library–and generally finds events in places she wants to visit. So she decides to visit a romance convention in New York, and murder–and hilarity–ensue. I’ve always loved this book, and one of the things that is perhaps the funniest–or was to me, over the years, but now I’m kind of rethinking it–is that Jacqueline, who is a speed reader, reads some of the romance novels written by the biggest names in the business while she’s investigating the murder, and realizes I can do this. She also starts, whenever she has a spare moment, scribbling away at her own romance novel.

In the next, and sadly, final book of the Kirby series, Naked Once More, we find that Jacqueline is no longer employed as a librarian as she is now an international bestselling romance novelist. Naked Once More is just as funny as Die for Love, frankly; all of Peters’ books are delightfully witty and funny.

I should reread Die for Love. Let me add it to the Reread Project.

I am putting in eight hours today rather than my usual half-day Friday because I am taking Monday off for the game. We’re supposed to have horrible weather tomorrow morning (hail, tornadoes, flash flooding), so welcome, Clemson fans? But then I am coming home and hoping to get back to the writing. I am working on a secret project–Lord, how many things am I working on at the same time?–which actually started coming together the other night, and I am anxious to get that all done, hopefully over the course of this weekend, along with the website copy I need to write and some short stories, as well as some more work on Bury Me in Shadows.

We started watching Manhunt on Acorn last night, and it’s intriguing; we will continue, and then another episode of Messiah, which is really picking up speed. I’ve also heard good things about Dracula, and of course HBO’s adaptation of The Outsider premieres this weekend as well. Sex Education and Schitt’s Creek are also back, if not already, then soon–so that’s my television watching in my free time sorted for quite some time.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

zach-roerig-in-shirtless-with-belted-jeans-all-people-photo-u1

Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

certain dark things

Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.