You Make Me Feel Brand New

As you are well aware, Constant Reader, I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since I read Carrie I was fourteen all those years ago. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have with King, when I would buy the books on their release date in hardcover and then put everything aside so I could read it from beginning to end; there are numerous King novels on my shelves that I’ve yet to read–11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep, among others–and along with them, for a very long time, was End of Watch.

End of Watch is the third in what is called the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed (Mr. Mercedes deservedly won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America). I would occasionally glance at the shelf of unread King novels from my easy chair and think, “I really need to read End of Watch” but never got around to it.

So, given my discovery that most audiobooks are too long for the twelve hour trip home, I decided that I would listen to End of Watch (thirteen hours) on my way home; then I could just get the book down from the shelf and finish reading it at home. So, I got in the car Friday morning, opened the app, and linked my phone to the stereo in my car. I pulled out of the driveway, and as I was pulling onto the highway I suddenly remembered, Oh no! The reason I haven’t read this is because it’s the last Bill Hodges book, and I love the characters so much I didn’t want to finish and say goodbye to Bill, Holly and Jerome for good!

But it was too late, so I soldiered on.

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It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.

Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.

“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”

The opening chapter of this book is a perfect example of King at his best. The two EMT’s in this opening aren’t characters pertinent to the story nor do they appear again (one of them actually does, but very briefly, much later); they are simply the framing device King uses to get the story rolling. They are the ones called to the scene of the murder/suicide the opens the book, and King exquisitely captures their personalities and lives, vividly making them real and alive in their brief pages; he does this throughout the book, introducing a cameo character and bringing that person vividly to life.

Retired cop and now private eye Bill Hodges and his business partner (and friend/family) Holly Gibney are brought into the case because one of the two victims was paralyzed from the chest down by the monstrous Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartsfield, whom Holly put into a coma before he could detonate a bomb at a boy-band concert filled with screaming tweens (the very thrilling conclusion to Mr. Mercedes). And before long, some very strange things keep happening, and all the evidence, the only connection, is that everyone involved has some connection to Brady Hartsfield…who is still in a coma.

Or is he?

End of Watch takes the series, in a brilliant finale, into King’s world, of experimental drugs that can develop telekinesis (back to Firestarter), and also the psychology of  ‘herd mentality’; Brady has been given experimental drugs that have somehow given him horrible abilities…and he uses those abilities to infiltrate the minds of others, using a hand-held gaming device, and pushing them to suicide. Again, King’s genius is seriously involved here, as we go into those teen minds and see how the descent into suicidal depression works…and how easy it is to trigger that spiral. It’s absolutely terrifying, and absolutely real. And once the story gets going, it’s the usual fast-moving train that King always writes, and when I got home from the trip Friday night I couldn’t wait to get my copy down from the shelf and read the stunning, brilliant, utterly satisfying conclusion.

And immediately became sad. I love the characters of Bill, Holly and Jerome, and was deeply sad to realize I had indeed, reached the end of the watch with them.

Highly recommended.

(one caveat: I did struggle with the depiction of one of the suicide victims–a gay teen–but finally decided that it was okay because he was depicted sympathetically, if stereotypically, and King is making an effort to diversify his work. So, I gave him a pass on the gay teen character.)

Bennie and the Jets

What a lovely weekend this past one was, seriously; the Abomination in College Station aside, and even that was more of a seriously? than anything else.

I got back to New Orleans around seven pm on Friday night; there’s a time zone change going and coming, but it always seems like because of that I make better time coming home than going. It’s a mental thing, obviously; same amount of time, same amount of miles (slightly less than 1500 round trip), and yet…it seems to go so much faster. I always think–and I know this makes literally no sense–that since I am driving south and going from a higher elevation to a lower one, that it’s all downhill.

said it didn’t make sense.

I also somehow managed to wrestle with some ideas and projects-in-progress while I was gone; whether those solutions to the problems will work (or if the problem is a real problem in the first place) remains to be seen.

But Saturday morning I had coffee with my friend Pat, preparatory to my Costco run; it was actually a most productive meeting. She helped me with some great info for a short story I am writing, and she also gave me some tips on how to do my New Orleans research (and also thought Monsters of New Orleans was a great idea). The Costco trip wasn’t as bad as one might have thought the Saturday after Thanksgiving; I assume everyone burned out on shopping on Black Friday. But Costco is never an ordeal, even when it’s crowded; which really says a lot about their management philosophy and how well they treat their employees. Everyone is always so nice and friendly and polite; compare that to the staff at, let’s just say Wal-mart, and you see what I mean.

This actually set the mood for a rather lovely weekend. I relaxed and recovered from the trip, while getting caught up on things around the house–grocery shopping, cleaning, laundry, etc. It was quite lovely. I actually finished reading End of Watch during the Abomination in College Station, and one benefit of spending time at my mother’s house? I really think my house needs a deep thorough cleaning and reorganization; i.e. my kitchen could be more efficiently set up. I also need to clean out kitchen and bathroom drawers, and as for my TBR pile–well, if I have had it for more than two years and haven’t read it, time to donate it. And if, later, I decide I want to read it…well, I guess I can buy it again if I want to read it that badly. (I’m talking big, but I know once I start going through the books I am my book-hoarding tendencies are going to re-emerge.)

I know myself all too well.

I also read  “The Book of the Lion” by Thomas Perry,  from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Dominic Hallkyn played back the voicemail on his telephone while he took off his sport coat and hung it up to dry in the laundry room. The smell of rain on tweed was one that he knew some people might say was his smell, the smell of an English professor. The coats–tweed or finer-spun wool in the winter and seersucker or summer-weight fabrics in the late spring or early fall–were his work uniform, no different from a mechanic’s coveralls. He wore them to repel the skepticism of the young.

The first couple of calls were routine: a girl in his undergraduate medieval lit course has been sick, so could she please hand in her paper tomorrow? Of course. He had plenty of others to deaden his soul until that one arrived. Meg Stanley, the Department Chair, wanted him to serve on a Ph.D. oral exam committee. Unfortunately, he would. Reading the frantically scribbled preliminary exam and then asking probing questions in the oral would be torment to him and the student, both of them joined in a ritual of distaste and humiliation, all of it designed to punish them both for their love of literature, but it was part of his job.

Thomas Perry is another luminary of the crime fiction world whose work I’ve neither tasted nor sampled until now. One of the lovely things about anthologies, such as this, is that you can get a taste of an author’s work, a feel for their writing style, without the commitment to reading an actual full-length novel, and you can then decide whether you wish to add the author to your must-read list. “The Book of the Lion,” a tale of academic/rare book intrigue, certainly got Perry added to my list of authors to explore. In this story, our stuffy professor Hallkyn receives a mysterious phone call from a man who claims to have discovered a rare copy of an even rarer work; Geoffrey Chaucer’s “The Book of the Lion,” a romantic history of Richard Couer-de-Lion that has been lost to the ages. The value of such a book, of course, would be in the eight figures at the very least; it’s worth to literary scholarship perhaps even higher. It’s a sort of historical treasure hunt story–this reminds me of William Martin’s Harvard Yard, which involved the search for Love’s Labour’s Found, a long-lost Shakespearean play–and also had several delightful twists.

So, yes, Mr. Perry has been added to my list.

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The Streak

Yesterday was, for the most part, a great day (do NOT mention the travesty/joke that was the LSU game last night; that entire officiating crew, including the booth, should be fired with extreme prejudice. I am not one to blame officiating for losses, but LSU won the game three times and they kept giving A&M just one more chance. Fuck. Off. It’s very hard to not begin–after so much of this the entire season, and not just against LSU–as corruption from the SEC office on down. Greg Sankey needs to resign. NOW.). I got up early and started trying to play catch-up (I was unplugged for most of the week) and then had coffee with my friend Pat, who is a noted historian and a terrific person. I was picking her brains about New Orleans research and she also had an experience I wanted to know about as background for a short story I am writing (“Please Die Soon,” if you must know), and we wound up spending almost three hours chatting, and she also gave me some more ideas for Monsters of New Orleans, which was a lot of fun. We met at the PJ’s on Maple Street in a part of Uptown I’m not sure what to call (Uptown? University? Riverbend?) but it was quite nice to see a part of New Orleans I rarely go to–and discover things–like there’s a lovely breakfast place next door to PJ’s, along with a Christian Science Reading Room (who knew?) and a Starbucks across the street (“Caffeine Alley,” I joked). So after we were finished, I went over to the Starbucks and got some espresso beans for the house, and an insulated travel mug. From there it was about a ten minute drive to Costco, and then back home. I finished reading End of Watch, did the laundry, cleaned and organized the kitchen, and started organizing and doing things in the living room while football games played in the background.

One thing about staying with my family–my mother makes Joan Crawford look like a filthy hoarding slob–was all I can see is how dirty the Lost Apartment is, and how irrationally and inefficiently organized it is. So, yeah…I’m working on that, and probably will today as well.

I need to start digging through all the emails that piled up while I was gone, and I also need to pay bills and update my checkbook. Heavy sigh. But I’ve slept well since coming home, which is lovely, and today I have to make a grocery run, which I will do later this morning.

One thing about driving across country is one is reminded precisely how beautiful this country actually is, or how incredibly vast. New Orleans to Kentucky is over seven hundred miles and takes about twelve hours to drive; and that’s not even close to being halfway across the country. As I drive through Mississippi, Alabama, a small piece of northwest Georgia and through Tennessee–particularly Tennessee–I cannot help but marvel at how beautiful it is; the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee between Chattanooga and Knoxville in particular at this time of year as the leaves are turning. Every time I drive through there I wish I had more time, so I could stop at Scenic Lookout points and take photographs so I can share the amazing beauty with you, Constant Reader.

On the other hand, one cannot help but notice the Confederate flags mounted on the front license plate frames of pick-up trucks and BMW’s and Hondas. This always saddens me when I see it; this clinging to a horrible past and ignoring what that flag actually means to most Americans. Its use, to me, is basically saying fuck you, slavery was a good thing to everyone who sees it, and rather defiantly, at that. As I drove home on Friday, after seeing a proliferation of these on the highway between Fort Payne and Birmingham, an idea for an essay came to me (“Song of the South”) about the “heritage not hate” mentality, and developed that thought even further after talking to Paul about the trip when I got home.

I have so much to write, and so very little time to do it in. Heavy sigh. Sometimes it feels to me that time is nothing more than sand held in my cupped hand on a windy morning at the beach; the grains slipping out of the palm and through the fingers as I desperately try to cling to it.

Heavy sigh. I also want to write up A Game of Thrones and End of Watch.

But I did read short stories while I was gone, and next up is “Mystery, Inc.” by Joyce Carol Oates, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler.

I am very excited! For at last, after several false starts, I have chosen the perfect setting for my bibliomystery.

It is Mystery, Inc., a beautiful old bookstore in Seabrook, New Hampshire, a town of less than two thousand year-round residents overlooking the Atlantic Ocean between New Castle and Portsmouth.

For those of you who have never visited this legendary bookstore, one of the gems of New England, it is located in the historic High Street district of Seabrook, above the harbor, in a block of elegantly renovated brownstones originally built in 1888. Here are the offices of an architect, an attorney-at-law, a dental surgeon; here are shops and boutiques–leather goods, handcrafted silver jewelry, the Tartan Shop, Ralph Lauren, Esquire Bootery. At 19 High Street a weathered old sign in black and gilt creaks in the wind above the sidewalk:

MYSTERY, INC. BOOKSELLERS

NEW & ANTIQUARIAN BOOKS

MAPS, GLOBES, ART

SINCE 1912

As you can clearly see, Constant Reader, Mr. Penzler only recruits the upper echelon of crime writers for his Bibliomysteries, and few literary names have as much luster as the highly-acclaimed Joyce Carol Oates. Again, Ms. Oates is an enormously prolific and gifted writer; I’ve barely scratched the surface of the Oates canon but her work often leaves me awestruck and inspired and more than a little humbled.

“Mystery Inc.” is another one of her toothsome tales of darkness; the main character in this story owns several mystery bookstores in New England and has decided that this lovely bookstore in a small town on the New Hampshire coast is the next one he wants to acquire. The loving descriptions of the store, the artwork and rare books for sale make it sound, in Oates’ delightful prose, like a place I’d certainly wish to visit and somewhere you would have to pry me out of with a crowbar. The main character covets the store, and rarely have I ever read such a story of covetousness I could identify with so completely. But the main character not only wants the store, but has a dark plan for acquiring it. And, as always in an Oates story, things in the store might not be what they seem on their surface; the store has a dark, ugly history which the present owner shares…terrific story, absolutely top tier.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Seasons in the Sun

SO lovely to be home. I drove a positively obscene amount of miles this week, and it’s lovely to be home.

The Saints won Thursday (GEAUX SAINTS!) and tonight is LSU/Texas A&M (GEAUX TIGERS!).

And I am completely and utterly exhausted.

This trip, rather than playing and listening to music in the car, I decided to try listening to audiobooks. I was a complete and utter Luddite when it came to audiobooks; I was warily aware of them (like podcasts) but wasn’t really quite sure how they worked or when you would listen to them. But I figured driving for twelve hours twice within a five day period would give me time to listen to an entire book (I was very incorrect in that assumption) and also thought I could use my library card to borrow one or two. I wound up with A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin for the ride up and End of Watch by Stephen King for the ride back. I wasn’t sure how this would work out; I generally don’t like being read to, and I was worried I’d either be too busy paying attention to driving to listen or listening would distract me from driving. I was also more than a little taken aback to see it was over thirty-three hours long; far too long to be completed on this trip, and I wasn’t sure I’d want togo three days between listening and still not being done. I decided to take my copy of the novel with me, figuring it would be easy to find my place in the book and just finish reading it while there. Likewise with End of Watch, which is slightly more than thirteen hours. I’d find my place in the hard copy and finish it when I got home.

I was very pleasantly surprised with the experience, frankly.

I did finish A Game of Thrones as planned, and I have about 100 pages of End of Watch to go before I am finished with it as well, which will hopefully happen today.

I also have about a million emails to wade through and answer.

Just thinking about it makes me tired.

I also read “The Sequel” by R. L. Stine, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Witness one Zachary Gold, 33. Youthful, tanned, long and lean, tensed over his laptop in the back corner of the coffee shop, one hand motionless over the keyboard.

Casual in a white Polo shirt to emphasize his tan, khaki cargo shorts, white Converse All-Stars. He grips the  empty cardboard Latte cup, starts to raise it, then sets it down. Should he order a third, maybe a Grande this time?

Zachary Gold, an author in search of a plot, begs the gods of caffeine to bring him inspiration. He is an author in the hold of that boring cliche, the Sophomore Slump. And his days of no progress on the second novel have taught him only that cliches are always true.

R. L. Stine hardly needs an introduction from me; people call me profilings, but my output is nothing compared to Mr. Stine’s. I particularly enjoyed reading his Fear Street books (not even I, voracious reader that I am, could actually read them all), and they helped inspire me (along with Stephen King) to try to connect all of my young adult novels in some way; which I not only did but wound up connecting all my novels. I’ve met him several times and have corresponded with him briefly; he’s very gracious and kind.

This story is terrific; and definitely not for kids. The main character is a young author, with a wife and baby, whose first novel was enormously successful and yet…he is undergoing what is often referred to as a “sophomore slump”; he cannot figure out what he wants to write next–but he definitely doesn’t want to write a sequel to the first, as his agent wants him to. He often writes in coffee shops, needing the background noise to help him focus (similarly, music or the television in another room much works the same way for me), and then one morning in his usual coffee shop, struggling to write, or come up with any idea, he is approached by a very large and belligerent man who claims he wrote the manuscript Zachary stole and published…and then the tale is off and running. But there are many twists and different directions the story takes, and I can assure you–you won’t see the final one.

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Don’t Cry

Saturday in New Orleans. I have a big to-do list to get through today, and I must get it all done so we can stream season 2 of both Stranger Things and Freakish this weekend, guilt-free. I also want to get some writing/editing/reading done on Sunday before launching into yet another week of work. I also slept late this morning; which felt wonderful–probably because it is a mere fifty two degrees here (AIEEE!) but I feel rested, which is truly the most important thing. I’d wanted to get up earlier, but hey–them are the breaks, kids. So, when I finish this cup of coffee I’ll probably make one to go and start running the errands, so as to get them over and done with. We were going to go see It tonight, but decided to wait and stream things tonight; we can always watch it when it’s available for streaming later.

I did finish my reread of The Haunting of Hill House last night before going to sleep, and as always, it was just a wonderful experience. That final sequence on the tower staircase terrifies me, as it always does; my fear of heights and my fear of spiral staircases no doubt stems from reading this book and seeing the original film, which was fantastic and remains, to this day, one of my top five horror films. (Do NOT under any circumstances watch the horrific, embarrassingly bad remake.) After I finish all my errands today, I am going to dive into End of Watch, which will probably bring my Halloween Horror reading to a close for this year. I am most anxious to dive into some of these books by authors I love (Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Donna Andrews, Alafair Burke, Adam Sternbergh), and then of course there are the books collecting dust for far too long in the TBR pile. I also realized yesterday that I’ve not reread Rebecca this year, but that may wind up being something I tackle over the Thanksgiving holiday season. (I was also thinking last night of the similarities between The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca last night; which might make for an interesting essay at some point…must make a note of that.)

Heavy heaving sigh.

So much to do, so little time in which to do it.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines…since I overslept I can’t get more in depth on The Haunting of Hill House  as  I would like to; perhaps later, when the errands are finished.

Here’s a Saturday hunk for you, Constant Reader.

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Photograph

Another good night’s sleep. I barely know what to do with myself. Today is my Sunday, since i have to work tomorrow, but that’s fine. I have to run a couple of errands but intend to spend the day cleaning, watching football, maybe doing some editing, and trying to finish reading Anna Dressed in Blood. October is winding down, and I still need to reread The Haunting of Hill House and I want to read Stephen King’s End of Watch by the end of the month. Then I am going to get back to crime reading–I have the ARCS of the new novels by Laura Lippman (Sunburn), Alafair Burke (The Wife), Alison Gaylin (If I Die Tonight) and Ivy Pochoda (Wonder Valley). Such a plethora of riches…and I also have a lot of other wonderful books waiting in the TBR pile.

The house is a disaster area, quite literally, and if I don’t get something done about it today I may just lose my mind. I had lunch with my friend Laura yesterday, and after getting back from yesterday’s errands I had literally no energy left. I don’t know what has happened to my energy levels, but I definitely think I need to start going back to the gym regularly. I haven’t since August, and I think my body is sending me an SOS. I hate when that happens. I am thinking about going to the gym later today before the LSU game and doing a light, get back into the groove work out. I also was thinking of doing just that tomorrow night after work as well.

We’ll see, as I always seem to say.

But yes, I have to stop feeling tired and using that as an excuse for not getting things done. I am way behind on everything, did nothing on the to-do list I finally put together last week, and this shall not stand. I have way too much to do–of course, maybe I am allowing the amount of things I have to do overwhelm me which creates the self-fulfilling prophecy of getting nothing done–but today I am determined. I am not feeling tired the way I usually have when I’ve woken up this week from my good night’s sleep, and so I am going to try to get caffeinated and get moving on everything,

And on that note, I am off to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk for you.

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Dead Giveaway

Tuesday morning, it’s sixty degrees and I’ve had another glorious night of sleep. I am still a bit groggy, only being on my second cup of coffee, but today it’s back to reality after the bliss of Bouchercon and being wrapped up in the world of writing and publishing for almost a week. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we brought the cold weather back down from Canada with us! But I am digging out from under–I really did go AWOL while we were gone on a lot of things–so this morning I need to get caught up on my email and get the house back in some kind of order. I have Friday off as well, since I am working Sunday (condom outreach at the Gay Halloween tea dance at Crescent Park), so that will also help some as far as getting caught up is concerned.

Methinks I need a to-do list.

I started writing a short story yesterday; it’s an idea that’s been lying around in my head for a really long time and I thought, hell, I should start writing this, partly because an idea for the opening came to me. For the longest time this dark noir story was set in Kansas in my head–I even wrote, I think, a rough draft a long time ago but have always wanted to revise it as a noir, and reading Craig Pittman’s Oh Florida! made me realize that part of the problem with the revision I was having was because it should have been set in the panhandle of Florida. (I really recommend the Pittman; Im enjoying the hell out of it and it’s bringing back a lot of memories for me of all the time I’ve spent in Florida) I had started writing another one last week–“Sorry, Wrong Email”–that I would also like to finish this week….so much to do; I really need to make that damned to-do list.

First thing on the to-do list: make a to-do list.

Second thing on the to-do list: figure out what my next horror read will be. (I’m thinking I need to finally finish off Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy with End of Watch, which is more paranormal than mystery; but I may save that for a weekend read.) Maybe it’s time to reread The Haunting of Hill House, which I haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions.

And man, looking around my kitchen at the messy wreckage…I need to get this mess cleaned up.

Okay, enough procrastination. It’s back to the spice mines with me, and here’s a hunk for your Tuesday morning:

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