Here Comes That Rainy Day Feeling Again

I didn’t start reading young adult fiction until I was an actual adult.

I didn’t read it when I was an actual young adult,, which I’ve tried to remedy in the years since I discovered that there is young adult fiction that is not “ABC Afterschool Special” style drama–these abounded to an extreme when I was a teen; everything was a cautionary tale. You want to have sex? Here, read Mr. and Mrs. Bo Jo Jones or My Darling My Hamburger. Drugs? You should read Go Ask Alice. And on and on it went…the 1970s were a very weird time to go through puberty and your teens, especially if you were beginning to realize your sexuality was all wrong and you needed to hide almost everything true and honest about yourself from everyone you know. There were actually good books for teens being written and published during that time, of course; I just never found them (some have been recommended to me by friends who are the same age and read them at the time; Trying Hard Not to Hear You by Sandra Scoppetone could have made a significant difference in my life had I read it back then).

But in the early 1990’s, I started reading horror/mystery novels by teens by Christopher Pike, which led me to R. L. Stine’s Fear Street books and my favorite mystery writer for teens–the forgotten and vastly under-appreciated Jay Bennett. Those books got me to start writing my own y/a horror/mystery/suspense novels for teens–which eventually became my novels Sara, Sleeping Angel, and Sorceress–and I continue to write them from time to time; my last two releases were actually young adult fiction (or marketed as such). I try to keep my hand in the field by reading horror/mystery/suspense novels for young adults that are more current; it’s hard to keep up with everything I want to read as it is, but I was really happy one of the books I took with me on my trip was Alan Orloff’s Agatha Award winning (and Anthony Award finalist) I Play One on TV.

He watched as a teen in a dark hoodie emerged from a storage closet and crept into the high school locker room. In the dum light, the shadowy figure advanced, slowly, methodically. In his left hand, a knife blade glinted.

The man’s insides constricted as he observed. He could almost smell the stale sweat left behind by the athletes after football practice, soon to be replaced by the stench of fear and the coppery odor of fresh blood.

The feelings he experienced now–rage, fear, excitement–mirrored those he had felt then, five years ago. When he had been the teen in the hoodie in that locker room. When he had been wielding the knife.

When he had been stalking his unsuspecting victim.

The premise of I Play One on TV is very original and clever: the main character is a teenager with ambitions of becoming an actor–he has an agent, goes out on auditions for commercials and local theatre productions, and works with his high school’s summer theater camp–and thus far his biggest break was starring as a teenaged killer in a true crime reenactment series. The killer he is playing, Homer Lee Varney, was a bullied outsider who murdered a jock, and has recently been released from prison due to a legal technicality. Dalton’s two best friends are also aspiring actors, and shortly after his episode of the show airs, someone starts stalking him–and he fears he is being stalked by the actual killer.

But was Homer guilty, or was he railroaded? Dalton has found some discrepancies in the police reports which indicate that the investigation might not have been as thorough or efficient as one might think…so maybe Homer isn’t a killer after all?

Dalton, despite his faults (and it’s to Orloff’s credit as a writer that he doesn’t make Dalton perfect–especially since this is a first person narrative), is easy to connect with, identify with, and root for to succeed–not just as an amateur private eye but as an actor and as a person. He’s a bit selfish and self-absorbed (as creative artists have a tendency to be), and he also has some serious professional jealousy for a schoolmate who often winds up going up for the same parts–but gets them instead of Dalton (which is a stage name). Dalton’s relationships with his parents and with his sister are also realistic and well drawn, and the story/mystery progresses at an excellent pace, and comes to a very satisfying, enjoyable conclusion.

I Play One on TV recently won the Agatha Award for Best Childrens/Young Adult Novel, and also received an Anthony nomination in the same category.

Definitely recommended!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

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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Blowing Kisses in the Wind

Rereading ‘salem’s Lot again, after many years, has proven to be quite a treat: there was clearly a reason why I loved this book so much and why I’ve reread it about a gazillion times. It has always been my favorite vampire novel, and certainly one of my favorite horror novels. It scared the shit out of me when I first read it back when I was a teenager, and it has always entertained me, every single I’ve read it, even though I know what’s going on in the town, what’s going to happen, who lives, who dies. I remember there’s been talk over the years–I think even Stephen King may have aided and abetted this at times–that there might be a sequel; I’ve long since given up on that hope–despite always wanting to know whatever became of Ben Mears and Mark Petrie…and did they ever return to that awful town in Maine?

In the 1980’s, I decided that I wanted to be a writer like Stephen King. I started writing horror short stories, and even came up with an idea for a full-length horror novel called The Enchantress; I still have those four chapters I wrote in my files before I finally put it away for good. The book itself, while influenced most strongly by King, was also influenced by Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon, which I had also recently read–I’d loved Ghost Story and If You Could See Me Now–and wanted to write about, the way King did so often, a small town where something supernatural–and terrifying–happens. I blatantly copied the narrative structure of Floating Dragon (oh look! Four different point of view characters! One an old man, one a child, one a man in his early thirties, and the other a woman with psychic abilities that have basically cursed her life!) but I was also trying to weave some other elements into the story that might not have ultimately worked; it was set in the panhandle of Florida, for one thing, and it had to do with the curse of a witch on four different families (a la Floating Dragon, only he didn’t have a witch), and I don’t think that would have ultimately worked. The idea was also built around a concept I had, an idea, about evil, killer mermaids. I eventually used some of the story and the concepts for Dark Tide, whose original working title was Mermaid Inn.

It’s funny that rereading ‘salem’s Lot brings back such weird memories, isn’t it? I may get around to writing The Enchantress someday–it just can’t be set in Florida, because it needs cliffs–so maybe I’ll move it to a fictional town on the California coast.

Like King–another thing I stole from him–almost all of my books are connected to each other in some way. For years, the connection between the Chanse and Scotty series were my cops–Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague–appeared in both series; why have different homicide cops in the same city? I had originally intended to connect everything; Woodbridge in California, from Sleeping Angel and Sorceress are connected to the small town in Kansas from Sara; I don’t recall off the top of my head how Lake Thirteen plays into my world-building; but I think the Chicago suburb where the main character in that book is from was the same suburb that the kid from Sara was from, and so on. I always wanted to go back and write some more about Woodbridge; I kind of saw my teen/young adult fiction as being similar in type and style as the Fear Street series by R. L. Stine; which were all in the same town and often minor characters in one book was the main character in another. (Woodbridge was loosely based on Sonora, where some of my college friends were from; I visited them several times up there in the mountains and it was stunningly beautiful up there. One of the few great things about spending the 1980’s in Fresno was accessibility to Yosemite, Sierra National Forest, and Kings Canyon.)

I may get back to this at some point; Bury Me in Satin is connected in that it returns to the part of Alabama where the main character in Dark Tide is from, and more connections might develop as I write the book. I’ve pretty much decided to try to get the first draft of Bury Me in Satin written for Nanowrimo, which is something I’ve never done before; but why not? I am not going to officially participate, but why not use it as a goal to get the first draft of the story done?

I am on chapter nineteen of the revision of Royal Street Reveillon; one big strong last push is all it will take for me to get that finished by the end of the month, and I am enormously pleased at the prospect. It’s shaping up nicely; I think there are still a few holes in the story I am going to have to figure out how to plug later, but that’s perfectly fine.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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It’s a Mistake

Tropical Storm soon to be Hurricane Nate is out there, drawing nearer by the minute and moving pretty fast across an incredibly warm Gulf Of Mexico. I slept very well last night–woke up a few times, one of course being the daily five a.m. purr kitty lying on me and kneading my chest with his paws, but was able to fall back into a restful sleep every time. It’s gray out there this morning, and the storm seems to continue shifting eastward (sorry, Biloxi!), and they’re now saying we’re going to get tropical storm strength winds. The west side of a hurricane is usually the dry side, too, so we won’t get as much rain. I have to stop by the grocery store today to get a few things, but I imagine it won’t be quite the madhouse it would have been yesterday when STORM PANIC mode was gripping the city. I also don’t need water or bread, so am not too worried about the few things I need to get. I can’t imagine there was a run on cat food, for example.

Paul had some late afternoon/early evening meetings last night, so while I waited for him to come home I read R. L. Stine’s The Lost Girl and started reading Colson Whitehead’s Zone One. It’s a zombie apocalypse novel, so I figured it fit with my Halloween Horror reading for this month. It’s also remarkably good, and while it is not my first zombie apocalypse novel (I’ve only read Michael Thomas Ford’s Z, which is really good and vastly under-appreciated), it’s not like how I imagined any zombie apocalypse novel to be (I still have one of Joe McKinney’s in my TBR pile, but I don’t think I’ll get to it this month).

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What I remember most about that afternoon was the shimmering scarlet and yellow of the sky, as if the heavens were lighting up to join our family’s celebration. The sunlight sparkled off the two-day-old snow at teh curb, as if someone had piled diamonds in the street.

I think I remember everything about that day.

Running all the way home on the slushy sidewalks from my weekend job at the Clean Bee Laundry. The smell of the dry cleaning and the starch still on my clothes and my skin. I remember the blood thrumming at my temples as I ran and the feeling that, if I raised my arms high, I could take off, lift off from the crowded sidewalks of the Old Village, and glide easily into the pulsating colors of the sky.

The Lost Girl is a Fear Street novel, one of many R. L. Stine has published, set in the small city of Shadyside where Fear Street is located, where the ruins of the old Fear mansion, which had burned to the ground decades earlier, remained…only now, in this relaunched Fear Street series, the ruins have been cleared away and it’s a vacant lot. Stine built quite an empire with the Fear Street books, but his scary books for children, Goosebumps, were what really made him an industry. They were adapted into a TV show, and movies, and as the Goosebumps took off, the Fear Street books became less and less important and disappeared eventually. A quick glance at his Wikipedia page shows that there are, to date, 166 young adult novels written by Stine; the majority of them having something to do with Fear Street. I read a lot of those books in the early 1990’s–he and Christopher Pike and Jay Bennett, and those are the books that gave me the idea to write young adult novels in the first place–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel were written in first drafts during that time. The Fear Street books were also what gave me the idea to link all of my y/a novels in some way; not all being set in the same town because that didn’t seem realistic, but linked in some way. I did manage to do that.

The Lost Girl is an entertaining enough read–it took me about two hours to get through it before I moved on to the Whitehead–and it’s very much what I remembered of the Fear Street books; very likable protagonist caught up in something terrible and awful through no fault of his own…loses some friends to the supernatural force, but eventually figures out how to bring it all to an end. It was a pleasant way to spend the evening while I waited for Paul to come home, and that was kind of how I read Stine back in the day; I always kept a few of them around on hand to read when I had some time to kill but didn’t want to get into anything truly heavy.

Stine is also a very nice man; I met him at the Edgars several years ago, and he was a Guest of Honor at Stokercon in Vegas, so I got to arrange his travel and email back and forth with him a few times. He’s very gracious, very kind, and it was kind of a thrill for me. Since I was representing Stokercon and the Horror Writers Association, I couldn’t gush and make a fool of myself the way I probably would have otherwise–which is probably a good thing.

And now, back to the spice mines. I want to find some more markets to submit my short stories to, and get some of this mess cleaned up.

Have a great day, Constant Reader!