Open Your Heart

Well, the Saints managed to win again yesterday. I had the game on while I went through the Bury Me in Shadows manuscript, making notes; I have to concur with the assessment I made of the manuscript initially Saturday–it’s not going to require a lot of work before I turn it in. It might even be ready to go as early as next weekend, if I stay focused, pay no attention to shiny objects, and stay on course. During the Saints game, I went over the manuscript more carefully; making notes on what to add and what to take away, and the whole thing is actually more cohesive than I originally thought. It’s not going to be easy–it never is–but getting this manuscript ready for my publisher isn’t going to be as rough a slog as it could have been.

I was very proud of myself this weekend as I got a lot done. I cleaned and organized and got so much done that was on my list of things to do–and I even got a great night’s sleep and so felt pretty rested…until the alarm went off at six this morning. I’d actually woken up at 5:52, and just stayed in bed until the alarm went off, hitting snooze twice because the bed felt nice and comfortable and warm. I’d rather not venture out into the world today–I’d much rather stay here in the comfort of my own home, and definitely would have preferred to stay in the warmth of my comfortable bed, but I have to get up and go to work and prepare myself for my two long days.

Heavy heaving sigh.

We watched more episodes of Bigmouth last night, and I can’t decide if the show is actually really uproariously funny, or if the shock of the things the show covers–all the joys of junior high school puberty, with all that entails–is what makes it funny; the whole oh my God are they really talking about that? thing that I also always wondered about South Park.

I finished my reread of The Haunting of Hill House also yesterday–it’s a very short book–and am still in awe of the genius of Shirley Jackson. The way she created a mood, and tension, with beautifully crafted sentences and paragraphs is simply amazing. I couldn’t help but think how much stronger her book is than the nearest thing to it that I can think of–Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which was excellent and used the same basic structure–a notorious haunted house, and some ghost hunters arrive to see if they can figure out what is going on there–in a completely different way. The books’ titles are even similar. But I love both books, enjoy them both tremendously, but one always makes me think of the other. Again, I’m not really sure Jackson should be classified as a horror writer–her work kind of defies classification–but she was definitely one of the best American writers of the twentieth century.

I was trying to remember how I first came across the Jackson novel; I knew of her through her short story “The Lottery,” which I read in high school. I’d seen the 1963 film version, The Haunting, which was one of the most terrifying movies I’d ever seen at that point in my life–I’ll never forget Julie Harris as Nell–but at that time I didn’t know it was a novel. I think I first became aware of the novel because Stephen King used that famous opening paragraph as an epigram for salem’s Lot; and shortly thereafter came across a copy in a used book store–so naturally I had to buy it, and read it in one afternoon, completely enthralled…and I’ve never been without a copy of the book since. I started rereading it every year about ten years or so ago–the other book I reread every year is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca–and I think both books have influenced me as a writer, even if that isn’t apparent in my actual work. (I’ve never finished reading the entire canon of either Jackson or du Maurier; they are both dead and therefore the established canon is all there is…and I never want to be finished with either author. I know, it’s crazy, but it’s also just the way I am.)

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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What’s Love Got To Do With It

I finished my reread of Hell House last night, and it does, in fact, hold up rather well. It was, frankly, a most satisfying way to close out my Halloween Horror month of reading; even if it was a reread, and a book I’ve read several times before.

I first read it when I was a teenager; it was one of the many mass market paperbacks I found on the wire racks at the Zayre’s in Bolingbrook. The cover was rather non-distinct; black, with a photograph of a woman in a red halter dress, carrying a candelabra and looking back over her shoulder, a terrified look on her face, her long dark hair being blown backwards by the same wind pushing the candle flames backwards, with the title above it in red letters: HELL HOUSE. I had watched The Haunting several years earlier, and was absolutely terrified by it; I hadn’t yet realized that it was based on a Shirley Jackson novel. So when I saw Hell House, I did think that it might be the same story, and of course Hollywood had to change it to Hill House. So I bought it, took it home and started reading.

It was similar, but it wasn’t the same story. By any stretch of the imagination.

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It had been raining hard since five o’clock that morning. Brontean weather, Dr. Barrett thought. He repressed a smile. He felt rather like a character in some latter-day Gothic romance. The driving rain, the cold, the two-hour ride from Manhattan in one of Deutsch’s long black leather-upholstered limousines. The interminable wait in this corridor when disconcerted-looking men and women hurried in and out of Deutsch’s bedroom, glancing at him occasionally.

He drew his watch from its vest pocket and raised the lid. He’d been here more than an hour now. What did Deutsch want of him? Something to do with parapsychology, most likely. The old man’s chain of newspapers and magazines were forever printing articles on the subject. “Return from the grave”; “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die”–always sensational, rarely factual.

Wincing at the effort, Dr. Barrett lifted his right leg over his left. He was a tall, slightly overweight man in his middle fifties, his thinning blond hair unchanged in color, though his trimmed beard showed traces of white. He sat erect on the straight-back chair, staring at the door to Deutsch’s bedroom.

What Deutsch, an old and dying billionaire, is proof that either that afterlife exists, or that it doesn’t. In order to get that proof, he is willing to pay an almost obscene amount of money, and do pretty much anything. He is, in fact, assembling a team to send to the “Mount Everest of haunted houses,” the Belasco house in Maine; more commonly known as Hell House.

Like in The Haunting of Hill House,  a team of four people are going to go into the haunted house to, basically, see the phenomena, observe and document it, and, if possible, cleanse the house of the infernal spirits haunting the house. Two teams have gone into the house in the past; with one exception, all of them were either killed or went insane.

That one survivor, Ben Fischer, is a part of this expedition.

Dr. Bartlett, though, is no Dr. Montague; who merely wanted to experience the phenomenon at Hill House and write a paper about it; Dr. Bartlett’s life’s work has been based on the theory that hauntings, or so-called paranormal phenomena, are not actually caused by ghosts or spirits, but are simply residual energy. He has designed a machine that will reverse that energy and therefore cleanse Hell House–or any other haunted house. His much-younger wife, Edith, believes in him and his work…but there are issues within their marriage; he is a polio victim and the polio has also left him impotent; Edith herself has issues with sex and her own sexuality and this sterile, sexless marriage is a refuge for her.

The other two members of the party, Ben Fischer and Florence Tanner, are both mediums. Ben was a mere teenager when he went into Hell House the first time; he was the lone survivor, the one Hell House could not kill or drive insane. He has since stopped used his psychic gift. Florence is a beautiful woman who has her own ministry and believes her gifts come from God; she believes ghosts are spirits that have not moved on and it is her duty to use her gift to help them move on, through love and the power of prayer. She and Dr. Bartlett have competing beliefs and values…and once they are all inside of Hell House, the terror truly begins.

Richard Matheson was a great writer; many of his writings were made into films–Stir of Echoes, Somewhere in Time, I Am Legend, The Incredible Shrinking Man–and many of his short stories became classic Twilight Zone episodes–he wrote “Terror at 20,000 Feet”–and Hell House was filmed as The Legend of Hell House, which I also saw as a teen and it absolutely terrified me.

It’s awesome that the book holds up.

When Doves Cry

We finished watching Stranger Things last night, and were sorry to see it end; it was quite a lot of fun, and Episode 8 was a non-stop adrenaline rush from beginning to end. The last thirty minutes of the season was absolutely charming; those kids are just so damned appealing, and Winona Ryder was much better in this season than she was in the first. I also got much further along in Hell House; I should finish it today to end my official month of Halloween Horror reading. Some great crime novels have stacked up while I devoted myself to horror this month; can’t wait to start digging into crime again.

I finished outlining Jackson Square Jazz last night, and am going to start work on the Scotty concordance/Bible this week while I also work on Crescent City Charade. I’m still not completely sold on that title, let me say that right now; it’s very likely going to change before I turn it into the publisher. It’s been fun rereading (or rather, skimming) Jackson Square Jazz preparatory for doing the outline; I feel much more connected to Scotty than I was. The amazing thing to me is how many continuity mistakes I’ve made over the years. The lovely thing is that I can now go back to the original books and fix the errors–there’s nothing i can do about them in the later books. In fairness to myself, I don’t really remember much of anything I wrote pre-Katrina, but I could have–should have–gone back and reread the originals, and the Bible/concordance is way overdue.

It’s also amazing how much I did forget. The plot of Jackson Square Jazz was almost a complete mystery to me, and it was a much better book and story than I remembered it being. Ah, memory is such a strange thing, isn’t it?

I really do need to be better organized. The kitchen is a mess this morning, and I need to make another to-do list. I’ve got some laundry going and I need to do the dishes and make chili for the crockpot to cook all day. And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

Here’s a Halloween hunk for you:

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Fall in Love with Me

A chilly Monday morning in New Orleans. I am arming myself with coffee and a thorough to-do list to get me through the week. I am confident both will hold me in good stead.

We’re binging Stranger Things, and after a slow first couple of episodes, it certainly has picked up steam. We were both regretful we had to turn it off last night in order to go to bed; if we didn’t have to work this morning we would have stayed up and finished it off. But there’s always tonight. (rubs hands together in glee).

I’m also about halfway through Hell House, which is holding up beautifully. I am again amazed at how similar, both in title and structure, the book is to The Haunting of Hill House, The tone and voice are completely different, of course; Hell House actually goes into the POV of all of the characters at one time or another, whereas Jackson focused primarily on Eleanor. And Hell House is definitely more haunted than Hill House; it’s called ‘the Mount Everest of haunted houses’–and the house has a much more infernal history than Hill House’s softer, more Gothic history of madness and death. There are times, too, when Hell House’s backstory seems almost over-the-top; yet at the same time, I can’t help but think wow, a book about everything that went on back then would be fascinating. It’s very definitely both a haunted house book and a “bad place” book.I do remember how it ended, I just don’t remember how Matheson gets the reader there. Definitely enjoying the ride thus far.

This morning I also had a breakthrough on a short story I’ve put aside. The question is, can I finish it and polish it in time for the looming deadline? I think so.

Okay, it’s time to get back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk to get your week rolling:

 

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Breaking Us in Two

Sunday. It’s one degree warmer than yesterday morning–wow, right? But you will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that I get everything on my list done yesterday other than go to the gym; and after spending two hours in the storage unit moving boxes of books around, I was pretty damned exhausted physically, and then braved Costco on a Saturday afternoon (it wasn’t bad at all, other than stupid people, which is every day). I also came across some books in the storage that I thought hey, these need to be reread and so I took them out. One of them was Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which seemed, at least to me, to be the proper reread after The Haunting of Hill House, in that they’re very similar; one could even go so far as to say Matheson basically took Jackson’s story structure and turned the dial up a notch. I am enjoying the reread very much; although I’m not very far into it thus far. I also found my copy of Michael Rowe’s groundbreaking anthology Queer Fear, which I reviewed in the Lambda Book Report many years ago when I worked there, and was to be my first encounter with Mr. Rowe; I remember he came up to me at the Lambda Awards the next year, introduced himself, and thanked me for the lovely review. We’ve crossed paths a few times since, and have become friends over the years. I do remember loving Queer Fear, and look forward to delving into it and rereading its short stories again.

I also found my high school scrapbook and my diaries from the 1990’s. I used to buy blank books and carry them around with me everywhere, so I could jot down story and/or book ideas, or write diary entries whenever I wanted to. I am always hesitant to reread my old diaries; I often wince from my immaturity and my over-dramatization of events in my life. Yet at the same time, the diaries also served as a very vital source of self-reflection and self-examination; I suppose this blog has served that purpose since I started it on Livejournal back in 2004 (the idea that I have been consistently blogging for thirteen years rather staggers the mind, doesn’t it? But I’ve been writing in a diary of some sort, off and on, since I was a teenager; this seems to be a natural continuation of that process).

I also found the three ring binder where I kept everything from the Virginia situation of 2005 and 2006; including the ACLU letter to the school board. I’d always intended to write a non-fiction book about it all, called Gay Porn Writer, in which I examined what happened to me in the context, not only of the times but extrapolating it out further into what was going on in publishing and the culture. My memory lies to me now, of course, so I am not certain that I’ll ever write such a book–I don’t know that I would remember things correctly, and even then, what is colored by my perceptions of things. I’ve since moved on, of course–I mentioned the incident in passing on my panel at Bouchercon and had to explain it a little, which was kind of crazy. It was so long ago, and I used to get invited to speak about it all the time. The memories are now hazy and unclear, but I am definitely going to keep all this information.

You never know.

I think I am probably just going to scan everything in the scrapbook, in order to preserve it electronically, and then throw it away. I don’t really need to keep programs from my high school football games, or from choir concerts, and scanning them will better preserve them anyway.

I have one errand to run today, and I also want to go to the gym for a little bit, start dipping my feet back into the water of working out regularly, and despite the cold, I am going to give that a try.

And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done, or at least something done that will move all projects forward.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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Feelings

Since October is, for me, the month of Halloween and therefore irrevocably tied to the horror genre, as Constant Reader already knows, I have decided to write only about horror in this month. I am casting my mind back, as it were, over the years and trying to remember what films and books drew me to the genre in the first place. As an author, I am often asked in interviews or on panels about influences, and while there are certain answers that I always give–Shirley Jackson, Stephen King, James M. Cain, Daphne du Maurier–there are often authors, books, films and television programs I forget at the time. (I once made a list of my favorite movies in response to a meme…and somehow forgot to name what could possibly be my favorite film of all time: The Princess Bride. In my defense, I often do these things very quickly and off the top of my head. )

So, in talking about the genre this month, I am also trying to dig deeper and not write about influences I have talked about before; or at least I am going to try not to–there is simply no way I can write about horror and not, for example, talk about Thomas Tryon’s terrific The Other, or Ira Levin. I do feel as though I’ve talked about Shirley Jackson and The Haunting of Hill House ad nauseum already; likewise with Daphne du Maurier’s sublime “Don’t Look Now.” (I may give in to the inevitable temptation and do so before the 31st; but I am going to honestly try to resist those temptations.)

 

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I think I was twelve when I first read something by Richard Matheson: I Am Legend. It had recently been made into a film starring Charlton Heston (I’ve seen the film, renamed The Omega Man. It’s okay, but not as good as the book.) I Am Legend, for those not familiar with the story (it was also filmed again sometime in the last decade or so, with Will Smith. I have not seen the remake), is one of those “last man on earth” stories; only in Matheson’s world, a terrible plague has turned everyone who has not died into vampire-like creatures. The last man on earth is Robert Neville, who somehow is immune to the plague. He barricades himself up into his home at night while the vampires try to find a way to either get inside or taunt him, hoping to lure him out–while during the day he scavenges for supplies and kills vampires by staking them through the heart (the matter-of-fact description of him doing this is chilling and has always stayed with me; there are several scenes in Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot where the gang of heroes also hunts and stakes vampires during the day–when I first read ‘salem’s Lot this reminded me of Matheson’s book. Likewise, when I read Stephen King’s apocalyptic novel The Stand, it again reminded me of Matheson’s book.) I Am Legend isn’t just a scary book about the aftermath of the end of the world though; there’s a lot of thought given to what it means, what this new society of people, this Brave New World of vampire-like people will be like, and what it’s like to be the last of your own kind. I didn’t catch a lot of this when I was a kid, and frankly, as it delved more into philosophy towards the end the unsophisticated reader I was found it a bit disappointing. When I revisited the book in the 1980’s–I went on a Matheson kick, and was delighted to discover that many episodes of television shows, or films, that I greatly enjoyed were actually based on Matheson’s work: Somewhere in Time, What Dreams May Come, Stir of Echoes–it’s quite an extensive list.

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I also read Hell House when I was about thirteen, but didn’t connect that Matheson had written both books. Hell House, about “the Mount Everest of haunted houses”, was similar in structure to Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, but also very different. It was made into a terrifying film called The Legend of Hell House, which I recently rewatched, and actually holds up. (As a weary, cynical adult, I can see how cheaply the film was made now; but it’s just as spooky and scary as it was when I was a teenager and it terrified me.)

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That was the version I originally read; this is the one I reread:

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Again, I would love to spend a week in a mountain cabin sometime revisiting Matheson’s work.

And now, back to the spice mines.