I Can’t Make You Love Me

GEAUX SAINTS!

So, it’s another chilly Sunday here in the Lost Apartment. It’s sixty degrees now outside, but it dipped into the forties overnight, so it’s going to take awhile for the Lost Apartment to recover–if it ever does. Today I need to pack up for the trip tomorrow morning. I’m not taking the MacBook Air with me, so I am not entirely sure how I’ll be able to crosspost the blog–should I write any entries–to Facebook and other social media because cutting and pasting on the iPad confuses me.

Don’t judge me.

The LSU game last night was a romp; never in doubt from the first snap, and ending with a 42-10 score. It was 28-3 at half-time and was never in doubt. As such, there was very little-to-no tension on my part, so I was able to sit in my easy chair like a millennial, scrolling through apps on my phone while also taking some time to read. I stopped by the Latter Library yesterday to pick up another book I’d reserved (Chariots of the Gods? by Erich von Daniken–more about that later) and also renewed Bibliomysteries Volume 2 for another week. I am taking both books with me to Kentucky, and am also taking A Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin; I think it’s time I got started writing A Song of Ice and Fire, now that the end of the television series is in sight with this past week’s announcement that the final season will begin airing in April.

I took yesterday as my day off for the weekend; I didn’t clean anything, nor did I organize or file or edit or write. I was basically just a lazy slug, sitting in my easy chair and flipping between football games while reading. I’m still rereading ‘salem’s Lot but have now reached the end game, the final section of the book called “The Empty Village,” and the tracking down of the vampires concluding with Ben and Mark running away to Mexico while Ben writes his book isn’t as interesting to me as the opening of the book; as I said when I discussed the reread initially, I am more interested in how King depicts the town more than anything else, which was the impetus for the reread. And how much do I love this sentence, which opens section 2, “The Emperor of Ice Cream”:

The town knew darkness.

It’s very Shirley Jackson-esque, and the passage that follows is perhaps my favorite part of the entire book.

I also think I am going to give The Shining  a reread; The Shining is, for most fans, critics and readers, King’s best work. I couldn’t get into it when I first bought the paperback, with the boy’s head with a blank face drawn on a shiny silver cover. I picked it up again a few years later and tore through it in one sitting; but as creepy and horrifying as it was, and how nasty the Overlook Hotel was…it was one of the few I never reread completely. I’ve picked it up and started it again, flipped through it and read sections, but I’ve never read it from beginning to end. I think the complexity of Jack Torrance as a character cut a little too close to home for me, but now that I have over fifty books out there with my name (or a pseudonym) on the spine…I don’t have to be too stressed about the failed author character being too close to home for me anymore.

At least one can hope so.

Tomorrow is the dreaded twelve hour car ride through Mississippi, Alabama, a bit of Georgia, and the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. I need to go get the mail before I leave town and possibly stop by the bank, so I am going to be getting a later start than I would have perhaps wished, but a twelve-hour drive is a twelve-hour drive no matter when you get started, and I am most likely going to shower and go straight to bed when I arrive in Kentucky. I am still trying to figure out what digital book to download and listen to in the car–who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?–but none of A Song of Fire and Ice are available as audiobooks from the library, and the library’s app isn’t as intuitive as I would like (translated: I’m too old to figure out the easiest way to use it). I wanted to start Charles Todd’s brilliant series set during the end of the first world war, but the first book isn’t available from my library (BASTARDS!!!!) and so I have to choose something else. I’ll spend some time on there today–maybe on the library’s website, which is easier for a Luddite like me–and perhaps the second Louise Penny Inspector Gamache novel might do the trick.

Or maybe The Shining. Ooooooh.

Most of today is also going to be spent on odds and ends. I may get some writing work done, or I may not. I think after the Saints game we are going to watch either Love, Simon or Call Me By Your Name; both are available for free streaming on one or another services I pay for now. I also am assuming I’ll finish watching Knightfall while I am in Kentucky, as my parents both go to bed early every night.

And yesterday I also managed to read “The Gospel of Sheba” by Lyndsay Faye, from Bibliomysteries Volume Two, edited by Otto Penzler:

Letter sent from Mrs. Colette Lomax to Mr. A. Davenport Lomax, September 3rd, 1902.

My only darling,

You cannot comprehend the level of incompetence to which I was subjected today.

You know full well I never demand a private dressing room when stationary, as the very notion implies a callous disrespect for the sensitivities of other artists. However, it cannot pass my notice when I am engaged in a second class chamber en route from Reims to Strasbourg. The porter assured me that private cars were simply not available on so small a railway line as our company was forced to book–and yet, I feel justified in suspecting the managers have hoaxed their “rising star” once again. The reek of soup from the dining car’s proximity alone would depress my spirits, even were my ankles not confined one atop the other in a padlock-like fashion.

I do so loathe krautsuppe. Hell, I assure you, my love, simmers with the aroma of softening cabbage.

Lyndsay Faye has twice been nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel (for The Gods of Gotham, which I adored, and for Jane Steele, which is still in my ever-growing and enormous TBR pile), and she is also a delight to know in addition to her enormous gift for writing. Lyndsay is an enormous Sherlock Holmes fan (Sherlockian?), and even her first novel, Dust and Shadow, was a Holmes tale; she recently published an entire collection of Holmes short stories. “The Gospel of Sheba” is sort of a Holmes story; both he and Watson do appear in the story, but it’s primarily told from the point of view of a sub-librarian, Mr. Lomax; he is married to a professional singer who at the time of the story is currently on a tour–her presence in the story is either through her husband’s point of view or epistolary; we get to see occasional letters from her. Her husband’s point of view is seen through diary entries where he talks about the mystery of the Gospel of Sheba, a grimoire a member of a private men’s club with an interest in the supernatural has discovered and that makes anyone who reads it ill. One of the things I love the most about Faye is she writes in the formal style of the nineteenth century, but it always reads as organic and never forced. There’s never a sense from the reader of Oh I see what you’re doing here or from her as the author of see how clever I am? She’s somehow modernized that formal style, breathed fresh life into it, and uses it to help set the mood and the time and the setting. You can almost hear the hiss of gas in the lamps, and see the flickering gaslight. This is a terrific story, and reminds me of why I loved The Gods of Gotham so much, and also reminded me I need to dive back into her backlist.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines with me.

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Finally

Saturday morning, and my ten day vacation from work began last night at around eight thirty, when I got in my car to drive home from passing out condoms all evening. It was a rather long day– I had to work at the main office first for several hours before heading down to the Quarter–and I was physically sore and exhausted and sweaty and crabby as fuck when I got in the car to come home. Once home I took a shower, relaxed, had some wine, and watched the US Open until it was time to go to sleep. I slept deeply and well; clearly, the shower made a significant difference in how this all played out for this morning. I have some errands to run today–groceries, mail, getting the big suitcase out of storage for the trip to St. Petersburg–and I have to do some writing for a website. I want to clean the house–make some progress, at any rate; I like to leave the house very clean when I go on a trip so I don’t have to come home to a dirty house–and I think I am going to try to just read the Scotty manuscript and make notes while the US Open is on. The second season of Ozark also became available last night on Netflix, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if the show can maintain its high level of quality for a second season. I also want to finish reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone so I can start reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, and then my Bouchercon homework is done.

Huzzah!

And the LSU game isn’t until tomorrow night, so I may watch some college football–toggling back and forth between college football and the US Open (I still can’t believe it’s football season) while reading in my easy chair. I probably won’t be posting much, if at all, while I am in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. I do have the WordPress app on my iPad (I don’t bother with my MacBook Air anymore; while I do love my Apple products as a general rule,  I regret buying the Air. I really need to take it into the Apple Store and have them fix some nonsensical things that I don’t understand are wrong with it) but I am not a huge fan of writing on the iPad. Maybe that will change. I did buy the keyboard for it, but I’ve never really had to write on it very much. Who knows–maybe in St. Pete I’ll discover that I love writing on it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Maybe I could try practicing on it here this weekend before I leave on Wednesday? You never know. It’s really about getting used to it because it’s very different from writing on a desktop.

And when I get back I can get back to the Short Story Project! HUZZAH!

I still would like to get the Scotty revision finished by the end of September; and I think if I can focus and buckle down and really stick to it, it’s a definite possibility. And then I can finally get back to the WIP to make the changes it needs before heading back out into the world in search of an agent. I also want to at least get started on Bury Me in Satin by the end of the year; I’d hoped to be finished with it at the end of the year but I really don’t think that’s going to be happening any time soon, either. It’s a great idea, and I think I can do some great things with it, and while I am doing all of this I am going to start researching New Orleans history as I continue to think about writing another, different series. (And once Bury Me in Satin is finished, I hope to start working on Muscles, my long-planned noir.)

And on that note, it’s time to get going on my day. Have a lovely Saturday, everybody

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I’ll Be There

I loved to read when I was a kid; it’s something I came to early in my life and has never left me, really.

I used to  buy books through the Scholastic Book catalogue (which didn’t count against my allowance), and check out books from the school library and the Tomen branch of the Chicago Public Library, which was about three blocks from our apartment and on the way to Jewel and Woolworth’s; my mom used to drop my sister and I there while she went to the grocery store. When we got our allowances, she would walk us up to Woolworth’s, so we could spend our dollar-a-week. My sister would get 45 records, which only cost 79 cents.

I spent my money on comic books.

I started with Sugar and Spike and Archie comics; eventually I moved on to super-heroes and horror comics. My parents never restricted my reading material–they preferred to restrict my reading time only–and so i kept buying comics, all the way through high school, with occasional other forays into the world of comics throughout my life. (I have the comixology app on my iPad, and scores of comics I’ve bought and downloaded but have yet to read.) But comic books have always played a part in my life, inspiring me and teaching me how to tell stories in a different way than books do.

Recently, Alex Segura tagged me in a “post a comic book every day” thing on Facebook, and digging through the Internet to find the comics that influenced me brought back a lot of memories.

One of the strangest–but true–stories about my books and how they came to be is that Dark Tide was inspired by a comic book. This one, in fact:

bloody mermaid

January 1972, when I was eleven years old, I chanced upon this comic book on the comics rack at the Woolworth’s a few blocks from our apartment in Chicago. I often bought horror comics from time to time, mixing them in with my super-heroes, but this one, for some reason, always resonated with me. I don’t know why I bought it, but that cover is pretty fucking spectacular, isn’t it?

In the 1980’s, when I wanted to be Stephen King, I started writing a horror novel called The Enchantress, which was totally about a killer mermaid. I wrote an introduction and four chapters before giving up because I didn’t know where to go with it from there–like I’ve said before, plot is always my biggest problem–and in all honesty, it was totally,  at least in structure, a rip-off of Peter Straub’s Floating Dragon. I also used the same types he did for the main characters: a woman, a young boy, a man in his early thirties, and a retired older man. All of it was bad other than the chapter introducing the woman, which I’ve tried at very times to reshape into a short story. It was also set in the panhandle of Florida in a small town named Tuscadega; which I used again as the setting for my story “Cold Beer No Flies”, in Florida Happens (available for preorder now!). I eventually renamed and revised the story into one called Mermaid Inn; again, keeping the story about vicious, killer mermaids. Mermaid Inn eventually morphed into Dark Tide; in fact, the entire story is pretty much set at a place called Mermaid Inn, only I moved it to south Alabama, below Mobile.

Wild that something I read when I was eleven inspired a book I published forty years later.

And were there killer mermaids? Afraid you’ll have to buy the book to find out. 🙂

And now, back to the spice mines.

A Love Bizarre

Wednesday morning, and perhaps the best thing about my new work schedule (Mondays and Fridays) is that I’ve apparently retrained myself to get up at seven every morning. This is not a bad thing. During my most productive years I got out of bed at seven every morning. I am hoping that’s what this means; that my productivity will go back through the roof again.

Yesterday I revised “This Thing of Darkness,” but I am still not completely satisfied with it as of yet. I need to get back to “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” but am also not convinced that I am on the right track with that story, either. It’s probably going to take a lot more brainstorming before it’s right.

The good news is my iPad had indeed been left at the office. The battery was dead, so I plugged the charger in the wall and then forgot about it, leaving it at the office yet another night. Honestly.

Yes, I can be rather foolish at times, thank you for asking.

That’s about it for this morning; sorry to be so dull. All I can say is BUY Jessica Knoll’s The Favorite Sister. I am enjoying the hell out of it.

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Love Touch

Sunday morning, as I sit here in my cool workspace swilling coffee, trying to wake up and figure out what to do with the rest of my day. I need to go to the grocery store and I should also probably make an attempt to go to the gym; but I can’t seem to find my iPad, which makes doing cardio pointless (I read or watch TV on my iPad while on the treadmill; perhaps not having my iPad is simply an excuse for not going; what if it’s gone, lost, stolen? I am trying not to think that way and am hoping that I simply left it at the office. If not, I am terribly screwed because I don’t know where it is and I currently don’t have the cash on hand to replace it. So, yes, let’s just continue pretending happily that it’s as the office, shall we?)

I could, of course, just go to the gym and do weights. That always feels good, at any rate. Perhaps once I finish swilling this coffee….

I slept late yesterday, and I slept even later today. I spent most of yesterday not only reading but doing chores around the house, on the pretense that today I would not only go to the grocery store and the gym, but I would also spend some time writing today. I need to finish a short story; I need to revise still another, and there’s that new one struggling to take root in my brain that I haven’t really decided what to do with just yet. There are two others swirling around up there in my head, as well as others I’ve not thought about or have forgotten about in the meantime. But now, now as I wake up I feel more confident about running the errands and going to the gym and actually doing some writing today.

I’ve been reading The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, and greatly enjoying it; is there anything quite like well-written non-fiction? It’s why I love Joan Didion and Barbara Tuchman; one of the things I love to do while reading is to learn, and non-fiction fills that need quite beautifully. I also like non-fiction that makes me think; which is why I am looking forward to reading Dead Girls by Alice Bolin. I still would love to do a collection of my own essays, book reviews, and so forth; but egad, what an odious chore pulling all of that together would be. I struggle with essays, but I also think that the writing of essays; the ability to pull thoughts from my head and extrapolate them out to their fullest meaning, is vitally important and a skill-set I wish I had honed more properly. A friend once pointed out to me, as I bemoaned my inability to write essays, that my blog itself is nothing more than years of personal essays. That took me aback, because it was, in many ways, correct; there is definitely some truth to that, but it’s hard for me to take the blog seriously in that fashion, because so much of it is simply written off the top of my head in the morning as I wake up and drink coffee and try to figure out what to do with the rest of my day.

One of the problems for me with personal essays is, ultimately, the issue of self-deprecation, which I’ve addressed in previous blog entries about my writing and my career and my books; who am I to write about this subject? Am I expert enough in this to write about it, or am I simply talking about things that smarter, better-educated people have written about long ago and having the hubristic belief that I am the only person to see this truth for the first time? 

And, in considering myself self-deprecatingly as not that special or particularly smart, I defeat myself and never write the essay.

And of course, there is the problem of all the lies my memory tells me.

But yesterday, I took the afternoon to finish read an ARC of Lou Berney’s new novel, November Road, and was blown away by it.

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Behold! The Big Easy in all its wicked splendor!

Frank Guidry paused at the corner of Toulouse to  bask in the neon furnace glow. He’d lived in New Orleans the better part of his thirty-seven years on earth, but the dirty glitter and sizzle of the French Quarter still hit his bloodstream like a drug. Yokels and locals, muggers and hustlers, fire-eaters and magicians. A go-go girl was draped over the wrought-iron rail of a second floor balcony, one book sprung free from her sequined negligee and swaying like a metronome to the beat of the jazz trio inside. Bass, drums, piano, tearing through “Night and Day.” But that was New Orleans for you. Even the worst band in the crummiest clip joint in the city could swing, man, swing.

A guy came whipping up the street, screaming bloody murder. Hot on his heels–a woman waving a butcher knife, screaming, too,

Guidry soft-shoed out of their way. The beat cop on the corner yawned. The juggler outside the 500 Club didn’t drop a ball. Just another Wednesday night on Bourbon Street.

Lou’s previous novel, The Long and Faraway Gone, won every crime-writing award under the sun that it was eligible for: Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and I don’t know what all; it was the crime publishing equivalent of the EGOT. It was, obviously, an exceptional novel. I met Lou when we were on a panel together at the Raleigh Bouchercon, along with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron; moderated by the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm. It was funny, because the panel topic was, I think, writing about small towns which, in fact, none of us on the panel really did, but we had fun with the topic and I know I brought up Peyton Place at least once and pointed out that suburbs are small towns with the primary difference being suburbs are bedroom communities for cities while small towns aren’t attached in any way to a larger city. It was fun and spirited and I liked Lou, thought he was incredibly smart, as were Liz and Lori. Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars for that year; and I admire their work tremendously. I’ve not had the opportunity to read Liz’ work; but she did have a terrific story in the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou.

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve been looking forward to November Road since I finished reading The Long and Faraway Gone, but I still need to go back and read Lou’s first two novels, Whiplash River and Gutshot Straight. 

I also have to admit, I was a little hesitant about Lou’s new book; it’s built around the Kennedy assassination in 1963, which always gives me pause (I have yet to immerse myself in Stephen King’s 11/22/63). I’m not sure why I don’t care to read fiction around the Kennedy assassination, but there you have: an insight into my mind. But the Kennedy assassination, while a primary plot device, is just that: a device to set the story in motion. Frank Guidry is involved with a mob boss in New Orleans, and after the Kennedy assassination he is given instructions to fly to Dallas, retrieve a car, and drive it to Houston to dispose of it. While he is doing this, he realizes that he is getting rid of evidence that may be of vital importance to the investigation into the president’s murder–and as such, is a loose end who knows too much and figures out he’s got to disappear now because they’re going to want to kill him. And sure enough, they do send someone after him, Paul Barone, a remorseless killer and tracker. The cat-and-mouse game between them builds suspense throughout the book.

But it’s not just about Frank, and it is a credit to Berney’s talent, creativity and imagination in that he throws in another primary character, constructed carefully in all the facets and layers that make her live and breathe: Charlotte. Charlotte is a wife and mother in a small town in Oklahoma, married to a useless drunk fuck-up with whom she had two daughters, and her salary working for the local town photographer is the primary thing keeping a roof over their heads. Her own ambitions for being a photographer herself are constantly shat upon by her boss, her society and culture and environment: she is a woman, a wife and mother, and in 1963 that so thoroughly defines her that any other ambition she might have throws her identity as wife and mother into question. Trapped, with the walls closing in on her closer every day, Charlotte takes the president’s assassination as a sign for her to run away with the girls and start over. Charlotte is an extraordinary character;  her relationship with her daughters is the strong backbone of this story. You root for her, you want her to make her escape and make her dreams come true.

Frank and Charlotte cross paths in New Mexico, and Frank sees them as his salvation; his murderous pursuers might be thrown off as they are looking for a single man, not one traveling with his wife and kids; the book becomes even stronger and more suspenseful once they are all together. Frank and Charlotte become close, despite not being completely honest with each other; they are both keeping their cards close to their vests, but yet form a loving bond. WIll they escape, or will they not?

November Road reminded me a lot of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; the same kind of relationship building between a man and a woman where a lot of information, important, information, is held back from each other, and that lack of trust while falling in love is an important theme in both books: women trying to make their best lives, even if it means making morally questionable decisions, while becoming involved with a man who isn’t completely honest with her. Berney’s writing style, and tone, and mood, also put me in mind of Megan Abbott’s brilliant Give Me Your Hand. If you’ve not read yet the Lippman and Abbott novels, I’d recommend getting them and holding on to them until Berney’s book is released in October and reading them all over the course of a long weekend.

Bravo.

Dancing in the Sheets

The sun is shining, and the temperature has climbed to 49 degrees. The boil-water advisory ended finally last evening–it’s just not a crisis in New Orleans unless we have a boil-water advisory!–and here I sit this morning, ensconced at my desk with a cup of coffee, a load of laundry tumbling in the dryer, with great expectations of the day. I went to the gym last evening after work, and my muscles, while a bit tired, still feel stretched and worked and supple, if that makes sense. Probably the best thing about rededicating myself to physical exercise again is how much better I feel; I don’t ache or feel tired the way I did just last week, and the stretching and the treadmill are also making me feel ever so much better. Today, I am going to clean (if it’s Saturday I must be cleaning) but I am also going to write, edit and read today. Paul is going into the office to work (it’s that time of year again) and so I have the day to myself. I want to finish the first draft of “The Trouble with Autofill” and I want to edit “Cold Beer No Flies.”

Among many other things; my to-do list is ridiculous, quite frankly. But the only way to make progress is not to get overwhelmed by the enormity of the list but rather to keep plugging away at it.

I finished reading Miami by Joan Didion earlier this week, and it was quite good. Didion’s writing style is quite amazing, actually, and while the story of the book might seem, at first glance, to be rather dated; the truth is it is still very much appropriate to our modern times. Miami is a look at the Cuban exiles in the city, how they relate to each other, and how they impact south Florida politically; and to a lesser extent, the relationship between the US government with them as well as with Castro’s Cuba. During the Cold War Cuba was a much more terrifying apparition, close as it was to Florida, and it’s amazing how people do not realize the political clout, as a result of their sheer numbers, that the Cuban immigrants weld in that part of the state, and in the entire state as well. The importance of Florida as a swing state cannot be discounted; and therefore the Cuban-American community’s influence on national politics is something that has to always be considered. (A present day comparison would be the Puerto Ricans moving to Florida today in great numbers as a result of the hurricane destruction of their island; the difference being those Puerto Ricans are already American citizens who can register to vote and can impact 2018 already.) Didion’s look at Miami in the 1980’s, as a Caribbean city on the mainland, is also reminiscent of descriptions of New Orleans as the northernmost Caribbean city; the thing I love the most about Didion’s work is how she makes you think. Reading Miami made me want to write about Miami; I’ve been wanting to write about Florida for a long time, as Constant Reader already knows. Something to ponder.

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I also started reading Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is a look at the film industry through the lens of the five films nominated for the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1967, and how they were made. Harris’ thesis is that was the year that bridged the gap between old and new Hollywood; and the five Best Picture nominees illustrated that perfectly: an expensive musical flop (Doctor Dolittle); two old style Hollywood pictures about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night), and two films that illustrated new Hollywood and its influence by European filmmakers like Truffaut and Fellini and Antonioni (Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate). I, of course, have always been fascinated by Hollywood history and have been ever since I read Garson Kanin’s Tracy and Hepburn and Bob Thomas’ Selznick as a kid; this book is right up my alley, and since it’s been awhile since I’ve read any Hollywood history, I am looking forward to reading this (and his Five Came Back–I’ve already watched the documentary based on it).

The Short Story Project also moves apace; I am frequently surprised as I look through my shelves for something to read how many single author collections and anthologies dot them. My Ipad also has quite a few loaded onto the Kindle app; I often buy them when they are either free or reduced in price, and so my Kindle app is filled with books I’ve not yet read, primarily because I don’t like to read on it (which I realize is nothing more than stubbornness; if I can watch movies or television programs on it, why resist reading books there?) Yesterday I found my battered old Dell paperback of Agatha Christie’s The Golden Ball and Other Stories, which I remember loving as a child. I was looking for my copy of Lawrence Block’s first anthology inspired by paintings–those of Edward Hopper– In Sunlight or in Shadow, which I would have sworn I’d purchased in hardcover; yet it wasn’t anywhere on the shelves or in any of the TBR piles, before remembering I’d bought it as an ebook when the Macavity nominations come out; Block’s story “Autumn at the Automat” was a finalist, along with mine (I still can’t believe it) and I wanted to read all the other nominated stories for an entry, so the immediacy of the need required buying the ebook. It is a handsome volume, though, so I’ll need to buy a hard copy to pair with the new one. (New bucket list item: write a story for one of these anthologies by Lawrence Block)

Once I’d located it on the iPad, I scoured the table of contents and landed on a Joyce Carol Oates story, “The Woman in the Window.” I have to confess I’ve not read much of Ms. Oates; I am not even remotely familiar with what she writes. But she, too, was a Macavity finalist last year, for her story “The Crawl Space” (which also won the Stoker Award), and that story creeped me the fuck out. I know she’s been a Stoker finalist before, but I also think she tends to write across genre a lot and therefore isn’t pigeon-holed in one way or the other.

Beneath the cushion of the plush blue chair she has hidden it.

Almost shyly her fingers grope for it, then recoil as if it were burning-hot.

No! None of this will happen, don’t be ridiculous!

It is eleven A.M. He has promised to meet her in this room in which it is always eleven A.M.

This story, frankly, isn’t as strong as “The Crawl Space,” but it’s an interesting exercise in how thin the line between lust and loathing is; the woman of the title is a secretary having an affair with a much wealthier man, and as she gets older and older she is feeling more and more trapped in the relationship; he is married and he often has to break plans with her for his wife. There is also a shift occasionally to his point of view, and he’s not so fond of her anymore, either. Passion has cooled but habit has set in; and the way those lines can get crossed is chilling–and how destructive such a relationship can be to both parties, emotionally and mentally, is explored in great detail yet sparse language by Ms. Oates. The story’s not as creepy, as I said, as the other; but the end–which she leaves kind of hanging–you do feel that something awful is going to happen; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but eventually.

I’ve not read Joe Hill before, and there are several reasons for that; none of which would make any sense to anyone who is not me; I am nothing if not aware of my own eccentricities, which is why I generally don’t share them with people; I don’t need someone else to point out that something doesn’t make sense. But I do have a copy of his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, which I spied on the shelves as I looked for my copy of the Block anthology. Aha, I thought, perfect. I can read a Joe Hill story for the Short Story Project. So, I curled up under a blanket in my easy chair, waited for Scooter to get settled in my lap, and started reading “Best New Horror.”

A month before his deadline, Eddie Carroll ripped open a manila envelope, and a magazine called The True North Literary Review slipped out into his hands. Carroll was used to getting magazines in the mail, although most of them had titles like Cemetery Dance and specialized in horror fiction. People sent him their books, too. Piles of them cluttered his Brookline townhouse, a heap on the couch in his office, a stack by the coffee maker. Books of horror stories, all of them.

No one had time to read them all, although once–when he was in his early thirties and just starting out as the editor of America’s Best New Horror–he had made a conscientious effort to try. Carroll had guided sixteen volumes of Best New Horror to press, had been working on the series for over a third of his life now. It added up to thousands of hours of reading and proofing and letter-writing, thousands of hours he could never have back.

He had come to hate the magazines especially. So many of them used the cheapest ink, and he had learned to loathe the way it came off on his fingers, the harsh stink of it.

I did not mention the elephant in the room; said elephant, of course, being that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. (The Kings are a very literary family; Mr. King’s wife Tabitha is a poet and a novelist; their other son Owen also writes, as does Owen’s wife, Kelly Braffet; I read a novel by Ms. Braffet sometime in the last couple of years–not aware of the King connection–and greatly enjoyed it.)

But simply based on a reading of “Best New Horror,” I have to say Joe Hill is also a terrific writer. And while it, like some of his father’s work, bears a strong resemblance to something I would have read in an Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery comic book–that is not a criticism. I loved those comics, and the stories I read in them; they had a deep influence on me not only as a writer but as a reader. “Best New Horror”, as you can tell by the opening, tells the tale of Eddie Carroll, a writing teacher and a long-time editor of the Best New Horror series, a chore he has learned to loathe and, basically, phone in every year for the money. This resonated with me; as an anthology editor myself, one of the reasons I stepped away from editing them–or took a break from doing it–was because it was becoming rote; a chore rather than something I found joy in doing. Eddie is an example of why I stopped–I didn’t want to become like him; embittered by the experience and tired of not finding anything fresh or new (unlike Eddie, I was able to keep the experience fresh because each anthology I did was a new topic; if I had done twenty anthologies with the same theme I would have gone on a killing spree). But in the mail comes a story from a new writer that is simply brilliant; original and fresh and resonant and horrifying in its reality; the story reinvigorates Eddie and makes the editing job no longer a chore; he has to have this story, and will do whatever he has to in order to track the writer down…but as with any horror  tale of obsession, it’s not going to end well. But Hill brilliantly keeps stringing the reader along, and the ending is just absolutely brilliant and clever. I am really looking forward to reading more of these stories.

And now, I must get back to the spice mines. There are clothes to fold, dishes to wash, floors to clean, stories to write and edit; I am probably coming back here for another entry later as I am trying to get caught up on posting the stories I’ve read–but I make no promises. I have another story to write as a call for submissions crossed my computer screen on Thursday; I have an unfinished story that I can repurpose, but I also need to get a first draft done so I can work the story out.

Until later, Constant Reader.