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!

Stand by Your Man

Sunday morning and I’m feeling fine. Yesterday was kind of lovely; I am enjoying this healthy feeling I’m experiencing, and it’s been a while since I’ve not been feeling like shit, so this recovery has been absolutely lovely. Yesterday I managed to be productive yet again–I finished the floors and some odds and ends; there are a few odds and ends that I need to get done today as well–and I got some wonderful reading done; I also managed to get some writing done.

What’s that, you say? Actual writing? Yes, indeed. I wrote about a thousand words on the Sherlock story, give or take; I started writing two new short stories (don’t @ me, I am well aware, but I wanted to get both “Officer Friendly” and “The Pestilence Maiden” started, else I’d forget what they were about or the ideas), and I also did some thinking about all the books and projects that I have in some stage of completion, which was also lovely. It’s nice to slowly be working my way back into my writing again–I was beginning to think I’d never get there, frankly–and yes, it felt really good to be writing again. Today I have to make a run out to get some groceries–my first time leaving the house other than taking out the trash or using the grill–since I got sent home from work over a week ago. I have a mask and gloves, and portable hand sanitizer attached to my key ring. My goal for the morning is to finish this blog, do some other puttering around the house that I need to do before leaving, and then head to the store. When I get back home, I am going to sit down and bang out some more writing, and then at some point I’ll retire to my easy chair to do some more reading.

Now that I’ve actually started to read ebooks, I have to eat a lot of crow. I’ve been resisting reading ebooks for years–I’ve done it, when required, for book award judging, but never really like it and resented having to do it–primarily because I don’t like change, for one thing, and for another, I already spend far too much time looking at screens; the last thing I need to do is read something electronically to relax after staring at a computer screen for a minimum of eight hours a day. My eyes continue to get worse–and it’s a combination of age and blue screen effect, I am fairly certain–and reading electronically was probably not going to help that. But now that I’ve gotten started, I can’t seem to stop. I finished reading This Rough Magic yesterday morning–or was it Friday night? I don’t remember–and yesterday I read a Scott Heim story, “Loam”, and then moved onto another Mary Stewart, Nine Coaches Waiting, which is also fantastic. We watched Zombieland Tap Twice (it was something like that) which was much funnier than I thought it would be, and then the Octavia Spencer horror thriller, Ma–which could have been better, but was perfectly adequate. I do love Ms. Spencer, and wish she would get some better material to showcase her talents more.

I think we’re scheduled to  have shitty weather today, too–rain and so forth–and it looks kind of hazy and sepia-toned out there this morning, and windy–so I should probably get my act together faster this morning and get to the store  so I can not only get it over with, but get back home before the weather turns ugly. Good thing I just looked up the weather–that isn’t going to happen until this afternoon, and I should be able to get there and back before that occurs. It’s also fun to sit at my desk and write during crappy weather, I don’t know why that is, but I like having that tiny barrier of glass between me and the nastiness outside. I’m not sure why that is….but the only thing I like about driving in rain is the coziness of being warm and dry inside my car while only a thin sheet of glass and metal protects me completely from the elements. It’s weird, I know, but everything about me is actually pretty weird; always has been (and for the record, I never became truly happy until I stopped fighting and accepted the weirdness).

I greatly enjoyed Scott Heim’s “Loam”; he’s always been one of the finest writers that our community has produced over the last (gulp) thirty years, and his lack of production has always been a pity and a shame. I read and loved Mysterious Skin years ago, and have always intended to reread it; reading “Loam” got me to find my old copy and place it on the Reread Project pile, which now consists of it, two more Mary Stewart novels (Madam, Will You Talk? and Thunder on the Right), Thomas Tryon’s Harvest Home, Moonraker by Ian Fleming, Sing Me a Death Song by Jay Bennett, Shotgun Opera by Victor Gischler, A Queer Kind of Death by George Baxt, and Harlan Ellison’s collection Strange Wine (I also have Elizabeth Peters’ Crocodile on the Sandbank on deck in my Kindle app).

“Loam” is a long short story about three triplets from the small town of Collingwood, Kansas (is this a nod to Collinwood from Dark Shadows? Perhaps), who are returning for the first time in years, to arrange and attend their father’s funeral. The story begins with the three of them dealing with the rental car arrangements at whatever airport they flew into–I assume Kansas City, which is where I’d fly into if going to visit my part of Kansas–and then slowly, as they make the drive, Heim begins to peel back a trauma the triplets–and the other kids in their first grade class–possibly survived when they were very young; a Satanism scare, in which the teacher and her mentally handicapped son were accused of using (and abusing) the children. This begins to resurface when they stop at a second hand store and find a stack of pictures of their classmates and themselves at that age, possible evidence from the case, which was eventually dismissed as a hoax and a scare–similar to the Satanic scare that happened somewhere else, where the cops basically convinced the children they were abused and to accuse the day care operators of Satanism and abuse–and so we’re never really sure, as are the kids themselves–whether or not it actually happened. It’s very gruesome, and very Gothic, and extremely well written. I recommend it highly; and I wish Scott would write more. I’d never gotten around to his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear; I’m going to make the time this year, methinks. “Loam” is a Kindle single, part of a group of six stories called “Disorder collection,” whatever that is, and you can get it here for 99 cents. You won’t regret it.

And then I started rereading Nine Coaches Waiting. Again, this is a Mary Stewart novel that I read once, long ago, as I was making my way through the Stewart canon as a teenager; I remember enjoying it, but it didn’t make a strong impression on teenaged me. But as I begin rereading it again yesterday, I could not help but marvel at Stewart’s skill. Nine Coaches Waiting consists of the perfect Gothic romantic suspense set-up; a young orphan girl comes to a huge mansion near the French/Swiss border (she has to fly to Geneva to get there) to be governess to an orphaned young French comte; his estate, Chateau Valmy, is being managed for him by his aunt and uncle; he usually lives with another uncle in Paris, but that uncle, an archaeologist, has been called away for six months to a dig in Greece, and so he has returned to his ancestral home to live with his other uncle. Linda, our twenty-one year old heroine, is half-French and fluent in both languages, but it’s made fairly clear to her during the hiring process that they prefer someone who only speaks English, so that the young Phillippe’s English also will become fluent–as she can only speak to  him in English. Under the cover of that lie Linda comes to Chateau Valmy, and becomes attached to her young charge…while not entirely trusting Phillippe’s aunt and uncle, her employers. What Stewart is doing with this novel is completely subverting the meek governess trope of romantic suspense, that began with Jane Eyre; her employer even mockingly calls her “Miss Jane Eyre” at one point. Victoria Holt went back to the governess well over and over in her novels, from Mistress of Mellyn to The King of the Castle, sticking to, and mirroring, the original trope; I love what Stewart is doing with it, and this is yet another example of what a master writer Mary Stewart actually was.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Easter Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Superfly

Good morning, everyone, and welcome to Thursday.

I slept rather well last night, which was lovely, and today is one of my short days, which is equally lovely. I made some terrific progress yesterday on Major Project, not so much on the WIP but it’s okay. I’ve made peace with the fact I can’t work as hard in as short a period of time as I used to, and I feel confident that once Major Project is out of the way, I can make some more progress on everything else I need to get done.

I still have short stories I need to write, as well as an essay, and am hopeful that between today and tomorrow and this weekend–plus the long birthday weekend i am treating myself to next week–will give me the time to get all the things done that I want to get done. I haven’t had time to do much reading this week, but I need to get moving on S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer so I can dive into Laura Lippman’s new Lady in the Lake, which is getting raves everywhere. Again, hopefully, that will come to pass this weekend, and what a lovely birthday gift for myself to spend my birthday long weekend curled up with the new Lippman?

Life rarely gets better than that, seriously.

We finished watching Years and Years last night, and it remained interesting all the way until the end–even if the death of my favorite character kind of cost me some of my emotional investment in the show. I was quite critical of this character death yesterday, yet still held out some hope that the death wasn’t really exploitative and would make sense in the over-all story, once it was finished; you know, the sense that it wasn’t done simply to advance the story and motivate characters to the actions that would move the story to its inevitable end. I think it could have gotten to that inevitable end without this character’s death, frankly, and so it remains another sad example of show business’ favorite gay trope, bury your gays.

Overall, despite this disappointment, I did enjoy the show…although not as much as I did before bury your gays reared its ugly head.

But I am now in the short part of my work week, the two half-days that help me ease my way into my weekend. When I get home from the office late this afternoon, I can do some straightening and cleaning and I can also get back to work on Major Project, or the WIP. Tomorrow I also get off relatively early–one in the afternoon–and it has occurred to me that I could just run to make groceries then and get the mail, negating the need to leave the house over the weekend (running those errands always seems to throw me off every weekend but I need to be more disciplined anyway; soon enough Saturdays will be all about college football and Sunday will be Saints games, so my weekend productivity is about to go into a severe decline (I often read and/or edit while I am watching football games that are neither LSU nor the Saints, so there’s that), so it’s crucial that I start getting things done throughout the rest of this month. I’d like to get all these little things done this month so I can focus in September more clearly on JUST ONE THING for a change.

I’ve slowly been coming to a conclusion about my career, and I actually said it out loud to my friend Laura at lunch on Tuesday, which made it more real, and having said it out loud, it resonated inside my head and the more I think about it, the more sense it makes. Simply put, I don’t think I’m going to write much more young adult fiction, or novels that could be classified that way. Watching y/a Twitter has been horrifying, and that entire world just–yeah, no thank you. I had always wanted to write books for teenagers, going back to discovering Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine and Jay Bennett back in the early 1990’s (Jay Bennett was amazing, absolutely amazing), and it was never about trying to make a lot of money or anything (despite being accused of that any number of times), but simply stories about teens that I wanted to tell. Currently, I have three novels in some sort of progress centering teenagers; I am going to get them finished and then I am going to leave y/a behind (I still have two good ideas for y/a books; I may eventually write them, or I may not).

I’ve been reassessing my career a lot lately–I wish I had a dollar for every time someone told me I should write something more mainstream, so I could make more money….because I would then have so much money I wouldn’t need to write anything at all. There are stories I want to tell–I have ideas coming to me all the time–but I am never going to stop writing stories centering gay men. I’m just not wired that way. I may write things that are more mainstream–a lot of my short fiction isn’t about gay men–but i am never going to stop writing gay stories. I’m just not going to, nor should I have to, and while I understand the good intentions behind people telling me to write something more commercial, I can’t help but wonder if people say that to other minority writers?

I kind of doubt it.

But now I need to get ready to face my day, so it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have an absolutely lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow.

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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!

At Seventeen

The spice mines have not been kind to me lately; I’ve been in one of those awful malaises that I hate so much. I am behind on the book (of course) and I’ve been struggling with some short stories I needed to write. However, yesterday I made some progress on the book (huzzah!) and I think I am snapping out of it. The first thing I saw this morning on social media was this, from Anne Rice:

“To be a writer one thing is required. Write. That’s the big secret. It’s one word. Get the words down on paper, one way or another, and save them. Believe in your own voice, too, and your own way of doing it. Don’t listen to people who say negative things. They’re common. Writers are precious.”

That helped some, and I am hopeful that I am not coming out of the malaise.

Today’s horror topic is Christopher Pike.

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I’ve often talked about how discovering the works of Christopher Pike in the early 1990’s was a revelation to me about young adult fiction, which I had dismissed most of my life; I’d gone almost directly from the kids’ mystery series to Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie and Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt and so forth; adult mystery and suspense. It was finding Pike–and later, R. L. Stine’s Fear Street books–that got me started writing the y/a books in the 1990’s, and even planned on connecting them all together, like the way Stine did.

Christopher Pike’s novels were seriously twisted. The first ones I bought copies of were Whisper of Death, Witch, Die Softly, and Remember Me. I was startled at how ‘adult’ the themes in the books were; when I was a teen the few books about teens I remembered were about “should I or shouldn’t I have sex?” or “drugs are bad for you” or “this is what happens if you DRINK”–that tiresome moralizing shit I couldn’t be bothered with–and in almost every instance it was about white kids in the suburbs, safely middle class. Pike’s characters were all mostly white still, but there wasn’t any overt, hit-you-in-the-head-with-a-baseball-bat type nonsense. Some of the kids were poor, from broken families, having sex, drinking, doing drugs…in other words, these were teenagers dealing with adult problems, and doing the best they could.

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Whisper of Death was the first one that I read, and I couldn’t believe what I was reading, from page one. The point of view character, Roxanne, and her boyfriend, Pepper, were driving home to their small town from an abortion clinic in a nearby, larger city. Roxanne is the product of a single parent home; her mother ran away when she was a little girl, her father is blue collar and drinks too much, and Pepper, her boyfriend, is higher up on the economic scale and made it clear from the moment she realized she was pregnant that abortion was the only option. Pepper’s cavalier attitude about the situation–the palpable relief he feels now that it’s over–also has her questioning whether he is the right guy for her. So, Roxanne’s nerves and feelings are already on edge and raw as the true terror starts…every town they pass through on the drive home is abandoned. Even in their home town, there’s no one around but find three other teenagers they slightly know, and soon discover the only thing they have in common, really, is a connection through a girl named Mary Sue, who recently committed suicide, and who also apparently wrote short stories about the five of them dying in horrible ways.

As they look for other people, one by one they begin dying the way their deaths were described in Mary Sue’s stories.

I went back and read all of Pike’s books, enjoyed them all–and again, all of them were really dark and twisted. Remember Me, which turned into a trilogy, was about a dead girl whose spirit was trying to figure out who pushed her off a balcony at a party and killed her, for example. He also got me to discover Stine and Jay Bennett–who wrote amazing hard-boiled y/a thrillers. Pike also showed me that you could really push the boundaries in y/a fiction.

And now, the spice mines are calling me again.