Storm in a Teacup

I first discovered Stephen King when I was a sophomore in high school. A friend was carrying a paperback copy of Carrie around with her, and I neither recognized the title nor the author. The cover was interesting looking, in that weird kind of alternate reality type way that speculative fiction covers so often got at that time. “What is this about?” I asked when I picked it up and examined the book.

“It’s about a bullied girl with psychic powers,” she replied. “My mom was worried about letting me read it because she’s afraid I’m like her.”

It rather broke my heart a little to hear my friend, who was overweight and had very bad skin but also incredibly kind and intelligent, say this; but I could also relate a bit because I, too, was picked on and bullied. I, too, knew what it was like to walk past a gaggle of kids both pretty and “cool”, notice that they stopped talking as I approached only to whisper and laugh once I walked by…while simultaneously feeling grateful that they had the decency to whisper so I couldn’t hear what was said (and typing that really made me sad).

I opened the book to the first page and there it was, about halfway down the first page, in italics: Carrie White eats shit.

The preceding sentence, not italicized, read: “Graffiti scratched on a desk of the Barker Street Grammar School in Chamberlain:”

The realism of this, its brutal reality and recognition of the horrors bullied kids face, was like a 2 x 4 across my forehead. I started reading, and kept reading, until the bell rang and I was about thirty pages in, completely drawn into the story. I’d never read anything like it before; it was so real, so honest, so like what high school was actually like as opposed to the cutesy stories I was accustomed to reading about teenagers, where the concerns were “who will take me to Prom?” or “should I go ahead and have sex now or do I wait till I get married?” This was visceral, and I regretfully passed the book back to my friend, thinking, “I’ll look for it at Zayre’s when we go there next.”

My friend, who shared my love of reading, just smiled and said, “I haven’t started it yet–why don’t you go ahead and finish it and then give it back?”

I read it instead of paying attention in my next class–it was Drama, the little play we were rehearsing for class had me assigned stage managing duties, so I really had nothing to do since I wasn’t rehearsing–so I sat in a seat in our school theater, reading. I read it on the bus ride home. I read it when I got home, sitting on my bed with my back propped up by cushions. And I finished it that night–establishing a pattern with King’s fiction that lasted for decades: I would read the book as soon as I got a copy from start to finish, usually in one sitting (It kept my up all night because I couldn’t put it down).

When I saw Night Shift on the wire racks of the News Depot several years later in Kansas, I was terribly excited. A new Stephen King! I bought it immediately and took it home…slightly disappointed to discover it was merely a short story collection, and I wasn’t a big fan of reading short stories; I only read the ones I was required to read for a class assignment.

I read the first story, “Jerusalem’s Lot,” and didn’t like it at all; I put the book aside and didn’t return to it until months later…the next story, however, was “Graveyard Shift” and it was amazing…suffice it to say, I read the rest of the book through in one sitting–and it’s also been my go-to for rereads and so far when I don’t have a lot of time, or I want to simply relax and enjoy reading…one of the reasons for years I would often reread a favorite book.

But last night we started watching Chapelwaite, which I knew was an adaptation of that first story I didn’t care for–and have never reread as a result–and so I decided to go ahead and revisit the story.

I am really glad that I did.

Oct. 2, 1850

Dear Bones,

How good it was to step into the cold, draughty hall here at Chapelwaite, every bone in an ache from that abominable coach, in need of relief from my distended bladder–and to see a letter addressed in your own inimitable scrawl propped on the obscene little cherry-wood table beside the door! Be assured that I set to deciphering it as soon as the needs of the body were attended to (in a coldly ornate downstairs bathroom where I could see my breath rising before my eyes).

I’m glad to hear that you recovered from the miasma that has so long set in your lungs, although I assure you that I do sympathize with the moral dilemma the cure has affected you with. An ailing abolitionist healed by the sunny climes of slave-struck Florida! Still and all, Bones, I ask you as a friend who has also walked in the valley of the shadow, to take all care of yourself and venture not back to Massachusetts until your body gives you leave. Your fine mind and incisive pen cannot serve us if you are clay, and if the Southern zone is a healing one, is there not poetic justice in that?

Yes, the house is quite as fine as I had been led to believe by my cousin’s executors, but rather more sinister. It sits atop a huge and jutting point of land perhaps three miles north of Falmouth and nine miles north of Portland. Behind it are some four acres of grounds, gone back to the wild in the most formidable manner imaginable–junipers, scrub vines, bushes, and various forms of creeper climb wildly over the picturesque stone walls that separate the estate from the town domain. Awful imitations of Greek statuary peer blindly through the wrack from atop various hillocks–they seem, in most cases, about to lunge at the passer-by. My cousin Stephen’s tastes seem to have run the gamut from the unacceptable to the downright horrific. There is an odd little summer house which has been nearly buried in scarlet sumac and a grotesque sundial in the midst of what must once have been a garden. It adds the final lunatic touch.

But the view from the parlour more than excuses this; I command a dizzying view of the rocks at the foot of Chapelwaite Head and the Atlantic itself. A huge, bellied bay window looks out on this, and huge, toadlike secretary stands beside it. It will do nicely for the start of that novel which I have talked of so long (and no doubt tiresomely).

When I first read this story (and disliked it so intensely) I was a teenager completely turned off by the archaic style of writing, as well as the concept of a story told in letters and diary entries (I wasn’t aware of the concept of epistolary fiction at the time; it was also why I stopped reading Dracula when I first tried as a teenager), and the story itself was just kind of…weird–with all its references to things inside the walls and “great worms” and “horrors from beyond the cosmos”…it wasn’t until I read King’s study Danse Macabre that I became aware of Lovecraft’s work and eldritch horrors; but remembering how much I disliked this story, it didn’t exactly inspire me to go on to read Lovecraft or works in a similar vein (the cultural war over Lovecraft in the speculative fiction community over the last decade–not sure of the time line, frankly, and don’t care enough to go look; I am loosely affiliated with that community and have many friends in it, so can’t not be aware but simply observed).

But watching Chapelwaite put me in mind of this source material for the show again, and I decided to reread it this morning, since I’ve never reread the story since its initial read back in the 1970’s. I’ve since read Dracula; Les Liaisons Dangereuses was the book that cured me of my disdain for epistolary fiction–the book is extraordinary–but yet, never gave “Jerusalem’s Lot” another try.

I’m glad I did.

This second read made me appreciation the story a lot more than I did over forty years ago. A quick glance at the copyright page for Night Shift shows that the story was an unpublished work included in this collection and seeing print for the first time; a shame, because it not only shows King’s incredible versatility as a writer but also it’s chilling and creepy; it’s almost Gothic in tone, certainly using a writing style from the past (although I don’t know that a man in 1850 would mention needing to relieve his bladder in a letter to a friend); one that is very formal and I didn’t care for much as a teenager but have come to greatly appreciate in the years since. The story is simple: Charles Boone, after some ill health after the loss of his beloved wife, has inherited a family estate on the coast of Maine. There was a family rift between his grandfather and great-uncle; the death of the former master of Chapelwaite has left Charles as the lone survivor of the family. Once he and his man-servant arrive, they begin to experience strange phenomena that they originally tribute to rats in the walls; but rats don’t explain when no one in the nearby town of Preacher’s Corners will come near the place, or will have anything to do with Charles. A few miles from the house is a pristine yet abandoned village: Jerusalem’s Lot (yes, the same name of the town from King’s classic vampire novel ‘salem’s Lot), and Charles–despite being warned (do people in horror stories ever listen to warnings?) investigate the little town, and…yeah.

GREAT story, and the end is *chef’s kiss*.

Very glad I decided to revisit the story, so thank you, Chapelwaite, for getting me to do so.

And I will add there’s another Jerusalem’s Lot story in Night Shift, “One for the Road”–which I deeply love.

And now back to the spice mines.

I Love Saturday

It’s true. I do love a Saturday.

Yesterday was gloomy in New Orleans–clouds everywhere; white and fluffy, but too thick for the sun to get through, so there was kind of a weird dullness to the light. I spent most of the day doing data entry for my work-at-home chores, and then starting proofing the pages of #shedeservedit, which are due on Monday. I hope to get a lot done this weekend; I have writing to do and edits to make and everything else; I am leaving on a trip on Tuesday to the northeast so writing is probably not going to be much of an option while I am traveling. I will try, however; just as I will try to write here every day so you won’t miss me terribly. (I crack myself up, seriously; no one would notice if I didn’t post! I am not that arrogant.)

But today is bright and sunshiney; I woke up feeling really good after a very lovely night’s sleep–long and deep and restful–and I feel like this morning is the start of a great new time for me. (It’s really amazing what a great sleep will do for one’s outlook, isn’t it?)

Yesterday was a work-at-home day, and by the end I was bleary-eyed from staring at a computer screen entering data for the most part. I was very glad to finish–it’s tedious, and while it does appeal to my obsessive-compulsive side as well as the completist aspects of my persona, any kind of simple data entry work can become tedious and make your eyes cross after awhile. After Paul got home last night we caught up on this week’s episode of The Morning Show and started watching Chapelwaite, with Adrien Brody from EPIX, which is, of course, based on Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” from the Night Shift collection (which I now want to go back and reread, at least this particular story). “Jerusalem’s Lot” was never a favorite of mine of King’s, and I never revisited it; it was written a very old Gothic style, like Dracula–mostly epistolary, in the form of letters and journal entries–and King himself has said it was very Lovecraftian in influence and style (I’ve never read Lovecraft; something I should perhaps remedy at some point. I’ve always admitted my education in classics is sorely lacking.) and I didn’t much care for it as a callow youth. But as an adult I’ve become more enamored both of epistolary tales (I love the concept of people writing incredibly lengthy letters to each other; and Les Liaisons Dangereuses, one of my favorite books and stories of all time, is completely epistolary), and I suspect a quick reread of the story will actually give me a better appreciation for it. Plus, I think to get back into the habit of reading again, I may need to revive the Short Story Project. I’ve been struggling with my reading again lately, not sure why, but maybe reading short stories will help me work my way around it.

Today I have writing to do, as always. I am going to finish writing this and continue to swill coffee while finishing some odds and ends here in the kitchen; I’ve made some impressive (to me) progress with the organizational project I’ve undertaken (goal: to be completely organized by the end of the year), and I might even sit outside and read for a bit this morning. It’s definitely fall here now–yesterday it was in the 60’s–and quite lovely. I do want to go for a walk in the neighborhood where my book is set, to get another feel for it–so that will probably be on the agenda for either today or tomorrow.

In other exciting news, I may have found a home for one of my own short stories, a particularly dark and twisted tale no one I’ve submitted it to wants to touch. An editor compiling an anthology of gay-themed and written crime stories reached out to me this week; I spent a couple of days thinking about it, and realized that this story actually, with a few tweaks, could easily be made into something that fits this theme. So, add that to the list of things to do. I didn’t really do anything in the world of short stories this past year–something I hoped wouldn’t turn out to be the case; I’d been hoping to write and sell a few every year going forward, but this crazy year has just slipped through my fingers and as such, don’t really have much in the way of short stories to show for myself, which is terribly disappointing. Then again I rarely cease to find myself disappointing….

And on that note, I am going to grab my iPad and read that Stephen King short story. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you yet again tomorrow.

Picture to Burn

Good morning, Constant Reader! It’s my official release day for my latest Todd Gregory tome, Wicked Frat Boy Ways, which I am kind of excited about. For one thing, I love the cover. For another, I am kind of proud of this book. I did something completely different than anything I’ve ever done before, and it’s also an homage to one of my favorite stories of all time: Les Liaisons Dangereuses. (I’ve also discovered that young people will just look at me blankly when I mention that; or even say Dangerous Liaisons, the award winning film with Glenn Close and John Malkovich from the late 1980’s; however, mention Cruel Intentions with Ryan Phillippe and Sara Michelle Gellar, and their eyes will light up.) It’s a wonderful story; after all, to date, there are four film versions thus far, and a stage version. The Glenn Close movie inspired Madonna’s MTV Video Awards performance of “Vogue”–which I absolutely loved. I am a sucker for the costumes of that era; Bourbon France (1589-1792) is one of my favorite periods of history; the French Revolution is endlessly fascinating to me (Les Liaisons Dangereuses was set in the early 1780’s, and there are those who call the at-the-time scandalous novel as one of the flagstones in the pathway to the French Revolution, by pointing out the corruption and evil behavior that boredom amongst the wealthy and spoiled aristocracy in France to a wider audience); and so my personal favorite film version of the story are the Glenn Close with the Annette Bening/Colin Firth Valmont coming in second. But Cruel Intentions is also very well done, and both Phillippe and Gellar inhabit the evil characters absolutely perfectly. I’ve always wanted to do my own version of the story; but I wanted to follow the novel (which I absolutely loved, and have reread several times) more so than the film.

I’ve played with the idea a lot over the years; the trick is that the novel is epistolary. The epistolary novel was very popular in previous centuries (Dracula is also epistolary for the most part; a mix of letters and diary entries), although it has fallen out of favor in modern times. I’ve always thought they were great; it was a way to get inside character heads much more so than just alternating third-person point of views, and it’s even harder to do alternating first person point of views–which I also didn’t know how to do, and was afraid to try (Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying is perhaps the best example of this ever published). I thought about doing it in the form of emails years ago, and then. after Bold Strokes agreed to publish it, tried to figure out how to do it with modern technology–a combination of texts messages, emails, Facebook posts, etc. But that would also be a formatting nightmare for the technical side of publishing;  I even asked the formatter how it could be done, and the response wasn’t encouraging.

And then I reread one of my favorite books, The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis, and I saw how it could be done–alternating first person point of view, present tense; in other words, tell the story in the present from the point of view of characters as it is happening to them, so you can also see, as in the letters, how their perspectives change and how the manipulations happen, and how they really feel. Yes, it was similar to how Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying, but at the same time, it was a challenge I wanted to take on: an erotic novel with a strong plot, told in the present tense, in alternating first person point of view.

Instead of using the same Beta Kappa chapter at CSU-Polk, I moved it to another campus; one that is more rich and more elite: the University of California at San Felice (a shout out to Margaret Millar, who used San Felice in some of her novels as a stand-in for Santa Barbara), on the California coast a few hours north of Los Angeles. I had the character of Brandon Benson, from Games Frat Boys Play, transfer and now he’s a senior, friends with Phil Connors, chapter president. Phil and Brandon are the primary characters in the story; the others the chess pieces they move around the board; Ricky Monterro is the nephew of a very wealthy self-made lawyer who is president of the alumni association, and a recent drop out from the seminary at Notre Dame who’s just realized he doesn’t want to be a priest, preferring to live openly and honestly as a gay man; Dylan, an incoming transfer from UCLA who is engaged to a soldier on a tour in the Middle East; and Kenny, a shy young gay virgin with no self-esteem who falls head over heels for Ricky at first sight.

Jordy from Games Frat Boys Play even makes an appearance, having rented a house on Fire Island for the summer, which is where Brandon and Dylan first run into each other.

Damn, this book was fun to write. Hope it’s as fun to read!

Wicked Frat Boy Ways_final