El Paso

Sunday morning and the sun is shining. I slept late–I need rest, frankly, whether I am actually sick or not–and am just now getting to my first cup of coffee. I decided to make yesterday a day of rest; I literally did nothing yesterday other than go to the grocery store. We got home from there, I put the groceries away while Paul went to pick up a prescription and lunch, and then we finished watching The Outsider and then started a new binge-watch on Netflix, a show from Spain called Toy Boy, which is just the kind if highly entertaining prime-time soap experience we needed. I highly recommend it; it’s extremely well done, and it’s packed full of twists and turns and drama. The main character, Hugo, was having an affair with a very wealthy and powerful woman her husband was murdered. Hugo worked as a Toy Boy, part of a stripper group of really hot young men (obviously) at Club Inferno, and was framed for the murder, spent seven years behind bars, and has just now been released because of faulty evidence and so forth used in his original conviction. Naturally, he has to prove he is actually innocent; his pro bono lawyer’s law firm has hidden reasons for wanting to help him, and every one of the dancers (except the black one, of course) have some kind of intense drama going on in their lives which makes the story move pretty quickly and there are some surprising twists along the way.

And obviously, there’s a lot of eye candy. Before we knew it we’d burned through quite a few episodes and it was after midnight. Make of that what you will. But it did make me nostalgic for the glory of the prime time soaps where everyone was beautiful and the stories moves at lightning speed and there was this gloss of glamour thrown into the mix.

But I am lethargic from doing nothing yesterday, and I am now debating whether I want to go to Wal-mart today or not. It’s the only place we can get the cat treats that Scooter likes, and let’s face it, the shelves at Wal-mart might be empty but I can’t imagine cat treats were an enormous priority for quarantine prep. I also recognize the stupidity of either putting myself at risk by going to get treats for the cat, or putting everyone else at risk if I am a carrier. These are the kinds of decisions I never thought I would have to make, you know? I was impressed with how efficiently Rouse’s was dealing with everything yesterday; regularly disinfecting the check out conveyer belts and the credit card machine, passing out wipes to everyone who walked in, and so forth. But my logical, rational, crime writer brain immediately went to but what about the food packaging? Who all has handled all these boxes and fresh fruit and vegetables and…then I decided it was simply better not to ask questions.

Sometimes having that kind of brain–as well as having it also be extremely creative–can be a curse, you know?

So, after blowing everything off yesterday I am trying to decide what to do with myself for today. ShDaould I risk going to the gym? I don’t have a mask to wear, but I do have rubber gloves that can be disposed of when I am finished (which will also undoubtedly make my hands sweat) and I can of course wipe down all the equipment I touch, which could make the work out take even longer, but it would get me out of the house and doing something. I cannot even stand to look around the filthy disgusting mess that is my kitchen, either. It only makes sense to get a handle on everything here, get the kitchen cleaned up, do the dishes and pick things up and file things, then make a run to Wal-mart to get the cat treats (as well as anything else they may have that I might need–bearing in mind their shelves are going to be extremely picked over)…or I could just walk to the Walgreens, see if they have them (they will be a few dollars more expensive there), and then go on to the gym. Decisions, decisions; the questions we ask ourselves during a pandemic.

Or I could just continue to self-isolate, recognize the fact that it’s not wise to continually put myself and others at risk, and stay my ass at home, knowing I can always start over again and stick with it once this passes. I can stretch at home and I can also use that massage roller on my back to loosen it up, and I think stretching would be enough to kick up some endorphins in order to motivate myself.

And the more I think about it, the stupider I think it is for me to go to Wal-mart and the gym. I’ll go to Walgreens, see if they have the treats there, and if they don’t–well, Scooter, you may be just out of luck when this batch runs out. As I said, I’ve had a cough for most of the week with the occasional head congestion; why am I putting others at risk? Honestly, sometimes I just have to think these things through so the realistic part of my brain can kick into high gear.

Although I definitely don’t need to be wasting the day binge-watching television–although if we finish Toy Boy we can go on to Dare Me, which I’ve been wanting to get back to for weeks.

Also, I greatly enjoyed The Outsider, even if it felt padded to get to ten full episodes. I was very delighted to realize that Holly, the character brilliantly played by Cynthia Erivo, was the same Holly from the Mr. Mercedes novels, whom I absolutely loved–and Erivo was absolutely perfectly cast. (I also hope this means we’ll see the character again in his fiction–and now I want to read the book even more than I did before; despite knowing how it turns out and what the central mystery is and how it’s resolved.)

So, now that I am wrapping this up, I hope to get the kitchen cleaned; do some stretching; perhaps walk over to Walgreens to forage for cat treats; and maybe–just maybe–do some writing at some point this afternoon. I need to at least get another thousand words finished today at some point, on some thing–probably the Sherlock story–and continue to self-isolate.

And I’m very lucky to be able to remain in isolation with Paul, who makes everything bearable.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

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Guitars, Cadillacs

And here it is Monday again; a week that began with the loss of an hour, a massive full moon, and ends with Friday the 13th. Nope, no trepidation there whatsoever.

Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite the shortness and loss of an hour. I managed to get my email inbox trimmed down to something reasonable–which is a plus–and I also managed to get some work done not only on the Sherlock story but on the Secret Project, which was simply not working out because I couldn’t name the main character and all the names I came up with simply didn’t work for me. It dawned on me this weekend what her name should be, and I am pleased to say this also opened up the story for me. I also decided it was silly to–oh, can’t say that, never mind; but let’s just say the setting was wrong, too.

Sometimes….I never learn. Again, I was being stubborn and trying to make something work because I wanted it to work, rather than thinking “okay, why isn’t this working? It shouldn’t be this difficult” which is, of course, the key to everything.

We started watching The Outsider on HBO last night, and we are intrigued thus far. I’ve not read the Stephen King novel on which it is based (we also watched 11/22/63 without me reading the book; but I remember so little of the show it won’t affect me when and if I finally do read the book)–which is weird to me; there used to be a time when I would devour the new Stephen King the day it was released. But I also don’t have the kind of free time that I used to have, either, where I could afford to lose myself in a book for a couple of days–which I do miss, really. I did enjoy the Mr. Mercedes trilogy, but I’m also trying to remember the last time (other than those) that I loved a new King book that I tore through it without stopping from beginning to end. I’m also having some doffoculty remembering the last time (outside of the afore-mentioned Charlie Hodges series) I greatly enjoyed a King novel. It’s certainly been a hot minute or two.

I’m not feeling especially great this morning; I have a head cold or something–which of course, has me paranoid with all this talk of coronavirus madness. I am debating–since I work in a public health clinic–whether I should stay home or not. I know staying home is probably the most responsible choice for me, but at the same time it’s just a stuffy nose and the occasional cough or sneeze. I don’t have a lot of sick time accumulated, either–which is another problem with our capitalistic system; people go to work sick because they either don’t have sick pay or they don’t have enough sick pay. But I don’t think I have anything like that–it’s just a head cold, maybe slightly sinus related–and the Dayquil I took this morning already is kicking in.

I did get some writing done this weekend–not much, not nearly enough–but I did get some done, which is, naturally, a step in the right direction. I have to get three stories finished by the end of the month, and I really am going to need to step up my game here. I was thinking–wondering–why I am having so much trouble focusing and writing lately, but can’t quite put my finger on what the problem is. I do need to figure it out, though.

Oh! I also sold a short story yesterday! Isn’t that exciting? I’m not going to say where or which story yet–until the contract is signed I never want to jinx anything–but that was some excellent news that I needed to get after the shitshow last week was.

And on that note, I should get ready for work.

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland

Sunday morning and it’s cold again this morning. My space heater is warming my legs nicely–it’s amazing how much heat that thing can put out–and I am going to try to get some things done this morning. My desk area is a mess and there’s a load of clothes in the dryer to fold, and another load of dishes in the sink to be washed and put in the dishwasher. I didn’t write yesterday; after braving the grocery store on the Saturday before Christmas I was pretty worn out and over-stimulated, so I spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching some documentaries on television about professional wrestling–there’s a terrific Vice series available on Hulu called The Dark Side of the Ring. I’ve been wanting to write a noir set in a small wrestling promotion in a fictional, highly corrupt Southern coastal city (which I call Bay City whenever I think about it); seeing the dark stories behind the public image was interesting. I watched the episodes about the Fabulous Moolah and the Von Erich family; I just read an old piece in Texas Monthly about them, and so this seemed timely. I loved the Von Erichs back in the day, and I always had a crush on sexy Kevin Von Erich–although I kind of liked them all, frankly. Kevin is the only surviving brother (of six), and they did talk to him on-camera for the documentary, and he was interviewed for the Texas Monthly piece. I cannot imagine what it would be like to lose all of your brothers–almost all of your children for the Von Erich parents–but Kevin’s two sons are now working in professional wrestling, carrying on the family name, and they are also carrying on the “hot as fuck” family tradition as well.

After that, I invested three hours in finally watching Avengers Endgame, which was entertaining enough. There were elements of Days of Future Past in it–no surprise, since they came from the same company–and it did have some terrific moments. Visually it was also stunning, but I always have problems with time travel because of the paradoxes (although I did laugh out loud when someone–I think it was Paul Rudd as Antman–said, “SO you’re saying Back to the Future is bullshit?”), and I also figured out, at the end of Infinity War, that they’d have to go back in time to erase what Thanos had done. This created a lot more questions in my head than were answered by the movie, but I can also see why it was such a huge success and why people loved it so much. It’s quite the star-studded spectacle, everyone is well cast, and visually it’s quite epic.

And then I went to bed–a lovely, relaxing day. I may not watch the Saints game–too stressful–but will definitely have it on in the living room while I do other things. Tonight there won’t be a new episode of Watchmen, which makes me sad (and yes, I still miss Game of Thrones) but there should be a new episode of Dublin Murders dropping tonight, and Paul has expressed an interest in watching Titans, so I’ll probably revisit the first season, primarily because I won’t remember enough of it to explain it to Paul is we just start on season two. I’m also trying to figure out how to watch the DIRECTV-only series of Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes. There are becoming too many streaming services, and we’re getting to the point where it’s almost as much as the cable bill used to be. One thing I need to do is sit down and figure out what all I am paying for and what I actually don’t need, that I am paying for and can be cancelled.

Also, the first episode of Megan Abbott’s series based on her novel Dare Me is available, if I can figure out a way to stream it onto the television.

I also need to write today. I’ve successfully managed to avoid it for two days now, but today I kind of should do some. I don’t know why I always have to force myself to do things I enjoy, but that’s the paradox of my life. I’m also going to spend some time with Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside. I don’t know why I am taking so long to read this book, it’s fantastic and incredibly well done; it has more to do with me not being in the mood to read or something, rather than anything negative about the book.

I’m also trying to decide whether or not I want to do one–or several–of those my favorite things of the year posts. Obviously, I didn’t read or watch everything, so I can only write about what I’ve actually experienced; but I also worry that I won’t remember something. There were so many amazing new books this year that I read, and some amazing books from previous years I also read…it’s hard to remember a better year for books, or television–Chernobyl, Unbelievable, Fosse/Verdon–and that’s just off the top of my head. The Emmys are going to be incredibly competitive yet again.

And on that note, I am going to retire to my easy chair with my book for a little while before I start cleaning and writing and doing whatever it is I should be doing on this late December lazy Sunday.

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You Make Me Feel Brand New

As you are well aware, Constant Reader, I am a huge Stephen King fan, and have been since I read Carrie I was fourteen all those years ago. I don’t have the same urgency I used to have with King, when I would buy the books on their release date in hardcover and then put everything aside so I could read it from beginning to end; there are numerous King novels on my shelves that I’ve yet to read–11/22/63 and Doctor Sleep, among others–and along with them, for a very long time, was End of Watch.

End of Watch is the third in what is called the Bill Hodges trilogy, following Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed (Mr. Mercedes deservedly won the Edgar Award for Best Novel from the Mystery Writers of America). I would occasionally glance at the shelf of unread King novels from my easy chair and think, “I really need to read End of Watch” but never got around to it.

So, given my discovery that most audiobooks are too long for the twelve hour trip home, I decided that I would listen to End of Watch (thirteen hours) on my way home; then I could just get the book down from the shelf and finish reading it at home. So, I got in the car Friday morning, opened the app, and linked my phone to the stereo in my car. I pulled out of the driveway, and as I was pulling onto the highway I suddenly remembered, Oh no! The reason I haven’t read this is because it’s the last Bill Hodges book, and I love the characters so much I didn’t want to finish and say goodbye to Bill, Holly and Jerome for good!

But it was too late, so I soldiered on.

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It’s always darkest before the dawn.

This elderly chestnut occurred to Rob Martin as the ambulance he drove rolled slowly along Upper Marlborough Street toward home base, which was Firehouse 3. It seemed to him that whoever thought that one up really got hold of something, because it was darker than a woodchuck’s asshole this morning, and dawn wasn’t far away.

Not that this daybreak would be up to much even when it finally got rolling; call it dawn with a hangover. The fog was heavy and smelled of the nearby not-so-great Great Lake. A fine cold drizzle had begun to fall through it, just to add to the fun. Rob clicked the wiper control from intermittent to slow. Not far up ahead, two unmistakable yellow arches rose from the murk.

“The Golden Tits of America!” Jason Rapsis cried from the shotgun seat. Rob had worked with any number of paramedics over his fifteen years as an EMT, and Jace Rapsis was the best: easygoing when nothing was happening, unflappable and sharply focused when everything was happening at once. “We shall be fed! God bless capitalism! Pull in, pull in!”

The opening chapter of this book is a perfect example of King at his best. The two EMT’s in this opening aren’t characters pertinent to the story nor do they appear again (one of them actually does, but very briefly, much later); they are simply the framing device King uses to get the story rolling. They are the ones called to the scene of the murder/suicide the opens the book, and King exquisitely captures their personalities and lives, vividly making them real and alive in their brief pages; he does this throughout the book, introducing a cameo character and bringing that person vividly to life.

Retired cop and now private eye Bill Hodges and his business partner (and friend/family) Holly Gibney are brought into the case because one of the two victims was paralyzed from the chest down by the monstrous Mercedes Killer, Brady Hartsfield, whom Holly put into a coma before he could detonate a bomb at a boy-band concert filled with screaming tweens (the very thrilling conclusion to Mr. Mercedes). And before long, some very strange things keep happening, and all the evidence, the only connection, is that everyone involved has some connection to Brady Hartsfield…who is still in a coma.

Or is he?

End of Watch takes the series, in a brilliant finale, into King’s world, of experimental drugs that can develop telekinesis (back to Firestarter), and also the psychology of  ‘herd mentality’; Brady has been given experimental drugs that have somehow given him horrible abilities…and he uses those abilities to infiltrate the minds of others, using a hand-held gaming device, and pushing them to suicide. Again, King’s genius is seriously involved here, as we go into those teen minds and see how the descent into suicidal depression works…and how easy it is to trigger that spiral. It’s absolutely terrifying, and absolutely real. And once the story gets going, it’s the usual fast-moving train that King always writes, and when I got home from the trip Friday night I couldn’t wait to get my copy down from the shelf and read the stunning, brilliant, utterly satisfying conclusion.

And immediately became sad. I love the characters of Bill, Holly and Jerome, and was deeply sad to realize I had indeed, reached the end of the watch with them.

Highly recommended.

(one caveat: I did struggle with the depiction of one of the suicide victims–a gay teen–but finally decided that it was okay because he was depicted sympathetically, if stereotypically, and King is making an effort to diversify his work. So, I gave him a pass on the gay teen character.)

Dead Giveaway

Tuesday morning, it’s sixty degrees and I’ve had another glorious night of sleep. I am still a bit groggy, only being on my second cup of coffee, but today it’s back to reality after the bliss of Bouchercon and being wrapped up in the world of writing and publishing for almost a week. Heavy heaving sigh. I think we brought the cold weather back down from Canada with us! But I am digging out from under–I really did go AWOL while we were gone on a lot of things–so this morning I need to get caught up on my email and get the house back in some kind of order. I have Friday off as well, since I am working Sunday (condom outreach at the Gay Halloween tea dance at Crescent Park), so that will also help some as far as getting caught up is concerned.

Methinks I need a to-do list.

I started writing a short story yesterday; it’s an idea that’s been lying around in my head for a really long time and I thought, hell, I should start writing this, partly because an idea for the opening came to me. For the longest time this dark noir story was set in Kansas in my head–I even wrote, I think, a rough draft a long time ago but have always wanted to revise it as a noir, and reading Craig Pittman’s Oh Florida! made me realize that part of the problem with the revision I was having was because it should have been set in the panhandle of Florida. (I really recommend the Pittman; Im enjoying the hell out of it and it’s bringing back a lot of memories for me of all the time I’ve spent in Florida) I had started writing another one last week–“Sorry, Wrong Email”–that I would also like to finish this week….so much to do; I really need to make that damned to-do list.

First thing on the to-do list: make a to-do list.

Second thing on the to-do list: figure out what my next horror read will be. (I’m thinking I need to finally finish off Stephen King’s Mr. Mercedes trilogy with End of Watch, which is more paranormal than mystery; but I may save that for a weekend read.) Maybe it’s time to reread The Haunting of Hill House, which I haven’t gotten around to doing yet. Hmmmm. Decisions, decisions.

And man, looking around my kitchen at the messy wreckage…I need to get this mess cleaned up.

Okay, enough procrastination. It’s back to the spice mines with me, and here’s a hunk for your Tuesday morning:

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One of Us

On Sunday, a panel I wasn’t on was asked by its moderator if they had ever met and embarrassed themselves in front of one of their literary heroes? I wasn’t on that panel, but had I been, my answer would have been “Yes, I met Stephen King at the Edgar Award banquet a couple of years ago and was a complete gibbering idiot.”

Although I am pretty sure he is used to that by now, it’s something that I still think about, and am embarrassed by, to this very day.

Then again, what DO you say to someone whose work you’ve admired for over forty years? Who inspired, and continues to inspire, you to this very day?

He won the Edgar Award for Best Novel that night for his book Mr. Mercedes. I have to admit I don’t read King the way I did for years; buy it the day it comes out and shut everything out and do nothing, watch nothing, ignore the entire world until I had devoured the book. I still haven’t read 11/22/63, haven’t finished The Dark Tower (have about four books to go in that series), put aside Doctor Sleep and Black House, and not only hadn’t read Mr. Mercedes, but none of the other two books in the Bill Hodges trilogy either.

Bad fan, bad fan.

But I took Mr. Mercedes with me on this trip, saved it for last, and just finished it a little while ago.

Whoa.

Augie Odenkirk had a 1997 Datsun that still ran well in spite of high mileage, but gas was expensive, especially for a man with no job, and City Center was on the far side of town, so he decided to take the last bus of the night. He got off at twenty past eleven with his pack on his back and his rolled up sleeping bag under one arm. He thought he would be glad of the down-filled bag by three A.M. The night was misty and chill.

“Good luck, man,” the driver said as he stepped down, “You ought to get something for just being the first one there.”

Only he wasn’t. When Augie reached the top of the wide, steep drive leading to the big auditorium, he saw a cluster of at least two dozen people already waiting outside the rank of doors, some standing, most sitting. Posts strung with yellow DO NOT CROSS tape had been set up, creating a complicated passage that doubled back on itself, mazelike. Augie was familiar with these from movie theaters and the bank where he was currently overdrawn, and understood it’s purpose: to cram as many people as possible into as small a space as possible.

As he approached the end of what would soon be a conga-line of job applicants, Augie was both amazed and dismayed to see that the woman at the end of the line has a sleeping baby in a Papoose carrier. The baby’s cheeks were flushed with the cold; each exhale came with a faint rattle.

The woman heard Augie’s slightly out-of-breath approach, and turned. She was young and pretty enough, even with the dark circles under her eyes. At her feet was a small quilted carry-case. Augie supposed it was a baby support system.

“Hi,” she said. “Welcome to the Early Birds Club.”

“Hopefully we’ll catch a worm.” He debated, thought what the hell, and stuck out his hand. “August Odenkirk. Augie. I was recently downsized. That’s the twenty-first-century way of saying I got canned.”

The book deserved its Edgar Award. Wow.

One of the things I love the most about Stephen King’s work is how incredibly well he draws characters; he even manages to make the worst of the worst, characters you absolutely hate, understandable.

The prologue to the book is, as you can see above, set in a line for a job fair outside of an unnamed city in Ohio’s civic center. In the relationship between Augie and Janice, the young mother, he immediately creates two characters you feel like you know–the older guy who’s lost his job and is worried about his future; the young struggling single mother who just wants to work so she can provide for herself and her child. These are working class people who are hurting, who are worried, who are willing to do whatever they have to do. But as the morning sun begins to rise, someone driving a Mercedes jumps the curb and deliberately drives into the crowd–the last we see of Augie is him lying down on top of Janice and her baby to try to protect them from the car.

The book is, actually, a taut, fast moving thriller that begins after the prologue; about a duel of wits between retired police detective Bill Hodges (who was in charge of the Mercedes killer investigation) and Mr. Mercedes himself, the killer. The killer is now stalking Bill–divorced, estranged from his only child, now retired and with nothing to do. Bill sometimes takes out his gun and considers eating it…and the killer’s plan is to drive Bill to suicide.

Instead, Bill is reinvigorated upon receipt of a nasty letter from the killer, and so begins a cat-and-mouse game that kept me turning the pages and up way later then I needed to be. Wow; what a great story! And I’m looking forward to reading the next book in the series–there were some loose ends there that will be tied up in later books in the trilogy.

VERY recommended.