Call It What You Want

Well, LSU lost, which certainly cast a pall over my day yesterday. The game was also early–11 am start time–and after that sucked all the air out of my day I struggled, frankly. I know, it’s silly to put so much emotional energy into being a fan of any sport, but I can’t remember ever seeing LSU play as badly on defense as they have so far this year. I feel bad for the kids, and I don’t know what the problem is–I didn’t expect them to have another record-breaking season, but I certainly didn’t think they’d have a very strong shot at going 1-9, either.

Heavy sigh. It seems to be a very weird year for college football–the Alabama-Ole Miss score was 63-48, with Ole Miss gaining over 600 yards; that’s the most points ever scored on a Nick Saban Alabama team–and Mississippi State lost to Kentucky, with Florida falling to Texas A&M; Arkansas almost beat Auburn, so clearly defense is no longer a thing in the SEC, a conference once known and respected for it. Georgia and Alabama are the only unbeatens left in the conference, and they play next weekend…yes, a very strange year in college football.

I did manage to get some work done yesterday–not enough, of course–but progress was certainly made, and I feel confident I’ll be able to get it all taken care of tomorrow. The Saints are playing on Monday night, so there’s absolutely no need for me to turn on the television at all during the day tomorrow, and the French Open final will be on so early I doubt Paul will get up to watch. This year is seriously shit, you know? All the joy from sports has been sucked out of them, and crowd noise, it turns out, increases the enjoyment of the game significantly when you’re watching at home–who knew?

So, I licked my wounds and thought about the things I need to write, and how to get them done, and how to improve everything I have currently in progress. That’s a win, frankly, and I refuse to feel guilty about not getting everything done yesterday. Sure, it means I have to get it all done today–but as I said, I am certain I can bang it all out and get it all done, and then I can go into the first three day work week of the clinic since March with my head held high and start focusing on the other things I need to get done–the manuscript for Bury Me in Shadows, a couple more short stories–and of course, getting the email situation back under control. I feel like this final quarter of the year, no matter what else happens in the rest of the world, is a time when I can turn this ship around and set to rights.

I especially hate that I somehow fucked around and managed to go a year without having a book out. How in the holy hell did I allow that to happen? What was I doing in 2019 that I didn’t get a book written? I turned Royal Street Reveillon in around Carnival of 2019, and it came out last October, a year ago. What in the name of God was I doing the rest of the year? I know I was working on Bury Me in Shadows, but seriously? I honestly don’t remember, but whatever the hell it was I was doing, one thing for sure I wasn’t doing was writing. Sure, I sold some short stories, but I honestly think most of the story sales were this year, not last. Part of the reason I signed contracts with deadlines so tightly on top of each other was partly to ensure I wasn’t going to go another year without a novel out.

Gregalicious, you need to start getting more focused.

I saw the trailer for the new version of The Stand, and I have to say it looks good. I liked the original mini-series from the early 1990’s–that chilling opening when Campion runs and “Don’t Fear the Reaper” plays over the opening credits as the camera moves through the Army base and all the dead bodies within still gives me chills (it’s on Youtube). I love The Stand, and generally consider it my favorite Stephen King novel. It used to be one of my primary comfort reads; I think I’ve read the original dozens of times. Despite some issues, overall I approved of that initial attempt at filming it; the final episode was the weakest, overall, but they did a pretty good job. This version has a terrific cast, and it looks like CBS All Access spared no expense on putting together a great show…but–the whole Mother Abagail thing really doesn’t hold up well after all this time. At least they’ve added other people of color to the cast this time–in the book and the original TV version, apparently most people of color succumbed to the pandemic.

It’s also interesting that when I was reading plague fictions and histories earlier this year, I didn’t pick up either The Stand or Richard Matheson’s I Am Legend, which are both favorites. I think both–which feature almost the entire human population dying–were probably more than I could handle earlier this year.

And I do think that was probably the wisest course.

I read two more stories by Nathan Ballingrud, from his collection North American Lake Monsters: Stories yesterday while the Alabama-Ole Miss game played on the television–“Wild Acre” and “S.S.”–and both were superbly written. Ballingrud does a truly great job writing about desperate people–financially desperate, emotionally desperate–and his use of the supernatural and how it affects/impacts the desperate people he writes about it is stellar. “S.S.” isn’t really a supernatural story; it’s set in New Orleans and is more about a desperate young man, a loser, who turns to white supremacy to try to find a place where he belongs, and it’s an ugly little story, yet compelling at the same time. The horror of his own life–he’s a dishwasher at a small restaurant in the Quarter, his mother was severely injured in an accident, can’t work, and is now mentally deranged; their power has been turned off for non-payment–makes him an easy target for white supremacy and hate; it’s terribly sad, and makes a surprising turn towards the end. The interesting thing I am learning from reading Ballingrud is that the premise of his work is the real horror comes from humans, not the paranormal or supernatural.

So, today is the day I am going to get a lot of work done, trying to start getting caught up on everything. I slept deeply and well last night, which is always a plus, and so am feeling relatively well rested this morning. Once I’ve had my coffee and finished writing this, I am going to get cleaned up and dig into finishing my essay and then move on to the website writing before the revision of my short story. This will possibly–probably?–take most of the day, so I doubt that I will get around to Bury Me in Shadows today (but one never knows; I could go into the zone and get a ton of shit done today). We watched three episodes of The Boys last night, and I have to say, the primary problem we (Paul agrees with me on this) have with the show is the character of Butcher. He’s really supposed to be the character we root for, leading the resistance against the proto-fascist tendencies of the super-heroes and Vought, the company they work for, but he’s so routinely unpleasant and unlikable it’s difficult to care–and if you excise him and his personal story from the show you wouldn’t really be missing anything; I don’t care about his him or his wife or their situation, frankly, and the fact that almost every sentence he utters includes the words “cunt” and/or “twat” doesn’t help. I realize the words are more commonly used in England and don’t have the unpleasant misogynist implications they do in the United States, but the constant usage is like the writers were all “Oh, he’s British so he can say cunt and twat all the time!” like junior high school boys rubbing their hands together in glee about getting away with something. I do like that the show subverts and looks at super-heroes with a wary eye, exploring the dangers of super-powered beings who are arrogant and don’t really care much about people, but Watchmen also explored the ethics of this, and did it much, much better. Still…for the most part, we are enjoying it, and will continue watching. We only have three episodes left, and so will probably either finish it tonight or tomorrow–there’s also a new episode of The Vow dropping tonight; even though we are slowly losing interest in it, we’ll probably continue watching and see it all the way through.

Although I have to give props where it’s due; The Boys has gotten me thinking about Superman, and why the DC films with Henry Cavill about Superman have been disappointing, despite a stellar cast, because they really don’t get the essence of Superman–and why on earth would you make a movie about the greatest comic book hero of all time when you don’t understand the purpose of the character and why he is a hero? Hero is the key word there; and if Marvel could manage to do Captain America and make him believable, Warner certainly could have done the same with Superman. Watching the first two Christopher Reeve Superman movies would have been a huge help, frankly; Superman isn’t angsty or tortured the way Batman is, and using the film version of Batman as a blueprint for Superman, I think, was the first mistake.

Look at Wonder Woman, for that matter.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines and get this day off and running. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Open Your Heart

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

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

Heavy heaving sigh.

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

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

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

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

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Love Touch

Tuesday!

Time keeps slipping through my fingers. There’s only one week left in July, and there’s so much I have to do before August 1! Heavy heaving sigh. There’s nothing else for me to do but gear up, buckle down, and get to work.

Yay?

In other exciting news, the Bouchercon program was announced and I have three, yes, three, panels this year! Such a bounty of riches!

They are all on Friday, September 7, and first up, at noon is:

A Nooner–The Sex Panel

Helen Smith (M)
Hillary Davidson
Christa Faust
Greg Herren
Catriona McPherson

Fun, right?

Then, at three:

Anthony Nominated Paperback Originals

Greg Herren (M)
Nadine Nettman
Thomas Pluck
Eryk Pruitt
Lori Rader Day
James Ziskin

and then, last but not least, at 4:

The Rainbow Connection–LGBTQ Inclusivity

Terri Bischoff (M)
Kelly J. Ford
Greg Herren
Kristen Lepionka
Catherine Maiorisi
CS Poe

All I know for sure is I will be ready for a drink at five.

Today’s story for the Short Story Project is “Witch War” by Richard Matheson, from The Best of Richard Matheson:

Seven pretty little girls sitting in a row. Outside, night, pouring rain–war weather. Inside, toasty warm. Seven overalled little girls chatting. Plaque on the wall saying: P.G. CENTER.

Sky cleaning its throat with thunder, picking up and dropping lint lightning from immeasurable shoulders. Rain hushing the world, bowing the trees, pocking earth. Square building, low, with one wall plastic.

Inside, the buzzing talk of seven pretty little girls.

“So I say to him–‘don’t give me that, Mr. High and Mighty.’ So he says, ‘Oh yeah?’ And I say, ‘Yeah!'”

“Honest, will I ever be glad when this thing’s over. I saw the cutest hat on my last furlough. Oh, what I wouldn’t give to wear it!”

“You too? Don’t I know it! You just can’t get your hair right. Not in this weather. Why don’t they let us get rid of it?”

“Men! They make me sick.”

Seven gestures, seven postures, seven laughters ringing thin beneath thunder. Teeth showing in girl giggles. Hands tireless, painting pictures in the air.

This is a story that leaves you wanting a lot more. Those seven girls? They are the entire military might of whatever side they are fighting for, and as the story progresses their gossip and chatting about clothes and make-up and the things girls theoretically talk about when they are in groups is interrupted because the enemy is launching an attack, and the girls go to work….and then go back to their gossiping and chatting once the battle is over and the enemy annihilated. Very reminiscent of Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card, I also think this would have made a terrific novel; the story really leaves you wanting more.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Rumors

I wrote a short story the other day; or rather, I finished writing one. It’s called “This Thing of Darkness” (I love that title. It’s from Shakespeare; The Tempest, to be exact.) and it’s one I started writing several months ago and then set aside to work on other things. I’ve always wanted to finish it, and while the story I should have been working on was kind of stalled out for me, rather than trying to force it or work some kind of voodoo magic somehow, I thought, oh, I should just finish “This Thing of Darkness” and soon enough have the first draft banged out. It needs work, of course, but I am very pleased, as the writing has been very slow going this month.

The second story I am writing, the one I really need to finish, continues to be a slog. Heavy sigh. But I am hoping to have a breakthrough on it really soon; otherwise I am just going to have to push myself to write through it.

I really hate when the writing stalls, don’t you?

I also started another story this week. It was one of those things where it came to me Monday night as I was sitting in my easy chair watching the news unfold, and shaking my head in disbelief, frankly. It’s called “Please Die Soon” and I think it’s kind of a clever idea; we shall see if I can deliver on its original promise, shan’t we?

Our anniversary–the twenty-third–is this Friday, and to celebrate we are going to go see a movie on Saturday and go out to dinner. There’s no end to the living large, is there?

And hurray for Thursday! I’ve almost made it through the week.

Today’s short story is “Prey” by Richard Matheson, from The Best of Richard Matheson:

Amelia arrived at her apartment at six-fourteen. Hanging her coat in the hall closet, she carried the small package into the living room and sat on the sofa. She nudged off her shoes while she unwrapped the package on her lap. The wooden box resembled a casket. Amelia raised the lid and smiled. It was the ugliest doo she’d ever seen. Seven inches long and carved from wood, it had a skeletal body and an oversized head. Its expression was maniacally fierce, its pointed teeth completely bared, its glaring eyes protuberant. It clutched an eight-inch spear in its right hand. A length of fine, gold chain was wrapped round its body from the shoulders to the knees. A tiny scroll was wedged between the doll and the inside wall of its box. Amelia picked it up and unrolled it. There was handwriting on it. This is He Who Kills, it began. He is a deadly hunter. Amelia smiled as she read the rest of the words. Arthur would be pleased.

The thought of Arthur made her turn to look at the telephone on the table beside her. After a while, she sighed and set the wooden box on the sofa. Lifting the telephone to her lap, she picked up the receiver and dialed a number.

Her mother answered.

“Hello, Mom,” Amelia said.

“Haven’t you left yet?” her mother asked.

Amelia steeled herself. “Mom, I know it’s Friday night–” she started.

She couldn’t finish. There was silence on the line. Amelia closed her eyes. Mom, please, she thought. She swallowed. “There’s this man,” she said, “His name is Arthur Breslow. he’s a high-school teacher.”

“You aren’t coming,” her mother said.

Amelia shivered “It’s his birthday, ” she said. She opened her eyes and looked at the doll. “I sort of promised him we’d…spend the evening together.”

Every one who was old enough to watch television in the 1970’s knows this story, because everyone watched the made-for-TV movie Trilogy of Terror, which starred Karen Black. Trilogy of Terror was an anthology film; three short stories adapted into thirty-minute stories, all starring Karen Black, and “Prey” was the final story. It was completely unforgettable, because it was absolutely terrifying. It gave me nightmares for weeks, and I had to sleep with a night light on for months. All three were stories by Matheson; Matheson only wrote the screenplay for the third segment. It’s equally chilling as a short story as it was a short film; Amelia buys a fetish doll for a male friend with whom she has a date that night. She has to cancel a visit to her mother, who is very controlling, but while she is on the phone with her mother the gold chain that keeps the spirit of the fetish doll imprisoned and trapped falls off….and the real terror begins.

Absolutely unforgettable.

The movie was also produced by Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame, who also produced and directed Burnt Offerings.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Typical Male

The male gaze.

Per Wikipedia (which isn’t always accurate):  In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Or, as Laura Lippman likes to quip about crime fiction written by men: A beautiful woman is dead and a man feels bad about it.

Lippman is joking, sort of; much of male-centered crime fiction can be boiled down to that sentence. The sexualization of women in crime fiction, particularly in hard-boiled fiction or noir, has been a thing since the early pulp days; classic English crime fiction, like that written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and their other contemporaries, probably didn’t sexualize their women characters…although I do seem to recall that Arlene Marshall in Christie’s Evil Under the Sun was not only sexualized, but also highly misunderstood; it isn’t until Poirot solves the crime at the end of the book that we finally begin to understand Arlene as something other than a sex object who devours men like a praying mantis; the Christie version of a femme fatale being softened, as it were, in the final reel.

It is surprising to read books published in prior decades with their attitudes towards women–sometimes my jaw literally drops at how writers used to describe women, reducing them to their sexuality and their sex appeal; older, or less attractive, women, are written about in an almost contemptuous manner. This still pops up from time to time in modern fiction, but it’s not nearly as common as it used to be.

I was sitting at a literary luncheon, for example, while the speaker was talking about his admiration for John D. MacDonald–an admiration I share–and in particular, about MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. I was nodding and smiling when a female author friend leaned over and whispered to me, “I wonder if he’ll mention McGee’s magic wand.”

I was startled at first, and then I stifled a laugh–it wasn’t the appropriate time in the talk to laugh–but the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. One of the major things about Travis McGee, and the novels written about him, was how he ‘sexually healed’ the damaged women he was assisting during the course of the book; even his friend and cohort often referred to him as a ‘knight-errant coming to the rescue of the lady.’ It never really dawned on me, when I was reading the books–either the first time or any of the successive times I’ve reread them–that he was actually fucking them back to good emotional and mental and physical health; I always thought, since it usually involved them going sailing on his houseboat and fishing and doing the mindless, physical work while relaxing and getting tan and enjoying life away from the worries and problems of the world and day-to-day life.

I missed the bit about the magic wand because I’m gay and it never crossed my mind.

Which is doubly ironic, considering how much MacDonald and McGee influenced my Chanse MacLeod character and the series I wrote about him; but despite the influence in the creation of the character/series, my series was dramatically different from MacDonald’s.

Being a gay crime writer, while limiting in many ways, is incredibly freeing in others. I fully acknowledge that my books are firmly centered in the gay male gaze; that when I write either Chanse or Scotty, I often devolve in description of male characters the way male writers used to/sometimes still do write about women; their looks, their sex appeal, their fuck-ability factor. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what people mean when they talk about my books being all about sex; because Chanse and Scotty view men as sexual beings and that is something readers aren’t accustomed to seeing?

Perhaps.

Something to ponder.

Today’s short story is “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson, from  The Best of Richard Matheson collection:

X–This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch.

This day it had water falling from upstairs. It fell all around. I saw that. The ground of the back I watched from the little window. The ground it sucked up the water like thirsty lips. It drank too much and it got sick and runny brown. I didn’t like it.

Mother is a pretty I know. In my bed place with cold walls around I have paper things that was behind the furnace. It says on it SCREENSTARS. I see in the pictures faces like of mother and father. Father says they are pretty. Once he said it.

And also mother he said. Mother so pretty and me decent enough. Look at you he said and didn’t have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it it alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldnt reach. Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how I saw the water falling from upstairs.

Richard Matheson isn’t as well known as he should be; he is a giant in the horror community and deservedly so, but he should also be highly acclaimed as one of the great writers of any genre from the twentieth century. His novels were filmed frequently–so even if you don’t think you know his work, you do. SOme of the films based on his novels include The Incredible Shrinking Man, Legend of Hell House, I Am Legend (The Omega Man), Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and countless others. His short stories were often adapted for episodes of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery–probably the most famous being “Nightmare at 50,000 Feet.” Just a creative genius.

This story is chilling, absolutely chilling. We never really know much about the poor young man (or woman) chained in the basement of this family’s home; other than he was born of their union and something went terribly wrong. He is treated terribly and not educated well and they feed him, but they also are so repulsed and horrified by him that they beat and abuse him and keep him chained against the wall…but as the story progresses his pathetic need for love and company turns.

And it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the rest of his family…who are about to become his victims.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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What’s Love Got To Do With It

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

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

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

Scan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s awesome that the book holds up.

Fall in Love with Me

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

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

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

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

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

 

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Breaking Us in Two

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

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

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

You never know.

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

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

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

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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Midnight at the Oasis

Stephen King. What is there left to say about Stephen King? From the first moment I read Carrie, I was a fan. I’d read a lot before I discovered him; and yet his writing was a revelation to me. What he was able to do with setting, with character, the way he made his stories–regardless of subject matter–relentlessly realistic opened my eyes to what one can accomplish with writing. Over the years, as I’ve continued to read King (I still am not completely caught up; I am several books behind–the days when I could buy the book on release day and devour it in one or two sittings are sadly, far in the past), I continue to marvel at his extraordinary expertise. And while some of his books seem to go off the rails a bit, I would be proud to claim any of what I consider his lesser books (and by that I mean ‘ones I am not as fond of as others’) as my own: The Tommyknockers, Rose Madder, Dreamcatcher. I used to reread his books, over and over again–I don’t even know how many times I’ve reread salem’s Lot and The Stand and The Dead Zone and Christine, for example; and I wish I had the time to sit down and reread them all, from Carrie on. His On Writing is the one text I would tell every beginning writer to read from beginning to end, commit to memory, go back to whenever needed.

But I decided I wanted to talk about a different Stephen King title today: Danse Macabre.

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As I often point out, I am more of a fan of horror than anything else; I’ve not read as widely in the genre as I would like, nor do I even know enough about the genre to write about subgenres and subcategories expertly. There are any number of horror writers whose oeuvres I’ve stuck my toe into, and found the water just fine, but haven’t had the time to fully commit to reading: Christopher Golden, Gemma Files, Douglas Clegg, Brian Keene, Nick Cutter, and John Boyne, just off the top of my head, and there are many more. There is just so much time, after all, and there are just so damned many books; and as someone who is primarily defined professionally as a crime writer, I have to read so much within my own genre, not to mention true crime–and of course, I love my nonfiction, which I can just walk away from without too much worry of having to go back to the beginning to start over.

But I do feel that King’s Danse Macabre, published originally in 1981, is an excellent overview of the horror genre up until that date. King’s non-fiction writing is very similar to his fiction; it’s smart but also accessible. And it’s excellent; it is serious scholarship about the genre of horror, written by the grandest master of the grand masters, talking in an accessible way about the best books, the best writers, the best films, and the best television programs within the genre…how they influenced his own work, and why. It’s truly exceptional.

I’ve always had a copy of Danse Macabre–well, I’ve always had a copy of every Stephen King book in my house–and it’s been a long time since I’ve revisited it. I may, once I tire of rereading Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots, give it another whirl. Reading it the first time was what reminded me of Richard Matheson, introduced me to other writers like Robert Bloch and Harlan Ellison (my God, Harlan Ellison) and even, for the first time, made me truly aware of Shirley Jackson; reading this was what sent me to the used bookstores in search of books by these authors again, and I’ve never regretted those forays into their work–Ellison and Jackson are certainly up there on my list of absolute favorites, and many of the others I originally found through reading Danse Macabre are certainly favorites.

And that’s not even including the television shows and movies.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Feelings

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.