Monday after Easter Sunday, and I hope everyone had the kind of Sunday/holiday they needed to prepare them to head into this week full bore ahead.
The good news is that I reread Mississippi River Mischief yesterday and it most definitely is not the shitty mess I originally thought it was. It needs work, to be sure, but not nearly as much as I had feared, thank you Jesus, pass the ammunition, amen. The work isn’t going to be easy, either, but the framework can remain primarily intact with some reorganization and changing. (It didn’t help that I was rereading my manuscript after spending some time with Margot Douaihy’s brilliant debut, Scorched Grace, which is so good I am making notes of some of the sentences because they are so fucking smart; but I also wasn’t thinking rank amateur God how bad you suck at writing when there are people like Margot turning out such amazing work, which is saying something for me.) I also reread Festival of the Redeemer and Never Kiss a Stranger yesterday, and they aren’t bad, either. Maybe I don’t completely suck at this writing thing, who knows?
We spent most of yesterday bingeing The Last of Us, which is a really good show. I was reluctant for a long time–I’ve kind of had my fill of dystopian tales, although my fellow Americans don’t seem to feel the same way. But one can never go wrong with Pedro Pascal, and there was an episode where I said out loud, “this show is basically the same as The Mandalorian” and felt really smart. It’s very well done, though, and we’re obviously sucked heavily into it. The gay couple episode almost broke us both–so beautifully written and acted; so heart-wrenching and beautiful at the same time, maybe one of the most well done gay romance/love stories I’ve seen on either film or television–and I was sad last night when we had to turn it off because I had to go to bed. There are, of course, similarities to other dystopian stories like The Walking Dead and The Stand, but that’s only to be expected. I also was reminded of my own ideas for a dystopia, and reminded somewhat of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road (I have not read McCarthy, and felt a disclaimer was needed; but everyone knows the story of The Road).
I’ve always found it interesting that dystopic fiction is so popular, and have always wondered what precisely that says about our culture and society. I think my first dystopic fiction was the Planet of the Apes film series (I also read Pierre Boulle’s book, which the first film was very loosely based on), and the next was Richard Matheson’s novel I Am Legend and the movie loosely based on it, The Omega Man (interesting that the former and the latter both starred Charlton Heston). (I am a big fan of Matheson’s, who isn’t as known as he should be in my opinion; I feel the same way about Robert Bloch as well.) I myself have had ideas for dystopic fiction, as I mentioned before; I have several ideas about that I would love to try to write some time, but I am not so good at fantasy and science fiction (or at least it’s outside of my comfort zone because I don’t know anything much about science and especially not physics); which is why they were futuristic ones set in North America after the fall of the United States (which is the kind of alternative future story I love).
So. Many. Ideas.
But, basically I came away from the weekend feeling like I can get everything under control again; whether that is true or not remains to be seen. But I do know that I need to get back to work on the book, and work hard for a while. I need to get my taxes done and I need to get my emails answered. I’m looking forward to finishing Scorched Grace, which is absolutely amazing, and there’s still some cleaning that needs to be done around here. I managed to get most of the filing done so my desk area doesn’t look like a tornado zone, which is always a plus; just a few more things to file and put away and it’ll be almost completely under control. And the way things are going, I should even have a couple more completed manuscripts by the end of the summer! Woo-hoo!
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. You have a great day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.
Saturday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment. I certainly hope this day finds you contented and well, Constant Reader! I slept deeply and well last night, after watching the LSU Gymnastics team defeat Arkansas, and then watching the ladies’ figure skating finals at US Nationals. It was a lovely evening–one can never go wrong with a double feature of gymnastics and figure sating, really–and as I said, afterwards I slept like a stone.
I also spend some time polishing and revising my short story for the MWA anthology Crime Hits Home, being edited by the enormously talented S. J. Rozan (if you’ve not read her novels, start. Right. Now. Her Winter and Night is one of my all-time favorites). As always, submitting to the open call for an MWA anthology is a long shot–there are levels of blind-reads to make it through–and I have as yet to make it into one of the fiction anthologies (I do have a piece about writing dialogue in the upcoming Mystery Writer’s Handbook, edited by Lee Child and Laurie R King, and I did have a recipe in the MWA Cookbook a while back) so keep your fingers crossed for me. Inevitably everything I’ve had rejected by an MWA anthology has sold elsewhere, so making myself write a story for the submission calls has always wound up working out for me in the end…I was, however, more than a little bummed when this call came out, because my story “The Carriage House” was perfect for this one….but I had already submitted it to Mystery Tribune (who did wind up buying and publishing it). I think the story is good–although I wish I had finished the drafting sooner, so I could have spent more time on the revisions and polishing. Ah, well–if they reject it I will try to sell it somewhere else.
Today I have to make groceries, get the mail, and go to the gym. I’ve blown off the gym pretty much ever since the weather turned cold last weekend–the stress and pressure of writing the story, as well as what was going on in the country over the last wee or so has precluded any writing or gym visits, which I should have never allowed. I was coming home from work every day and immediately turning on either CNN or MSNBC, being sucked right in and then spending the rest of the evening watching them report the same news, hour after hour after hour–which also needs to stop–and I need to get my focus back again. Not that I am not gravely concerned about the future of the country, of course–that I very much still am–but I need to focus on what I need to get done while paying some attention to the current crisis.
I also need to do some cleaning around here as well…cleaning and filing never seems to have an endpoint, ever–and I also need to get back to my reread of the manuscript. I should have started revising it last week…but a thorough reread/copy edit/line edit of the manuscript in its most recent iteration is probably really the smart thing to do; it was what worked so well with Bury Me in Shadows, and definitely need to stick to the things that actually work for me.
While I was making condom packs yesterday I managed to watch three films: Farewell My Lovely with Robert Mitchum as Philip Marlowe; The Fog with Jamie Lee Curtis and Adrienne Barbeau; and last but not least, a revisit of Creepshow 2, with assorted stars, including George Kennedy and Dorothy Lamour. The first definitely fits into the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–you don’t get more cynical than the film version of a Chandler novel–and the other two are holdovers from the Halloween Horror Film Festival, with the last also fitting into the Stephen King Film Adaptation Festival. Of the three, I had only see the third before; I actually saw it at the drive-in, and then again on what used to be the pay-cable movie channels, whether it was HBO or Cinemax or Showtime I cannot recall. Farewell My Lovely is flawed, but a very good film–very solid noir; I kept thinking it should have been filmed in black and white–and Mitchum projects the world weariness of an older Marlowe quite perfectly….I’d love to see someone like Oscar Isaac or Bill Skarsgard or Adam Driver take on the role. The entire movie was stolen, however, by Sylvia Miles in a terrific supporting performance that earned her an Oscar nomination; and Charlotte Rampling is also perfect as the femme fatale. (A very young Sylvester Stallone also has a small role as a gangster.) I did enjoy it, and I think it was released in the wake of Chinatown, when Hollywood discovered noir would still sell tickets.
The Fog was also a perfectly adequate horror film, directed by John Carpenter, about a hundred-year old curse coming to wreak vengeance and havoc on the coastal California town of Antonio Bay. Jamie Lee Curtis is in the cast–in the midst of her fame as a Scream Queen–but she isn’t the star of the film (if it could be said to have one); if anything, it’s a supporting role at best. The bigger female role belongs to Adrienne Barbeau, playing dee-jay and radio station owner Stevie, who is the first to realize what is actually going on–without knowing the history, she just knows the fog is dangerous and bad. I’d also forgotten Janet Leigh was in the movie as Mrs. Williams, local get-it-done lady who is in charge of the hundred year anniversary of the town. It has all the requisite John Carpenter directorial touches–jump scares, a weird and creepy electronic soundtrack, the growing sense of doom with every scene–and I would recommend it, even if it is dated. It was remade this century–I may watch the remake at some point for a comparison/contrast.
Creepshow2 was obviously the sequel to the original; written by Stephen King and based on his short stories (some of these may be actually original, as I don’t recall reading the stories for the first and third part of this anthology film), and both films served as an homage to the horror comics King grew up reading and loving and inevitably influenced his writing. The second film didn’t do as well as the first, but the underlying theme of all the stories is paranormal vengeance for bad behavior. The first features an old cigar store wooden Indian (I don’t think if anyone brought up that subject that anyone born after 1970 would even know what one was) that comes to life to wreak vengeance for the brutal murders of the elderly couple who own the store he stands in front of; and the third features an adulterous wealthy wife rushing home from a rendezvous with a paid escort ($25 per orgasm!) who gets distracted by dropping a cigarette in the car and runs over a hitch-hiker, whom she leaves on the side of the road but he just keeps popping up as she debates whether she can live with what she did as she continues on her drive home, trying to kill the hitch hiker as he inevitably pops back up on the road saying thanks for the ride lady–which became a running gag between me and my friends at the time. (The woman is played by Lois Chiles, who came to the TWfest one year and was an absolute delight.) Both are good and macabre; fitting right into the karmic justice theme that ran through almost all horror comics back in the day. The middle story–“The Raft”–is also one of my favorite Stephen King stories; about four college students who go for a late-in-the-season swim because it sounds like a good idea, helped along by weed and beer, and it goes horribly wrong for them. The story is different from the filmed version–it’s told from the perspective of the less-than-perfect male roommate who always lives in the shadow of his roommate who is muscular and handsome and charismatic, who loves his friend but also resents him a little because he always sucks up all the air in the room. In the film the two girls who go with them are just other girls; in the story there’s a different dynamic, in which the stud’s girlfriend senses the other girl, ostensibly the lesser roommate’s date, is making a play for the stud before the dying starts. The main character in the story, though, is a decent guy which winds up ending badly for him; in the movie, he’s more of a dick, because he realizes when the final girl is taken by whatever the thing is in the water preying on them, that he could have used that time to swim for it…but doesn’t realize it until it’s too late. In the movie, he deliberately feeds her to the creature so he can escape…and that decision is what dooms him, and you don’t really feel sorry for him the way you do in the story. The highlight of this segment is Paul Satterfield’s youthful physical beauty in a bright yellow bikini (and while I enjoyed viewing the splendor of his body in a bikini, I also kind of doubted he would have worn one; back in the 80’s the only men who wore bikinis were gay, body builders, Europeans, or guys who’d been competitive swimmers so they were used to them); and the movie is okay. I do wish anthology films would make a comeback–since they inevitably based their “episodes” on short stories (Robert Bloch and Richard Matheson had a lot of their short stories adapted for anthology films as well as for anthology television series), it would be great to see some modern horror short stories filmed.
And on that note, tis time for one Gregalicious to head back into the spice mines. I want to spend some time this morning with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which I am loving, before it’s time to hit the errands and the gym. I am also sure there will be figure skating to watch this weekend as well, huzzah! Have a lovely Saturday of a holiday weekend, Constant Reader, and I’ll see you tomorrow.
When I talked about Crowhaven Farm the other day I also mentioned how the ABC Movie of the Week used to occasionally foray into horror, and that some of those made-for-TV horror movies were actually quite good; everyone remembers the scary Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black; primarily for the part with the Zuni fetish doll. I can’t remember the other two stories in that anthology movie, but that part absolutely terrified me from beginning to end, and I still remember it vividly. There was another called Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, with Kim Darby of True Grit fame, which was about little murderous monsters that lived in a house but couldn’t come out into the light. As someone with a lifelong fear of the dark, that one still haunts my dreams.
Constant Reader knows I’m an Egyptophile; have been since I was a little boy. So, today, I am going to talk about one of those movies that had a basis in Egyptian mythology and history; I barely remember anything about it, to be honest, but it was quite terrifying.
It was called The Cat Creature.
The premise of the movie is that a very wealthy, eccentric man who liked to collect things has died. Someone is sent out to his house to catalogue and valuate his things. Down in the basement in a room are a bunch of things that no one knew he had–Egyptian antiquities, including a mummy with a big solid gold amulet around its neck. A thief has also broken into the house, and when the other guy is distracted, steals the amulet from the mummy. Then something kills the first guy, while the thief runs away with the amulet. Lots more deaths follow, including eventually the original thief–and it appears that the amulet is a lot more important than anyone thinks. An archaeology professor is brought it to consult with the police, because of the Egyptian thing, and it also appears like all of the victims were killed by an animal–a cat, specifically, and all through the movie there are cats acting strangely all the time. Meredith Baxter Birney shows up as a new girl in town, gets a job at the pawnshop where the amulet wound up, and to serve as a love interest for the archaeology professor.
Turns out the mummy belonged to a priestess of the Egyptian goddess Bast, and the amulet has magic properties–keeping the priestess, who has eternal life, trapped in the mummy. When the thief took the amulet, the mummy came back to life–and of course, as a priestess of Bast has the ability to turn herself into a cat. She is trying to destroy the amulet, so of course she can never be trapped again.
Meredith Baxter Birney, of course, is the priestess, and when she tries to kill the archaeologist in the end, he quickly slips the amulet around the cat’s neck, turning her back into the priestess, then into the mummy again, and then her body turns to dust.
Oscar winner Gale Sondergaard–I think she may have won the first Oscar for Best Supporting Actress; if not the first, one of the first–had a great supporting role as the pawnshop owner.
It’s on youtube; sometime when I have time (HA!) I will watch it again. I also looked up some info on the movie just now–the plot is pretty much as I remember it, and the original story and screenplay was written by Robert Bloch!
I’ve always wanted to write a story about Egypt, and I have a y/a in the files I’ve been wanting to write for a while–revolving around a cult of Bast; and now I know where the inspiration came for it!
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.
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.