O Come All Ye Faithful

I got my copy of the graphic novel Watchmen this week, and it’s way past time for me to read it; particularly since I’m loving the television series so much.

Then again, Regina King can do no wrong.

I did start reading Watchmen, and while not even halfway finished–not only am I hooked, but I am completely blown away by the story-telling…and the art is extraordinary. I can now see why it’s been talked about so much since its first publication. This is some epic story-telling, and even more amazing world-building. The storylines have layers and textures, the relationships between the characters, and the characters themselves are messy masses of contradictions and layers; it’s just simply mind-blowing how well this is done. The story itself, and how it’s structured, is also incredible. Watchmen not only lives up to all the hype–it surpasses the hype and deserves even more hype. The graphic novel is so stupendously good that it only emphasizes how incredibly well-done the show is–the show is a sequel to the graphic novel, some thirty years later.

And obviously, while it isn’t necessary for one to read the novel to watch the show, reading it does enhance the show tremendously.

I had also started reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside last week–just the first few pages, getting a taste for it, and it really grabbed me. Yesterday I read the first few chapters and am also greatly enjoying it. This has been an exceptional year for crime fiction, and may even go down as one of the genre’s greatest years.

I’m now up to Prohibition in Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which was, quite naturally, an interesting time in New Orleans. I am pondering writing a crime series set during that time; the first woman police office, Alice Monahan–known as “Mrs. Officer”– worked during that time, and I think basing a series on her, dealing with everything going on in New Orleans and the country at the time; plus it’s a chance to explore the entrenched racism and misogyny of Jim Crow New Orleans.

Storyville is merely an added bonus.

Seriously, New Orleans history is so rich and vibrant, there’s material everywhere.

One of the reasons I wanted to write about Christmas in New Orleans in Royal Street Reveillon is because Louisiana’s culture is so rich and vibrant that it surprises me that we don’t have our own Christmas stories here. Sure, there’s The Cajun Night Before Christmas, which I love, but where are the other Christmas stories? As I mentioned the other day, I tried writing a Christmas fable once, “Reindeer on the Rooftop,” but it was so sentimental and sappy that it nauseated me. I tried revising it and making it more real and less sentimental for Upon a Midnight Clear, but I just couldn’t get anywhere with it. I did write one called “The Snow Globe,” which was more of a horror Christmas story, for an anthology that didn’t take it; I did get good feedback, and one of these days I’ll sit down with the story and the feedback and pull it together. Not sure where I’d try to get it published, but most likely it would go into my Monsters of New Orleans collection.

I just used the google to check, and I was correct: there are no hits on “New Orleans Christmas stories,” but broadening the search brought up an out-of-print volume called Christmas Stories from Louisiana, edited by Dorothy Dodge Robbins, and with quite an impressive collection of contributors. There are also some more listed here.

And wouldn’t a Hallmark Christmas movie set in New Orleans be amazing?

We even have a year round Christmas shop on Decatur Street, for Christ’s sake! (And don’t think it hasn’t crossed my mind to write a series around that Christmas shop, either.)

But all these stories, at first glance, are simply plays on traditional Christmas stories–nothing new or unique to Louisiana or New Orleans.

So, maybe it’s up to me to create one?

Hmmmm.

Perhaps that is just what I’ll do.

I mean, why don’t we have something terrifying, like the Icelandic Christmas cat?

Maybe there’s a Christmas rougarou story that needs to be written.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. I have been itching to write for days now, and I am going to spend the morning writing. Paul and I are going to stop in to see a friend who’s  been dealing with an injury this afternoon, and then it’s back home and to the computer. Tonight is the Heisman Trophy presentation, and I imagine we’re going to tune in to that in case Joe Burrow (GEAUX JEAUX!) wins that tonight–he’s already won every conceivable quarterback award under the sun over this past week. The kid is definitely an LSU legend…and then I can finally finish and post the lengthy post I’ve been writing throughout the season about him.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Suddenly

Yesterday I finished revisions on four stories, took a deep breath, and submitted them. Now, we wait. I’m not entirely certain the stories were right for the markets I sent them to, but you know what? Letting them just sit in my computer wasn’t getting them out there. Better to try and fail than not to ever try at all.

As I said yesterday, my confidence in my writing, which, despite all appearances to the contrary has never been strong, was dramatically shaken in the last year; I am only now starting to come out of it, and I am coming back out of it by working. I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words thus far in 2018; most of it short stories, some of it work on a new Scotty novel, still other the manuscript I intend to try to lure the ever elusive agent into my web with; and since sitting down and actually taking stock, I am realizing what I’ve accomplished, and am very proud of myself. The stories I worked on again this week, revising and editing and reading aloud, were quite strong; the two I am struggling with perhaps not as strong–although I do like their titles. Forcing myself to continue working on them is futile at this moment; much as I am loath to put them to the side, I am going to; there is nothing more self-defeating and depressing than trying to force yourself to write something that just isn’t coming. The stories are there, of course; I just haven’t yet worked out how to get them down onto paper yet. I think very often we, as writers, get so bogged down in our stubborn determination to finish something we are working on that we just keep fighting, pounding our head determinedly against an immovable wall–when the smart thing is to take a break from it and work on something else; then come back to the wall with fresh eyes and a rested forehead.

A vanity project that I have always had in the back of my mind was to put together a short story collection of my crime stories. I first had the idea several years ago, but didn’t have enough stories and was going to combine my horror and crime together: the folder and table of contents I created at the time was for Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. I’ve never forgotten this vanity project; and even now, when I should be preparing the manuscripts of Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz for their long overdue ebook editions, I go back to the vanity project again and again: well, I’ve published THESE stories since then, maybe I can just go ahead and remove these others that don’t fit as well–take these horror stories out, since my horror is clearly not as strong as my crime fiction. I made another table of contents, just the other day; only now I am calling it Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Whenever I’ve been stuck this past week or so, for want of anything else to do, I’ve started pulling the stories together into a single document to get a word count. The realization the other day of how many stories I’ve done so far this year already, and adding them casually to the table of contents–today it hit me: the manuscript is already publishable length, is over eighty thousand words, without an introduction  and without all of the stories I’ve done so far. I removed all the horror–goodbye, “Crazy in the Night” and “Rougarou” and “The Snow Queen” and “The Troll in the Basement”–and added some more of the newer material. It was astonishing to realize how much there actually was; that I cannot add much more because there simply isn’t room, and that I might have enough for a second volume in a couple of years.

Mind-blowing, really.

Short story collections don’t sell as well as novels, of course; short stories are the bastard stepchildren of publishing, and crime stories even more shunned at the family holiday dinner table. I don’t know if my publisher will want this collection, and I may end up having to self-publish it. Whereas I would have shrank in horror from that possibility a few years ago, it doesn’t matter as much to me now as it did then to have a traditional publisher pull the book together; although I would like another pair of eyes on it, some copy editing, a cover design and packaging done for me. But I am very proud of all of these stories; each one of them means something to me in some way. And if my fears about crime stories with gay characters in them not being acceptable to mainstream short story publications, well, I can always get them seen this way. And I am proud of the new crime stories I’ve written with gay characters in them.

I didn’t write crime stories for the longest time because of that fear; the fear that no matter how high the quality of the story, gay characters would make them unpublishable. The two stories I published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Acts of Contrition” and “The Email Always Pings Twice,” were mainstream–not a gay character in either story. I did publish two stories in Novelists Inc. anthologies with gay characters, “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian.” My stories in New Orleans Noir and Sunshine Noir (“Annunciation Shotgun” and “Housecleaning”, respectively) were about gay characters. My story in Blood on the Bayou, nominated for the Macavity Award last year, “Survivor’s Guilt,” wasn’t gay in any way, nor was my story “Keeper of the Flame,” published in Mystery Week. Some of the new stories are gay, some are not. Two that went out today were about gay characters, two of them were not. I was originally not intending to write any crime stories with gay characters this year; it just sort of happened. I think the Chanse story I’ve written–which needs a new title–is pretty decent; but am I limiting my chances of getting the stories into print by writing about gay characters? It’s already a difficult haul finding markets that still take short stories, and the competition is obviously fierce.

And again, as I said yesterday, you never can be certain your story was rejected because you wrote honestly about gay characters. It’s all part and parcel of the insanity of being a gay writer, or a writer who is gay, or whatever the hell label fits on my sash as I walk across the stage at the beauty pageant of publishing.

But I’ve got more than enough stories for a collection now, and I am going to keep playing with the manuscript; what is the proper mix of previously published stories versus new material? Should it all be new material, or should it all be previously published material?

Decisions, decisions.

Therein, indeed, lies the path to madness.

I also read some short stories. First was “Still Life with Teapots and Students”, by Shirley Jackson, from the  Let Me Tell You collection.

Come off it, kids, come off it, Louise Harlowe told herself just under her breath. SHe smiled graciously at her husband, Lionel’s, two best students, noticing with an edge of viciousness that they both held their teacups exactly right, and said lightly, “You’re going to have a pleasant summer, then?”

Joan shrugged perfectly, and Debbi smiled back, as graciously as Louise had smiled, but with more conviction. “It will be about the same as the others, I guess, ” Debbi said. “Sort of dull.”

They’re both too well bred to tell me what they’ll be doing, Louise thought, and asked deliberately, “You’ll be together, of course?”

Jackson is one of my favorites, and while she is mostly known for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and macabre, Gothic work, she wrote a lot more than people think and not everything she wrote was macabre. This nasty little tale, in which a professor’s wife has two of his students over for tea–during the course of which she lets the rich little bitches she knows about their affair with her husband, and what’s more, doesn’t care because they are nothing more than something of the moment, is quite rich and layered and textured. From a modern day perspective the wonder is why she doesn’t leave him, as it becomes clear this happens regularly; they politely discuss another faculty wife who wasn’t quite as calm in confronting the student her husband was messing around with, and it’s all very polite and reserved…yet, in this modern era of #metoo and power differentials, the agency both Jackson and the wife in the story give the students–and the contempt and hatred for them the wife feels, but never reveals–makes me wonder. I’m still unpacking this story, several days after reading it; which is how amazing it–and Jackson–are.

And then it was time for “The Doll” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories.

I want to know if men realize when they are insane. Sometimes I think my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror–too great a despair. And there is no one; I  have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this?…Vomit forth the poison in my brain.

For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face..

If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination

It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes–there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.

DuMaurier’s story often have a polite, observational distance and formality to them; much like her novels, even in the first person. This story, of obsession and lust and desire, all of which are thwarted, is not only reminiscent of My Cousin Rachel, but also, as I was reading, made me wonder. We never learn the name of the first person narrator, but the object of his obsession is a woman named Rebecca–you see where my mind was going with that, don’t you? And in some ways, it works as an almost prequel for the novel; the deep obsession and need; the mysterious woman who plays out her cards slowly. What of course doesn’t fit is the doll itself; the woman owns a male doll she has a strange attachment to, a doll our narrator despises, hates, is jealous of; it’s a terrific story of darkness and deep passion and obsession and perhaps, madness….a great example of why I love du Maurier so much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Jump (For My Love)

As Constant Reader is aware, I find short stories to be particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is–and it’s entirely possible it’s post-traumatic stress disorder from college writing classes (kidding)–but it’s a fact. Constant Reader also is aware I am a horror fan, but writing horror short stories is even more difficult than writing crime stories for me–or any other kind of short story, to be honest.

So, several years ago, when Vince Liaguno asked me to submit a story to his Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire anthology, I was very enthusiastic about saying yes; but at the same time, more than a little nervous and not certain I’d be able to pull it off…but I decided to do something particularly Louisiana: a rougarou story.

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The old woman was babbling excitedly, her toothless gums moving up and down as she gesticulated wildly with her arms. Spittle flew from her wrinkled lips, wisps of her thin gray hair floating around her head as it moved back and forth and side to side. Old is an understatement, Special Agent Tom Washburn thought, unable to understand a word she was saying. She looks ancient, like one of those unwrapped Egyptian mummies on that show I watched last night.

 It was a struggle to keep his revulsion from showing on his face.

Despite the oppressive heat, she had a white shawl wrapped around her bony shoulders as she rocked in her worn, wooden rocking chair. Her feet were bare and dirty, her toenails long and yellowed. Blue veins spider-webbed over the tops of her feet, making them look like complicated road maps. She was wearing a shapeless white cotton dress with yellow stains in the armpits. The brown, wrinkled flesh hung from her bony arms. Her fingernails were long, grown out so far they’d started curving back in on themselves. They were painted a bright red, contrasting with the brown skin and the dark liver spots on her hands. Her face was more wrinkled than he’d thought it possible for any human to be—her entire face seemed to be nothing more than folds of hanging, sun-browned skin. An enormous mole on her pointed chin had a few white hairs sprouting out of it. Her eyes were a startling blue, but seemed filmy and unfocused. A wooden cane with a brass alligator head leaned against her rocking chair, and on the table next to her a glass ashtray was overflowing with gray ash and cigarette butts.

She’s like something out of a really bad nightmare, he thought.

Tom couldn’t understand a word she was saying—she might as well have been speaking a foreign language as far as he was concerned. Every once in a while he caught an identifiable English word in her sing-song Cajun dialect that almost sounded like chanting. He closed his eyes and wished again he was anywhere but this rotting houseboat on the edge of a swamp. This is, he thought angrily, without a doubt the stupidest call I’ve ever gone out on. If I’d known how this day was going to turn out I’d have called in sick this morning.

He wiped sweat from his forehead with his already damp sleeve. It was stiflingly hot in the houseboat, which stank of collard greens, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling fan was turning but all it seemed to  do was push the heavy damp air around. The living room—if you could call the tiny space that—was crammed full of strange objects arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. He picked up a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside and shook it. He set it back down where it had been—next to a shellacked baby alligator head, some polished sea shells, a small rusting Matchbox car, and what appeared to be a copper head of John F. Kennedy. There was a thin coat of dust on everything. Cobwebs danced from the ceiling. He slapped at a mosquito and stepped closer to one of the windows, hoping for a breeze. He glanced back over at his partner.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Movie of the Week on ABC. They did a lot of mysteries and horror–the argument could be made that these television films were the best place to find horror in the 1970’s, and broadened the audience somewhat–but there was one in particular that always stuck out in my mind; it was set in rural Louisiana, and Barbara Rush played the lead female role. It was either called Moon of the Wolf or Cry of the Wolf,and it was the first time I’d heard a werewolf called by it’s French name: loup-garou.

Loup-garou. Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’ve always had that tucked away in the back of my head, and of course, I’ve always been interested in werewolves, who’ve never really gotten their due in the horror genre, particularly if compared to vampires.

Living in Louisiana, you cannot escape Cajun culture, and Louisiana, for whatever reason, is a place where the supernatural is far more easy to believe in than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There’s something about the air here; the way Spanish moss hangs from ancient trees, the heaviness of the damp air, the way the past is so much a part of the present  here. In Acadiana, the term loup-garou was Cajunized to rougarou, which to me was even cooler sounding than the original. And in Cajun culture, a rougarou didn’t necessarily have to a wolf; the creature could also be, of course, an alligator.

A gatorman? I was all in.

I had also just finished writing my Todd Gregory novel about vampires, Need, which hadn’t quite turned out the way I’d intended it to–it was a set-up novel; the sequel, Desire, was really going to get the story, and the world I was creating, going–so I was in the mindset of writing supernatural tales. I had also, years ago, kind of toyed with an idea of doing a series that would be my own version of Dark Shadows, only set in Acadiana around a small town called Bayou Shadows, loosely based on Breaux Bridge. So, with a rougarou in mind, I started writing my story.

Imagine my thrill to see, not only a great review of the collection, but one that singled out my story, on the Cemetery Dance website this past week!

Here it is, reviewed by Blu Gilliand.

While desire drives the plot of the above stories, other authors manage to embrace the theme without making it the central point. In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.

How lovely! It’s also lovely to be in an anthology with such amazing horror writers as Lisa Morton, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, and Norman Prentiss, among the other glittering names on the table of contents.

You can order the book here.

And now, back to the spice mines. Must get groceries, hit the gym, clean, write  and edit. Heavy heaving sigh.

 

The Reflex

Thursday! Today we are off to Nicholls State in Thibodeaux to do testing, and then I am testing at the office for a rather long day, but that’s okay. I also have to work this Saturday, but that’s also fine. I slept really well last night, and we also watched the finale  of American Horror Story: Cult, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The season, which seemed to be an incoherent mess and a complete waste of Sarah Paulson’s talent, really came together brilliantly and, for once, made sense. I also read some more of The Blinds, which is so clever that it’s kind of blowing me away. I also worked some more on the Scotty Bible–the only character left from Bourbon Street Blues to do is Scotty himself, and then it’s time to move on to Jackson Square Jazz, although I might edit what I’ve copied down to its bare essences. I also caught some errors in going through Bourbon Street Blues that will need to be corrected for the ebook version. Paul is going to be going away to visit his mother for a week, and I should be able to use that free time constructively to get a lot done around here.

I also woke up this morning to a lovely review of Vince Liaguno’s anthology Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire on the Cemetery Dance website. The review was a rave, which is always lovely, but they had this to say about my story:

“In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.”

As Constant Reader is aware, I have very low self-esteem when it comes to my short stories, so to get a lovely mention like that from one of the top horror magazines/websites for a HORROR short story was absolutely lovely this morning, and it has absolutely made my day. Maybe, just maybe…I’m not as bad at short stories as I think.

One never knows, really.

And so back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you.

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