Joy to the World

Sunday morning after probably the best sleep I’ve had in quite some time; it felt lovely, and I am still a bit groggy as I sip my first coffee of the morning. Yesterday was a good day–not a great one–and so this morning I am going to work on some things I didn’t get around to yesterday; running errands, even as briefly as I did yesterday, always seems to throw me off my game for the rest of the day. I did get some cleaning done, did get some organizing done, and today I am going to have to finish those edits and maybe do some reading and cleaning and organizing. Tomorrow morning I am going to get up early and take the car in for an oil change–there’s no end to the excitement around here–and it’s also apparently the first day of spring today. Yay!

We finally were able to watch the latest Scream last night, and we really enjoyed it. I thought it was fairly clever–I also wasn’t really sure how they could do another one–but the meta humor was absolutely there (“it’s a requel! Not a reboot but not a sequel! THE RULES ARE DIFFERENT!”) as well as “I’m Sidney fucking Prescott, of course I have a gun.” Scream was the first slasher movie I saw that I really and truly enjoyed; I loved the addition of humor (that danced very close to the edge of camp but never quite crossed over) in addition to the tension and suspense. We also watched the first episode of The Woman in the House Across the Street from the Girl in the Window or whatever the hell the title is. It’s not bad, but it’s not great, either. Kristen Bell is so eminently likable that it’s easy to watch her (although I kept waiting for her to say that’s a secret I’ll never tell, xoxo Gossip Girl), but it seemed a bit slow. I was, however, impressed with the fact that it’s parody being played absolutely seriously; the title alone tells me it’s parody, but if you go in expecting something along the lines of Airplane! or Police Squad–which is what I thought it was–you’re going to be disappointed. I am not sure if we’ll keep watching–I might, Paul is moving into the hotel on Wednesday and I’ll be home alone until Sunday evening–which means lots of boredom and lots of free time to get things done, I suppose.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did make my to-do list yesterday so I can start working my way through it this morning. Yay! Always a plus. There’s supposed to be bad weather today, but right now the sun is out and it’s definitely New Orleans spring out there somehow, which is lovely and nice. I should start trying to make it back to the gym more regularly now; definitely should head over there today after I get some things done around here before the afternoon–reading and editing, being worn from working out inevitably keeps me from being productive after I get home; although I suppose I could go later in the day. Decisions, decisions. But it will make me feel a lot better–always a plus–and it should also help me sleep better as well. I am not sure what my work-at-home day tomorrow is going to be like; I may end up having to take the day off depending on how the oil change and so forth goes. (Maybe I should wait until next week. I can’t decide. My oil life still has about 20% use before it becomes a problem; I just worry it will become a problem on a day of the week that I have to work and can’t take it in immediately.) Decisions, decisions….

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your first day of spring.

Floy Joy

Thursday and my last office day of the week. Man, I was tired yesterday. I’d planned on doing some editing and things when I got home from the office but by the end of my workday I was fried, deep fried, battered and put in a basket and dropped into a vat of grease heated to about 350 degrees. (I haven’t worked in fast food for almost forty years, but I still remember the temperature for French fries.) I was exhausted, and went to be an hour early and slept very well (I did wake up a few times, but both times fell back to sleep almost immediately. Example: the first time I woke up it was because Scooter had curled up next to me and his purring woke me up. I put my arm around him and went back to sleep. The next time I woke up–several hours later–Paul was next to me instead of Scooter, and I slept through it.) I know my sleep troubles/fascination are probably not as interesting to you as they are to me, Constant Reader, but there you have it. I feel very well rested this morning, if a trifle groggy, but hopefully the coffee will do the trick to free my mind from the cobwebs.

One can hope, at any rate.

Well, the first cup seems to be kicking into gear, so that’s a good thing. I was bummed that I was so tired last night–I really wanted to get more things done than I did, but I did get a load of laundry finished (still in the dryer, though, will need to fold and put away tonight) and another load of dishes done as well. So, when I get home from work tonight I’ll do those things and some other chores before sitting down in my easy chair with the manuscript and working my way through the next third. The goal is to get it back to the author by Saturday so I can spend the weekend working on some other things, odds and ends: I want to really get the plot for Chlorine worked out; I want to get some better idea of what Mississippi River Mischief will be about; and of course there are short stories I need to get edited/revised/written. The house is of course a mess as always–not as bad as usual when I reach the end of my in-the-office days, as I’ve been trying somewhat to keep up as I go, but still not where I want it to be, for sure, so hopefully I can stay motivated long enough to get all these things done, clean, AND start reading the new Alex Segura (with the new Chris Holm on deck). I also hope we can watch the latest Scream movie this weekend, now that it’s streaming. I might even be willing to pay to rent Spiderman: No Way Home before it’s streaming for free somewhere. (Never mind, you can’t rent it yet, you can only buy it, and much as I love Tom Holland–there’s too many new movies/shows coming out all the time as well as old ones to catch up on that there’s really no need to ever buy a film to keep again…and soon enough they’ll be streaming for free anyway.)

So, so far those are MY big plans for the weekend. What about you? I guess with the Festivals being next weekend I probably won’t be seeing much of Paul for the next week or so, but afterwards hopefully things will get back to normal (or what passes for it around here anyway). I also want to get back to reading short stories. I’ve really allowed the Short Story Project AND the Cynical 70’s Film Festival to languish. I think when I get back to the film festival I may do some Blaxploitation films. I did watch Shaft, and its sequels are also streaming on HBO MAX, as are some classic Pam Grier movies.

And on that note, I am off to the spice mines. May your Thursday be happy and full–and remember it’s FRIDAY EVE.

Reach Out and Touch (Somebody’s Hand)

Another good night’s sleep here in the Lost Apartment, which was lovely. I woke up before six again this morning, but stayed in bed a while longer. It’s cold in New Orleans this morning; currently it’s thirty nine degrees with a predicted high in the low fifties, probably later this afternoon. It is also the day of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in uptown, so I am not leaving the house. Errands would be impossible with streets closed and blocked off anyway. I guess a horrible snowstorm is heading to the northeast, so I hope everyone up there is prepared and ready and stays safe. I have to say I do not miss living in that kind of weather. It may be cold here but at least the sun is out and we have a clear azure sky overhead.

Today I have a lot to do (surprise, right?). I didn’t get nearly as much done yesterday as I needed to as the day kind of blew up around me–it happens sometimes and can’t be helped–with the end result that I didn’t get everything finished, or worked on at least, the way I had planned. Which is fine–no sense crying over spilt milk, the only thing to do is clean it up and get on with it. We had a massive thunderstorm last night (poor Paul had to walk home through it) and then we watched the LSU Gymnastics meet against Utah (LSU triumphed, despite some absurd high-scoring of the Ute gymnasts), and then I kind of relaxed for a bit before going to bed. The latest Scream movie is now available to stream, so I am kind of hoping Paul comes home tonight early enough so we can watch it (yes, I know I could watch it without him and then watch it again, but…) I also managed to get a lot of my chores done last night while I waited for Paul to come home, so I don’t have as many to do today, which means hopefully I can do some new chores that I never get around to (those shutter doors to the laundry room! Those ceiling fan blades!) usually.

The mystery of the banning of The Postman Always Rings Twice continues. I reached out to another friend with a lot of knowledge of the history of crime fiction, with an emphasis on both hard-boiled and noir, and she didn’t think it had been banned in Boston; although it was banned in Canada. And yet, right there on it’s Amazon sales page is this:

First published in 1934 and banned in Boston for its explosive mixture of violence and eroticism, The Postman Always Rings Twice is a classic of the roman noir. It established James M. Cain as a major novelist with an unsparing vision of America’s bleak underside, and was acknowledged by Albert Camus as the model for The Stranger.”

It really would be interesting if that turned out to simply be a marketing gimmick with absolutely no basis in fact, wouldn’t it? I spend some more time skimming through the Hoopes biography and still have found nothing about the banning or an obscenity trial for the book; it does make me wonder somewhat if the banning of Serenade somehow became conflated with Postman over the years; Cain was banned in Boston, just for a different book. A bold claim, to be sure, but it’s beginning to look that way…and I do think it’s an interesting perspective for an article or an essay. As I become more and more obsessed with finding out about this, I also realize I bet this is how a lot of non-fiction writing gets started, isn’t it?

And anything I find on-line listing “books banned in Boston” does not include Postman. Like I said, interesting.

My heel feels better this morning, but I think it’s best to keep letting it rest before over-exerting it again. I am going to try to return to the gym on Monday, depending on how my foot feels, but I’m not even aware of it this morning as I walk back and forth between my desk and the coffee maker. (Okay I was paying attention just now as I got another cup, and there’s still a bit of discomfort but unnoticeable unless I am paying attention, so that means it’s getting better and I probably shouldn’t push my luck.)

And I think on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and stay safe from inclement weather.

The Weight

While I am a Reacher fan, I would not go so far as to claim “Reacher Creature” status.

I stopped reading the series after it got into the late teens; I don’t remember why I stopped, but I did and then I got so far behind I couldn’t remember where I left off in the series (even now, looking through a list with synopses I don’t remember where I stopped reading), and while I know I enjoyed each Reacher story I read, I don’t have the time to go back and try to figure out where I stopped. I clearly remember Gone Tomorrow–I remember the set-up with the woman he thinks is a suicide bomber on the subway at the beginning, which is almost the entire synopsis–but the last one I think I read ended up with him in a mansion on an island with a causeway leading out to it; with no other way off the island and it’s basically an armed stronghold (reminded me of Tintagel from Arthurian legends); the synopses of the next two books don’t ring any bells.

Maybe when I retire I’ll have time to revisit the series and get caught up. Lee Child is one of the loveliest men in the crime genre–he was in New Orleans years ago for a romance convention–and Alafair Burke (God, I am namedropping!) had invited me to join her for lunch, as she was also in town for the romance event (I think it was Romantic Times’ conference?), and so I met her at the Marriott on Canal (which was hosting) and as we walked to Green Goddess for lunch, we ran into Lee on the street and Alafair invited him to join us.

I don’t think I spoke much as I sat there at lunch with LEE CHILD and ALAFAIR BURKE, completely starstruck and not believing the incredible luck of my life. (Seriously, am I the luckiest homo on the planet or what?)

But I always remember fondly the first book in the series, The Killing Floor, which set the tone for the entire series, and I fell in love with the character–which was unusual for me. As a gay man, I tend to avoid books with these alpha male types; toxic masculinity and misogyny (as well as homophobia) tends to run in these kinds of books and I ain’t got time for reading that shit. But Reacher wasn’t like that–yes, he was an enormous man (250 pounds of solid muscle, 6′ 5) and he could kill you with his bare hands in less than three seconds, but he was more of a knight-errant; traveling around the country with just the clothes on his back, some money, an old war medal of his father’s, and coming to the rescue of countless people who need help. He had a code of honor that he lived by, and I respected that…not to mention the imagery of what he looked like as I dreamed him up in my head as I read (I’ve always, always, had a thing for big men–but that’s a subject for another time) and yes, he became a bit of a fantasy type for me. (I will not discuss the films based on the novels or the casting of those films, as so many others have inevitably done in the wake of the Amazon Prime series arriving; it’s really not necessary and the show should be judged on its own merits, not how it stacks up against the films–good or bad.)

But when I heard they had cast Alan Ritchson as Reacher, I may have done a fist pump.

I mean….

I first became aware of him when we were binge-watching Smallville. He had a small role as Aquaman in one season (just as the equally gorgeous Justin Hartley was cast in a recurring role as Green Arrow for several seasons–was delighted to see Hartley’s career take off with This Is Us), and I remembered thinking, he should be spun off into his own series (just as I thought about Hartley’s Green Arrow; I was bummed when Arrow was announced with Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen–but was also incredibly wrong about being bummed about that casting), but Aquaman would be a hard television series to produce, particularly budget-wise, since there would inevitably have to be a lot of underwater scenes shot, which also makes dialogue difficult to pull off. I would have watched Titans anyway–Teen Titans was always one of my favorite teams–but was delighted to see Ritchson playing Hawk, and was horribly disappointed when (SPOILER) they killed him off.

But had they not killed him off, he couldn’t have gotten the lead in Reacher, and it’s a star-making turn…so hopefully this will mean more Reacher, and more Alan Ritchson projects.

We’ve only watched the first episode, but we are hooked. Ritchson is perfect at the role, and even if he is a few inches shorter than the character in the novels, the way they shoot the show makes him seem much bigger than he actually is (I also wonder if they deliberately cast shorter actors to make him seem bigger, but it’s an effective optical illusion). The big takeaway for me always about Reacher was his size; he was a physical giant that you couldn’t NOT notice. The script is good, the direction and cinematography great, and the rest of the cast is also good (it includes Willa Fitzgerald, a favorite of mine after her turns on Scream the television show and Dare Me), and it has everything it could possibly need to be a hit.

And now I kind of want to read The Killing Floor again.

Also: while watching, it occurred to me that Ritchson would make a terrific Travis McGee.

Sometimes

Tuesday morning and so far so good. Yesterday was a relatively easy day at the office, really; a lovely way to start off the week, actually. I felt rested for most of the day, and had a relatively easy time getting home as well, which I wasn’t expecting; traffic lights in the Central Business District are still out or blinking, including the one at Poydras, which is the main artery of the district–which makes the drive a bit challenging. There wasn’t much traffic yesterday on my way home, so that intersection where I cross Poydras (Loyola) wasn’t as horrific as it has been in the past.

And tomorrow is payday; I had quite literally forgotten! Paying off the car has changed my life so dramatically for the better, Constant Reader, you have no idea. Before paying off the car, I would have been counting down the days to pay day, wondering how much I’d have left to buy food with, wondering if I would have enough to pay for everything. Not having that kind of extreme financial stress, like I’ve been experiencing for the last four years plus, has been literally absolutely lovely for me. I don’t know how people do it–and then buy another car right on top of paying off the old one, or trading one in before its completely paid for and…yeah, I will never understand the joys of having all that extra debt hanging over my head. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to buy a house or a condo or anything; the thought of being saddled with debt for the rest of my life like that absolutely curdles my blood.

And yes, I am quite aware that I still have to pay for housing anyway, that I am essentially throwing the rent money away every month that I could be “investing” in property, and all the rest of those financial security memes I’ve been told since I was a child. But I am not a fan of debt of any kind, quite frankly. I hate debt, hate it hate it hate it, and my next financial goal is to pay off the rest of the debt I am still carrying, which has become a bit easier since the car has been paid for. I don’t regret buying the car–I still love the car, and will for a long time, no doubt–but I am not sorry the debt is gone.

I didn’t think I slept very well last night–it seemed to take forever for me to fall asleep–and yet I still feel rested this morning. My Fitbit tells me that the majority of my sleep last night was “light” sleep, and I didn’t get the correct percentages of “REM sleep” or “deep sleep”. I imagine what this means is this afternoon I will run out of steam and get tired; that seems to be the case once the caffeine wears off. Ah, caffeine; such a harsh mistress you are.

Today is the official release day for Bury Me in Shadows (or it was yesterday; I’m really not sure how I still have a career, honestly) so there’s one more Blatant Self-Promotion post to come; I’ve been working on it since the weekend, and I hope to get it right and posted today. Tomorrow night I have the launch event at Murder by the Book in Houston (virtual), and I am doing a diversity panel for a library through Sisters in Crime (chessie chapter) this coming Monday. I know, two virtual events in less than a week, who am I? I also realized yesterday I had never posted the BSP post I’d written Sunday morning, so it went up yesterday instead.

I’m really not very good at this blatant self-promotion thing, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a mental thing; defeating myself before I have a chance to be defeated by the rest of the world. It would make sense, wouldn’t it?

I rewatched Scream 2 last night while I was waiting for Paul to finish working and come downstairs, and rather than switching to something else when he came down about halfway through the movie he was fine with just watching it through to the end–we’re both big Scream fans–and oddly enough, no matter how many times I’ve seen these movies they still work and are enjoyable. Greater horror minds than mine have dissected these films, how meta they are, and so forth to death; nothing I could say could possibly lend anything to the discourse already. But I do enjoy them more than most slasher/horror movies, it seemed fairly appropriate for Halloween, and since I have Peacock, which has all the Halloween movies streaming available, I may spend the rest of the month watching every Halloween movie; there are actually some I’ve not seen. And what better films for the Halloween Horror Film Festival than the Halloween series? (And if I can squeeze in a Scream or two, why not?) I didn’t write very much of anything yesterday and am not terribly happy about that, to be honest. I felt a bit tired when I came home from work yesterday–I stopped to pick up a few things on the way home–and tonight I have to go to the gym, since I can’t tomorrow. I did pull up Never Kiss a Stranger and started revising and re-ordering the story somewhat–beginning with the removal of about 2000 words at the beginning that might not be as necessary as I had originally thought; they can go further back in the manuscript than where they were originally placed, if used at all–so that was something, but I was tired and Scooter really wanted to nap in my lap in the easy chair and it was all so much easier to just give into the tired and relax with a purring kitty in my lap…yeah, it’s a wonder I get anything done around here at all.

And yesterday the current Superman–Jonathon Kent, son of Clark and Lois–came OUT. Superman is gay! * (That sound you just heard was any number of homophobes screaming about their childhoods being ruined.) I didn’t see it yesterday–I just saw the piece in the New York Times shared on Twitter–and will read it later this morning between clients. But this is quite thrilling, and that they timed the announcement for National Coming Out Day? Thank you thank you thank you, DC Comics.

Yesterday I also got a PDF file from an anthology I contributed a reprint story to; I had literally completely forgotten about it (my memory is completely worthless these days) and I never recorded it on my “out for submission” spreadsheet either; so my system completely failed. It happens, of course, and more regularly than I would prefer, to be completely honest. Anyway, it’s a gay erotic vampire anthology from Lethe Press called Blood on His Hands, and the story I gave them to reprint is my old “Bloodletting” story; which was originally written as a sequel story to my novella Blood on the Moon, and eventually became the first chapter of my Todd Gregory novel Need. I’ve not reread any of my vampire stuff over the years, and so last night, while I was trying to figure out to watch before settling on Scream 2 I spent some time revisiting this story. It isn’t bad, actually; I was very pleasantly surprised. (I often am pleasantly surprised to read something old of mine and see that it’s not terrible, or a steaming pile of shit…I really do need to stop being so hard on myself when it comes to writing; even as I started moving bits and pieces of Never Kiss a Stranger around last night I found myself thinking, “oh, this is good” or “this needs to be punched up some”–but “this is good” thoughts far outnumbered “fix this”, which was most pleasing to me. I have another story in another anthology coming out later this year–the story is “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” but I cannot think of the name of the anthology; I think it’s Pink Triangle Rhapsody? It really is a wonder I have a career of any kind in this business….

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow on Pay-the-Bills-Day.

*Well, bisexual anyway, but he has sex with men and that’s more than enough for me. It’s a huge step for DC Comics and super-heroes in general; it’s fucking Superman, not some supporting cast super-hero most people have never heard of who only appears in some team-up books; it’s SUPERMAN!

Recoil

And now it’s Ash Wednesday, concluding the Carnival that wasn’t.

My God, yesterday was cold.

Gregalicious does not like the cold.

Yesterday’s high was 36; most of the day was in the 20’s, and without heat in the Lost Apartment, it was pretty miserable here. I spent the entire day in layers of clothing, under blankets, and with my space heater blowing directly on me. It’s in the thirties right now as I type this–shivering, with my gloves forgotten upstairs–but at least today’s high will be in the fifties. (And yes, well aware that ordinarily I would complain about the cold with it in the fifties, so yes, the irony doesn’t escape me at all. Last night, as I got into bed with all my layers still on, I said to Paul, “as much as I am dreading getting up at six tomorrow morning, I am looking forward to the drive to work because I know the heat in my car works.“) At least this morning I can feel the heat from the space heater–yesterday for most of the day I couldn’t, unless I got close to it, that’s how fucking cold it was in here…I could see my breath last night as I gulped down hot soup. Needless to say, I got absolutely nothing done yesterday, but I watched a lot of videos about history–I found a great American history channel, with a history teacher going over important points from our history–the compromises of 1820 and 1850 that just kicked the slavery question down the road a bit; the Kansas-Nebraska Act; the Dred Scott decision; and every other point in our history where the government tried to appease slaveholders in order to keep the peace.

Appeasement is never a solution; all it does it buy some time before the inevitable conflict comes.

I also just had a horrid thought–I do hope the heat is on at the office…although if it’s not, I doubt they will keep us there very long.

And I do think I’ve learned my lesson about getting out of bed. If it’s cold like this tomorrow, I am just going to grab my laptop and anything and everything else I have to work on tomorrow, and I am going to do it from under the blankets upstairs. And move my space heater up there as well. I can’t afford to lose another day of work because it’s cold–and the weather it going to remain cold over the next few days before finally returning to normal New Orleans winter weather temperatures on Sunday.

I found myself thinking yesterday, as I shivered and tried to start warm (my iPad was cold to the touch so I didn’t even want to hold it for significant periods of time) I found myself thinking, not only about the Kansas book which needs to be worked on, but about another Scotty book–or what will probably be the next Scotty book, Twelfth Night Knavery, which has a very basic plot already in place, so writing the book will just be putting meat and muscle on top of the skeleton I’ve already got in place. I think the next Scotty will take place a few weeks after the previous one, the one after that will take place during the Carnival of 2020, and then we’ll jump ahead to 2021’s Carnival for the next. I’m not sure if this is workable, in all honesty; three Scotty books over such a short time period will spread the writing out over three years, really, so this third one I am thinking about would wind up being a 2024 release….and that’s if no other writing projects/jobs come along in the meantime to kick the Scotty can down the road a while….this is an awful lot of pre-thinking and pre-planning for Scotty; certainly more than I’ve ever put into these books before….so it feels a little bit weird.

We’ve nearly finished the second season of Mr. Mercedes, which we are enjoying a lot after it’s slow start, and I was also very pleased to see that Season Three is going to drop (or start airing) on March 4th, so we don’t have to go too long between seasons. I also rewatched Scream yesterday, which, despite the advances in telephone technology, surprisingly still holds up after all this time–and despite having seen it any number of times, I still enjoy watching it. It really is one of the best slasher movies ever made–particularly in how it mocks the genre, subverting it while embracing it at the same time.

And on that note, I am off to the office, and to perhaps feel warm again for the first time in days.

Happiness is An Option

I’ve always enjoyed a good mystery with a supernatural edge to it; the line between crime fiction and horror is often blurred. Take, for example, The Silence of the Lambs. It’s often lauded as the first horror film to win an Oscar–but there’s no supernatural beings involved, no ghosts or vampires, or anything like that; the protagonist is an FBI agent trying to catch a serial killer…so is it really horror? Are slasher films/books actually horror or crime? (I think it depends on whether or not the slasher is actually something not human–like Freddy Krueger and Michael Myers, or just crazed human killers, like the Scream movies or even the first Friday the 13th, which is the only one I’ve actually seen.)

But then it’s really hard to define and delineate what work falls into what genre; and oft-times, there’s crossover between the various ones–there’s western horror, for example, just like romantic suspense bridges the line between romance and mystery. So where precisely on the spectrum of genre does the work of Barbara Michaels lay? There are often supernatural elements to her fiction; sometimes there aren’t. Ammie Come Home is my favorite ghost story of the many I’ve read–and I enjoy it just as much every time I reread it–but it’s also a mystery, and there’s also some romance in the book. The romance itself is rarely the focus of her books, but it is there and cannot be ignored; likewise, most stories that have supernatural elements (ones that are actually supernatural in origin or man-made frauds) inevitably have some mystery to them; what do the supernatural forces want–or in the case of fraud, what are those who are committing the fraud after? What do they want?

House of Many Shadows was the second Barbara Michaels novel I read, and remains one of my favorites to this day.

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The sounds bothered Meg most. Calling them auditory hallucinations helped a little–a phenomenon is less alarming when it has a proper technical name. Meg had always thought of hallucinations as something one saw. She had those, too, but for some illogical reason it was easier for her to accept visual illusions as nonreal than to ignore the hallucinatory sounds. When you were concentrating on typing a letter, and a voice says something in your ear, it was impossible not to be distracted.

The problem was hard to explain, and Meg wasn’t doing a good job of explaining. But then it had always been difficult to explain anything to Sylvia. Sylvia knew all the answers.

“The dictaphone was absolutely impossible. I couldn’t hear what Mr. Phillips had said. Voices kept mumbling, drowning out his voice. Once the whole Mormon Tabernacle Choir cut out the second paragraph of a very important memo.”

She smiled as she spoke. It sounded funny now, but at the time it had not been at all amusing.

Sylvia didn’t smile. “The Mormon Tabernacle Choir? Why them?”

Meg shrugged helplessly. “No reason. That’s the point; they are meaningless hallucinations. The doctor says they’ll go away eventually, but in the meantime…Mr. Phillips was very nice about it, he said he’d try to find an opening for me when I’m ready to work again, but I couldn’t expect him to keep me on. I had to listen to some of those tapes three times before I got the message clear, and there was always the chance I’d miss something important. And I’d already used up all my sick leave. Three weeks in the hospital…”

“You should be thankful you weren’t killed,” said Sylvia. “To think they never caught the man who was driving the car! New York is an absolute jungle. I don’t know how you can stand living here. May I have another cup of tea?”

Meg poured, biting back an irritated retort. She couldn’t afford to offend Sylvia, especially now, when she was about to ask a favor, but the cliches that were Sylvia’s sole means of communications had never annoyed her more. Why should she be thankful she hadn’t been killed? She might as well be thankful she didn’t have leprosy, or seven-year itch; or thank God because she had not been born with two heads. It was just as reasonable, and a lot more human, to feel vexation instead of gratitude. Why me, God? The old question, to which there was never any answer…Why did it have to be me in the path of that fool driver; why did I have to land on my head instead of some less vulnerable part of my anatomy; and why, oh, why, God, did Ihave to have these exotic symptoms instead of a nice simple concussion? Why do I have to be the poor relation, with no savings to fall back on, while Sylvia…

Sylvia’s close-set gray eyes were intent on the teapot. “Such a nice piece of silver,” she murmured.

I love Barbara Michaels’ work, and one of the happiest days of my reading life was the day I discovered she also wrote as Elizabeth Peters, which meant even more reading joy for me (and eventually, I came to prefer the Peters books to the Michaels; but make no mistake, I love all the books). The set-up for House of Many Shadows is right there in the beginning; poor Meg’s life has been upended by being hit by a driver who didn’t stop, and because of the hallucinations she suffers from as a result–with no idea of how long she will suffer through them–she is unable to work, and her distant relative Sylvia–whom she doesn’t seem to care much for–is her only hope. Sylvia–we all know people like Sylvia; without a sense of humor and whose response to any crisis is to come up with a plan and make it work–has a house in the Pennsylvania Dutch country, she’s not sure what she wants to do with it, but Meg can stay there rent-free, and Sylvia even comes up with a “make-work” solution so Meg won’t feel like she’s freeloading (it isn’t until much later she realizes that is what Sylvia was doing; at the time she kind of resents it); doing an inventory of the contents of the house and its attic, as Sylvia is thinking of donating the house to the local historical association. Sylvia’s stepson from the previous marriage that wound up with her owning the house is living on the property as a caretaker, in a cottage behind the main house–Meg remembers him from their childhood as a horrible tease she couldn’t much stand–and soon she is off to the wilds of the Pennsylvania country side.

At the end of the second chapter-the first after she arrives at the house–Meg experiences a hallucination in front of Andy, the stepson, and their relationship hasn’t changed much, apparently–which rattles Andy terribly; when it happens again a chapter or so later is when Andy confesses that he, too, has seen the same hallucinations she did–so are they hallucinations? Or are they seeing ghosts?

This set-up, of course, is absolutely brilliant: what better heroine for a supernatural story than a woman who’s had a brain injury that causes her to see hallucinations? The chilling touch that Andy has also seen the same hallucinations in the house that she has is terrifying; and as she slowly gets to work in the attic, she and Andy start discovering things about the history of the house, including the fact that the original property owners, back before the American Revolution, were brutally murdered in the original house that stood on the property; the current one was built over it. So, what happened 250 years earlier? Both Meg and Andy become a bit obsessed with the ancient murders, and as they continue to see things in the house, they slowly but surely start putting together the truth of what happened to the original property owners–while falling in love, of course.

One of the great things about the Michaels books is that she brooks no foolishness with her supernatural elements; it’s clear Dr. Mertz (her real name) was well read on the subject of the occult and other belief systems–they pop up, again and again, throughout the Michaels novels, and in many instances, I first heard of certain occult books and cults from reading them. I know I first read of The Golden Bough in a Michaels novel; Dr, Mertz knew her folklore and occult religions, and made very good use of that knowledge, not just in this book but in others–Prince of Darkness comes to mind–and of course, she was an excellent, excellent writer.

House of Many Shadows also holds up; despite the dated quality of the book–no Internet or computers or cell phones–it’s still a great story.

Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

IMG_0112

I’ve Been In Love Before

And just like that, it’s Friday again in New Orleans, with a weekend dawning full of promise and potential. How I choose to squander that promise and potential remains to be seen, quite frankly.

But I am sure I will earn another Olympic gold in procrastination and justification. I am getting rather good at it.

So last night we watched the season finale of American Horror Story: 1984. Sigh. Another season of  great potential, an interesting and diverse cast, and a terrific idea….yet the entire season left me feeling meh. Paul and I laughed our way through the finale, which, for a “horror story” is perhaps not the best intended reaction? I guess making an homage to slasher films from the 1980’s, including a summer camp, and then making it completely camp wasn’t what I was expecting, and frankly, when it comes to clever campy homages Scream set a bar so damned high that its sequels couldn’t even clear–but they came close. For a brief moment, as I watched, I did think oh, this is clever–he’s doing a pastiche of an entire series of slasher movies, like following the arc of the Friday the 13th’s first few films or so…but no, I wasn’t right. But that would be a much more clever idea than what we were given, frankly.

I’ve always said that the line between the horror and crime genres–be it film, novels, short stories, or television–is a very thin one that gets crossed rather frequently. The Silence of the Lambs is considered a horror film (I’ve not read the book; it’s in my TBR pile along with Red Dragon, and I will eventually get to them both), but it’s also very much a procedural: Clarice Starling, federal agent, is part of the team trying to catch a brutal serial killer, Buffalo Bill. Filming it as a horror film made it suspenseful and terrifying; much more so than had it been filmed as a straight-up procedural (which is why I am very curious about the novels). I’ve always wanted to do a straight-up novel about a mass, or spree, killing–which is what slasher movies really are at heart–that begins in the aftermath of a night like Halloween, when the police are called to the scene of a mass killing with brutalized, butchered bodies everywhere–or when the state police arrive at the camp at Crystal Lake; the first quarter/third of the book is the discovery of the bodies and the lead detective trying to place together the time-line of the murders. That’s as far as I’ve ever gotten with the idea, honestly; if I can ever figure out where to go from there, I’ll probably write it (although it occurs to me that what would be rather clever would be to alternate between the night before, when it’s happened, and the following morning as the detective puts the time line together….hmmmm *makes note*).

I also have an idea about a novel set in a ghost town in the California mountains–I’ve had this idea for quite some time, going back to the 1980’s (almost all of my California ideas were born in the 1980’s, when I lived there), and my mind keeps coming back to it from time to time. I think the idea was born from reading Stephen King’s short story “The Raft”, and then seeing it on film in Creepshow 2 (Paul Satterfield in that skimpy yellow speedo made quite an impression on me; it even occurs to me now that may have subliminally had a connection to my short story “Man in a Speedo”); the basic concept was the same–five or six college students decide to spend a weekend camping in a ghost town, getting drunk and high and having sex–only to have it all go South in the most terrifying way. I also realize that the “group of young people come to a remote location and all get killed off gradually” is probably the more hoary of the horror tropes; in order to do something like that one has to not only do it exceptionally well,  but say something new. I wanted to call it Sunburst, because that would be the name of the remote ghost town; a town that sprung up around a gold mine that eventually petered out and the town died with it. I also wanted it to be set in the mountains because–well, because the mountains in California are so beautiful–I wanted to set it on a mountain top that had a lovely view across a valley or canyon to Yosemite National Park.

This is why I never get anything done, really–I have so many ideas, and get new ones all the time, and so things get pushed to the side and forgotten until something reminds me of the original idea. I also like to think that I will eventually come back around to the idea and write it…it has happened before, of course–Sara, Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Dark Tide all come to mind–and so it’s not so hard to believe those ideas’ time will eventually come. Hell, even Bury Me in Shadows was originally conceived of in the 1980’s, as a short story I wrote called “Ruins”–and the idea was always there in the back of my mind; which is partly why I finally decided to write the damned thing.

Finishing it, on the other hand, seems to be an enormous problem thus far. I am hoping to break this lengthy non-writing streak–well, I’ve been writing a bit here and there, just not producing on a daily basis the amount I not only should be but can do as a general rule–this weekend. The LSU game is Saturday night, and while yes, Auburn-Georgia is in the afternoon, I’m not so sure I care that much about watching it. Background noise, maybe, and if it’s a Georgia rout I can always turn it off….and I’m not so sure when the Saints game is on Sunday. I am also falling into the trap of thinking oh I have a week off for Thanksgiving come up and I can finish it then. No, no, NO. I should finish it before then, so I can spend that week polishing it and making it pretty before sending it off on December 1.

I seriously don’t know what to do, to be perfectly honest. I just know I need to be writing more than I am–and if not the book, then a short story or something. AUGH.

And since I don’t have to go in until later, I might as well do some this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

augRussian-Hotties6

Come Go with Me

I’ve always enjoyed horror as a genre, both in film and in novels. One of the greatest joys of the last decade or so has been the rise of horror television, with terrific shows like American Horror Story (despite its many flaws), The Exorcist, Castle Rock, and so many others. I suppose even The Walking Dead sort of counts as a horror program.

I do not consider myself to be anything more than a horror fan, frankly; I am not an expert, I’ve not read (or watched) everything, I’ve never done any comprehensive studying of the genre. I don’t know what are tropes or stereotypes or what-may-have-you, unless they are so obvious it’s like being hit in the head with a baseball bat. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favorite novels; Stephen King is one of my favorite writers; I could watch all four Scream movies a million times without ever getting bored or not being entertained–I even enjoyed the MTV television series called Scream, which had nothing to do with the films.

I know so little about the genre that I’m not even sure of the sub-genres contained within; I could write pages about the sub-genres in crime fiction, but horror? I’d be hard-pressed to even name them.

I’ve written two vampire novellas (“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon”) and an entire gay erotic vampire novel (Need), and a ghost story novel (Lake Thirteen) and a monster novel (Sara), and I suppose Sorceress would be considered gothic horror–I certainly followed the blueprint for Gothic novels with that one, which was kind of the point. And while there are any number of horror short stories in the files, as well as aborted novels, I’ve never really had much luck in publishing horror. Crime is the genre I know best, and you should always, as they say, write what you know; I always fear my horror attempts are ridiculously derivative of Stephen King–but then again, steal from the best.

I also don’t have a much time to read as I would like, and as such, I tend to primarily read within the crime genre, branching out into horror only occasionally–writers like Bracken MacLeod, Paul Tremblay, Christopher Golden, Michael Rowe, and some others spring to mind–and the pile of unread horror in the TBR stacks continues to grow, it seems, by leaps and bounds every year as I never seem to get around to reading any of them.

But this year, as I’ve noted, I’ve made a conscious effort to read more diverse writers, and the end result of that has been me finding any number of terrific writers I might not have read had I not made an effort, had I allowed myself to continue with the ease of white privilege and simply reading other white writers.

I only regret not making the effort sooner.

certain dark things

Collecting garbage sharpens the senses. It allows us to notice what others do not see. Where most people would spy a pile of junk, the rag-and-bone man sees treasure: empty bottles that might be dragged to the recycling center, computer innards that can be reused, furniture in decent shape. The garbage collector is alert. After all, this is a profession.

Domingo was always looking for garbage and he was always looking at people. It was his hobby. The people were, not the garbage. He would walk around Mexico City in his long, yellow plastic jacket with its dozen pockets, head bobbed down, peeking up to stare at a random passerby.

Domingo tossed a bottle into a plastic bag, then paused to observe the patrons eating at a restaurant. He gazed at the maids as they rose with the dawn and purchased bread at the bakery. He saw the people with the shiny cars zoom by and the people without any cash jump onto the back of the bus, hanging with their nails and their grit to the metallic shell of the moving vehicle.

I’m not sure where I first heard of Silvia Moreno-Garcia; I am friends with members of the horror writing community on social media, and we have friends in common; so I am sure I heard of this book first from one of our mutual friends on Facebook (I have also purchased her next novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow). I decided, as always, to read horror in celebration of Halloween; alas, illness and being overly busy has limited my reading lately, and as such, outside of my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House, the only horror I was able to squeeze into October was Certain Dark Things, and this is not, by any means, to be seen as any kind of judgment of Ms. Moreno-Garcia’s consummate skill as a storyteller; this has everything to do with me being tired, ill, and unable to focus as a result. Those moments when I was able to focus was when I was able to read this book; and it is, quite frankly, a pleasure and a treasure.

Certain Dark Things is set in a Mexico City that teems with ugliness, darkness, poverty and corruption. As I read the descriptions of the city, I couldn’t help but think damn I bet she could write some brilliant noir set in this version of Mexico City–like I said, my mind always reverts to crime fiction–but this Mexico City, this world Moreno-Garcia has created, is steeped in reality and actual Mexican history–of which I know some, but not nearly enough (my interest in history is colored by, sadly, the white supremacy of American educational systems; focused primarily on the United States and Europe, with some Egyptian thrown in for good measure).

Moreno-Garcia also throws everything anyone who’s ever read about vampires into question from the absolute beginning of the book: perhaps because of Stoker’s Dracula, and every film/television adaptation of some form of it ever since, I have a tendency to always think of vampires as being eastern European/Transylvanian in origin; almost every vampire novel or story I’ve read has been almost entirely white. I myself, when writing my own little vampire stories, fell victim to these same tropes (although I did have Creole witches, which upon new reflection is also kind of problematic). So Certain Dark Things also opened my mind; why would supernatural/paranormal creatures always be white? Are there no supernatural/paranormal creatures or beings from other, non-white cultures?

There are two main characters in the novel: Atl, the female vampire, descended from a long line of vampires going back to Aztec days (and not your typical, Transylvanian vampire, either), and Domingo, a poor young man of the streets who sorts through garbage looking for things to sell to support himself. In this world, there is, like in Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels, an awareness that vampires and other creatures like them exist; so Domingo isn’t as terrified when he encounters Atl as he might be, were their reality still in question. Domingo is drawn to Atl, wants to help her and be with her, but it’s not in a romantic way, nor is it a product of being “glamoured” (as Harris called it in her work), either; it’s more along the lines of Atl being the first person to truly see Domingo, and appreciate him, and recognize his humanity despite being of the streets.

And that’s very powerful.

Atl herself is on the run. In this new world Moreno-Garcia has created, Mexico City is an independent city-state where vampires aren’t permitted; she has run there after the annihilation of her clan of vampires in north Mexico. She is on the run and needs to get out of Mexico completely; she has run to the city to hide and to try to find the means to get out of the country. There are many different kinds of vampires in this world; with different abilities and different powers.

There’s a third character, Ana Aguirre, a single mother who works as a police detective in the city, dealing with corruption and sexism every single day, not taken seriously by her superiors, and trying to do whatever she can to ensure a good future for her daughter. Ana is also a strong character, defined and complex; her inner struggle over her own integrity warring with what is the best thing to do for her daughter is masterfully described, and very relatable.

I’d read an entire series about Ana Aguirre in this world, frankly.

Moreno-Garcia doesn’t over-explain this world, either; but somehow, with sparsity of description and a minimal approach to the past few decades that changed the world as we now know it, she manages to create an entire world that is completely believable and easy to become immersed in. The story moves quickly, the characters growing more depth from each experience they have, and it’s all too soon over.

I would love to read more books about Atl and her world; I’d love to read more of Moreno-Garcia’s work.

This is a truly terrific work. I highly recommend it.