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.

2657164

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.

The Chair

I finished reading “Death in Venice” last night, and it occurs to me that I might have been better served rereading “The Masque of the Red Death,” actually. I’ve not read it since high school, and yet it is always there, somehow, in a corner of my mind. There have been several instances, for example, in my life where the story has come to me as the perfect analogy for whatever was going on or whatever situation I found myself in; and its underlying theme–there is no escape from death–is one I’ve always wanted to write about, but whether to do it in fiction or non-fiction form; that is, as ever, the question.

Don’t get me wrong, “Death in Venice” was perfectly fine, and I can see why it is so acclaimed. It didn’t really connect with me as much as I would have liked to engage with it, but Mann’s style is so formal and distant that the characters are kept from the reader as a sort of arm’s length; it’s a very distinct picture of a particular character and I got a very strong sense of who he is from it–but he isn’t someone who particularly interests me very much, nor is the strange obsession with the beautiful young Polish boy Tadzio–absolutely pure, of course, and entirely intellectual; nor sordid thoughts of lust or physical desire to be found on that particular beach on the Lido in Venice, interesting. The extraordinary passivity of the man as he is subconsciously aware that his inability to leave Venice because he must continue to look at, follow, and stalk this teenager will inevitably lead to his death was something I never really quite grasped or understood; perhaps, as ever, I am too stupid to understand the big underlying point of the story, with my low peasant tastes and faulty, not classically educated intellect. It was sort of a Lolita-esque type story, and I think my tastes are too honed to favor writers like du Maurier, Shirley Jackson, and Patricia Highsmith to not expect there to be some dark noir twist to it at the end, and to be disappointed to not find it there. (I also thought the whole part of him having his hair dyed and his face painted wasn’t really anything to do with trying to look younger or because Tadzio made him care about his appearance more, so much as it was like getting the corpse ready for the viewing; but your mileage, as always, might vary.)

It has been a long, trying week, and like everyone, I am trying to muddle through the best I can using a combination of judicious amounts of alcohol and prescription medication. I love my day job (although I will now and forever always reserve the right to be highly annoyed by it from time to time), but even under the best of circumstances, it can be emotionally and mentally exhausting–and when you’re both emotionally and mentally exhausted, you feel that way physically as well. I find myself having to force myself to do normal, every day routine things; putting the dishes away seems like an unconquerable chore and when it’s finished, I need to sit for a bit. I watch the clock every night dreading the inevitable time I have to go to bed–because then I have to wake up to what has been almost consistently worse news every morning since before Carnival started, and somehow pull myself together to go to work. I also know that I’m lucky to have a job to go to every day, and I am hopeful I’ll remain lucky.  But…my primary whine now is that I have to get up at six to be at work every day–yesterday, today, and Friday, at any rate–and that just is too early for me to be completely functional. But it beats the twelve hours days I usually put in when I get up this early, I suppose.

Today my goal is to get through most of my emails and try to get some things settled; as much as I can, at any rate, and make some decisions about things I have to make decisions on. Maybe tonight I can get some writing done; if not, I am going to finish reading du Maurier’s “Ganymede,” and reflect on the influence/effect of Venice on not only her two stories (including “Don’t Look Now”, which i reread this past weekend) but on “Death in Venice,” as well as whether I can see influences of the Mann story on her two stories on death in Venice. It’s an intellectual challenge of the sort I used to rather enjoy; the kind of essay and/or article I love to write that no one wants to publish or see from me. (And maybe I can find a copy of the “The Masque of the Red Death” somewhere on line free to download; all of Poe’s work is in the public domain, so it shouldn’t be difficult to locate, frankly.)

At some point I also need to get to work on some of these short stories and the Secret Project again, but who knows when that time will present itself again? I find myself so tired when I get home from the office–at least yesterday, and certainly those days of last week when I went in rather than working from home–and this getting up so goddamned early is also a challenge for me, to not be tired when I get home; although it is rather lovely to get home so quickly, regardless of the time of day.

Last night we continued with The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, which is truly so much better than I ever dared to hope. It did occur to me last night, as we watched two episodes back-to-back, that the show is following the same trajectory as both Dark Shadows and True Blood–a small town with all the typical dysfunction any soap viewer knows to expect from a show centered in a small town; and how the supernatural aspects begin to amp up in an accelerated fashion once the show actually begins. Dark Shadows brought forth first ghosts and then a phoenix; after that came the vampire and the flood gates opened. Likewise, on True Blood, once Bill the vampire showed up, the little Louisiana town of Bon Temps began the epicenter of all kinds of crazy and bizarre supernatural events and creatures. I understand the necessity of it all, but once you go so far, there’s really no dialing it back. I’m glad they decided to send Sabrina to the witch school and leave her traditional school; by embracing the witch half of DNA and signing her name to the Book of the Beast it defied the way these types of shows usually go, with the mortal half always holding sway over the witch half, and not using her powers, etc. etc. etc.–which has always felt…contrived to me; after all, if Darren had no problem with Samantha being a witch and using her powers, 90% of the plots of Bewitched wouldn’t have been possible. (More on that later–and the implicit sexism of that show, which really needs to be explored.) But we’re enjoying Sabrina, and hoping that it doesn’t eventually–as these shows always, inevitably do–“jump the shark”–which is why we finally stopped watching Supernatural a few years ago (although we still love the show and remember it fondly; we have no desire to go back and watch the last few seasons).

And on that note I now have to go get ready for another day in the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, as much as you can.

beto-malfacini-model

I Write the Songs

Another good night’s sleep, with gloomy Sunday glaring at me through my kitchen windows. I wound up wasting most of yesterday–although organizing and filing and so forth doesn’t really seem like a hardship to me–and then last night there was some drama involving my phone again not being recognized by my computer, so yeah, there was that. So, I managed to get next to nothing done yesterday but relaxing and some little bit of my organizing, which means today I have to do a lot of it. Which is fine–I usually dread the morning of the day I pushed everything off to arriving; because nine times out of ten I will almost always feel just as lazy on the Sunday as I did on the Saturday.

It happens.

But I am not feeling quite so out of sorts–or lazy–this morning; which means I am going to start tearing through the to-do list once I finish this entry. I am determined to get my inbox emptied once and for all; I am going to get some work done, and I am going to finish the organizing and cleaning I started doing yesterday. I cleaned off and organized most of the stuff on the top of the kitchen cabinets–eighteen foot ceilings give you a lot of storage space on top of your kitchen cabinets, in case you were wondering–and while there is still stuff up there that should probably come down, I may leave that up for a while just yet…until I can figure out what to do with the stuff. I mean, I don’t want to give away my food processor, but the truth is I rarely, if ever, use it–maybe three times once I first got it and was impressed with the novelty of having one. Or my electric wok; again, used maybe once or twice. Again, a nice thing to have…but I never use it. Maybe I should store these things in the attic. I don’t know.

Yesterday afternoon (and early evening) we watched Venom and the remake/reboot/latest sequel in the Friday the 13th series–the 2009 version with Jared Padalecki of Supernatural in the starring role. Believe it or not, I’d never watched the original until a few years ago, when it became available on a streaming service, and while I can see why it was so enormously successful at the time and am willing to recognize it as a landmark film in the resurgence of horror cinema in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, the production values are only slightly higher than that of a home movie of the time–which led me to think about how The Blair Witch Project, with similar production values and maybe a slightly higher budget, also revolutionized horror cinema and made a fortune. The reboot (or whatever it was, a sequel with no number, whatever) wasn’t a bad film, it just wasn’t a great film; it was perfectly adequate, but added nor removed anything from the canon or iconography and therefore just seemed like an attempt at a cash grab. Likewise, Venom, despite its impressive effects and being about one of my favorite Marvel characters…just didn’t fire on all cylinders for me and was actually kind of dull. And I love me some Tom Hardy; perhaps the problem was that giving Venom an origin story that doesn’t involve Peter Parker was a misfire…and Stan Lee’s cameo at the end of the film just made it sadder, knowing he’s now dead.

So, today I have to make a quick and easy grocery run, deal with my taxes once and for all, and want to finish revising some chapters of the WIP while also putting together the proposal for the suspense thriller I may want to write later in the year. I also want to read the next story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s and get started on Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home. I also have some other things I need to work on as well. And there’s always cleaning that needs to be done, and organizing. Always. I just have to make sure I don’t get into one of those oh I feel lazy and this can wait until another time moods, you know?

Which is, sadly, easier and easier to slip into these days.

But that cannot happen, I cannot keep letting things slide, so today is the day when I need to get it all together and get it all done.

Beginning with the goddamned emails.

And now, back to the spice mines.

52668803_2500890216606433_406127005088612352_o

Dim All The Lights

It is cold this morning in the Lost Apartment; kind of gray out there with the sun hidden behind fluffy white clouds. There’s a sink full of dishes, clothes in the dryer, and mess pretty much everywhere. At some point I have to go to the store today–there are things we need that cannot wait till Wednesday–but I am going to postpone the mail until Wednesday on the way to to the office. I also need to do some wrap-up work on the book at some point today, but it’s still pretty much finished. I want to get that done today so I can spend tomorrow reading…which, since it doesn’t seem sunny, will probably work. I wanted to take my camera out and take pictures of the Bead Trees of St. Charles–an annual tradition–but without sunshine the pictures aren’t as effective…so, unless the sun comes out today, that’s something that’ll have to wait until the weekend.

Yesterday was fun.  I gave up on Thoth about half-way through; there was an enormous break in the parade, and the longer I stood there the less I wanted to. Also the wind started picking up, the sky got gray, and I felt a few drops…tired and wet wasn’t something I felt particularly up for, so I decided to come inside and rest up for Bacchus. I’d already caught plenty of beads, and with Bacchus and Orpheus in the future…yeah, I called it an afternoon and came inside.

The three day parades yesterday rolled as floats only (no marching bands or walking groups) because of inclement weather in the forecast; they also moved them all up to eleven in the morning and they followed each other; so Thoth rolled hours earlier than usual. I was inside yesterday around two; Thoth usually begins at two-thirty and it was already half-way past.

It’s also amazing how fast those parades can move when it’s just floats.

And Bacchus was, as always, fun despite the cold. Paul caught some beads directly from Bacchus (Jensen Ackles) himself, and I got some doubloons from his float.  Here are some great shots of the parade (and Jensen).

After Bacchus, we came back in and got caught up on Schitt’s Creek and How to Get Away with Murder, and then, tired and worn out for a day mostly spent on the parade route, I went to bed early and also managed to sleep in, which was quite lovely.  The temperature is currently in the low forties, which doesn’t bode well for Orpheus tonight, but I also don’t mind bundling up for this parade. It has the train float which is one of my favorites!

And then tomorrow, we will just rest and relax and get ready for the three day work week.

Happy Lundi Gras, everyone!

hunk-mardi-gras-boys

Every Breath You Take

Good morning, Sunday. Facebook and Twitter have both already warned me to ‘stay dry–rain is in the forecast’, but outside my windows here in the Lost Apartment it’s all sunshine, shade, and blue skies. Of course, in New Orleans that means nothing–in five minutes there could be a massive thunderstorm with the streets flooding–but I am going to just sit here for a moment and enjoy the sunshine. I need to get a lot done today–yesterday was sheer madness all day; Wacky Russian in the morning, laundering the bed linens, post office, testing at the office, lunch with a friend who is moving away, home to make mac-n-cheese for a party at Susan’s, and then, of course, the party itself. It wasn’t until well after nine last night that I was able to collapse into the easy chair and relax–and now that The Handmaid’s Tale is finished, and we have finished watching the latest season of Supernatural, we are looking for something new to watch, so we started watching The Magicians. The first episode was okay; but it seemed (with no offense to Lev Grossman, who wrote the novels the show is based on) kind of derivative; like I’d seen it before.

Then again, there have been a lot of books/movies/TV shows set in schools for magic, haven’t there? We’ll keep going, but at least tonight there will be another episode of Orphan Black, and I am STILL waiting for the second season of Versailles to pop up somewhere I can watch it. BASTARDS! I am particularly interested in seeing Versailles because I am getting to the really good part in The Affair of the Poisons…which I am really enjoying. I never understand why people think history is boring…then again, those are the people are responsible for it repeating all of the time.

I’ve also made some progress in reading  Since We Fell, but am still not loving it. I’m intrigued enough to continue reading, but it seems as though the entire first hundred pages or so is just backstory. Which isn’t a bad thing, mind you; I’m just waiting for it to get to the real story.

At some point today I need to go to the grocery store–an odious chore, but one which I usually don’t mind. I think I’m most likely going to go to Cadillac Rouse’s in the CBD; shrimp and grits might be on the menu for tonight, and I want to try maybe some different cheese in it; rather than the usual cheddar that it calls for, I may try gruyere. It was fun making macaroni-and-cheese yesterday; it’s been a long while since I’ve made it (that healthy eating thing; the recipe I make calls for sour cream, heavy cream, half-and-half, butter, and 24 ounces of cheese). If I am going to make shrimp-n-grits, I need green onions and shallots. Or, I could just stop on the way home tomorrow night and get some things–and find something in the kitchen that it already on hand for dinner. Right now, I am feeling pretty lazy, so that may be the route I choose to take. We shall see. They are also filming on my street tomorrow–actually, on the next block, so parking on MY block will be limited since all their stupid trucks and Kraft services and everything will be set up on OUR block. (I wonder if it’s New Orleans NCIS? I’ve always had a crush on what’s his name, from Quantum Leap, who plays the lead) Anyway, I need to get some shit done around the house, I need to revise three chapters today (I’ve done no revising the last two days, and thus am very behind on the revisions), and I’d like to work on my short stories as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Always, so much to do. It ain’t easy being a Gregalicious.

All right, best to get back to the spice mines. Here’s your Father’s Day hunk; a hot daddy!

9e4e41c6e20dd8082ef22dc42394e91c