How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously?

Monday and here we are, getting ready to stare down yet another week.

We watched more of Little Fires Everywhere last night, and it really is extremely well done. It really is an interesting look at race and privilege and power; all while using tropes that were staples of soap operas. As the show amps up and starts racing along to its climax, the basis of the majority of the drama of the show is a custody struggle over an adopted baby–a storyline so stale for soap operas that I don’t know that the few left even use it anymore. But with strong writing, excellent production values, and an enormously talented cast, this stale trope not only works in this instance, but works very well. I am curious, though, as to why the book is set in 1997 rather than the present; the reason behind it isn’t apparent, and it feels incredibly current; although the music at school dances and so forth is rather jarring, and it takes a moment to remember that the story is set over twenty years ago. I don’t even notice the lack of smart phones and social media. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get a copy of the book to read along while I watch, which was such a terrific experience with Big Little Lies. 

And Reese Witherspoon certainly has a type of woman that she regularly plays, doesn’t she? Super Karen?

I finished a dreadful first draft of “Falling Bullets” last night, and it is dreadful. Fortunately there are other drafts to be done, and corrections and edits that can be made to it, but at this point I’m just happy I finished a draft–it’s been awhile since I’ve finished something I’ve started. At first I was rather nonplussed because about 1500 of the 2000 words I’d already written–mostly the stuff I’d written Friday evening–didn’t really work anymore; but I went back to the beginning and started tweaking things, and was even able to tweak enough of the 1500 problematic words to save most of them. So, while I am not pleased with the draft and its condition, I am pleased that it is finished, at around 4600 words.

I also finished reading Thunder on the Right yesterday, and had a lovely time with it. I do think it is one of the lesser Mary Stewart novels–but a lesser Mary Stewart is better than  a lesser writer’s best, so there’s also that.

I have decided to take today off from work; I am not feeling as great as I should, and literally cannot face another day of data entry and condom packing. Fortunately I have enough vacation time accrued for me to take yet another day off–although I really need to start letting the time build up again, for when this is all finally over and done with, so I can take an actual vacation, which is something I am going to be in seriously need of–and so am going to stay home, finish some odds and ends, and then get ready to face the rest of the week. I also have to work early tomorrow morning, so will have to get to bed early this evening; and I think we’re going to maybe start slowly opening the STI clinic next week. I am of two minds about this–I am certain we can do it safely, but at the same time I worry whether clients will be willing to come in to get their screenings done. I miss my old life, quite frankly, and like everyone else, long to get back to it. But unlike everyone else, I don’t see the old normal coming back. This situation has changed so much about our lives and how we do things, and in many cases, things that were considered “impossible” before have now been shown to be possible. I can’t imagine, for example, that the expensive old version of the book tour will return now that we have seen it can be done relatively inexpensively virtually. I easily can see publicists cutting expenses at publishers by arranging on-line interviews and readings and Q&A’s and book club meetings rather than spending money for an author to travel. And for authors who can’t foot the cost of their own tours, well–here’s an inexpensive alternative that may actually work.

Next up for the Reread Project is an old favorite of mine by Barbara Michaels, House of Many Shadows. Dr. Barbara Mertz wrote, of course, wonderful mysteries as Elizabeth Peters (if you’ve never read the Amelia Peabody series, you really, really  need to), and wrote suspense novels that may or may not have a supernatural bent to them–Ammie Come Home is, obviously, by far and away my favorite of these–as Barbara Michaels. I rediscovered the Michaels novels in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s, and became just as addicted to them as I would to the Elizabeth Peters novels later that decade; House of Many Shadows is one of my favorites of the Michaels novels; The Crying Child is another. The rest are also good without question, but to my mind those three are head-and-shoulders above the others. The Michaels novels also have great, great titles: Wait for What Will Come, Be Buried in the Rain, The Dark on the Other Side, and Witch, to name only a few. And, if I am being complete honest, Bury Me in Shadows was inspired by the Michaels novels; as was Lake Thirteen.

And the humor in the Scotty books probably owes more than a little to the influence of the Elizabeth Peters novels.

I also gave up on rereading Katherine Anne Porter’s long short story about the Spanish flu, “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I can certainly understand why critics and literary enthusiasts shit themselves over Porter’s writing, but it just doesn’t work for me. I don’t care about her characters or what happens to them, and Porter is definitely one of those authors who–to me–loves the sound of her own voice; what could be said in a sentence or two turns into rambling pages and pages in which she basically says the same thing, over and over again. And she never wastes any time on making the reader care about her characters, or even getting to know them well. I thought, when I first read her Collected Stories years ago and found them to be tedious and boring (as I was rereading “Pale Horse Pale Rider” I could actually hear a Lit professor enthusing about her works in my head), and I thought I’d give them another chance, thinking perhaps I had matured enough as a reader to enjoy them now; that it was my own immaturity as a reader and lover of the written word that kept me from enjoying them in the first place.

I am pleased to report I am wrong, and that I find Porter’s work as constipated and dull as I did the first time, and there’s nothing wrong with not liking her work. I still dislike The Great Gatsby, even after reading it three times, after all; let the literary snobs come for me. I don’t care. Scoff at me all you like, I will never like or admire Porter.

And on that note, I think I’ll go lay back down for a bit. Have a lovely Monday.

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I Fall to Pieces

And this morning I woke up to the good news that my COVID-19 test came back negative, which now begs the question: what was wrong with me? Was it some weird combination of sinuses, allergies, flu, stress and exhaustion? I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m definitely thrilled to not have this and for this whole thing to be over, but…I’m very glad to know that I wasn’t infectious and out in public for a while. So I am just going to take the win, tomorrow’s a paid holiday, and I’m going to take the weekend to sort things out and hope I feel better and continue to rest.

I did wake up this morning feeling good for the first time in a very long time, which is also terrific. Today was the first day where I woke up and felt like myself–I have some things to deal with this morning, as I do every morning, but this time I woke up and didn’t dread dealing with any of it-and since I feel good, that makes me wonder just how much of this has been stress related? Probably more than I want to admit to; and there was probably some PTSD there as well. I also need to remember that feeling fine is also a relative thing and that it comes and goes with the PTSD stuff-and there could even be something today that makes it worse–always remember your emotions can turn on a dime when you’re going through something like this–and there’s never any indication that your mood is going to swing, or how wild that swing is going to be. Fun stuff–and the mood swinging lasts for a while after the situation normalized, too. 2005-2009 was not the most emotionally stable period of my life, if I am going to be completely honest, and fortunately most of it is now hazy in my mind. But I know there was some bad behavior on my part to people who didn’t deserve it–and I hope that I apologized for it.

Yesterday I was fatigued–my energy failed me in the afternoon–and that’s concerning, as I said earlier, but there’s really nothing I can do about whatever was wrong with me other than accept that it wasn’t COVID-19 and go on with everything in my life-and be extremely cautious going forward to make sure that I don’t get it now. It’s funny–knocking on wood here–but somehow I made it through the the HIV/AIDS pandemic without getting infected (I’ve never had any STI–gonorrhea, chlamydia, syphilis, trichomoniasis–other than HPV, and of course I had the bad kind, but without any re-occurrence) and so far I’ve not managed, despite Mardi Gras and a public contact job screening people for COVID-19, to not get that, either. At least so far–and I am going to be a lot more anal about going out in public and being around people from now on, too.

I read some more yesterday on Ammie, Come Home, and I marvel at how marvelously constructed this novel is. There’s never any point where it drags at all, and Barbara Michaels knows precisely how to build suspense and terror in such a… I want to say genteel way that makes it even more terrifying. The spectral encounters the characters have in the old house in Georgetown are absolutely heart-thumpingly terrifying and scary and creepy; it’s truly one of the most perfect ghost stories ever constructed…which is why it is one of my favorite novels of all time. Barbara Michaels was always considered a Gothic suspense writer, and some of her novels don’t have a supernatural touch to them, but the ones that do (House of Many Shadows, Witch, The Dark on the Other Side, Be Buried in the Rain, The Crying Child) are some of the best, quietest horror novels I’ve ever read; she built a quite large audience of readers who would most likely never read horror–but she certainly straddled the line between suspense and horror-which is why I think Gothic is such an interesting term.

Once I get this Sherlock story wrangled and under control, I am looking forward to going back to Bury Me in Shadows. It’s been on my mind a lot lately–and I’ve been having, as I previously mentioned, a lot of strange little creative bursts over the past week or so–and so today, once I get the business I need to get taken care of taken care of, I am going to get organized. I am going to whip this desk area into shape, organize all my notes and everything that is scattered all over the place, and be ready to hit the ground running once Easter has passed. I want to get this story finished–as well as several others that are in process–and then I am going to set a writing schedule to get Bury Me in Shadows whipped into submission shape so I can get it sent in to my publisher so I can then focus on doing the same for the Kansas book….and then I am going to start pulling together Chlorine. I probably won’t be this organized–I never am as organized as I plan to be, nor do I ever stick to the schedule I always try to stick to–but I like organizing and I like coming up with plans–that’s the sort of thing that makes me happy, and I am going to focus, as one always should in times of crisis, on doing things that make me happy.

And on that note, I am going to go take a shower, get cleaned up, and get moving again.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Spiders and Snakes

The key to writing good horror is, of course, to write about what scares you. Usually, what scares you will scare other people, as many of us have fears in common. I, for example, have many fears: the dark, situation claustrophobia (crowded elevators, tight spaces), heights, spiders, snakes, the puncturing of skin with sharp objects. (Reading Gillian Flynn’s brilliant Sharp Objects was incredibly difficult for me. In the hands of a lesser writer I probably would have stopped long before the end.) There are also things that make me uncomfortable–the woods, the open sea (again, situational; but even though I will get in the ocean, I am never really comfortable; but I am more comfortable in the ocean than I am in lakes and rivers), flying–when listing my fears, I do realize how neurotic I sound.

Barbara Michaels, aka Elizabeth Peters, aka Dr. Barbara Mertz, wrote wonderfully creepy Gothic horror novels; her ability to set that creepy mood where weird things could happen and seem absolutely realistic was extraordinary. I always say that Ammie Come Home is one of my all time favorite ghost stories, but she wrote many others that were also most excellent.

Take, for example, The Crying Child.

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From the air, the island doesn’t look big enough to land a plane on. It’s a pretty sight, from above, calling to mind all sorts of poetic images–an agate, shining brown and green, flung down in folds of sea-blue satin; a blob of variegated Play-Doh, left in a basin of water by a forgetful child; an oval braided rug on a green glass floor.

Or a hand, in a brown-and-green mitten. The hand is clenched into a fist, with a thumblike promontory jutting out on one side. Across the broad end there is a range of hills that might be knuckles; at the other end, the land narrows down into a wrist-shaped peninsula. There are beaches there, like fur trim on the cuff of the mitten; the rest of the island is thick with foliage, somber green pines and fir trees for the most part. The house is surprisingly distinct from above. The lighter green of the lawns and the gray outline of roofs and chimneys stand out amid the darkness of the pines. The only other distinctive landmark is the cluster of buildings that make up the village, along the thumb promontory, and its harbor, which is formed by the junction of thumb and hand.

And that’s where the figure of speech fails. You could compare the house to an oddly shaped ring, up on the knuckles of the hand, but the village doesn’t suggest any analogy. A diseased imagination might think of sores or warts; but there was never anything festering about St. Ives. It was just a charming Maine town, and not even the events of that spring could make it anything else. There was no lurking horror in the village. It was in the house.

I certainly wasn’t aware of horrors that morning in May. I had worries, plenty of them, but they were comparatively simple ones. I didn’t know, then, how simple.

The story is quite simple. Joanne, our heroine, was raised by her older sister Mary after their parents died. Mary managed to land herself a millionaire husband, who tried to fill a father figure role for Joanne–which she didn’t appreciate or like. Long story short, the sisters became estranged when Joanne finished college and moved far away, refusing any further assistance from her wealthy brother-in-law and sister.*

*This is something I’ve never understood as a plot point; why would you refuse help from a wealthy, connected relative? This is often a plot device in melodramas/romances/soap operas, when someone marries into wealth. “I need to be my own man.” “I need to be my own woman.” I always roll my eyes; I understand it, but why make life harder on yourself than necessary?

Mary has always wanted a child of her own, and recently has suffered a miscarriage. Mary and her husband Ran are spending the summer on King’s Island, at his ancestral family home. He has wired Joanne that Mary needs her, and so of course, full of misgivings about her brother-in-law but worried about her sister, she gets on a plane and heads to Maine. After she lands, Ran–and the island doctor–tell her that Mary is having a breakdown; she keeps leaving the house at night because she claims she hears a baby crying and has to find it. The reason Ran finally sent for Joanne was because that night she almost went over a cliff.

Mary seems normal, but shortly after Joanne’s arrival, she sees a strange ghost in the family cemetery and stumbles over a grave just outside the consecrated ground…and then she, too, starts to hear the crying child.

This book is absolutely chilling, with constant twists and turns that keeps the reader on the edge of his/her seat, and that sense of unease, that Gothic atmosphere, keeps up through the entire book.

I loved the work of Barbara Michaels; still do, in fact. I also love her work as Elizabeth Peters. I’d love to revisit her novels–The Dark on the Other Side and Be Buried in the Rain in particular; I do reread Ammie Come Home fairly regularly.

And now, back to the spice mines.