Holy Ground

I came across the coroner’s obituary last night.

As I typed it, I realized what a New Orleans-like thing it was to say; and it made me smile a little bit. The coroner in question wasn’t currently serving New Orleans; he had retired in 2014 after ten terms in office, and his name was Dr. Frank Minyard. He played the trumpet, and was actually a gynecologist rather than a pathologist. Was he good coroner or a bad one? A little of each, I would gather, based on the obituary by John Pope you can read by clicking here.

But he was, like so many New Orleanians used to be, quite a character. New Orleans has always been a city full of characters, which is why so many people write about New Orleans, and write about it well. Not only can you probably get away with writing anything crazy-seeming about New Orleans; chances are if you dig a little into our history here, you’ll inevitably find crazier shit than anything you could dream up on your own. I have to say I have really been enjoying reading up on our local history here.

Hurricane Sally came ashore earlier this morning, and it had continued turning enough to the east that we didn’t get much of anything here in New Orleans. The panhandles of Alabama and Florida (in particular Mobile and Pensacola) are an entirely different story; my heart sank down into my shoes (well, my slippers) on seeing footage and images from that section of the Gulf Coast. Hurricane season is so emotionally exhausting, really; all that stress and tension and worry, and then when it goes somewhere else the enormous guilt one feels about the relief that your area escaped unscathed while others are losing everything–including some lives–is horrible, just horrible. It’s oddly gray and hazy-seeming outside the windows this morning, with the crepe myrtles and the young live oaks in the yard on the other side of the fence doing their wavy dance thing they do when the wind blows; the sidewalk outside also looks wet so we must have gotten some rain as well overnight, but not enough for me to notice anything as I slept through it all. (That’s the other thing about hurricanes, particularly the ones that come ashore overnight; you go to bed wondering what you’ll wake up to find in the morning–or worse yet, disaster will rip you out of a deep sleep.)

So, yes, this morning I feel very emotionally drained; well rested, but exhausted emotionally.

And then, of course, once the danger has passed, you have to reset yourself and get back to normality–whatever the hell that is, or what passes for it, at any rate.

Yesterday’s entry in the Cynical 70’s Film Festival was The Omen, which was a huge hit back when it was released in 1976 and spawned two sequels, Omen II: Damien and The Final Conflict. I had never seen the sequels, and I think I originally rented the film–I don’t think it played at the Twin Theater in Emporia–but I did read the book (the book was written by David Seltzer, who apparently, according to the opening credits of the film, wrote the screenplay; which came first? I don’t care enough to look it up) and of course, was put in mind of it by paging through The Late Great Planet Earth, which laid the groundwork for the movie. Obviously, it’s about the anti-Christ, who is Damien Thorn; the movie opens with the Robert Thorn (played with an almost wooden-like quality by Gregory Peck) arriving at a hospital in Rome only to be told that the child his wife has given birth to has died; he worries about her mental stability and how she will handle the news–and so a priest offers a substitute baby whose mother died giving birth. (And this is the first place I called shenanigans on this rewatch; one, he is about to start a lifetime of lying to his wife and two–was there any need to tell Robert Thorn his child died? If the idea was to have the Thorns accept the anti-Christ into their home as their child, wouldn’t it simply make more sense to swap the babies, so neither of them knew? Because how could they have been so certain Thorn would accept this literal deal with the devil?) The movie is paced fairly well, and it moves right along–there’s not a lot of gore or blood and guts, but it does beggar credulity at more than one point–and perhaps I am looking at it with jaded eyes some forty years later, but both Peck and Lee Remick, who plays his wife, seem to just be phoning it in for the paycheck and there’s also the element of their age; they seem to be fairly old to just be trying to start having a child at the opening of the movie. (I think the book plays this up more, stating that Kathy Thorn has suffered innumerable miscarriages leading up to this birth and it has shaken her mental stability; kind of hard to do that on film but it certainly would have made his motivation in accepting this needless deception–again, they could have just as easily substituted the baby without having to go through this entire risky rigmarole.) After finishing, I looked for Omen II but it’s not streaming for free anywhere; I then watched The Final Conflict, which was simply terrible (outside of Sam Neill, who was terrific and charismatic as an adult Damien, saddled with an incredibly bad and far-fetched script).

The movie does fit, however, with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, because here we have yet another conspiracy, one in which some members of the Catholic Church have turned to Satan to try to bring about the end times as well as the birth of the Antichrist–because whereas in the 1950’s and the early 1960’s, it would have been unimaginable for such a film to be made, but also to be believable; who would have ever believed such a thing was possible? Of course, both book and film of Rosemary’s Baby set the stage for The Omen, but both were later 1960’s, when things were starting to change, times were getting more cynical, and so were people. Rosemary’s Baby changed almost everything, both in the world of novels and film, in showing that horror was both bankable and mainstream. The early 1970’s saw the publications, and enormous success, of books like Ira Levin’s The Stepford Wives, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist, Thomas Tryon’s Gothic horror masterpiece The Other, and eventually, Stephen King’s out-of-nowhere bestseller Carrie. Soon Peter Straub would publish Ghost Story and Carrie would become a hit movie, triggering a horror revival that brought both the literature and the films into the mainstream. This revival didn’t lose steam until the 1990’s, and frankly, I think horror is on the verge of another revival.

I could be wrong, of course. I certainly have been before, but I am seeing some really terrific work as well as amazing new voices–over the past year alone I’ve read some astonishing work by new-to-me writers, and I only wish I had more time to read everything I really want to. Paul Tremblay is amazing, and so is Bracken MacLeod, Christopher Golden, and Silvia Moreno-Garcia, among others; I’m seeing a lot of new and interesting looking titles being announced or reviewed almost every time I turn around.

I guess today is Wednesday? I am really not sure, living in this weird world that comes with hurricane watches, where it is very easy to lose track of dates and times and what day of the week it actually is. But a quick glance at Weather.com assures me that all the other storms out in the Atlantic basin pose no threat to Louisiana, so I guess we can relax for a little while, at least.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Picture to Burn

Thursday, Thursday, is today’s child full of woe? I used to know that rhyme when I was younger–one of those things that would pop out of my mouth and brain every now and then when I wasn’t expecting it to–and now I cannot seem to summon it from the depths of my memories. I think it was Tuesday’s child, anyway; was Thursday’s child full of grace or something like that? Possible, I suppose.

Another good night’s sleep was had yesterday evening, which is lovely. I have to go into the office today and run errands on the way in.  I’m just glad to be feeling more rested, to be honest, and then tomorrow is a work-at-home day, and then I slide into the three day weekend, which is kind of nice. I hope to finish reading  Little Fires Everywhere this weekend, start reading The Coyotes of Carthage, and perhaps dip my eyes back into the Short Story Project–I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the end table as well as the new Lawrence Block anthology, and so many others I’ve not finished reading–and of course, I want to get a lot of writing done. I want to spend some time on Bury Me in Shadows, as well as maybe get some short story writing done, which would be lovely.

One can certainly hope, can’t one?

But I’ve also learned my lesson about over-planning for the weekend; I know I need to just make a list of things to do that need to be done and not overly pressure myself to get it all done over the course of the long weekend, while recognizing that I also need to recharge my batteries and I also need to do some cleaning; perhaps even work on that damned file cabinet which I never finished working on.

Yesterday’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choice wound up being nothing I was considering. Instead, I choose to rewatch The Exorcist, which I’ve never seen other than the “edited for television” version. The Exorcist was a phenomenon at the time, and most people still, to this day, consider it the scariest film they’ve ever seen and it regularly pops up on lists of best horror films ever made. I read the book at the height of its popularity, when I was in junior high school, and while it didn’t precisely scare me, it was lurid–we all read it for the lurid parts, like the crucifix masturbation scene and so forth; there was something sacrilegious about reading it, like actually reading it was an act of subversion. The film broke all box office records of the time and was nominated for a lot of Oscars, and the soundtrack–Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”–always brings up mental associations with the film. It was the first outright horror film to get that many Oscar nominations, or to be nominated for any, really, other than Rosemary’s Baby, which wasn’t nominated for a lot; William Friedkin, fresh off his Oscar winning outing with The French Connection–which is also on my list–directed it. A more traditional entertainment, The Sting, wound up sweeping the Oscars that year. A few years ago, I reread the book to see how well it held up, and as an adult who is also now a writer and has been a reviewer, and has read thousands of other books in the interim, I can say it doesn’t hold up well at all–it really isn’t all that scary, either; it was a product of its time and it might not even get published were it written today. The characters were very cardboard and one-dimensional and behaved in ways that made no sense whatsoever; the focus was on the sacrilege, really, and the shock. I wondered if that would be true of the movie, as well, in its unedited version.

The acting was fine, really; Ellen Burstyn is never bad in anything, and Linda Blair was also fine; but the truth is the direction of the film doesn’t really develop the characters enough to make the viewer empathize with them, or identify with them. The scares weren’t as scary as they were; it’s hard to be scared when you know something is coming and you’ve already seen it, after all; part of the thrill of a horror film is not knowing when the scares are coming, so rewatches never have quite the same effect. I watched this time in a more analytic way, rather than as a viewer–but while others I’d seen before–Aliens comes to mind–really hold up incredibly well, The Exorcist doesn’t; I don’t feel like I got to know enough about Chris MacNeil or Father Karras enough to care about either one of them; and I found that I had more questions about them and who they were than I did when I viewed it as simply an entertainment. I think had the film been filmed more intimately, rather than from a cold distance, it would have held up a lot more; I don’t know, I am neither a filmmaker or a critic. But it didn’t trigger much of a reaction in me, and that’s rather telling. I think the problem, from a story-telling point of view, is that it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was about the MacNeils or Father Karras; although the title would tend to make you think the focus was on Father Karras; it should have been titled The Exorcism, really, and that, I think, was the end problem result for me: the book and film were really about Father Karras and his struggle with his faith, but only touched on that issue glancingly; because it also wanted to focus on how dismissive we are of spiritual issues in our modern scientific world, and wanted to show how an atheist, irreligious woman would try to get her child scientific treatment and slowly come around to the idea that in the modern world, something rooted in past superstition was the issue. Both are great stories, but for me, it failed in trying to tell both and wound up just skittering across the surface like a needle on a warped vinyl record.

Ultimately, though, The Exorcist–both book and film–are important works in both disciplines; along with Rosemary’s Baby, ushered in the 1970’s revival and rejuvenation of horror, in both film and literature, and that influence cannot be denied. Without either of those books, would Carrie have been published, or Peter Straub’s first horror novel? It was The Exorcist, after all, that first really introduced me to horror.

And I absolutely loved the television series inspired by it.

And on that note, tis time for me to return to ye old mines of spice. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow.

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Mama He’s Crazy

Believe it or not, back before the Internet and social media, it was possible for a book to go viral; to become so popular and so talked about it would sell a gazillion copies and establish the author–usually–as a long-time bestseller. To this day, I don’t know how I became aware of the viral books of the 1970’s (titles like Coma by Robin Cook; Jonathon Livingston Seagull by Richard Back; Jaws by Peter Benchley; The Other by Thomas Tryon; The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty; and The Godfather by Mario Puzo, among others), yet I did become very aware of them, and read most of them (true confession: I never read Jonathon Livingston Seagull, despite being a number one fiction bestseller for two consecutive years).

Mary Higgins Clark’s Where Are The Children? was a viral sensation when it was first published in 1975; I read it in paperback, and distinctly remember plucking it off the wire rack in the Emporia Safeway. I started reading it in the car as my mom drove us back home to Americus–the little town seven miles or so northwest of Emporia, where we lived; population less than a thousand, and the only time I’ve ever lived in such a small town–and couldn’t stop reading. I helped her bring the groceries in, went to my bedroom, and piled the pillows up and went back to reading.

where are the children

He could feel the chill coming through the cracks around the windowpanes. Clumsily he got up and lumbered over to the window. Reaching for one of the thick towels he kept handy, he stuffed it around the rotting frame.

The incoming draft made a soft, hissing sound in the towel, a sound that vaguely pleased him. He looked out at the mist-filled sky and studied the whitecaps churning in the water. From this side of the house it was often possible to see Provincetown, on the opposite side of Cape Cod Bay.

He hated the Cape. He hated the bleakness of it on a November day like this; the stark grayness of the water; the stolid people who didn’t say much but studied you with their eyes. He had hated it the one summer he’d been here–waves of tourists sprawling on the beaches; climbing up the steep embankment to this house; gawking in the downstairs windows, cupping their hands over their eyes to peer inside.

He hated the large FOR SALE sign that Ray Eldredge has posted on the front and back of the big house and the fact that now Ray and the woman who worked for him had begun bringing people in to see the house. Last month it has been only a matter of luck that he’d come along as they’d started through; only lyck that hed gotten to the top floor before they had and been able to put away the telescope.

Time was running out. Somebody would buy this house and he wouldn’t be able to rent it again. That was why he’d sent the article to the paper. He wanted to still be here to enjoy seeing her exposed for what she was in front of these people…now, when she must have started to feel safe.

I bought another copy of Where Are The Children? in 2014; my original copy lost years ago to one of many moves, intending to go back and rereading it at some point. The importance of Mary Higgins Clark, not just to women crime writers but to the genre in general, cannot ever be overstated. Clark was the bridge between the domestic suspense masters of the past–Margaret Millar, Charlotte Armstrong, Dorothy B. Hughes, among many others–and the next generation of women crime writers that dawned in the 1980’s, as well as to the modern domestic suspense writers–women like Alison Gaylin, Lori Rader-Day,  Catriona McPherson, and Wendy Corsi Staub, among many others–and her example–of grace, generosity, kindness, and assistance–is one other writers should emulate.

We could all use more Mary Higgins Clarks in the world.

Anyway, because of this importance, I thought I should reread her first as an homage to her importance; I’d recently met her, in passing, and was shocked when I ran into her again a year later that she remembered my name and the short conversation we’d had as I’d helped her onto the escalator at the Grand Hyatt in New York; I, of course, remembered every word and that glowing smile she’d given me. There was little doubt in my mind she wouldn’t remember me; how many thousands of people had passed briefly through her life? But she was sharp as a tack, and remembered me. “Greg! I was hoping you’d be here if I needed help with the escalator again,” she said, holding our her hand to me with that thousand-watt smile of hers. Then she winked, “I’ll be looking for you later. How did that book you were writing turn out?” When I told her I’d worked out the problem (yes, as I helped her onto the escalator and chatted briefly, I somehow managed to tell her that one of the many reasons I admired her was her dedication to working hard, and asked if she ever got stuck–because I was stuck on my WIP. She laughed and said, “Work through it. That’s the only way.” She was right.) and the book was coming out that very month, she replied, “I look forward to reading it.”

I seriously doubt that she did, frankly–but it was an incredibly kind and generous thing to say to someone many many rungs on the ladder beneath her, if we can even be said to be on the same ladder.

Her recent death obviously saddened many, me amongst them. So I decided to memorialize her by rereading her first and most famous bestseller, Where Are The Children? 

And really, it was past time, wasn’t it?

Upon finishing my reread, I would say that Clark was most like Charlotte Armstrong, of the women who came before her; she wrote about, like Armstrong, normal every day women who were simply minding their own business when something evil came across their path, and they had to dig deep inside and discover their own strength to overcome it.

In Where Are The Children?, Clark came up with a devilishly clever plot about one of the worst things that could ever happen to a woman: the loss of her children. Nancy Harmon, now Nancy Eldredge, married one of her college professors and had two children by him, only to have them snatched away and murdered. Their bodies were found washed ashore, their heads taped inside plastic bags; dead before they went into the water. Nancy was tried for their murders, convicted–and then released on appeal due to a technicality. The disappearance of the prime witness against her made retrying her impractical; so she changed her hair and disappeared from San Francisco to Cape Cod, where she found and married a realtor and had two more children–where no one knows who she is. (This would, of course, be impossible–or incredibly difficult–today; with the Internet and 24 hour news, everyone in the country would recognize her, different hair color or no.) Nancy is still haunted by her past, most of which she has buried in her subconscious–but little does she realize her idyllic new life is about to upended: on the same day the local paper runs an article exposing her past, her two children, Michael and Missy, disappear yet again; and of course, it looks like she has killed yet another set of her children.

But what Clark does is let the reader know immediately that Nancy is not only innocent of killing this set of children, but the first set as well. The book opens, as seen above, with a chapter in the point of view of the villain of the story; she does this consistently throughout the book–we see the events from other points of views, other than just Nancy’s and the villain’s, which also helps the suspense build and keeps the reader turning the page.

Also, it should be noted that the entire timeline of the book is less than one day, and probably not even ten hours; the children disappear around ten in the morning and the climax of the book happens after nightfall. Also, the book takes place during a particularly nasty thunderstorm, which includes hail.

Another excellent way she builds suspense is bringing in minor characters on the periphery of the story, puts a scene in their point of view, and of course it turns out that each one of these minor characters holds another, crucial piece of the puzzle.

Where Are The Children? is a subversive novel in many ways, and it’s easy to see how it became a phenomenon, and why Clark won the hearts of millions of readers. She plays with the tropes of what it means to be a mother; how quickly we blame mothers for anything that happens to their children or how they behave; and how quickly the admiration for motherhood can turn to contempt and scorn–and how easy that turn is made.

It can also be seen as a sequel, of sorts, to those Gothic novels where a child is endangered and the heroine has to act to save the child; this was a well Phyllis A. Whitney and Victoria Holt drew from, many many times. Instead of trying to save the child, in this case this is the aftermath of what happened should the mother (or young governess, whomever the heroine was) not have succeeded the first time in saving the children–but has a chance at redemption by finding and saving the second set of children.

It reminded me somewhat of Charlotte Armstrong’s Mischief, which is also long overdue for a revisit.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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.

The Way I Feel About You

Well, my plans on how to stay calm during an LSU game most emphatically did not work yesterday.

I do, however, have a very clean apartment.

It was, on the whole, a most exciting game–if you’re an LSU fan, but it also had a lot of stressful moments, momentum swings, and tension. And yet, when the smoke cleared and the game clock ran down, LSU upset the second ranked team in the country and the national championship runners-up from last year decisively, 36-16. Hardly anyone gave LSU a chance, and even those who only made Georgia a seven-point favorite were doing so half-heartedly; as I watched the pre-game show it was so clear no one really thought LSU had a chance, or would even meet that seven-point margin; they were trying to hype up the ratings–if they said what they really believed, that Georgia was going to humiliate LSU–only die-hard fans would watch.

Which would have been a pity. LSU was dominant in retrospect–at the time it didn’t feel that way. We went up 3-0, stopped a fake field goal attempt on fourth down by the Bulldogs, and then drove down the field to go up 10-0. Two more field goals followed, along with some lights-out, tenacious defense, and the score at half-time was 16-0, LSU. Georgia had never trailed this season for more than fifteen seconds, and had not been held scoreless in a half in God knows how long. But it was really only a two-score game, and I was concerned about having to kick three field goals instead of touchdowns…then again, LSU had four scoring drives in the first half; it could have been 28-0. I worried those field goals might come back to haunt us in the second half. And I was wrong. LSU scored twenty more points in the second half to put the game away–although Georgia scored 16 points of their own–but the final score was 36-16, and the biggest win for LSU since the Alabama game in 2011; certainly one for the history books, and one that will go down in LSU lore as one of the great Death Valley wins.

Suddenly, after the Florida loss, with LSU looking slow and lackadaisical and almost mediocre, now LSU looks like a championship team who can compete with anyone. And while I don’t want to get my hopes up–Alabama looks completely unbeatable–how exciting would it be if we got to play Florida again for the SEC championship game? Florida has already lost to Kentucky; Georgia already has a conference loss with both Florida and Kentucky yet to play; all the contenders in the East have a loss already (Kentucky to Texas A&M; Georgia to LSU; Florida to Kentucky) so the stakes for the Florida-Georgia game are really, really high in two weeks.

Yes, it was a very exciting day around the Lost Apartment yesterday. GEAUX TIGERS!

I also watched another two episodes of The Haunting of Hill House, which is probably one of the best horror television shows I’ve seen in a while. I am quite frankly loving this television horror renaissance, which is producing such amazing programs. The Haunting of Hill House, of course, still can–and might–go off the rails, but so far it is terrifying, eerie, and mesmerizing; the call-backs to the original source material are enormously satisfying, and yet it could stand entirely on its own with a different title; it’s almost like a revisitation of the Lutz family twenty or so years after the original story of The Amityville Horror–how do you experience something supernatural and terrifying, particularly if you’re not really sure what it was you were experiencing, and deal with that trauma for the rest of your life? The Crain children, now adults, have dealt with this in varying ways, but they are definitely all suffering from PTSD and trauma. The first four episodes told the same story from different points of view of the adult Crains, their present reality juxtaposed with their memories of their stay at Hill House. All the characters are compelling, well-written and defined, and the acting is absolutely stellar. I said in a previous entry it’s reminiscent of the best of Stephen King’s It and Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts; I am also going to throw in the first season of the television adaptation of The Exorcist as well–an excellent show that only lasted two seasons but I wish it could have gone on for longer. This is some excellent story-telling, and it is astonishing how true to the mood of the novel this show is.

I won’t deny it–at first I thought, when I heard of this and how it was going to be done, I rolled my eyes. You can’t do this better than Shirley Jackson, I thought dismissively, remembering the horrible 1999 film version (the original film version, in black and white, directed by Robert Wise and starring Julie Harris–who should have at least gotten an Oscar nomination–was superb and terrifying). But I was absolutely, positively, completely wrong. The show is amazing and fantastic, and I can’t wait to watch more; I might even do so today before getting started on writing–since there’s no Saints game today, and of course being sick last week put me desperately behind.

I also read some more in Empire of Sin yesterday–Storyville is now up and operational. I’ve always avoided reading about Storyville, or even considering writing about it; for me, I was thinking it was almost cliche to do so. David Fulmer has already done a series set in that time–Chasing the Devil’s Tail, Jass, Rampart Street, Lost River–with his detective, Valentin St. Cyr; he also had a story in New Orleans Noir, and since he has done so well with the period and the area I didn’t really see any need to cover that same ground. But now….now I am thinking I could, and differently. “The Blues Before Dawn” might actually turn into a novel rather than a short story, and it’s a great title, if I do say so myself. But once I get this revision under control, I’ll have some more time to play around with the story and see where it goes.

I’m particularly interested in Tom Anderson, the unofficial mayor of Storyville.

I’m also thinking I should watch Pretty Baby again; it’s been decades.

And on that note, I think I am going to take my coffee into the living room, ensconce myself in my easy chair, and watch the next episode of The Haunting of Hill House preparatory to heading into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.

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Time after Time

Saturday morning! I have to work today, and then am going to make groceries on the way home from the office–and I am going to go to the gym before the LSU-Tennessee game tonight. Yes, I’m going to do it, and I am going to lift weights–easing myself into it, with one set of fifteen with low weights and doing a full body workout; just like I did when I first started back in 1994. I am actually looking forward to it. (Right? Who am I, and what have I done with Gregalicious?)

I have a lot to do over the next few weeks, but I am embracing it rather than fearing it. I have to get a short story finished this weekend, and maybe some chapters written; and I am also going to work on the Scotty Bible a bit. I also need to clean the house a bit, and I am going to play with the structure of the WIP yet again. I do have moments when I think that maybe, with all the revisions and problems I’m having with it, that maybe that means I should simply give up on it–but I am being stubborn, and I do think there’s a really amazing novel in there, and if I keep tinkering away at it I’ll eventually get to it. I’m not used to having to work so hard on a book, but I also think hard work and pushing myself isn’t a bad thing, either.

I also need to copy edit the hell out of the manuscripts for Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz.

So much to do. This is why, I think, I don’t get as much done as I should; I get overwhelmed simply thinking about everything I have to do. But I need to get past that, and of course, the best way to do that is to make a to-do list; which I am going to do as soon as I finish this. There’s also a city election today, so I need to walk to my polling place and take care of that as well before I head to to the office.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night–I was three episodes behind–and wow, did this show ever take a turn for the dark. I really do like the show; it started out as a kind of cross between your typical teen CW drama and Pretty Little Liars, only using the canon Archie Andrews/Riverdale characters, but this update is pretty incredible. The kids are dealing with serious issues that modern day teens have to deal with (although I doubt many of them have to deal with serial killers or murder or incest or….), and the young cast is incredibly appealing–and their character arcs actually make sense. I also love that Madchen Amick from Twin Peaks plays Betty’s mother Alice–ALICE COOPER (I giggle every time someone says it)–and that she’s kind of a villain. I also love that Molly Ringwald occasionally guest stars as Archie’s mother.

We also got caught up on The Exorcist last night, and I have to say, Season 2 is way better than Season 1. The episode we saw last night took the story down an even darker path than it was on originally, and the addition of Alicia Witt to the cast was a genius touch. Nice job, The Exorcist!

Okay, so it’s time for me to tackle the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and see you tomorrow.

Here’s your daily hunk:

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Let’s Hear It for the Boy

Monday morning. We watched The Walking Dead last night, finished Mindhunter on Saturday (amazing and I already miss it) and got caught up on The Exorcist last night; we were two weeks behind. I have to say, this season is really shaping up as much better than the first (which I enjoyed) and part of it is because of the strong performance of John Cho. (It also didn’t hurt than the exorcist played by Ben Daniels got a male love interest in these episodes as well.) I am still reading The Wife by Alafair Burke, which is extraordinary; she plays her cards out slowly and deftly. I am hoping to get some more of it read today between clients as we are testing pretty much all day; I don’t have to go into the office until noonish, but won’t be done with work until around ten thirty. Tomorrow I have a late night of bar testing as well.

A lovely way to start the week, no?

Next week is Thanksgiving, and I am also debating as to whether to take off that Wednesday as well. I think we are cancelling services that day, so there’s really not much point to my going into the office. Might as well take the day off and run errands and clean and get some writing/editing done, don’t you think? I like that you always agree with me, Constant Reader.

I am also hoping to get through today’s to-do list before I head into the office. I got two more short story ideas yesterday; naturally, neither of them have anything to do with the ones that I am currently obligated to write. Sigh. One is incredibly, incredibly dark, and the other is really more of a short noir novel–which I may end up doing (because I have so much free time) but I really like the idea. It does, however, require research, which is not exactly my favorite thing to do in the world. No, that’s not true–I love doing research; it’s applying it that’s hard. Seriously, how do I have a career?

I also had a thematic breakthrough on the current Scotty, which is absolutely lovely. Now that I know what theme I’m exploring it should make writing the book that much easier–I kind of knew, it just hadn’t really gelled in my mind–and so hopefully i can get a strong draft finished by the end of the year. I also, over this weekend, had an insight on the WIP–which was very important. Again, my bad writing habits and my reluctance to throw things out and write new material have everything to do with bad decisions I’ve made about writing manuscripts before; I so desperately wanted to believe this one was finished–or close to finished–that I wasn’t looking at what was clearly right in front of my face.

Honestly.

And on that note, this spice ain’t gonna mine itself.

Here’s a Monday morning hunk for you, Constant Reader.

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Human Nature

I slept well again last night–which keeps the streak of good sleep alive at five nights and counting. I don’t have to work today, which is lovely; I am hopefully having lunch with a friend and running a couple of errands before coming home to clean, edit, revise, and hopefully do some writing.

The Lost Apartment is also a mess, so part of my day will be taken up with cleaning. It really is tragic how messy this apartment can become over the course of a week, and I haven’t done the floors in forever. The windows are also pretty nasty; this lovely cool weather we are enjoying will be most helpful in that regard, since I know I won’t be drenched in sweat the moment I go outside. I need to make a grocery list, and I also want to read some more of Anna Dressed in Blood, which started kind of slow but is starting to pick up a little. I also want to start rereading The Haunting of Hill House this weekend, which means I need to finish reading Anna.

I got caught up on Riverdale last night, and I have to say the first two episodes of this season are pretty damned dark. There were three murders in the second episode of this season (SPOILER), and now that they’ve recast Reggie, he’s front and center–and a drug dealer. Wow, didn’t see that coming. The young cast continues to get better, and are incredibly appealing, and apparently the ratings are really up, which is terrific. Now we need to get caught up on The Exorcist, and maybe give the reboot of Dynasty a whirl. I’m not sure how I feel about Dynasty being rebooted; I guess they decided, since the Dallas sequel never really caught fire, to just start over with the tale of the Carringtons and the Colbys, which I guess I can understand…but I also don’t want them to follow the original storylines, either. From everything I’ve read so far, they aren’t doing that…and it looks like Steven’s homosexuality isn’t going to be so “is-he-or-isn’t-he” as it was back in the 80’s, when it was hugely controversial (and the show completely ignored HIV/AIDS) to have a gay character in the first place.

A story I’d sent out for submission was rejected yesterday, which I was expecting. My short story game isn’t as strong as I’d like it to be, and while I love this story, it doesn’t really fit in well with the theme of crime, you know? I also wasn’t pleased with how it ended, which means that the ending wasn’t set up properly, so I am going to let it sit for a while before rereading it and figuring out how to tweak that ending to make it work properly. It clearly didn’t work the way it’s currently written. But it’s a story I want to tell…and even last night, as I mourned in the usual way I do when rejected (even when I’m pretty sure the submission will be rejected) it did occur to me that I might know a way to make it better already. So I need to make that note and shove it into the folder.

Onward and upward, as they say.

And here’s a hunk to slide you into the weekend:

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Mickey

My wonderful book about the classic horror novels of the 1970’s thru the 1990s, Paperbacks from Hell, attributed the boom in horror fiction to three bestselling novels that set the stage: Thomas Tryon’s The Other, Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, and William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist. I read all three of these books when I was in junior high school; the Tryon and the Levin remain two of my favorite novels, and I reread them periodically. But after reading The Exorcist one time, I’ve never felt the need to have a copy on hand, nor have I ever felt the desire to go back and reread it. It did occur to me sometime within the past few years that I should give it another go; my primary memory of the book is, of course, the crucifix masturbation scene which everyone in the seventh grade discussed in breathless whispers whenever someone new had read the book. I may not have ever owned a copy; I may have borrowed it from someone. There were any number of paperback copies floating around my junior high school, the binding bent and broken and covers battered as they were passed around from kid to kid. It also occurred to me that many of my memories of The Exorcist were not from the book, but from the incredibly disturbing film; it was a huge hit and was nominated for ten or eleven Oscars (winning maybe one or two). Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells,” used extensively in the score, was also hugely popular. (All three of the books were made into films; The Other the only whose film version wasn’t a success–but it’s hard to see how it could have been filmed successfully; although it would be really cool if someone tried it again.) So, Labor Day morning, I took down the copy of The Exorcist that I bought recently and read it again.

the exorcist

The Exorcist is undoubtedly an important work in the horror genre; it helped create a boom and directly resulted in a lot of really talented writers getting some great books published over the next thirty years or so. I had noticed, though, that not many people who write horror ever include it on those “Best Horror” lists, or list it as an influence. I read a book in the last year or so that was undoubtedly influenced by The Exorcist; Paul Tremblay’s A Head Full of Ghosts, which I really enjoyed and also put me in mind of a reread of Blatty’s blockbuster. The fact that Blatty is a homophobe made me a bit uncomfortable going back to the book–okay, he may not be a homophobe, but he certainly felt welcoming and admitting LGBT students at Georgetown University meant the school had betrayed its Jesuit heritage and should be stripped of its standing as a Jesuit university (you can read about that here: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/08/04/education/edlife/how-georgetown-became-a-gay-friendly-campus.html?mcubz=1).

So making millions of dollars about a child masturbating with a crucifix is kosher–I guess because, literally, the devil made her do it–but treating LGBT college students as human beings is a crime against Catholicism. Got it.

And to be fair to Mr. Blatty, I only vaguely remembered the above incident; and wasn’t 100% sure I was correct, so that didn’t play into my reread of the book (I didn’t go looking into it until this morning, while actually writing this entry).

Part of the issue with The Exorcist is that once you are aware of it, it’s really not that shocking anymore. This book was a shocker when it was first released; it was denounced far and wide as demonic–including by the Catholic Church (which is even more perplexing on the reread, because the book is very very Catholic), and the scares involved how shocking it was. I seem to recall Blatty based the book on an actual case of an exorcism from the early 1960’s, or perhaps the 1950’s–I don’t recall exactly. So, after forty-odd years the shocks and scares are no longer shocking or scary; my memory of the first read of the book is vague so I cannot remember if it was more pruriently shocking or if it was, indeed, scary to the twelve year old who read it all those years ago. But knowing the story, and what is coming, and knowing that the shock value has completely worn off in the intervening years, I was able to read it and evaluate it simply as a novel.

And it doesn’t, sadly, hold up very well.

I was torn about blogging about The Exorcist, because I generally don’t like to criticize other writers and other books publicly; but it’s an old book, and the author has made a fortune off it. There’s also the suspicion that knowing how homophobic the author is might have played into my disappointment in the reread, but let me give you some sentences:

Looking down at the pain in those sensitive eyes, Chris surrendered; couldn’t tell her what she really believed. Which was nothing.

In fact, Chris had smelled nothing, but had made up her mind she would temporize, at least until the appointment with the doctor. She was also preoccupied with a number of other concerns.

She seemed to be thinking, and still in this posture, she stepped outside and joined her son, who was waiting on the stoop.

Her eyes still on her notes, Sharon probed at the silence in a strained, low voice.

Chris looked at him appraisingly, with gratitude and even with hope.

There are lots more examples; weird analogies, and strange character behavior. It’s also really hard to tell who is the main character. Chris MacNeil, the mother, is a divorced atheist actress; her marriage failed, according to the book, because her husband couldn’t bear being Mr. Chris MacNeil; his wife’s success and fame was too much for his ego to handle, and Chris not only understands but doesn’t blame him. He is a neglectful father to Regan, which also doesn’t bother her too much. She is renting the house in Georgetown because she’s appearing in a movie being filmed there, a musical remake of Mr. Smith Goes to Washington which has an added subplot about campus unrest and protests (which sounds absolutely terrible) shoe-horned in; her main home is in LA. Yet once her role in the movie is finished, she stays in Georgetown inexplicably; Regan is being home-schooled by Chris’ secretary, who does double duty as Regan’s teacher–so there’s no reason for them to stay other than the fact that it’s necessary to the plot for her to remain in close proximity to Georgetown University’s campus. The filming is over before the possession truly gets going; so…

There are also some bizarre behaviors exhibited by Chris as well–she will have an encounter with her strangely acting daughter, be terribly upset, and then go downstairs and have a pleasant conversation with her housekeepers about the film they went to see. It becomes very difficult to have sympathy for her, because she isn’t really fleshed out as a character. The book is also told from an omniscient point of view, so the reader has a very hard time engaging with the characters or feeling deep sympathy for them; certainly it’s hard to identify with any of them. Sharon, the secretary, is a complete cipher; as are the Swiss couple who work as housekeepers. Burke Demmings, the director of the film and a friend of Chris’, is a vicious and cruel drunk who openly mocks her servants; which she just dismisses as “oh, that’s just Burke.”

Because her housekeepers aren’t people who should at least be treated with a modicum of respect as human beings?

The police detective who becomes involved in the case–Burke ends up dead at the foot of the steep staircase down to M Street behind the house–is incredibly annoying; he never gets to the point and dances around the subject and is one of the most unbelievable cops I’ve ever encountered in fiction; he seems a bit like Columbo, but at least the viewer knew that Columbo was actually incredibly smart and that was his method. You never get that sense with Detective Wilderman; he’s just annoying.

Father Karras is by far the most likable and interesting character in the book; and I suppose the reason it’s called The Exorcist. Damien Karras (it’s funny; at the time the book was published the name was unusual but interesting; of course The Omen has forever altered the perception of that name) is having a crisis of faith; his own homosexuality is hinted at but subtextually; his ‘friendship’ with Father Dyer is hinted at, they have a lightly teasing homoerotic kind of friendship but it’s never really gotten into; although one of the insults the demon throws at Karras is an accusation of homosexuality, which rattles him. There’s also a scene where Father Dyer mentions that ‘the gays are leaving the priesthood in droves.’

But the underlying premise, and theme that drives the book, is that Catholicism is real, the one true Faith; even though the demon is apparently an old Babylonian god named Puzuzu–who predates Catholicism and Jesus–the power and faith can defeat him. The ultimate sacrifice of Father Karras in taking in the demon and then killing himself–what happened to the demon? What happened to his soul? Does he redeem himself with this act?

Father Karras was interesting to me (he is constantly described, not just in the text but by characters, as ‘looking like a boxer’–whatever that means: “they told me you looked like a boxer”.) as a character, and I would have loved to have seen the entire story through his eyes; the loss of faith, his struggle with choosing the church over his mother; the relationship with Father Dyer; his doubt that Regan is actually possessed and the slow dawning that demons, and therefore, his faith, are real; and why he would make that ultimate, final sacrifice.

I’m glad I reread the book, even though it was kind of disappointing. I greatly enjoyed the television series, which was recently renewed for a second season (yay!), and it is an important book in the genre; no matter what quibbles I have with it, its importance cannot be denied, and I think horror aficionados should read it.

Let’s Dance

I managed, yesterday, to polish off Chapter Two; I wrote 1700 words or so in about an hour and fifteen minutes and voila! The pesky chapter was finished. I also started Chapter Three this morning; alas, maybe about a paragraph was all I was able to get done, but it was a start, and a start is always lovely. This weekend is my birthday; I will officially be fifty-six; but I’ve been saying I’m fifty-six for quite a while now. (I usually add the year after New Year’s; it’s just easier and I don’t really think of my birthday as a big deal, quite frankly). Paul and I are going to go see Dunkirk tomorrow night, and then out for dinner afterwards. I’ve taken Monday off, and I am working a late night on Tuesday, so I won’t have to be in to work until around three, which means I basically have a three and a half day weekend, which is lovely. I am hoping to be able to get a lot done this weekend; I want to finish reading the Ambler, which I am loving, then I am going to reread Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, and then I am going to reread The Haunting of Hill House. After that, it’s either Jeff Abbott’s Blame or my advance copy of Laura Lippman’s newest, Sunburn.

One of the best perks of being a writer is that I get advance copies of books, or know people who do that can pass them along to me. My dear friend Lisa recently gave me an advance copy of this:

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I don’t consider myself to be a horror writer (SHUT UP BACK THERE! I said horror, not horrible), but I do consider myself to be a big fan of the genre. I read a lot of these books–not all, who knew there were so many? But I was a voracious reader, and I loved to read horror. The first horror novel I read was The Other–I still have the hardcover copy I originally read in junior high; I’m not sure I remember how I got a hardcover copy of it, maybe it was my grandmother’s–and I also read The Exorcist in junior high; everyone was reading it, and as all tweens (although we weren’t called that then) are wont to do, all we talked about was the crucifix masturbation scene. I always liked horror–I remember watching old black and white scary movies with my grandmother (she also likes mysteries) when I was a kid, but I never thought I could write it. I certainly never tried until the 1980’s, when my fandom of Stephen King made me give it a try. I still love reading horror, and there are certainly some amazing horror writers being published today whose books I greatly enjoy.

My inability to get any of it published is an indicator that crime was a better fit for my talents.

But what a wonderful resource this is! And a lovely trip down memory lane. To be honest, I thought I hadn’t read much horror throughout my life outside of the usual suspects (Stephen King, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite) and some others that have come along more recently, but in going through this, I saw many titles I’d forgotten I’d read, and authors I’d forgotten.

This is a must for all horror fans; even those who are too young to remember the glory days of the mass market paperback boom of the 70’s and 80’s.

And now, back to the spice mines.