Bohemian Rhapsody

Is this the real life? Is this just fantasy? Caught in a landslide no escape from reality.

I do love the song. I wasn’t an enormous fan of the movie–primarily because I wasn’t that interested in the trajectory of the bad so much as I was more interested in Freddie and his life–but it was a perfectly good movie about a rock band.

I did finish reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home yesterday and I highly recommend it. The writing is exceptionally done well, and her character, Juniper Song, is terrific. I have some other thoughts about the book in my head, but am going to wait until they fully form before I write about it more. But…while I am sure I would have eventually gotten around to reading Steph–I’ve met her and like her–I am glad that I made a point of moving her up in the TBR pile. As I said when I was talking about the Diversity Project the other day, it’s the unconscious bias against minority writers I am fighting against within my own head and within my own choices, and trying to retrain/rewire my brain to not automatically move toward white writers when selecting the next book to read–even if they are women, who are also historically undermined as ‘not as serious as the men’ by not just the industry but by society itself. (I am really itching to start reading Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back.)

As I’ve mentioned, my reading has always skewed more toward women than men; as a child, I preferred Nancy Drew and Trixie Belden to the Hardy  Boys (although the Three Investigators are my absolute favorite kids’ series, and they were boys), to the point where I was forbidden to read books either by women or about women for a period of time–which quite naturally made me want to read them even more.

The absolute best way to get me to do something is to either forbid me from doing it, or telling me that I can’t do it. Forbidding me makes me want it all the more, and telling me I can’t do something makes me want to prove you wrong.

I am ridiculously excited that Game of Thrones returns tonight for its final season. I am going to be terribly sorry when the show is over; I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the ride from the time Paul and I got the DVD’s from Netflix and starting binge-watching; loved it so much we paid for the HBO app subscription so we could watch it as it aired, once we were caught up. I do want to finish reading the books–I’ve only finished A Game of Thrones–and maybe if I get a long vacation on a beach somewhere, I can finish the entire series that has been published thus far. I really loved the book, and suspect I’ll feel the same way about the rest of the series. Yesterday I spent some time reacquainting myself with some of my favorite moments from the series over the years, thanks to said HBO app–the Battle of the Loot Train, the end of Ramsey Bolton, the trial of Littlefinger, the big reveal about Jon Snow’s parents, the Battle of Meereen, Daenarys conquering the Dothraki by killing all the Khals, Cersei’s revenge on the Sept–and was again, as always, blown away by the sheer scope and scale of the show, and how fucking fantastic it is from top to bottom. Game of Thrones, whether you love it or hate it, is always going to be considered one of the greatest television series of all time, up there with The Wire, The Sopranos,and The West Wing, and deservedly so. We truly are in a marvelous time for television programming.

Friday I was even more ridiculously excited to see the first trailer for the ninth episode of Star Wars and to learn its title: The Rise of Skywalker. I really cannot wait to see this movie, and I suspect we are going to go see it on opening weekend this December if it kills me. It’s very strange to realize that Star Wars has been a part of my life for over forty years now…and while the second trilogy, episodes one through three, aren’t amongst my favorites (I’ve not rewatched them very much), I still have a big love for all things Star Wars, and frankly, Rogue One just might be my favorite Star Wars film of them all.

So, after a really good night’s sleep and waking up later than I usually do, I am going to clean this kitchen and then I am going to work for a while. I might go to the grocery store; we need a few things, but at the same time I should also be able to get the things we need on the way home from work tomorrow, if they are, in fact, so desperately needed. I think I’m going to do that–wait, I mean–because if I’ve learned anything from the Termite Genocide experience, it’s that I hoard food and really need to use the things I already have on hand rather than go out and buy new things to prepare.

I’m actually looking forward to working today, if you can believe that, Constant Reader. I am determined to get the next chapter of the WIP finished, and then I am going to work on these other two ideas I’ve had, and then I am going to spend a couple of hours with the Gaylin novel.

What a lovely Sunday this will turn out to be.

Have a terrific day, everyone–and in one week, it’s Easter!

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You’re the Inspiration

Ah, another week.

I finished watching Black Sails this weekend, and wow. Wow. WOW. That was, without a doubt, one of the best series finales I have ever seen. I cried. Yup, I did. There was a twist there at the end that I did not see coming, and it was so incredibly moving and emotionally satisfying…I mean, wow.

I cannot recommend this show highly enough.

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I love pirates, which was part of the reason why the Pirates of the Caribbean movies were so innately disappointing; sure, I enjoyed Johnny Depp’s performance in the first one, but after that they just seemed like parodies of the first, and the plots, such as they were, were ridiculous. I think I was very young when I saw Treasure Island in two parts on The Wonderful World of Disney, and around that same time A High Wind in Jamaica also aired. I became all about the pirates–there were even Nancy Drew (The Haunted Showboat) and Hardy Boys (The Secret of Pirates’ Hill) and Three Investigators (The Secret of Skeleton Island) adventures revolving around pirate treasure; and any number of Scholastic Book Club mysteries about searching for treasure left behind by pirates. I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island when I was around ten; it was an illustrated version, and I remember the pictures as if I just saw them yesterday.

So, yeah, I’ve always loved pirates.

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I started watching Black Sails a year or so again, and it just didn’t catch on with me. I don’t know why, nor do I remember why. I gave it two episodes and stopped, and I do remember thinking, meh, it’s visually stunning, but I don’t care. But earlier this year, needing something to keep me entertained whilst on the treadmill, I decided to give it another whirl, and got sucked right in.

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Visually, it is an absolutely stunning show. Set in the Bahamas in the early eighteenth century, Nassau in particular, the scenery is spectacular. The visuals are breathtakingly beautiful; the ships at sail, the water, the island, the beach, the town, the costumes. Visually, it’s a sumptuous feast.

In the first episode we meet Captain Flint, John Silver, and Billy Bones; as soon as I heard the names (I only knew it was a pirate show) I knew what it was: a prequel to Treasure Island. This time around, that really got my interest going. But what was strange was that there were also characters who actually existed in history: Charles Vane, Jack Rackham, Anne Bonny, Edward Teach. The lines between the real characters and the fictional soon became so blurred that I forgot I was watching a prequel to Treasure Island most of the time, and was watching a fictionalized version of history; Nassau and the Bahamas were  a failed British colony basically taken over by pirates; the British Empire was too busy dealing with the War of the Spanish Succession to be bothered with doing anything about Nassau; and Captain Flint’s plan to set up a republic of pirates and escaped slaves was actually based in history; I have a book about it called The Republic of Pirates that I haven’t gotten to read yet (but I’ve moved it up the TBR pile).

And of course, the cast is stunningly beautiful.

I mean, Tom Hopper as Billy Bones:

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Toby Stephens as Captain Flint:

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Luke Arnold as John Silver:

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Zach MacGowan as Charles Vane:

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And my favorite character turned out to be Jack Rackham, played by Toby Schmitz.

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What was also enjoyable to me was that the cast was also diverse; and the women weren’t there simply to look pretty, be ogled, or be used as sexual pawns. They were integral parts of the cast, and drove a lot of the action on the show, and were incredibly strong. Eleanor Guthrie ran Nassau; Max moved from being a mere worker in the brothel to major position of power; Madi was Queen of the Maroons and spoke for/led her people, and of course, Anne Bonney was just a badass.

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I also loved that the show included the Maroons; escaped slaves who made their own community and resisted being recaptured.

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All of the characters were fully realized; and the plot was so intricate as each character formed friendships/romances/alliances, and betrayed others, as they tried to gain the ascendancy, not only in Nassau but also over the treasure of the Spanish galleon Urca de Lima. It was interesting watching the characters change and evolve based on their experiences, what they went through, and what they suffered. The relationships, the friendships, completely made sense–even when it came to the betrayals. I was so caught up in the story that it wasn’t until the fourth season that I started remembering, “oh, no, this is the prequel to Treasure Island, and the pirate republic eventually collapsed,” which meant, to my fear and horror, that most of the cast wasn’t going to get out alive.

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Also, serious props to the characterization of Woodes Rogers, the British man who comes to the Bahamas determined to solve the piracy problem with a good heart and good intentions; watching him slowly evolve into one of the best villains on the show as his ideals are slowly stripped from him by circumstance and reality was mesmerizing.

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All of the characters evolved and changed, which is a rarity in any television series, but the acting and writing in Black Sails was so superb it never hit a false note.

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And it was interesting in that not only were women shown nude, but there was full frontal male nudity as well.

In the first season there was a lesbian relationship–which I figured, of course there is, gotta give the fanboys some hot girl-on-girl action–but again; while there were sex scenes, the relationship wasn’t prurient and was depicted as honestly and as importantly as any of the heterosexual romances.

I don’t want to give spoilers, and I won’t–because some of the most powerful surprises in the show have to come as a surprise, or will lose their impact–but in Season 2 as we get the back story on one of the principle male leads….he’s gay, and that changes, not only the character, but everything that came before. And his story is absolutely heartbreaking, and played brilliantly.

And the ending! Again, no spoilers, but I cried. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen a series finale that felt so right, so perfect, as an end for a story. Where Black Sails succeeded was in making you care about the characters and understanding their relationships, rather than just focusing on story and the size and scope of the show–which, don’t get me wrong, is also pretty amazing.

Bravo, Starz. This is the second series of yours I’ve watched all the way through–the first being Flesh and Bone, which was also brilliant–and I have to say, Starz is kicking ass on the series front. Wow. Loved it.

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Every Breath You Take

I got absolutely nothing done, other than some laundry and a load of dishes, yesterday because I was too engrossed in reading Rebecca Chance’s Killer Affair to put it down. So, today, after I make my grocery run, I simply have to buckle down and clean as well as write and line edit. I’ve decided on my next book to read–Lyndsay Faye’s Gods of Gotham, which was nominated for the Edgar for Best Novel–and I am really looking forward to reading it. Lyndsay has written five novels, and been nominated for the Best Edgar novel twice–no small feat, I might add (her other nomination came this year for Jane Steele, which I am also looking forward to reading).

So, I survived the grocery store, made brunch for Paul and have done the dishes. I’m not feeling particularly motivated at the moment; I also had to walk to Office Depot to get ink for the printer and the six block to-and-from walk (twelve blocks in total) in the heat and humidity has sucked the life and energy right out of me. Just sitting at my desk and letting the air conditioning wash over me feels so lovely that I am tempted to simply blow everything off and read Gods of Gotham, which would be a huge mistake. I simply cannot keep blowing everything off; the kitchen floor is disgusting and so is the living room; perhaps a shower will pick my attitude right up out of the gutter where it has fallen. I’m so very close to being finished with the second draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” that it’s really egregious to keep putting off working on it; and it certainly isn’t going to kill me to drag the hard copy of the WIP out and start marking it up again, either.

This laziness is why I am always playing catch-up on everything.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did manage to also finish my reread of The Secret of Terror Castle last night; the very first Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators mystery, and despite being dated, the story still holds up. The three young detectives (Jupiter, Bob, and Pete) are much better developed that the main characters in so many other children’s mystery series, with very distinct personalities, and the world in which they inhabit (Rocky Beach, California, close to LA–my assumption is it’s based on Long Beach) is interesting and also pretty well fleshed out: the Jones Salvage Yard, which is run by Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, always was interested and many of their cases came from things that Uncle Titus bought at an estate or yard sale; their headquarters, a battered old mobile home hidden from view by artfully arranged piles of junk and had secret entrances; their ability to use a gold-plated Rolls Royce (Jupiter won the use of the car in a contest), complete with British chauffeur, Worthington; and their relationship with Alfred Hitchcock, originally a bit fractious but came to be one of friendship and mutual respect as the boys proved themselves to be excellent detectives in case after case–all of these things made this a favorite series of mine. Not to mention, that in almost every book the boys had to actually solve a mystery, based on clues they found and observations they made–so the books were a bit smarter than the other series.

I’d love to update this series.

And now, here’s a hunk for your Sunday Funday, as I head back into the spice mines.

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Could I Have This Dance

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I’m going to listen to Hamilton today, maybe relax with some American history later this afternoon, and try to avoid social media as much as I possibly can.

Yesterday was kind of the pits, writing wise; at least it seemed to be that way. As you know, Constant Reader, the revisions have been going swimmingly, I needed to add some things here and there, correct some language that was egregious, delete repetitive stuff, but overall, when I made myself open up the document and start working through it, it was all easy and simple and I was starting to feel really good about myself: this is a really good draft already, isn’t it?

Yes, well.

Yesterday I reached the chapters where the serious revision was needed. I opened up Chapter 16 (of nineteen, see how close to being done I am?), humming happily along to Taylor Swift on the iHome (don’t judge me) and crashed up against the realization that the very first paragraph of Chapter 16 was, in fact, an entire scene rather than a paragraph where I summed up what happened in that scene. Then I realized that the next paragraph was, again, a summary of action that needed to be turned into a scene–none of which I wanted to do yesterday. I’ve been binge-watching the MTV series Scream (which Paul and I had abandoned about five episodes into season one) and have been enjoying it tremendously (it’s apparently better as a binge rather than watching from week to week); I’m reading both Daniel Woodrell’s Tomato Red and a couple of chapters of The Secret of Terror Castle as I drift off to sleep every night; and I started writing another short story yesterday morning (currently titled “For All Tomorrow’s Lies”). I also cleaned the bedroom, reorganized and filed in the kitchen–it’s absolutely amazing the lengths I will go to not work on these revisions. I even scrubbed out the bathtub and cleaned the upstairs bathroom. But I did eventually force myself to sit down and work on Chapter Sixteen–constantly going back to check Facebook and Twitter (I sometimes wonder how much social media has affected people’s writing habits), and seriously, expanding these paragraphs into scenes was like pulling teeth…until I realized at one point I’d written 1500 new words in between half an hour and forty-five minutes; in addition to the 700 or so I’d written on the new story. I wrote another 500 words, and thought, you know, two thousand new words is a lot in slightly more than an hour, maybe tomorrow it’ll flow easier so I, despite that nagging voice in the back of my head (“What if you don’t want to do this tomorrow, either?”), I saved the document and decided to go back to cleaning for a while before watching Scream. I checked my email…

..and discovered that a story I’d submitted to Mystery Week magazine a few weeks ago, “Keeper of the Flame,” had been accepted for publication, and the contract was already there!

There really is nothing like having one of those bad writing days where every word is like passing a kidney stone, where you begin to wonder whether or not the well has finally run dry and you’re finished as a writer, only to get this lovely kind of affirmation. It’s really just timing, more than anything else, and I try not to be superstitious and see things as ‘signs’, but you can see, can’t you, how easy it is to fall into that mentality?

“Keeper of the Flame” is a story I am very proud of, and it’s really dark. I originally wrote it to submit to a conference anthology–many conferences do these every year, and I thought I should maybe start writing stories to send in for more of them; this was my first or second attempt. After it wasn’t accepted (I found out when the anthology was released, which is incredibly poor form–you should always let people know whether their stories are being used or not; I decided not to submit to that particular conference anthology ever again. There was another one where I was asked, two years in a row, to submit; ironically the first time my story wasn’t used and I wasn’t told. They wrote me again the next year and wanted to use that story THAT year–I’d already sold the story elsewhere, as one does, so I wrote another and yes, once again, wasn’t notified they weren’t using it. The third time they asked me, I was rather curt with them. But I digress.), I revised it a little bit and submitted it to a magazine, which ultimately rejected the story–they did send me a lovely note, telling me it was a great story but not right for them–and I’ve been sitting on it ever since. About a month ago, Mystery Week came to my attention–I don’t remember how; someone I know either sold a story to them, or it was mentioned in a newsletter from one of the writing organizations I belong to, or something like that; my mind is frankly a sieve these days–and I thought, hey, nothing to lose, might as well try here.

And hey, I sold it to them. Huzzah!

I’ve been getting lots of lovely news lately, lovely affirmations that have been coming along at just about the right time, to be honest. I’ve gotten some lovely emails and Facebook messages and tweets from readers over the last few weeks as well.

Today, I feel like I can not only stare down those damned revisions but get them, if not finished, pretty damned close to being finished. And that’s a good thing.

I’m going to also share with you the first paragraph of the new story, which I figured out what the rest of the story was last night before falling asleep:

Lori first noticed the man watching her in the fresh section of the Rouse’s on Tchoupitoulas Street. She was busy thumping melons and feeling foolish, like she always did when thumping melons with her index finger. She’d never really learned how to tell the difference in sound denoting ripe versus non-ripe, but she was too self-conscious to simply pick up a melon and put in her cart without going through the time-honored ritual. It was a cantaloupe she was holding when she noticed the man, over by the bins for varieties of onions and potatoes, looking at her.

And revisions? Kiss my American ass. I will DEFEAT you today.

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I Just Fall in Love Again

Monday, and I have the day off. This is day three of my four-day weekend, and it feels lovely. I feel incredibly rested, and I even woke up early this morning–earlier than I have the last two days, at any rate–and so clearly, the chamomile tea last night was enormously helpful in getting me to sleep.

I finished cleaning the downstairs yesterday, and today I will be tackling the upstairs. There’s only so much I can do upstairs without rearranging or moving things, and I am not sure how well that will go over once Paul returns, so instead I am going to just clean and organize and perhaps empty out drawers and so forth before tackling the floors. I’ve done absolutely nothing as far as working on the revisions are concerned, but I am going to do that today. Yesterday I repaired to my easy chair and finished watching season one of MTV’s Scream. I’m not really sure why Paul and I stopped watching; I do know at the time the MTV app on Apple TV was kind of wonky, and for some reason we didn’t care very much for the characters. But picking up on it last night, I found myself really enjoying going for the ride. Maybe it’s because we were watching them as they aired originally? Maybe Scream works better as a binge? I’m not sure one way or the other, but I do know that I’ll have it on while I am cleaning the upstairs. And I still have yet another day off! How wonderful is that?

I did make some notes on some ideas I have for short stories in progress yesterday while I was watching Scream; I also watched a documentary on HBO about the Children of God religious cult; apparently there’s a completely different documentary on Netflix about this cult, focusing on different victims. Who knew? But watching gave me the idea for a story (of course) so I scribbled down some notes on it as well. I have yet to get back to Tomato Red, but I will probably do that today; taking an hour to revise than an hour to read, giving up on both around five, at which point I will repair upstairs and start cleaning while watching Season 2 of Scream. 

I’d hoped to get more reading done this weekend, but hey, there’s only so much time, right?

Before going to bed every night I’ve been rereading an old favorite, The Secret of Terror Castle. One of my favorite kids’ series was always The Three Investigators; although back when I was a child Alfred Hitchcock got star billing in the series, despite rarely appearing in the books themselves. The books were ‘introduced’ by Hitchcock, and there was always a final chapter where the boys met with Hitchcock, discussed the finer points of the case with him, and he asked some questions that weren’t necessarily explained in the narrative. This quite naturally caused problems when Hitchcock died; they replaced him with a fictional author, and by the time several books with this author character were published, I had aged out of the series and moved on to other reading material. I think they even replaced the writer with someone else even later, and I would imagine they had to redo the first books that had Hitchcock, since they were now dated. But The Secret of Terror Castle is even more dated than one would think; it was predicated on the idea that a silent film star’s manager and business partner would still not only be alive, but young enough to be physically active and not seem ancient to three thirteen-year-old boys. Since the silent film era was phased out in the early 1930’s–even being generous and saying it lasted until 1932 would mean that it was eighty-five years ago, and anyone old enough to be a business manager in 1932 would be well over one hundred now! The books are out of print now, and hard to find–again, my childhood collecting days has a nest-egg of sorts in my kids’ series books, which I could always sell on eBay should I ever need cash.

But as I’ve been rereading The Secret of Terror Castle these last few nights–a chapter or two per night, as I am falling asleep–I am again struck by how well-written and well-plotted the books are. The Three Investigators–originally the Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Series, then Alfred Hitchcock and The Three Investigators, finally just The Three Investigators–were each individuals, developed and well-rounded, never acting out of character–and there was also a strong sense of continuity throughout the entire series (I’ve never finished reading the series; when it stopped being hardcover and went to paperback originals, I stopped; the writing in the later books wasn’t as tight and the plots not as well thought out, or I was older–but rereading the books as an older man who also happens to be a mystery writer, The Secret of Terror Castle is certainly holding up); there weren’t the continuity mistakes that riddled, say, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, and the Dana Girls–which had everything to do with transitions from original text to revisions. The Three Investigators always had to solve a mystery; following clues that often took them from a basic case–a search for a missing parrot, for example, that led them to an entire series of parrots, all trained to speak a single clue. All the clues had to be put together, and then their meaning figured out; so a lost treasure could be found (this was The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot), and I’ve always loved treasure hunts. Often times, the keys to solving the mystery lie in the boys’ abilities to observe things that they didn’t think about at the time, but later didn’t make sense–a little boy’s gold tooth led to the solution of The Mystery of the Vanishing Treasure, for example–but again, the problem with the series later was getting past the death of Hitchcock, and the books becoming a little dated with changes in technology and so forth. Even when I first read The Secret of Terror Castle, when I was about twelve, it couldn’t really be current because, as mentioned before, the manager would have been borderline too old–at least older than he appeared to be in the text.

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I picked the book up again, really, because I watched Truffaut Hitchcock, a short documentary on HBO the other night about the famous week-long interview Francois Truffaut conducted with Hitchcock about every film in his long career, his direction of them, and his vision for each film. These interviews became a book, and a very influential one, according to some of the directors in the documentary who talked about reading it and being influenced by it when they were young–including Scorsese, Bogdonavich, and Fincher. I’ve also been thinking about how, when I was a kid, there were all these anthologies with Hitchcock’s name on them–Alfred Hitchcock Presents Tales to Terrify You, that sort of thing. Hitchcock of course simply had licensed his name for these books–like he had with The Three Investigators–and of course, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, which still exists today. (I imagine those anthologies were stories collected from the magazine.) Getting a story into AHMM is on my bucket list…and of course, I’ve never submitted anything to them. As this year is ‘cross things off my bucket list’ year, I’m going to submit something to them–one of these stories I am working on hopefully; if not, maybe something new I haven’t started working on yet. The documentary is quite good, by the way–I highly recommend it. Listening to Truffaut and Hitchcock discuss movie-making–story telling–can also be useful to writers.

Man, would I love to reboot The Three Investigators! When I was a kid, I wanted to write one, or a Hardy Boys, or a Nancy Drew. I also wanted to write my own kids’ mystery series. Maybe I should put those on the bucket list?

And now, it’s back to to the spice mines.

Walking on the Moon

 When I wrote the introduction to Night Shadows: Queer Horror, I talked about the similarities between crime fiction and horror, as a means to explain how two crime writers (myself and the incomparable J. M. Redmann) found ourselves editing a horror anthology. Make no mistake; there are a lot of similarities between the two genres. Both, for example, are concerned with death and to no less a degree justice; there’s almost always a mystery involved in a horror novel–primarily as the main characters try to figure out what is going on and what they can do about it, but still. So-called slasher films/novels are really just the horror equivalent of serial killer stories; The Silence of the Lambs notably was both crime and horror. I’ve always been interested in both, although I lean more to the crime side, since I really don’t have the imagination or creativity to write horror (or much of it, anyway; and everything I do write that is horror is undoubtedly horribly derivative).

The book I just finished reading, Dan Chaon’s Ill Will, manages to blur the line between horror and dark crime fiction as well. It is, in fact, one of the creepiest and darkest things I’ve ever read; definitely in the top ten, at the very least.

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Sometimes in the first days of November the body of the young man who had disappeared sank to the bottom of the river. Facedown, bumping lightly against the muddy bed below the flowing water, the body was probably carried for several miles–frowning with gentle surprise, arms held a little away from his sides, legs stiff. The underwater plants ran their fronds along the feathered headdress the boy was wearing, across the boy’s forehead and war-paint stripes and lips, down across the fringed buckskin shirt and wolf-tooth necklace, across loincloth and deerskin leggings, tracing the feet in their moccasins. The fish and other scavengers were most asleep during this period. The body bumped against rocks and branches, scraped along gravel, but it was mostly preserved. In April, when the two freshman college girls saw the boy’s face under the thin layer of ice among the reeds and cattails at the edge of the old skating pond, they at first imagined the corpse was a discarded mannequin or a plastic Halloween mask. They were collecting pond-water specimens for their biology course, and both of them were feeling scientific rather than superstitious, and one of the girls reached down and touched the face’s cheek with the eraser tip of her pencil.

During this same period of months, November through April, Dustin Tillman had been drifting along his own trajectory. He was forty-one years old, married with two teenage sons, a psychologist with a small practice and formerly, he sometimes told people, some occasional forays into forensics. His life, he thought, was a collection of the usual stuff: driving to and from work, listening to the radio, checking and answering his steadily accumulating email, shopping at the supermarket, and watching select highly regarded news on television and reading a few books that had been well received and helping the boys with their homework, details that were–he was increasingly aware–units of measurement by which he was parceling out his life.

When his cousin Kate called him, later that week after the body was found, he was already feeling a lot of vague anxiety. He was having a hard time about his upcoming birthday, which, he realized, seemed like a very bourgeois and mundane thing to worry about. He had recently quit smoking, so there was that, too. Without nicotine, his brain seemed murky with circling, unfocused dread, and the world itself appeared somehow more unfriendly–emanating, he couldn’t help but think, a soft glow of ill will.

The book is about, ultimately, damage: how violent crime and trauma affects people, and how that damage can be passed along to the next generation.

When Dustin was a child, his parents, along with his aunt and uncle (two brothers married two sisters) were murdered while the kids slept outside the house in a camper, the night before they were all due to leave for Yellowstone. The blame fell on Dustin’s older, adopted brother, Rusty–in no small part to Dustin’s testimony and that of his older cousin, Kate–who claimed to have resurfaced memories of Rusty forcing them to participate in Satanic rituals (this was actually a big thing in the 1980’s), and Rusty was convicted and went to jail. Recently, DNA evidence over-turned Rusty’s conviction, and he was released. Dustin’s wife has recently died of cancer, and his youngest son Aaron is using heroin while pretending to go to college. And one of Dustin’s patients, a former cop, is convinced that young college boys are being kidnapped and ritualistically drowned by a cult of some sort, and wants Dustin to help him look into it. All of these disparate threads weave in and out of each other; interconnected yet causing more alienation for this complex and completely dysfunctional family as the book careens along to its ultimate denouement, a downward spiral of hopelessness and tragedy.

The writing is spectacular, and Chaon also plays with form and even typesetting to get the feel of the novel across to the reader; this can seem intrusive and distracting at times, but as you continue to read, this style creates an irresistible mood and drive to continue reading; as the Tillmans’ past, present, and future all seem to converge in on their lives and each other, it becomes almost hypnotic.

There’s also a shout out to The Three Investigators in the text, which I also loved.

This book is amazing. It reminded somewhat of Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone, which was sublime and one of the best novels I’ve read over the past few years. I highly recommend this…and can’t wait to read more of Chaon’s work.

 

 

Run, Joey, Run

Egypt. Land of the pharaohs, the bounty of the Nile. I’ve always loved, and been fascinated, by Egypt; I’m not sure why, or when it actually began, or what triggered it. It’s just always been. Maybe it’s a past-life thing, like my apparent fascination with Russian history and culture may have been (I was told be a psychic once that I’d lived as a Russian nobleman in a past life, eventually joining an Orthodox monastery after a long and fruitful life), if you believe in that sort of thing–I’m not sure that I do, and it’s not like I’ll ever know one way or another for sure.

But one thing that is true is that I’ve always been fascinated by Egypt; its history, its art, and its culture.

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Egypt was a mighty civilization and empire when our European ancestors were living in caves and trying to figure out how to start fires. No one is really certain how they were able to build the pyramids; there are theories, of course–I’ve always loved the Erich von Daniken theory that it was aliens (Chariots of the Gods?), which was later used in the movie Stargate, which I loved–and to this day, despite advances in archaeology and Egyptology and discoveries, we still don’t know a lot of about the ancient Egyptians.

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The burning of the Great Library of Alexandria during an Egyptian civil war during the time of Cleopatra VII (she is rarely given the number in modern times; we know her simply as Cleopatra), which had gathered all the knowledge of the ancient world, remains to me one of the greatest tragedies of history.

I’ve always dreamed of going to Egypt, to see the wonders there for myself. As I get older, the trips I’ve always longed for probably will never happen, but one day I do hope to get to the British Museum at the very least, to see the Egyptian treasures and artifacts there.

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So, what does Egypt have to do with horror month? Obviously, The Mummy.

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I saw the original film version of The Mummy as an afternoon movie after school; naturally, as a young Egyptophile how was I not going to watch it once I saw it in the television listings? I don’t remember the movie scaring me that much; I thought it was a great movie–but I never watched the sequels. In this movie, of course, some Egyptologists had found the tomb of Imhotep, who had been buried alive for some sacrilege, but became reanimated–the Scroll of Thoth had given him immortality (again, a similar plot device was used in The Cat Creature) and was now looking for the reincarnation of his great love Ankhesenamun (which was also the name of Tutankamen’s wife and queen; the tomb had only been discovered a mere eleven years earlier than when the film was made). It was clever, I thought, and you couldn’t help but feel a bit sorry for him.

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The 1999 film The Mummy used a lot of the same concepts as the 1933–Imhotep being brought back to life (this time by the Book of the Dead) and looking for his lost love Ankhesenamun–but this Imhotep was definitely a villain. The movie was also done as a period piece, with my crush Brendan Fraser in the lead as a kind of Indiana Jones-style adventurer. Both it, and its sequel, The Mummy Returns, were fun movies that I greatly enjoyed.

Mummies, and Egyptian antiquities, are often used for popular fiction; maybe sometime I should do an extensive study on this. My favorite Robin Cook novel is Sphinx ; I love Allen Drury’s Amarna novels A God Against the Gods and Return to Thebes; there’s the AMAZING Amelia Peabody series by the late always lamented Elizabeth Peters; the Hardy Boys themselves even had some Egyptian-related cases; Agatha Christie set Death Comes as the End in ancient Egypt and Death on the Nile in contemporary Egypt; The Three Investigators solved The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy; and Anne Rice also wrote Ramses the Damned, or The Mummy.

Hell, even Scooby Doo Where Are You? had an episode about a mummy.

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Anne Rice’s The Mummy was a book I greatly enjoyed; I intend to reread it soon.

I’ve always wanted to do an Egyptian book; I’ve always wanted to do a mummy style book.

Maybe someday.