The 1

November 1st, or All Saints’ Day; which is the perfect day for a Saints game, don’t you think? LSU lost yesterday, badly, and while it was incredibly disappointing to watch, I felt worse for the players. We always forget, regardless of how talented they are, they’re really little more than kids. And since so many starters are either true freshman or sophomores…I think they’ll be really good next year…if they can survive what looks to be a season on par with the late 1990’s. Yeesh.

I am up ridiculously early because of Daylight Savings time; I’d be up early regardless, but I am wide awake and decided, since I have to get up early the next three mornings, that it made sense to go ahead and get up now–one advantage of the so-called “extra hour” (because if 2020 needs anything, it’s more time) is that by not using that hour to get extra sleep, I can recalibrate my body clock to my own advantage for the next few mornings. The sun isn’t up yet completely, but the cutting down of the crepe myrtles next door–many of them, but not all–means that my workspace and kitchen are going to be flooded with a lot more direct sunlight, which is going to make it unbearable in here once it gets hot again; which means I am going to need to do something about window coverings, whether it’s curtains or blinds. We’ll see how much time I have before that becomes a massive priority–hell, it might become one later this morning.

I was still very tired and physically exhausted yesterday. I ran my errands, and then working on cleaning up our side of the house–leaves, branches, debris–and so I watched the LSU game, doing some cleaning and organizing around here in the meantime, and then for Halloween watched House of Dark Shadows on Hulu. I originally saw this movie in the theater–my grandmother, who got me started watching the soap in the first place–took me, and it was a very different take on the Barnabas Collins story. For one thing, there was no redemption of the character; he remained an evil, cruel vampire till the end, when he was killed for his crimes, and he also kind of killed off the entire family, other than Elizabeth and David, by the end. It was straight up more horror than melodrama, and the movie did well enough to inspire a sequel (with none of the same characters or actors), but it really wasn’t as good a story as the redemption of the vampire arc the show did.

I also took the time to read four novellas of Cornell Woolrich, collected together in one volume with the name Four Novellas of Fear (which is really not the best title, as it gives the impression that the novellas are more horror than suspense/crime; which is what they really are). The novellas are all interesting takes, some of which are dated and wouldn’t work today, alas: “Eyes That Watch You”, the first, was my favorite, in which a woman who is completely paralyzed and cannot speak overhears her daughter-in-law and her lover plotting to kill the woman’s son. Unable to communicate and warn him, the crime takes place…and then she becomes determined, somehow, to expose the murderers to the cops and send them to the chair. Great concept, marvelously handled. The next, “The Day I Died,” is about a man who finds out his wife is planning to kill him for the insurance; he comes home early from work and surprises her with the man she has hired to kill him. The hired assassin winds up dead, and the hard-boiled heroine convinces her husband to go through with the plan–they have a ready made corpse whose face they can disfigure and claim it’s suicide. But as he leaves town he runs into a co-worker on the bus…and now he has to kill the co-worker somehow. It’s very noir, very well done–but again, wouldn’t work in a modern setting because of technology and the difficulty of disappearing in the modern world. The third story, “You Won’t See Me Again,” is about a young newly married couple who have an argument, and she walks out–storming home to mother. When she doesn’t return–as he suspects and expects her to, after a day or so–it becomes a missing persons case and of course, the husband is always the prime suspect in those cases. So now he has to find not only the wife he loves to make sure she’s safe, but also to clear her name. It’s yet another story that wouldn’t work in today’s world because of technology, but it’s a charming time capsule. Likewise, “Murder Always Gathers Momentum” is about the slow descent into crime of a person who is broke and desperate and owed money he was cheated out of; rather than confronting the man and asking for his money he decides instead to break into his house and steal it. He’s caught, commits murder, realizes how easy it is to become a criminal, and starts killing people to cover his initial crime….(this is very similar to Agatha Christie’s Murder Is Easy, in which Dame Agatha and Miss Marple also explored the idea that once you’ve killed, it becomes easier to keep killing) and there’s a terrific ironic twist at the end, worthy of The Twilight Zone or Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

Despite being dated, I enjoyed all four novellas–which were all very distinct and different, and cynical in their own ways. I certainly enjoyed them more than I enjoyed Night Has a Thousand Eyes, that’s for certain, and my own curiosity about Woolrich–who was a gay man, an alcoholic, and horribly unhappy in his personal life–deepened. (Just as watching The Other the other day, and thinking about the author of the book, Thomas Tryon–a closeted gay actor of the 1960’s who turned to writing novels in the 1970’s–reminded me that I had once thought him worthy of a biography, and I still kind of think that way; I just wish I had the time to devote to doing the research and traveling to Connecticut to examine his papers and so forth; he was also the long-time lover of the first gay porn star, Cal Culver, which is also an interesting footnote to his interesting life as well as of gay historical interest.)

I’m trying to decide what to read next, and have narrowed it down to four options (and may choose something else entirely): Owen Laukkanen’s Deception Cove; Shirley Jackson’s Life Among the Savages (which I may have already read, but I don’t remember finishing it); The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier; or The Hot Rock by Donald Westlake. I am leaning toward to du Maurier because I am thinking it may be time to finish her canon; but the others all look tremendously good, which inevitably always makes choosing difficult. I also want to start reading short stories again–I still have two volumes, for example, of Shirley Jackson stories to read–and I need to get back to my writing–if I can only remember where I was. I know I was rereading Bury Me in Shadows in order to get a grasp of the story–I also have been thinking about the tweaks it needs–and the deadline looms. I also need to revise my story “The Snow Globe,” there’s about a million emails to catch up on, and there’s also the bills to pay.

Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to make it to the gym this morning. One good thing that has happened in this past week is managing three workouts; my body feels wonderful, my muscles feel more stretched and better than they have since the pandemic closed my old gym (we belonged there for eighteen years) and that’s got to count for something, doesn’t it? I think so, and I like that I am developing better workout habits. I’ll worry about correcting my diet and going full on Mediterranean diet after a few more weeks.

I’m also going to write a story–or rather, try to finish one–for the next Mystery Writers of America anthology. Getting a short story into one of those is on my bucket list, and I have two potential in-progress stories for this one; three, really: “Condos for Sale or Rent,” “Please Die Soon,” and “A Dirge in the Dark”. I guess I’ll need to read what’s been done on all four stories and then see about finishing any or all of them…it’s not a bad idea to get all three stories written, pick one to submit to the MWA anthology, and then send the others to other markets.

So many stories in progress.

The sun is rising and the loss of the trees has also made a significant difference to my view–which isn’t nearly as pretty or scenic as it was before, and will take some getting used to. The great irony is my landlady has been trying to get the property owner next door to trim the trees back for years–and trying to get her to trim them regularly, as they are problematic for hurricanes/tropical storms. It took Zeta for her to take the risk presented by the crepe myrtles seriously, with the end result that some were not only trimmed back dramatically, but others were removed entirely. I may have to hang up a small blanket or something in the meantime as a stopgap until I have the time and financial means to get curtains or blinds.

And on that note, I must head into the spice mines and start working on getting caught up, a Sisyphean task at best. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and enjoy your Feast of All Saints.

Electricity

Good morning, Tuesday, how it’s going with you, Constant Reader, on this lovely early May morning?

I sent out another story yesterday–why, yes, I am on a roll, kind of, thank you for asking. I could also easily go 0 for 4, which is certainly more likely than 4 for 4 (I know, I know, self-deprecation there, and yes, it’s a very hard habit to break but I am working on it).

Last night I managed to work througb some of my my computer frustrations. Apparently, at some point in the last few months or so, there was yet another Mohave update–I remember when it happened, and I didn’t install it, it somehow just happened–that rendered my flash drive unreadable or unworkable with Mac computers. Fortunately I have that shitty little PC laptop, which can still read it. So I then had to download a Cloud for PC app, which needed a Windows update to work, and–long story short, I found a backup to the flash drive from November backed up in the Cloud, and I honestly don’t think I worked on anything on the flash drive that wasn’t backed up to the Cloud already, so it was simply a matter of moving the working files from the back-up folder in the Cloud to the active area. An enormous pain in the ass, but there you have it–and I now have the files I need accessible. At some point I’ll be able to get that PC Cloud app working and save yet another back-up, but until then I am able to work with what I have, thank you.

Today is another early morning for me, but truth to be told, I’m pretty much starting to adapt to these mornings and they aren’t nearly as painful as they used to be. I’m actually getting rather used to this sort of 9 to 5 thing, which I never expected to ever happen in a million years. Last night I was home shortly after five, and had some time thus to work on these computer issues. And since it was May 4th, and Rise of Skywalker was newly available to stream last night on Disney, I decided to watch it again–more critically this time than when I saw it in the theater, and yeah. I enjoyed it on the big screen—I always enjoy Star Wars on the big screen, as a general rule, but when I was rewatching it, it seemed disjointed, poorly written and planned, and kind of all over the place. So, all those people who were so critical of it? Yeah, they were probably right, but this sequel trilogy didn’t “ruin my childhood” or anything; it was just disappointing on a rewatch. I’ll probably have some more thoughts about the whole thing later.

I also finished reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin last night, and it really is quite a wonderful book. Reading it as a crime novel was an interesting take, and I think I can quite solidly back up my theory that it is, in fact, while a very literary book to be sure, a crime novel. It certainly is structured and written kind of like one, and the mood and tone of the book is very dreamlike yet terrifying, like Megan Abbott’s The End of Everything, which I think is a good companion book for Mysterious Skin. There will, of course, be a blog entry devoted to the book; I’m still gathering my thoughts about it and trying to order them in some way. Afterwards, I tried to find my copy of We Disappear, but couldn’t put my hands on it–even though I am absolutely positive I located it the moment I started rereading Mysterious Skin…it’ll turn up, I’m sure.

I also started rereading Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right, which has some rather razor-sharp wit going on in the very beginning, which immediately (to me) added to its charm, and drew me in already. I also remember Thunder on the Right as being a “lesser” Stewart novel–kind of like The Moon-spinners and This Rough Magic, both of which I loved on the reread.

Tonight we’ll probably go back to watching Defending Jacob; I was already watching Skywalker when Paul got home, and he just fell asleep while watching that–he also pointed out that he doesn’t remember watching it in the theater at all; which is really not a sign of a movie that resonated with the viewers, really–so tonight it’ll be back to Defending Jacob. Apple is really putting a lot of cash into their streaming service, a and there are certainly a lot of impressive names being put to work on their shows, so who knows? I also need to sign into my CBS app so we can start watching their All Access Star Trek shows, as well as the reboot of The Twilight Zone from Jordan Peele.

There’s really so much good stuff to watch–and that’s only the stuff I know about. We’ve stumbled onto so many good shows over the years that we’d not heard about, and of course, season 3 of Killing Eve is also up now.

And on that note, tis time to get ready for the spice mines. Have a most lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you later.

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The Calm Before the Storm

Alfred Hitchcock was a great film director, and was responsible for some of the best movies ever made, from Rebecca through Notorious through North by Northwest to Vertigo to Strangers on a Train to The Birds to Psycho; the list of great Hitchcock films goes on and on and on and has been studied by film academics and written about; you certainly cannot forget Truffaut/Hitchcock, either. Lost in the discussions of his abilities as a filmmaker (and how he was somewhat abusive to his leading ladies) is his contributions to the culture in other ways. Alfred Hitchcock Presents ran for years; an anthology show like The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone, he presented bizarre stories (often based on short fiction; perhaps the most famous episode of all was based on a Roald Dahl short story in which a wife kills her husband with a frozen leg of lamb, which she then cooks and serves to the investigating police officers) on a weekly basis and the show ran for a long time. (It’s available to stream now, and I keep meaning to dive back into the show.

But Hitchcock also was a master, before it was a thing, of licensing his name out for use; his name meant something as a master director of film suspense, and in addition to the television series there were also anthologies, also published under the aegis of Alfred Hitchcock Presents–my grandmother used to buy and read them; so did my parents–and even today one of the best short story markets for crime is Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine. There were anthologies for adults, anthologies for teens and anthologies for kids.

And there was also The Three Investigators.

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Bob Andrews parked his bike outside his home in Rocky Beach and entered the house. As he closed the door, his mother called to him from the kitchen.

“Robert? Is that you?”

“Yes, Mom.” He went to the kitchen door. His mother, brown-haired and slender, was making doughnuts.

“How was the library?” she asked.

“It was okay,” Bob told her. After all, there was never any excitement at the library. He worked there part time, sorting returned books and helping with the filing and cataloguing.

“Your friend Jupiter called.” His mother went on rolling out the dough on the board. “He left a message for you.”

“A message?” Bob yelled with sudden excitement. “What was it?”

“I wrote it down. I’ll get it out of my pocket as soon as I finish with this dough.”

“Can’t you remember what he said? He may need me!”

“I could remember an ordinary message,” his other answered, “but Jupiter doesn’t leave ordinary messages. It was something fantastic.”

“Jupiter likes unusual words,” Bob said, controlling his impatience. “He’s read an awful lot of books and sometimes he’s a little hard to understand.”

“Not just sometimes!” his mother retorted. “He’s a very unusual boy. My goodness, how he found my engagement ring, I’ll never know.”

She was referring to the time the previous fall when she had lost her diamond ring. Jupiter Jones had come to the house and requested her to tell him every move she had made the day the ring was lost. Then he had gone out to the pantry, reached up, and picked the ring from behind a row of bottle tomato pickles. Bob’s mother had taken it off and put it there while she was sterilizing the jars.

“I can’t imagine,” Mrs. Andrews said, “how he guessed where that ring was!”

“He didn’t guess, he figured it out,” Bob explained. “That’s how his mind works…Mom, can’t you get the message now?”

“In one minute,” his mother said, giving the dough another flattening roll. “Incidentally, what on earth was that story on the front of yesterday’s paper about Jupiter’s winning the use of a Rolls-Royce sedan for thirty days?”

And that is how The Three Investigators series (technically, in the beginning  “ALFRED HITCHCOCK and the Three Investigators”) began. While it’s not as smooth, per se, as the opening of the Trixie Belden series in The Secret of the Mansion, this is also a dramatically different series, and will always have a place in my heart as one of the best series for kids–if not the best–ever published. It never reached the same heights of popularity as Nancy Drew or the Hardy Boys; which was a shame, because it was a much better series than either of those. For one thing, the Three Investigators actually considered themselves to be professional detectives; Nancy and the Hardys, amongst with most of the others, were strictly amateurs (although in the Kathryn Kenny books, “the Belden-Wheeler Detective Agency” became kind of a running gag or thing; it was what Trixie and Honey decided they wanted to be when they grew up; and frankly, I’ve always kind of wanted to see a Trixie-as-an-adult hard-boiled series). And while this opening is a little longish about getting to the point, it eventually does; Bob is a highly excitable young man who works at the library, and this is also our first look at Jupiter Jones, and one of the best things about the series is Jupiter; he is the central character and there would be no Three Investigators without him–and he is one of the most remarkable, and original, characters in kids’ mystery series fiction.

I always thought of Rocky Beach as a sort of stand-on for Long Beach in this series; this is where the boys live, and it’s just south of Los Angeles and a drive to Hollywood. This is where the three boys who make up the titular team of the series live; the third investigator, whom we have yet to meet in this opening, is Pete Crenshaw. And that bit about the contest and the Rolls-Royce? It’s very important. Access to a vehicle, and someone to drive them around, is an integral part of the creation of this investigative agency; they can’t always count on getting rides or paying for cabs or only involving themselves in cases they can investigate on bikes; this is the impetus Jupiter has been looking for to open the agency. Jupiter’s message to Bob is impenetrable to his mother; but it makes perfect sense to Bob–and therein lies another one of the great charms of this series: Jupiter lives with his uncle Titus and aunt Mathilda; the couple own and operate the Jones Salvage Yard, a sprawling junkyard where they repurpose other’s people things, or fix them. Jupiter himself is quite adept at wiring and repairing things; just one, as we the readers will find out, of his many skills. Hidden deep within the salvage yard is the wreck of a mobile home, which the boys use as “headquarters”; over the years Jupiter has managed to hide the mobile home behind piles of junk. The yard is also surrounded by an enormous, tall wooden fence, and Uncle Titus has encouraged local artists to paint murals on the fence. With the help of Bob and Pete, Jupiter has created “secret entrances” into the salvage yard, with tunnels through the piled up junk; that way the boys can come and go as they please without having to use the main entrance. They also have a covered workshop in another area hidden from view; Jupiter’s message to Bob is simply Red gate rover, come over come over, the presses are rolling. Bob knows this means,  come to headquarters, use red gate Rover, and we’re printing our business cards. 

“Red Gate Rover” means use the entrance through the fence that is a mural of a team of firefighters fighting an enormous blaze; there’s a dog watching them, and the knothole in the dog’s eye will spring the hidden gate open. And sure enough, once he gets there, the printing press is rolling and Jupiter presents him with a card, that reads:

THE THREE INVESTIGATORS

We Investigate Anything

? ? ?

–and also has their names. Jupiter is, naturally, the first investigator with Pete as second; Bob is Records & Research, since he works in the library and is their best writer; it is his job to write up their cases. As such, and with an understanding that all cases also need to be introduced as well as get sufficient publicity for their agency to get clients, Jupiter has decided on two things: to ask Alfred Hitchcock to introduce their cases, and offer to help find him a truly haunted house, as he is looking for one for his next film. Using the Rolls-Royce, driven by a very proper British chauffeur named Worthington, Jupiter and Pete call on Mr. Hitchcock at the studio. (The Rolls-Royce, by the way, has every luxurious amenity available to a limousine in that time; and is gold-plated, which sticks out. It was originally commissioned by a Saudi oil millionaire.) They bluff their way in–partly because Jupiter pretends to be Hitchcock’s nephew, even arranging his face to imitate his expressions and voice and patterns of speech–but Hitchcock isn’t that interested in introducing their cases, but has no worries about them looking for a haunted house for him. (While they are calling on Hitchcock, Bob has gone to the library to research something–Jupiter writes the words Terror Castle on the back of one of their business cards and offered no explanation.) But when Jupiter does his impression of “Hitchcock as a 13 year old”, Hitchcock is offended and promises to introduce the first case as long as Jupiter will never do the impression again (and, it is to be noted, the introduction and afterward, as supposedly written by Hitchcock, is clearly done so grudgingly; this was a genius touch by author Robert Arthur–and over the course of the series Hitchcock not only grows fond of the boys but starts sending clients their way).

The thing I loved perhaps the most about this series (outside of the wonderful titles for the books) was they actually were investigators. They actually solved the mysteries they were investigating–well, Jupiter did, mostly–through observation and interpretation of data. Jupiter was, in many ways, kind of a young Sherlock–and he often referred to Holmes. Another thing that was very clever about the series is that the stories were rarely, if ever, told from Jupiter’s point of view; Bob and Pete were always the point-of-view characters, representing the reader, who also couldn’t figure out what was going on. Since it mattered for suspense and storytelling to not know what Jupiter was thinking, Bob and Pete stood in for the reader, confused by the cryptic things Jupiter said–or casually observing Jupiter noticing something that didn’t make sense.

Another thing that, in my opinion, makes the series stronger than others is it is made, very plain, from the very beginning that fat-shaming is a bad thing. Jupiter is described as stocky or husky; he deeply resents being called fat, and whenever someone cruelly makes such an observation, both Pete and Bob always get angry and jump to his defense (Jupiter was also a child star, playing Baby Fatso in a Little Rascals type television show; his being a fat child made him the butt of the jokes in the show and he DESPISES being laughed at)–compare that to how Bess is frequently mocked for being hungry and chubby in the Nancy Drew books, or the depiction of the Hardy Boys’ supposed best friend Chet Morton as an always-hungry, overweight comic relief and foil they always laugh at–yeah, not cool, Stratemeyer Syndicate, not cool at all.

The first Three Investigators story I read was The Mystery of the Moaning Cave. We were in Alabama one summer, and staying with a cousin of my mother’s who had a son my age who also loved to read, and loved mysteries. He had a stack of library books, and I picked up my very first Hardy Boys read, The Mystery of Cabin Island, out of the stack. I was two chapters in when he finished reading his book (The Mystery of the Moaning Cave) and asked me to swap books with him. I was enjoying the Hardy Boys, but the cover of the Three Investigators book he was offering me was tantalizing, plus that title! How could a cave moan? I started reading, and was soon swept up in the story–which remains, to this day, one of my favorites in the series. It reminded me of another book I greatly loved as a child, The Mystery of the Haunted Mine, but the problem was my library didn’t have any of these books, and I could never find more of them anywhere. In junior high a friend of mine was a fan of the series, which led me to reread The Mystery of the Moaning Cave, which I loved all over again, and then its predecessor, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock, which was also amazing. I eventually discovered, on a birthday trip to Toys R Us, an entire shelf of the books; I got five–The Secret of Terror Castle, The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, The Secret of Skeleton Island, The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow, and The Mystery of the  Coughing Dragon. 

I honestly don’t recall how I was able to collect the rest of the series, or where I got them or what order in which I read them, but I did eventually read the entire series. Later, the series moved on to other authors other than Robert Arthur and the quality became more hit-and-miss, but even the worst Three Investigators case was better than the best books in other series. I still love the Three Investigators, and occasionally will take one down to reread it, again marveling at how well constructed the books are; how tight the plots and how strong the characterizations. I also loved how something small and simple, like the search for an escaped parrot (The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot) would lead to a massively complicated and interesting case about a massive art theft, or the search for a missing cat with mismatched eyes turned into The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy, or a near car crash led them to a small European principality and international espionage in The Mystery of the Silver Spider. Their cases inevitably started small, but eventually grew into something major; like they grabbed onto a loose, seemingly unimportant thread that unraveled a much larger case.

One thing that always amused me was how adults rarely, if ever, took them seriously. Jupiter’s aunt and uncle, and the parents of Pete and Bob, always looked at their “firm” as a “little mystery-solving club”. Inevitably the adults who pooh-poohed their abilities had to eat their words. I also loved that Jupiter wasn’t athletic but was smart. I identified with that a lot more than I did with the Hardy Boys, who were literally good at everything they tried.

The death of Alfred Hitchcock was an enormous blow, and the publisher–Random House, I believe–introduced a mystery writer for a while to replace Hitchcock, but the quality was already starting to decline, and eventually even the fictitious mystery writer, Robert Sylvester, was replaced by another fictitious entity; but the book in which the switch was made didn’t avoid the truth of Hitchcock’s death, and they actually handled it very well.

And some of the earlier books are seriously dated now; The Secret of Terror Castle centered on the home of a silent film horror star whose career was derailed by his speaking voice when talkies came; obviously, that would have happened around ninety years ago now, so there wouldn’t be any contemporaries still alive. Likewise, The Mystery of the Screaming Clock centered on someone who was a sound effects expert for radio suspense shows–which would, at best, have been seventy years ago now.

I’ve never believed this series was as popular as it deserved to be, nor did it get the attention it truly deserved. The books have been out of print for awhile now–maybe you can get used copies, there may even be ebooks now, I don’t know–but they should still be available. I would love to write one of these, to be honest.

They were the shit, y’all.

Being Boring

And just like that, we made it to Friday.

Do days and dates mean anything anymore? It’s hard for me to keep track, that’s for certain. And from what I gather, it’s not just me–everyone is having difficulty keeping track. I missed making a credit card payment this month because I didn’t put it on my Google calendar with an alert–the calendar alerts have literally been saving my ass since this whole thing started–and thank God for them, you know? They pop up on my computer, phone and iPad, so it’s unlikely that I will miss them, but stuff has to literally be on the calendar for me to get an alert, so that’s on me. It’s about time for me to start loading all the bills into the May calendar–perhaps that will be a chore for this weekend.

After all the pleasure I’ve had rereading Mary Stewart and Elizabeth Peters, I am thinking that I should keep the Reread Project going and reread something else that I loved and haven’t read in a long time. What that might be, I don’t know–there are so many books loaded into my Kindle app it’s terribly frightening–but I am also curious as to whether I’ll enjoy reading something new on there. I have some classic crime novels loaded in there–Charlotte Armstrong, Ellery Queen, Dorothy Salisbury Davis, Mary Roberts Rinehart–as well as Ethel Lina White’s novel (blanking on the name) which was filmed as The Spiral Staircase, which is a great classic suspense story starring Dorothy McGuire (I think) that doesn’t get near enough credit or recognition. Then again, I haven’t seen it since I was a child, so who knows? Perhaps it doesn’t hold up. I just remember that the main character, the heroine, was either deaf or mute or both. And yes, the more I think about it, the more I think that should be my next read.

On the other hand, Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin is just sitting there, begging for a reread. I was thinking more about the book again last night–about how truly clever it was, and possibly about how it could be considered, perhaps, a crime novel; which of course made me want to read it again all the more.

Yesterday I was very tired when i got home; I had to get up early and so screenings at our other campus, and then come back to the other for the rest of the day. I slept better last night than I have previous nights of the week–although I did wake up a few times–and I really do need to get back to stretching and exercising here at home every morning. It helps with being tired, and it certainly helps me sleep better at night. I’ve lost seven pounds since the quarantine started–apparently every one else has gained weight?–and so, for the first time since around 2010 or 2011, I weigh less than 210, which was a plateau I was beginning to think I was too old to break through. And now I have, which means that getting down to my goal weight of 200 is possible. I’m not sure, with the muscle weight that I have now, that going below 200 is realistic; but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it. I never thought I was going to get below 210 ever again, and here I am.

We continue to watch Murder is My Life with Lucy Lawless on Acorn, and I highly recommend it. Lawless looks amazing–those eyes!–and of course, she’s always been an incredibly talented actress–more so than she’s ever been given credit for (she deserved an Emmy for Spartacus) and the structure of the story around her and her character is really quite good. When I get home from the office today, I’m going to finally sign into the CBS All Access app on Apple TV I’ve been paying for, so I can start watching not only Picard but Jordan Peele’s The Twilight Zone reboot.

This weekend, I’ll need to run some errands–grocery store for a bit of odds and ends–and I am mostly going to spend the weekend relaxing, cleaning, organizing, and I need to polish a pair of short stories and finish the first draft of my Sherlock story, so I can revise and rewrite accordingly before turning it in at the end of the month. I’m also going to go back to the Secret Project, which I’d like to finish, along with these stories, by the end of the month. Then I can go spend May finishing the final draft of Bury Me in Shadows–I finally had the breakthrough on the story I was looking for–and then once that’s done, I can spend June and/or July doing a final of the Kansas book, and then–you guessed it–it’s time to tackle Chlorine.

Pretty cool, huh? I also want to start brainstorming on the next Scotty book, too. SO much writing to do, so little time….

And so I must return to the depths of the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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Your Cheatin’ Heart

I love Harlan Ellison.

So, as you might remember, I recently read two wonderful Harlan Ellison short stories (to be fair, every Ellison short story is wonderful; his lesser efforts are better than most writer’s best), “On the Downhill Side” and the Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” both included in his collection Deathbird Stories. At one point I had a mass market paperback edition I’d picked up in a bookstore; I literally have no idea where that is–probably lost over the years during a move or something, or it may be on the bookshelves; at this point who knows? But I’ve gathered and collected Ellison collections over the years–recently getting, from eBay, the very same mass market paperback edition of Strange Wine, which was my gateway drug to reading Ellison–and even got the enormous collection The Essential Ellison, which still sits proudly in my bookcase.

The first time I heard of Ellison was when I read Stephen King’s brilliant introduction and evaluation of the horror/speculative fiction genre, Danse Macabre, which reminded me of many great films and books and TV shows I’d loved, and introduced me to still others. Shortly afterward, I was at a friend’s apartment drinking–this was my early twenties–and she had that copy of Strange Wine, and I thought, oh, Harlan Ellison! Stephen King praised him to the skies! I need to read this. I asked if I could borrow it and she gifted me with it (and in all honesty, I thought less of her for not wanting it back, particularly since she raved so much about how good it was), and then I took it home with me that night and the next morning I read the intro and the first story, “Croatoan,” and there was no looking back from that. I devoured the book, learned the term “speculative fiction” (which I much prefer to horror, science fiction, and fantasy; when I worked at Lambda I tried, unsuccessfully, to get that award category title changed to simply Best Speculative Fiction), and also became interested in writing it. This was during the time when I worshipped Stephen King so much that I wanted to become a writer like Stephen King, but wasn’t skilled or trained enough to really write really good speculative fiction–or fiction, really, of any kind. I still write it periodically, and some day when I have the time I’ll work on my short story collection Monsters of New Orleans more (hat tip to Lisa Morton; she suggested I do it years again at World Horror Con in New Orleans); in fact the story I started writing yesterday, “The Pestilence Maiden”, would be for Monsters of New Orleans. I looked for more of Ellison’s works every time I went to a bookstore for about a year after that, to no avail, and eventually Ellison got pushed to the back of my mind.

A few years later, one of the major networks (I want to say CBS) rebooted The Twilight Zone as, I think, maybe a summer replacement series (when that was a thing), and I noticed in the TV Guide one week that one of the two stories in that week’s episode was based on Stephen King’s truly creepy short story “Gramma,” and decided to tune itn. “Gramma’ was the first half hour, and it was totally creepy, just like the story; I stayed turned for the second half, which was called “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and starred Danny Kaye and Tim Reid of WKRP in Cincinnati fame. The story was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and made me cry. As I watched the credits roll, I saw, to my joy and surprise, that it was based on a Harlan Ellison story and he may have even adapted it into a teleplay. It became a goal of mine to read that story, and so I began haunting used bookstores, looking for Ellison collections. I never, ever regretted reading an Ellison collection, and eventually I did finally find a collection that included “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which remains to this day one of my favorite short stories.

I was reminded of Ellison recently because of a Twitter thread about short stories; I think perhaps Art Taylor may have started it, looking for short stories to teach in one of his classes (it may have been Facebook); and someone mentioned Ellison’s Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” (I, of course, suggested “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which also led to a discussion of The Twilight Zone episode I mentioned earlier, which is actually now on Youtube; you can watch it here. I also didn’t know, until looking up the link, that it was Danny Kaye’s last screen appearance, and he deserved a goddamned Emmy for it; and I’m not even a fan.) I knew I’d recently downloaded, at some point, some Ellison collections to my Kindle app when they were cheap and/or free, so I decided to look to see if I had it. When I opened Deathbird Stories, it was open to “On the Downhill Side,” which turned out to be set in New Orleans; I read it, loved it, and then went to the table of contents, and sure enough, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was in it. (I must have read it before; I am certain I read my paperback copy of Deathbird Stories, but I didn’t remember either story.)

This is how “On the Downhill Side” begins:

I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn. Names Lizette, she was a Grecian temple in which no sacrifice had been made. Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night. My unicorn whinnied, inclined his head, and she stroked the ivory spiral of his horn.

Much of this took place in what is called the Irish Channel, a strip of street in old New Orleans where the lace curtain micks had settled decades before; now the Irish were gone and the Cubans had taken over the Channel. Now the Cubans were sleeping, recovering from the muggy today that held within its hours the deja vu of muggy yesterday, the deja reve of intolerable tomorrow. Now the crippled bricks of side streets off Magazine had given up their nightly ghosts, and one such phantom had some to me, calling my unicorn to her–thus, clearly, a virgin–and I stood waiting.

Had it been Sutton Place, had it been a Manhattan evening, and had we met, she would have kneeled to pet my dog. And I would have waited. Had it been Puerto Vallarta, had it been 20 36′ N, 105 13’W, and had we met, she would have crouched to run her fingertips over the oil-slick hide of my iguana. And I would have waited. Meeting in streets requires ritual. One must wait and not breathe too loud, if one is to enjoy the congress of the nightly ghosts.

She looked across the fine head of my unicorn and smiled at me. Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation. “Is it a bit chilly for you?” I asked.

New Orleanians, of course, as I have noted before, are very protective and pedantic about fiction written about the city by people who don’t live here (always said with capital letters: People Not From Here)–this also stands for lazy journalistic features that always, inevitably, get everything incorrect–and in this beautifully written and incredibly poetic opening, there’s an error: the Irish Channel isn’t a strip of street, it’s an actual neighborhood, running alongside the Garden District from Jackson to Louisiana and from Magazine to the river. (I don’t know about the Cubans–I don’t know of any concentrated Cuban immigration to New Orleans, but I know enough not to question it because there’s so much about this magic place that I do not know, which is why I am reading New Orleans history) But the opening of this story is simply gorgeous, and the imagery Ellison uses is absolutely perfect; I particularly like the sentence Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night–and wish I had written it.

As I read more of the story, it’s spectral beauty began casting a spell on me; Ellison didn’t try to write about New Orleans like a native or a local; his ghostly spirit with the unicorn, trapped like Lizette in the realm between worlds because of unfinished business, is also new to New Orleans, and sees it as a tourist would; and I realized how wise he was to make this storytelling choice; it makes errors not only acceptable but forgivable (I really can turn into a hellish banshee on this topic) and he also wrote some beautifully evocative lines about the city that I wish I had written:

I despise Bourbon Street. The strip joints, with the pasties over nipples, the smell of need, the dwarfed souls of men attuned only to flesh. The noise.

The Saint Louis Cemetery is ancient. It sighs with shadows and the comfortable bones and their afterimages of deaths that became great merely because those who died went to be interred in Saint Louis Cemetery. The water table lies just eighteen inches below New Orleans–there are no graves in the earth for that reason. Bodies are entombed aboveground in crypts, sepulchers, vaults, mausoleums. The gravestones are all different, no two alike, each one a testament to the stonecutter’s art. Only secondarily testaments to those who like beneath the markers.

It really is a gorgeous story, almost dream-like in its telling, and I absolutely loved it. I then moved on to the Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”:

On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. She was one of twenty-six witnesses to the ghoulish scene, and, like them, she did nothing to stop it.

She saw it all, every moment of it, without break and with no impediment to her view. Quite madly, the thought crossed her mind as she watched in horrified fascination, that she had the sort of marvelous line of observation Napoleon had sought when he caused to have constructed at the Comedie-Francaise theaters, a curtained box at the reat, so he could watch the audience as well as the stage. The night was clear, the moon was full, she had just turned off the 11:30 movie on Channel 2 after the second commercial break, realizing she had already seen Robert Taylor in Westward the Women, and had disliked it the first time; and the apartment was quite dark.

The murder of Kitty Genovese, based on my limited knowledge of Harlan Ellison and his work, seemed to weigh pretty heavily on his mind; he wrote this story, clearly influenced by the Genovese murder and the stories that arose around it; I also distinctly remember reading an essay he’d written in which he talked about it–I believe it may have been the introduction to Alone Against Tomorrow, or in one of the mini-essays he wrote about each story collected within its covers; I cannot remember which. But I remember how clearly appalled and horrified he was, not just by the murder, but the way the witnesses did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing, to either stop the murder or to help the hapless victim. As his spirits in “On the Downhill Side” are waiting for their green light to ascend to the spirit plane from this mortal realm, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” delves, not into the inhumanity involved in every aspect of the Kitty Genovese murder, but what created that very inhumanity, as Beth, new to New York, begins to see the dark, malevolent spirit that drives New York and sometimes, occasionally, demands blood sacrifice; and as she begins to harden her own shell in order to survive. It’s an extraordinary story, well worthy of the Edgar; although I am surprised it was so honored, as it blurs the boundaries between different genres–and back in the day, Edgar judges tended to be very strict about what was and wasn’t a crime story.

And yes, I will be delving back into Ellison’s short fiction–as a crossover between The Short Story Project and The ReRead Project.

febAnton Antipov4

Take Me Home, Country Roads

And here we are, Sunday morning, and the dawn of a new week. I am still controlling things with copious amounts of DayQuil–it really works wonders.

I finished reading Daphne du Maurier’s story “The Menace” yesterday, and am not quite sure what to make of it, to be honest. It was very strange, and again, like “The Archduchess”, not your typical du Maurier story (if it can be said that there is such a thing as a typical du Maurier story), but I also wasn’t certain how it fit the supposed theme of the stories in The Breaking Point–people pushed to their breaking point, and how they react or behave once they break. But it was an interesting read, and I’m not sorry I read it. I may wait before moving onto the other stories in the collection I’ve not read yet–“The Limpet” and “The Lordly Ones”–because these last two seemed like lesser stories…but it’s also kind of nice to know that du Maurier didn’t always hit it out of the park, too.

Makes me feel a little better about myself, don’t you know.

I also started rereading my favorite ghost story of all time, Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home, which is just as charming, enchanting, and compulsively readable as it was the first time I read it, many many years ago when I was a just a child.

Yesterday was okay, health-wise, for the most part. It comes in waves, it seems, and I dosed myself regularly with DayQuil. At one point yesterday I wasn’t paying attention to the time, and  I could feel my nose starting to run and my temperature starting to go up, so I walked into the kitchen and dosed myself. I started shivering for a moment and then it kicked in and that was that. So, DayQuil, if you’re ever looking for testimonials…you know where to find me. The DayQuil seems to help keep the fever down, and to help with the coughing. There was a slight headache now and again, with several minor dry-coughing fits throughout the day, but no uncontrollable shivering, which for me was really the worst part of it other than feeling off. I am still sticking to my plan of getting tested tomorrow and self-quarantining for the rest of the week–it’s the only thing that makes sense and is responsible. I cannot assume that what I have isn’t the COVID-19 virus, and I cannot put other people at risk (any more than I already have–which is quite a lovely burden to shoulder, I might add). At worst, I’ll exhaust my sick and vacation time staying home for the week; at best, I’m getting better and not getting anyone else sick. I hate the thought that I put people at risk more than anything else, but I also didn’t know, so there’s that–but does that make it any better? Obviously, deliberately infecting people is worse, and now that I’ve been sick, I know better than to go to work every day until I know I don’t have it, or until I know I did have it and have taken the time to get over it completely.

I slept very well again last night, which was lovely, but I did feel tired most of the day yesterday. Going up and down the stairs seemed to really tire out my legs. But my breathing seems to still be okay–no tightness in my lungs, no restriction to my breathing–and while there were a couple of dry coughing fits (which go on until my lungs ached), for the most part my respiratory system seems to be functioning properly. So far so good this morning–although I should probably take a shot of DayQuil pretty soon; certainly before my second cup of coffee.

We watched a lot of episodes of Kim’s Convenience last night, which is a really cute and charming show that occasionally takes on some interesting and topical subjects. It’s very well cast, and I think my favorite character is the mom, who is absolutely hilarious. After a few hours spent with the Kims, we decided to try something else, and I remembered that we have Apple TV Plus (yes, we have too many streaming services, and I know I really should take the time some time to sit down and figure out which ones we need and which ones we don’t), and so I clicked over to that app and saw that Stephen Spielberg’s reboot of Amazing Stories was available, so we watched the first two episodes. The show is aptly titles, by the way–it is amazing. The stories are what Harlan Ellison called speculative fiction–that terrific catch-all that covers horror, fantasy, and science fiction, with all the crossovers and gray spaces in between. The first episode dealt with time travel; the second with spirits trapped in limbo, and both were so incredibly well done. The writing and acting and directing were pinpoint sharp; and the production values made it very clear we were watching a Spielberg production. The first starred Dylan O’Brien of Teen Wolf fame, and despite being about time travel it never created the paradox issues that usually pop up with time travel and was entirely satisfying at the end, with everything wrapped up beautifully. The ghosts in limbo story was equally emotionally honest and strong, about the bond of love between two young girls of color who were track stars and best friends since they were children, until one dies in a tragic accident. The two episodes were so sharp and strongly written they reminded me of Ellison and one of my favorite short stories of all time, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which was filmed as an episode of the mid-1908’s reboot of The Twilight Zone (that remains one of my favorite television episodes of all time as well); I am really looking forward to watching more of Amazing Stories–which reminded me I also pay for CBS All-Access, which means we can also watch Jordan Peele’s reboot of The Twilight Zone, which is also incredibly cool. It also made me think that the reboots of these shows should do what Rod Serling and the producers of other such shows in the 1950’s and 1960’s did–buy speculative fiction short stories from masters of the genre to film. Goddess knows there are plenty of them around these days.

And now I’m starting to fade a little bit, so I think I am going to repair to my easy chair and take it easy for a while. Have a lovely, and safe, Sunday, Constant Reader!

clayton snyder