Promises in the Dark

I grew up loving both horror and crime stories–those wonderful old black and white Universal monster movies used to scare me to death, not to mention all the marvelous ghost stories and mysteries that got filmed back in the day. I also watched a lot of the 1950’s paranoia horror monster movies–Godzilla and its ilk–and those also used to give me horrible nightmares. I also liked how twisted horror comic books like The Witching Hour, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were. I’ve always wanted to write those kinds of stories, but if you think I have zero confidence in my abilities as a crime/mystery writer, there’s even less when it comes to my writing of horror. I never feel like I ever get it right, you know, and my stuff is macabre and peculiar and slightly twisted, but it’s not really scary. But like I did with the mystery novels and movies I watched as a child, I was always looking for myself in those tales and not finding myself. Oh, every once in a while there would be some homoeroticism in some horror I would be reading (Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now comes to mind), but for the most part, there wasn’t much. Thomas Tryon’s The Other resonated with me–it wasn’t until decades later that I learned Tryon was gay, and that sensibility infused all of his work, hence my connection with it–but usually when gays showed up in horror they inevitably were effeminate and soon to become victims. (Kill your gays has always been a thing, clearly.)

When I was going through my “I want to be the gay Stephen King” phase in the 1980’s, I didn’t put gay characters or themes in any of my stories–although rereading my attempts at horror from then now, I can see the sensibility was always there–but the horror novel I started writing in about 1986 or 1987, The Enchantress, had a gay point of view character, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was always afraid, you see, to include gay characters in anything I hoped to get published because I was so busy keeping my two lives completely separated that I feared writing sympathetic gay characters would out me. (During my many writings about my high school students from Kansas, one of them was actually gay and was probably the most realistic and honest character in all of those writings) Trying to salvage those stories now, decades later, I sometimes will revise one and make the point of view character gay–which inevitably makes the story work better, incidentally–and they see publication eventually; “Crazy in the Night” was one of those stories, and another morphed into Bury Me in Shadows, actually. Just this morning I was thinking about some more of those old stories and how to make a couple of them work–partly because I spent the last two mornings reading Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology from the Horror Writers Association, edited by my friends Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason. The point of the anthology was to focus and highlight horror stories from marginalized writers–where they are marginalized by race or religion or sexual orientation or gender identity, and it includes stories from some of the top names in horror publishing today.

As with any anthology, some stories stick with the reader more than others; this isn’t a dis on any of the contributors to the anthology–every story was incredibly well-written–it’s just that everything is subjective and some stories stick with the reader longer than others. For me, the standouts were Jennifer McMahon (“Idiot Girls”); Alma Katsu (“Waste Note”); Gabino Iglesias (“There’s Always Something in the Woods”); Hailey Piper (“The Turning”); Larissa Glasser (“Kalkriese”), Michael Thomas Ford (“When The Lovelight Gleams”); M. E. Bronstein (“The Voices of Nightingales”); and S. A. Cosby (“What Blood Hath Wrought”). These were the ones that really resonated me, with the connections of strong writing, three dimensional characters, and completeness of the story. For many of the contributors, this is my first experience with their work, and I will definitely look out for more of their work. These were the ones that made me start thinking about ideas and stories and characters; stories that not only were enjoyable and immersive to read but also kick-started my own creativity and inspiration.

And what more can you ask from a reading experience, as a fellow writer?

Now I want to write more horror.

Definitely check the book out, Constant Reader, I think you’ll enjoy it.

We Love You

I got home last night around seven, exhausted, bone-tired, and delighted to be able to sleep in my own bed after four nights of insomnia. I got some sleep while in New York, but not much–and I also exerted myself a lot more than I have in, well, years. Mt Fitbit would let me know every day that I’d reached the goal of ten thousand steps (which never happens, but I do need to start taking walks more regularly, as it’s disturbing how physically out of condition I am–my legs are achy and sore from all the walking), and of course I had cut my heel accidentally the morning I left, so it’s kind of achy and painful. But I slept deeply and well last night, the sleep of the exhausted, and I actually feel rather rested and awake as I re-acclimate to my normal reality. As I expected, I didn’t write hardly anything while I was gone, so I need to climb back up on that horse today. It’s a work holiday–there’s no way I could be functional at the office today (I always take an extra day off to recover from the trip upon my return home), and now I have to figure out what I need to get done to get back in control of my life.

First thing on the list is to get back on track with my writing–so hallelujah for a day off! I don’t even want to think about the horror that is my email inbox just yet, and I may avoid it for another day so I can get my proverbial shit together (oh, my OWN coffee that I made myself just is so much nicer than buying it somewhere). I am most likely going to have to hit the grocery store today, as well as pick up the mail and a prescription and put gas in the car. There’s some filing and sorting that needs to be done this morning, and of course I need to think about what to take for lunch to the office for the rest of the week. So much to think about, so much to do, so much to remember. I believe this may even call for a to-do list. Yay!

I did have a lovely time in New York; it’s always invigorating to spend time in the company of other writers. It was a bit cold for my liking, but I think I walked all over Manhattan, had some amazing food, got to reconnect with friends (some I hadn’t seen in years in person), and of course, the highlight was seeing Hadestown. I’ve already downloaded the cast recording to Spotify; it may be different to listen to than when watching it performed live, but I am looking forward to listening to it on walks–because I’ve decided that walks are de rigeur in my future–and maybe, just maybe, i could also start listening to audiobooks when I am taking my walks. I want my heel to heal first, of course–all that walking in New York probably wasn’t optimal for that, but one of my goals this year to become more physically active, and what better way to get that going than by taking walks? I can also, you know, take pictures with my phone, too, of my neighborhood and the Garden District or wherever I may go for a walk. It also occurs to me that one of these weekends I should spend a day exploring the World War II museum (which could help with some backstory for Chlorine).

As you can see, the trip has rather invigorated me, even as I am physically worn out as I type out these ambitious plans.

I started reading the Horror Writers Association’s latest anthology, Other Horrors (edited by Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason) on my flight home, and am quite enjoying it. The premise of the anthology is for it to be inclusive and to highlight diverse authors and voices; and so far it’s been fun. There are stories I like better than others, of course, but that’s any anthology and it’s very fun to discover new authors and voices that I wasn’t aware of–again, the point of the anthology–and there’s nothing I love more than discovering new voices, you know? Plus, reading it has me itching to write some more short stories–which of course I really can’t do because I’ve got to get this book finished–but I also want to map out the rest of my writing year and come up with a plan for my future. I think I am going to take the plunge and write that romance I was thinking about the second half of last year–just for something different to do and something to sharpen my skills; I think we should always try to write outside of our comfort zone as often as we can, which is why I dabble in horror sometimes. And why not give romance a try? I’ve always liked romance, even if I don’t read very much of it (I can’t keep up with my crime and horror reading, let alone anything else), so why not give a whirl?

And on that note, I need to go fold some laundry and start organizing my life and kitchen and office space again. Have a lovely Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

Jump (For My Love)

As Constant Reader is aware, I find short stories to be particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is–and it’s entirely possible it’s post-traumatic stress disorder from college writing classes (kidding)–but it’s a fact. Constant Reader also is aware I am a horror fan, but writing horror short stories is even more difficult than writing crime stories for me–or any other kind of short story, to be honest.

So, several years ago, when Vince Liaguno asked me to submit a story to his Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire anthology, I was very enthusiastic about saying yes; but at the same time, more than a little nervous and not certain I’d be able to pull it off…but I decided to do something particularly Louisiana: a rougarou story.

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The old woman was babbling excitedly, her toothless gums moving up and down as she gesticulated wildly with her arms. Spittle flew from her wrinkled lips, wisps of her thin gray hair floating around her head as it moved back and forth and side to side. Old is an understatement, Special Agent Tom Washburn thought, unable to understand a word she was saying. She looks ancient, like one of those unwrapped Egyptian mummies on that show I watched last night.

 It was a struggle to keep his revulsion from showing on his face.

Despite the oppressive heat, she had a white shawl wrapped around her bony shoulders as she rocked in her worn, wooden rocking chair. Her feet were bare and dirty, her toenails long and yellowed. Blue veins spider-webbed over the tops of her feet, making them look like complicated road maps. She was wearing a shapeless white cotton dress with yellow stains in the armpits. The brown, wrinkled flesh hung from her bony arms. Her fingernails were long, grown out so far they’d started curving back in on themselves. They were painted a bright red, contrasting with the brown skin and the dark liver spots on her hands. Her face was more wrinkled than he’d thought it possible for any human to be—her entire face seemed to be nothing more than folds of hanging, sun-browned skin. An enormous mole on her pointed chin had a few white hairs sprouting out of it. Her eyes were a startling blue, but seemed filmy and unfocused. A wooden cane with a brass alligator head leaned against her rocking chair, and on the table next to her a glass ashtray was overflowing with gray ash and cigarette butts.

She’s like something out of a really bad nightmare, he thought.

Tom couldn’t understand a word she was saying—she might as well have been speaking a foreign language as far as he was concerned. Every once in a while he caught an identifiable English word in her sing-song Cajun dialect that almost sounded like chanting. He closed his eyes and wished again he was anywhere but this rotting houseboat on the edge of a swamp. This is, he thought angrily, without a doubt the stupidest call I’ve ever gone out on. If I’d known how this day was going to turn out I’d have called in sick this morning.

He wiped sweat from his forehead with his already damp sleeve. It was stiflingly hot in the houseboat, which stank of collard greens, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling fan was turning but all it seemed to  do was push the heavy damp air around. The living room—if you could call the tiny space that—was crammed full of strange objects arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. He picked up a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside and shook it. He set it back down where it had been—next to a shellacked baby alligator head, some polished sea shells, a small rusting Matchbox car, and what appeared to be a copper head of John F. Kennedy. There was a thin coat of dust on everything. Cobwebs danced from the ceiling. He slapped at a mosquito and stepped closer to one of the windows, hoping for a breeze. He glanced back over at his partner.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Movie of the Week on ABC. They did a lot of mysteries and horror–the argument could be made that these television films were the best place to find horror in the 1970’s, and broadened the audience somewhat–but there was one in particular that always stuck out in my mind; it was set in rural Louisiana, and Barbara Rush played the lead female role. It was either called Moon of the Wolf or Cry of the Wolf,and it was the first time I’d heard a werewolf called by it’s French name: loup-garou.

Loup-garou. Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’ve always had that tucked away in the back of my head, and of course, I’ve always been interested in werewolves, who’ve never really gotten their due in the horror genre, particularly if compared to vampires.

Living in Louisiana, you cannot escape Cajun culture, and Louisiana, for whatever reason, is a place where the supernatural is far more easy to believe in than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There’s something about the air here; the way Spanish moss hangs from ancient trees, the heaviness of the damp air, the way the past is so much a part of the present  here. In Acadiana, the term loup-garou was Cajunized to rougarou, which to me was even cooler sounding than the original. And in Cajun culture, a rougarou didn’t necessarily have to a wolf; the creature could also be, of course, an alligator.

A gatorman? I was all in.

I had also just finished writing my Todd Gregory novel about vampires, Need, which hadn’t quite turned out the way I’d intended it to–it was a set-up novel; the sequel, Desire, was really going to get the story, and the world I was creating, going–so I was in the mindset of writing supernatural tales. I had also, years ago, kind of toyed with an idea of doing a series that would be my own version of Dark Shadows, only set in Acadiana around a small town called Bayou Shadows, loosely based on Breaux Bridge. So, with a rougarou in mind, I started writing my story.

Imagine my thrill to see, not only a great review of the collection, but one that singled out my story, on the Cemetery Dance website this past week!

Here it is, reviewed by Blu Gilliand.

While desire drives the plot of the above stories, other authors manage to embrace the theme without making it the central point. In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.

How lovely! It’s also lovely to be in an anthology with such amazing horror writers as Lisa Morton, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, and Norman Prentiss, among the other glittering names on the table of contents.

You can order the book here.

And now, back to the spice mines. Must get groceries, hit the gym, clean, write  and edit. Heavy heaving sigh.

 

The Reflex

Thursday! Today we are off to Nicholls State in Thibodeaux to do testing, and then I am testing at the office for a rather long day, but that’s okay. I also have to work this Saturday, but that’s also fine. I slept really well last night, and we also watched the finale  of American Horror Story: Cult, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The season, which seemed to be an incoherent mess and a complete waste of Sarah Paulson’s talent, really came together brilliantly and, for once, made sense. I also read some more of The Blinds, which is so clever that it’s kind of blowing me away. I also worked some more on the Scotty Bible–the only character left from Bourbon Street Blues to do is Scotty himself, and then it’s time to move on to Jackson Square Jazz, although I might edit what I’ve copied down to its bare essences. I also caught some errors in going through Bourbon Street Blues that will need to be corrected for the ebook version. Paul is going to be going away to visit his mother for a week, and I should be able to use that free time constructively to get a lot done around here.

I also woke up this morning to a lovely review of Vince Liaguno’s anthology Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire on the Cemetery Dance website. The review was a rave, which is always lovely, but they had this to say about my story:

“In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.”

As Constant Reader is aware, I have very low self-esteem when it comes to my short stories, so to get a lovely mention like that from one of the top horror magazines/websites for a HORROR short story was absolutely lovely this morning, and it has absolutely made my day. Maybe, just maybe…I’m not as bad at short stories as I think.

One never knows, really.

And so back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you.

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