It has rained all night, and in the dawn's early light outside my windows everything looks wet and soggy. It was still raining this morning when my alarm went off, but as I sip my cappuccino and prepare my lunch before sitting back down to my computer, the rain has ceased, or at least there's now a temporary respite. These are the days when I would rather curl up under a blanket and read a book, but alas--that is not to be.
I started reading Nick Mamatas' I Am Providence last night and am enjoying it so far, although I'm only a few chapters in. I've not read him before, and this is a crime novel set at the Summer Tentacular, a conference/festival in Rhode Island celebrating Lovecraft. (I've also not read Lovecraft, which is another reason, one would suppose, why I am terrible at writing horror; Lovecraft apparently is de rigeur for writing horror or fantasy. I tried reading him when I was a teenager and didn't get very far; I would try again but my TBR has basically already taken over my living room.) I love books about writers, and I love books about writing conferences--two of my absolute favorite books are Isaac Azimov's Murder at the ABA (long overdue for a reread), which is set at what was once called the ABA (American Booksellers Association) and now called BEA (Book Expo America), and Elizabeth Peters' hilarious Die for Love, set at a romance fan festival in New York (also long overdue for a reread).
I recently realized I've been writing stories about writers a lot lately--a couple of unpublished short stories, and of course, Jerry Channing appeared in both The Orion Mask and Garden District Gothic; I'm even thinking about an entire book with Jerry as the main character--and it's always been something I've resisted--writing about writers, even though it's something I know intimately and always enjoy reading. I even said this to one of my co-workers at the office lately, a quote that's always in the back of my head: there is nothing more narcissistic and masturbatory than writing fiction about writers. That thought has always been in the back of my mind, and whenever I start creating a character who is a writer or have an idea for a story about one, I always pull back, remembering that. Saying it to my co-worker recently got me thinking about it--where did I read it? Who told me that? Stephen King has, for example, always written about writers--both 'salem's Lot (Ben Mears, moderately successful novelist) and The Shining (failed novelist Jack Torrance) have writers as main characters; and I can think of any number of other authors who've also done it, quite successfully. Elizabeth Peters' series character Jacqueline Kirby starts out as a librarian, and eventually becomes an international bestselling romance novelist, for another example.
And then, last night as I revised a short story about a writer, and then curled up with the Mamatas novel, I heard the words clearly in my head again, and knew exactly where they came from.
That wretched writing professor who told me in 1979 I would never get anything published.
I might have known.
So, tonight as I continue to revise that story and work on the new book, I am giving you once again, Asshole Writing Professor, the finger.
And now back to the spice mines.
Here's a hunk for today:
A grim, rainy Monday outside the Lost Apartment, and I can hear the wind roaring around the upper level of the house. It is pouring here right now; the leaves are glistening with wet in the gloom--and am I ever glad I got the windows in the car fixed!
Yesterday was a lovely day; I got some work done, went to Costco, and managed to finish reading Paul Tremblay's wonderful A Head Full of Ghosts.
"This must be so difficult for you, Meredith."
Best-selling author Rachel Neville wears a perfect fall ensemble: dark blue hat to match her sensible knee-length skirt and a beige wool jacket with buttons as large as kitten heads. She carefully attempts to keep to the uneven walkway. The slate stones have pitched up, their edges peeking out of the ground, and they wiggle under her feet like loose baby teeth. As a child I used to tie strings of red dental floss around a wiggly tooth and leave the floss dangling there for days and days until the tooth feel out on its own. Marjorie would call me a tease and chase me around the house trying to pull the wax string, and I would scream and cry because it was fun and because I was afraid if I let her pull one tooth she wouldn't be able to help herself and she'd pull them all out.
How much has passed since we lived here? I'm only twenty-three but if anyone asks I tell them that I'm a quarter-century-minus-two years old. I like watching people struggle with the math in their heads.
Earlier this year, the book won the Bram Stoker Award for Best Novel, and as I have mentioned previously, I'd started it before and got distracted and for some reason hadn't finished it. I picked it up again last week and started at the beginning again, and this time read it all the way through. It's an interesting book--well-written, certainly, and I also thought it was interesting the way Tremblay chose to deal with its subject matter: is Marjorie Barrett a mentally ill teenager, or is she possessed by a demon? Complicating matters is that her father is descending into religious mania, while her mother is quite rational and skeptical; and while all of this is going on the family, in need of money, has agreed to have it all filmed as a reality show, The Possession.
The point of view character is the younger daughter, Merry (Meredith), who is remembering it all as it happened in two ways; she is remembering it for the afore-mentioned novelist, who is writing a non-fiction book about what happened to the Barretts, and Merry herself is writing a blog about the television show AND the case under a pseudonym for Fangoria.
It's an interesting book, and it reminded me a lot of Shirley Jackson's We Have Always Lived in the Castle in the voice; an emotionally arrested young woman telling the story in a child-like way about what happened when she was a child, and does she have an adult voice?
I'd read somewhere recently about how horror novels and films are often attacked by religious groups when the books themselves actually are quite affirmative of religion; I've always thought that to be true--Anne Rice's vampire novels are actually very much about affirming Catholicism; and doesn't almost every vampire novel, really, confirm that the symbolism necessary to defeat or keep vampires at bay those of Roman Catholicism? (Particularly interesting in that in Dracula, a Transylvanian would have been Greek Orthodox not Roman Catholic.) I don't know enough about the genre to write knowledgeably about this, but it is definitely interesting.
And now back to the spice mines.
I've posted something along those lines before, both on my blog here and on Social media. I do believe that to be the truth; writers are people who write. Writers don't write all the time of course; we take breaks, we step away from it for a while--sometimes days, weeks, months, years; some writers walk away and never write. But writers do write.
Sometime in the past year or so--I don't remember when--I saw somewhere, I don't remember where--someone took umbrage to the notion that writers write and wrote a lengthy diatribe about how some writers don't write; as I read all the reasons people don't write I just kind of shook my head. I take time off from writing periodically; sometimes it's necessary to take some down time to think, to read, to relax so you don't burn out or get stale.
And no matter what anyone thinks, says, or feels, I will always think it's true: writers write.
Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford; or TBF for short) writes. He writes a lot. And he's very good; he can pretty much write anything. He's written children's books and young adult; mysteries and romances and vampires and zombies and essays. I first became acquainted with his work when he was writing a syndicated column in the LGBT press (there used to be such a thing, kids) called "My Queer Life." I met him when he signed a collection of those essays at the Marigny Bookstore, Alec Baldwin Doesn't Love Me, and they were all quite funny (included in that collection is my favorite essay about writing ever, "The Nonwriting Life," which is absolutely spot-on), and over the years we've stayed in touch, remained friends; he was one of my contributing editors when I was at Lambda Book Report, he's contributed to my anthologies over the years, we've shared editors, friends and enemies and lots of snark.
Endless amounts of snark.
But after several years away from writing, he's back, and once again, he's done a fantastic job with his new work, Lily.
Lily is a fairy tale of sorts, in the same way Tim Burton movies like The Nightmare Before Christmas and The Corpse Bride are; like Neil Gaiman's Emmeline. Lily is a little girl who, on her birthday, develops the ability to know when whomever she touches will die; and the book follows her after her mother sells her to a traveling tent revivial--as she struggles to fulfill a quest given to her by the witch Baba-yaga as well as find her way back to her safe old world.
The illustrations are quite beautiful, and they match the tone and beauty of the story as well. I am often amazed at how TBF can so easily master different voices and tone and styles. It's a wonderful wonderful story; one adults can enjoy as well as children.
It's an excellent addition to your library.
I went to my first Christmas party of the year last night and stayed far too late; I didn't roll out of bed until after ten this morning but at the very least I do feel very well rested, at any rate, if groggy. I stuck to Sauvignon Blanc last night, which I really like--I use to loathe white wine, but have developed an appreciation for both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. I rather like wine, but rarely drink it at home.
Perhaps a glass every evening will help me sleep?
Yesterday was, on the whole, a good day. I spent most of the day washing the bed linen and organizing my kitchen (not as much as I should have done, of course; I never do that as much as I should. I really need to clean out the drawers and cabinets; a project for my vacation that never happened), and I worked on editing one of my short stories. I came across an anthology call for submissions that is absolutely perfect for this story, and I needed to go over it again. It's been rejected a minimum of three times--for two conference anthologies and from Ellery Queen; but I kind of figured it didn't strike the right tone for the conference anthologies and Ellery Queen was a long shot. But when I opened the document yesterday, I immediately saw what was wrong with it and why it had been rejected so regularly, and I also knew how to fix it, so I started working on it. I hope to get that finished today and sent off and out of the way; there are couple of other calls I'd like to submit to as well; and the stories need to be worked on a bit, and I also need to get going on the new novel as well. I also got editorial notes I need to mull over today, and I need to make the Costco run that I should have made yesterday but put off.
But it's also raining; thunderstorms off and on all afternoon. Costco in the rain? Hmmmmm.
I do rather like how gray it is outside, though.
And lord, what a mess this kitchen/office area is this morning.
I do feel more motivated today than I did yesterday--whatever that may mean for the day; I would like to finish reading my book today, and I'd like to get some good work done.
Why is it so hard for me to remember that I enjoy writing? I actually do, you know, and I suppose as with anything I just get very frustrated and annoyed when it's not going well or with myself when I get lazy.
Okay, need to focus and get things done.
Here's a French farmer.
I am awake but groggy. I slept late, am guzzling coffee, and am thinking that I may put off going to Costco until tomorrow. Today might be a stay at home, laze around, get some stuff done when and if I feel like it day. I have a bit of the 'just turned in the book' malaise, that bizarre funk where I just feel a bit dazed for a couple of days. Which is fine, of course, although I need to really get to work on the next. I see reading A Head Full of Ghosts in my future. I also have a Christmas party to attend this evening.
Yesterday I managed to find that Twilight Zone episode I was talking about, "Paladin of the Lost Hour," based on the Harlan Ellison short story that is definitely one of my favorites of all time. It's on Youtube, and if you have about thirty-two minutes to spare, it's definitely worth watching.
Sure, watching it now you can tell it was filmed in the 1980's--the little bit of special effects used were especially cheesy--but the greatness of the story still comes through; it's speculative fiction, sure, but the real strength and greatness of the story is in its human elements. And Danny Kaye is fantastic.
I found it because I was googling the story to find out which collection it's in--it's not in The Essential Ellison, sadly--and I wanted to read it again, only to discover you can actually read it on-line as a pdf here.
And yes, the story as written is so much more powerful than the actual teleplay--which I believe was also written by Ellison.
The story opens with two men in a small cemetery; one is quite old and visiting the grave of his beloved wife, lost to him for twenty years. He is set upon by a couple of young hoodlums determined to rob him; they are fought off and driven away by another man in the cemetery who sees it happening and comes to the old man's rescue. The two men develop a bond, although the rescuer is a little stand-offish and the older man has to earn his trust. The old man's name is Gaspar, and he is quite charming and a bit opinionated. The younger man, Billy, who is haunted still by something that happened to him in Vietnam.
THIS WAS AN OLD MAN. Not an incredibly old man; obsolete, spavined; not as worn as the sway-backed stone steps ascending the Pyramid of the Sun to an ancient temple; not yet a relic. But even so, a very old man, this old man perched on an antique shooting stick, its handles open to form a seat, its spike thrust at an angle into the soft ground and trimmed grass of the cemetery. Gray, thin rain misted down at almost the same, angle as that at which the spike pierced the ground. The winter-barren trees lay flat and black against an aluminum sky, unmoving in the chill wind. An old man sitting at the foot of a grave mound whose headstone had tilted slightly when the earth had settled; sitting in the rain and speaking to someone below.
"They tore it down, Minna.
"I tell you, they must have bought off a councilman.
"Came in with bulldozers at six o'clock in the morning, and you know that's not legal. There's a Municipal Code. Supposed to hold off till at least seven on weekdays, eight on the weekend; but there they were at six, even before six, barely light for godsakes. Thought they'd sneak in and do it before the neighborhood got wind of it and call the landmarks committee. Sneaks: they come on holidays, can you imagine!
"But I was out there waiting for them, and I told them, 'You can't do it, that's Code number 91.03002, subsection E,' and they lied and said they had special permission, so I said to the big muckymuck in charge, 'Let's see your waiver permit,'and he said the Code didn't apply in this case because it was supposed to be only for grading, and since they were demolishing and not grading, they could start whenever they felt like it. So I told him I'd call the police, then, because it came under the heading of Disturbing the Peace, and he said . . . well, I know you hate that kind of language, old girl, so I won't tell you what he said, but you can imagine.
"So I called the police, and gave them my name, and of course they didn't get there till almost quarter after seven (which is what makes me think they bought off a councilman), and by then those 'dozers had leveled most of it. Doesn't take long, you know that.
"And I don't suppose it's as great a loss as, maybe, say, the Great Library of Alexandria, but it was the last of the authentic Deco design drive-ins, and the carhops still served you on roller skates, and it was a landmark, and just about the only place left in the city where you could still get a decent grilled cheese sandwich pressed very flat on the grill by one of those weights they used to use, made with real cheese and not that rancid plastic they cut into squares and call it 'cheese food.'
"Gone, old dear, gone and mourned. And I understand they plan to put up another one of those mini-malls on the site, just ten blocks away from one that's already there, and you know what's going to happen: this new one will drain off the traffic from the older one, and then that one will fall the way they all do when the next one gets built, you'd think they'd see some history in it; but no, they never learn, And you should have seen the crowd by seven-thirty. All ages, even some of those kids painted like aborigines, with torn leather clothing. Even they came to protest. Terrible language, but at least they were concerned. And nothing could stop it. They just whammed it, and down it went.
"I do so miss you today, Minna. No more good grilled cheese." Said the very old man to the ground. And now he was crying softly, and now the wind rose, and the mist rain stippled his overcoat.
Nearby, yet at a distance, Billy Kinetta stared down at another grave. He could see the old man over there off to his left, but he took no further notice. The wind whipped the vent of his trenchcoat. His collar was up but rain trickled down his neck. This was a younger man, not yet thirty-five. Unlike the old man, Billy Kinetta neither cried nor spoke to memories of someone who had once listened. He might have been a geomancer, so silently did he stand, eyes toward the ground.
One of these men was black; the other was white.
THAT is great writing. The story, which I read again last night, moved me to tears again; just as the cheesy 1980's production of the beautifully written teleplay did as I watched it again. All of Ellison's stories are engaging, superbly written; he writes about enormous themes and yet his characters, his situations, are incredibly real and relatable. He writes about the human condition, and humanity; and often he writes of humanity's loss of humanity, if that makes sense. Ellison was the person who introduced the all-encompassing term speculative fiction to me as the tent that contains science fiction, fantasy, and horror; he is a master of all of them.
I'm really looking forward to rereading the stories I've already read; and I am also looking forward to reading stories of his I've not read. I encourage you, if you're not read Ellison but are a fan of great writing, to click on the previous link and read "Paladin of the Lost Hour"; I would be very surprised if you didn't want to read more. His website is at Ellison Webderland; you can find information there about the project (and possibly donate) to digitize all of his writing so it won't be lost.
And on that note, back to the spice mines.
Here's another French farmer.