Seven days stuck in paradise. No access to my computer. Three anthology deadlines looming like great looming things. (Thank you Messrs Curtis and Elton.) What else could I do but pace and read?
In spiritual support of New Orleans writers, I began my vacation by binging on Greg Herren's work and ended it by indulging in Poppy Z. Brite.
Murder in the Rue Dauphine and Murder in the Rue St. Ann feature Greg's detective Chanse MacLeod. The writing in Rue Dauphine was a little rough, but improved a lot by Rue St. Ann. I was ready to strangle Greg by the end of St. Ann, but that's a good thing. He sucked me into his characters and it pissed me off when things went terribly wrong.
I had a great conversation about Greg's Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz at a bookstore. All I had to say was "undercover go-go boy" and "stoner parents," and the Border's employee added these books to his personal reading list. These stories are lighter in tone than the Chanse MacLeod stories. The main character, Scotty, is too damn fun. I loved being inside his head.
All four of these books are worth picking up. However, if I had to choose, I think I'd read the Chanse MacLeod novels simply because I like a hard-boiled detective, and this character shows all the signs of heading down a dark path.
My original reading list for the trip was: Stephen King's On Writing, Ray Bradbury's Zen in the Art of Writing, Armistead Maupin's Tales of the City, Blood Lust, an anthology of erotic vampire tales edited by M. Christian and Todd Gregory, and Bite Club by Hal Bodner.
On Writing has been pimped so heavily on all my writing lists that I expected it to be a waste of time. It wasn't. I bent down many pages as I read through it to mark passages I wanted to revisit. If you write and want insights from someone who isn't a literary snob, this is your book.
I wish I could say the same for Zen in the Art of Writing. I enjoy the ideas in Bradbury's stories, but not his style. This book pretty much made me swear off his work forever. It is a collection of different drafts of one incoherent essay. Save your money.
I always thought Tales of the City was set in New York. If I'd known it wasn't, I might have read this book ten years ago. A lot of the Seventies stuff went right over my head, but I'm not curious enough to track down what EST is, or was. I'm sure that at the time this was written it was groundbreaking stuff. But nowadays, simply being queer isn't enough of a characterization to carry a story. Maybe it's not fair to judge a book out of its time. The characters were never more than names to me, and I had to flip back to the beginning chapters to remind myself who they were. Halfway through I stopped doing that, because I simply didn't care enough to backtrack again. I know - ouch, way ouch.
Blood Lust. This anthology had a lot going for it. I'm a fan of M Christian's work. His collection The Bachelor Machine is incredible. I've read Patrick Califia's Mortal Companion, so I was familiar with his character Ulric. Thomas Roche has a traditional hetero vampire tale in another anthology, Blood Surrender, that I also contributed to, but I like his Visitations in this book a lot more.
As with any anthology, there were stories I liked more than others. The Ward by Lukas Scott made good use of a hospital setting. Jeff Mann's Hemlock Lake was written in absolutely beautiful language. Mischief Night by Max Reynolds was strongly written and hot. Call me old fashioned, but I like my porn to show explicit sex. The glossary of Haitian terms was unnecessary, I thought, to enjoy Paul Crumrine's Bicycle Baka. Starlight by Jordan Castillo Price was a great pairing of predators.
Bite Club was the weakest book of those I read. Not recommended.
Poppy Z. Brite's novel Liquor was the other bookend to my week. Poppy started in horror and built quite a following. I've heard a lot of good about her work, but I'm not a big fan of horror, so I always passed her by. Last year at Conjecture III, a San Diego Science Fiction convention, writer Allison Lonsdale told me that Poppy switched to literature. So I decided to finally give Poppy a try. (By the way, I will be speaking at Conjecture 4 on October 7- 9, 2005 so if you're in San Diego, stop by and say hi. I'll say howdy back, and then you may buy me a drink.)
Liqour tells you a lot about the kitchen side of a restaurant, but not so much that it gets in the way. It's great to read about New Orleans outside of the French Quarter. There were a lot of loose ends in this book, so I wasn't surprised to see that Prime follows the same characters. I'll definitely pick it up. I may even read one of her horror novels. I suggest you do the same.
Sorry this was such a short list, but I only had seven days. I never got a chance to read through my past two issues of Other Magazine that I keep meaning to enjoy. (Sorry Charlie - and after all my bitching about not getting the latest issue!)
What are you reading?