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Opening the door... [Feb. 3rd, 2012|10:44 am]
[Current Mood |cheerfulcheerful]

Just wanted to come open the windows and air out the room. This house has been shuttered for quite a while and the mice have nested in the corner.

I haven't even checked my friends list to see who is still living in the neighborhood. I wouldn't blame anyone for removing me. I just haven't felt like blogging and so it was. But, something happened and here I am. Life's puzzles and mysteries.

Glad to be back. I can only promise to try to return more often.
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You should listen to my music... I'm going to be huge! [Jun. 2nd, 2009|09:16 am]
This is for those dear friends that are planning on visiting my beloved city of New York: Have you visited before? Remember when you used to walk around Times Square, back in the days of hookers and druggies and sex shops, and three-card monte was all the rage among con artists and criminals trying to rob you of your holiday money?

The hookers and sex shops are gone, but the con artists still return to attack the gullible. Three-card monte might be gone, but now we have an influx of "undiscovered talent" ripping innocent tourists off.

Let me explain how it works: you walk around Times Square (I've seen this happen around Union Square, so be on the lookout if you plan on visiting there), take in the views and marvel at the neon billboards. All of a sudden a group of gentlemen approach you (usually two to three, sometimes just one), with an old-fashioned portable cd player and a backpack in tow. They tell you they are struggling artists who have recorded their first album on their own, with their own funds, because the record companies haven't: a) discovered them, b)have good taste, c)finished their deal yet, etc., etc. They play you a sample of their music on that portable cd player and... would you know it? The music sounds good!

They ask for a mere $5 or $10 for a copy of their cd and will even be so generous as to autograph them for you.

Since most of us have moved on to mp3 players or iPods, it is unlikely that a tourist will pop that cd into a portable cd player on the spot and catch them at their game. No, the con is not fully realized until you get home and decide to pop that cd into your computer so you can burn those tracks and download them to your mp3 player... Surprise! Your cd is empty!

So, please be aware of this con and pass this info to those friends you know will come to visit this lovely city. And by the by, if you're coming to New York, remember there is more to it than Times Square, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty or Ground Zero. Visit our lovely neighborhoods: the Lower East Side (my hood!), Hell's Kitchen (good restaurants and bars), Chinatown (eat some real Chinese food for once), Upper and West side (not that I care much for them, but...). And that's not even counting the outer boroughs.

But, consider yourself warned about the cd con.
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Lost once again [Jan. 21st, 2009|11:42 am]
One of my favorite tv shows, Lost, returns tonight. I'll have a few friends over for dinner and drinks. It's time to find out what ever happened to that island and our favorite six friends and those left behind. A welcome return of quality programming to my household, especially after never-ending sessions of Cheaters, Attack of the Show! and G*d knows what else.

I like television but will take a great book over the boob-tube any day. Not that I am a fast reader, I am not. You could say that I am a writer's (and a publisher's) dream: I buy hundreds of books a year, yet read a mere 12 (that was the pathetic total of books read in 2008 for me). This year I am on track to breaking my puny reading record: I have read 2 books thus far in the month of January. I read THE OTHER by Thomas Tryon and THE TENANT by Roland Topor.

These two books were published by Millipede Press, a publisher I'm starting to admire for their reprints and quality books. The paperbacks are sturdy, hand-sewn, elegant and with loads of extra goodies. Their sister imprint, Centipede Press, publishes high-quality limited edition books that are also excellent. I've been quietly buying their catalog over time.

Today I started reading Gary Braunbeck's KEEPERS. The first four chapters are promising (it is my first time reading Mr. Braunbeck), and I hope to finish this book by the end of this week. That would bring my total of books read in January to a whopping 3! A Herculean achievement for a reader like me.

I should really offer a review of both Tryon's and Topor's books, which I enjoyed very much, but my tank is not yet full and the prospect of a very long entry doesn't whet my appetite just yet. Let's just say that they are recommended.
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On Returning [Jan. 20th, 2009|02:27 pm]
[Current Mood |happyhappy]

After a few years of inactivity on this journal, I return to dust the space, redecorate and keep the mice some company. It has been an eventful respite but we, in the end, must all come home.

For those of you who still list me as their friend, thank you. You are better friends than I have been. Most of you probably didn't even notice, but I hope you can extend a second welcome to me.

I need a few days to re-learn the mechanics of this website--the format and the look of these pages has changed dramatically since I first joined! I plan on changing the layout of this page, adding some pictures and maybe a video or two (is that even possible?).

Updating this journal feels a bit strange: in a way it's like reaching into the past. But I have changed and the past doesn't affect me the way it once did.


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1408 [Jan. 22nd, 2007|06:06 pm]
This past Saturday I received my signed copy of Stephen King's "Secret Windows" that I purchased through the Haven Foundation Store. Pretty neat.

So, today I got an invitation to be part of the screen test audience of Stephen King's newest feature film, 1408, and was asked if I wanted to bring someone along. I told them I am bringing David, but is there someone out there, in the New York City area, that would like to come along with us? The film will be previewed on Wednesday, January 24, at 7:45 p.m. Let me know by tomorrow night.
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I'm Back [Jan. 15th, 2007|06:44 pm]
I will write the updates in the form of a list, considering that it has been a few months since my last entry, and I don’t have the strength to share them all in the form of a narrative:

-End of August, 2006: My mother returns to the Caribbean after a two-week visit. On the same day of her return, as I boarded the Air Train at JFK on my way back home, I got a phone call from an agent who wanted me to talk about my novel. I excused myself and asked if I could call once I got home, considering how I would be underground very soon and would be unable to hold a conversation with her. I got home and called back. I pitched my novel and she asked to see more. She was excited and I experienced everything in a sort of daze.

-7:30 p.m., October 24, 2006: David and I ride the Vespa uptown to 95th Street to Symphony Space to see Stephen King promote Lisey’s Story. We get good seats a few rows in and a Symphony Space staffer hands out a piece of paper and pencil to every audience member to jot down a question for Mr. King. She says a few questions will be chosen and answered by Mr. King. I am shocked to find out later on that my question was the second to be answered. “After seeing the connections in your work (I mistakenly referenced “IT,” when in reality the connection was in “Insomnia”) to your wife’s work, and taking into account the recent release of Mrs. King’s “Candles Burning,” a horror novel, is it possible that we will see a future collaboration between Tabitha and Stephen King?” Mr. King answered that he obviously admires his wife’s work and has thought about writing something with her in the future and will bring it up to her soon.

-Fall, 2006: David (he is featured in ‘Uncle Dick’ and ‘Coma’) and I appear in a music video (I appear in ‘Coma’) for our friend’s band Smith Island. David is campy and funny and excellent as Uncle Dick, a preacher/mailman with a dark secret (he dresses in his wife’s clothing) in this most unexpected acting turn and I bring on the creepiness factor as a evil nurse/mechanic in a woman’s coma-induced hallucination. You can find the videos here (Uncle Dick), and here (Coma) and this additional video (I think there is a flash of David or myself… maybe) here (Asylum).

-Fall 2006: After the successful completion and release of the videos mentioned above, Gabrielle Stubbert, lead singer of Smith Island, and myself, start talks about collaborating on a short feature film (she shot all the videos, and edited them with David’s help).

-December 2006: I read Ruth Reichl’s “Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise” and Kenneth J. Harvey’s “The Town That Forgot How to Breathe.” I enjoy Reichl’s book, but it is Harvey’s book that stand out. This Canadian author is talented and unique and I am glad to have discovered this book. To be honest, it was the cover to the softcover edition that got my attention, and I was not disappointed. A father brings his young daughter to vacation in his hometown, Bareneed, a fishing town in Newfoundland. Strange creatures, such as fishes of impossible colors, albino sharks, and even a mermaid, surface in the waters of the town, followed by the corpses of those lost at sea throughout the town’s history. As these events unfold an epidemic strikes the townsfolk: they simply forget how to breathe and, as a consequence, begin to die. One of the themes that Harvey explores in his novel is the noxious effect of technology in the essence of a town and its inhabitants and I consider he developed this theme with care and aptitude. He is a great writer, no doubt, and because I was so pleased with this book, I have started to seek out his library.

-December 31, 2006: We spend New Year’s Eve at Gabrielle and Peter’s (her husband) house in Tribeca.

-Friday, January 12, 2006: My copy of Poppy Z. Brite’s “D.U.C.K.” and “Liquor for Christmas” arrives.

-Today, January 15, 2006: I manage to be one of the few people who gets a signed copy of Stephen King’s “Secret Windows: Essays on the Craft of Writing” through the Haven Foundation Website. The site claims the book was sold out within two minutes. I feel very lucky.

It’s been a year since my last vacation and I’m starting to feel wanderlust creep into my soul. David mentioned something about going to New Orleans next month, considering how travel and lodging in New Orleans is so cheap after Hurricane Katrina, and we’re looking into it right now. We are committed to doing our part by bringing our money to New Orleans and supporting a city that has been neglected by the rest of the country. Let me just say that I think it’s embarrassing how this country has not demanded that the levees are rebuilt (and paid for by the government). I hope that something, anything, is done before yet another hurricane season arrives and more lives are at stake. I don’t want to pay for a war in Iraq. I’d rather send my tax money to Louisiana.

It’s been a mild winter so far in New York City. I have yet to see a flake of snow. Thankfully.
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A Message from The Beyond [Aug. 30th, 2006|10:57 am]
I reach through the veil to let you know I haven't disappeared altogether. I haven't had the urge or need to update this journal for most of this year and the reason escapes me. What can I say? Sometimes I think it's all due to that change we human beings are said to live through every 7 years or so. It must be a lie but, according to this rumor, after 7 years we are intrinsically different. Much like seven days equal a week, seven years equal a stage of life. It goes something like that, anyway.

The changes I have lived through in the last seven years are so numerous I could not recount them here. Hey, all I have to say is that I am not in my twenties anymore. That should tell you plenty.

In the last few years (I guess since late 2002--read back to the first entry and see what I mean) I went from a separation, a divorce, some shocking scares, the loss of almost all the friends I once had, and a crippling case of writer's block, to a kind of rebirth. If you've known me for a while (and it seems to me that most of the people in my life right now don't really know me prior to 2002--and odd and almost disconnecting feeling) you know that I tend to draw inward. In those moments of reflection I tend to worry about everything: why am I feeling sad? Why can't I get motivated? Why can't I just enjoy this beer and stop feeling like a loser? Why do I always feel like an ill wind is about to blow? Oh, I'm not so obtuse not to see that there are plenty of skeletons thumping around in the old gray-haired bean. Maybe this is all growing pains and soon it'll all be a thing of the past. The thing that keeps me most intrigued is that I feel so different. It's a good thing, I am sure.

Part of the reason why this change is so difficult for me is that I can't seem to relate with most of the things that drove me in the past. Consolidating the two personalities, the likes and dislikes, is what feels so disconnecting. How can I be the same person yet feel so different from someone who was obviously me? It almost feels like a paradox of sorts. But it's life. It's the normal effect that growing older has on us.

This all serves to say that I can't explain why I haven't written in so long. I can't say that it is because I didn't feel like it, because I wanted to. I just couldn't bring myself to care. Yet, great things happened in the last few months. I am now a permanent resident of the United States of America, with a 10-year green card in my possession. I had my last interview and it lasted all of 5 minutes. Most of you know this already since I emailed you about it in June, when it happened. One of the longest shadows in my life cleared on June 26, 2006. To think that after so many years of constant worry and dread it would all end on a drizzly day, well... it seemed so small compared to what I expected.

With that battle behind me I started to focus on my goals. What was next for me? I had a novel languishing in a drawer because I couldn't bring myself to care enough to finish it, even though I thought and tortured myself about it every day. I happen to be a decent cook and all of a sudden I was looking at the New School's student catalog for some classes, since I thought I would enjoy learning to master the kitchen. The world and plenty of possibilities were before me and I couldn't come up with a clear answer. It forced me to relax a bit, not to force the eventual, and I guess I took the time to contemplate. Do I know what I want to do now? Maybe a little better but it's not very clear yet.

Right now I am back to work on my novel. I didn't expect to get back to it so soon, but something unexpected happened last Monday and now I am rushing to complete it. I can't say much about what happened last week, but when the moment comes I will share it with you.

At the moment I am slogging through Boccaccio's The Decameron. It's easier to read than I expected it to be, yet at 800 pages it is much too long. The print is minuscule and the stories presented get to be a bit repetitive. The idea is simple: a group of ten young men and women escape the Plague-infested city of Florence to a mountain retreat to partake in storytelling and "merriment." They decide to while the days away telling each other stories heavy with moral and sexual lessons. Each person tells a story for the length of the ten days that they remain sequestered in the castle they have claimed (apparently, its owners have succumbed to the Plague). The book is divided into ten sections, one for each day, and each section is divided in ten stories, for each story told by each person. Since there is little plot outside of each story, the book tends to feel like a collection of cautionary tales or morality plays. Somehow, the book feels heavy and, most definitely, over-written. I tend to finish every book I start to read, so I will finish this one, but I cannot wait to get to the end. After this I will read Poppy Z. Brite's Soul Kitchen, followed by Scott Smith's The Ruins, and Mark Z. Danielewski's Only Revolutions.

Of course, I will be back here. Hopefully it won't be next year.
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2005 and Beyond... [Jan. 17th, 2006|05:54 pm]
It's been a few months since my last update. I apologize to my dear friends. Maybe you thought I went and died sometime between June and now, and I guess in a way I did. I finally feel I'm kicking that strange case of the blues that's hung over me for the last 3 years. It's been confusing but I'm coming across with a clearer perspective on my life and goals. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that I'm turning 30 this April. Those of you who already passed this birthday know what I'm talking about.

I cannot say that 2005 was all that bad. I now have a long-haired female Chihuahua dog named Boo Bailey as a pet. I only call her 'Boo,' but I guess it doesn't hurt her to have a middle name. She's 5 months old and is as sweet as candyfloss. She doesn't bark, she doesn't bite and she doesn't ruin the furniture. She even traveled to the Dominican Republic along with David and myself for the holidays and had her first swim on the beach, caught her first mouse, and nibbled on her first discarded, rotten fish. She has soft, lustrous black fur and white-tipped toes. Ask me and I'll send you some pictures.

In July-August David and I traveled to Maine. We rented a car and stayed in different Bed & Breakfast hotels along the way. We made the obligatory pilgrimage to Stephen King's house in Bangor. I bought an expensive book at the local Stephen King bookstore and we ate breakfast with the locals at a diner by the airport featured in the novella "The Langoliers." I thank David for allowing a Stephen King fan those simple pleasures.

We also spent a few nights in Eastport, the easternmost point in the United States, a typical New England fishing town frozen in a Victorian time warp. The town seems to be shrouded in a heavy fog at all times and most businesses close by three o'clock. Its antique shops are filled with forgotten or donated family heirlooms that have never traveled past the Indian reservation on the outskirts of town. Visitors may come in, but the locals live by the sea and I doubt they can travel far from it. If you ever travel to Eastport you’ll know what I mean: most townsfolk work in the fishing, lobstering or antiquing industry. It’s a dead town holding on to the memories of a past that is long gone. A hundred years ago the northeastern coast was dotted with sardine canning factories that now line the beaches with broken windows and tilted doors. I heard a local say that Easport was once home to rich business men who made millions during their time, and I guess it’s true considering the beautiful architecture of its homes, but their descendants have few things to boast about besides their property and history. Twice a day (or is it more?) the tides recede up to 20 feet and the coast looks like a muddy desert. We saw a few fishermen by the shore collecting fishes (for bait, I assumed) that could not swim along with the tide to deep sea. We walked along the soft, salty mud and picked beach glass and random garbage dragged and dropped by the currents.

The fog would roll in at dusk and most people would turn in for the night. David and I asked our innkeeper if there was something to do in town and he told us of a concert in a neighboring town. It was a pianist, straight from New York, who played gahgeous Mozart in a church. The only way to get there, other than by car (which would take 45 minutes because you would have to drive along the bay), was by boat. We got our boat tickets and sailed straight through the fog bank to Lubec for the concert at dusk. The captain served us wine and David took a few pictures of the boat’s mascot, a male Labrador Retriever. We got into town with a buzz and could only stay until intermission. We decided our time would be better spent at the local bar, by the docks, knocking back some drinks with the fishermen, trawlers and captains. Just as we stepped out of the church, I kid you not, it started to pour and we ran down the hill to the town’s bandstand, where we guarded ourselves from the rain until it dissipated. We joked that God knew we had drunk in His home and was sharing His displeasure.

After staying in Eastport we spent a few days in the decidedly touristy and commercial Bar Harbor. We drank gallons of local beers and hiked through forest paths (we even found a nudist’s beach by the lake in the woods). Despite the ubiquity of hippies and granola types Bar Harbor seems more of a Disney version of Maine than most towns Downeast. It’s Maine for the masses. Then again, so is Ogunquit, but we loved it. It’s the perfect example of a manicured New England beach town, riddled with bleached white homes, bleached blonde girls and white folks all around. I think I saw two black people in Ogunquit and I was the third darkest-skinned person after them. Despite the shocking lack of multiculturalism in Ogunquit I must admit it was beautiful, fun and rewarding.

Since we had a few days in town we got to experience the town in full, including a game of Bingo at the Fire Department with all the local octogenarians. David, who tends to be very competitive, went ahead and won 3 games that night, a situation that got me slightly nervous as I could feel the jealous gazes of the hardcore Bingo ladies around us. But, David walked out with $135, which we promptly spent around town, so all those jealous ladies can just blow us. The money probably went straight back to them anyway.

It was a good summer. We rode our bicycles every day after work around Manhattan. We drank margaritas and took Vicodin pills by the piers. We watched dozens and dozens of films and I read a few good books, among them Peter Straub’s SHADOWLAND. The fall came softly and sometime in October a friend of mine moved into The Dakota and I entered past those famous gates for the first time. I still can’t believe that someone I know lives in the building where John Lennon lived and died and where Rosemary’s Baby was filmed. The first time I visited The Dakota was during a raging storm and as I sat in my friend’s apartment a bolt of lighting crashed outside in the patio by the fountain, covering the walls and windows with a stark, white light. It was a moment that could have easily fit in the aforementioned film.

I went to the Hamptons for the first time this fall as well. Boo came along and ran along the beach for the first time, unleashed, happy and undisturbed by the slight chill in the air.

It was also during the fall that New Orleans suffered the tragedy of Katrina. I love New Orleans and was concerned for Poppy, her husband and her cats. Thankfully she and her family are okay despite the tragic loss of some of her companions. Having grown up in a country that suffered its share of hurricanes I could relate to the fear and desperation of New Orleanians before, during and after the storm. It is sad, one must admit, how ill-prepared the nation and the state was to prevent the catastrophe that ensued. But, I don’t fret… New Orleans will come back. There’s still to be one town or city that has not rebuilt after a hurricane. Santo Domingo was leveled by a hurricane at the beginning of the 20th Century but that didn’t stop the efforts of reconstruction. I figure most New Orleanians will want to return to the land that gave them shelter, their families, their culture and identity as soon as the air clears. I’m just hoping the people of the Lower Ninth Ward and other affected neighborhoods will get back what belonged to them before the storm.

Last week, David and I returned from a 17-day vacation in the Dominican Republic, as I mentioned above. We came back with deep tans and lighter pockets, but I’m glad to have come returned after all. It’s a new year and I have new dreams and goals. I hesitate to write them out because the year could take a nose-dive later on and I can end up doing nothing, but let me just say that I plan on being more productive.

I want to apologize to everyone for disappearing on you. I haven’t written, called, followed-up or even visited anyone. Don’t feel bad. I was busy clearing the cobwebs in my noggin. I was busy finding out what I’m really about. And right now I’m trying to amend my hateful ways by contacting each one of you in different ways.

I can’t promise anything, but I hope to post on this journal more frequently. I hope.
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Leaving The Resort Behind [Jun. 9th, 2005|05:52 pm]
I finished reading Bentley Little’s The Resort last week sometime and have been carrying the book everywhere in my bag ever since. It was so I would sit and write my thoughts about the book, a task I’ve been avoiding. Well, the bag is too heavy and I think it's time to get it over with and move on.

An apology to any Bentley Little fans should be forthcoming. I doubt my review will be all that positive.

The Resort starts with the Thurman family driving through the Arizona desert toward their destination, a luxurious resort named The Reata. The Thurman are your average American family: couple in their mid-lives, two teenage sons and a younger, withdrawn and fragile boy. They have heard about the resort through word-of-mouth and reserved their rooms after receiving a brochure boasting of the fine accommodations and superb treatment. As they arrive they can see the resort is everything they expected and more. The rooms are exquisitely appointed, the pool is gigantic and heated, the restaurants offer incredible meals and every whim and desire is tended with utmost care. It’s the hotel of anyone’s dreams.

Now, when the Thurmans step out of their rooms on the first evening and return after dinner, they find that there is someone in their room. A man yells from behind the door that they should not disturb him, that this room has been his all along. That’s when the strange occurrences at The Reata begin. The guest, a truculent man with a nasty mouth and a violent streak, does not grant the Thurmans access to their belongings and forces them to fetch hotel help in order to move to another room.

And the strange happenings pile on: the boys think they see a body at the bottom of the pool; Rachel Thurman sees a maniacal gardener do a flesh-crawling dance while staring at him from a few floors above; a hotel manager drags an employee to a locked room, from whence cries and pleads of mercy pour forth.

A few other characters check into The Reata, among them a film critic/journalist, a writer and spouse couple, and a rebellious teenager whose parents spend the day playing golf. These character, just like the Thurmans, experience the oddities of The Reata. It’s obvious The Reata is an entity unto itself, much like The Overlook Hotel in Stephen King’s The Shining. Something is not right in this piece of the Arizona desert.

(Spoilers to follow)

Wouldn’t you know it? It takes a kid (Ryan, the shy, fragile Thurman boy), to unravel the secret of The Reata. Why do the ghosts who bathe in the indoor pool flesh out while swimming, but turn back to skeletal wraiths when stepping out of the water? Why does the activities coordinator engage the guests in dangerous sports game that almost always end up with bloodshed? Well, it’s obvious that the shy kid, the one who wants to write a book about hauntings and revenants will come up with the answer. It’s obvious that he’s the one to count on when the boys decide to explore the area behind the hotel where the ancient ruins of a hotel start to rejuvenate and rebuild itself. It’s obvious that he’s the only one who can vanquish the rejuvenated Founder.

The first half of this book was weird enough to maintain my interest and drive the story along. The characters, though almost too thin for believability, move through strange situations with an aggravating dejection. You see, the hotel’s power of rejuvenation saps their ability to care about anything, to remember gory sights and freaky shenanigans, and to do the rational thing to do when in caught in a supernatural nightmare. I guess I see Little’s point: they’re trapped in the hotel and they can’t control themselves. I also guess I don’t have to tell you that this is an old story and one we’ve seen ad nauseam in the history of horror literature.

But it’s after the last half of the book, after the Thurman boys (and David, the rebellious kid) find the ruins of the old Reata hotel in the desert behind the new Reata, that the book collapses. As the blood starts to pour and the needless characters presented before begin to die off (I don’t think the movie critic character added anything to the story, nor the writer and his wife, which I find disturbing), Mr. Little gets caught up in a gross-out contest with himself. He writes of orgies that end up with a sacrificial dismemberment; a Sunday service where a man dressed only with an Elk head mask (??) begins to chant to the pagan god Pan; a field game where opposing teams charge the field with weapons and murder each other. The dialogue degenerates to a risible, clichéd mess of hackneyed expressions (i.e.: “It will be reborn anew after the sacrifice!” or, “That guy was in a broken mirror. I saw something moving in the mirror, and it wasn’t me. It was him. And he wasn’t in the restaurant but some mansion with animal heads on the wall. He looked like an old-time millionaire cowboy, kind of. And he was real scary.”). This was particularly sad to see since I considered Mr. Little’s dialogue one of his strongest assets.

In the end, it’s all about a fountain of youth that nourishes the decrepit Founder back to life, and how he’d do anything to keep that water flowing. Apparently he has to sacrifice some people (Ryan being the last sacrifice and the one who will bring about the “change”) to Pan in order for this to happen. And the Founder has the power to turn each guest into a thoughtless zombie, or to bring forth ghosts of yesteryear, but he just can’t control the fountain’s waters. That is beyond him.

Mr. Little closes the story with the death of Ryan, a sacrifice that ends The Founder’s reign of terror and The Reata’s hold on the surviving guests. I was left with a few questions, such as: why is it that the hotel started to rejuvenate now and not before? What is it with the faces in the clouds? What was the shape in the pool? Why is it that no guest had a relative, a friend, or a boss who inquired about them once they overstayed their visit at The Reata?

All characters, situations and actions serve the plot. We are expected to believe supernatural terrors without being given an opportunity to care about those who experience them. Because the characters are so poorly drawn I lost all interest in the story once the mystery of The Reata was revealed.

Overall, a book I will not read again. As mentioned above, the first half of the book is good, but the last half reads like clumsy writing. I will try another one of his books, maybe even more than one, but this book did not impress me. This is not anything like Tooth Fairy, The Wooden Sea, or The Shining.

I’m now reading Jack Kerouac’s On The Road to clean my palate and so far, this story, leaves no nasty after-taste.
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On Prime [May. 21st, 2005|12:30 am]
After some consideration I have decided not to review The Dark Tower series. We’re talking about seven books and I don’t have it in me to review a whole series at once. I will say a few things about the books and leave it at that.

The Wolves of the Calla and Song of Susannah were the weakest books in the series (Calla being the weakest). There’s a certain sloppiness in these two books that I felt harmed the story. I felt there were situations, weapons, characters and dialogue that steered the story toward its conclusion without a pointed concern for logic. To suspend disbelief, I feel the fantasy and fiction must be logical within their own context. It’s hard to point my finger at what bothered me in these two books because Mr. King is aware of the contrivances in his story and even hints at his purpose in including improbable situations to move the plot along. Having said that, I must point out that these two books did seem to be written off-the-cuff. I think that is what bothered me… Mr. King had no idea how the story would go until he wrote it. I could almost see Mr. King’s thought process as I read these books, but I’m not so sure it was the best choice for these books.

I’m torn because I enjoyed the Dark Tower mythos and loved the characters, but I thought some of the plot was born out of convenience. When things happen to the characters in such a torrent, when such odds are stacked against them, it’s a relief to know that the answer or solution is not always there. It’s good to know that God won’t just drop from the sky when you most need him.

Agh… I guess this is why I didn’t want to review the series. On the one hand I feel Mr. King could have used some organization in this particular series, but on the other hand I feel he is writing better than ever in his old age. I don’t know of too many writers who love to outline their work prior to sitting at their computers but something about this series cried for an outline.

- The clever ending was appropriate and cathartic.

The inclusion of themes and characters, as well as situations, from his prior work offered a constant thrill for me. I was glad to see Father Callahan return to the page after his departure from the town of Salem’s Lot. I was also glad to see Ted Brautigan appear in the last book. I’ve always loved it when writers create their own universe in their stories. Not all books are related but all of their characters coexist in the same universe. It’s pleasant to hear an old name in a new story and it consequently enriches a character since the reader has a better sense of their past by having read about them in other stories. In the end, it is about the characters and I doubt that when a good writer finds a beloved character, he or she can say everything there is to say in just one book.

Speaking of recurring characters, let’s move on to Poppy’s latest book.

* * *
I finished reading Poppy Z. Brite’s Prime in two days. It’s always delightful when one has no other concerns while reading a book than to complete it, even though the ending of said book comes way too soon. Poppy has yet to write a doorstopper and I mourn for that. Lost Souls and Drawing Blood do weigh in as the heaviest books she has yet written, but quantity has never been a factor in Poppy’s books.

First, I’d like to say that I promised myself to dedicate a few months in the future to re-read all of Poppy’s work, in order to revisit some forgotten moments in my life. I’ve said it before in here: Poppy’s work was instrumental in my life (it still is), back in 1993 and I still remember the visceral reaction to her prose which I experienced when I read Lost Souls. It was writing unlike any I had encountered before.

I never saw Lost Souls as a horror novel per se. The struggle to find one’s place in the waste land of youth and wanton abandon while surrounded by outside forces that vie for a piece of your identity is horrific. The horror in Lost Souls, if I remember correctly (which is why I will reread it very soon) is in the repercussions of misguided choices, belief in one’s imagined strength and the inevitable harm of youth. Vampires have never been particularly horrific to me. If anything, they represent the opportunistic, weaker side of ourselves that we find so hard to resist. They are the laziness that robs our energy. They are the incertitude that forces us to wander until we arm ourselves with the will to face life on our own, to give up codependency. If one pays attention, one will see that it’s always the weakling who gets infected by the vampire. It’s the lost soul who falls to the charms of an easy life.

Then again, one could always argue that Poppy has been writing about foodies from the very beginning. Zillah, Twig & Molochai are discriminate in what they eat (and drink), though their palate isn’t as refined as Poppy’s most recent characters. Let’s not forget: they are smokers.

(Some spoilers to follow)

Rickey and G-Man don’t live an easy life. They’ve co-owned a restaurant, Liquor, on Broad Street in New Orleans, near the courthouse and jail building (if you can risk gorging yourself on liquor-laced food and drinking to your heart’s content and then attempt to get in your car next to the courthouse and jail then I imagine you are the perfect patron for Rickey and G-man’s restaurant—you have titanium balls!), and they’ve gotten a bad review. While the journalist has made an effort to praise some choices in the menu, he casts a shadow on the relationship between the restaurant’s financial investor, Lenny Duveteaux, and his chefs. His review implies that there must be some reason why Lenny has taken on two unknown chefs (to revive his reputation or to maintain his chokehold on the New Orleans restaurant scene, he infers), but this reason has remained a secret.

As the chefs and the investor try to sort out a way to settle their issue with the presumptuous journalist (who turns out to be a novice food writer), New Orleans’s District Attorney, Treat Placide (a great name for this impish character) spends every waking moment securing his reelection, rather than doing his job, like any DA worth his salt. Placide’s rival in the run for his position is Oscar De La Cerda, Lenny Duveteaux’s personal attorney. It is no surprise to see that soon after the appearance of the review on the Cornet, Placide Treat accuses Lenny of “conspiracy to commit fraud, injuring public records, and failure to pay sales taxes” and sends him to jail. Another day in the life of corrupt politicians in New Orleans.

The review and the charges send Rickey over the edge. He wants to break his association with Lenny but the two chefs, who are not particularly greedy or selfish, do not have the money to buy him out. It falls upon them to find a way to earn some money but the options are limited. It is around this time that Rickey receives a letter postmarked in Dallas from a restaurateur, Frank Firestone, offering him a one-week consulting gig to revamp his restaurant’s menu. To accept that invitation means a reunion with a person he hasn’t heard of since his days at the CIA in New York: Cooper Stark, the hotshot chef who once dazzled a naïve John Rickey with his celebrity and good looks. The restaurant has fallen unseen by the unrefined Texan coots who just want a meal that can satisfy their extravagant yet pedestrian taste. Firestone is a man who thinks brunch is the proper start for a day of business and who wears the skin of his state’s favorite animal on his feet. He is sure that Cooper’s rather Yankee menu has turned off prospective diners and he knows Rickey is the man to help him. Rickey has won a James Beard award, he works right next door, and his restaurant has succeeded.

Putting aside his rancor for Cooper’s improprieties and with the level-headed support of his lover, Rickey heads to Dallas to rework the menu for Frank Firestone. He creates a menu that features beef at its core and suggests a new name for the restaurant: Prime.

As Rickey works in Dallas, Placide Treat’s machinations are getting darker and upon Rickey’s return we are treated with the true extent of his desperation and cruelty. I won’t give away the story (I’ve recounted what you can read on the back cover of the book, if only with more detail), but I will share my pleasure with Poppy’s handling of this tale of suspense. Poppy loves a good mystery and it shows in this book: the tension bubbles like (I’m trying to resist food similes here…), well, hot soup in a pressure-cooker and the rewards are just. A scene in a Dallas apartment reminded me of the Poppy of yesteryear and I know those fans who liked her work then will like this particular sequence of events.

It’s a great story, a strong book, but the best is saved for those small moments when Poppy grants an inside view at what I’m convinced is just a tough world. The more I read about chefs the more I think about fishermen. Chefs and fishermen spend their lives in constant stress, working as a team to earn their living (one lazy fisherman can ruin a whole day’s catch, as I imagine one slow chef can back up the whole kitchen and restaurant), drinking until their livers hurt, and ragging on each other to cope with the tension of their jobs. It’s macho work, to run a kitchen, and Rickey and G-man belie any sexual stereotype by their hardy, tough-guy approach to work ethics and fine dining.

It struck me how involved Rickey and G-man are in the restaurant scene. These guys work hard and hardly ever party (I’m not counting end-of-the-night drinking sessions with the guys). They do not have any gay friends and Rickey bristles at the sight of a rainbow flag. I admit, I sometimes wonder why they don’t have one single gay friend (I couldn’t really read Dirty King’s sexual vibe—I feel that was purposefully left in the air). They have been together since their teen years and have not dated other people. It was interesting to me to see how Rickey has not been able to let go of his guilt concerning his tryst with Coop, yet no mention is made of G-man’s encounter in The Value of X with a dancer while Rickey was at the CIA. Granted, it is hinted that nothing may have happened, but… At any rate, it’s an insular gay life they live, without a frame of reference about men-men relationships, but despite that the relationship has flourished on trust and genuine love. I do wonder if they have a secret stash of hardcore porn somewhere in their house in Marengo Street (all signs point to ‘no,’ as the only incriminating thing found in a covert search of their property is a bit of pot.)

(Forgive my interjections and parentheses. As you can see, I can’t help myself.)

Kitchen work can make one cranky but thank God for the caustic sense of humor of cooks and colleagues. I have to praise Poppy’s ear for witty ripostes and cracks. I think I laughed out loud every ten pages or so. Here are a few samples:

- When Rickey and G-man are having dinner at the Stubb’s house, G-man’s brother eyes the food that his mother has displayed, such as “pannéed veal with a delicate golden breading, spaghetti with red gravy, green beans smothered with bacon and onions, stuffed artichokes, and eggplant baked with shrimp and mozzarella.” Salivating, Henry says: “This is practically health food. Look at all these vegetables.” (page 34)

-“You remember that next time one of ‘em sends back his tuna tartare because it’s raw.” (on “urbane sophisticates of New Orleans,” page 49)

The one-liners and jabs are sparingly used throughout the book but are constant and true. Nothing comes across as forced or unnatural. If anything, read this book for the subtle, biting humor. It’s great to read a book that can both keep you tittering and in suspense.

I loved this book and I’m looking forward to the next chapter in Rickey and G-man’s story. Like Stephen King, Poppy has created her own universe in her novels and familiar characters are running into each other. In this novel, for example, we get to reencounter a character from The Lazarus Heart, Linda Getty, who stops by Liquor with Woofer Scagliano, Treat Placide’s lackey. In Poppy’s New Orleans two serial killers once killed an Asian boy named Tran. In Poppy’s New Orleans Luke Ransom once broadcasted his tirades and rants from a swamp on pirated airwaves. In Poppy’s New Orleans, a band of vampires once stormed into town in a van. Everything is possible. It’s possible to make it selling liquor right next door to the courthouse. It’s possible for two guys in love to do what they want to do without sacrificing their integrity and souls. And it’s possible for a lithe, short female writer to show everyone she can be more of a dude than you. Read Prime and you’ll see what I mean: a dude wrote this book.

And he has bourbon in his breath. You know what that means: he's got titanium balls.
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