Saturday, September 2, 2017

When Harvey Met Houston

Scott D. Parker

I have the happy ending.

That is the fact you must know before you go any further. For all the details I relate in this post, there are thousands of folks like me who did not have the happy ending. It is for them my heart breaks and my eyes fill with tears.

SATURDAY, 26 August

When I woke a week ago today, my thoughts were on the folks down in Rockport. They withstood 140 MPH winds as Harvey ran ashore. For us in Houston, it was a gray day. We had prepared our house the previous day, so Saturday was a day of waiting. The rains started overnight (6 inches by 9am Saturday) and no one knew if the hurricane proper would meander up Highway 59 to Houston. Many stores closed around noon. We stayed home, satisfied our craving for a hamburger by grilling under the over hang of my house (it was raining of course), and just waited. The rain started.
By 9:00pm, I measured the bucket I was using as a rain gauge. It read 12 inches. So that was 12 inches in approximately 24 hours. I had made a few sandbags I used to divert some of the water away from our patio. That probably saved water from getting into our house.
We went to bed with the constant sound of rain. Overnight, my wife and I took alternating shifts. We woke up every two hours and checked outside. Still raining. Hard. Even when your shift was over and it was time to return to sleep, sleep was hard to come by, especially when every cell phone in the house would buzz with tornado warnings.

SUNDAY, 27 August

We woke to rain. It hadn’t stopped at all. I checked my rain bucket at 7:45 am. It read 12 inches. That was 12 inches since the previous night at 9pm. Total so far: 24 inches.
The rain slackened sometime through the day but never stopped completely. My son and I trekked out of our house for some scouting around, specifically at the bridge to our north.
I live south of Buffalo Bayou about half a mile. The two reservoirs y’all heard about are to my west (Barker) and northwest (Addicks). We are downstream. The bridge over Dairy Ashford has a depth meter, but I wanted to see the water in person. I wasn’t alone. Lots of folks were seeing what Harvey had brung to our neck of the woods. In west Houston, the Buffalo Bayou is a hiking/biking park with paved walkways and wide open stretches on the north side. The distance fluctuates but I’d say there is about 30-50 yards in many places from the north bank to the first line of homes. On the south, much less.
The rain had lessened, but never quit. The height of the water had reached the bottom of the bridge and the cement arch that ran across it. My favorite do-nut store, Shipley’s, had taken on about 8-12 inches of water. Dairy Ashford was blocked by water just north of the bridge.

 Even the roaches sought protection.

We were mainlining local TV coverage, KPRC, our local NBC affiliate, was our resource. In addition, there is an excellent local weather site, SpaceCityWeather, which features a couple of guys, one of which used to work for the Houston Chronicle. They were invaluable not only for their clear-headed forecasts but also because they were caught in the middle of it, too. They weren’t holed up in some bunker somewhere. When they were pessimistic, you knew to be worried. It was the worry and uncertainty that knifes through you. I carry stress in the back of my neck and upper back. By Sunday, those places hurt.
The rains started again and went for the rest of the day. By midnight, blessedly, the rain had completely stopped. The only sounds were the drips of water. It was blessedly silent. I checked my rain gauge. A new 10 inches, for a total of 34 inches. Maybe it was over. Still, the wife and I took shifts through the night. I had the 3am shift.

MONDAY, 28 August

Surprisingly, I woke at 6am to mostly silence. It didn’t last long. The rain started up again. I checked the perimeter of my house, picking up branches and shoveling mud to make it easier for water to flow. I even dug a couple of small trenches to get the water away from the house. But the rain was unrelenting. In seeing the radar images on the TV, you get the point of thinking: If the rain would just stop, the water would have a chance to do its natural thing and drain away. But the rain never stopped. That knife in the back of my neck twisted a little, but it was nothing like the evening announcement.
The Harris County Flood Control District, in communication with the Army Corps of Engineers, held a press conference. In it, they said the two reservoirs to the west of Houston, the Addicks and the Barker, were full. The fact was mind boggling. You can see in images just how big those things are. And they were full? And the Addicks was starting to overspill. They made the gut wrenching decision to open the dams and start draining the reservoirs. If they didn’t, there could possibly be a need for an emergency release. Or worse. I think you know what ‘worse’ is. The water flows into Buffalo Bayou. Yes, the bayou would rise. When a reporter asked a particular question, the answer was unambiguous: yes, houses that were dry up to that point [and had survived the hurricane’s rains] would be flooded.
Yeah, really.
I’m geek enough to admit that the famous line from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan drifted into my mind: The needs of the many outweighs the needs of the few. When you see it in a movie, it’s a cool line. When the possibility that you might be in the few, that’s something else entirely.
That knife in my neck grew white hot. I literally felt it turn. My stomach dropped. My wife and I looked at each other, and it was a look only spouses know. Now what? At the time, they had no way to know exactly where the water would go, but it had to go somewhere. Like many around me, I frantically searched for information on the internet about elevation and distance from the bayou. The distance from my house to the lowest bend of the bayou was half a mile, about 3700 feet. My elevation—another fact I didn’t know before Monday—was 12 feet higher than the southern bank of the bayou that was already overflowing. It was now we had to make the call: stay or go? If we went, what do we take?
By this time, my neighborhood Facebook group—which, up until this past weekend was devoted primarily to play days and pool gatherings—was in high gear. One of the dads posted the neighborhood directly to our north, across an east/west road called Briar Forest, was flooding. Now, I’m a fiction writer so when I hear the word “flooding,” I start with Noah and work my way backward.
I drove north and assessed the situation. The back (northern) part of the other subdivision was underwater. Someone had put a brick to mark the water line. I could still see the brick. I checked two other north/south roads and marked their water lines. I came back home. With other information gleaned from the internet and other sources, we prepped the house just in case. I looked at the map and the topography of the area and began to think of just how much water needed to fill a sizable area in order for it to reach our garage door. It was a vast amount of space. And the water I’d seen was flowing north and east, away from our house. We decided to stay and took shifts again.

TUESDAY, 29 August

People ask me all the time why I’m so happy in the mornings. It’s because I woke up, something not guaranteed when you go to sleep. I woke on Tuesday morning, still to the sound of rain, but in my house. I smiled and immediately said a thank you prayer. I rode my bike and checked the water lines. Slight increase, but more or less holding steady. But they hadn’t opened the dams to full capacity yet. I rode to the nearest intersection to the Dairy Ashford bridge and couldn’t believe what I saw: Jim Cantore of the Weather Channel. Aw, crap! He never goes anywhere good.
In talking with my Facebook group and other neighbors and newly minted friends, most folks didn’t think the water would get as far south as my house. The government officials, too, issued an image of the extent they expected the flooding to get. My house still stood to the south of that line. It didn’t make Tuesday any better.
But by Tuesday afternoon, the winds had shifted, the rain had stopped, and blue sky peeked out from behind the clouds. As I wrote on Facebook, it wasn’t a rainbow, but it was darn close. Then the sun broke through. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one whose eyes filled with tears.
I hadn’t heard from all my friends and family, but I heard from some who had fled, some who had stayed, and some who got flooded. All the while, we stayed dry. 
 Michael Ciaglo‏ on Twitter on Tuesday said it all: Maybe the best sunset Houston has ever seen, or needed #Harvey

After midnight on Tuesday, I sat in my reading chair, a wing back, stiff alcoholic drink on the bookshelf next to me. I sipped maybe twice and fell asleep in the chair.

WEDNESDAY, 30 Aug to FRIDAY, 1 Sept

Time has a way of scraping by when there is nothing but dread in your mind. The water appeared to be staying away, but more reports of friends started coming in. My Sunday School teacher’s house was flooded although he had safely evacuated. A trumpet player in the church jazz band/orchestra had three feet of water in his house. A member of my book club had to evacuate by boat, but his second story apartment was fine. Others were fine, like us. Now, my section of west Houston had no way of going north, but the southern paths were open. To give you an idea: if I wanted to get to Interstate 10, just a couple miles north of me, I would have to go 9 miles to the east or 16 to the west.
Each morning, the first thing I did was check the water lines. Both mornings had less water, but not very much. Everyone’s new best friend, Jeff Lindner of the Harris County Flood Control District, was a steady rock of unambiguous information.  He was typically up past midnight answering Twitter questions and dispelling rumors, specifically on whether or not the dams would fail. He knew his words would affect people's lives, and he delivered the news in a clear, straight-forward manner. By his own admission, he had been at the office a week and slept maybe 7 hours the entire time.
He had the bad luck to tell people that their homes would flood. By Friday, he had the unenviable position of having to tell folks whose homes flooded as a result of the dam release that the flood waters would not recede for 10-15 days. Ten to fifteen days out of your house. Get your mind around that. Oh, and it would take three months (!) to drain the reservoirs provided it didn’t rain. We are in the heart of hurricane season and about to start autumn, a wet time here in Houston. You can do the math. Just imagine: it’ll take until Thanksgiving for the reservoirs to drain.

As I write this, around 8pm on Friday, the situation is still dicey. There’s a voluntary evacuation notice for folks living in a large rectangle with Briar Forest as the southern border. The reason is the officials don’t want folks to hunker down in a second floor of a house for two weeks with no way to get out.  The two Kroger grocery stores near me are open but with certain staples like bread, milk, eggs, and produce down. In one of the moments that made me chuckle, when I went to stock up on things I missed last week, many heads of cabbage still remained. I guess some folks don’t know what to do with cabbage.
Oh, and the internet is out at my house. At least it didn’t go out during the storm.

I have many things that’ll be hard to forget:
The sound of Coast Guard helicopters flying overhead.
The idea that there were children who were excited about starting school on 28 August having purchased all their needed school supplies and new clothes…and it’s all gone. And maybe their school is, too.
The idea that the parents of those children could do nothing to stop the rain or the flood waters from rising and taking away all they owned.
So many other stories you’ve likely already read or heard.
The emotions that overflowed me and my wife when we watched Lester Holt on Monday as he came to my hometown to report on this catastrophe. There’s something about a national presence that brings a different perspective.

But there are also all the stories of true heroism.
The heroism of our first responders was remarkable. The first truly memorable photo is this one showing Houston Police SWAT officer Daryl Hudeck as he carries Catherine Pham and her 13-month-old child.

Then there was Brandi Smith, the KHOU reporter, who helped save a man’s life. [LINK}

The heroism of the citizens with boats was also remarkable and not surprising. It’s just what people do. The idea that the Cajun Navy saw the need, hitched the trailers and boats to trucks, and hauled ass to Houston to help complete strangers. It’s just what people do.
The heroism (although he doesn’t like that term) of local furniture salesman Jim McIngvale who opened his showroom for survivors, not caring about the cost. Because it was the right decision.
The heroism of Mayor Sylvester Turner and Judge Ed Emmitt. They led us in a dire situation with steady calm.The same goes for Police Chief Art Acevedo who would also speak in Spanish so those folks could understand the issues.
The heroism of Officer Steve Perez who tried to drive to his station to help but got caught in the floods and drowned.
The heroism of our local media who stayed at their posts the entire time. Without them, we’d be in the dark and even more scared than we were.
The devotion of local officials like Jeff Lindner who stayed at their jobs when their own homes were being threatened or flooded because it was the right thing to do.
The heroism of the volunteers who came to the rescue of their fellow people.
The sight of the police cruisers from San Antonio and Fort Worth who came to town, sirens blaring and lights flashing, to take over and allow our local police officers a respite. It swelled the heart and made the eyes well up.

The hashtag #HoustonStrong has already made the rounds. Yes, it’s a hashtag, but it’s also the truth. We are a strong folk down here. We will rebuild, but Harvey has likely changed us. It brought to the fore what most of us already knew: Houston is a great place to live, with fantastic people, fantastic food, and fantastic culture. It is a melting pot of peoples from around the world. Out here in the Energy Corridor, you can go to parks and hear five or six languages spoken. We all came together this week for this unprecedented event. I want HoustonStrong to be emblazoned on everything and seared into our memories. When Harvey unleashed its worse, Houston stood up and showed its best.
They say that 1 trillion (here, let me show you the number: 1,000,000,000,000) gallons of water fell in four days here. You can look up the statistics of what that equals. The one that clicked home is that is the amount of water gushing over Niagara Falls in two weeks. We got it in 96 hours. Staggering.
 I heard a man on the local news who was then driving a boat to help people say something that pretty much sums it all up: There’s more love here in Houston than water.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Running at 75mph

The famous quote is "war is months of boredom, punctuated my moments of acute terror," and the writing life is kind of like that. Well, it's not terror so much as intense flurries of activity. So while I'm working on deadlines and trying to get my shit together, behold some of my flurry!

The Johnny Cash anthology I am thrilled to be a part of, Just To Watch Them Die is out! It won't hit Amazon for a could days, but you can get it now! HERE. The table of contents reads like a list of all your favorite (and mine) crime fiction writers so don't miss it.
Tomorrow you can catch me at Radio on Leg 3 of Beast Crawl. I'll be reading with Joe Clifford, Rob Pierce, Sean Craven, Holly West, and Joshua Hattam. So come find us! Info HERE.

In the meantime I've been invited to a couple of anthologies so all the people bugging me for more short fiction will be happy again! Boucher Con is just over a month away, so preparations are in full force. And I just might have a fun announcement about another event SOON.

Hope to see you somewhere on these travels soon.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Your Next Read: Yuri Herrera

By Steve Weddle

First, our thoughts, prayers, and incantations are with the folks of Texas and Louisiana. DSD's own Scott D. Parker seems to be OK, last I heard.

National People's Radio has a handy list of ways you can help, from the comfort of your iPad.

The Texas Tribune has a list of resources and other information.


Last week, the folks at Playboy posted this write-up Lincoln Michel did on Yuri Herrera.
Herrera’s style shows the influence of hardboiled detective writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler: his sentences are short and punchy, but infused with thematic meaning. In interviews, Herrera praises those authors for their “brutally honest gaze at a brutal reality.” 

Brutal. Honest. Short and punchy sentences? OK. This is like when someone is talking about bacon-infused, chocolate stout. I like all those words.

I'm reading The Transmigration of Bodies, because it's reportedly his funniest, as well as being noiry and dark and all that. Also, I've always wanted to read a book with the word "transmigration" in the title.

Many reviewers compare his writing to that of Hammett and Chandler, which is a fine comparison for as far as it goes. But I'm reading this and getting hints of Sartre, John Fante, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy. There's a touch of Denis Johnson's Jesus' Son in various characters, as well.

This book is spooky in the way it unsettles you, too. Everything is just a little off. Maybe we're talking Haruki Murakami, though no one ever cooks noodles while listening to the Beatles. Honestly, I'm not sure I'd trust eating anything if I'm in this book.

The story is about a fixer who is caught between two rival families in a Romeo and Juliet kind of set-up. But it opens in a Fante novel, moves into a Sartre neighborhood, looking out under a Toni Morrison sky.

I don't know what you like. Maybe you like lyrical noir, whatever the heck that is. I really don't know that much about you at all, if we're being honest here. But I think you might like this book.

Check out what Lincoln Michel says here.

And I know comparing to other authors isn't always super-helpful, but it's what I've got for you today. I'm not sorry about that, either.

Oh, and it's a Cynan Jones book in length, so there.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

A Guide to a Guide for the Undehemorrhoided

Ya like Charles Willeford?
One of the great writers. Characters so strange and so alive.
Whether you first read Hoke Moseley in Miami Blues or saw Warren Oates's silent performance as the eponymous Cockfighter in Monte Hellman's adaptation and hunted down the book, Willeford is like none other. He's written books on art dealing, Florida crime novels like none other, memoirs of wartime, and yes, a book about cockfighting. I never met Mr Willeford, but I love reading his stories, as delightfully twisted as they are, because they never wink at the reader or themselves. They're played as straight as they come, and therein lies their magic. If you want to read a fine article by someone who has met Mr Willeford, I point you to this piece in Mystery Scene Magazine by Lawrence Block. I have met LB, and he's a sly character himself. But Charles Willeford left him wondering. Wondering if the man had eaten a cat. You can read the rest in the above article, which sent me on a wild goose chase for another book it mentions, which is the source of this post's title.

A little-known self-published pamphlet by Charles Willeford entitled A Guide for the Undehemhorroided.

Now, I like writers who invent words. Shakespeare invented hundreds if not thousands. Undehemorrhoided evokes many images, most unwelcome. For one, it assumes you are hemorrhoided, a fate I would wish on my worst and best enemies, but not on anyone I gave a tinker's damn about. There's a reason that you call a relentless pest a hemorrhoid. Because the little SOB's don't quit. But enough about them, let's go back to the word undehemorrhoided. If you're hemorrhoided, you would love to be undehemhorroided. You remember the days when you were prehemorhoidded as a paradisaical time when life was lovely and sadness never lingered and unicorns might peek their velvety alabaster snouts from the nearest copse of woods before springing away, leaving you only a memory. Days when you did not dread that daily constitutional, when you did not eye the revolting bristles of the toilet brush and consider for just the most fleeting of moments, ramming said device where sunlight fears to tread, and giving those little distended blood vessels a thrashing, even if you would shriek in agony and require weeks of bed rest with your tuchis suspended in the air to recover. They are that bad.

Not that I would know anything about it. Research. This is all from research I have done, while looking for this rarest of Willeford tomes. Honest!

The book was written as a warning to all the hemhorroided to remain so. Because, as Oscar Wilde might have certainly said, the only thing worse than being hemorrhoided is to be undehemorrhoided. According to Willeford, the procedure, or at least the recovery, is so uncomfortable that like a bullet lodged next to an artery, it's better to live with this painful invader than to deport it from one's body. This is from a soldier. Not just any, but a veteran of the Battle of the Bulge, who received the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and the Purple Heart! This man was saying, "wear those painful, itchy, sonofabitching purple welts in your holiest of holies like a badge of honor. Leave them BE."

If that's not more terrifying than a dozen Stephen King novels, I don't know what is. Now, I have not read A Guide for the Undehemorrhoided in its entirety, as the least expensive copy I can find runs for $250, and it's a mere 50 pages, and that's a lot of beer and cat food. The most I've read is the excerpt from the LB article, which I won't reproduce here. You're welcome to bop over to Mystery Scene and read it.

The day this is published, I will be in the hospital for a different procedure, nothing life-threatening, but thanks for your concern. I will not be undehemorrhoided, but hopefully the doc will show me boring images that could be mistaken for vacation photos on a caving exhibition where neither stalactites or stalagmites were encountered.

Wish me luck.

When I get home, I'm buying myself a copy of the book as a present...

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Right Book for the Trip

Nothing like a trip to prompt you to read an author you’ve had on your to read list forever.

I’m in the Florida Keys on vacation at the moment, and the question before departing for the trip was what books to bring. I couldn’t resist taking at least one crime fiction novel, but Florida has so much great crime fiction, the choice wasn’t easy. I wondered whether I should take MacDonald, Willeford, Hendricks, or Elmore Leonard (to name a few).  In the end, I decided on the crime writer most attached to the Keys specifically - James W. Hall.  The book I brought is Under Cover of Daylight, the first in his series of novels about Thorn, a solitary type who lives in a Key Largo shack and makes bone ties for a living.  I’m about sixty percent through the book now, and what I like most about it is the pronounced sense of place. The landscape of the Florida Keys functions almost as a character in its own right, influencing the characters’ worldviews and motivating them to act in ways that put them in danger and drive them to dangerous extremes. The book was published in 1986, and it’s interesting to see how the development overtaking the Keys then, the damage being done to the environment so that condo complexes could go up and fancy houses could be built for affluent people from outside the Keys, was a big issue.  I have found the Keys to be lovely physically, but I can only imagine what the islands looked like thirty years ago and thirty-forty years before that. In any event, the book’s a good read so far and has satisfied my desire to have an evocative Keys novel to read while visiting the area.

Unrelated to Hall’s novel, I might add, I’ve been watching the third and final season of Bloodline on my Kindle during the nights here, and that’s been a lot of fun also. It’s not a flawless season plot and drama wise, but after watching the first two seasons, soon after they premiered, while at home in New York, it’s a kick to see the aerial shots of the skinny islands I’ve been driving over and to hear the characters refer to the mile markers on US 1 that everyone seems to use as directional guideposts here.

Well, as I mentioned, I am writing this post on the road, and it’s about the only writing I’ve done and plan to do on this twelve day trip. This is my first time in the Florida Keys, and the idea has been to just immerse myself in everything Keys for the duration. James Hall’s Under Cover of Daylight has contributed to this immersion nicely.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Handbook for Infamy

Over the past few weeks the publishing news has been dominated by one story; it isn't often that one hops over to and finds a front-page story related to publishing that isn't about a book that's being made into a movie or TV series.

The Handbook for Mortals became the exception.

The book - which nobody had heard of - sprung to the top of the NY Times Bestseller list from nowhere. An investigation inferred that the publisher and/or author had made bulk purchases of the book from stores that report to the Bestseller list in order to secure a spot on the list.

An account of the allegations and reason for the book being pulled can be read here.

That isn't what made the front page of, however. That was reserved for the author's response.

It does sound as though someone (not the author) with a business interested in the book ordered a lot of copies of the book. Whether this was intentional or not, what it brings into question is whether all book sales are considered equal. If the author had no knowledge of this action, is she an innocent victim who shouldn't be punished for the actions of others?

It almost doesn't matter now. The book isn't famous; it's infamous. Its name is known for all the wrong reasons, its existence evidence of cheating.

One could easily hop on Google and research the story further to form their own conclusions.

What's sad is that there are a lot of great books out there that aren't getting press coverage because what matters more to mainstream media is a scandal. And as long as that's the case, there will be more desperate new authors looking for any way possible to raise their profile so that they can compete in the cutthroat world of book publishing.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

The End Game

I am, slowly and somewhat steadily, coming to the end of my work-in-progress. Which you’d think would be great. And it will be – when I get there. But at the moment, it’s like I’ve spent the last six months knitting several scarves, and now suddenly I have to figure out how to turn them into a sweater.
One with no holes or unmatched spots or gnarly little bumps. Everything has to weave together perfectly. So this is the point where I figure out whether I chose the right colors and thicknesses at the beginning, or whether they’ll clash horribly when I put them together. It’s the knitting of the plot lines. Wish me luck. 
Me trying to finish my novel.