Stuck on You

Nothing makes me angrier than when a writer slags off a genre, or a style of writing. Every genre comes in for it now and again; but without question the most maligned genre is also the biggest and most successful: romance.

You think it’s so easy to write a good romance novel? Try it sometime. It isn’t easy, by a long shot, nor is it something that I would ever dare attempt. The closest I’ve come to writing one–actually, there are three–would be with Sorceress, The Orion Mask, and Timothy. But those were also crime/suspense novels, with a dash of romance thrown in.  I don’t know that I could write a strictly romance novel. Perhaps someday I will try, just to see if I can do it.

I’ve written some short stories that would, or could, be classified as romance; I am currently trying to write one that I promised to an anthology and should have been turned in months ago. It’s actually a story that’s been in my head for a long time; it’s a sequel to a story I wrote a long time ago, “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time.” That story was originally published in an anthology called Fool for Love, edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R. D. Cochrane; a wonderful anthology in whose pages I appeared with numerous other writers I admire, some of whom were just getting started and have become writers of note. I’d intended to write the sequel for a second anthology Lambert and Cochrane were putting together, Foolish Hearts, but I never wrote the story or they decided they didn’t want one from me or something; it’s lost in the mists of time but if I had to hazard a guess I would say I was supposed to write one for them and wound up not doing it.

I’ve been worried lately about my lack of motivation with writing; wondering if, with all these abortive short story problems I’ve had lately that perhaps I had, finally, run out of juice for writing and was finished. But yesterday I opened a new word document, and over the course of the day I managed to write almost three thousand words of a story called “Passin’ Time,” which is, at long last, the sequel to “Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time.” I had to reread the original in order to get the names of the characters, and I have to say, it was quite a lovely little story, if I do say so myself. “Passin’ Time” is a title I’ve always wanted to use for a New Orleans story; it’s a uniquely New Orleans saying; it means waiting; because in old New Orleans at least, you always found yourself waiting–waiting for the parade to show up; waiting for the streetcar; waiting for the bus; waiting in line at the grocery store; waiting, waiting, waiting. We call that “passin’ time,” and you generally do it by talking to the other people who are doing that as well. Now, of course, everyone has a cell phone and there are parade tracking apps; even the New Orleans MTA has an app so you can see where the streetcar/bus is. Writing the story, thinking about the phrase, made me a little sad and nostalgic for times past; yet another little piece of old New Orleans that has changed over the last decade or so since the levees failed and the city rebooted; one of the little things that was so friendly and charming and lovely about this city that made it so different and precious, something that was so worth saving.

Here’s the opening of “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time”:

The bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up.

It’s been almost two years since he died. We were together for almost fifteen years, and the disease took us by surprise. Then again, you never see things like that coming. I suppose on some level we knew we weren’t immortal, but it was something we never talked about, never planned for. Sure, we had powers of attorney paperwork and wills and all of that in place, but we never thought we would ever need them. We loved each other and had a wonderful life, and thought it would go on forever.

But cancer doesn’t care about love when it starts rotting you from the inside out. And when it finally took him, my life didn’t end. I didn’t go into the grave with him, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I just wanted to curl up and cry. I still had my horror novels for teenagers to write with deadlines looming, a cat to take care of, bills to pay, a life to somehow keep living. The world didn’t stop turning, even though I thought it should. I had to get used to all the changes, the little ones that you don’t think about so they blindside you and make your eyes unexpectedly fill with tears and your lower lip quiver.  I had to get used to cooking for one, shopping for one, and deal with those sudden moments in department stores when I’d see a shirt he’d love and pick it up, carry it to the cash register, and have credit card in hand before I’d remember, and somehow manage to hold myself together while smiling at the clerk and saying, “Um, I don’t think I want this after all” before returning it to the display table and fleeing the store. I had to find ways to fill those hours that used to be our time together, flipping idly through the many channels on the television looking for any distraction to take my mind somewhere else. I had to get used to sleeping alone, to not having something warm and cuddly next to me every night and every morning. There were no more pancakes to surprise him with in the morning, on a tray with a glass of milk, to wake him with. I’d had to accept that I would never see the sleepy smile of childish delight he always displayed when he smelled the maple syrup again. He was so cute, just like a little boy on those mornings when I’d decide to give him his favorite treat. I got through it all, I survived, I went on. I went through the closet and the dresser and took his clothes to Goodwill. I did all the things you are supposed to do, and I got through it all. But the bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up. The house seems quieter, no matter how loud I play the stereo. The world seems different, somehow—the sun a little less bright, the sky a little less blue, the grass a little less green.

Everyone says I’ll forget in time.

I am trying to mirror that melancholy, that slight sadness, that poignant matter of factness, in the new story. I hope it turns out well. I really want it to.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s a Marky Mark Calvin Klein ad. (And thanks for no one pointing out that yesterday’s was actually a Perry Ellis ad.)


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