Fortress Around Your Heart

It’s Monday, and I didn’t get near what i wanted to get done over the course of the weekend; which is something I should simply refer to as Monday’s Lament from now on. I did get Chapter Twelve finished, and I got started on Chapter Thirteen; and I sort of know where the (meandering) story is going; and there are some things I am definitely going to need to go back and fill in later. And it’s Monday, of course; the start of a new week in which I can certainly hope to get a lot finished.

We watched a wonderful series from Australia this weekend on Netflix, called Deep Water. It’s a crime show, and it opens with the discovery of the body of a brutally murdered gay man. As the investigating officer starts digging into the case, she begins to suspect that this murder is somehow connected to some other murders–over twenty years earlier–of gay men in the same part of Australia. The more she digs, the more convinced she becomes, and she soon begins to suspect the accidental drowning of her older brother, on Christmas Eve, 1989, is yet another one of a string of murders, hate crimes, committed against gay men all those years ago. It’s extremely well-written, and powerfully acted; it also deals with sexism against women in the police department; the old boys’ network of the police; homophobia; cover-ups; and how much–and how little–society has changed in the past twenty-five years.

We also watched the second episode of Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale. I had wondered if the second season of this show would be near as bleak, depressing, and heartbreaking as the first, and so far the show continues to deliver. This particular episode, in addition to dealing with Offred’s situation, also brought back Alexis Bledel’s character, off at the brutal world of the Colonies, where the unwomen are sent. If you will recall from the first season, Alexis Bledel played the lesbian Ofglen/Emily; she was originally punished and then committed another crime, resulting in her being sent to the Colonies. This episode, while focusing on Offred/June as always, shows the Colonies and what her life is like there, while she remembers how the downfall of democracy and the rise of religious fascism and its impact on her as a married lesbian with a child. I love how The Handmaid’s Tale is not afraid to go there, quite frankly; and its message is quite plain: women and queers have common cause against the patriarchy.

Coupled with Deep Water, watching this episode put me into a deep, contemplative place. I haven’t really quite formed the thoughts yet, but there are some nascent ideas and thoughts forming in my head. I read a piece this weekend about Mort Crowley, The Boys in the Band revival on Broadway, and the disappearance of gay culture. I also have had come conversations with younger gay men over the course of the past two weeks. Paul and I were also listening to some gay dance remixes from our partying days of going to clubs and dancing the night away last night before bed, and we recalled those times with a bit of sadness; I do miss the fun we used to have, but do I want the full-on oppression that came with it?

It wasn’t that long ago, as Deep Water showed, that we were seen as disposable, human garbage on the fringes of society and no one cared if we were assaulted, murdered, disappeared. (There’s a serial killing investigation going on in Toronto right now that has been glossed over, ignored, despite all evidence to the contrary, for years: Toronto.) One of the reasons I originally wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine  was precisely for this reason: who cared if some gay man was murdered? I think about the story line for that book from time to time, and often shake my head, thinking, “oh, that book could never be written today; it wouldn’t hold up, no one would believe that a closeted man would or could be blackmailed today.” And yet there is a story line in my current book along those same lines, that i struggle with; is this realistic in this day and time? Is this a secret someone would be willing to protect today? On the other hand, we do still see outings; there was a recent scandal in Metairie where the parish president was outed for pursuing a teenaged boy who worked at Lakeside mall. So, it’s not completely out of the question for a crime storyline anymore.

And this also makes me reflect, again, on ambition, and my tendency to self-defeat myself; my fear of failure, and how I built my career in such a way as to guarantee that I would never become hugely successful; writing gay characters and gay themes in crime fiction essentially guaranteed, almost from the first, that i would never be a New York Times bestseller or would win an Edgar Award or get reviewed in major newspapers; I could be published, but as a gay writer of gay stories, the expectations were low; no one would expect me to sell hundreds of thousands of copies in my little niche within a niche within a niche market. Did I subconsciously set out to sabotage my own career from the very start, setting myself up for low expectations from the start? I’d always intended–and it is there, in my journals–to eventually move to writing mainstream fiction; mainstream crime fiction. And yet, in all these years, of writing millions of words and creating hundreds of characters and telling all these stories, I’ve only recently (in terms of the years of my career) begun to try to write something more mainstream. It would take very little work to make that book appealing to my current publisher; it’s always there in the back of my head as I struggle with it and try to place my finger on what’s wrong with it and why no agent seems to want it–and then I remember that I’ve actually only sent tentative queries to a handful of agents, and am I giving up on it too soon? The amount of time I’ve actually spent on this piece of work isn’t that long in the overall scheme of things; I’ve worked on it around other things I’ve had under contract.

The entire point of last year was to work on it, get it finished and polished and ready for submission, and yet I allowed myself to waste most of the year in feeling sorry for myself and paralyzed and unable to write anything; was this simply another way of defeating myself, of fearing to fail and therefore not even trying?

You cannot succeed unless you aren’t afraid to fail.

Failure is the best way to learn.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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