Squeeze Box

I didn’t write a goddamned thing yesterday.

I did a podcast interview yesterday; Eric Beetner and S. W. Lauden very graciously invited me to be on their Writer Types broadcast, which I had been on briefly before–they’d gone around on Saturday afternoon at St. Petersburg Bouchercon to talk to people, and they caught up to me in the bar where I was drinking with Chris Holm, his lovely wife Katrina Niidas Holm, Stephanie Gayle and I don’t remember who else was around at the time (read: drinking in the bar). I was impressed with the questions they asked me; usually interviews tend to be rather softball and don’t require me to actually think a whole lot. But the questions they asked me put me into a reflective mood, and I kind of spent the rest of yesterday thinking, and remembering. My career as a published author of fiction (I don’t say writer because I started in publishing as a journalist in 1996; and while I continued to write for newspapers and magazines until around 2003 or so, I never really considered myself–and still don’t, to this day–a journalist).

When I started out all those years ago, it was possible to be a gay writer of gay mysteries and stay cloistered away from the mainstream mystery community. There were gay bookstores, newspapers, and magazines; those no longer exist and the publications that do aren’t really interested in books–at least ones that aren’t written by celebrities. I got some local press in the Times-Picayune, thanks to the divine (and still missed) Diana Pinckley and Susan Larson, but I was able to build my career entirely within the gay community. I don’t think that career path is possible for anyone today; I have no idea what to tell young gay writers just starting out nowadays because they can’t do what I did, back in the day–the bookstores I used to always do appearances at (Outwrite in Atlanta, A Different Light in West Hollywood and San Francisco, Lambda Rising in DC and Baltimore, Oscar Wilde in New York, and I forget the names of others) no longer exist. Talking to Eric and Steve, I remembered those days when I used to show up to signings in a baseball cap and shorts and a tank top; and I kind of missed it. I’ve not done a book signing in an actual bricks-and-mortar bookstore since Rebecca Chance and I both appeared at Murder by the Book in Houston, which was either 2012 or 2013? But book signings aren’t as effective a promotional tool for a writer like me, in a niche market–but going to conferences and appearing on panels gets me more bang for my buck and exposes me to a lot more potential readers than appearing in a store ever would. I would love to do another signing at Murder by the Book; John McDougall and McKenna Jordan are two of my favorite people in this business and I have friends in Houston as well…but then I worry about all the trouble a signing would be for the store and worry no one would show up to make it worth their while to have me in the store.

Plus, I have a new car so the drive over wouldn’t be terrifying the way it always used to be.

Well, newer car. I guess now that I’ve had it for two years it’s not really a new car anymore.

Ah, well. As you can tell, Eric and Steve sent me down memory lane. Who knows what blog entries that might lead to?

And now back to the spice mines.

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Slow Ride

Well, I finally finished that fucking Chapter Fourteen, and yes, it’s rough, but it’s not nearly as bad as I feared it would turn out, nor as it was heading last week when I tried to work on it. Today I figured out a way to plough through it, and now I have to figure out how the fuck I am going to get another eleven chapters out of this story–but truth be told, the elements of the plot are pretty much all in place now and now it’s a matter of playing them out. I also recognized that there’s not an emotional stability at the core of the story–there is, I just haven’t been putting it in, so that’s the next thing I need to do in the next draft, or as this one progresses along I can start putting it in.

I keep saying to myself that someday this will get easier, but thirty-odd books later and here I still am, plodding through a manuscript and ready to throw in the goddamned towel.

Sunday morning and I’m on my second cup of coffee. My kitchen is a mess, and I have to figure out how to use a new app on my computer because I’m being interviewed by Eric Beetner and S. W. Lauden for their Writer Types podcast, which is very cool. I was briefly on it when they were interviewing people in the bar at St. Petersburg Bouchercon, but that was also the now notorious Low ‘n’ Slow afternoon, so I only vaguely remember it and still to this day have no idea what I actually said to them. Not good, really, when it’s going to be broadcast. I think I listened to it, and I didn’t embarrass myself too badly; but I’ve been told any number of times that people can’t tell when I’m wasted.

I’ve always thought they were being kind to lessen my own embarrassment. Maybe they were, who knows?

My relationship with alcohol has always been a tricky one. I only had liquor once before I graduated from high school and I got very drunk at a friend’s birthday party my junior year. I didn’t drink again until the night I graduated, and after I recovered from that horrible hangover I pretty much was drunk every night until we moved to California, where the drinking age was 21 and I was still only nineteen. California was also a lot stricter about checking ID’s than Kansas had ever been, so I was totally sober for two years before I came of legal age to drink again….and then was drunk every night for the next six or seven years again, followed by another few years of utter sobriety, and then when I started going out to gay bars, I still remained sober most of the time, drinking only water and finally, gradually, progressing back to beer again. I don’t drink much anymore–there were many years of New Orleans life where Paul and I went out every weekend night, including Sunday Tea Dance–but since I hung up my dancing shoes, I don’t really drink hardly at all anymore. I’ll have a drink or two when I’m out for dinner, or at a party, or during a conference–I am usually wasted every night at Bouchercon–but once the conference is over, I come back home to sobriety. We generally don’t drink at home–I still have a bottle of wine I bought on the notorious Target expedition with Wendy Corsi Staub in St. Petersburg–and we still have bottles of vodka and gin and tequila left over from the Iris parties of old; and we haven’t had an Iris party in about five years or so.

Although I am sure this October in Dallas there will be drunken, sloppy tales of Gregalicious to tell.

I’m probably going to try to get some writing done after the interview, and some cleaning, and I’d like to read more of Black Diamond Fall. I’m not reading as quickly as I used to, and I am sure it has something to do with social media and they need to constantly be checking it–which is a need that absolutely positively has to be reined in because it’s such a waste of time.

And that sounds like the perfect segue back into the spice mines this morning. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Who’d She Coo

Here it is, a lovely Saturday morning, and I am steeling myself to go to the gym. I have things to do this weekend–writing, and a manuscript to edit, and I’d also like to get some short stories out for submission as well, around cleaning the house–and going to the gym is an errand that has been put off for far too long. The excuses and rationalizations I can come up with for not going to the gym are legion.

Thanks to a Scott Heim post yesterday on Facebook, I had a blissful moment remembering one of my favorite TV shows of my youth, The Snoop Sisters, and the glorious ABC Movie of the Week Do Not Fold, Spindle, or Mutilate–which was, actually, the original catfishing story. Four elderly women (played magnificently by Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick, Myrna Loy, and Sylvia Sidney) as a joke sign up for a computer dating service–back in the days when computer programs were ‘written’ on hole-punch cards; computer dating was actually a new and exciting thing in the 1970s, with all the newfound freedom of the sexual revolution, the pill, and feminism. Of course, the young man their “perfect woman” is matched up with is deranged, and he begins stalking and terrorizing the women. I watched that movie every time it aired, and guess what? It’s on Youtube! (Isn’t everything, really?) So, I am going to try to carve some time out in my schedule to rewatch it…because I, of course have so much free time.

I slept fairly well last night, all things considered, and woke up before seven this morning–but stayed in bed until about seven thirty. There’s still a mess in the kitchen–something I’m going to have to do something about this morning, because I won’t be able to do anything in this mess I can see when I turn my head in any direction, so it’s fortunate that I did, in fact, wake up so early. Last night I tried watching Bad Times at the El Royale, which looked like a fun, twisty, noirish thriller–but about forty-three minutes into it, I gave up. The cast is terrific, and there was a lovely 70’s vibe to it (it was set in the 1970’s, at a motel that straddles the California/Nevada line in Lake Tahoe), but after forty-five minutes of nothing happening, I couldn’t sit through another hour and forty five minutes. The movie was, frankly, certainly too long, and if the first half of your movie is basically just backstory and set-up…you need to re-edit your film. Sorry not sorry. I even gave up before Chris (THOR!)  Hemsworth showed up–which should tell you how bad the film was.

Which is a pity, as the cast was amazing.

I think tonight we will watch Always Be My Maybe. I do love Ali Wong.

My Pride Month posts and tweets about queer crime writers are getting some lovely traction, which is always nice, and I do marvel at the way things have changed over the the course of my lifetime. It does occur to me that I am not celebrating or talking about things on here for Pride Month; perhaps I should rectify that, and perhaps I will. It’s been a long journey, and a long life for me–I certainly never thought I would live this long, even when I was a kid–and I do think, from time to time, about the fatalistic way I viewed my life after I came out and started living–rather late–as a gay man. One of the many, many stories I have in some sort of progress is set in the early 1990’s in New Orleans; and deals with some of that sort of the thing. It’s a long story, and probably will wind up being a novella which I will either self-publish on Amazon or include in my next collection of short stories (which I can also self-publish on Amazon if my publisher doesn’t want it). It’s called “Never Kiss a Stranger”–I mention it from time to time–and it’s also a way for me to recapture what New Orleans was like at that time–sleepy and crumbling in the sun.

And yes, at the end of the month, I will post the list of queer crime novels and authors here, so people can use it as a reference. I also think it’s going to be published somewhere? Maybe the Mystery Scene blog? Anyway, someone asked if they could use it and post it someplace like that, and obviously, I said yes to it.

And now, perhaps it’s time to get back to those old spice mines.

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Baby I Love Your Way

So, it’s Friday, and $562 later (not including the cost of the appointment itself) at the optometrist’s later, I am home. But I have my first new glasses in three years on order, and a year’s supply of contact lenses, which I am trying to get better about wearing more regularly. Part of the resignation to being old and not going to the gym regularly (if at all) anymore was the loss of contact lenses as an option years ago…I still don’t like the progressive lenses, but I am getting used to them, and I am very hopeful my vanity is going to kick in and get me off my ass.

I mean, if I don’t have to wear my glasses…

Don’t hold your breath.

So, here’s an insight into how my brain and my memory works. For years, I’ve been trying to remember the name and author of a book I read during a horror phase in the 1980’s–during that time I fantasized of being a horror novelist. When I worked at Bank of America, I didn’t have a car, and had to take the bus to and from work. I had to change busses at the Manchester Mall, going and coming, and on paydays I would, rather than catching the next bus, going into the mall, go to the B. Dalton and browse the books, and after getting a bag of books, I would eat in the food court–there was a place that had an amazing hamburger with grilled onions and bell peppers, but it wasn’t cheap and this was part of my payday treat for myself. (It was during this time period that I also went through a fantasy period; this was when I read the rest of The Shannara Chronicles and  The Belgariad) There was a horror novel that I read that has always stuck with me; when I moved to Houston from California I left most of my books behind, alas. For years I’ve been trying to remember the author’s name and the book’s title; it was set in rural New Jersey, the main characters were from New York and for some reason were spending the summer, independently of each other, in this small rural town. I remember there was a demon or a devil in a tree in the prologue which consumed someone; but there’s not much more I remember, except how brilliantly and vividly the author described things; there was a scene with the young woman working in a public library in Manhattan that was so vivid I could see the cracks in the paint and the plaster.

Today I was listening to Spotify and cued up The Best of New Order. When the song “Ceremony” came on I thought, that’s a great title for a horror short story or novella sand I was starting to reach for a pen when it hit me between the eyes, that novel set in rural New Jersey you’ve been trying to remember for twenty years was titled The Ceremonies.

A quick check on Google, and sure enough, the book is The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein.

And now I need to get a copy so I can reread it.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

So, this came this week:

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Pretty cool, right? I really like the cover.

This, on the inside, is also kind of cool.

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Yes, that’s the two page illustrated title page for my short story, “Neighborhood Alert,” which is in the spring issue of Mystery Tribune magazine.

I know, right? Gregalicious is breathing some rarified air these days!

Wonder of wonders, Trish found a parking space in front of her townhouse on Euterpe Street, which hardly ever happened. A good omen, she thought as she grabbed her purse and the reusable cloth grocery bag from the passenger seat. It was cold for New Orleans, down in the thirties. An overnight rain with a cold front right behind it had dropped the temperature thirty degrees. The city was in a hard freeze warning overnight. She wasn’t sure if her pipes were in danger, but always ran the water to be on the safe side. She couldn’t imagine the hell of busted pipes. She lived in constant fear of something going wrong with her townhouse—termites, ants, broken pipes, the ground shifting. She had some money put aside, but not enough for any of those catastrophes.

She clicked the key fob to lock her car and frowned. Her gate was ajar. She would have sworn she’d closed and locked it, but it was such an automatic habit she couldn’t be sure. She’d been having trouble sleeping, which made her foggy in the mornings. She wasn’t sure what was causing it; her doctor said to cut back on caffeine, but if she didn’t sleep well at night and was groggy in the morning, how was she supposed to do her job without drinking some coffee? She’d compromised, giving up on extra shots of espresso and just having regular coffee…but was still restless at night, tossing and turning and waking up to stare at the ceiling. She shut the gate and locked it with the key. The wrought iron fence was tall, spikes on the top, and since she started living alone, she made sure the gate was locked whenever she was home. Anyone wanting in had to ring the buzzer, and she could check from the safety of the house to see whether she wanted to let them in. She grabbed the catalogues and junk mail from the mailbox, wondering who still used catalogues and slipped it all into her grocery bag. She tried to reduce her carbon footprint by recycling and not using the disposable grocery bags, but she still felt guilty driving to and from work every day. It wasn’t even a mile, but she rationalized that her company paid for her parking space whether she used it or not, and the St. Charles streetcar was two blocks from her front door and four blocks from her office—not bearable in heels or the heat of the summer.

And at least, she reasoned, she did feel guilty about it. Most people didn’t even think about it.

As she unlocked the front door, a sheet of paper sailed out and came to rest on the third step of the hanging staircase. She frowned, shutting the door and turning the deadbolt. There was a mail slot on the front door that wasn’t used anymore; not since she’d installed the big fence, buzzer and gate lock after the divorce. She’d left the gate unlocked and someone had slipped something—a sales notice, probably, or a lost pet flyer—through the mail slot.

I wrote “Neighborhood Alert” last year, during that period of time when I was focusing on writing short stories, early in 2018, and I’d originally intended for it to be included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I honestly don’t recall why I decided to submit it to Mystery Tribune, but I did one day and then kind of forgot about it. (I do have a spreadsheet where I keep track of submission dates and markets, but I wasn’t making notes on the calendar yet–which I now do, so I can check on the submissions and so forth; I am trying to get better organized, Constant Reader, I AM!) As I was pulling everything together for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, I always included “Neighborhood Alert,” so you can imagine my surprise when I got the email from Mystery Tribune that they wanted to publish my story! Huzzah, indeed! I then had to put a different story in the collection, but I got a rejection from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine  and I swapped that story in for the this one, and problem solved.

“Neighborhood Alert” first came to me as an idea years ago, when someone put one of those ‘registered sex offender in the neighborhood’ flyers through our mail slot when we lived on Camp Street. On the one hand, I certainly understood the neighborhood’s right to know there was a convicted predator moving in; on the other hand, he’d served his time and how can you move forward with your life when everyone in the neighborhood knows about your crimes? I wrote the idea down in a journal, and when I was going through my journals last year during that manic short story writing period, it occurred to me, what if you’d lost your only child to a predator, and then a few years later you get a one of these alerts?

This was the story that resulted from that thought. And I am very proud that it’s my first publication in Mystery Tribune.

And it will be in my next collection.

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone.

The Boys Are Back in Town

Hello, Thursday. We are under a flash flood watch–yay, and the river is high! Good times–and this week has kind of gone to waste. I’m struggling with a chapter–it just reads so terribly, and I’ve only managed about 700 words all week–and I just haven’t been able to face it.

Partly because…partly because it’s about a teenager from Chicago who goes to the rural south for the summer to stay with his grandmother, who is dying, and stumbles into some troubled family history and some current local trouble as well. It’s a story I really want to tell, but I am having trouble with the elements of the story on some levels, and then I fall into that wretched state of doubt, in which I hate my WIP and everything about it and question whether I am actually a writer or not.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

My friend Victoria for years has pointed out to me that this usually happens to me at around Chapter Seven or so on a manuscript; I suppose the fact that it didn’t happen until Chapter Fourteen is progress of a sort.

The great irony is that I was doubting–and have been doubting–myself over the concept of sending a gay kid to the rural South; someplace deep and remote away from the urban landscapes he’s used to, and going back and forth on the homophobia; oh, maybe it’s not as bad as I am trying to make it look, things have changed, times have changed, the Internet and cable television have changed things, so it can’t still be as bad as it was and I am writing about a world that doesn’t really exist in this form anymore.

And then I see the news report about the small town Alabama mayor who thinks all queer people should be killed to solve the issue of culture wars.

The small town Alabama mayor whose small town is where the off-ramp from the highway is that we used to take to go visit the family.

Which was another forty miles deep into the country and in the hills of northwest Alabama.

And I realize I’m not making the area backward enough.

Heavy sigh.

I finished watching Chernobyl last night, and while I do recommend it as incredible television, well written, superbly acted, and with the highest production values imaginable, it is not an easy watch, nor is it something you want to go into watching when you’re already depressed because you may not ever come out of it. This horrific nuclear disaster–which created an unlivable area now in present-day Ukraine and Belorus (uninhabitable for twenty thousand years)–was even worse than I remember hearing about when it happened; I remember the news coverage and the concerns that the Soviet Union–never quite a bastion of honesty–was lying about how bad it was and the extent of the disaster. Watching Chernobyl, it’s terrifying to realize how much worse it could have been, and how hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people sacrificed themselves to save others. It’s also interesting to watch from the perspective of seeing what it was like to live under the authoritarian Communist rule, and how the higher-ups, the people who ran the country, were all about image and protecting their reputations and that of the state than the every day citizens, whom were called up fairly regularly to throw away their lives on the altar of the State and its glory and never taken into consideration as actual people, with lives and dreams and hopes and families. The firefighters, who were called out to do their jobs and put out the fire at the plant and had no idea what they were getting into and were never told is heartbreaking; the perspective of one, and his pregnant wife, is a story that will haunt me for quite some time.

Now I can get back to Good Omens.

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Walk Away from Love

Wednesday and I am being betrayed, left and right, by idiotic technology.

I had to take my fucking phone back to factory settings because despite updating my phone the other day, last night my computer didn’t fucking recognize my phone again. (You can certainly tell Steve Jobs died…the quality of Apple’s overpriced products has gone into steep decline since his death. This kind of shit never happened on his watch.) And my email inbox is also having some issues today as well.

I don’t have time for this nonsense.

Seriously.

I’ve not written hardly at all this week, because I got sucked down into a rabbit hole regarding the crime fiction community these last two days–yet another train wreck I can’t look away from. I hope to get back in the writing saddle again today, though; fingers crossed there won’t be any more developments of nonsense! But the way things have been going…it certainly wouldn’t surprise me in the least.

I watched another episode of Chernobyl last night, and seriously, this is some extraordinary television. It’s depressing and horrifying as all  hell, but like the crime fiction kerfuffle or a train wreck, I simply can’t stop watching. The fourth episode–if you’re a pet lover, do not watch. The show is doing a terrific job of showing the disaster from the point of view of every day citizens affected, and what the disaster has done to them and their lives; episode four is particularly ghoulish and while true, it was awful and heartbreaking to watch: you see, all the people had to be evacuated out of the hot zone, but they didn’t take the contaminated animals with them…including pets. So, a team of people were assigned to go around and shoot all the cats and dogs the citizens had to leave behind–they were contaminated and it was a mercy, rather than letting them die a horrific, slow painful death from radiation. The part of the episode dealing with this was all shown from the point of view of an eighteen year old newly inducted soldier who volunteered to help out in the hot zone. I had to pause and get up and walk away several times during the episode because it was, frankly, too much. There’s one scene in particular…Christ, I can’t even write about it.

Chernobyl, despite the incredible acting, writing, and production values, is not an easy thing to watch. It’s filmed like a horror movie–very bleak and hopeless–and what makes it worse is something I realized after Hurricane Katrina; that no matter how bad something looks on television or in a film, the reality is so much worse. I will never get the images of what the lower 9th ward looked like that October of 2005, and how television didn’t even capture a fraction of the actual horror and devastation.

And on that note, I am heading back to the spice mines.


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