Think About Me

Wednesday morning and all is sort of well in the Lost Apartment. It’s dark outside still, but the sun should be rising soon over the West Bank (don’t ask) and my coffee should start kicking in soon. I’ve continued testing negative for COVID, so I think I escaped Bouchercon and the trip unscathed, which is actually kind of lovely. I don’t think I could handle yet another week of being knocked out and unable to do anything. Although the enforced rest–first with the COVID and then with my back more recently–was also kind of nice.

I was very exhausted when I got home from work yesterday, so kind of just headed right to the sweats and the easy chair. The kitchen is still a mess from Monday night’s dinner, and I really need to get that cleaned up tonight after work, if I have the energy. I have adjusted to these early mornings in some ways–it’s not painful to get up anymore, and I am not groggy and half-asleep most of the mornings anymore–but I do get tired a lot earlier, and sleepy too. I dozed off a couple of times in the chair last night while watching Making it Big, which is a lengthy video on Youtube about the growth and development of the gay porn industry, from its humble beginnings with Bob Mizer and physique magazines/videos to what it is today–free and almost everywhere you look on the Internet. I started in this industry writing gay porn–my first two published short stories were gay porn, and they paid rather well, thank you very much–and I had a very nice sideline until around 2009 editing and writing it. It was around 2009 that the bottom started falling out of gay porn writing and editing–and within a few years that sub-genre of the industry was gone for good. I miss the money, although I don’t miss doing the writing or editing. I produced some terrific anthologies along the way, and some really terrific short stories as well as erotic novels.

I’m not in the least bit ashamed of my past writing and editing gay erotica–writing is writing, and there’s an entire gamut of quality in gay erotica, as there is in every sub-genre in publishing; some was terrific, some was great, some was competent, and some was garbage. I am also often been told, throughout my career, that admitting to, and talking about, writing gay erotica was an error, that I shouldn’t talk about it or write about it ever or should put up a firewall between it and my “serious” writing. My response to that was always puzzlement; I take all of my writing seriously so why would the gay erotica be any different than that? But there is a stigma, still to this very day, about pornography and erotica (although it’s always been around; archaeologists have been finding erotic art in ruins going back thousands and thousands of years), which probably has a lot to do with the bizarre and deeply-rooted American societal and cultural bias about sexuality in general. It’s dirty, it’s private, it’s something you shouldn’t talk about openly with other people and you should be embarrassed if it comes up and therefore need to change the subject immediately.

This puritanical societal mentality is the root cause of a lot of our problems, in my opinion. A society and culture where sexuality is no big deal, where no one is judged for their sexual needs and desires and activities, and where the topic can be discussed openly and honestly, would be a much healthier one. But talking about sex and desire and need embarrasses most Americans and makes them uncomfortable; I believe that writing about eroticism and passion and desire and sex was maybe the best preparation for my day job as a sexual health counselor that I could have asked for.

The first time I wrote an erotic short story I was embarrassed almost the entire time I was writing it. I embarrassed myself, because in order to write an erotic short story I had to write about a desire of my own, a kink, if you will; something I had always been interested in, had experienced a few times, and wanted to explore much further than I had already. It’s hard to get younger people, who grew up with the Internet and smart phones and hook-up apps how difficult it was to find other gay men who were into the same secret fetishes and desires–now all you have to do is a Google search, really–but there was serious isolation back in the day, and with all the shame we learn through society about sex and desire, it was very easy to believe that you were the only person who was into whatever it was you were into. But once I had written one, I found that the more of these type stories that I wrote, the more free I felt; the more open, the more accepting of kinks and other people’s desires and what they were into. One of the great gay erotica writers said in the introduction to a collection of his own work you can’t write great sex unless you’ve had great sex, which I didn’t think was true at the time–creativity and imagination being what they are–and while I don’t necessarily think that’s true any more than I did then, I will say having great sex makes it easier to write about great sex…and when you can look at sexual experimentation as research…

Write what you know, indeed.

But early on in my career I was both naïve and stubborn. Don’t use your own name for writing erotica, I was told, over and over again, because it will damage your non-erotica work and people won’t take you seriously. That really wasn’t the threat that my well-meaning friends and colleagues thought it was; at that point in my life no one had ever taken me seriously about anything; and especially when it came to my ambitions with writing. So, my first short stories were published under my own name, and I edited two erotica anthologies under my real name, as well. The great irony was under my own name I became known for writing a certain kind of a gay erotica, rooted in one of my own fantasies and desires, but it also wasn’t the only thing I wanted to write about–but I had become typecast as an erotica writer and those were the only stories editors wanted from me; so I started using Todd Gregory so I could write erotica about other fetishes and desires and needs, other than what everyone wanted Greg Herren to write about. Which was actually, in retrospect, kind of funny.

It was also around this time that my traditional short story-writing problems–which I still have; I am never really certain if there’s an actual story in my stories, if you know what I mean–were sort of solved, because I realized that erotica is the perfect illustration of beginning, middle, end: two people meet, have sex, and then there’s an ending bit. I was having trouble publishing short stories–genre wasn’t ready for openly gay characters and themes, I didn’t write literary fiction–and so I decided, you know, you have this idea for a story–add a sex scene to it and see what happens. The story was published, and I became more experimental with my own erotica–one of my favorite stories I wrote was about a merman who was also an empath, “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”–and I became more and more known for erotica writing as Todd Gregory started editing anthologies and writing more and more stories.

It’s been a long time since I wrote anything erotic–and who knows if I ever will again? I have an idea for a gay romance novel I would like to write, but I also know that the kind of sex scenes I write–grunting, sweating, messy, and loud–aren’t the kind of sex scenes romance readers tend to like, but on the other hand, I may be making assumptions and who knows what they like? It’s one of the things I want to write over the next two years because I think it’s a fun challenge (yes, yes, I still manage to fool myself into thinking writing challenges are fun; I never learn), but we’ll see how everything goes.

I also kind of want to reread my erotica to see how it holds up, and I also kind of need to (heavy sigh) start making a list of characters and places and so forth that I have already used, so I won’t have Chris Moore or Eric Matthews showing up in yet another book (although it’s not impossible in the real world for different people to have the same name, either) and besides, maybe by doing so I can see the way to connect the books all together even more closely.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

The Ledge

And here it is, Tuesday morning and dark outside my windows as I have my morning coffee preparatory to getting ready for work. It’s getting to be that time of year where I drive to and from work in the dark, which is always a bit debilitating; you feel like you’ve spent the entire day at work when you don’t get to spend any time outside–even if just going to and from work–in the sunshine. The weather has cooled here a bit over the last week, which has been lovely (and early in the season for coolness). My back is much better–there’s still some tightness and slight pain involved–but I think i can actually head to work today and not be in the kind of pain I was in last week, which is kind of nice. It’s still there, but I am learning how to not trigger it–the irony of which is that I am having to use good posture at all times so as not to inflame the pain, which means had I been using good posture most of my life I might not have this problem right now.

But it’s something I can live with today; something I wasn’t so sure about as recently as Sunday. So taking the days of rest, with the alternating hot and cold, was probably a very smart thing to do. I will be taking the generic Ben-Gay with me to work today, too–just in case. But I can sit comfortably without it, which is something I can honestly say was not the case as recently as Sunday. And now of course I have to start digging myself out from under–which is a lot of catching up I need to get done. I also have to do some digging around and figure out what is missing from some projects that I need to get finished, and I also need to get back to writing. There’s an anthology deadline next month–more like three weeks from now–that I wanted to submit something to, but I seriously doubt I am going to be able to have the time or the energy to revise anything the way I want it to be revised to submit to this anthology, so I am probably going to have to let it go once and for all.

We watched Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders last night, a documentary series about the In Cold Blood murders and of course Truman Capote’s famous book that was written about the case (which remains, to this day, one of my favorites) as well as the film made from the book (which I’ve never seen, but Paul’s friend the actress Brenda Curran was in, playing Nancy Clutter). I’ve been to both Holcomb and Garden City, back when I lived in Kansas and when I also had no idea Holcomb was where the crimes happened (I didn’t read In Cold Blood until I lived in California). One of the things I’ve always found interesting about these old rural crimes is how they always talk about how the “community changed” after it happened and how people never used to lock their doors…and everyone could just knock and enter other people’s homes. I wasn’t raised that way; my mother was very obsessive about always making sure everything was locked up–cars, homes, wherever–and used to get mad at me when, as a lazy not really paying much attention teenager used to sometimes leave the car unlocked. Paul is much the same as my mom; sometimes I forget to lock the car, and when I am home by myself I forget sometimes to lock the front door–someone would have to scale the fence, which isn’t easy, to get back to our apartment door–but that’s also a part and parcel of the false sense of security we all have about being safe in our homes. Once I am inside I am safe.

Which really isn’t true.

I spent some more time with Donna Andrews’ delightful new Meg Langslow novel last night while I waited for Paul to finish working so I could make dinner, and it’s delightful. I don’t know how she manages to do this with a series that has lasted as long as hers has; I think there may be more than twenty volumes in the series now? But each one is a delight. I love the town of Caerphilly, I love her family, and most of all I really enjoy Meg. I love highly accomplished, confident, efficient women like her; she’s yet another drily humorous main character in the vein of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (I really am overdue for reading another book in that series) and while my own poor Valerie is hardly in the same vein as these remarkable women characters, I’d kind of like to keep developing her into a series because, well, I kind of grew attached to Valerie and her friends while writing A Streetcar Named Murder, and I’d kind of like to revisit them again in another book. I have a title and an idea for the next book in the series, should Crooked Lane want another, and while I felt fairly confident they’d hate the title, I just this weekend came up with a potentially better title for it…and now that I am writing this, i cannot for the life of me remember what that title was, nor do I think I made a note of it (which is why you should always make a note of it).

Ah, well, perhaps it will come back to me at some point.

I also woke up to proofs of an anthology I contributed a story to that has been in the works for many years now, which means the book is finally going to be released which is great news. My story is called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” and I really don’t remember much, if anything, about the story because it’s frankly been so long. But I will need to proof it–check for typos and missing words and such–which will be a nice way to get reacquainted with the story, at the very least. I vaguely have some idea about the story–I know it’s a private eye story, with a gay detective who has just tested HIV positive and it’s set in the early 1990’s, so it’s a death sentence as far as he knows–and is hired by someone to find someone else? I don’t remember–it really has been a long time since I wrote this story.

But I am also completely overwhelmed with work and being behind on everything and I really need to start making a to-do list so I can sort all this shit out and get things done that need to be done. I know I need to go back to work on Scotty and my other project; there’s any number of other things I need to get done, and I also need to start figuring out promo for A Streetcar Named Murder else no one will buy it and that will be the end of that.

The great joy of being a writer.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday everyone (except Buccaneer fans)!

You Make Loving Fun

I first discovered Laurie R. King when I was editor of Lambda Book Report.

We’d received a review copy of her latest Kate Martinelli series, Nightwork, and the then-editor generally assigned mysteries/crime novels to me to review, since I had written one (that hadn’t been released yet) so ergo, I was an expert. Obviously, there were too many of them released each month for me to review, and so some got farmed out, but I held on to this one because I was very conscious that my reading was very gay male-heavy and I had a responsibility, not just to readers but to the community as a whole, to read works by women. The theory was at the time that gay men only read gay men and only lesbians read lesbians; I could hardly criticize this exercise in literary misogyny if I were doing the same thing. I read the book, loved it, wrote a glowing review, and then traipsed over to Lambda Rising on Connecticut Avenue (or was it Massachusetts? My memory is for shit) and bought the first books in the series. I devoured them, loved them, and recommended them to anyone who would listen.

You can imagine my shock, surprise, and delight to discover that King was not, in fact, a lesbian.

The Martinelli series ended shortly thereafter, and King moved on to her Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series, which I got a mistaken idea about and thus never read. I’ve never been much of a Sherlockian, primarily because Dr. Watson got on my nerves (I felt much the same about Agatha Christie’s version, Colonel Hastings) and I assumed that “Mary Russell” was the “Mary” whom eventually became Mrs. Watson. Ugh, no thanks, I thought, ignoring the series to my own detriment for years (I eventually discovered that I was not only mistaken about whom Mary Russell was, but that the series itself is an absolute delight and has become one of my favorites).

I also had the pleasure and delight of working with Laurie a lot over the past few years, and as we spoke and became more and more friendly she told me about this book she was currently working on, and I couldn’t wait for its release.

And the day finally came.

The man in the dripping Army poncho paused to shove back his hood and stand, head cocked, trying to make out the half-heard sound. A minute later, a car came into view, half a mile or so down the hill–a big white Pontiac, struggling to keep on the road. The man leaned on his shovel, judging the contest between the treacherous surface–the way up to the commune was unpaved, rutted, steep, and slick with the endless rain–and the determined car, which obviously had good tires.

The car slithered and flirted with disaster, but managed to avoid going off the cliff or getting bogged down in the section where the culvert had washed out last month. When it came to the end of the clear section and vanished behind the trees, the man bent over to shake the rain from his long hair and beard, like a dog coming out of a river, then slopped the last shovelfuls of mud from the blocked ditch before walking down to see what the invader wanted.

The mud-spattered Pontiac eased into the farmyard, hesitating over the choice of targets: ancient woodshed or shiny new greenhouse? Psychedelic school bus up on blocks or geodesic dome layered in tarpaulins? In the end , the driver chose the aging farmhouse in the middle, pulling up close to the steps. The engine shut off, the music died–had to be a tape player; a radio would get nothing but static this far out. The person inside leaned over to roll up the passenger-side window, then sat, staring through the smeared windshield at the house as if expecting someone to come out.

The man in the poncho stayed where he was.

Back to the Garden couldn’t be more different than the Mary Russell series (or the Kate Martinelli for that matter) than if a different writer had written them. The primary character of the book, suspended police detective Raquel Laing, is working a cold case assigned to her by her retired mentor, as DNA has unmasked the identity of a serial killer who operated along the California highway system in the 1970’s and early 1980’s and became known as the Highwayman. His victims were found missing a shoe and usually buried in concrete. The Highwayman knows who all of his victims are and where he buried them; now that he is dying and incarcerated, he is playing a game with the police: find one of my girls, and I’ll tell you where you’ll find another.

It’s sick, it’s twisted, and it’s extremely brilliant, particularly as they are now racing the clock to get the answers before he dies.

Yet there’s another wrinkle in the story: at the Gardener Estate (think San Simeon) the moving of an enormous statue by a famous artist has uncovered skeletal remains buried in concrete. Is this another of the Highwayman’s victims? Laing has to go to the Estate and dig through its bizarre and curious history to try to link the Highwayman to the commune that occupied the palatial estate in the second half of the 1970’s, which enables King to balance two separate time-lines (one telling the story of the commune and how it came to be on the estate before the sect disintegrates, which also provides the reader with plenty of potential victims and killers; the other the present day as Laing tries to piece together what happened on the Gardener Estate back in the day) and build up suspense in multiple directions and involving multiple stories.

I was around in the 1970’s, of course; I turned eighteen in 1979 and while the time of the flower children and the height of the commune movement had already passed by the time I was old enough to partake (if I so chose), I do remember those times. I remember as a child thinking the youth movement had the right idea about a lot of things–the rot and unfairness inherent to capitalism; conservation and preserving the earth and its resources; moving away from the monetary trade concept and ownership–all of these things sound marvelous and utopian; they still do, but now with the advantage of age and the cynicism that comes with, they seem very naïve and not very aware of how human nature and the world actually work; their innocence is almost endearing as they try to recreate Eden…

..but there’s always a snake in the garden.

The book is vivid and real; the characters three-dimensional; the story compelling; and of course, the writing is stellar. This book puts yet another jewel in the Grand Master crown King so deservedly wears already.

And I do hope for more novels centering Inspector Laing.

Carousel

As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The décor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

Over & Over

Monday morning and I slept really well again. I feel rested this morning; but then a weekend of pain killers and muscle relaxers will do that for you. But I do feel better than I have since getting home from Minneapolis this morning, so that’s a start. My back still hurts but it’s bearable–this morning it feels like I simply slept on it wrong rather than making my wince and my eyes water every time I move. I also realized yesterday that if I did everything with proper posture, my back didn’t hurt…you know, doing things the way you’re supposed to–i.e. not bending at the waist to pick something up but rather using my legs, keeping my head erect instead of leaning forward, sitting back in chairs etc. I also did, in addition to the drugs, the alternating heat/cold thing with it, and so I think as long as I don’t do anything particularly stupid in the meantime it’ll keep getting better.

And I should always use good posture and do things properly anyway. Lesson learned.

I did manage to get all the dishes done and put away yesterday, which is lovely. I have a couple of errands to run today–mail, minor groceries, a prescription–but I think the right plan is to do my data entry while doing my heat/cold with my back, and at some point try to do some stretching. I believe my hips and quadriceps have been taking pressure off my back when I walk and do things, which is why they’ve been exhausted for the last few days as well. I don’t know how to avoid this happening again when I travel, but I think it does have more to do with all the standing and laughing–a laughing injury!–than anything else, as I didn’t have the same issues other times I’ve traveled. We did watch the Saints lose yesterday, and then, in my drug-addled state I rewatched the LSU game when it was rebroadcast on SEC Network yesterday, before we watched American Gigolo, House of the Dragon and The Serpent Queen. I wasn’t sure about American Gigolo, because no matter how much I love John Bernthal I just couldn’t see him taking over from Richard Gere, but he did a great job and the second episode really takes the show off–the first is merely set-up and back story, which is why you should always give a show two episodes before deciding to stop watching unless the first episode is so incredibly bad you can’t put yourself through a second (although I will confess to being wrong about Outer Banks, which I found out thanks to the Holmses). Of the three, I believe The Serpent Queen is the best (because you really can’t go wrong with Catherine de Medici; her story alone is dramatic enough for a series), even though they aren’t capturing Diane de Poitiers correctly (Diane was a lot smarter then they are making her out to be, and she was never Catherine’s enemy for the simple reason she preferred Henri to be married to someone he could tolerate but was no threat to her); but I believe the audience wouldn’t get the nuance and sophistication of the game Diane played in reality.

I did start reading Donna Andrews’ Round Up the Usual Peacocks yesterday before I had to start taking meds for my back, and it’s as charming as her books always are. I didn’t get as far as I would have liked because my back’s need for attention by the time the Saints game started could no longer be ignored; and I started reading Daphne du Maurier’s novella “A Border-Line Case” during my brief lucid moments (because it was shorter). It’s an interesting story and one that I will most likely have to start over again in order to get a real reading of it accomplished, but du Maurier is such a genius with mood and her language usage that reading her is akin to getting drunk on the words.

Reading du Maurier is, of course, one of those things that make me wonder why I bother, or what I am trying to do with my work–and she used a typewriter. I can never get past that with writers of the past–that they wrote either first in long-hand or all along on the typewriter–but regardless, it always had to be typed. (Even using Word I make typos on a regular basis and they are far easier to correct on a computer document than they are on onion-skin or bond paper….which makes me think about how Misery couldn’t work today, because Paul would have to be a crank who still used a typewriter instead of a laptop and…you get the picture.)

So, today I hope to start digging out from under. I had never really caught up on everything after Bouchercon (primarily because I’ve been in so much pain since I got home) and so now today I must assess the damage and try to figure out how to get back on the horse I’ve fallen from. I didn’t intend to lose two weeks to Bouchercon but here we are, almost to the end of September and another month of 2022 gone before I knew it and a deadline taking aim at the bull’s eye squarely affixed to the center of my forehead. The house is a mess (as always) and I have a lot of data entry to get done today before venturing out to run the afore-mentioned errands; I also don’t know where I am at financially and need to figure out what bills are left to be paid and so forth. I also need to get this messy house under some sort of control, and I only have so much time every day to deal with these things. Once my back is better, I’m going to start easing back into the gym as well–what better way to get in shape for conferences than being in better physical condition and perhaps dropping some of this extra weight? My blood sugar was surprisingly high the last time I fasted for blood work, which isn’t great–so perhaps the exercise and shift in diet I’ve been avoiding for quite some time has finally reached the point where it’s unavoidable anymore. My natural inclination to laziness doesn’t help matters much in this regard either, but I just have to remember how much I enjoy how I feel after I’ve worked out to help motivate me to get started again. This back shit is a motivator too; if I can keep my back stretched and strengthen my core, I’ll never lose a week to back pain again.

And so, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning: hopeful, rested, and hoping the sheer amount of work I am behind on won’t send me into a corner whimpering. I am heading into the spice mines, and I shall see you on the other side, Constant Reader.

And as always, thanks for stopping by.

Storms

So this morning my back still hurts, but it’s more of an ache than an agonizing pain the way it has been for since this whole mess started the other day. I am resisting the urge and need and desires to actually go ahead and operate today like normal–I should keep resting it, alternating heat and cold, for at least another day–and also have to remember that yesterday morning it felt better, too–but by noon I was taking muscle relaxers and pain pills and camped out in the easy chair, my brain too wasted by the meds to do much of anything other than watch television all day. No reading, no writing, no nothing.

On the other hand, at least it was College Football Saturday, so I had some good entertainment to watch on it. LSU played Mississippi State last night at the very odd starting time of five pm, and I can see that the Saints and LSU are both back to normal–making you think they’re going to lose the game badly until the second half, and even at that sometimes not until the fourth quarter. LSU trailed 13-0 at one point last night before putting together a beautiful drive in the waning minutes of the first half to pull within 6 points at 13-7 before ultimately dominating the fourth quarter impressively to win 31-16. It was Coach Kelly’s first SEC game, and obviously, his first conference win. Mississippi State usually gives LSU some trouble whenever they play, except for the years when LSU is having A Really Great Year and blows them out; LSU has also lost some incredibly disappointing games to the Bulldogs over the years. (It always seems like other teams in the SEC West always rise up to play their best against us; not sure why that is, but it’s a fact) It was also a very weird day all over the country in sports–with Florida, Arkansas, and Notre Dame squeaking out wins over opponents that should have been overmatched; Texas A&M struggled to beat Miami–yes, it is going to be an interesting year in college football.

Maybe not as interesting and fun as 2007–an EPIC year for college football, and not just saying that because LSU won a national title that year–but still fun and interesting.

I just applied store brand Ben-Gay to my back and the heat feels nice. I do think I should probably spend yet another day in the chair. I think once I post this and do some minor picking up around here I may retire to my easy chair with Donna Andrews’ marvelous Round Up the Usual Peacocks. I also am not sure when the Saints game is today, either. Ah, noon. That should give me a few hours to read before the game comes on. I may even try to use the laptop during the game to do some writing, but it’s going to depend on how much my back stiffens up today as I continue to try to function.

And yes, I am well aware I am obsessing about my back and the pain, but seriously, back pain is one of those things you cannot escape; your back is essential for movement and so forth, and while I am not consciously trying to find out what movements hurt and which don’t…I am slowly figuring it out. Someone suggested to me the other day that this could actually be a laughter injury, and I do think that’s entirely possible, as I can remember laughing so hard my abs and ribs began hurting, and I would bend over sometimes laughing so hard….and that is the most painful position for me to assume since the injury made itself known.

A laughing injury. Only a Gregalicious could injure and incapacitate himself by laughing too hard.

What can I say? I am out of shape for laughing like that any more. THANKS PANDEMIC.

I also have to sometime write up Back to the Garden and The Devil Takes You Home, two of this year’s best novels that I’ve read thus far.

I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel before next weekend’s podcast ZOOM call. Yikes! I also cannot get over how messy and sloppy the apartment has become since my injury made itself known–which is really the thing that is driving me the most crazy of everything here, you know. I had hoped to be able to spend this weekend getting the apartment cleaned up and getting caught up on everything but instead I’ve had to nurse my back and get even more behind on everything.

And on that note, I am going to take Donna and my coffee and retire to my chair for a few hours. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow…hopefully with the news that my back is better.

Silver Springs

My back still hurts today, and while at the moment it’s better than it was yesterday…it’s always best when I get up in the morning, so I don’t know how the rest of today is going to go. I have to go pick-up the groceries I ordered yesterday–which has me nervous–and I’ve even decided to wait on ordering Costco until tomorrow or Work-At-Home Monday. I was hoping it would be okay enough for me to be able to at least spend a few hours at the computer this morning writing; but taking yesterday off to just lie flat while alternating heat and cold (thank you, Eric Andrews-Katz, for reminding me to do that yesterday and not just use heating pads and generic Ben-Gay; I will be doing that today as well)was enormously helpful in the healing process. I was also taking pain killers yesterday to make myself more comfortable, and by the end of the day yesterday I felt–I really don’t know how to describe it, but I felt like all of my muscles and joints needed to be stretched, so I started doing that in my chair and it felt ever so much better before I went to bed last night. I didn’t read much of anything because the pain killers were fogging up my brain something terrible; but I did get my three-ring binders containing everything I am currently working on out to reread where I am at on everything. Scotty’s Chapter Three needs a revision (or a re-ordering of its scenes) to match up to the changes I made on the first two chapters; I know where this story is going now and I really like the decisions I made before Bouchercon to turn this into something worthy of a Scotty novel. Today, other than the making of the grocieries, is going to be mostly me doing the same as I did yesterday–lying prone in my easy chair unfolded out, alternating between heat and cold, while hopefully reading the new Donna Andrews while managing my pain with Aleve while college football plays on the screen. LSU plays Mississippi State tonight in Death Valley, so we’ll get some sort of idea of how well the Tigers have regrouped since that opening loss (last week’s blowout of Southern doesn’t really count–no offense, Southern). And tomorrow is Saints-Buccaneers, so I can swear at Tom Brady some more, which is always an enjoyable experience.

So, looks like today–other than the groceries, getting the mail, and getting as–is going to be another enforced day off. I am afraid of doing my usual “oh it feels better so I can do more things only to make it worse and last longer” thing, so much as I am loathe to fall even further behind on everything, I really don’t have much choice. Your back is not something you want to fuck with a whole lot, and the last thing I need at my age–at any age–is to continue having chronic issues with my back. I hurt it at the gym years and years ago, always assumed it was safe to go back before it actually was, and then consistently made things worse. This was when my serious 3 to 4 times per week workout routine was finally and completely disrupted, and I’ve never really been able to consistently attend the gym to workout ever since.

The Lost Apartment is also a disaster area, but…don’t push it, Gregalicious. Just relax and allow yourself the time to let whatever-the-fuck-it-is you did to your back to heal. You’ve got college football games to watch and a Donna Andrews novel to read, and in a worst case scenario you can lay back in your easy chair and use the laptop to do things like write or something…until of course Scooter wants to go to sleep in my lap.

I also overslept a bit this morning, but the benefit of that is I no longer feel exhausted, which is yet another step on the needed path for me to feel like Gregalicious again. I got the Bouchercon email this morning in which sixteen (!!!!) attendees have tested positive this far, but so far I’ve dodged that bullet again. I have wondered, with the exhaustion, but that second line keeps on not showing up on my tests so as far as I can tell, everything else is fine. (Excuse me for a moment while I stick a swab up my nose; seriously, at this point I’d rather stick my finger and use blood to run the test. Why can’t this be an oral swab like the HIV tests used to be like?)

We did get caught up on Bad Sisters last night, and then moved on to the series premiere of The Serpent Queen, with Samantha Morton as Catherine de Medici. The show is actually–at least so far–seems historically accurate (other than she married Henri duc d’Orleans in 1533 rather than 1536; that year is fixed in my head because that is also the year Henry VIII married Anne Boleyn and had her crowned), and of course, Catherine is one of my favorite historical characters of all time. She is often depicted in history as evil and cruel and malignant–but imagine loving your husband so much and enduring the humiliation of his disinterest in you while being utterly devoted to a woman twenty years older…and this goes on for 26 years before he dies. Wouldn’t you be a little warped? Ignored, dismissed, laughed at…and then with her husband’s death she becomes one of the most powerful women in Europe, trying to preserve the crown and an intact France for her sons during a time of almost constant religious and political strife. She fascinates me, much as Eleanor of Aquitaine, Anne Boleyn, Blanche of Castile, and several other great queens of history do…which again leads me to my idea of writing a history of the sixteenth century in Europe through the tales of the great and powerful women of that century, A Monstrous Regiment of Women. There was also a time when I wanted to write historical novels of political intrigue, and what better place to set such a series than during the second half of the sixteenth century in France, which was a time more akin to Game of Thrones than most periods (the Wars of the Roses is another; the dying out of the Capetian dynasty in France in the early fourteenth is another).

Yes, a series centered around one of Catherine’s Flying Squadron (beautiful women trained in the arts of seduction and eroticism, who took lovers strategically so they could spy on them for the Crown) during the period of 1570-1589 would be a lot of fun to write, and the research! What fun would all that reading be? Perhaps someday when I have more time and energy…ha ha ha, I somehow managed to type that with a straight face.

I’ve also always wanted to write a sixteenth century murder mystery where Robert Cecil hires someone to investigate the death of Amy Robsart in 1560–which jeopardized Queen Elizabeth’s throne within the first two years of her reign.

And that’s not even taking into consideration my retelling of The Three Musketeers from Milady de Winter’s point of view.

Yeah, I will probably never write anything more historical any further back than my lifetime.

And on that note, I am retiring to my easy chair with Donna Andrews and some ice packs. Have a happy Saturday, Constant Reader.

Oh Daddy

I am not doing well this morning.

Yesterday morning when I got up my back felt like it was on the mend; it was still a bit painful and tight, but better than it had been the day before so I thought, oh thank you baby Jesus–there’s an end in sight. Unfortunately, as the day progresses it began to hurt more and more until the end of the day, when picking up my back pack was agonizing, as was the drive home. I immediately changed into my sweats (which was painful) and repaired to my easy chair. Scooter climbed into my lap and went to sleep immediately while I caught up on this week’s episode of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (which really deserves its own entry or an essay; the phenomenon of these shows fascinates me–which is probably why I explored it in Royal Street Reveillon) and then…I don’t remember much of the rest of the evening, really. Paul came home, gave me a pain killer, and I know we watched the final two episodes of Five Days at Memorial (which posed some pretty interesting ethical questions that I don’t know the answers to) and then another of Bad Sisters (which I really like) before collapsing into bed and praying that this morning would be the same as yesterday….

…for naught. The painkiller didn’t really help all that much (although I can see why the drugs with oxy in their name are so addictive) but made me comfortable–I was still aware of the pain, but it was slightly more bearable. Yesterday afternoon I made the right decision–I told my supervisor I was taking a personal day to let my back get better; all that getting up and sitting down yesterday was no help at all–and so I am literally going to spend the day sitting in my easy chair, slathered in generic Ben-Gay with the heating pad attached to my back.

Getting old really and truly sucks. But I do have some reading to get caught up on–I need to reread everything I am working on, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel as I am being interviewed on a podcast about it and du Maurier in a couple of weeks (seriously, how fucking thrilling is that?) and of course, I want to read the new Donna Andrews. I never did make the to-do list I’ve been talking about on here all week–the back pain really is excruciating–so maybe I can gather everything around me that I need to get to today while sitting in the chair and letting highlights of old LSU games stream on Youtube in the background (oh yes, I rewatch highlights of old LSU games–only big wins, of course–and it always puts me in a better mood, and yes, I am aware how weird that actually is. Sue me.), and hopefully Scooter will sleep in my lap for most of the day. I need to order groceries for pick-up (and Costco for delivery) but I am a little worried about carrying everything into the Lost Apartment.

I also slept later than usual this morning; I’ve been feeling exhausted all week and figured the world wouldn’t end should I stay in bed for an extra hour or two. The good news is I do not feel tired this morning–I am so tired of feeling tired–but, of course, the back is aching. My desk chair feels much more comfortable than my work chairs, for some reason it just seems to fit my back better so it’s not painful to sit here. I cannot explain it, it makes absolutely no sense, but I am going to take advantage of that fact not only to try to get this entry written but do my reviews of Gabino Iglesias’ The Devil Takes You Home and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden, both of which are SUPERB. (5 out of 5 stars, get copies NOW)

I’ve also realized I’ve not done much of a Bouchercon round-up–primarily because all of it was a blur, and maybe, just maybe, I hurt my back from laughing so hard for so long. A laughing injury! It is entirely possible, of course; I noted many times how much it hurt to laugh when I was in the midst of a laughing fit because of something hilarious someone said (I really do know the funniest people), and also all the standing; several times in the evening in the bar I noted that my back was getting sore–so naturally instead of sitting down or doing anything to baby it (because that would be admitting that I am too old to stand for long) I continued doing what made it hurt in the first place.

The uncomfortable airline seats on the flight home also did not help much in that regard.

So, that is the state of the Gregalicious this morning. I just made groceries for pick up tomorrow–I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it–and at some point tomorrow I’ll order Costco for delivery. But for now, I am going to take my heating pad and my aching back to my chair so I can chill for a bit.

Have a happy Friday, Constant Reader.

Songbird

Thursday!

My back, while still a little tight, is more irritating than painful; it’s at that stage where it is so close to not hurting at all anymore that it’s annoying that it hasn’t stopped, if that makes sense at all? I ran errands on my way home from work yesterday–mail and a prescription–and then came home, did a load of dishes, and then collapsed into my chair with the heating pad. I am taking it to work again with me this morning–more heat can’t hurt, after all, and the office is cold–and hopefully will wake up tomorrow morning feeling ever so much better. We got caught up on House of the Dragon last night–it’s getting better, but man was it ever getting off to a slow start–and it’s not as big and epic as Game of Thrones was; it’s more contained, with fewer characters and fewer story-lines, for one thing–and then we watched Archer (it really misses Jessica Walter; Mallory Archer was too great of a character for the show to do without) before calling it a night and heading for bed. I slept well again last night–only woke up a few times–and my back felt better when I got up…but it is slowly starting to make itself known, so yes, definitely bringing the heating pad to the office with me this morning.

I was thinking, last night as I waited for Paul to finish working (whenever he comes home earlier than usual, he inevitably spends a few hours making calls and sending emails once he’s home), about something that has been sticking in my mind for quite a while–and last night it hit me between the eyes.

People talk a lot about crime in New Orleans–it’s usually code for people to be racist without being outright racist; I always laugh at people in the comments section of the local news stations or newspapers, talking about crime in New Orleans and ‘that’s why they left New Orleans’ for the suburbs/West Bank/North Shore, etc. I laugh at this because they will always claim to other people Not From Here that they are, indeed, from New Orleans (bitch, you’re from Metairie) and I always want to ask them, “was it really crime in New Orleans that drove you out of the city, or was it the desegregation of the schools, hmmm?” Every neighborhood in New Orleans, you see, is mixed; the Garden District neighborhood at one time also included the St. Thomas Housing Projects. And sure, crime has been on the rise here lately. But I have lived in New Orleans since 1996, and white people are always talking about crime here and shaking their heads about how the city “has gone downhill.” Um, if you study the history of New Orleans, the city has always been filled with crime; IT’S A GODDAMNED PORT CITY.

Anyway, as I was standing in line waiting to board my flight out of Minneapolis, the woman in front of me turned out to also be from New Orleans (River Ridge). She was absolutely lovely, and we chatted the entire time we waited and as we went down the jetway to the plane–which, for someone whose default is always social awkwardness, was something–and ironically, she was the person in front of me in line for the flight from Chicago to New Orleans. She began talking to me about the crime and I did my usual shrug “there’s always been crime in New Orleans” and when she asked me if I wasn’t afraid, I just shook my head and said “no–no more than usual.”

That, of course, started a thread in my head about why are you not afraid of the rising crime in New Orleans and I realized, as I had also said to the nice lady, “I’m just always hyper-aware of my surroundings and what’s going on around me.” And then last night it hit me: as opposed to the nice straight white people of New Orleans, the rising crime rate doesn’t really bother me because I have never felt completely safe anywhere or anytime in my life–that’s what life is like for queers in this country.

I had to train myself as a kid to always keep my eyes moving and always be aware of what’s going on around me–I look ahead, I look behind, I always am looking from one side to the other and am always on hyper-alert because you never know when the gay bashers are going to come for you. I’m no more afraid now than I have ever been throughout the course of my life, and I had decided a long time ago that I would not live my life in fear anymore–but to always be vigilant.

Straight white people aren’t used to not feeling safe and they don’t like it when they don’t.

Welcome to what it feels like to be a minority in this country–and let’s face it, I still have white male privilege; I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate this world as a black lesbian or transwoman.

But straight white people? This is their world and it is the world they made. While straight white women are oppressed terribly by straight white men, many of them have been gaslit into thinking they are less than straight white men and it is simply their lot in life, and they accept that in exchange for protection by the patriarchy. So while it is true that for women, car-jackings and muggings are just one more thing to add to their backpack of oppressive fears–usually sexual assaults (physical or verbal) or harassment. Interesting, right?

But for those Stockholm Syndrome suffering straight white women, crime is outrageous and horrifying to them because the system is theoretically set up to protect them from crime.

And what’s a little sexual harassment if it means you won’t get mugged or carjacked by that scary Black man? Boys will be boys, after all; they’re just wired that way.

I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective of someone like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimming rapist–but I don’t think I can. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so blind about your own child, especially since I don’t (and never wanted) any of my own.

And yes, this is yet another subject for an essay.

But the fog of exhaustion seems to finally be lifting from my head–hallelujah–and so I think–if I am not too tired when I get home tonight, that is–I am going to be able to get back to work on my writing either today or tomorrow. I also want to start reading my new Donna Andrews novel, and I want to read Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side before October, when I have to turn my attention to the horror genre again for Halloween.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader.

Go Your Own Way

Lovin’ you, isn’t the right thing to do…

Wednesday and pay-the-bills day. Yesterday–the return to the office–wasn’t terrific. My back hurt in the morning to the point where standing up and moving around was incredibly painful, even with the generic Ben-Gay slathered liberally over my lower back. I used my back massage-roller thing Monday night and it helped, but for whatever reason yesterday morning when I got to work I was in extreme pain. I hate this for me, frankly. One of my co-workers stopped by my desk and saw the tube of store-brand Ben-Gay sitting on my desk and said, “oh, I thought I smelled Ben-Gay” (technically incorrect) and I replied, “Yes, I now officially smell like old man. Yay for me.”

I also realized I didn’t pick up a copy of my own Bouchercon anthology while I was there. Seriously, how DO I still have a career?

My back is still achy this morning–I’ve used the back roller and did some stretches, and it feels somewhat better than it did yesterday–but I am going to bring the heating pad to work with me this morning and see how that goes. I hate this, seriously. But the improvement from yesterday is significant–I don’t wince when I move this morning, at least not yet–and so I will go on hoping that this will gradually clear up and not become a more permanent thing. I somehow managed to get through my work day yesterday despite the back pain and despite the extreme tiredness I was feeling, even managed to make groceries (insanely expensive, I might add) on my way home. Once I got home, I retired to my easy chair and the heating pad and just kind of vegetated while Scooter slept in my lap until Paul got home. (I did watch the first episode of The Serpent Queen while I waited for him; it’s really quite good, and of course, I’ve always been fascinated by Catherine de Medici–one of these days I am going to write a book about her ‘flying squadron’, beautiful young women she trained to seduce men and get secrets out of; how fun of a book would that be?) I was going to start reading the next Donna Andrews, or reread the Scotty work I’ve already done, but I suspect–not entirely incorrectly–that I am going to be very tired most of this week and as such probably won’t get around to doing a whole lot of writing or creating this week as I dig out from under with everything–I’m not even remotely finished with my emails, and may never be–and there are some odds and ends I need to get finished in the meantime.

I really need to make a to-do list this morning and get it all together. As always after a trip, I feel rather disconnected from my life again this morning (this week, really) and it inevitably takes me a couple of days to recalibrate back to my regular life (oh how I wish my mystery conference life was my regular life!) and start figuring out what needs to be done. Costco, of course, and a regular making groceries run (not just the scattershot drive-by I did yesterday on the way home from work); and of course, it IS Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray). Heavy heaving sigh. I also have short stories promised to people, methinks, that I need to get back to work on. There really is no end to being a Gregalicious, is there? Heavy HEAVING sigh.

The high from the weekend is also starting to wear off a little bit, but it was a very lovely reminder of why I love my genre community. I met some writers whom I really admire (Attica Locke, Karen Dionne, Eli Cranor, among many others) and got to hang out with dear friends and as I said, laughed and laughed until I actually ached from laughing, which is really quite marvelous. I think I am definitely going to go to Crime Bake in November up in Boston (suburbs); I won’t be traveling quite as often or as regularly next year, alas, but am hoping to make it to Malice in April and then of course, Bouchercon rolls around again in the fall in San Diego. I’ve not really looked into what games are this weekend–I know LSU plays Mississippi State at night in Death Valley, which gives me most of the day to errand and clean and all of that lovely stuff–and I am not sure when the Saints game is on Sunday (noon, probably, but who knows?) and so hopefully I won’t spend the weekend vegetating (all of the time at any rate), but you never know. I do need some down time to recuperate, so I may just have Costco delivered and order the groceries for pick-up (I may make a Mississippi roast this weekend, or whatever it is called; I can get a very lovely rump roast at the Fresh Market meat counter).

The weather has been beautiful, too, since we arrived back. This unusual cool September weather is very similar to what it was like up in Minneapolis, and the weather (with the exception of one day) during the weekend was stunningly beautiful; I spent as much time outside as I could do so logically.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to head into the spice mines and get to work. Happy Wednesday, all, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.