Why Can’t We Live Together

Wednesday! What a lovely day, as the countdown to my long birthday weekend begins. Just one full day at the office today, and then a partial day tomorrow, and then it’s vacation time for me. Huzzah! Huzzah! Huzzah!

It’s funny–I am doing this Facebook challenge, where you share the cover of a book you enjoyed reading every day for seven days, with no comment, review or explanation. I am doing books I loved the hell out of reading, and started with Valley of the Dolls (of course) and The Other Side of Midnight, and yesterday’s was Grace Metalious’ Peyton Place, which is long overdue for a reread. (For that matter, I should reread both Valley of the Dolls AND The Other Side of Midnight as well; I’ve not read a Sidney Sheldon novel since the 1980’s–I think the last of his I read was Windmills of the Gods.) Another book due for a reread is today’s choice, Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is, quite simply, superb and remains one of my favorite books of all time to this day (maybe I’ll treat myself to a reread this coming long weekend?).

I wrote nary a word yesterday–not one single word, unless you count yesterday morning’s blog, of course. I never count the blog in my daily writing totals, by the way; I always see it as more of a warm-up exercise for writing, any way, a tool I use to get the words flowing and forming in my head so that throughout the day I can, whenever I can, scribble some words down. I slept deeply and well again last night–huzzah!–and with two successful night’s sleep, should be able to get home and write tonight after work (I was exhausted again last night–the twelve hour days are becoming a bit much for my aged self, methinks). Paul and I relaxed last evening and watched “The 60’s” episode of the CNN docuseries The Movies, which is a very interesting decade of America history, particularly when you look at, for example, the path of American film in that decade. (I also recommend Mark Harris’ Pictures at a Revolution, which is about the five films nominated for Best Picture in 1967, a true turning point for American film, where the last vestiges of the studio system were finally being swept away and a new, uncertain era for American film was set up.)

It’s an interesting journey from the days when Doris Day’s was the biggest box office star with her sex comedies to seeing Midnight Cowboy win Best Picture.

This morning, after I finish this, I need to do the dishes and I need to run get the mail on my way to the office. I have some books arriving, thanks to cashing in my health insurance points (it’s a long dull story; suffice it to say that my health insurance has a program where doing healthy stuff and taking care of yourself properly earns you points, and you can then use those points for gift cards; I chose Amazon so I can get books.) Some have already been delivered, others should be arriving today and hopefully will be there by the time I head down there–I got another copy of Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, because I want to reread it and write an essay about the sexually fluid Ripley–along with the new Silvia Moreno-Garcia horror novel, Gods of Jade and Shadow, and Richard Wright’s Native Son.  I read Native Son when I was in college for an American Lit class….and I’d really like to give it another read when I am not being constantly bombarded with foolish professorial pronouncements about its meaning and symbolism from an old white man and a bunch of racist white students.

I also need to read more James Baldwin, and I need to read these Chester Himes novels in the TBR stack as well. I also need to finish reading My Darkest Prayer. Perhaps today between clients? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Heavy heaving sigh. There’s simply never enough time to read.

I was thinking the other day that, in a perfect world for me, my days would be get up in the morning, answer emails and do other on-line duties, write for the rest of the morning and the early afternoon, run errands, go to the gym, and then come home to read. Doesn’t that sound absolutely lovely? It certainly does to me. But alas, this is not a perfect Greg-world and I have to go to a day job Monday through Friday, but at least my day job is one in which I help people every day, which does make it a lot more palatable. I can’t imagine how miserable I would be if I had a job that I hated. I actually don’t hate my job, and consider myself lucky as one of the few Americans who don’t; my only resentment is the time spent there could be time spent reading or writing, which would be my preference.

And on that cheery note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I need to get Chapter 23 written and be one step closer to finished with Bury Me in Shadows, and I’d also like to get some words written on “Moist Money” today–“The Spirit Tree” can wait.

Have a lovely Wednesday, all.

15939_103564262995293_100000251595958_92256_6027229_n

Hocus Pocus

Tuesday morning, and I somehow managed to survive yesterday. Sunday night’s sleep wasn’t terrific, and by the late afternoon I was plenty exhausted and tired. I had to persevere, and what’s more, I was interviewed for a podcast last night when I got home from the office. Somehow I managed to get through that, and within half an hour of disconnecting from Skype, I was in bed and asleep within moments. Last night’s sleep was quite lovely–I feel amazingly rested this morning–and so this day might not be as terrible as the previous.

Today is going to be a good day.

I started writing two new short stories yesterday, “The Spirit Tree” and “Moist Money.” “Moist Money” is for an anthology I was asked to write a story for; it finally came to me sometime either Sunday evening or sometime during the day yesterday, and I scribbled down the first two paragraphs in my journal, which I transcribed yesterday, and then added another couple of hundred words. “The Spirit Tree” was inspired by moving books around on Sunday, and one of them–a nonfiction book about snake-handling churches in southern Appalachia–I opened the cover and looked over the first page–which was about “spirit trees”; trees that rural Appalachian folk, superstitious and religious as they are, create to keep bad spirits away. What they do is put glass bottles on tree branches, so the bottles clink together in the wind (“warriors, come out and play”) and the sound the glass tinkling against other glass makes supposedly scares away evil spirits and keeps them from infesting the house. I hadn’t thought about spirit trees since I was a child, and I thought, not only is that a great title, I can actually think of a rural noir story to write that matches it. Yesterday I got down about five to six hundred words of the opening; this is a story, I think, I might try to sell to Ellery Queen or Alfred Hitchcock when finished. I was too tired to do much more than write the openings of both stories last night; but I am hoping to get more written on them this week. I also need to get those three chapters of Bury Me in Shadows written, so it can sit and percolate for the next couple of months until I can get back to it.

It’s also weird to think Royal Street Reveillon will be out into the world next month. It seemed like it took me forever to write that book, and I guess it kind of did? But it’s nice; I’m glad to be putting another Scotty out there into the world, and I’m also not sure when I’m going to write the next one. I already know what it’s going to be–Hollywood South Hustle–but I’m just not sure when I’m going to get to it. I want to, as I have said in previous blogs, get all these books about teenagers I’m in some stage of writing cleared off my plate and out into the world before I start writing anything else–a cleansed palate, as it were–and keep writing my short stories and essays along with writing those. I’d love to get my second short story collection out into the world by 2021–that would be the one I’m calling Once a Tiger and Other Stories–and I also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger,” a novella, finished sometime before the end of the year, as well as “Fireflies,” my horror novella, as well.

So much to do, right? And I really need to proof Jackson Square Jazz so the ebook can finally go up for sale again. Maybe I can make that a goal of my long weekend for my birthday? Stranger things have happened. I really need to get all these things that are hanging over my head finished and out of the way, so I can focus more easily on writing Chlorine next year.

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

9_af

I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_1995

Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_2015

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

IMG_1985

Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)

Hello, Friday, so lovely to see you again.

Last night broke the streak of great night’s sleeping in a row; but it was still effective enough, I suppose. I’m awake and already washing the bed linens (my usual Friday chore) before I head into work for the part time day I am working. Paul was late coming home last night, so I kept cleaning the apartment, more or less–probably more less than more, if you know what I mean–but it was lovely to walk downstairs to a clean, organized desk this morning, and a clean kitchen. Sure, there’s a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, but other than that, I think I have the kitchen/office under control–and if the weather stays cool, I may even do the windows tomorrow.

I’m not sure what has triggered it, but over the last few weeks (months?) I’ve been thinking about the past a lot. Being one of the oldest people at the office probably has something to do with it–I think the next oldest person after me is still young enough to be my child–and of course, thinking about the introduction I have to write for Jay B. Laws’ The Unfinished being brought back into print also probably has something to do with it. (My story in progress, “Never Kiss a Stranger”, is also set in the early 1990’s in New Orleans, so I’ve been thinking alot about those days when I first started coming to New Orleans and fell in love with the city.) I’ve spent most of my life not looking backwards–at least, since I was in my mid-thirties at any rate–because my preference was to live in the present and think about the future; there’s nothing that can be done about the past, and I was also tired of remembering cringeworthy experiences. But the past is ripe for mining, not only in my work but for recognizing personal growth and change, and so I’ve been looking back. (Probably also has a lot to do with Bury Me in Shadows being set in a part of Alabama based on where I’m from.)

Speaking of Bury Me in Shadows, it’s possible I can finish this first draft by the end of the month, but not likely. The other big project has kind of taken up a lot of my free time over this past week or so, but that’s fine. Another big project got pushed back a couple of months, which gives me a little more leeway with getting it finished. Ideally, I’ll get it finished sometime over the next week, and then I can spend most of August revising the Kansas book, which in turn gives way to September working on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get some more short stories finished and out of the way and submitted–one I’d like to write has a September 1 deadline, but all I have for it is a title and a possible plot scenario, but no ending–and of course, I want to write something for the MWA anthology (actually, I already have something for the MWA anthology, that needs a polish, and then to sit for a few more weeks before going over it again) which is a long shot always, but I usually come away from MWA anthology rejections with a strong story for placement elsewhere, and I’d really like for some more stories to be out there by the end of the year.

Yet time continues to slip through my fingers like mercury.

It also looks like that low pressure system in the Gulf isn’t going to turn into anything, and the Atlantic basin is also quiet and going to stay quiet for another five days, which is, of course, quite lovely.

Another thing I need to do is go through my current journal and take out bits of writing I’ve done when an idea has struck me, and see if it will fit into anything in progress or if it will trigger an idea for a full length story. Opening it up to the first page right now, I find this:

Moira was one of those women of whom other people never grew fond. Things simply never worked out for her. Almost, always getting very close, but never ever winning. The perennial bridesmaid, silver medalist, salutatorian.

I can always count on her to make me feel better about myself. No matter how low or down I am about any or every thing, I just have to think about Moira and realize, gratefully, that I’m not her.

Kind of dark, really. I have no idea what this was for, or when it popped into my brain, but there it is, written down in black ink for all posterity.

Or:

She had an unfortunately masculine type body—broad-shoulder and narrow-hipped—that made her look out of shape no matter how hard she worked out and clothes that fit well  incredibly hard to find. She stopped caring about things like hair and make-up and clothes sometime during her teen years.

Also slightly mean, but not bad.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines for my half-day, after which it’s my weekend.

Huzzah!

IMG_1849

You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

IMG_0994