Wednesday Pay-the-Bills day, and I am awake and slurping coffee, which is truly hitting the spot this morning. I slept well last night, and I think I am actually getting used to getting up at this ungodly, abhorrent hour. When I sleep well, I have no problem getting up in the morning (although I always long to stay in bed longer) and I am pretty well conscious, for the most part. (The coffee will do it’s job indubitably before I have to leave the house for the office, which is lovely, as always.) Yesterday wasn’t too bad. I did run uptown to get the mail on the way home (there was exactly one letter; my copy of All the Sinners Bleed, the new S. A. Cosby, won’t arrive until tomorrow), and I wasn’t terribly tired when I got home. I unloaded the dishwasher and cleaned out the sink, revised another chapter, and just chilled out for the rest of the evening. I’ve got a couple of nonfiction reads going at the same time (Hi Honey I’m Homo by Matt Baume and The Way They Were: How Epic Battles and Bruised Egos Brought a Classic Hollywood Love Story to the Screen by Robert Hofler–I do love books about the making of movies! And of course I am still reading The Johnstown Flood by David McCullough) so I finished the Hofler last night (cannot reiterate how much I love books about the making of classic films. The Way We Were, however flawed it may be, it probably my favorite Barbra Streisand movie–either that or What’s Up Doc.
I have a ZOOM meeting tonight as well, so I’ll probably come straight home from the office today after work. The excitement never stops, does it?
I was also thinking some more about my Pride writings, and whether or not I really want to talk about the homophobia I’ve experienced in my career. I do think these things need to be addressed–absolutely no one should have the false impression this kind of shit doesn’t still go on, isn’t still happening–but at the same time, it’s hard to write about those things without getting angry, or becoming THAT Gay Man (similar in some ways to the Angry Black Woman, I think; a trope that is easily dismissed by the dominant culture rather than examined in the ways it should be; if a Black woman is angry, why not find out why rather than being dismissive?) who people can easily stop listening to. Homophobia sucks, and being on the receiving end of it is no pleasure for anyone. It’s even less pleasant to experience and write about. But these things happen, and not shining a light on these unacceptable behaviors allows them to fester and grow. I like to believe sometimes (when feeling more charitable than usual) that people aren’t aware sometimes that what they are saying or writing is homophobic because that shit is baked so deeply into our society and culture; if you never examine yourself, you never learn and grow.
It amazes me how many people think they already “know enough” and don’t need to continue learning and growing. I always want to keep learning, keep modifying myself into the best version of myself that I can be (thank you, Ted Lasso), and growing into a more compassionate, empathetic person. It would be nice to talk about gay joy, you know?
For me, coming out was like a rebirth of sorts. I was absolutely miserable before I started living out loud as a gay man; I kind of led two different lives in which I had two different sets of friends that knew nothing about the others. But the real life was the closeted one, even though hanging out with other gays and going to gay bars was like a breath of fresh air after being stuck in a smoke-filled room for hours. I was keeping so much from either set of friends that I never really felt super-close to any of them; I loved them all dearly, but felt disconnected from them because they didn’t really know me. I was thirty when I started merging my two lives together, and believe me, coming out didn’t solve much for me, either. I felt freer, but I also had to start learning how to navigate being gay all of the time instead of having a few brief hours of freedom every week. I didn’t make many gay friends, and most of the gay people I knew were my co-workers…and the last thing I ever wanted to do was get physically and emotionally involved with a co-worker. There was still a lifetime of self-loathing and self-flagellation stuffed into my head as I started to reeducate and reevaluate myself and my life. The lovely thing about coming out at thirty meant I wiped the slate clean and had to start really figuring out who I actually was. It also makes sense that my writing never went anywhere while I was closeted; I wasn’t a complete person,. so how could I write and create compelling characters that are fully rounded when I was still under construction?
The weird thing is that thirty-one years later, I still feel like I’m figuring out who I am and what I want from my life…as the sands in the hourglass continue to run out. But while there have certainly been difficult times since I waltzed out of the closet, I’ve also been happier and more content and at peace than I ever was before. It might be age and experience, I don’t know, but I believe that I could have never reached that point while living in the closet. Had I continued to deny my true self, how miserable would my life have turned out? It was already going down a dark path already; the 1980’s and HIV/AIDS still cast a long shadow over my life.
But I’ve also known joy in the second half of my life; joy I never experienced or felt in the first half of it. And I wouldn’t trade that for anything…I’ve never regretted it, not once, not even when all the forces of the religious right and their useful idiots in elected office have arrayed themselves against people like me.
On that note, I think I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you again soon.
Tuesday morning in the Lost Apartment and I feel daunted. I know we have a busy schedule at the office today and I am mentally preparing myself for all those interactions. I love my job (I don’t love getting up at six, never will), and I love that I am helping people (not quite the urgency of the olden days, but still–new HIV infections need treatment and care else it can still prove fatal), but lots of clients have a tendency to wear me out some and thus I am exhausted when I come home at the end of the day. I have to run errands after work today–mail, mostly–and hopefully won’t be so drained by the time I get home that I’ll be able to carve out some revising time. I managed to get through another chapter last night, and I do believe the book is starting to take its final, publishable form, and I should be able to get it in on time.
Last night after writing Paul and I started watching a new bilingual show on Apple Plus called Now and Then. It’s set in Miami, so some of the characters speak Spanish, some speak English, and some speak both. Twenty years ago after a college graduation, six friends partied on a beach; one of them died, and as they were rushing him to the hospital (driving under the influence) there was an accident. The other driver was killed, and to protect themselves they moved the by-now dead friend into the driver’s seat and fled the scene. Twenty years later (there’s a dual time line, which can be a bit confusing at first) the now adult kids are being blackmailed, and of course the same cops are investigating the new murder of one of them…it’s interesting, if a bit confusing, and it took me a while to get used to the characters (as well as figuring out who they all were in each timeline) but it was intriguing and we will most likely continue watching. I am really looking forward to their new Tom Holland show, The Crowded Room, which also looks interesting. Apple is doing interesting things with their television service.
I have some other Pride entries that I’ve started and haven’t quite finished yet. I am hesitant to post them because–well, I don’t really know why. Writing about homophobic treatment within the publishing community, and my experiences with it, shouldn’t make me feel reticent and squirmy. It gets tiring calling this shit out, then having to defend yourself against straight people who question whether or not this stuff happened. It’s a form of gaslighting the mainstream has perfected when it comes to the non-majority; is it homophobia, or is he just an asshole? Why should i feel uncomfortable talking about how I’ve been treated by certain members of the community, when I didn’t do anything wrong? It’s why women who are sexually harassed and/or assaulted at conventions don’t say anything–because for some reason people always want to protect an institution instead of the individual. You become the problem, instead of the person who actually did something wrong in the first place. The casual homophobia at events at Bouchercon etc. always leave you wondering, should I have laughed that off? Should I have said something? There are some straight male writers who’ve made it abundantly clear to me they want nothing to do with me–and can’t even be bothered to be professionally polite. There’s one in particular who’s been especially rude to me at several events. He’s friends with friends of mine, so he will inevitably drift over and join us–pointedly ignoring me. He actually refused to be introduced to me at Sleuthfest one year.
And of course, when I mention this to my straight writer friends, they are very quick to “oh, you must have misunderstood he’s such a great guy” and I always have to bite my tongue to not say, “Great to straight people, sure.” I was a little taken aback when he refused to be introduced to me at Sleuthfest, but I have started being amused by the fact that my existence clearly shakes him to the very core of his being, to the point that now he turns his back to me if we’re in the same area. How can I not be amused by that level of childishness I’ve not experienced since grammar school and the playground? Sure, dude, you’re really punishing me by not meeting me and engaging with me. It keeps me up at night (sarcasm). Sorry about your penis being so small, homophobe.
And of course, there are the lovely ones who think making a joke about diversity concerns along the lines of “I let a guy suck my dick once for drugs, does that count?” Ha ha ha ha, such wit, I can see why you became a writer with that kind of sharp thinking and clever turns of phrase coming so naturally to you that it just rolls off your tongue.
I also wish I had a dollar for every time a straight person has explained to me how someone else saying something horribly homophobic is actually okay because he/she is “nice” and I must have misunderstood. Um, after sixty-one years of dealing with it, I’m pretty fucking sure I know homophobia when I see and hear it, but please, O Wise and Wonderful Straight Person, please explain what is and isn’t homophobic to the gay man from your vast wealth of experience of dealing with it every day, I would never tell a woman something isn’t sexist, nor a person of color what is and isn’t racism.
Sigh. And on that note, back to the spice mines with me.
The don’t say gay laws a rash of frightened sheep in red state legislatures have been passing, or trying to pass, lately are absurd on their face. “We don’t want our children learning about queer people! They’re too young to learn that!” This argument, of course, begs the question, how old is old enough to learn about alternate sexualities?
I say it’s when kids are old enough to start using slurs in a bullying way on their schoolmates.
For the record, I was only eight years old the first time I was called a gay slur, and I didn’t understand anything about it, let alone the word itself meant.
Why, my eight-year-old mind wondered, is he calling me a ferry? That doesn’t make any sense.
But what the older brother of the girl who lived down the street actually meant was ‘fairy,’ and now it amuses me to remember how naïve I was at age eight, how I had no idea what this older boy, who seemed so enormous and grown-up to my younger self (he was in high school) meant. Somehow, I knew he was insulting me, but eight-year-old me didn’t know what he meant.
But I did know, was very aware, that whatever he meant, it was a bad thing.
I already knew I wasn’t like the other kids on the block or in my grade at school. I was a boy who liked to read, who preferred to go off in my own mind on flights of imagination where I was writing stories and creating fictions, inventing characters and how they related to each other. I much preferred that to playing catch or catching bugs or any of the other, more traditionally masculine things little boys were supposed to be doing in their spare time. I liked to sit on our back porch in the shade of the big tree and read my library books or my recent Scholastic Book Club paperback treasures.
I was in the seventh grade when I first heard the word fag hissed at me contemptuously in the hallways of my junior high school, and even then, I still wasn’t sure what it meant, I could tell by the tone used that it wasn’t meant as a compliment, especially when followed by cruel laughter. That was the first time, but it was by no means the last—even now, in these more enlightened times, I doubt that I will go the rest of my life without someone saying it to me another time, because there’s always another time.
I don’t remember when I finally learned what they meant when they called me fairy or fag or faggot, but I do remember this: it was true, and it was something unusual, not normal, something I should be ashamed about. I did my best to change my camouflage, like a good chameleon, to hide it so no one else would know my shameful secret, what I had to disguise from the world: that I was, in fact, a homosexual. A fag. A fairy. A Mary. Faggot. Queen. Homo. Nelly. Pansy. Sissy.
I was ashamed of who I was, because I was taught by the world around me that my sexuality was suspect, wrong, bad.
So, when I see the words politically correct (or more commonly now, woke) used in a sneering way, as a methodology of trying to shut down honest conversation and derail discussion about the realities of what non-white, non-straight, non-cisgender, and non-male Americans experience every day, I get angry. Because none of those people, for one example, who sneered “well, this is just political correctness out of control” about the American Library Association’s decision to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award several years ago due to concerns about problematic racial overtones in her work were ever called a fairy when they were eight years old, or had the word fag hissed at them in the halls of their junior high school; were ever called any slur used for non-white people, or non-western European lineage, or been told to go back where they came from, or been called the n-word (which I can’t even bring myself to type out, even for a column about slurs).
Frankly, people who argue against “political correctness” are people I assume want to be able to use slurs with impunity–they aren’t arguing about freedom of speech as an abstract legal principle, but because they want to use slurs and not suffer consequences.
Merriam-Webster.com defines “politically correct” as the following: conforming to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated. Wikipedia goes still further: The term political correctness (adjectivally: politically correct; commonly abbreviated to PC or P.C.) is used to describe language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society. Since the late 1980s, the term has come to refer to avoiding language or behavior that can be seen as excluding, marginalizing, or insulting groups of people considered disadvantaged or discriminated against, especially groups defined by sex or race. In public discourse and the media, it is generally used as a pejorative, implying that these policies are excessive.
So, the next time you want to sneer something about “political correctness being out of control”, here’s what I want you to stop and think about before you say it: an eight year old boy being called a fairy by a high school kid, or a ten year old tomboy being called a dyke, or a seven year old kid told to go back where he came from, or a nine-year-old Native American reading a book where Native Americans are dismissed as “not people, just Indians”—and ask yourself, would I want something like that said about or to me?
I feel pretty confident that the vast majority would say no.
Words have power, and no one should know that better than a writer.
So, one of the things I’ve decided to do for Pride Month is spend the entire month talking on her about, well, being a gay American and how that impacted (and continues to impact) my life every day. I have written numerous essays over the years, many of them with a very limited audience, and I’ve always had an eye to collecting them into a book, or using them to build a memoir of sorts around. But…this one I am sharing with you all this morning was very well received. I was asked to write a letter to my sixteen-year-old self, agreed to do it, and then completely forgot about it. I received a reminder email about it, which I read when checking my phone at the train station in Florence where we were waiting for the train to Venice. Horrified, I sat down in the first class car (we splurged), opened my laptop, and started writing. I reread it several times, made some edits, and then, as we were pulling into the station in Venice, I emailed it in. It went live overnight while we were in Venice, and when I checked in on-line the following day (taking the train back to Florence) I was shocked to see it had gone a bit viral (for me), being shared a lot and getting lots of likes and comments. Anyway, here it is, my letter to a sixteen year old me while on a train in Italy. (Rereading this made me laugh–as I pretended I had written it before the trip, so they wouldn’t know I waited to the last minute. For the record, I always wait till the last minute, and I also didn’t want them to know I’d forgotten about it.)
Dear Greg as a 16 year old:
I am writing to you on your birthday; our birthday, I would suppose. We have just turned 53 (I am going to henceforth refer to our disparate selves in the singular; Teen Greg as you; current self in the first person—the royal-sounding “we” sounds a bit on the pompous side). In two days, I am leaving for Italy. Italy! As a teenager, you are perhaps lying on your bed, either reading a book (if I recall correctly, that summer before your senior year you worked your way through James Michener; Centennial being the last one you read before school started) or daydreaming of being a writer, of being an adult, of getting out of Kansas, of being a success and traveling the world.
I know there are times when you wonder if you will ever leave Kansas, if your dream of being a writer will come true. I know there are times when you despaired of this; but please rest assured that on your 53rd birthday you will have published over thirty novels and fifty short stories. You will be president of the local chapter of Mystery Writers of America as well as serving a term on the national board and chairing several committees. You will have edited almost twenty anthologies, and been nominated for awards more times than you can remember—and will have even won some.
I know you think you are different from everyone else you know at your school, and in some ways you are. Your classmates will fall in love and marry, have children and watch those children grow up and marry and have children of their own. But that difference you are so ashamed of, the one you carefully hide from everyone you know and deny when confronted, is nothing you need feel shame for. I know there are nights when you lie in your bed and wonder if you will ever feel love, will ever be worthy of being loved, or whether your difference will force you to live your life, and walk your path, alone. I know that in 1977 it seems impossible not to be ashamed of who you are, and weight of that secret weighs heavily on your heart. But I can assure you that not only will the day come when you can hold your head high and shout at the top of the lungs I am a gay man, but likewise, you will find a love so pure and beautiful and remarkable that some nights before you go to sleep you will think about how lucky and blessed you are in wonder. There will be times when you are reading a book and you will look up at the man you love as he sits on the couch playing with your cat and you will be so suddenly overwhelmed with love that your eyes will fill with tears.
And several months before you turn 53, you and the man you love will decide to jointly celebrate your birthdays as well as the landmark of your nineteenth anniversary together with an eight day trip to Italy, visiting Pisa, Venice, Florence and Tuscany.
Just as you once dreamed.
As for never getting out of Kansas, you will find your true home on the day you turn 33. You will get out of a cab and step onto the cracked and tilted sidewalks of New Orleans and become overwhelmed with a sense of belonging and home. And two short years later, two weeks before you turn 35, you will move to New Orleans where you will hopefully live out the rest of a life that proved richer and more amazing than you could have ever hoped.
Yet as I write this, I realize that knowing these things lie in your future will affect the decisions and choices you make. Part of who I am now is because of the sorrows and sadness and bad choices you will make in your future. Even one different choice, one different path, will change your timeline and it is possible, even very likely, that I would not be sitting at my desk after packing for this trip to Italy writing this letter to you. I would not change my current reality for anything. I live in the city I love with the man I love doing the work I love living a life I love.
So I am glad I cannot actually let the 16 year old me know what the 53 year old me knows. I prefer to believe that writing this letter will send the positive energy back through time to give you the strength to always persevere, always survive, and always keep moving forward.
And maybe that is where my strength came from; maybe that is how I managed to find the way to hold my head high and keep chasing my dreams.
As lovely as it would be to tell you this, that every one of your dreams will not only come true but better than you dreamed them, I am glad that I cannot.
With all my love,
Greg at 53
Almost ten years ago. Wow, that was a long time ago.
I’d been feeling sour lately; the constant hate attacks leveled at me and my community relentlessly; the bigotry and hatred against us so naked in its hostile resentment. I was also feeling sour about Pride and its co-opting by corporations eager for queer dollars but who cower before the bigots (here’s looking at you, Target and Anheuser-Busch), and I actually started writing an A Charlie Brown Christmas-type diatribe about how the meaning of Pride has changed and been demeaned and devalued and lost over the last few decades. I may still write it, I don’t know. But last night it occurred to me the best thing I could do to fight the bigots this month is to celebrate my joy in who I am, in my community, and in my country. Because yes, it’s my country, too–and don’t you ever fucking forget it.
I wasn’t meant to have the traditional American male life trajectory. There was never going to be a wife or children, even if I had been born straight. I realized very early on in life that I would be a terrible parent–I don’t pay enough attention to be a good one–and so I ruled that possibility out. I also always wanted to be a writer, and I honestly think being one is the only thing that could have possibly made me happy in this life, gay or straight; but it was such an overwhelming piece of who I am that I could have never committed to a white collar salaried job for a corporation. For me, the day job just needed to be enough to cover life’s necessities; it was never going to get my entire attention and dedication and energy. But not being straight, and not seeing any kind of representation of people who were like me in any medium–television, film, books, comic books–and seeing only the dominant societal paradigm modeled repeatedly, and knowing I didn’t fit comfortably into that paradigm, made me believe there was something wrong with me, something dark and horrible and shameful that couldn’t ever be public knowledge. Couldn’t ever be admitted. The overwhelming shame at being something different, something unusual, was engrained deep into my soul. I was miserable for many reasons for a very long time, but the primary was denying who I was: a gay male writer. Recognizing, and accepting, that truth has gone a long way towards helping me heal, become a better person, a better adult, and has certainly brought me a great deal of joy.
I love my writing career. I do. I’m very proud of it, every last bit and piece of it, whether it was crime or horror or suspense or sports journalism or erotica or romance or whatever it may have been that I created, that I wrote, that I put a piece of myself into. I’ve had some absolutely amazing highs in my career, and I also know that I don’t actually give myself enough credit (any credit, usually) for what I have done and accomplished. I’ve been nominated for a shit ton of awards. I complain about it a lot–there are many days when I don’t want to do it, times when I have to force myself to do it, and yet…I am never happier than I am when I am writing, creating, getting my daily word count, and rereading the book when going over the page proofs..which is when I usually realize (for the first time since starting to write the damned thing) that hey, I’m not so bad at this as I always think I am and then of course, there’s the day the box of books arrives.
I also got to interview the marvelous Margot Douaihy for Saints and Sinners’ Pride Month celebration, which you can find right here: https://youtu.be/RQ2e22mRFqw. I think it went pretty well, and is yet one another example of how wonderful and lucky my life is and how I should always be grateful. My last three novels accounted for some of the best reviews of my career, and accounted for seven (!) award nominations for me over the last couple of years–mainstream awards, at that. (I supposed it’s really only six; one of the nominations is for an anthology I edited, and I don’t really count that as one of my books; editing an anthology is an entirely different animal than writing a book. It’s still work, it’s still a lot to get through, and I am proud of my anthologies just as I am of the novels…but I don’t think of those as being wholly mine; the anthologies also primarily belong to the contributors, really.
This last year or so has actually been, despite all the personal drama and trauma, has actually been lovely for me on many levels. Over the past year, I’ve reconnected with the queer crime publishing community. I walked away from it over a decade ago; tired of people pretending to be my friend while driving the knife in and twisting it, tired of always being made to feel like my work wasn’t worthy or meant to be taken seriously, and so on. As I moved into and toward the more mainstream mystery community and trying to carve out a space for myself in that world, there were setbacks and pitfalls…and homophobia. As tiring as it is to have to deal with that kind of shit every day, I also recognized that the only way queer crime writers were going to get their due in the mainstream is if some of us went out there and made room at the table for us. That was why I joined various mainstream mystery organization’s boards of directors, not only to do work that would benefit the entire crime writing community but also to make space for queers, too–if by doing nothing more than showing up and being noticed. Presence makes an enormous difference, and sometimes…it helps to have a queer face and voice there to pipe up every once in a while. Over the last two years, thanks to making some terrific new friends who are also queer crime writers, and amazingly gifted and talented at what they do (John Copenhaver, Marco Carocari, Kelly J. Ford, Robyn Gigl, and so many more), and they are looking to form a queer crime writing community to organize and help the organizations and conferences be more inclusive and welcoming. It was lovely spending time with other queer crime writers at Bouchercon in Minneapolis. John and Marco also went out of their way to include me in things at Left Coast Crime and Sleuthfest last year, which was also marvelously kind.
So, yes, I am proud. I am proud to be a gay American, and I am proud to be a queer crime writer. I’m sorry that my existence bothers you, but my life is also none of your fucking business. It’s hilarious to me that the people who obsess about sex lives and genitals are the “christians”–you know, I spend absolutely zero time every day obsessing about the sex lives and genitals of other people…because it’s none of my fucking business.
And I am going to continue to be proud here, every fucking day of this motherfucking month. Fuck you, homophobes and haters.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you again later.
Many years ago, at a Bouchercon in the far distant past, I was lucky enough to be assigned to a panel with several strangers. It was Raleigh, and I don’t remember what the panel was about–other than none of us on the panel actually wrote what the topic was about–but it ably helmed by Katrina Niidas Holm. That was the weekend where I was lucky enough to meet both her and her husband, Chris. Also on the panel were Liz Milliron, Lou Berney, and Lori Roy. I always intend to read my co-panelist’s work before panels, so I can talk to them intelligently about their books–but it’s not near as pressing as it is when I moderate, and this was one of those years where I was busy and simply didn’t have the time. The panel was marvelous. I had the best time, and I loved everyone on the panel. I have since gone on to read their work and have become a besotted fan of all three of them, really.
My first Lori Roy novel was Bent Road, which won her (deservedly) the Edgar for Best First Novel. I absolutely loved it, and made sure I got the next two as well. (At the Edgars following the Raleigh Bouchercon, both Lou and Lori won Edgars; her second, also making her one of the few authors to win Edgars for Best First and Best Novel.) I’ve read everything she’s published since then, but have never gotten to the second novel (an Edgar Best Novel finalist) or Let Me Die in His Footsteps, her second nomination for Best Novel and her second Edgar win. I don’t remember why I decided to finally read Let Me Die in His Footsteps, but I am very glad I did.
It’s really quite marvelous.
Annie Holleran hears him before she sees him. Even over the drone of the cicadas, she knows it’s Ryce Fulkerson, and he’s pedaling this way. That’s his bike, all right, creaking and whining. He’ll have turned off the main road and will be standing straight up as he uses all his weight, bobbing side to side, to pump those pedals and force that bike up and over the hill. In a few moments, he’ll reach the top where the ground levels out, and that front tire of his will be wobbling and groaning and drawing a crooked line in the soft, dry dirt.
They‘re singing in the trees again today, those cicadas. A week ago, they clawed their way out of the ground, seventeen years’ worth of them, and now their skins hang from the oaks, hardened husks with tiny claws and tiny, round heads. One critter calls out to another and then another until their pulsing songs made Annie press both hands over her ears, tuck her head between her knees, and cry out for them to stop. Stop it now. All these many days, there’s been something in the air, a spark, a crackle, something that’s felt a terrible lot like trouble coming, and it’s much like the weight of those cicadas, thousands upon thousands of them crying out to one another.
Annie has known all morning Ryce would be coming. It’s why she’s been sitting on this step and waiting on him for near an hour. She oftentimes knows a thing is coming before it has come. It’s part of the curse–or blessing, if Grandma is to be believed–of having the know-how.
Let Me Die in His Footsteps is set in rural Kentucky, with a dual timeline–the present in the book is 1952; the past is 1936. Both timelines feature two sisters, one normal and the other with the “know-how.” In the present, Annie is the sister with the know-how while her sister Caroline is normal and pretty and sweet and pretty much beloved. The 1936 section focuses on Caroline’s mother, Sarah, and her sister with the know-how, Juna. It is soon made clear in the present day that something terrible happened back in 1936, something whose repercussions are still being felt to this present day of 1952. Annie isn’t Caroline’s sister, but rather her cousin; Sarah is Caroline’s mother while Juna was Annie’s. Juna also had a bad reputation around the county, having played a pivotal role in the 1936 tragedy. The book opens with Annie reaching her ascension; the halfway mark between sixteen and seventeen, when she is supposed to look down into a well at midnight, where she will see the face of the man she is going to marry. Annie sneaks out of the house late at night to go next door and peer down into the Baine family well; there’s trouble and tension between the two neighboring families…dating back to 1936. All the Baine sons are long gone; the only one left is old Mrs. Baine, who sits out on her porch with a shotgun in case of her worthless sons try to come home. Caroline follows Annie and sees someone in the well; Annie sees no one. But after the look into the well, they discovered Mrs. Baine’s dead body in the yard…and all the secrets and lies from 1936 start to not only unravel but impact 1952.
We’re never really sure what the “know-how” is, or if it’s just an old wives’ tale, a superstition. The rural south in both 1936 and 1952 were dramatically different than modern times; the rural areas weren’t as exposed to television or films or the newspapers, really and the old ways still held sway. I can remember being told about someone with the sight that everyone was supposed to stay away from in rural Alabama when I was a kid; those kinds of superstitions and beliefs still exist in some of these more backward rural areas. But one thing I truly appreciate about Roy–who often writes about poor rural Southern people–is that her writing isn’t what I call “poverty porn”; her characters are very real and this just happens to be their situation. The Hollerans have a lavender farm, having eschewed tobacco in the recent past after Grandpa Holleran died from lung cancer. Lavender infuses the novel almost from the very first page. I love the smell of lavender, although I would imagine fields and drying houses filled with it might be a lot. The story plays out in a slow burn, terrific build to the end, and all kinds of secrets from the past must be dealt with in order for the present-day characters to get on with their lives.
Roy is such a good writer that it almost takes my breath away. She uses a distant third person point of view, one in which we don’t really get inside her character’s heads that much, so the reader has a kind of distant remove from the characters, but it really works. Her work reminds me of Faulkner without the racism, and of other great Southern writers. Her novels are very smart, with a lot of depth and emotional honesty that resonates with the reader, compelling us to keep reading.
Highly recommended; Let Me Die in His Footsteps clearly deserved to win the Edgar for Best Novel.
Hopefully there will be a new Lori Roy soon, because all I have left of her canon is her second novel, Until She Comes Home, which was also an Edgar finalist.
Saturday morning of a three day weekend and how lovely is that? Thank you, whoever made the effort to give us Memorial Day as a national holiday; this lowly worker is eternally grateful for any extra paid time off. I intend to work this entire weekend; nose firmly affixed to grindstone and butt glued to shabby and disheveled desk chair whilst fingers move rapidly over the keyboard. Yesterday after work I was too tired–more on that later–to do much of anything other than mindless chores, and while doing those mindless chores another integral part of how to improve the book came to me; shortly thereafter, while putting away clean dishes another tumbril fell into place; so my entire weekend’s worth of writing just popped into my head. How incredibly lucky am I? Terribly, shockingly so.
Paul and I watched the Being Mary Tyler Moore documentary on MAX (which always makes me think of Carol Burnett doing Nora Desmond on her old variety show) last night and it was quite interesting. We forget how recently it was that The Mary Tyler Moore Show was breaking new ground; it was during my lifetime. Saturday night television on CBS when I was a kid was the ultimate must-see television; a three hour block of comedy of such high quality it may never have been equaled since. I loved her show; I loved the cast, and it still holds up today, despite how much things have changed, culturally and socially, in the decades since it went off the air after seven glorious seasons. There was a time when Paul was between jobs here in New Orleans when he became addicted to reruns of both it and Rhoda (when I was a kid I didn’t much care for Rhoda, despite having loved her character on the original show. As an adult, I found it much funnier than I ever had as a kid; not sure why that made a difference other than that it did), and I was amazed at how well the show held up.
It’s also interesting thinking about that period of my life (the 1970s) again–because it’s been on my mind. There’s an idea formulating in the back of my head; a crime novel told from a twelve year old’s perspective set in the suburbs in 1975. I’ve thought about it a lot lately. I had the original idea sometime back early in the pandemic, when I was going through my true crime documentary phase of condom-packing back in the day. It comes back to me now and again, and lately it’s been coming to me with more and more regularity, which means it will probably be the next book after the ones already in progress are completed and out of my hair. I have no idea when that might actually be, but I have a great title for it, and images keep dancing in and out of my head. I know the crime and how my POV character becomes involved in it, but I am not sure of much else of the rest–the flashes are bits and pieces of story and scene that I start filling in, in a journal or in a notebook. I already have the file for it made, too.
I have so many files. I am swimming in files. Buried in files, to the point where between the computer files and the physical files I may never ever be able to organize or get rid of any of them. It seems like I am constantly having to find room for more files in places. Heavy heaving sigh.
But I slept deeply and well and even later than yesterday morning, so that’s a very good thing. I have to run a couple of errands today and I have all kinds of writing to get done today, which should go easier this morning because of all the thinking I did last night. We’ll see, I suppose, is the best way to look at it. But as I mentioned, I have to get the mail and stop at the grocery store for a few things (so irritating, really), and so I am hoping after that to be able to dive headfirst into the book so I can reach my daily goal for the weekend. Paul will probably be out most of the afternoon, as usual on Saturdays (he meets his trainer at noon, and then either goes to the office or rides the bike for another few hours) so I have no excuse for not being productive today. Once I finish this I am going to go sit in my chair for a little while and read (I want to finish Lori Roy’s marvelous Let Me Die in His Footsteps at long last this weekend; I cannot believe how long it’s taken me to finish something that I really am enjoying and have been itching to get back to. Lori is one of my favorite writers of the last ten years; not one of her novels have ever disappointed me…but more on that when I finish the book and talk about it on here), and then will head out to the errands around noonish. I want to read for about an hour or so before writing, and then running the errands in order to come back home and write for a while. I may even pick up grocery store sushi (don’t judge me) so I don’t have to be concerned about lunch, either. I may make shrimp creole for dinner, too; I need to do something with that leftover celery. I also cleaned out the refrigerator a bit yesterday as well–should finish that over the weekend, too.
The reason I was so fatigued and drained yesterday was because I got to do that ZOOM interview with Margot Douaihy yesterday, and so I spent a good hour researching her on-line, digging through the book for references, and of course trying to come up with good questions for her. I don’t know that I actually managed to come up with good questions, but when you’re working with someone as smart and talented and layered as Margot, it’s very easy for forty-five minutes to shoot by. I didn’t even get to all the questions I had for her; I looked at the time on my computer and realized we’d been going for three quarters of an hour, and had i continued asking questions we could have been there for the rest of the afternoon. That has always been my issue with interviews, really; whether ZOOM recordings or written ones, you can never get everything in that you want and there’s never enough space to be as thorough. I would love to do in-depth pieces on people like in Vanity Fair or Rolling Stone; I remember Ann Patchett telling Paul and I about having to fly to London on GQ’s dime to interview Liam Neeson or someone like that, and thinking man I would love to have that kind of opportunity. But it exhausted me mentally and physically, so I was very glad I had gotten all my work-at-home chores completed before it started because I was unable to do much of anything when it was finished. I did some chores–the dishes, finished laundering the bed linens, but other than that I was just in my chair letting my mind wander as I watched documentaries about history on Youtube.
And on that note, I think I’m going to make another cup of coffee and repair to the living room to read while my mind continues waking up. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you again tomorrow or maybe even later today; one can never be certain.
Thursday and my final day in the office for the week. It’s been a good week overall–if odd at the office; it was a Mercury-in-retrograde kind of week there, with things not working right and odd situations occurring. Kind of tiring emotionally and intellectually, but not so bad as to drag me down and curl up into a ball in a corner somewhere. I’ve felt rested most of the week and the writing/revising has been going super well (I am so excited to see how much I can get done over the weekend you have no idea); even continued last evening. But I slept well again last night, and I feel pretty good this morning with my coffee, and I made it through almost another week of work.
Last night I watched the first part of the Vanderpump Rules reunion, and just…wow. I’ve never seen anything like that on any reality show reunion. The whole “Scandoval” of it all is just…I don’t know. I watch reality television (anyone who’s read Royal Street Reveillon knows this, of course); not a lot of it, but enough. I find it all fascinating–the way the fans get so deeply involved and vested in these mostly terrible people and what they are doing; the question of what’s real and what isn’t and what is manipulation or over-dramatization for the camera, and so on. The entire “Scandoval” mess? I have so many questions, and there are so many layers. This “scandal” peeled back the fourth wall somewhat, and the viewers got to actually watch as Tom Sandoval, an original cast member for ten seasons, with an assist from his best friend, tried to control the narrative of what we were seeing on screen while keeping his affair off; having the knowledge of what was actually going on while they were filming (and what was being kept out of the camera’s eye) made the attempted manipulation only that much more obvious, and even more fascinating than before. I hadn’t watched the show in years; I got bored, frankly, because it just seemed like the same thing over and over again, but this brought me back (along with a lot of new viewers, plus others who’d given up on it came back; the show is breaking records in the ratings for Bravo and reality shows). As I said to Paul last night, “it’s absolutely amazing how after ten years the show was able to completely flip the script and everything–everything that happened over the past ten years–has been altered as we now see these guys not as lovable goofballs, but dangerously narcissistic monsters manipulating the narrative to make everyone else look worse while making themselves look like heroes.” Future generations of social historians will look at the Scandoval in wonder, trying to puzzle out why this became global news, worthy of being covered in major newspapers, including both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times.
A cheating scandal on a reality show made worldwide news and has trended every day on Twitter since the news broke months ago. I mean, how fucking insane is that?
I also realized at some point yesterday that the difference I’ve been feeling the last week or so around here means I’ve probably moved into another stage of the grieving process, rather than over it completely. And as I sat there with purring kitty asleep in my lap watching the marathon of the last few episodes of Vanderpump Rules before the reunion episode (part one of three!) aired, I realized you’re in the anger stage. I had noticed myself getting angry much more quickly than usual while scrolling through Twitter, and yesterday I sent some response tweets to assholes trolling friends that were pretty hateful, nasty and cruel (much as their tweets at my friends were). That isn’t like me; usually I’ll start typing the response and delete it unsent, as the actual writing of it vented the spleen and by the time I was finished and ready to send it, would think and how is this improving the public discourse as I deleted it. Not yesterday, so I am going to simply go back to the old “mute/block” trick, or just report them. I do report trolls for hate speech and conduct violations several times a day, with a rather high success rate percentage, if I do say so myself. And honestly, I prefer anger to the sadness, really. Not sure what that says about me, but the sadness paralyzed me and made me unable to write, but since transitioning to the anger stage the book has been flowing and I am enjoying revising it tremendously. Go figure. I wrote more last night, and I have to say, the book is beginning to take shape nicely. It’s amazing how regularly I repeat myself, but that also has a lot to do with my memory issues–oh, I need to explain this and forgetting I’ve already explained it in the preceding chapters…each of them, in fact. So there’s a lot of cutting and rewording and restructuring going on, but Scotty’s voice is starting to really come through and that’s the most important thing.
I was also saddened to hear that Tina Turner passed yesterday. I’ve been a fan of hers since I was a little boy and I saw her perform on some variety show–Dean Martin’s, maybe? I just know it was when we still only had a black-and-white television, which means we were still living in the apartment in the city (sidebar: interesting how television was dominated back then by variety shows and westerns, which are incredibly scarce today…the variety shows were no big loss, and the westerns were ludicrous, racist, and sexist, so no big loss in either case). I think it was “Proud Mary”? When she finally started getting the stardom and accolades and success she’d always deserved (and never quite reached) in the 1980s, I was delighted–and she gave us some truly great music, too. That voice! That power! That stage presence! It saddens me that we no longer have her in this world, but I’m grateful we had a Tina Turner in the first place.
But I will always think of Schitt’s Creek whenever I hear “The Best” now.
I also got the proofs for my short story “Solace in a Dying Hour” to go over prior to the anthology’s release, which is very exciting. I always love when I sell a short story, and love it even more when we get to the later production stages.
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Friday Eve be as delightful as you are, Constant Reader, and I will see you again tomorrow.
Pay-the-Bills Wednesday has rolled around yet again, Constant Reader, and so later on during my lunch break I’ll take some time away from my food to start paying the bills due between now and the next time we get paid. I am also looking forward to this three-day weekend we have on the horizon; I’d completely forgotten about Memorial Day. Do gays from all over still congregate in Pensacola over Memorial Day weekend, to party on the beach and get sunburnt in places that usually never see the sun? I know there aren’t nearly as many circuit parties today as there used to be, back in the heyday of the 1990’s, when it seemed like there was one every weekend somewhere; Southern Decadence still happens, of course (I’ll be in San Diego for Bouchercon this year) but I don’t know about the others. I know Hotlanta died a long time ago; does the White Party still happen at Vizcaya? In Palm Springs? The Snow Ball? The Winter Ball? The Black and Blue Ball? Cherries in Washington? I suppose the time and need for these parties has passed for the most part–they wouldn’t be dying out, otherwise–but at the same time, it’s all a part of the history of our community, and I do hope it’s been documented somewhere. The circuit parties were easy to condemn and point fingers at, but anything that helped create a sense of community as well as provided a safe space during difficult, repressive times for gay men to be themselves and be as gay as possible deserves to be, and should be, remembered.
After all, that was the world that kind of spawned Scotty.
Hmmm, perhaps a future-Greg project? Yay! Because that’s just what I need, another project.
But the revision continues to progress quite marvelously, if I do say so myself. I should probably write more Scotty books because it’s so lovely to get back into his mind-space, you know? He’s so cheerful, and always so upbeat and positive…and even when he gets down because of whatever problem he’s gotten himself into, he doesn’t moan or whine, he just rolls up his sleeves and figures it all out. That’s why I like him, and why his readers do. I wish I could have that reaction to things…I don’t. I always have to curl up into a ball for a while before I can even consider getting on with things. Maybe someday that will change and I can absorb and handle shocks and surprises with Scotty’s flair and aplomb. I’m not holding my breath until that happens, either.
I slept really well last night–yet another good night’s sleep in the books, I think I am on a record streak now of sleeping well–and feel pretty rested this morning. I was awake before the alarm went off this morning, and then hit snooze a couple of times to give my mind and body the opportunity to wake up slowly. We watched the new Ted Lasso last night, which was more of a Jamie Tartt-centered episode, and my word, seriously: how did Jamie Tartt become one of my most beloved characters on the show? Last night he made me laugh and he made me cry; and I love his friendships with Roy and Keeley, who are also slowly (hopefully) inching towards a reconciliation. There’s only one episode left–after which I may have to do a complete binge rewatch, from start to finish. It really is quite a marvelous show, and I do love that the gay storyline ruined the show for the homophobes. The mark of a truly good show is you aren’t sure how you feel at the end of the episode, despite having enjoyed it. Was it good? Did the stories make sense? Were the performances good? How was the writing? It’s one of the reasons I watch every episode twice; once to enjoy and go along for the ride, the second to appreciate the acting and the writing and connect even further with the episode. This season I’ve noticed some bashing of the show on Twitter (and not just from homophobes), which was why I started rewatching; to see if the haters were right and I’d overlooked something out of my deep affection for the show (I can also watch more critically the second time). I am pleased to report that the haters are, indeed, always wrong. I am really going to miss this show, but I get the sense that the season finale will be incredibly sad yet satisfying. They have a long way to catch Schitt’s Creek for best series finale, but I suspect they will be able to do it.
I’m curious to see what spin-offs might twirl out of the show. I’m really hoping Jamie gets his own show; I’ve really developed a huge crush on Phil Dunster, who might just pry the supporting actor Emmy out of the death grip Brett Goldstein’s had on it these last two years. The development of his character arc has just been phenomenal–all of the characters, really, but Phil Dunster has really been given the chance to shine this season (and some of last) and I do sometimes think he might not be taken as seriously as an actor because–well, because he’s damned good looking.
Since Monday was an odd day, I am having trouble this week keeping track of days. I keep thinking today is either Tuesday (which makes no sense) or Thursday (which kind of does). I’m looking forward to getting some more good work done on the book tonight–and if Paul is late getting home, I am so watching the Vanderpump Rules reunion’s first part. I need to devote an entire entry to the insanity this reality show–which I actually stopped watching years (and I do mean years) ago–has spawned. I had started writing about Real Housewives of Beverly Hills after its season completed; I think I can easily do both shows in one entry since both have spawned scandals that became news (a sad commentary on the state of our news media, frankly), which brings up the question of audience enablement–if the ratings go up when people are really despicable on a reality show, aren’t we just encouraging more of the same?
And on that note I am off to the spice mines. Have a lovely middle of the week, Constant Reader, and I will be back tomorrow.
On my Agatha Award nominees panel for Best Children’s/Young Adult at Malice Domestic a few (has it been that long already?) weeks ago, moderator Alan Orloff asked me the following: Greg, your book tackles multiple contemporary societal problems. How do you balance writing about such tough topics with ensuring that your work is compelling and hits the right mystery/suspense notes?
It was a great question, and as usual, I hadn’t read the questions before the panel so I answered off-the-cuff (I don’t know why I do this rather than prepare; I guess it’s either a preference to try to think quickly in the moment or sheer laziness or a combination of the two) and while I do like the answer I provided on the panel, the question lodged in my brain and I’ve been thinking about it ever since, and thought, hey, this could make a good blog entry, so here we are.
On the panel, I said something along the lines of how it’s often very difficult for people to understand situations or experiences they haven’t had themselves; which is why it was important to write about these things–so that the reader can see and feel, even if peripherally, what it’s like to go through something incredibly hard and life-changing, and develop empathy and sympathy by being able to put yourself into that moment and situation and wonder how would I handle something awful like this? As much as we like to shield young people and children from problems and suffering and so forth (or at least pay lip service to it; think of the children is far too often used as a cudgel to bludgeon non-conformists with), the reality of life is bad things happen. Never think bad things can’t happen to you because they happen to everyone without rhyme or reason or provocation. If one person reads this book and it makes them change the way they think about the topics covered in it, or enables them to feel sympathy for someone else in that situation, then the book had the effect intended. I have always tried to include social issues in my work because it’s important to me. I write mysteries and crime fiction because I want to see justice in an unjust world–and that hatred of injustice drove me to write this book.
And it isn’t difficult to balance the mystery/suspense notes with a social issue; if you build the crime around the issue, you’re still writing a crime novel, just one illustrating a social issue.
Basically, I wrote this book because I was angry.
The Steubenville rape case–there was a parallel one in Marysville, Missouri, that didn’t get nearly as much attention as the Steubenville story–made me very angry. And the more I read about both cases, the angrier I got. It shames me to admit that it took these two cases to finally break through my own societal grooming as a male to finally understand what it was like to be female in our society. It shames me to admit because it shouldn’t have taken me so long to get it, to understand. It took me a very long time to finally wrap my head around feminism and feminist issues…mainly because I could never understand the mentality that women were somehow lesser than men. Women aren’t another species, after all, and yes, the mores and expectations of our culture and society do shape boys and girls in different ways, marking the differences with sexist and misogynist tropes and ideas. I never understood why a girl who had sex was a slut, while the boy was a stud. I remember when the story about the Spur Posse in the 1990’s (I collected a lot of articles about them; I had wanted to write a book called When Stallions Die based around that case) broke and how that also kind of changed my world-view a little bit. (I often say that I spent most of my adulthood unlearning everything I was taught before I was an adult.) When I was growing up a husband could rape his wife and not be charged; as her husband he had a right to her body, and even rape itself was rarely reported (women didn’t want to be shamed, understandably, and it was always her shame, not the rapist’s), if ever prosecuted. I remember when I was in college there were rumors about a campus rapist–the girls whispered about it amongst themselves, and of course, they talked to me about it–which I also always wanted to write about.
So, in the wake of Steubenville and Marysville, I decided that it was long past time to write about it.
I had been toying with something I called “the Kansas book” for years. I had created this town and these characters when I was actually in high school, and wrote a rambling, disorganized, really bad handwritten first draft between the ages of 16 and 23. When I finished it I knew nothing would ever come of it because it was beyond repair. However, I have borrowed characters, scenes, and storylines from that original manuscript numerous times over the years since; and I had been trying to write a newer, better version of it. I knew I wanted the story to start with the discovery of the dead body of a star football player at the local high school, but I never really could get any traction with it. I kept thinking, this is trite and tired and been done so many times already.
But after Steubenville, while also having conversations with my women friends, it clicked in my head and I knew how to make the story work: rip it from the headlines! And I knew the body was one of the players who’d been involved in the “she deserved it” rape of a cheerleader over the summer. I knew that I wanted to make it damned clear how misogynist and sexist our legal system is, as well as our culture when it comes to protecting young girls and women. I started remembering things from my own past, things that made me embarrassed and ashamed and angry at myself. I had participated in the culture of toxic masculinity myself. I’d indulged in petty gossip about girls, and slut-shamed. I remembered a story I’d been told about how a cheerleader in another town, when I was in high school, had gotten drunk and pulled a “train” on six football players–a story I still remember, over forty years later.
And I wondered about that. That story made the rounds–and I didn’t even go to the same high school. And everyone shook their heads and clucked their tongues in shame at this girl’s slutty behavior. Can you believe what a slut she is?
I started thinking that maybe, just maybe, they had gotten her drunk? Too drunk to resist, too drunk to know what was happening? And I began to think that was probably a much more likely story than the one I’d been told. No seventeen year old high school girl goes to a party thinking “I’m going to take on the football team tonight!”
I think it was 2015 when I decided to change how I wrote. I was on a treadmill back them, book after book after book, deadline after deadline after deadline. It seemed like my life was nothing more than a long series of deadlines, one after the other and I could never relax because I had another deadline. I was tired of the stress involved in producing and the shame of missing deadlines, which meant missing the next and the dominoes would fall, one after the other. I decided I was going to not sign contracts for anything until I had a completed manuscript, so I wasn’t starting from scratch every time I turned something in and started the next one.
And finally, in July of 2015, I sat down and started writing a book I was no longer calling ‘the Kansas book’ in my head, but rather #shedeservedit.
I wrote over 97,000 words in one month–that’s how angry I was–and there wasn’t even a last chapter because I didn’t know how to finish the book. I sat on it for years, pulling it out every now and then, tinkering with it some more, but never really feeling it was ready–and I still didn’t know how to end it. I finally signed a contract for it because otherwise I probably would have never finished it and just kept futzing with it until I died, and I thought it was an important book to get out there. Sure, I went around and around about it; am I the right person to tell this story? Should someone else be writing it? I started reading other y/a novels about sexual assault, but they always left me feeling unsatisfied; the endings never really worked for me, which was the same problem I was having with this book. But I finally decided the best thing for me to do was sign the contract and give my editor a chance to look it over and give me input…and I am incredibly blessed to have an exceptional one in Ruth Sternglantz. The book is much better than it ever could have been without her insights, her vision, and her sensitivity. I was also very proud of this book when it was released, and I still am. I was both honored and shocked when it made the Agatha shortlist; even more so when it made the Anthony as well.
Alex jogs down the gravel path, his rubber cleats making crunching sounds on the shiny, sparkling white stones. The field, still lit up from the game, looks forlorn and lonely. The sod is chewed up from impacts and cleats and falling bodies. Some debris blows around in the slight warm wind, heavy with coming rain—plastic bags, strands from purple and gold pom-pons on a stick, wrappers from cheeseburgers and hot dogs sold at the concession stands. State championship flags snap and crackle on their poles on either side of the scoreboard. The janitorial team works their way up from bottom to top, picking up trash carelessly left behind by the crowd who’d filled the iron rows of seats.
The scoreboard still reads HOME 48 VISITORS 7.
He’s forgotten his arm pads on the sideline by the bench. He took them off when Coach Musson pulled the starters from the game when the fourth quarter started because the game was already won. He didn’t realize he’d left them behind until Coach Musson’s short post-victory pep talk was over and he went to his locker to take off his pads. His mom always says he’d forget his head if it wasn’t attached. Maybe she’s right. He could just get new ones, sure, but he’s superstitious about these arm-pads. He’d worn them all season last year when they’d won State again.
He knows it’s stupid, but why risk jinxing things?
He’s coming down from the adrenaline rush of the game, beginning to feel tired. His arm pads are right where he’d tossed them, underneath the bench where the big orange coolers of Gatorade sit during the game. The pads are just lying there, graying gold, his name written in purple marker on them.
He’s thirsty but wants to just sit for a minute. Let the locker room clear out a bit before he goes back to shower and change.
The wind is picking up. The summer has been long and hot and dry, but it’s supposed to start raining around midnight. There’s a bruise on his right calf, purple outlined in yellow and orange. He doesn’t remember getting hit there. He never remembers the hits. The games go by so fast. He spends every Friday afternoon with his stomach knotted. The pre-game warm-up seems to last forever. But once the whistle blows and the ball is kicked off the tee, time flies. Later his muscles will ache, the bruises will come up, his joints will start hurting.
He knows he can’t sit for long. India, his girlfriend, is waiting for him. He’s hungry—he can never eat before a game. He wants to grab something to eat before he has to be home. He hates his stupid curfew, but as his dad likes to remind him all the damned time: my house, my rules.
This wasn’t the original opening; originally the book opened with the quarterback missing and Alex, his best friend, goes out looking for him only to find his body floating in the river. But my editor recognized that wasn’t where the story began; we needed to see the night before and not in flashback, to set up everything for the rest of the story. (I am very stubborn and often need someone else to say to me, this isn’t working and this is why for me to give up on trying to make something work when it never will no matter how hard I try.)
I’m very proud of this book. I think for once I actually succeeded in what I was trying to do–and that was, of course, thanks to my editor’s wisdom–and while I most likely won’t win the Anthony (a very strong field), I am so pleased that the book got some recognition.