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

Behind Closed Doors

I only managed about seventeen hundred words on the WIP last night. (Hangs head in shame.) But in fairness to me, it’s a difficult transitional chapter which sets up some important stuff in the final five chapters, so I am trying to get it just right–which is, by its very nature, the definition of insanity, as I am obviously going to have to revise the fuck out of it eventually.

Heavy sigh.

And so it goes.

Yesterday, despite sleeping relatively well the previous night, was relatively unpleasant.  I had a toothache–which has sort of subsided this morning, but we’ll see as the day progresses–and there’s nothing worse than tooth pain. I’ve been putting off seeing the dentist for quite some time now; I suppose I need to go ahead and make a plan for getting in to see my dentist and then start figuring out how to pay for all the work I need to have done in my mouth. It was so  bad yesterday chewing was difficult–it’s a molar–but this morning it feels, while still not terrific, much better than it did yesterday. I suppose we’ll see when it’s time to chew something, I suppose. But ugh, mouth pain is the worst.

I suppose I could also blame the tooth for how difficult it was to pull those words out of my brain last night and get them down on the page, but that seems kind of cheating. I also did something Saturday–I’m not sure what–but my back has been sore and making me uncomfortable since Sunday morning when I got up. I generally attribute these aches and pains that come out of nowhere with just getting older, but sometimes I get paranoid and worry that it might be something important I’m ignoring and blowing off. I’ve never been much of a hypochondriac–I generally dismiss things and hope they’ll go away so I don’t have to do anything about them–but sometimes it gets too bad and I don’t have a choice (remembering the day of the three abscessed teeth) but this toothache seems to be just that–a toothache–and will probably go away. My gums aren’t swollen, neither is my cheek, and that makes me tend to think that an abscess isn’t going to be the problem this time around.

Fascinating, right?

We continue to watch The Boys on Prime, and it’s getting darker with each episode. Man of Steel and Batman v. Superman sort of touched on this notion that super-powered beings cannot really be trusted, and the comic book ideal of “great power means great responsibility” is just precisely that: an ideal. Even the super-villains of the comics, their antagonists, are rarely more powerful than the heroes (Magneto in X-Men being one of the primary exceptions to this rule), because obviously the heroes always have to win out in the end (one of the reasons I always loved Detective Comics was because Batman usually had to use his brain to outwit the criminals; obviously, one of the reasons I was always a Batman fan was because he was, before The Dark Knight Returns, known as The World’s Greatest Detective…I really was destined to become a mystery writer), otherwise why else would people read comic books about super-heroes? Sure, they suffer and go through angst as part of their character-building arcs, but the point of being a hero is to surmount challenges and difficulties.

And actually, my tooth is much better today, so there will be no blaming of the tooth for not being productive today. I am still trying to get a handle on this enormous, time-sensitive project I’ve been handed; I got some work on it done yesterday, but after awhile–particularly when I’m in tooth pain–I can only deal with Excel spreadsheets for so long, you know?

But I am feeling so much better today–even my back isn’t achy, more just reminding me periodically that I did something it isn’t happy about–that I feel certain I can continue marking things off my to-do list without a problem.

Go, Gregalicious, go!

I also hope to read some more of Steph Cha’s terrific Your House Will Pay. I certainly had to put it down at a place where I really didn’t want to put it down, so there’s that.

I also think today needs to have an appreciation moment.

So, today I am appreciating Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine. When I was a kid, I became a huge fan of Ellery Queen from watching the television program, with Jim Hutton. I also remember being disappointed that the character in the books–Ellery Queen novels in the third person point of view by Ellery Queen–wasn’t as much like the sort of absent-minded incredibly intelligent goofball from the show. Anyway, I remember reading my first issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine when I was a teenager, and have read it, off and on, ever since. It was always on my bucket list to have a story published in their pages, and that finally happened in 2006, when they  did a Katrina-anniversary New Orleans focused issue, and it included my story “Acts of Contrition.” That was a really proud moment for me, as was my second appearance some five or so years later with “The Email Always Pings Twice.” I love being able to say I’ve had two stories published there, and hope to someday say three rather than two. Every experience I’ve had with EQMM and its staff has been absolutely lovely.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

IMG_1968

Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

IMG_1829

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

If You Want Me to Stay

Well, here it is Thursday afternoon, I’ve got a load of laundry to fold and another in the dryer, the dishwasher is running and on my way home I made groceries. The past two days have been remarkably pleasant in New Orleans; low eighties and little to no humidity–so low that if there is any it isn’t noticeable, and anyone who’s been to New Orleans in July/August knows just how remarkable that actually is. I’ve not gotten very much writing done thus far this week–and I am debating whether to call it a night and just go relax in my easy chair, or try to get some writing done. I am in the midst of an enormous project that landed in my lap this week (or was it late last week? I don’t remember) and focusing on that has kind of knocked me out of writing mode.

Granted, it doesn’t take much to do this to me, but there you have it.

As much as I love writing, it’s amazing how little desire I usually have to do it. I always have to make myself do it, which is beyond bizarre.

Okay, I just spent some time doing chores, and am now listening to the Pet Shop Boys on Spotify. I’ve cleaned the kitchen, done some more laundry, straightened the rugs, and swept the living room. It really is disgraceful how slovenly I live; it’s at the point now where I am too ashamed to hire a cleaner. But in my own defense, eighteen foot ceilings make things incredibly difficult for cleaning purposes, especially when you have a ladder phobia and the floors aren’t level. I’ve always thought that the perfect metaphor for New Orleans; so many of us live here in a world that isn’t quite level. The ground is always shifting and sinking; houses always begin to lean and tilt as their foundations settle. There are very few streets or sidewalks in this city that are perfectly level; therefore it’s not so hard to understand that those of us who live here and no longer notice that things aren’t perfectly level are a little off-balance when we go somewhere else. The beautiful crepe myrtles that line the other side of the fence shower our sidewalk with beautiful , tiny pink and white blossoms…that turn to sludge when they get wet. They also attach themselves to your shoes and you track them inside, along with other assorted tree and bush and floral debris. I could sweep the sidewalk every morning and it would need to be swept again in two hours.

There’s also more dust here than anywhere I’ve ever lived before, and I’ve lived in desert climates. One would think the damp and rain would cleanse the air and remove all the dust and dirt, but it doesn’t. I can take my car to be cleaned, and by the next day there’s a thin layer of dust/dirt on my car. I’m not even sure where it comes from, to be honest. Maybe the crumbling of the houses and sidewalks and streets cough it up. Back when I worked at home I did the windows of my office every week, because the light was so much better and everything looked so much crisper and nicer with the glass cleaned. Now,  I don’t have the time, and I think that also might contribute to the general sense of dinginess. I need to take down all the pictures and dust them, the baseboards are in really poor shape, and of course, I should take the rugs in to be thoroughly cleansed.

I do enjoy cleaning though, and I do tend to think a lot about my writing when I’m cleaning. I have to write an essay/introduction to a new edition of a novel by an author who died of AIDS before the book was even published, and it is quite a good book; I loved his other book as well, and so I’ve been trying to think of a way to write an appropriate appreciation of the work he left behind; while also talking about the potential work we lost when he died so young. I knew there was a way to do it tastefully and respectfully, but every time I reached for it, it danced away out of reach inside my mind. While I was sweeping the living room, I realized what the theme of the book actually was, and that it would also make a perfect theme for my piece.

So, yay, thank you for that, dirty apartment.

I’ve also got my desk all cleaned and organized and ready for the weekend; I still need to file or find some places for things that I’m working on–I am really working on too much; I have certainly outgrown this little cubby I used as an office, and yes, I know, it’s better for the world and more convenient for me to go all digital and paperless….but I’m old and I’ve lost too much data over the years to ever completely be comfortable with a digital office. I’m excited; I want to write my essay, I am going to dig back into the WIP, and I also get to read Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which is such a great title; it reminds me of my favorite ever-theater poster for Romeo and Juliet; I think Tulane was doing it and the poster was just red and yellow flames on a stark black background, and across the top in red letters outline in yellow were the words A plague upon both your houses.

Isn’t that great? Someone should really write an essay exploring Romeo and Juliet as a teen noir; it’s probably the only take on the play that hasn’t been taken–and even as I type that, I’m thinking, don’t be so sure.

And now it’s almost time for The Real Housewives of New York, after which I’ll probably write for a little while.

Have a lovely evening, Constant Reader!

IMG_1851

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