History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiĆ©r would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Cold-hearted

I’ve spent a lot more time over the last year reminiscing about my past than I probably have in the last three decades of my life. I’ve never been quite sure why that is–probably the rapidly approaching sixtieth birthday–but it’s been interesting; trying to remember things, looking things up on-line to verify memories, listening to music from those various periods, and remembering things of social and historical and cultural importance, which were at the time primarily just background noise.

Some of it is undoubtedly because I had to mine my memories for the two books I wrote over the last year–Bury Me in Shadows (Alabama) and #shedeservedit (Kansas)–and the creation of fictional places based on real places where I lived (often forgetting that since I was fictionalizing them, I could change things and they didn’t have to be exact–which was helpful while realizing my memories were often incorrect!). I’ve mined my memories for work before–mostly short stories, really–but never to the extent that I had to for those two books.

And now that I think about it, that probably has more to do with these frequent trips down Memory Lane than the milestone birthday approaching.

I’ve been meaning to start reading short stories again lately; I’ve really fallen off on the Short Story Project over the last year, but today I decided to read “The Boy Detective and The Summer of ’74”, by Art Taylor, which has been nominated for a ridiculous amount of awards–as Art’s work so frequently is.

And what a jewel of a short story it is.

That summer, the summer of 1974, all the boys in the neighborhood wanted to be Evel Knievel–John especially, who’d gotten a brand new bike with chopper-style handles for his birthday. He and his younger brother Paul and I, like a brother myself, raced constantly around the hot asphalt of the small block where we lived. We built rough ramps out of old bricks and leftover plywood, jumped Tonka toys, a rusty wagon, a battered Big Wheel.

Other times, we tried to be like the Six Million Dollar Man, sprinting from yard to yard, mimicking with our lips that metallic reverb that meant we’d engaged our bionic powers. We liked Kwai Chang Caine from the Kung Fu show too, and Paul sometimes thrashed his arms in karate chops as we wandered into the woods and fields behind our neighborhood–land that my father owned and that he was waiting to develop, same as he had built each of the nine houses that made up our small corner of that North Carolina town.

Turns out that while we aspired to be Evel Knievel or Kwan Chang Caine or the Six Million Dollar Man, my father had his own ambitions for me–that was another thing about that summer.

But one dream was mine alone. Secretly, I wanted to be Encyclopedia Brown. And the summer of ’74 offered the chance for that dream to come true.

We founds the first bone about midmorning one day in late June….

Art Taylor is an exceptional short story writer. Every time I read one of his short stories, his skill–constructing beautiful sentences, creating amazing images, the structure of the story and the strength of the voice–consistently blows me away. He never tells the same story twice, or falls back into the ease of reusing a voice he has used before, either.

Reading this story took me back to my summers as a child in Alabama. I could hear the cicadas and crickets and tree frogs, feel the heavy wet air, smell the freshly mown grass; I could remember the innocence and how it felt to want to be like the characters in the mystery stories I loved to read–whether it was Encyclopedia Brown or The Three Investigators or Trixie Belden, hoping to stumble over a mystery that I would be able to solve through my sharp observations and my deductive reasoning, stunning the adults by my intelligence, savvy and acumen. He also manages, in this story, to evoke that childlike sense of innocence, of noticing weird things adults do while not completely comprehending what they mean, and while this is obviously told as a flashback story–an adult man remembering something from his childhood, it’s not done in an obvious way; and I also like the choice to not tell it in the young boy’s voice–which is a difficult balancing act and one that is very difficult to do.

I love this story so much, can you tell?

And as always, with great writers, reading this story unlocked the key to a long-dormant story that I’ve never been able to solve the problem with–so I can now dust it off and finally get it finished.

Seriously–do yourself a favor and track down Art Taylor’s short stories. You can thank me later.

Who Are You?

I spent my condom packing time the last two days catching up on this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hill (#lockherup, seriously,) and then Superman and Lois. I had missed an episode–I hadn’t been aware it had come back, and it expired on Hulu*–but I was able to catch up with the action pretty quickly, and before I knew it, hours had passed and I had finished watching everything available. I have to say–and I mean this with all my heart–the Arrowverse gets Superman in a way the movies don’t–and I don’t think ever will. Don’t get me wrong, I will go to my grave loving Henry Cavill (and thinking he is the perfect casting for Colin should the Scotty books ever be filmed or made into a television series–hello Netflix), and thinking he’s a great Superman, but the scripts and directors utterly fail him completely every single time. I mean, I got Man of Steel in a way most people didn’t, and I also appreciate the films for great casting; and the Snyder cut of Justice League did, in some ways, seem to get the character the other films chose not to; but this iteration of Superman is the character I grew up loving, and that Christopher Reeve embodied so perfectly (until that franchise went off the rails completely). It really isn’t that hard: Superman is a nice guy who cares about people and will always, always, do the right thing, even at great personal cost to himself. DAMN IT SUPERMAN IS THE EMBODIMENT OF A HERO AND THE CW GETS THIS. He cares.

I’m not ashamed to say that several times during Episode 11–the flashback origin story–I teared up a bit. Every single episode of this show has a moment where I think to myself, goddamnit this is how you do Superman. This show reminded me of every reason why I loved the character, why I read the comic books voraciously, why I have watched every TV show and every movie religiously–and appreciated almost all of them on some level. I watched both of the first two Christopher Reeve movies in the theater, and got goosebumps (I will never forget the ads for the first one: You will believe a man can fly! And I fucking did!)

I honestly never thought I would ever see a Superman adaptation again that would give me that same thrill–and Superman and Lois does, with every episode.

Superman was my first super-hero comic book when I was a kid, when I moved on from Archie and the Riverdale kids. There was a comic book dispenser machine at the Jewel Osco in our neighborhood in Chicago when I was a kid, and Mom would always give me enough change to get a couple of comic books (because I would then sit in the front of the store and read them while she shopped in peace; I don’t understand why my parents never completely grasped the concept I could always be bribed into good behavior with reading material) and I remember being tired of Archie and thinking–knowing–my father would be pleased if I read something more, well, boys-oriented. Some of the boys in my class at school were way into Superman and DC Comics; so I thought, what the hell and put my change into the machine, getting Action, Adventure and Superman comic books. I very quickly became a big fan, also reading the Superman-adjacent comics as well: Lois Lane, Jimmy Olsen, Superboy, Supergirl, Justice League of America and Legion of Super-Heroes. This also led to reading all the Batman books, Wonder Woman, Flash, Teen Titans, Green Lantern/Green Arrow, and so on and so forth. As a DC Comics fan, I don’t thin I ever reached what would qualify me for “nerd” status; I loved them all, though, and also followed along with all the adjacent media adaptations–the Superman movies; the Wonder Woman television show, etc. I’ve seen all the movies, and started reading the comics again in my mid-twenties, and then again in my early thirties. I’ve kept up with them over the years; all the reboots and so forth, all the television iterations–Lois & Clark, Smallville, etc.–and enjoyed them all. When CW started adapting the various characters for television, I began following them as well–the first seasons of both Arrow and Flash were amazing…but we did eventually stop watching because both shows seemed to be repeating themselves, and I slowly began getting way behind on them all…and wasn’t really sure, to be honest, that I wanted to give Superman and Lois a whirl. As I said, love Henry Cavill as Superman, but the movies just weren’t quite there…

But being a fan of gorgeous Tyler Hoechlin from his Teen Wolf days, one afternoon while making condom packs, I decided to give it a shot.

At first, I wasn’t sure how I felt about Elizabeth Tulloch’s Lois Lane, but I did like the entire idea of them being married and the parents of twin sons, Jonathon and Jordan–although I winced at the thought of the inevitable CW teen drama to come. But…Tulloch had completely won me over by the second episode, and I really enjoy the twins. Jordan Elsass and Alexander Garfin are perfectly cast, and look enough alike to be believable as fraternal twins. The family drama at the heart of the show–having to tell the twins their father is Superman when one of them begins to develop powers, how they deal with one being powered and the other not–is so incredibly well-written and well-acted that it sucked me right in. I also loved that Morgan Edge is the villain, rather than Lex Luthor or General Zod–which is how they always inevitably begin these types of shows/movies/stories–and I also loved that they waited until Episode 11 to actually give us the origin story, done in flashbacks. They are getting it right on every note, every level–and while we used to roll our eyes at Smallville with great regularity despite being completely sucked in…Superman and Lois gets it right. They understand that Superman and Clark are, at heart, incredibly decent human beings who will always put the needs of others first, no matter what the personal cost to themselves…and the caring about humanity and the greater good is there.

I absolutely love this show, and can’t wait for new episodes to come in July.

If you’re a Superman fan, you should be watching this show if you want to see it done right.

*I realized later I should have checked the CW app, and sure enough, there it was. Sigh.

Make It Happen

Sunday morning after a fabulous night’s sleep, and I feel great! I actually stayed in bed until past eight–I got up at six and again at seven, but felt so relaxed and rested and the bed felt so comfortable I chose to remain there and keep resting. I don’t remember any dreams from last night, either–which is also delightful.

Yesterday was a very good day in Gregalicious-town. I managed to write somewhere around 3500 words, finishing the first draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling”, got some serious cleaning done around here (there’s more to do today, as there always is more to do), and then last evening we went to see our friends Pat and Michael in Riverbend, and got to hang out on their terrace (it’s too high up, really, to be considered a balcony) for several hours getting caught up. We hadn’t seen them for quite some time–even before COVID started–and I’ve missed them terribly. It was lovely talking to them and hanging out–I haven’t laughed that hard and often in I don’t know how long–and came home feeling quite good about anything and everything.

There’s really nothing like good friends, is there?

And I have so many of them. #trulyblessed #Ilovemylife

There’s still some slight pain from the empty tooth socket, but I am not too terribly concerned about it. I know it’s not dry-socket, which is always the big fear with tooth removal, and I have my mellow prescription pain pills if it becomes too much to deal with–which I doubt–and am really looking forward to getting back to solid food sooner than later. I probably should make a grocery run today–it’s not completely necessary, but it never hurts to stay ahead on things–and since I am out of the gym until Tuesday evening, it won’t hurt to get out of the house for a little while.

Today I want to revise the first chapter of Chlorine and perhaps start working on another novella–I can’t decide if I want to work on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” or “Never Kiss a Stranger”; I’ll probably decide once I actually start getting to it. I also want to reread duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now'” this week, as well as get back into my reading–I don’t feel quite as stressed out about writing as I was a while back, so taking time out to read every Sunday doesn’t seem like too much of a distraction from writing any more.. This probably also has a lot to do with the fact that I’ve been getting so much writing done lately…I’m not as worried about the hole in the page opening and me falling in as I used to be (thank you, Stephen King, for that analogy, from Misery). I also want to do some more cleaning and organizing at some point during the day as well…and maybe, just maybe, get some editing done this week. I definitely need to make a to-do list this morning for this week, which also includes ye olde email inbox, which is truly daunting.

Mmmmmmm, my coffee is good this morning.

So, overall, a lovely Sunday morning for one Gregalicious; since I can’t go to the gym today, perhaps I’ll go for a walk later this afternoon. We shall see how it all plays out, shan’t we?

It’s lovely to be feeling so good these days, frankly. I don’t know if it’s the COVID-potentially-be-over thing, or what, but I’ve been feeling good for quite some time and hope that I can keep a positive outlook going forward. I know a lot of that has to do with me being able to sleep every night; the insomnia is such the first domino to fall in the misery sweepstakes, but again, it’s lovely to be able to sleep, to be writing again, to have energy again, and to be able to look at things in a positive light again. I always forget how important it is to stay focused on being positive; at finding the good inside the bad–which isn’t always easy–which was part of the life change I went through at thirty-three back in the day in 1994 when I started righting the ship of my life and starting to go for the things I wanted out of life. One can choose misery or joy; I try to always choose joy.

And yes, I am aware of how that may sound; how goody-goody two shoes it can come across. But as Scotty always says, life doesn’t give you anything you can’t handle–it’s how you handle it that matters.

I am really looking forward to getting back into writing about Scotty again, to be honest. It’s always fun to spend time in his world.

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

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Waiting for Tonight

I don’t remember his name. All I now for sure is it started with a K.

Kevin, maybe? Keith? Kerry? Kenny? Maybe Kelly; for some reason the name Kelly-for-a-boy has always been stuck in my head, to the point that sometimes, frequently, when I need a name for a male character Kelly always pops into my head. So maybe that’s it. I never recorded his name anywhere–mainly for fear someone would find it in my journals or diaries (I’ve always kept some sort of written record of my life and my various emotional breakdowns over the years)–and I was also certain I would never forget it. And yet I have; the first openly gay man I ever knew, and also the first casualty to HIV/AIDS that I knew personally–that was more than just another name in the paper.

I’ve never really dissected my past as thoroughly as I probably should have; as I’ve said before, when I turned thirty-three I decided to never look back, stop having regrets, and not let the past continue to influence my present and my future. There was never anything but pain back there, so why revisit that? Now as I hurtle towards sixty at an ever increasing speed (less than two months now!), I do find myself, for some reason–maybe the sixty milestone? Being equally distant from twenty as one hundred?–allowing my mind to drift back to the past. I think it also has something to do with the two most recent books I’ve written (Bury Me in Shadows is dealing, in some ways, with my past by forcing me to remember stories my grandmother told me as a child and the legacy of being from rural Alabama; #shedeservedit takes me back to my teens in Kansas–and basing the main character in that book so deeply into my own psyche forced me to relive things and emotions and feelings I experienced as a teen in Kansas, even if the book is set in the recent present), as well as watching It’s a Sin earlier this year, and seeing the story of HIV/AIDS told from the perspective of young people who were my age when it all began. I’m not sure, really; but whatever the reason, my mind has been going through the file cabinet where I have locked all my memories from before 1994.

Kelly (I decided to call him Kelly, didn’t I?) was the first openly gay guy I ever met. I’d met guys who were attracted to men before; and I am sure guys I knew from my high school in Chicago were, even if they weren’t out (I did remember one’s name recently; I knew him only slightly but was certain back then he was like me; I looked him up recently on-line and sure enough, he’s out and proud and–thank God–alive). I wasn’t sure when I first met Kelly if he was or he wasn’t–he was effeminate and queeny, though; the stereotype–and we worked together at a fast food place on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno. He was already working there when I was hired; we both worked the closing shift on Fridays and Saturdays and our manager was a really hot muscular straight guy with a porn-stache that I stole glances at whenever I could; managers wore the same polyester pants the rest of us had to wear, but got to wear T-shirts with the company name and logo on the front–his were extremely tight, and so were his pants, for that matter–but he was also juggling three women at the same time (no surprise, really) and was clearly straight. I did notice Kelly also was stealing glances at him from time to time. Kelly was flamboyant, funny and friendly; I would have liked him even if I didn’t suspect he was also gay. He was certainly not as deeply closeted as I was, and certainly not as determined to keep it hidden. He was taller than me, and slender. He wasn’t what I was physically attracted to at the time–when I was younger I was a lot more narrow in my definition of what I thought was attractive, and what I was attracted to–but he did have a nice ass.

I don’t remember how or when he told me he was gay, but he did. He was also the first person to take me to an actual gay bar; there were two in Fresno at the time. It was the Express, and it was also on Blackstone Avenue, near Olive, I think; I don’t remember exactly where it was, to be honest, but I know there was an off-ramp for a highway right there as well (I recently tried to locate it on Google Maps, but Fresno has changed a lot since I left over thirty years ago, and it no longer exists). I don’t remember how he talked me into going–you can imagine how reluctant I was (what if someone I know sees me going in? What if someone sees my car parked there? What if what if what if what if…what if someone I KNOW is there–this last is hilarious, of course; obviously, if they were there…) but I remember walking in that first time and realizing, everyone here is into men. There were no women, the music was loud and there were some incredibly hot guys there. Kelly got us both a drink–vodka and cranberry; I drink I have ever since always regarded as a ‘gay’ one–and then he dragged me out onto the dance floor because he loved the song–it was the first time I’d ever heard “It’s Raining Men”, and it’s always been special for me since then; the first song I ever danced to in a gay bar–and I, who’s always loved to dance but always got made fun of for enjoying it at school dances and in straight clubs–felt free for the first time in my life.

As Madonna sang in “Into the Groove”: only when I’m dancing can I feel this free…

It became a weekly thing: every Friday and Saturday night after work we’d go over to his apartment, sponge off sweat and grease from work, change, and go dancing. There were so many hot guys–but I would never approach anyone; that social anxiety thing and fear of rejection has always hung over my life–and Kelly’s roommate was also really beautiful. Kelly had a lot of friends I was attracted to, but no one ever showed any interest in me–at the bar or at any of the after-parties we went to.

And yes, eventually, we did go to bed together. I wasn’t in love with him, nor he with me; he was the first time I became aware of the “friends-with-benefits” thing. I wasn’t his type, either–and I’ll never forget him saying, “just because we aren’t each other’s types and we’re not interested in being boyfriends doesn’t mean we can’t help each out, you know? It doesn’t always have to mean something. Stop thinking that way! It’s very Christian of you.”

I was slowly starting to come into myself when he got fired, for allegedly stealing money. I didn’t think it was true–it may have been, I could have been wrong about him and his character (it wouldn’t have been the first or last time I misjudged someone’s character) but I always suspected it was because he told me once that he’d given the hot straight manager a blowjob in the office a couple of times. I didn’t believe him, but I also don’t think I was the only person who worked there he’d said that to, and well, that just wouldn’t fly, you know. But he told me, through tears, that he was leaving Fresno and moving to San Francisco because “Fresno was really just Topeka in the valley, when you think about it.”

I’ve used that description numerous times since then.

He gave me a big hug, and told me to trust myself, and stop being afraid to be myself.

I didn’t see him again for years. It was a few years later when I ran into his roommate at the mall. I was high, had gone there with friends to waste time and get an Orange Julius, and was sitting on a bench just enjoying my drink and being high at the all and watching people when someone said my name. I didn’t recognize his roommate–whose name is also lost to time–because he didn’t look the same. He’d lost a lot of weight–he’d been lean but muscular, but was now barely more than skin and bones. He had to tell me who he was, and how I knew him, and I’ve never had much of a poker face–still don’t, actually. He smiled at the look on my face, and told me he had AIDS. Not only did he have it, but Kelly did as well, he was back in Fresno, and he was actually dying. “You should go see him,” he said, “I think it would mean a lot to him. He doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Anyway, it’s nice seeing you.”

I was, at the time, trying really hard to be straight again–still having furtive encounters with other guys, of course–and terrified that I was going to get infected myself. I didn’t have a car at the time, and the last thing in the world I was going to do was ask one of my straight friends to take me to see someone dying of AIDS in a hospital. I had met other gay men since Kelly, and considered them friends…but it was something we were all afraid of; made gallows humor jokes about; and I didn’t want to involve any of them in this, either. (All the gay men I knew at the time didn’t know my straight friends–and any gay man I met through a straight friend I kept at a distance because I still wasn’t ready for those separate lives to have crossover.)

I took a city bus to the hospital. I remember they put me in a hospital gown, gave me a mask and rubber gloves to wear before I could go see him. I remember how bad he looked, how labored his breathing was; and I don’t think he knew who I was; I don’t think he ever did know who I was or why I was there. I sat with him for a while and held his hand, and we didn’t talk much. It didn’t seem important then to try to get him to remember me. I remember being afraid, and to this day i wonder if I would have held his hand if I didn’t have the gloves, and even having that doubt fills me with shame; and no matter how much I remind myself I am far better educated now than I was then–even then there was so much misinformation and unknowns I couldn’t have been as educated as I am now–I still feel a bit ashamed. There were several people on that ward; guys i recognized from those nights at the bar, guys I’d been attracted to but never acted on, guys I met after after-parties, whose names I don’t remember now. I went back as often as I could, as often as I thought I could get away with, sitting not just with Kelly but those other guys, too. Kelly’s old roommate eventually ended up there, too, and I sat with him sometimes. Every time I went back I was never sure who’d be alive, who would still be on the ward, or if someone else i recognized or had known would be there this time. I don’t remember how many times I visited before Kelly died; I just remember I came back and his bed had someone else in it. I know I went to some memorial services and I know I went to some funerals, and I know I kept going back there periodically; I wasn’t worried about getting infected and dying because I had begun to believe it was inevitable. I know I went numb at some point during that period, and I also know it was when my college career went off the rails for the last time and I began losing myself in drugs and alcohol to stop feeling anything. I knew I couldn’t make myself straight because I would be miserably unhappy if I tried; I was miserable trying. I also believed I couldn’t be myself because I would lose everything and end up dying all by myself in that ward–also knowing that when the inevitable day came when I wound up in that ward, I’d die alone.

There were times I wish it would happen so I could get it over with–the horrible death–because my life was so miserable I often didn’t want to go on living.

And yet, no matter how many times I wished I were dead, no matter how many times I wanted to die, I never could end my own life. I couldn’t do that, for some reason.

So on I lived, somehow getting through my days, letting life happen to me rather than making my life happen, until I shook myself off and decided to take control–death is inevitable for everyone, after all, so why not live until then?

Here I am, on the cusp of sixty, still alive when everyone gay I knew from back then, from my first baby steps into living my life as myself, died. I wasn’t there for all of them. I wasn’t there when many of them died, and I felt guilty about that, guilty about not getting sick, guilty about living, guilty about somehow still being here when so many of them have gone. I feel guilty about not remembering their names.

I fought a long hard battle with myself and who I am, and somehow came out on the other side of it slightly wiser, definitely wounded, and still struggling from time to time.

This is how I remember it, through the fog of time and the prism of my own narcissistic self-absorption. I have things wrong, I’m sure–it’s been over thirty years–and I’ve never tried to remember before. I’ve certainly never talked about it before to anyone and I certainly have never written about it before. My memory, once so sharp and perfect, has become fogged and befuddled the older I get and the more time passes. Watching It’s a Sin, frankly, made me start to remember–so much of it brought back memories–and I also realized I never mourned, never really dealt with any of it. Was that the right coping mechanism? I don’t know. I just know I went numb and decided never to talk about it; when I left California I closed the door on that part of my life and knew I had to change my life. It took another four years before I was able to also change my mentality and got a new attitude towards life and love and well, everything; not only closing that door into my past again but sealing it hermetically and walling those memories off in my brain, never to remember, never to relive, never to examine.

And I realize now that while I never stopped mourning them, I also never allowed myself to experience the grief…and in order to finally heal, I need to finally grieve.

Baby steps, always.

The Only Way Is Up

I survived the tooth extraction! I am debating whether i want to take some of the painkillers this morning–they didn’t give me anything addicting; prescription strength Tylenol and ibuprofen only, but they made me sleepy and zone in and out all day after I got home, which made yesterday a productivity bust. But my word, how well I slept last night! I do feel pretty amazing this morning–even though I can’t go to the gym again until Monday at the earliest and no solid foods till then either; which means a steady diets of soups, yogurts and protein shakes, which are filling but not satisfying in the least–so I am hoping to get a lot done this morning. We’re going to go visit Pat and Michael this evening–we haven’t seen them since pre-pandemic–and I am very excited about that as well.

So, the plan for today is to write and read and clean and edit–the usual Saturday fare–and we’ll see how that goes. There are two blog entries I’ve begun and not finished; one talking about the first openly gay guy I ever met, and the other about Superman and Lois–so I am hoping to get those written this morning as well. The kitchen has totally slid since I cleaned it Thursday night after work, and so I am going to be doing dishes and organizing and vacuuming this morning around my cleaning (and answering of emails). I want to revisit “Festival of the Redeemer” this weekend, and try to get a first draft of “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend as well as trying to revise the first chapter of Chlorine. I also have some other in-progress story drafts open on the laptop–one called “Beauty Sleep,” which stalled because i had the opening idea and the title but don’t know where to take it from there, and I think I’m just going to try to write my way out of it. I also want to spend some time pulling what I have available for the next short story collection (This Town and Other Stories) together.

An ambitious plan, to be sure.

I tried watching Camelot yesterday on HBO MAX, and was soon bored of it. It’s simply not a good film–and Franco Nero’s almost unintelligible, heavily accented English would have been fine had the dubbing of his singing also been accented. I saw this movie in the theater when I was a kid–my grandmother took me and my sister to see it at the Colony in Chicago–and LOVED it, but have never seen it since. Maybe it would be better on the big screen–it was letterboxed, so it was meant to be seen that way–but on my big screen television, the magic was lost. It was from that period after movie musicals like West Side Story, My Fair Lady, and The Sound of Music–lavish, enormous spectacles–did huge box office and won lots of Oscars; unfortunately, it also led to expensive gambles–like Camelot, Paint Your Wagon, Dr. Dolittle, and Sweet Charity–that were massive failures (Mark Harris does a great job exploring this phenomenon in his marvelous Pictures at a Revolution; he writes wonderful books about the film industry and I hope there will be a new one soon) that bankrupted studios and eventually ended the movie musical genre (with a few notable exceptions, like Cabaret) for a good long while, which changed the movie industry as well. (hey, Mark–why don’t you write about how the summer spectacle film, beginning with Jaws, also changed the industry by moving it away from the gritty realism and cynicism of the 1970’s? Just a thought).

Okay, I took some painkillers. I don’t know if it was actually pain or discomfort I was feeling, but regardless–there was no need for either when I had pills on hand to take care of it.

I am all about better living through chemistry, and they gave me quite a supply, so I have to assume the mentality is for me to use them as needed–which is what both bottles say anyway.

We watched this week’s Line of Duty–there’s only one more episode, the series finale–and enjoyed it, before switching over to the US Gymnastics Olympic trials. I was drifting in and out of sleep through both, so when they were over, I went to bed–at shortly after nine! And had a great night’s sleep, I might add. We also have this week’s episodes of Physical–which is great, if you’re not watching–and Lisey’s Story–also great–to get caught up on this evening after we get home from Pat and Michael’s. We also want to watch a movie on Disney–Freaky, a riff on Freaky Friday in which a spree killer and a teenage cheerleader switch bodies, which could be either hilarious or awful–and I will probably go to bed early this evening as well. My body is starting to adapt to getting up at six three days a week, and I am not sure if I like it or not. I woke up at 6:30 yesterday morning–imagine my shock to discover, around eleven, that it was only eleven…but I used to always get a lot of work done before noon in the olden days, so maybe this is a return to my old productivity? Maybe NOT getting up early every day was the change that shifted everything?

The jury is still out, and you will, of course, be updated with regularity on this situation as it develops, Constant Reader.

And now, to the spice mines.

Gloria

Friday with a tooth extraction looming. Not really a yay, but at the same time I’ll be delighted to get that pesky tooth problem finally taken care of–and yes, I am at that age, and of that heritage, where I am counting the teeth I have left (the real “heritage, not hate” of rural Southern people).

I spent most of yesterday making condom packs–the boxes are starting to take over the living room, so I am going to have to take them all into the office relatively soon–and getting caught up on Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (#lockherup) and Superman and Lois (which I love; more on that to come), and then doing laundry and straightening things up around the house. There’s still a lot to do, as always, and I was reflecting this morning (as I lazed in bed until nearly eight) that I haven’t matched last week’s writing production at all this week. Part of it is depleted creative batteries–I really drained them writing nearly twenty thousand words in a week–and said depletion inevitably brings self-doubt and imposter syndrome in its wake. I’m getting better about the imposter syndrome (about time, really) and feel a lot more confident about writing in general lately; I am feeling more like my normal, balanced self again. I’d love to get “The Sound of Snow Falling” finished this weekend, as well as the revision of chapter one of Chlorine–as well as deciding which novella to try to get finished by the July 4th weekend (I am torn between “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu”); but that’s also going to be dependent on how the tooth thing goes and what kind of pain killers I am on for the weekend. I am hoping that I’ll be able to focus and get shit done regardless of what pain killers I am taking–but I also suspect that they aren’t going to be as free and easy with them as they were the last time I had teeth pulled, which was eleven years ago (thanks greedy trash Sackler family for creating the opioid crisis! May you all burn in hell for eternity!). My email inbox also needs attention, and I really need to sit down and write out who all I owe emails to as well as answer the significant amount of them that have piled up in the meantime.

And in a worst case scenario in which I am completely leveled by the painkillers, hopefully I can at least read, or watch movies or something. I really do want to finally watch The Godfather films–yes, I know–along with any number of classic American and foreign films I’ve never seen. One of the lovely things about working at home and doing the condom packs has been getting to watch films I’ve never seen and have always wanted to, as well as the occasional rewatch of something classic, like Cabaret or The Last Picture Show. I’ve been enjoying my education in film history, great performances, and terrific film making, even if some are flawed and don’t live up to the hype (I understand the importance of The French Connection in film history, but the plot is terribly flawed, and while it doesn’t really make Popeye Doyle into a hero…it depicts him realistically as a very flawed cop…its stark realistic approach to police brutality, civil rights abuse, and systemic racism embodied in Doyle is almost painful to watch; but Hackman earned his Oscar).

I also have some other blog entries I want to get finished and posted over the weekend–an in-depth discussion of Superman and Lois, as well as something deeply personal I may never post (that old ‘bleeding in public’ thing which I still struggle with from time to time) but I am trying to embrace my past more rather than simply moving on from it; which I also recognize is kind of strange. “You’re going to talk about things in your blog that you’ve never talked about with friends over the decades?” Yes, I get that it’s strange, but I also know in writing about things from my past–the way my mind remembers them, even if they aren’t precisely accurate–will help me come to terms with some things. My methodology of never looking back and just living in the present while planning for the future may have helped me get to where I am today, but it may not have been the most emotionally healthy way for me to grow and develop, and most of all, heal. Things I thought were scarred over have not actually healed beyond a scab, which comes off rather easily once I remember it’s there–and that isn’t healthy. Freeing myself from some of these burdens from the past could certainly not hurt in any way, shape or form.

It’s getting cloudy, which might mean a thunderstorm is arriving at any moment; not sure how I feel about that. We’ve been having a lot of rain lately–and while I do love a thunderstorm (there’s something comforting about being safely warm and dry inside while it pours down outside), we’ve certainly been having an excess of them lately. The ground is already saturated, so it’s harder for the rain to be absorbed into the ground so the streets flood more easily–and as the payoff on my car draws nearer and nearer, I worry about it being ruined more than I have…

And on that bright note, I am heading into the data-entry spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, everyone!

Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves

So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.

Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.

Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and

And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.

Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.

We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.

Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.

I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz. My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.

Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.

And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.

And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.

Dreams

One of the challenges of being a writer is keeping your work fresh and new and interesting; it becomes easy -for want of a better phrase–to just phone it in and repeat yourself. This is particularly true for crime writers/writers of series; how do you continue writing about the same base foundation of characters without recycling plots or falling into formulaic structure?

One of the primary reasons I stopped writing my Chanse MacLeod series was precisely because of this; as I was writing the last book (thus far) in the series, Murder in the Arts District, I found myself thinking things like okay now it’s chapter five, I need some action here or I need to have a twist in the story before I get to chapter ten…and so on. I didn’t even think about it as I was writing the story–but when I was doing the revisions and edits, I remembered having those thoughts (I generally don’t have them while writing Scotty, but that’s a story for another time…and of course, as a reader pointed out, how many car accidents has Scotty been in, anyway?), and when I turned the book in, I went back and speed-read the entire series over again, and after about the fourth book, the writing pattern became rather obvious to me; and if it was apparent to me, I would imagine it was also fairly obvious to the readers. So, I decided to either end or take a lengthy break from the series unless another great idea for him jumped out at me; I have had several ideas since then, but the longer I go without writing about Chanse the less likely it becomes that I will write about him again. (Caveat: I have written a Chanse short story and have a novella in progress with him as the main character; I guess it is more accurate to say that I am not done with the character completely, yet I cannot see myself writing another novel with him as the point of view character–and will have to go another step forward with that as well to say at least not one set in New Orleans, as I am toying with an idea for a Chanse case in Louisiana but not New Orleans. Yes, that’s me–definitely not definite.)

I have nothing but the utmost admiration for series writers who manage to keep their series going for decades and dozens of books without writing the same book and structure over and over and over again; Ross Macdonald, Ellery Queen, Sue Grafton, Robert B. Parker, and Sara Parestky are just a few of them I can name, and their achievements have made them legends in the field. But other legends who wrote series took a different approach to their careers. Agatha Christie wrote several series–Poirot, Miss Marple, Tommy and Tuppence–but also wrote a lot of stand-alones over the course of the years. (Seriously, when it comes to crime fiction, Christie did everything first) Dennis Lehane and Harlan Coben started out writing series and moved on to stand-alones; as have numerous other authors.

And then there’s Laura Lippman.

Gerry Andersen‘s new apartment is a topsy-turvy affair–living area on the second floor, bedrooms below. The brochure–it is the kind of apartment that had its own brochure when it went on the market in 2018–boasted of 360-degree views, but that was pure hype. PH 2502 is the middle unit between two other duplex penthouses, one owned by a sheikh, the other by an Olympic swimmer. The three two-story apartments share a common area, a most uncommon common area to be sure, a hallway with a distressed concrete floor, available only to those who have the key that allows one to press PH on the elevator. But not even the sheik and the swimmer have 360-degree views. Nothing means anything anymore, Gerry has decided. No one uses words correctly and if you call them on it, they claim that words are fungible, that it’s oppressive and prissy not to let words mean whatever the speaker wishes them to mean.

Take the name of this building, the Vue at Locust Point. What is a vue? And isn’t the view what one sees from the building, not the building itself? The Vue is the view for people on the other side of the harbor, where, Gerry is told, there is a $12 million apartment on top of the residences connected to the Four Seasons Hotel. A $12 million apartment in Baltimore.

Nothing makes sense anymore.

The apartment cost $1.75 million, which Is about what Gerry cleared when he sold his place in New York City, a two-bedroom he bought in the fall of 2001. How real estate agents had shaken their sleek blond heads over his old-fashioned kitchen, his bidet-less bathrooms, as if his decision not to update them was indicative of a great moral failing. Yet his apartment sold for almost $3 million last fall and, as he understood the current was laws, he needed to put the capital gains, less $250,000, in a new residence. Money goes a long way in Baltimore, and it was a struggle to find a place that could eat up all that capital without being nightmarishly large. So here he is at the Vue, where money seems to be equated with cold, hard things–marble in the kitchen, distressed concrete floors, enormous light fixtures.

I’ve been a fan of Lippman’s since I read her debut, Baltimore Blues, mumbledy-mumble years ago. I absolutely loved it; I loved the character of Tess Monaghan, former reporter turned private eye, and the cast of regular characters who she interacted with on a regular basis throughout her amazing series run. Tess remains one of my all -time favorite series characters; the books were always compelling, interesting, and very hard to put down. Lippman is also that writer who can write short stories that are just as powerful as her novels, and over the last few years she has taken up writing personal essays that are also rather exceptional (her collection, My Life as a Villainess, was a bestseller during the pandemic). Her writing is always whip-smart and intelligent; following her on social media one can see how widely and perceptively she reads. About seven years into her career she took the risk to move from her series to stand-alones; a calculated risk, to be sure–but she then spent the next few years alternating between the series and stand-alones (alas, it’s been a while since the last Tess book, Hush Hush, although she has occasionally made guest appearances in her stand-alones when a character needs assistance from a private eye). Her books have explored themes of motherhood, what it means to be a good girl, and have also paid homage to time-honored sub-genres (Sunburn is one of the best noir novels of this century) and classic novels by either flipping the script (for example. Wilde Lake owes an enormous debt to To Kill a Mockingbird, imagining, really, where the characters and story would be decades later). She has also played with form, tense, and character–Lady in the Lake is almost Faulknerian in its use of point-of-view; I lost track of how many different point of view characters were in this book, and every last one of them rang completely true–and she has become, over the years, a true artist.

In my often-benighted first writing class in college (whose scars I still carry to this day),my incredibly pompous professor once berated one of the students for writing a story about a writer. “It’s the laziest form of writing, and character,” he proclaimed from his lectern at the front of the classroom, “and it tells you more about who the writer is more than the character ever will. If you ever start reading anything where the main character is a writer, you should run from it as fast as you can.”

I guess he wasn’t a fan of Philip Roth. (To be completely fair, neither am I. I’ve tried, but have never really got the magic there, but have always accepted that as my failing as a discerning reader rather than his.)

Stephen King often writes about writers; ‘Salem’s Lot has Ben Mears; The Shining has Jack Torrance (and the most deadly and horrifying case of writer’s block in literary history), It has Bill Denbrough, and on and on–but of course the most famous, and best, example would be Paul Sheldon in Misery. While I always have enjoyed King’s writing, and have gleaned things from his writer characters, Sheldon and Misery, for me, has always been the best. Sheldon was perhaps one of the most realistic and compelling writer characters I’ve ever read about–the man with aspirations to becoming a critically acclaimed literary writer, who yet makes a living by writing a bestselling romance series about a character named Misery Chastain whom he has come to hate and despise even as she makes him enough money to live well and focus on simply being a writer (the dream of all of us, really). He has killed her off finally in his most recent book, ending the series at last and finally taking the leap to write what he thinks will be the game changer for his career–until he has a horrific car accident and is rescued by Misery’s biggest fan.

The parallels between Misery and Dream Girl are there, of course, and easy to spot; Lippman’s character Gerry Andersen is an enormously successful literary writer (a la Updike or Roth) who is also kind of a dick in how he has treated the many women who have come through his life, and of course, his ego justifies all of his bad behavior until he, too, has an accident in his home that winds up with him trapped in a hospital bed in his secluded apartment (despite it being in Baltimore; the appeal of the place is its privacy and seclusion). But while Sheldon is being victimized by his sociopathic fan/caregiver in Misery, what is happening to Gerry is very different; he has his original fall that causes his injury because he receives a weird letter from someone claiming to be the real person whom he based the title character in his biggest success, Dream Girl, on, and she wants financial compensation. In his shock and surprise–people have always wondered, and have always asked him, if she was a real person and he has always said no–he falls down his stairs and busts up his leg. Once he is housebound, he has a night nurse AND his personal assistant there–rarely being ever alone in the apartment–but he starts getting strange phone calls from the woman claiming to be the real ‘dream girl’–but there’s never any record of the calls on his called ID, and the original letter disappeared as well. Is his medication playing tricks on his mind, or is there something more sinister at work in his cold, sterile, remote apartment?

As with so many other things, that writing professor was wrong about writing about writers. I’ve stayed away from it myself for most of my career–as I said, the scars are still very much there–but I have started dabbling into it a bit (my Amazon single, “Quiet Desperation,” is one attempt, and I may go even further; I’ve created a character who’s appeared as a minor character in some of my Scotty books who is a writer). The mystery here is quite compelling, and more than enough to keep me turning the pages to see what happens next. But I was also enjoying the insights into another writer’s life, albeit he was a fictional character; I find it incredibly easy to identify with characters who are writers because despite the fact that all writers have different methods and different careers and different mental processes, there are always those little nuggets of oh yes I know that feeling or I thought I was the only person who experienced this or ah yes this is exactly what it’s like.

Dream Girl is an excellent edition to the Lippman canon.

Who Do You Think You Are

Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.

And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?

But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.

And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.

Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.

But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.

I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.

It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.

We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.

We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.

After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.

And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.

I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.

And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.