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

The Morning After

Today I will be testing in the Carevan, parked on Rampart Street near the New Orleans Athletic Club, for Tales of the Cocktail. It’s going to be hot as hell, and while there is climate control in the van–it’s still basically a parked RV. The eight hours I spent in there on National HIV Testing Day was rough, and I was exhausted. This is only four hours, but I have to take the streetcar and walk a few blocks in the heat both coming and going; so I imagine by the time I get into the cool of the Lost Apartment this afternoon, I’m going to be done for the day.

We got caught up on Archer and Animal Kingdom last night, both of which are terrific shows–this week’s Archer was the funniest one in a couple of seasons, at least in my opinion–and then it was an early night for one Gregalicious. I managed to not get any writing done last night, but I did get the dishes situation straightened out, and then of course I did several loads of laundry. Today after I get home from work I have to do the bed linens, and if I am not too terribly worn out from the heat I might be able to get some writing done tonight.

I spent a lot more time yesterday thinking about the concept of vanity. I’m not going to deny that part of the reason I started working out–and it took–when I was in my early thirties was entirely due to vanity. Yes, I wanted to feel better and be healthier–particularly as a smoker (I quit nine years ago finally, don’t @ me) but vanity also played a part in the decision to work out; I wanted to be healthier but I also wanted to look better. And as I mentioned yesterday, as the way people treated me better the less overweight and the more muscular I became, that “reward” helped drive me to go to the gym when I wasn’t feeling it, or when I wanted to lazy; I could remember the stimulus of the compliments, the smiles, the guys hitting on me in the gay bars, and that would motivate me to head to the gym when I didn’t want to go. Part of the reason now that it’s so difficult to get myself up for a workout is the vanity motivation is simply no longer there.

Which leads to another question: is it better to be vain–which is frowned upon in polite society, at least in theory–or is it better to no longer be vain because I feel older? Just because I am turning fifty-eight doesn’t mean I should stop caring about how I look or my appearance; but that’s also a part of the problem I have. I don’t care any more if anyone else thinks I’m fuckable, to go back to the Laura Lippman essay (I told you, it’s brilliant, and if you haven’t read it, you really should; I am still thinking about it several days later), and I’m not sure how I feel about that. That shouldn’t play a part in my decision as to whether I should work out or not; and yet, without having that small bit of vanity and pride no longer there as a driving force…I no longer go to the gym.

One of my younger co-workers complimented me yesterday, and asked me if I’d been working out, which I found mildly amusing, particularly since I’ve been blogging and thinking so much this week about body image and working out. It was a lovely compliment about my chest, and my automatic reaction, my default as always, was to self-deprecate. “Oh, God, no, I haven’t been to the gym in over a year and my chest isn’t that big; I have a big ribcage so it makes me look bigger than I actually am.” I then demonstrated to him how big my rib cage is, mainly by putting my hand on the ribs just below my pectoral muscles, and then cupping my right one in my right hand. “See? My chest isn’t that muscular, it just looks like it is.” Thinking about that now, why couldn’t I simply accept the compliment without tearing myself down in the process? Would it have been so hard to simply say, “Thank you! I’ve actually not worked out in quite some time, but I worked out for years and was a personal trainer and taught aerobics.” Just as honest, just as true as what I actually did say, but no deflecting of the compliment and no self-deprecation.

I’ve never been able to simply accept a compliment, and I think that’s a real problem.

Compliments have always made me uncomfortable, and for a writer, this can also be a serious problem. I’ve spent so much of my life trying very hard not to be arrogant, or come across as arrogant, that my default on every kind of compliment is to deflect and demur. I think I was in my twenties when I decided that if I self-deprecated, ran myself down, and humbled myself constantly, no one would ever think I was arrogant (which is a personality trait I really loathe in other people) and if I insulted myself no one else would.

As such, I have always belittled my accomplishments and never take credit for successes–but boy, will I ever obsess over failures! I also have this very bad tendency to never celebrate the moment because I am always looking, not only ahead, but at the things I don’t have, or haven’t accomplished yet. This is also incredibly self-defeating. I always tell people–as I did when I was a personal trainer–that you cannot compare your accomplishments with those of other people; you should only judge yourself against yourself. Would I love to have the career of certain other writers (Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, etc.)? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But just because I don’t have their careers doesn’t mean I am a failure at my own. I’ve done fairly well for myself, and have published a lot of books and short stories and an essay here and there. I’ve been nominated for a lot of awards and even won a few times–in fact, there are some I forget about when I try to list them. I have difficulty even remembering all the books published under my own  name, let alone those published under pseudonyms. I’ve been very active, first in the queer publishing community and more recently in the crime fiction community; I was even really active in the horror writing community–although I do see myself as more of a horror fan than a writer.

Is it so wrong to be proud of your accomplishments?  I really don’t think so. Last year, on the suggestion of a good friend who is also a writer, I wrote up a list of daily affirmations I intended to speak out loud every morning, because there’s something about saying things out loud that makes them more concrete, more solid, more real. As usual, I stopped saying them out loud after about a month or so, but the time I was actually doing it was an incredibly productive time–it was that time last year during which I wrote first drafts or more of like twenty short stories. I also still hold myself to the standard of those years when I was producing so many novels–it’s so incredibly easy to consistently defeat yourself–and think, oh, you haven’t had a book out in forever, you fucking loser.

I’ve spent most of my life deprogramming myself from so many things I was taught to believe and value as a child; I think one of the things I need to reprogram out of me is the self-deprecation and inability to take a compliment–I never know what to say other than thank you to readers I encounter who say lovely things to me–and stop being embarrassed when people say nice things to me. I should be able to accept a compliment without worrying about becoming arrogant.

Obviously, I need to work on myself; I am still, oddly enough, evolving and growing as a person and as a writer as my fifty-eighth birthday draws near.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader! I need to get back to the spice mines.

IMG_1686

Shambala

Thursday afternoon, home from work and the grocery store. It’s overcast outside–there was a monsoon earlier, but no flooding–and I am really glad I made it home before it starts pouring again. I really should be putting the groceries away, but it’s so hot and muggy outside I wanted to just sit for a minute before I get up. I also have laundry to do, and might as well get started on the slog of cleaning the kitchen/office/living room. Heavy heaving sigh. I also want to do some writing or editing this evening before I give up for the day and start dinner and relax.

Storms clouds have rolled in since I got up and put away the groceries and put the laundry into the dryer. It’s weird because I can visually tell it’s darker outside–if I turned off the kitchen lights it would ridiculously dark–but when I look up out the windows through the crepe myrtles next door,  all I see is blue sky and white clouds.

Ah, New Orleans weather and its many peculiar vagaries.

Shit, I just remembered there are clean dishes in the dishwasher. Be right back.

Okay, that’s one, and I have Pet Sounds by the Beach Boys playing through the stereo unit in the Lost Apartment (those harmonies!) As I look around at the kingdom of my office, I spy things that need to be put away, things that need to be handled, things that need to be put away. I’m also kind of avoiding my email inbox, because I also don’t want to deal with any of that, either.

I’m still thinking about Laura Lippman’s lovely essay that I read the other day, as I continue to struggle to get a grip and handle on everything I’ve managed to again fall behind on.

One of the more interesting–perhaps curious is a better word–things I’ve noticed over the course of my lifetime is the change in what the cultural definition of what is (or isn’t) sexy when it comes to men and masculinity. I can remember when I was a kid that bodybuilding was primarily seen as the province of queers; I’m not sure how or where I became aware of that, but I know the eschewing of weight lifting for men (and younger men) was not something that was a cultural norm; health clubs didn’t really start proliferating until, best as I can recall, the late 1970’s/early 1980’s. Even then, the idea wasn’t to get ripped or cut or to have a six pack, it was just to have a bigger overall physique.  I don’t remember how old I was when I began having a love-hate relationship with my body; I joined my first gym in 1981. Over the course of the next ten years I joined several others; I never lasted more than a few weeks. I wasn’t particularly motivated–I wanted to look better and feel better about myself, but I found the weight room horrifyingly intimidating and gyms not particularly welcoming. I am sure some of that had to do with the PTSD acquired as a tween and teen with gym class, athletics, and everything to do with those things. I tried several times, and it never took.

I always blamed those failures on my own laziness. Now, though, I am beginning to wonder about that more; if there was more to it, on a psychological or subconscious level. I know when I joined a gym in January of 1995, I was determined to accomplish change, not only in my body but in my life. I also joined a gay owned and operated gym; which was not only welcoming and friendly, but kind of nice. Everyone who worked there was friendly and available to answer questions and help. That made a huge difference. I liked my gym, I liked going there, and the changes I was seeing in my body–I was also on a very strict eating plan–were enough reward to keep me going. And I also noticed that the way I was treated in general was better–bartenders, servers, sales clerks, even the passengers at the airport–were friendlier and nicer to me the more my body shape shifted and changed. I was very dedicated to this self-improvement kick; I also have a tendency to be obsessive when I become interested in something. When I lost my job at the airline, I decided the next step in my career would be to work in health and fitness, trying to help people who were like me and pay it all forward.

I fell off the fitness wagon about ten years or so ago; primarily because I injured my back and also started working full time outside of my home. The adjustment to finding time to work out around a forty-hour work week, a brutal editing schedule, and an insane writing treadmill (which led to the publication of a ridiculous amount of novels and short stories over a highly productive few years) made finding time to workout more and more difficult. The injury didn’t help…and I would always try to come back too soon and aggravate the obviously-not-completely healed injury. I even hired a trainer to make me go to the gym–I’d keep appointments, even if I couldn’t be bothered to go to the gym at other times. A few years ago the tightening of my finances and the need to buy a new car forced me to let Wacky Russian go as an expense, which sucked…because I’ve never really been able to find a rhythm for working out again since then. I keep meaning to go…but then I am so tired, and I can’t keep up with my writing and my emails and my cleaning, and then…

Yes, excuses. I can always find them. Never fear.

I’m also going to be fifty-eight next year. I am not as concerned as I was when I was in my thirties whether other people think I’m hot–or as Laura said in her seminal essay, “fuckable”–and ironically, doing it for my health, to improve my sleep and my energy, doesn’t seem to be motivation enough to get me to go. I am not, after all, going to hang out in the Quarter all weekend long with very little clothing on during Southern Decadence, nor am I going to pick out a slutty Halloween costume, or go out dressed nearly naked as a masked professional wrestler again. But feeling better–and I always do after I work out, after I stretch, etc.–should be enough of a motivator to get me to go. And yet, somehow I will always find some kind of excuse for it (I intended to go during my Staycation a few weeks ago; then I left my headphones for my phone at the office and since I couldn’t listen to music–I can always find an excuse) and wind up not going.

Repeat after me, Gregalicious: three times a week is optimal, two times is better than one, once is better than none.

So, my plan is to give it another shot this weekend. I do miss the gym, you know. I miss watching other people work out and making up stories about them in my head. I miss the smell of the weight room, the clanking sound the weights make, the friendly people who work at my gym, and even the water I drink–I hate water, don’t drink nearly enough, and working out forces me to drink it.

And on that note, I am going to try to get some of this mess cleaned up and maybe even do some writing.

Have a lovely rest of your day.

IMG_1715

I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby

I wrote twenty-three hundred and sixty-six words yesterday; a rather precise amount, I admit, but I am rather proud of them, as I’ve not written anything new in nearly two weeks, I think.

It was also new, nothing do with any of the many works in progress I am in the midst of; it was one of those things where the idea came to me, and I knew how to write the chapter, so I sat down and I did lest I forget it. I also wanted to see if I could get the voice right, the tone, and all of that. I think it kind of works, but I am going to let it sit for a moment or two (or weeks) and see what I think of it then.

It’s the first chapter of Chlorine, which is a start. Probably not what I needed to be writing or working on, but

I do want to get back to the WIP–and I’m not really sure why I keep calling it that. Why am I superstitious about sharing the title of this book? I like the title, and I believe I have even mentioned it before. I originally had the idea a million years ago, when I was a little boy. My grandmother–the not sane one–used to love to tell me stories about the past; she always swore on the Bible the stories were true, but I’ve long suspected that most of them were invented or stories she read somewhere–she did like to read, and encouraged both my sister and I to also read. I never wrote the stories she told me down, but I do remember bits and pieces of them, and one of those bits and pieces became a short story I wrote in college called “Ruins.” I wrote it as a ghost story, weaving what I remembered from my grandmother’s story into a modern-day story in a fictional county based on the one my family is from (I also planned to do a lot of writing about this fictional county when I was in college…I have published some work about the county; it’s where Scotty’s sorta-nephew Taylor is from and where Frank’s sister lives. It’s where my main character from Dark Tide  was from, and also where “Smalltown Boy” was set, along with various other short stories, like “Son of a Preacher Man”…so I’m using some of those old ideas today. There are also any number of short stories in some form of completion set there, and the current WIP is, of course, set there). I always thought “Ruins” (still unpublished) could be expanded into a pretty decent novel, and that’s what I am currently working on, have been for the last few months. I no longer call it “Ruins”–that title has already been used multiple times for a novel, and why invite comparison–but when I needed a new title, I wanted something more poetic. I started looking through poems (can you imagine? I know so little about poetry it’s staggering) and wanted something Barbara Michaels-ish. I decided to riff on her title Be Buried in the Rain, which is from a poem, and then a lyric from The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young” stuck in my head, and I started using that as the title, Bury Me in Satin. But that didn’t really work or fit, and it evolved into Bury Me in Shadows, which had the right creepy, spooky, Gothic feel to it that I wanted, that I am trying to get in the book. It’s a ghost story of sorts, it’s set in the woods of rural central-western Alabama, and there’s a ruin of a plantation back in the woods, which an archaeological team from the University of Alabama has started excavating. There’s a legend about the “lost boys” around the ruins; two boys who disappeared during the Civil War. I’m also working rural drug addiction into it, as well as the Klan, and racism and homophobia. It’s a lot, and it has to been done correctly, in order to get the points across that I want to make in the book. This is why it’s been such a slog, really. I am trying to make points about important topics without sounding too preachy-teachy, while trying to weave in an interesting story, all told from the point of view of a rather intelligent gay teenager from Chicago, who has to spend the summer in Alabama being the point person for the family while his grandmother, who has had several strokes, dies in her own crumbling Victorian style home from the late nineteenth century, and then the archaeologists discover the skeleton of a young man. Is he one of the lost boys from the Civil War, or is there something more sinister going on back in the woods?

I’m trying to write about race sensitively, without giving offense. I am trying to be conscious of my own internalized prejudices and bigotries, which is sadly a life-long process of deprogramming. (But that’s a subject for another time.) But I am hopeful that my own keen editorial eye will catch things in the editing process, and there’s also going to be my editor’s eyes on it. So, hopefully it won’t turn out to be yet another sad white person’s attempt to deal with race that turns out to be problematic.

I am also writing it in a style different than what I usually use–first person present tense, and it’s obvious when I reread chapters I’ve written that it’s not my default; I slip into the past tense very easily and naturally and because I’m so used to writing that way it’s easy for me to miss things in the wrong tense.

I’m up early because today returns normality to my life; this is my first work week that won’t be disrupted this month. First it was a brief vacation, and of course last week was disrupted by Barry. I got very little accomplished over the last few days–storm disruptions make it very hard to focus or get anything done, frankly; as you wait for the storm you don’t want to start anything in case you lose power suddenly, plus there’s the weird tension of waiting for the unexpected. When I walked to Touro to get my car yesterday and run by the grocery store, it was strange; the city was still deserted and lifeless. There were a few cars out driving but not the usual amount of people out and about on a Sunday, even in the rain. I actually think we got more rain yesterday than we did from the storm on Saturday, frankly. I was soaked by the time I got to the car–$21 is a very low price to pay to keep your car safe, to be honest–and of course, everything at the grocery store was on sale because it was old and ripe; I got a great deal on two enormous smooth avocados, and there were still some Creole tomatoes out, but the grocery store was still depleted from people stocking up for the storm. I came home, we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and last night we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me, a cute comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate MacKinnon. I love both women, and they worked very well together, and the plot was clever and funny enough to hold my attention, but it could have been better–but it was mostly the charisma of the two women, and their chemistry together, that made the film enjoyable.

So, wish me well on my first full week of work this month. It’s gray and drizzly outside my windows this fair morning; I’m hoping my shoes have dried out from yesterday as well. (note to self: order new shoes, you’re due.)

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

IMG_1739

Little Willy

Today’s title song always kind of amused when it was a hit; I was a tween at the time and since willy is also a euphemism for…well, you can see where this is going.

I found it highly (if more than a little bit juvenile) amusing that someone wrote a song about a small penis.

Hello, Monday morning of my sort-of-vacation! The vacation starts Tuesday evening when I get off work, actually, but it’s also kind of lovely to know I only have to work my two long days at the office this week before I can lounge around the house and do what I want when I want to do it. How lovely, right?

I did manage to squeeze out about thirteen hundred words or so on the WIP, and I also printed out the pages of the manuscript i am suppose to be dedicating myself to finishing in July. (I’ve already redone the first four chapters of it before I had to push it to the side for Royal Street Reveillon, whose time had come.) I did look at the first few pages again, and liked what I was reading. So, I’m still undecided about what to do. Should I push through on the WIP, getting that first draft finished, or should I get back to work on what I scheduled myself to do for the month of July? Truth be told, I am actually thinking that what with the five day vacation looming, I could theoretically go back and forth between the two; but the voices are so terribly different, I’m not sure how well that would work.

Yet another example of why writers drink.

I started reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury yesterday as well. It’s a short novel, really, and I can’t imagine it taking a long time for me to finish. I’ve never read Spillane, but of course I know all about him, his writing, his character Mike Hammer, and everything he kind of stood for. Spillane was one of the last writers who kind of became a folk hero/celebrity of sorts; it was a lot more common back in the 1950’s and 1960’s; Hemingway, Spillane, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer all were celebrities of sorts; I believe Spillane even played his own character in one of the film versions of his work. He also used to regularly appear in commercials and advertisements as Mike Hammer in the 1970’s, which is kind of hard to imagine now. It would be sort of like Stephen King being hired to do commercials and print ads for, I don’t know, Jim Beam? The author as celebrity is something I’m not sorry we’ve gotten away from as a society and a culture, quite frankly. The idea behind reading I the Jury as part of the Diversity Experiment is precisely because it’s the kind of book I’d never really read; Sarah Weinman asked the other day on Twitter if Spillane counted as camp (I personally think it does; my responses was something along the lines of “Imagine Leslie Nielsen playing him”) and then realized I needed to read at least one of the books, as part of the Diversity Project.

But Gregalicious, you might be wondering, why are you reading a straight white male novelist writing about what basically is the epitome of toxic masculinity in his character Mike Hammer?

Well, first of all, the name of the character itself: Mike Hammer. It almost sounds like a parody of the private eye novel, doesn’t it, something dreamed up by the guys who wrote Airplane! and not an actual novel/character to be taken seriously. We also have to take into consideration that Spillane’s books were also, for whatever reason, enormously popular; the books practically flew off the shelves. (Mike Hammer is actually one of the best gay porn star names of all time; alas, it was never used in that capacity.)

But it’s also difficult to understand our genre, where it came from, and how far it has come, without reading Spillane; Spillane, more so than Hammett or Chandler, developed the classic trope of the hard-boiled male private eye and took it to the farthest extreme of toxic masculinity. Plus, there’s the camp aesthetic I was talking about before to look for as well.

Chanse was intended to be the gay version of the hardboiled private eye; I patterned him more after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than anything or anyone else. But reading a macho, tough guy heterosexual male character from a toxic masculine male author is also completely out of my wheelhouse; and therefore, it sort of fits into the Diversity Project along the lines of well, the idea is to read things you don’t ordinarily read; not just writers of color or different gender identities or sexualities than your own.

And there’s also an entire essay in Ayn Rand’s nonfiction collection of essays on art devoted to Mickey Spillane; it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever read any of Rand’s fiction that she was a huge fan of Spillane. Given what a shitty writer Rand was, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement–but it also gives me something else to look out for as I read Spillane’s short novel.

There’s also a reference to Spillane in one of my favorite novels, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show–in which some of the  boys are wondering if blondes have blonde pubic hair, and “the panty-dropping scene in I the Jury” is referenced.

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

IMG_1242