Sweet Freedom

Ah, Monday, which this week is my short day. I didn’t (of course) get as much done this weekend as I would have liked; but the truth of the matter is I really need a day to run errands and do chores–which exhausts me–and then another day to just chill out and relax to get ready for the next week. But I am not beating myself up over not getting things done as planned any more; a to-do list is merely a list of things that have to be done at some point, without deadlines and/or pressure. (Well, actual deadlines do have to be followed, but you know what I mean.) I did spend the weekend getting caught up on things I watch (Animal Kingdom) and some movies I’ve always meant to watch (The Faculty, which was amazingly and gloriously ridiculous) and an absolutely brilliant documentary about Psycho (78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene) and how it changed everything and influenced everything that came after it. It also called to mind how Anthony Perkins deserved the Best Actor Oscar that year and wasn’t even nominated–one of the biggest crimes in Oscar history.

I also did some reading; I read some short stories, which was fun, and I also read more of  Lou Berney’s November Road, which I am trying to read slowly, so as to savor every word and every moment. It really is brilliant; I have to say this is a top notch year in the world of crime fiction, with terrific novels being released left and right–this year has also seen Laura Lippman’s Sunburn and Alison Gaylin’s If I Die Tonight, with Lori Roy’s exceptional The Disappearing and Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand being released this week, and so many amazing others I haven’t gotten to yet. My reading isn’t as public or as frequent this year as I would like, simply because I am judging an award yet again so am trying to focus on reading for that–hence the Short Story Project–and I worry that the great books are going to continue to stack up in my TBR pile, and thus defeat me in the process of ever catching up.

I really need to stop agreeing to judge prizes.

One of the stories I read yesterday was “Almost Missed It By A Hair” by Lisa Respers France, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

Had it not been his body in the huge box of fake hair, I like to think that Miles Henry would have been amused.

At least, the man I once knew would have seen the humor in it: a male stylist who made his fame as one of the top hair weavers in Baltimore discovered in a burial mound of fake hair at the Hair Dynasty, the East Coast;s biggest hair-styling convention of the year. It had all the elements that guaranteed a front page in the Sunpapers, maybe even a blurb in the “Truly Odd News” sections of the nationals. Television reports swarmed the scene, desperate for a sound bite from anyone even remotely connected to Miles. Yes, it all would have been sweet nirvana to Miles, publicity hound that he was. If he had lived to see it.

I knew him pretty well. I knew him when he was Henry Miles, the only half-black half-Asian guy in Howard Park, our West Baltimore neighborhood. His exotic looks ensured that he never wanted for female attention, although they also made him a target for the wannabe thugs who didn’t much cotton to a biracial pretty boy spouting hiphop lyrics. He was a few years older than I was, so our paths crossed only rarely. Besides, he was the neighborhood hottie and I was a shy chubby teenager with acne. The different in our social statures, as well as the difference in our ages, limited us to the socially acceptable dance of unequals. Meaning, I stared at him and he didn’t know I was alive. It was only when we were grown and found ourselves cosmetology competitors that we began to talk to each other.

This is a great story, and yet again further proof of how important the voices of diverse writers are. A murder that takes place at a convention for African-American hair and nail technicians? And frankly, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a short story as much as I enjoyed this one. I know nothing –or at least, very little– about African-American hair, although I know it’s a very fraught issue. But from the wonderful opening of the discovery of a dead man’s body in a box of fake hair all the way through the finish, the authorial voice is strong, and what makes it even stronger is how she deftly explains, in a non-info-dumpish way, about weaves and wigs and styles and hair sculpting and everything that goes into what women of color deal with when it comes to hair.

Brilliant, and brava.

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Why Can’t This Be Love

Wednesday and I am very tired this morning; not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

I had yet another breakthrough this week on something I’m working on–which brings the breakthroughs in recent weeks to an almost ridiculous level. I finally recognized, through my own stubbornness, that the story I was trying to tell in the WIP is the wrong story; I kept trying to  make it fit the story I wanted to tell, ignoring the little voice I would hear every once in a while telling me no, this is the real story, why won’t you listen to me? Finally, on Monday night, it hit me upside the head with a two-by-four; and when I finally stopped fighting it and  listened to the voice, the entire plot fell into place and all the problems I couldn’t seem to iron out completely magically answered themselves. And you know what? Once again it all comes down to me being ridiculously stubborn when I didn’t need to be, and not listening to  my inner voices.

Seriously, you’d think I’d know better by this point. But I never seem to learn. And of course, rereading the previous paragraph now I realize it sort of makes me look sort of insane. But you know, I don’t know any other way to say it than a voice in my head. I kept trying to make this manuscript, characters and town fit this story I was trying to tell, with the end result that I wasn’t seeing their real story.

And now I can’t wait to fix it and make it better.

I am so behind on so many things I need to get done–I need to get the Scotty revisions done; I need to get to work on this; I have a short story I need to write….madness. And I have so much reading to do! I need to get back on the Short Story Project, and I want to read Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita and Alex Segura’s Blackout and…heavy heaving sigh.

We watched a really good Australian show this weekend, Secret City, which starred Anna Torv (been a fan since Fringe, and she was also terrific in Mindhunter), which had a lot going for it–the cutthroat world of domestic and foreign politics is at the core of the story, which opens with a young man being murdered and a reporter (Torv) happening upon the crime scene and starting to investigate. I do recommend this show highly, and there’s also a wonderful subplot where it turns out that Torv’s ex-husband is a transwoman, and I thought the show handled it beautifully, with one slight quibble.

We also started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects, which I thought was spectacular. I actually preferred this Gillian Flynn novel to Gone Girl, the book that made her famous and a publishing superstar, and I still need to read her other novel, Dark Places.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Word Up!

So, the staycation is over and it’s back to work for me today. Heavy heaving sigh. I shall miss the halcyon days of getting up when I felt like it, of leisurely spending my morning over coffee as I responded to emails or edited a story or wrote something new, the casual approach I could take to chores and errands. Heavy heaving sigh, indeed.

But at least it’s a short work week–only four days–which makes the adjustment back to not having my own schedule much easier to live with.

I didn’t get as much done on this staycation as I had hoped–when do I ever–but I am pleased with the progress made. I am checking things off on my to-do lists, making new ones, and as always, moving forward even if it appears, at times, to be at a glacial pace. Glacial pace, after all, is better than staying put or sliding backwards. And I am seriously trying to not beat myself up about things as much as I did before. It’s a new me.

We’ll see how long he lasts, shall we? But change doesn’t happen overnight, and I am aware that one doesn’t change a lifetime of self-deprecation overnight. I am determined, however, to break this hideous cycle. ’tis a process, my friends, and one that I fully intend to complete. I doubt very seriously that I will rid myself of all my neuroses, but I suspect I shall come rather close.

One of the things I did yesterday was pull all of the individual chapters of Royal Street Reveillon into one document; part of my new let’s try something new with this manuscript experiment. Usually I write each chapter as a separate file, labeled accordingly: “Chapter 12-2” being the second draft of Chapter Two, etc, and that also enables me to measure my daily progress–“oh got another two chapters done today,” etc. etc. However, I am now going do this second draft completely differently; still chapter by chapter, but as one big document and I am going to try to revise it backwards; in other words, I am going to start with the last chapter, revise it, and work my way back to the front. I’ve become, as a result of the chapter method, very rigidly adherent to a mathematical process by which every chapter is the same length, or within 100 words of the same length; I am hoping that by doing the manuscript in this way the chapters will be as long as they need to be while I keep an eye on the overall length. Right now, at 25 chapters it comes in at slightly more than 77,000 words and that is without either the prologue or the epilogue….and this book’s epilogue is going to be longer than previous ones, so I need to be more mindful of length. I am also going to follow the outline I did Sunday, so I have a better idea of what needs to go in. (I am going to start the revising by grabbing the notes I made while outlining and going back in to fix those issues up.) I also think there are two important characters I’ve let languish on the sidelines a bit much; I’m going to try to figure out how to work them into the story more completely. This is a bit of a chore, since I am juggling one of my biggest casts ever, but it simply must be done.

And above all else, I’ve got to get Scotty’s voice right.

The voice must be right.

And I have to say, I do enjoy being in Scotty’s headspace.

And with a bit of trepidation, I venture back out of my home and into the world again; back to the spice mines. Wish me luck.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Your Love

Happy Independence Day!

And, in a sense, today is Independence Day for me; I finished the first draft of the new Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, last night. The book is very sloppy, and needs a lot of clean-up work, but I am so happy to be finished. I haven’t completed a draft of any novel since late 2016; so I feel like I have finally once again proven to myself that I can actually write a book, you know?

Huzzah!

And I am now on my vacation. I don’t have to return to the office until Tuesday; I have sis glorious days to revel in here at home. I will have to go out of the house to go to the gym and I have a luncheon date on Friday, and I will also have to go to the grocery store at some point as well. But in the meantime I can blissfully relax and clean and organize and slowly work on things I want to work on. I’m excited about new project; I can also make some headway on it, and I may even write the first chapter of Bury Me in Satin. I do have a couple of short stories I need to work on as well, but over all, I am extremely happy and relaxed and feeling oddly, strangely, HAPPILY carefree this morning.

Which is so lovely you have no idea.

I can also focus on reading Lou Berney’s November Road, which I started reading the other night and is already, despite being only two pages in, remarkably well-written and compelling. If you’ve not read Lou’s work, I strongly encourage you to read The Long and Faraway Gone, which won every crime writing award under the sun for which it was eligible, and is one of my favorite crime novels of all time.

We also continue to watch Big Mouth on Netflix, which just gets funnier and funnier with every episode. Seriously, it’s so refreshingly funny and honest about a difficult subject–puberty–that sometimes I just shake my head as I laugh at it. We also watched Hannah Gadsby’s powerful stand-up special Nanette last night, which is so amazing. Watch both her special and Big Mouth….you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been spending some time lately, in the evenings, while Paul works on a grant and I’m too mentally fatigued to read, rewatching movies from the 1980’s that I remember either fondly or as a cultural marker of the decade. So far, I watched Masquerade (still holds up), Children of the Corn (frankly, wasn’t sure I had watched it originally and am still not sure; a lot of it seemed very new–but wasn’t young Peter Horton beautiful?), and Less Than Zero, which I thought was bad then and was even worse on a rewatch. I feel an entry about Less Than Zero might be coming soon, once I arrange my thoughts a bit more, and perhaps even one on Children of the Corn, which would entail rereading the short story and perhaps watching the film once again. I’d really like to watch Body Heat, Against All Odds, and Tequila Sunrise again; I recently rewatched Streets of Fire and should probably watch it again–I was making notes in my journal and not really paying attention to it. There’s a piece about neo-noir from the 1980’s brewing in my head that I’d really love to explore, especially since the 1980’s was such a strange, transitional period for the culture and our society as a whole.

Things to ponder, certainly.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Man in a Speedo”:

I love you, man in a speedo.

I know your real name is actually Jason.

But I always think of you as man in a speedo.

That was what you were wearing the first time I saw you.

And what a sight it was.

It was a Sunday afternoon at the Country Club on Louisa Street, do you remember? It was July, and so fucking hot and humid. I was sitting on one of the lounge chairs on the deck, sipping a vodka tonic out of a perspiring clear plastic cup. I had just sat up to rub some more tanning oil on my chest when you came walking out of the building to the pool area. You were wearing sunglasses, your thick black hair slicked back, a pair of leather sandals and a baggy pair of basketball shorts. Your skin was darkly tanned, Italian looking with that tint of olive to it, and your body. Oh my god your body. Your pecs are the size od my head, I swear, and those purplish nipples so big and inviting. Your stomach, flat, not defined, like you don’t mind eating a bacon cheeseburger every now and again, not like those other arrogant boys who won’t eat carbs after seven p.m. or watch every gram of fat that crosses their lips, your muscular legs looking like tree trunks, shaved smooth. I sat there, my mouth open, and you walked to a chair on the other side of the pool, set your bag down, sat down, slipped the sandals off, and then stood up again. You stretched, yawning, your arms and pecs flexing, the lats springing out, the curly black hair in your armpits glistening and wet. You reached down and slid the shorts down, revealing a bright yellow bikini that made your tan look even darker. The suit hung off your hips, revealing an amazing pouch in the front. You turned, and stretched again, and I saw your ass, hard and round and muscular, flex inside its yellow lycra container which was barely covering it. I could just stare, my dick hardening inside my own speedo. I knew then that I had to have you, at some point in my life, I had to have you. I wanted to stick my head inside that beautiful ass, run my tongue down its crack and then underneath to the balls, suck on your cock while pinching those amazing nipples, feeling the rounded pecs, staring up as you flexed your massive arms. You took the sunglasses off for a moment, looked across the pool, and our eyes locked. You gave me a small smile, nodded your head, acknowledging me, and then sat back down.

You noticed me.

I know you did.

You acknowledged my interest.

I spent the rest of that afternoon watching you, trying to steel my nerve to go over and talk to you. You had nodded at me, after all, I knew you were interested, but it was such a bright day, and everyone around the pool would notice me walking over there, even if it was just in their peripheral vision, and see me sit down, and what if, by some weird chance that was barely comprehensible to me, you weren’t actually interested? There was that, and my own fear that if I even got close to you, my dick would get so hard everyone could see it, and in my white speedo it would be pretty obvious, and there was the very strong chance that I would crawl up between your legs and suck your dick right there. Somehow I didn’t think you were the exhibitionist type–yeah, sure, you liked to show off your body in that little piece of yellow lycra, but somehow I didn’t think you were the type who liked to have their cock sucked in a public place.

Finally around four you got put your shorts on and left. You turned at the door and looked back at me. My dick was so hard it hurt. My balls ached. I should have gone after you, but I didn’t. That was stupid. I’ve regretted it ever since.

When I got home I had to beat off. I lay down on my bed and covered my aching dick with lube. I closed my eyes and started stroking, remembering every move you made, every inch of your body, the way your muscles moved, the way your pecs moved when you laughed the way your ass moved when you walked, everything. I shot a big load for you, man in a speedo, a big load that even hit me in the face….I had never shot a load that hard before jacking off. I’ve shot them before when I was with a guy that really turned me on, but never ever when I was jacking off. It was you. I knew then you were my fate, my destiny.

We were meant to be together.

This is, if anything, neo-noir gay erotica. It’s really a dark story, about sexual obsession, and I wrote it for an anthology. The editors came back to me and were like, um, yeah, really love the story but it’s way too dark can you write something else? And I did, and put this story away. It’s roots were indeed in a dark place; back when I was living a horrific double life of deception and omission, of misery and despair, I also worked as a bank teller. Fridays were our busiest days, since it was pay day; the teller line was so unbelievably long, almost from the moment when we unlocked the doors at ten until we locked them at six; and often there were so many people still inside and in line that we weren’t finished and out of there until after seven. The one bright spot on my Fridays was a Pepsi delivery guy who came in to deposit his paycheck every Friday around three or four. His blue and white striped shirt with the Pepsi patch sewn on above his chest on the right, was very tight. He had a small waist and a flat stomach and his blue uniform pants were tight over thickly muscled legs; his ass was exceptional as well. His arms were gigantic, and he had blue-black hair and blue eyes and darkly tanned olive skin. He was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, and it was a GOOD Friday when he wound up at my window. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he was in his late twenties–and back then, nineteen times out of twenty, if a guy was single in his late twenties (he didn’t have a joint account, and no wedding ring) and took care of himself, and worked out, he was most likely gay (although I never saw him in any of the few gay bars in town, on the rare occasions I was able to get to them; which of course meant nothing). I fantasized about him and his body all the time–and then during that summer I was invited by a friend to hang out and drink beer by her apartment pool…and he showed up there, just as he did in the story, stripping down to a skimpy bright yellow bikini exactly as described, put his headphones on after slathering oil on his amazing body, and just tanned, talking to no one. I kept sneaking glances over at him, hoping he’d jump into the water and emerge dripping wet; he never did.

And when I got back to my apartment, I wrote down the opening of “Man in a Speedo.” It’s a dark story, of obsession, and even the erotic parts of the story are fucking creepy. Every time I tried to get it published it always got rejected; because, I always believed, of it’s darkness.

Or maybe it wasn’t good, who knows? I included it in this collection because I wanted it to be read, and I’m proud of it. It could probably be expanded into a noir novel, a short one; and I’ve always thought it should be.

Someday.

And now back to the spice mines.

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We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off

Monday morning and everything outside this morning looks wet; the sky is filled with clouds and so it’s not blindingly bright outside this morning either. This, of course, can be deceptive: I am almost afraid to check out the temperature because I know it’s going to be something insane that is going to make me want to not ever leave the house.

Okay, I looked. It’s a cool eighty right now, with an expected high of ninety-six later. Hurray.

Yesterday was awesome. I don’t know if it was the glass of wine or the two glasses of summer punch I had before dinner on Saturday, but I slept amazingly well Saturday night and woke up refreshed and rested on Sunday morning. I still feel rested and refreshed this morning, which is even lovelier. I have two chapters to go on the Scotty first draft and then it is finished, I have a short story to finish, and then I have another project to work on for the next two months. I am enormously pleased to be so close to finished with the Scotty book; I just need to make sure of something before I can write the second-to-last chapter, and then it gets to sit and percolate for two months. We also continued watching season two of Cardinal, which isn’t nearly as creepy as season one, but still enjoyable.

I also have continued reading the Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, but am not getting into it. It might get better later on, but I’ve decided to simply put it aside for now and move on to something else that might get me more involved. The question is which ARC? Sarah Weinman’s? Lou Berney’s? Alex Segura’s, which I still haven’t gotten to? The Hank Philippi Ryan? Or something from the shelf? Questions, questions. But this week is a very brief one; I only have to work today and tomorrow and then I am taking a stay-cation; a word I hate using but it works as a shorthand explanation. I am off work from Wednesday on, and don’t have to be back into the office until the following Tuesday. I intend to do some of the things I didn’t get done on the last stay-cation; primarily cleaning out the storage attic to make room for new stuff, as well as do the floors and windows and clean the car as well as write write write read read read.

I also made it to the gym yesterday where I did thirty minutes of relatively easy low impact cardio on the treadmill while watching the second episode of the Netflix series Troy: The Fall of a City, which was much better than the first, frankly, and also triggered a memory of another book I want to write, The Trojan Boy.

Because of course I don’t have enough to write on my plate already. Heavy heaving sigh.

The next story in Promises and Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sea Where It’s Shallow”:

They weren’t happy. I could tell.

The couple was sitting on beach towels a few feet beyond where the lapping of the waves at the sand turned it a darker hue than where it was dry. One was blonde, the other brunette.  The blonde was older, maybe by as few as five years, maybe as many as ten. The brunette was taller by about four inches, but the blonde was stockier, with thicker muscles.

I crossed the line from where the depth of the water changes, where it switches from blue to green. I’d been swimming a long time, and perhaps it was time to come out. This couple definitely needed me, my intervention. Their auras were all wrong. They loved each other but something was going on with them, something that was making them forget how much they loved, how much they cared, how deep the feelings actually ran. The brunette was scowling. They weren’t talking, they were merely sitting side by side on their individual blankets on the powdery white sand. Not even looking at each other, not even stealing the occasional sidelong glance.

My feet brushed against the bottom and I smiled. I’d been in the water long enough it seemed to forget how to walk. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration. I hoped not, at any rate. My feet sank a fraction of an inch into the sand, and the small waves lifted the weight off of my feet momentarily as each one passed, moving me a little closer to the water’s edge.

I kept my eyes on the brunette as more of me emerged from the water. He tried to make it look like he wasn’t looking at me. I was getting the sidelong glances as his eyes scanned the horizon, but they always came back to me. He seemed afraid to look me in the eyes, for our gazes to lock, but his eyes, I could see them moving, drinking in every inch of my dripping body as it emerged from the green sea. The white sugary sand of the Florida panhandle scrunched under my feet as I walked at last out of the water. I smiled at the brunette. The blonde had laid back, sunglasses on, his eyes unreadable. The brunette was more susceptible to my charms, I decided, sitting down on the sand a few feet from where he sat.

I would wait a few minutes, letting the sun dry my skin, I decided, giving him the opportunity to speak first. Unless I missed my guess, he would.

The sun’s rays were warm, and my skin dried quickly in its glare. I sensed him there, wanting to speak, to open a dialogue, but afraid of how the blonde would react.

Fair enough.

I turned my head and looked right into his brown eyes. He looked away quickly, his tanned face coloring slightly, embarrassed at being caught looking. “Hello.” I said, rearranging my facial muscles into a smile. It felt awkward. Surely it hadn’t been that long since I’d smiled? For a brief moment, I tried to recall the last time I’d smiled.

I don’t remember–again–which anthology or magazine I wrote this story for, but I do remember writing this story; it was in our old apartment on Sophie Wright Place, which places the writing somewhere between August 2001 and June 2003, which is when we moved to where we live now. I’ve always been interested in mermen (not Ethel, but rather the male version of mermaids)–the video for Madonna’s song Cherish is a great example of this–and I wanted to write a story about one. The couple was loosely based on a couple I met, actually on a Hawaiian beach, in 1995, whom I went home with. I ran into both of them at LA Pride–independently of each other; they’d split up in the months that passed between my trips, but this next time I saw them it was more of a “hey, nice to see you hope all’s well” brief conversation as we passed each other in the crowds on Santa Monica Boulevard.

I’ve always liked this story.

And I’ve always thought Channing Tatum would make a sexy merman.

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Nasty

I was writing notes in my journal the other day when this thought came to me : social media is actually neither. You aren’t really being social, or socializing with anyone; and it’s not really media either. If anything, it’s anti-social media, because people tend to spend their time looking at their phones and spending time on their computer on social media sites rather than actually talking to, or engaging with, actual human beings.

When I was a kid I was taught that there were three things you never discussed, at parties, dinner, bars, etc: politics, money, and religion. Your politics, your income, and your religion were no one else’s business; likewise, everyone else’s were none of mine. At the time, I was told it was simply manners; you weren’t supposed to know or care about anyone else’s politics, money or religion–nor were you supposed to hold that against them. This is why we vote in booths with a curtain closed, because our politics are supposed to be private. Likewise, so is our religion, so is our income.

The rise of social media, however, has broken down those barricades of politeness and what used to be known as minding your own business. It’s very difficult, you know, to find out someone you’ve been friends with for a very long time might hold a belief or a value that is not just not in line with your own, but might even be repugnant to you. I’ve long recognized that simply because my core values and beliefs are my own doesn’t necessarily make them right; but I have also always been willing to change my mind, to learn and grow, from talking to other people, from reading, and from occasionally questioning my beliefs and values. 

What I often find astonishing is that people not only do not want to rethink or analyze their beliefs and values, but how quickly they are to not only take offense at the very idea but also how quickly they will get defensive and immediately go on the attack. Asking for a careful reevaluation of what you believe is neither telling you you’re a horrible person nor does it mean the other person is attacking you; it simply is ‘hey, have you ever thought about it this way?’ I have often enjoyed my exchanges with friends who believe differently than I do; sometimes it has actually changed or altered my opinion in some way, even if it’s minor: I don’t understand why anyone would not be interested in personal growth, or would want to shy away from intellectual stimulation.

As a writer, I long ago realized two things: I always need to listen, and it is very rare to actually change someone’s mind in a social media exchange about anything. Social media discussions quickly descend into vitriol, condescension, and name-calling; I have the privilege of knowing people who have far higher degrees of celebrity than I can ever hope to achieve and when I see the venom and vitriol directed at them in the public sphere, it makes me recoil quite a bit. Why do people have to be so nasty? I wonder, and then of course the inevitable “what-about-isms” and “your side started it” and all of that nonsense that deflects and derails what could actually be constructive conversation is tossed aside, and beliefs and values become more deeply hardened, the brain more callused.

I have evolved on many issues throughout the course of my lifetime; many. I was raised in a society that believed many terrible things, and I was raised to believe many things that I now find abhorrent. But as a gay male who always knew he was different, even when he didn’t know what precisely it was that made him different, I had to question everything. It was hard–my teens and my twenties were horrific and I often thought about suicide–before I finally realized that the problem wasn’t me but rather the values and beliefs that had been drilled into me for as long as I remembered. Once I realized that I could reject those values and beliefs because they didn’t stand up under scrutiny, my life changed and I continued to grow and evolve and achieve all the things that I wanted in life.

This is why I find the trope that’s just the way I was raised to not only be tired but the sign of intellectual laziness; a mental atrophying that I neither understand nor sympathize with. But I also recognize that being an outsider, someone consigned by the dominant culture and society to the margins, has also created a higher sense of empathy and sympathy for the others out here on the margins; and all we are interested in, really, is being allowed to be on the actual page; why I am willing to always listen rather than react–no matter how tempting it may be to simply react.

This past week, I saw a lot of people proudly showing how mentally atrophied they were, and how much they preferred remaining in a state of atrophy rather than listen to other people. This was, of course, in regards (in this example) to the American Library Association’s unanimous vote to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, because of some racist tropes and language used in her books.  What was even more shocking was that a lot of this appeared on a list-serve for a writer’s organization I belong to whose entire purpose is to focus on diversity in literature. 

Not just atrophied brains, but ones also incapable of irony, apparently.

It wasn’t the first time something like that has exploded on the list-serve; several months ago there was a, to me, shocking outbreak of homophobia on the list. The situations weren’t the same, of course; no one had decided to change the title of an award because the person it was named after was homophobic. No, in this instance a writer had simply posted a question about a manuscript she’d submitted to her agent, who’d told her no one would publish it because of its depiction of a gay character as well as HIV. I started to reply to her, explaining precisely why her plot was problematic and also incredibly ill-informed about HIV when the list exploded with a bunch of wonderful straight white women who completely missed the point, called the agent’s remarks censorship (they most emphatically were NOT) and advised the writer that ‘she needed to find another agent who wasn’t so worried about political correctness.’

I was so horrified by these comments and remarks by writers who belong to a writer’s organization committed to diversity that I almost resigned from the organization.

Instead, I decided to keep writing my quarterly diversity column (which these women clearly never read) and keep fighting the good fight; because the marginalized never get the chance, no matter how tired we are, to just sit back and let things develop or run their course. If we want anything, if we want to move in from the margins, we have to keep fighting because they simply aren’t going to give it to us unless we make them.

And you know what? There’s still a lot of fight left in this tired old queen.

Be fucking warned.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Pool Boy”:

I waited until I heard Jason’s car back out of the driveway before I got out of bed. I was being a coward, I knew, but I still wasn’t ready to face him with what I knew. I didn’t want to have that argument, that confrontation. I wasn’t sure I was ready yet to talk calmly and rationally. It still hurt too much. I wasn’t sure I could discuss this with him without getting angry, without saying something that shouldn’t be said, words in anger that couldn’t be taken back. I wasn’t sure I was quite ready yet to turn my back on ten years of loving and laughing and fighting, of good times and bad, of sleeping in the same bed with him and drawing comfort from the warmth of his body.

I called in sick to work. I might not have been physically ill, but I was certainly an emotional basket case. There wasn’t any way that I could help my clients in this state. Their needs and concerns and problems all seemed so unimportant, so completely pointless to me, that going in to the office was probably a bad idea. I brushed my teeth and took a shower, then put on my robe and went downstairs for a fresh pot of coffee. While I waited for it to brew I got the notice out of the bill drawer, the notice that proclaimed his guilt to the world, the indisputable proof of his guilt; that he’d betrayed me, lied to me,  ignored how I felt and did what he wanted to anyway.

Funny that a twenty dollar parking ticket could mean so much more than what it was on the surface.

I stared at it. Yes, that was Brent’s address on the ticket. The time of the offense was four thirty in the morning. The date was that weekend I’d gone home to my nephew’s wedding. Jason had been illegally parked in front of Brent’s house at four thirty in the morning while I was out of town. There was absolutely no logical explanation for Jason’s car to be there at that hour.

He was still fucking Brent. Even though we’d talked about it. Even though he’d promised me he would end it. Even though he assured me he still loved me and he didn’t love Brent.

This just happened to be the one time he was caught.

How many other times had he gone over there without me knowing, fucking Brent’s pretty little ass?

I don’t remember which anthology I wrote this for; but it was pre-Katrina, and I’ve always liked this story. It’s basically about a guy whose partner is cheating on him, has promised to stop, but he’s caught him in yet another lie. Hurt and devastated and not knowing how to deal with the whole situation (do I leave him? Do I forget it? Do I pretend I don’t know? How do I even approach discussing this with him?), he calls in sick to work and stays home…and then the pool boy shows up; a beautiful, sexy young man and yes, before long, they are hooking up…and that hook up is what heals his soul; reminds him that despite this betrayal he’s still an active, vital, attractive, sexual human being who deserves better; sexual healing, if you will.

I really like this story.

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