Morning Rider on the Road

So, going back to the office wasn’t a terrible experience. We didn’t see any clients yesterday–we’re hoping to get the supplies we need delivered today, so we can get started again tomorrow–but I was able to go into the office and get some things done before coming home and doing some more work at home as well. I am going in again today–good to get the routine back on track again–and am hopeful that tomorrow will be another step forward in returning to normality.

It looks like we’re going to feel something from Hurricane Nicholas, which looks to be following a particularly strange path for a tropical disturbance, but the majority of whatever it may be won’t be until Thursday. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, but I think overall the weather should be fairly decent today? I suppose I should check.

Yes, it’s supposed to rain all day today, with the heaviest fall around eleven this morning. Yay. But I kind of like gloomy, rainy days, to be perfectly honest. My preference for them is to be at home under a blanket with a book, but you can’t always get what you want.

When I visited my parents a while back, one of the books I took with me was James Jones’ unabridged From Here to Eternity, which apparently included the scenes referencing gay bars and gay activity amongst the soldiers–and how some weren’t averse to making some extra money getting paid for sex. It’s always been one of my father’s favorite books (and movies), but I had never read it. I started it a few times when I was a teenager (I always enjoyed World War II stories) but with these scenes restored (they were cut from the original publication, for obvious reasons) I thought it might prove of interest–particularly since I have an idea (don’t I always?) for a book set on Oahu that opens on December 8, 1941. I got maybe three hundred pages into the book, and literally reading it was torture. I finally gave up and moved on to something else; I don’t remember what it was, but I certainly enjoyed it much much more than I was enjoying From Here to Eternity–and the primary reason I was hating the Jones novel was because all of the characters were, basically, assholes with few if any redeeming qualities. Last night as I sorted things for work at home, I decided to watch the film again–the original, from 1953–and…yeah, I’m not really certain it holds up after all this time either. My primary takeaway from the film was how ridiculously lean and fit the actors (Montgomery Clift, Burt Lancaster, Frank Sinatra) playing the main leads were. It’s funny, because the book’s frank look at sexuality (Clift’s character falls in love with a prostitute; Lancaster has an affair with his superior officer’s wife, played by Deborah Kerr) is so ridiculously tame by our modern standards; crime series currently airing on network television are more risqué than this film–let alone soaps. (Kind of like Peyton Place–there’s more lurid content in an episode of The Young and the Restless than in the entire book!) I wasn’t overly impressed with the film, to be honest–and it was hardly a glowing depiction of the military. But it was interesting…and made me think about that book I mentioned earlier than I want to write someday.

But the gym is back to its normal hours, and so I’ll be able to get back there to workout after work today. Yay! I’ve actually missed going to the gym in these turbulent times; I did make it over there last week for a quick workout one day, and I am really looking forward to things going back to routine again. I like my routines, I like my patterns, I like my ruts, frankly; and again trying to remember what all was going on and what all I was working on before this disruption began has been challenging. Head down, nose to grindstone; get it all together, man!

We also watched a few more episodes of Only Murders in the Building, which we are really enjoying. I’m not really sure if this is a murder mystery, or about three true crime aficionados who’ve become convinced they are not only investigating a murder but making a podcast about it at the same time. I am really enjoying the show; the Martin Short character gets on my nerves periodically, but I really like the Steve Martin character, and those apartments! I can only imagine what those apartments are actually worth in today’s Manhattan rental climate.

I am also hoping to get back into Velvet was the Night soon. I read a chapter last night (or was it the night before?) and am really enjoying it thus far, and we haven’t really gotten into the story itself yet; Moreno-Garcia is letting us get to know our two main characters first; she really is a gifted talent, and am looking forward into delving more into her work in the future–perhaps either Mexican Gothic or Gods of Jade and Shadow will be up next. I love that she doesn’t limit herself to genre, which used to be a no-no in this business; you were supposed to pick a genre and if you wrote in another one, you used another name (Michael Koryta has written both crime and horror under his own name; lately he’s started publishing the horror as Scott Carson). God, how this business has changed in the years since I took my first tentative steps into it so long ago. Some of those changes are for the better–prime example being Moreno-Garcia slipping between genres effortlessly under the same name–and some not so much; I miss writing gay erotica from time to time…although I love that my erotica fell out of favor with “current” readers of gay male pornography because when I write it, it’s about lust and sweat and masculinity and control–as opposed to roses and music and love and fading to black and cuddling when fading back in.

And I need to get back to writing, which I am assuming will happen once I feel more settled, with the ground more stable beneath my feet again. Today is the 14th, which means I only have 16 days left in which to finish the first draft of Chlorine like I had wanted; I think I am going to continue working on it, while prepping for writing the next book and revising some of the other things I have on hand that aren’t finished or in early draft form; I need to make a list, don’t I?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. I will check in with you again tomorrow, Constant Reader, never fear!

Nobody’s Supposed to Be Here

I’ve never been terribly interested in historical mysteries.

It really doesn’t make sense, when I sit and think about it. I love history, I love crime stories; you’d think a novel or short story that combined the two together would be my proverbial catnip. Yet with few exceptions (Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell, and Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder, to namecheck a few) I generally don’t read historical mysteries. I am not sure why that is, to be honest; I used to love historical fiction when I was a kid, and of course, the great Gothic ladies of the mid-century often set their novels in the past–looking at you, Phyllis Whitney and Victoria Holt–and yet…I also love reading books written contemporarily that are now historical in setting (Margaret Millar, Mary Stewart, and Charlotte Armstrong spring to mind, as do Erle Stanley Gardner, Ellery Queen, and Agatha Christie, for that matter).

Paul and I are also huge fans of the German series Babylon Berlin–I really do need to read the books sometime, as well as those of James Benn–but for some reason, I never ever reach for the historical mysteries when I am looking for something to read.

But I am really glad I put my hands on Dead Dead Girls when I was looking for something to read when the power was out.

The wind whips against her face. Snowflakes stick to her hair, her cheeks, her eyelashes.

She’s disoriented as she tries to find her way home. The sun set at four in the afternoon, but it’s much later now. It’s so dark that it feels as if blackness has swallowed up the city. She’s making her way down the streets, relying on streetlamps and muscle memory. It’s impossible to see in the snow.

She knows two things: first, that she’s going to be in big trouble for being so late; second, that it’s not going to be easy to locate her house in this terrible storm. It’s a small home. She’s the oldest of four girls. The youngest are twins–high energy and overly demanding of her patience. It’s exhausting to keep them in line. They don’t behave as they’re supposed to. Even worse, they’re all crammed into one bedroom.

They live with their widowed father and his sister. Her aunt is strict, but her father is ruthless. He works in the church and has high standards for his children. She also suspects he resents all of them for not being boys. He can snap at any time, for ay reason. Anything she can do to protect the twins, she will do.

Nekesa Afia’s debut novel is an absolute pleasure to read. The 1920’s are a great decade for crime novels, with everything that was going on during that post-war, post-plague decade. Prohibition and speak easies; the rebirth of the Klan; grotesque class inequities and racial discrimination codified; it was a period when there was money to be made in bootlegging and investments and everyone was frantically trying to have a good time to make up for the misery of the previous decade. I have often thought a stand alone–or series–set in New Orleans during this time would be interesting; as Storyville was being broken up and broken down, and of course everyone in the city was ignoring Prohibition…but it was also the time of the Harlem Renaissance, and that is the setting for Afia’s impressive debut.

The main character is Louise Lloyd, a young Black woman who works as a waitress at a tea room (which is actually a cover for the nightclub/speak easy on the upper floor. Louise is strong-willed and determined; when she was young she was kidnapped, along with some other girls, and Louise not only got away but helped the others do so as well, and took down the kidnapper, earning her some notoriety as Harlem’s Hero. Years later, she is estranged from her minister father and the rest of her family, is staying at a Harlem boarding house for women and sneaking out at night to go drinking and dancing in the speak easies of Harlem. Young Black women–many of whom are also working as prostitutes, meeting johns at the speak easies and then retiring with them to rooms or apartments–are being murdered; their bodies being left at the doors of the speak easies. Louise knew the most recent victim, and as someone who can get places the cops can’t–and can possibly get others to speak to her in ways they won’t speak to the police–Louise is dragged into the police investigation, at a huge risk to not only her life but those of the people she is closest to-especially a beautiful young woman named Rosa Maria, and Rosa Maria’s brother Rafael.

It’s a fun read; Afia brings the period–and it’s horrible racism, both casual and overt–to life. Her depiction of the most popular of the clubs, the Zodiac, makes you wish you could actually go and dance to the live music and drink the swill of the liquor served, working up a sweat on the dance floor. Louise is an interesting and likable character; with her flaws and foibles and estrangement from her family, you can’t help but root for her as she navigates a path that is made that much more difficult by her gender and her race–and then Afia adds in, like it’s nothing, that Rosa Maria and Louise are actually in love, and Rafael also swings to the beat of his own gender. It was so matter of fact the way these sexualities were introduced into the story, so nonchalantly, and not mentioned on either the cover or the publicity materials–which is really kind of how it should be; it’s just another facet of the character, it’s not that big a deal to them and therefore it shouldn’t be for the reader, either.

I greatly enjoyed this story, and I am hoping that it’s the first in a series. Towards the end of the book Louise gets a pair of pants–and I felt like this was a huge step in her development as a series character…fingers crossed, because I would love to get to know her better and watch the character develop over the years in a series.

And like Babylon Berlin, this could be the basis for a terrific television series. Fingers crossed.

She’d Rather Have the Rain

Sunday morning and the Gregalicious slept late once again. I easily could have stayed in bed longer than I did this morning, but I decided to go ahead and get up; Scooter needed his insulin shot, coffee was sounding pretty incredible, and I already felt fairly well rested; so what was the point in staying in bed? I’m kind of taking this weekend off from everything, trying to recharge batteries that were down so low from running on accessory for so long…I do feel somewhat better this morning, but I also know these times after major cataclysmic paradigm shifts can be deceptive, and often are no more than day to day; one day or so can be great, and then the next you’re spiraling downward into the depths again–or you can be fine one moment and then some minor type setback will send you off spiraling. I’m glad I’ve been through this sort of thing before, to be honest–I know sort of what to expect mentally and emotionally and physically, moving forward–so hopefully nothing will catch me off guard or unprepared.

Yesterday I spent almost the entire day watching college football and relaxing. The LSU game last night wasn’t great–LSU should beat teams like McNeese State by a greater margin than 34-7; and the offensive line problems from the opener against UCLA seem to be on-going, which isn’t giving the fan base a lot of confidence about the season going on from here–but it was fun watching Oregon surprise Ohio State at home, and Arkansas put a beat-down on Texas that couldn’t have been foreseen; I figured the Horns would make hay out of the Hogs, but instead…and Texas A&M was very lucky to escape Boulder with a win over Colorado. Alabama continues to Alabama; but this looks to be a season of surprises everywhere, which means it will be interesting and fun to watch. The Saints are playing the Packers in the Super Dome today, and of course, Novak Djokovic looks to be the first male player to win a calendar Grand Slam since Rod Laver back in the 1960’s, and a win will also push him past Federer and Nadal to have the most Slams of any male player in history at 21–I was incorrect yesterday; when I looked up the Slam leaders yesterday the list I saw was from earlier this year, before the French Open, and of course, Djokovic has won two more slams since that list was made. And how cool was it watching young Emma Radacanu become the first qualifier to win a major tournament? And she was cold as ice as she eliminated tournament favorite Leylah Fernandez 6-4, 6-3. What a terrific story; I am looking forward to watching both of these young women continue to play and exhibit greatness on the tennis courts.

I did run an errand or two–getting the mail, picking up a prescription, a quick grocery run (the stores still aren’t fully stocked yet, but I did manage to get some things I needed, even as I forgot to buy bleach yet again)–but really have decided to stick with my original plan of checking out this weekend and trying to get rested, with the plan to be rested and relaxed and fully operational going into this coming week. I am going into the office tomorrow in an attempt to get back on track and back to normal–whatever that may be, who knows at this point–but as always, after a paradigm shift and reminder than everything is a delicate balance that can be upset at any moment by factors beyond my control, it’s going to take no little time for me to get my act back together and my feet firmly planted on the ground.

I did manage to spend a little time with Velvet Was the Night, which I think I am going to spend some more time with today as well. There’s a very short window for the gym today, only open from 10-2, so am not sure if I will have the time to make it over there to get in a quick workout. I think my body rather needs one, to be honest, but it’s all going to depend on time and energy and how I feel…and I am not entirely sure it’s the best idea to go, frankly. Another rest day where I conserve energy and let my batteries kind of recharge themselves might be the best way to go–even as that little voice in the back of my head keeps whispering you’re getting older and you’re running out of time, every day you don’t write or get back in shape is a wasted day you’ll never get back–but seriously, that little voice can also go fuck itself, seriously.

But tomorrow–tomorrow is another story, tomorrow is the first day of the return to some semblance of normality around here, and I honestly don’t think spending another day resting and getting my head together is a wasted one. I need to listen to myself, listen to my body, listen to my brain, and besides, there’s plenty of mindless tasks around here that can be done–the sink is full of dishes again, after all, and there are other things I can do as well, besides watch the Saints and the US Open and read.

And really, a day of rest never did anyone any harm, right?

I Think I Love You

I actually slept until ten o’clock this morning. I cannot remember the last time that happened, or that I stayed in bed so long. I’ve been exhausted since the power went on–physically, emotionally, mentally–and so I am relatively certain the extra sleep was completely and totally necessary, but…whether to identify that sleep as perhaps a problem or as a necessary first step in getting better? THAT remains to be seen.

Monday I am going back into the office for the first time since–well, it’s been a hot minute, has it not? I was on vacation (stay-cation, the time I took off for Bouchercon) when Ida developed and came roaring at us; then there was the week without power, the long weekend in Alabama, and then the week of working at home because the office didn’t have power. I need that routine back, so even though we aren’t seeing clients, I am going to start going back into the office effective Monday to get a sense of stability again after the last few weeks. I think that will help, and I think it’s a necessary first step for me. I’m not going to lie, my mind has gone to some really dark places over the last few weeks, and I need something to grasp onto in order to help my life get on solid ground again. I have a prescription to pick up today from CVS, and since I am going that way I will pick up the mail and possibly stop by the grocery store–I haven’t really decided yet–and I think I am going to go by the gym this afternoon as well.

My primary focus over this weekend is to get a grip, a better handle, on my life and everything I need to be doing right now and what things have slipped through the cracks in the meantime; what needs to go onto my calendar (but isn’t there yet–bad Greg, bad Greg) and start sketching out my plans for the final quarter of the year–which is going to be rolling up on us before we even think about it, before we realize it–one morning we’ll wake up and it will be OCTOBER already–and then what do we do? LOL. Deal and move forward, undoubtedly, but at the same time there will be obvious concerns about lost and/or wasted time.

We watched the US Open last night–an impressive win by Novak Djokovic, who is a slightly more than a little bit problematic champion, in four sets, in his quest to become the first man to win the calendar year Grand Slam in the Open era; this will go a long way to proving his claim to be the GOAT in men’s tennis; not only will he have the calendar Slam should he win the Open, but that will give him nineteen Slam titles over all; one behind the record holders, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have twenty each. Whatever one thinks of Djokovic (the anti-vaxxing nonsense, the COVID denial, etc.), you cannot take his accomplishments away from him. I’ve always liked him, despite his personal beliefs and occasional diva-like moments; I do admire the focus, the skill, and the hard work ethic that have taken him to heights greater in the sport of tennis than anyone other than Federer and Nadal–and how terrifically lucky tennis fans have been to have three of the greatest of all time playing at the same time? While at the same time on the women’s side we’ve been blessed with the sublime Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? The next stage of tennis–when these five have all decided to retire and do something else with the rest of their lives–isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or fun to watch, methinks and fears.

We watched this week’s Ted Lasso after the US Open, which was wonderful and heart-warming, as it always is; Paul and I marvel at the only comedy series we’ve ever seen that makes up both tear up at least once per episode–which is no small feat. I am already dreading the end of this season, to be honest–not having an episode to watch every Friday night is going to be sad again.

In other exciting news, the Box o’Books of Bury Me in Shadows arrived yesterday, and I have to say the books look marvelous–although I really have no idea where to put them. My personal “books by Greg” bookcase is already filled and overflowing; as is the cabinet where I hide the ones that already don’t fit into it. But this is one of my favorite covers and one of my favorites of my own books–trust me, you will get very tired of me talking about this book as launch day, 10/12, slowly and inexorably draws nearer and nearer. I was very pleased the books arrived, because it was an indication that the mail service–never the best since the current postmaster general took over–is moving again; things are getting through again. Ink I ordered for my printer before the storm have also arrived; I’m still waiting for my new Rachel Howzell Hall novel to arrive–it should have been here last week but obviously that didn’t happen–and the new Colson Whitehead should also be arriving in the coming week, which is also terribly exciting. I do intend to spend some time reading today; I should have finished Velvet was the Night days ago–the knowledge the new Rachel Hall will be in my hot little hands soon was just the push I needed to decide to get back to reading this novel WHICH I AM ENJOYING, which makes the inability to read it that much harder to deal with. And I still owe this blog entries for Dead Dead Girls and A Letter of Mary….perhaps today.

And on that note, I think I am going to head back into the spice mines. I’m playing the weekend pretty much by ear other than the errands and the gym–so we’ll see how it all turns out in the end, won’t we? Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader.

Umbrella Man

And just like that, it’s once again Friday. I think over the course of this weekend, things will start to readjust to some semblance of normality again; I will probably, most likely, go into the office on Monday in an effort to readjust and reestablish some sense of being normal–or whatever passes for that–again. I am going to swing over there this morning to drop some things off that I’ve been working on, and just check things out in general. I also have to swing by and get the mail today as well, and I am going to go to the gym for a resurrection of Leg Day after I am finished doing my work today. Yay?

There still has been no trash pick-up in my neighborhood since before Ida, and our cans, with all that ruined food rotting in the early September heat, are beginning to smell quite ripe. There’s still a lot of debris on our sidewalks and along the gutters. Over all, not really much to complain about, and given so many people have lost everything, or have nowhere to live, or are still suffering without power in the heat…it seems like parsing and pinching things in order to find something to complain about. I’d forgotten that aspect of hurricane recovery–that sense of you can’t complain because other people have it far worse than you do rings in your ears every time you start to even slightly feel bad for yourself about your situation, or start the downward spiral of stress and aggravation and frustration. It makes adjusting and mental health integrity that much harder; one of the lessons from Katrina, really–knowing that it’s okay to complain and be frustrated and aggravated at the situation, while still recognizing your own good fortune (even if it seems like it’s a backhanded gift of a sort).

Last night, Paul and I got caught up on The Other Two, Archer, and Titans. I’m still enjoying the shows–even if the latter two aren’t quite as good as they were earlier in their run–and I think The Other Two is probably one of the better, most undervalued comedies airing on streaming right now. It’s certainly fun watching the gay brother–and the show is touching on comedic aspects of being gay I’ve really not seen covered anywhere else. As I was stripping condoms out of condom packs and doing other, various, “busy work” (it still needs to be done–these things would need to be done if the clinic was open and I was seeing clients three days a week, like pre-Ida) yesterday and watching television (I did watch this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–I am going to have to devote an entire entry to my reality shows at some point, particularly about how they are slowly starting to lose their appeal to me); although I cannot really remember what else I watched yesterday? Oh yes, some documentaries from the Smithsonian Channel, even if I cannot remember which particular ones, and I also rewatched the Brendan Fraser The Mummy–the original, which I realized I’d never actually seen; I’ve seen the sequel, but never all the way through from start to finish, which I may rectify today.

I am hearing noises from the street that sound like a garbage truck–the only inconvenience we are really experiencing at the moment is the stench of the cans when I walk out to the car–so the return of garbage pick-up would certainly serve as another indication that New Orleans is slowly coming back to what passes for normal around here.

I’m also finding it difficult to want to read again, which is weird. I’ve not written anything since Ida, and I’ve not read anything since we left town to find relief from the heat in Greenville, Alabama. I’m hoping this will change over the course of this weekend, but then…you never know. Maybe I read too much while we didn’t have power and I sprained the reading muscle in my brain. Stranger things have happened, after all. I don’t want to give the impression that I wasn’t enjoying Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s book, because I most definitely was; there’s just something off with the creative side of my brain–reading and writing both have been struck down by whatever this malaise is; but it’s more along the lines of being unsettled and not feeling like I have a strong foundation under my feet–this weird not knowing the day/date thing was very disorienting; and of course, there was all that tightness and tension built up in the muscles of neck, shoulder and back (which, oddly, going to the gym cleared up completely; obviously I am hoping going over there today after work will also be a great experience physically for me). I also still have two blog entries to write about books I read during the outage (Dead Dead Girls, A Letter of Mary) which I hope to get around to this weekend, and maybe–just maybe– I may do some writing. I know, I know, stranger things have happened, but I really need to figure out where I am with things and how much time is left in this year and when the deadlines for things are.

And on that note, tis time for me to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you soon.

The Girl Is Mine

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Reese Witherspoon; I think she has talent and she had really shone in some things I’ve seen her in (Legally Blonde, Election, Cruel Intentions) but there was always just something about her, though, that set my teeth a little on edge; nothing I can explain, but she just always struck me as the “I need to speak to your manager” type. But her television work has turned me into a fan, and not just because she’s been killing it in shows like Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere…she’s been terrific in all of these shows, but the bigger picture is these shows have introduced me to two writers with whose work I’ve become enamored; Liliane Moriarity and Celeste Ng. Moriarity has more of a backlist than Ng, who only has published two novels; I’m working my way through Moriarty as of yet, and loving her work, but Celeste Ng is a whole other story.

Little Fires Everywhere was a terrific novel, and I was holding off on reading her debut, Everything I Never Told You, primarily because I didn’t want to run out of work by Celeste Ng to read (one of my weird predilections; I never want to run out of books by writers I love). But during the aftermath of Ida and with no power, I picked it up, started reading, and didn’t put it down until hours later, when I’d finished.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s Physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackle of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of her closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about Ng’s work is that it’s set in the past; Little Fires Everywhere was set in the 90’s, and this, her debut, is set in 1977. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with writing stories set in the past, mind you, it’s just an observation. But the two books have very strong themes and look at the roles of women in the society in which they were born; that entire thing about “having it all” (which is mythology, of course; no one is superhuman enough to “have it all”) and the bitter reality that a woman cannot, ever, no matter how hard she works and no matter how much effort she puts into it, achieve this mysteriously, vaguely defined “all” she is theoretically able to have. It’s still a problem for women in our current time; the inability for gender roles to be completely redefined, for one, despite the fact that society and culture have dramatically changed and shifted over the last few decades (four or five of them, at the very least).

Anyway, I digress.

The Lee family, who live in a small college town near Dayton in Ohio, are a typical American family. Dad teaches at the university, Mom is a housewife and mom, and their two eldest children are academic stars at the local high school. The youngest child is a mere afterthought, an asterisk, to whom no one really pays much attention. Both parents are completely wrapped up in Lydia, their second child; much to the detriment of the oldest, Nathan (Nath). Lydia is soon found when they drag the nearby lake; whether she committed suicide, it was an accident, or foul play is pretty much up in the air–although they did find her things in a small rowboat floating out in the middle of the water, so accident or suicide is most likely, but Mom Marilyn refuses to believe her child could or would do such a thing and therefore it must be murder!

This is, of course, a classic set-up for a crime novel or a novel about families; the twist here is that James, the husband/father, is Chinese-American (his parents were immigrants) and Marilyn the mom, is white and from Virginia.; therefore their children are bi-racial, and this was still kind of a “thing” in the 1970’s (not that it isn’t still, of course; progress has been made but it’s also been rather on the slow side, really). When James and Marilyn marry, miscegenation laws are still on the books; Marilyn’s own mother is such a racist bitch she says horrible things to Marilyn on her wedding day–which is the last time Marilyn sees or speaks to her mother. They are the only Asians in their little college town, which also impacts the kids and how they see, not only their parents, but the world. Marilyn is also a frustrated feminist; she wanted to be a doctor, took Science classes against the advise of teachers and advisors, and only gives up on her dreams when she becomes pregnant and marries James, becomes a wife and mother….and channels all her frustrated hopes and dreams onto her daughter, Lydia–who has a lot of trouble, as we see over the course of the book, living up to those hopes and dreams. There are no villains or heroes in this book; just complicated human beings doing their best to get through their lives–and how the things unsaid to each other, for whatever reason…and as we get to know each character and their own foibles and flaws and dreams, they become fully realized, and the reader cannot help but love and empathize with them. The story structure, after the present day opening with Lydia dead, flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as we learn the story of the Lees and their broken hopes and dreams; watch them deal with the horrific and completely inexcusable casual racism of their white neighbors and classmates; as Marilyn meets women who followed their dreams and envies them, wonders how they managed to do it; and there’s also a queer subtext/plot thread that is handled delicately and beautifully–if perhaps not realistically for small town Ohio in the 1970’s; whatever issues I may have with the realism of the story in the time in which it is said can easily be set aside because of how beautifully Ng does it as an author.

Everything I Never Told You is an absolute gem of a novel, and I can highly recommend it.

Oh, Daddy

Many years ago, when you could still make money writing gay erotica (PORN), I used to write erotic short stories and edit themed volumes of it. I had always thought the concept of “daddy”–while possibly viewed as slightly off and strange and problematic by the mainstream–would make a great theme for an erotica anthology, potentially called Oh Daddy! Alas, before I could get around to doing it, that market had begun drying out; the last erotica anthology I edited–which had a great theme, I might add–did not do very well in print, alas. So my plans for Oh Daddy! wound up being scrapped; a pity, because I was certain I’d get some great and interesting stories on this dynamic.

The concept of “daddy” in the gay community is, to say the least, a bit controversial, and it’s really not defined; it can mean any number of things to any number of different people. The most common, of course, is its usage regarding age differences; an older man with a significantly younger boyfriend is often referred to as a “daddy” or “his daddy”; the assumption is the age difference inevitably favors the older man in the power dynamic of the couple–and we also tend to always think that there is some sort of benefit to being the older man’s “boy” (although “boy/daddy” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with age, either); whether it’s financial, emotional, both, or something else–we always assume the younger man is, at the very least, being paid for/taken care of financially by the older man…especially if the older man is, say, a celebrity or wealthy or successful; why else would the younger man tie himself to an older one?

But this is heteronormativity at its finest, really (although younger women with successful older men aren’t always necessarily gold diggers, either; I’m not sure why we automatically always look at these May/December romances with such judgement and askance); younger man can be attracted to older men both romantically and sexually; there are no set rules of attraction, after all…and youth isn’t always an indication of sexual or emotional immaturity. I am always struck by that photo of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy from when they first became a couple, back when Isherwood was in his thirties or forties and Bachardy a teenager; they look like father and son in the picture, with Bachardy literally looking like he’s just walked off the set of The Mickey Mouse Club in T-shirt and dungarees, with a sling shot in his back pocket and a cowlick. Yet they stayed a loving, committed couple for the next thirty or so years, until Isherwood’s death; but how differently would such a relationship be viewed today? A seventeen year old and a man in his late thirties/early forties?

It’s interesting.

So when I heard about Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel, Yes Daddy, I was interested in reading it and seeing its take on the topic.

And I was not disappointed–although it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting.

You asked me to be a witness in the trial.

I owed you my life and so I said yes.

What does one wear to a rape testimony? Your lawyer and I debated this endlessly. Nothing too tight, nothing too baggy, nothing too ratty, nothing too expensive, something sexless yet attractive, a suit jacket perhaps, but nothing flashy, a light navy was best, black was too morbid, too dark. I wanted to seem serious but not angry, definitely not vengeful; maybe glasses were a good idea, but the frames had to be simple, nothing flamboyant, nothing too gay, nothing that might trigger juror prejudice. Something to wear while the world decided if I had been raped.

Something that said, believe me.

I dreaded out rehearsals for the witness stand. Your lawyer’s endless questions. What did the basement look like? How many men? What did they do to you? I never slept, barely ate. Walked through the world a husk, disconnected from my body. Pain was the only thing that cut the numbness. I picked the skin around my fingernails with my teeth, tasting the blood on my tongue, repeating the process until all my digits were crusted in scabs.

Finally, the day of the trial arrived.

I don’t even know where to start with this book, to be honest.

I guess I can start by saying it’s very well done; the writing is terrific, and the tension/suspense are such that you cannot stop turning the pages in order to find out what happens next. Jonah Keller, the main character, is a fugitive from the midwest with evangelical parents–his father was a preacher–and he’s also an “ex-gay therapy” refugee. He no longer has a relationship with his father, and his relationship with his mother–still fervently religious–is fraught. He’s moved to New York to start his life over again, and his ambition is to write, be a playwright…but like so many others who moved to the big city with dreams of fame and fortune, he’s stuck in a nowhere job waiting tables at a shitty bistro and subletting an apartment he really can’t afford. He spends his rent money on an outfit so he can attend an event where he might meet his idol, hugely successful (and handsome) gay playwright Richard Shriver…hoping to meet and perhaps even catch his eye. Jonah’s plan is successful, and they begin an affair, with Richard buying him clothes, taking him out to expensive meals, giving him cash to cover his bills…and even offers to read Jonah’s work, maybe even help him get it workshopped and produced on stage.

All of Jonah’s dreams are coming true–but there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there?

Richard brings Jonah out to his compound–where three of his closest friends also have houses–out in the Hamptons, and this is where Jonah begins to realize something isn’t quite right; not only with his relationship but with this entire set-up. There are four sexy, hot waiters on the property, usually serving meals to the people living on the compound wearing only black bikinis…and the dynamics of everything; their relationship, the friends, their future–begins shifting and going in directions that make toxic look like a far-off, distant hope to work towards. Saying anymore would be a spoiler–the book changes directions with shocking twists (but every last one of them is set up before you get there, but you still don’t see them coming) and the book and story become something completely different from what you were expecting at the start…and it’s a compulsive thriller; you simply can’t put it down. I read it through in one sitting last week, and passed it on Paul who ALSO read it in one setting–and he’s a very slow reader.

I greatly enjoyed this debut, highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing more work from Parks-Ramage; this is one of the best gay thrillers I’ve ever read.

You Can’t Always Get What You Want

Ah, Venice.

I’ve always loved Venice: the idea of a city that exists in a place where no city really should but does anyway (like New Orleans); a city with a long and remarkable history that at one time was one of the major powers of the world, despite not really having much population yet somehow carving out an empire; and always dreamed of visiting there. When Paul and I lucked into our marvelous trip to Italy back in 2014 (I think it was 2014? I could be wrong, it may have been 2015 but it really doesn’t matter) I definitely wanted to include Venice in our itinerary. We wound up only being there for twenty-four hours, but I was enchanted (I was enchanted by all of Italy, really), and have always wanted to go back and spend more time there. We were incredibly lucky when we were there; it was the week before Labor Day weekend, and there were no real crowds there (I have since seen horrible pictures of crowds so thick you can barely move), and we just wandered around looking at beautiful buildings and crossing canals and going into churches and eating gelato–lots and lots of gelato (which was every day, everywhere, while we were in Italy–we even got some at the airport when we flew back out).

Venice is also the setting for my all-time favorite novella and movie based on it (Daphne du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now”). I love the Katharine Hepburn film Summertime, in which a lonely unmarried teacher comes to Venice and is also enchanted by how gorgeous the city is, and also finds a bittersweet romance with a handsome Italian man. One of my favorite parts of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is set there. I finally read Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice” as part of my “plague days” reading last year when COVID-19 shut down the country; as well as Daphne du Maurier’s take on the tale, “Ganymede.” John Berendt’s City of Falling Angels, about the La Fenice fire and the insanity in rebuilding the fabled opera house, was a remarkably insightful look at how things work in Venice, as well as the restoration works on the city and its gnarled bureaucracy, as well as the blasé attitudes of the locals about how corrupt and insane everything is there.

It goes without saying that the similarities between Venice and New Orleans are striking, and run much deeper than the constant threat of water and Carnival.

I started writing a novella this year set in Venice–which I’ve wanted to write about ever since I visited–and at some point I will revise it to get it ready for publication; it’s on my to-do list–and so naturally, Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime was added to my TBR pile as soon as I knew of it.

And what a delight it turned out to be.

Down below the cry of gulls, below floors of tourists undressing and dressing for dinner, below even the shrinking figure of his killer. a man lies crumpled and bleeding. He’s been dead for only a few seconds. He’s sprawled on his stomach, his body twisted at the hips, his left arm hooked in a U above his head. From a distance, from high above, he looks almost as if he were sleeping. It’s the blood leaking through his pink shirt that gives the crime away.

Outside, the sun is setting on what is unarguably the most beautiful city on the planet. There are a lot of dead bodies in this town. Upstairs in the man’s room, an English guidebook recommends taking a boat out to San Michele to visit an entire island of them. Among the legions buried there are the composer Igor Stravinsky, the ballet director Sergei Diaghilev, and the poet Ezra Pound.

The city is sinking and has been for centuries. Enjoy it while you can. The blood is pooling around the body. Screams are blaring from all directions. The killer is making a run for the exit.

But none of this has happened yet.

I don’t think I’d heard of Christopher Bollen before I heard about this book; I may have read some of his work (he writes for both Vanity Fair and Interview magazines), but I was not prepared for how good this book would be.

And the really good news is its his fourth; he has three more books for me to read and cherish and enjoy. Huzzah! (It’s always delightful to discover a new-to-you writer you love, isn’t it?)

The premise behind this book is pretty genius: a young gay couple who have fallen quickly and madly in love with each other, come up with a “foolproof” plan to con a wealthy douchebag out of enough money for the two to ride off into the sunset together after paying off their unsurmountable debt…and Venice is where the action happens. Bollen spent time in Venice interning at the Peggy Guggenheim museum, which pays off in this complex and riveting noirish thriller. Bollen brings Venice to life in a way that few other writers have; you can smell the canals, taste the food, enjoy the bite of the liquor and savor the wine and the spellbinding beauty of the city through the eyes of his characters.

Our young, intrepid gay couple are Nick Brink and Clay Guillory. Nick came to New York to escape his sterile and stale childhood home in the Midwest, and soon has a very well-to-do older man in love with him; Ari, who is an expert in antique silver and runs one of the few silver businesses left in the country. Nick loves Ari, but it’s not a deep passionate love; it seems more like gratitude and appreciation more than anything else. Ari does love Nick, but his plans for their future (he also employs Nick at the silver shop, which is pivotal to the plot of the book) are making Nick claustrophobic and feeling trapped. Nick looks at the years ahead with Ari (and possibly a child) and is terrified of what his life will become; while this is stable and nice and everything he could have possibly wanted…now that he has it, he’s not sure it is what he wanted after all.

Clay is the surviving companion of an older gay man, Freddy van der Haar, last scion of one of the first families of New York (going back to the days of New Amsterdam and the Dutch settlement); Freddy was one of the last surviving colorful characters of the wild and crazy Bohemian artist scene in New York, and had the wealth to really pursue the kind of life and lifestyle that no longer seems possible or to exist anymore. Everyone, of course, believes Clay is a gold digging conniver who may have even murdered Freddy for the inheritance. But the truth is not how it appears on the surface; there was no money left, and Clay has even gone deeply into debt taking care of Freddy as he declines slowly into death. Clay owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to student loans and medical bills, and doesn’t see any way out of his situation.

The two meet by chance at Freddy’s memorial service; Ari knew Freddy, of course, and Nick doesn’t want to be there. He slips out for air and meets Clay on the steps–Clay isn’t attending (he knows very well what Freddy’s friends think of him) but just wants to make sure that the flowers he ordered arrived. They encounter each other again shortly thereafter, when Clay brings in the last of the van der Haar silver collection for appraisal and possible sale; unfortunately it’s all worthless junk. But the mutual attraction is there, and soon Nick is slipping away from work and his shared apartment with Ari for afternoon trysts at Clay’s inherited brownstone in Brooklyn, which he is selling to help pay down the debts of Freddy’s estate as well as his own.

And the two lovers come up with a plan: part of Clay’s inheritance is a small piece of a palazzo in Venice which the van der Haars once owned completely. The rest of the palazzo is now owned by a wealthy investor named Richard West (whom Freddy despised), who has an obsession with the van der Haar family and wants to possess some of their silver. Why not have Clay try to sell the junk to West, and have Nick–who works for an antique silver firm, after all–falsely authenticate it so they can pay off all that debt and live happily ever after? West is a major scumbag, after all, who fucked Clay over once already; and is it really a crime to fuck over someone who is so awful? Not only will their debts be paid but Clay will finally have vengeance against the man who cheated him out of his dream job…and so begins the game of cat-and-mouse.

And what a delight it is. Bollen is a terrific writer–his gift for sentences and paragraph construction is amazing–and his characters all seem quite real. He peoples the book with a terrific supporting cast, all of whom are actualized; from Daniela the transwoman (who is old school; refuses the term “trans”) with whom Nick stays in Venice, to Freddy himself to West and his entourage. As the deception goes deeper, the pacing also begins to pick up, as well as the sense of dread as they change and adapt their plan and decide to go for even more money…and like the best Hitchcock films and all great noirs, the deeper they get into the deception, the more dangerous the game becomes.

Venice itself is a character; Bollen writes about the city with such love and affection that it becomes impossible to imagine the book being set anywhere else–and he also addresses the primary issue in Venice: the crowds of tourists and the outsiders buying apartments to rent out as Air BnB’s, thus driving up the cost of real estate and living in the city that is forcing the locals out (just like New Orleans! Something else the two have in common!)–and this also plays an integral part in the story.

I loved this book, and even though for a while it was making me think I need to scrap my Venice novella…I soon realized I don’t have to. My novella is in the perspective of a tourist falling in love with the city, whereas Bollen’s is written from the POV of someone with intimate, personal knowledge of the city that comes from living there and truly experiencing what it is to be a Venetian.

Highly recommended; it’s a great read.

Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted

Labor Day, and Lord, did it ever feel fantastic to sleep in my own bed again.

God, how well did I sleep last night? I didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning–not unusual, but I was awake and felt like getting up as there are all kinds of things to do today. It’s Labor Day; what would have been Southern Decadence weekend were there no pandemic nor Hurricane Ida, so I am not going to be overly concerned about some things; it can all wait until tomorrow. Today is about figuring out where I am and where I was at before the power went down; Paul and I were both commiserating about this very thing last night. We both were in really good places before the power outage; I was on a roll with my work and getting ahead and on top of everything as well as my working out (which I was also starting to see the results of, finally), and he was much the same with work and the gym and everything else. I still feel a little unmoored from my life and reality; like I have somehow become untethered and need to start feeling for the ground again with my toes so I can grab hold of it and anchor myself again.

It’s also lovely to be sitting here at my computer this morning, drinking my own coffee and looking out my own windows, clouded with condensation; Scooter is also very happy to be back at home. I washed all the dirty dishes last night, laundered all the dirty clothes and bed linens, and put things away. I was exhausted, bone tired; the release of all the mental stress built up into my joints and muscles being released the moment we pulled up in front of the house and started unpacking the car. I am still rather physically tired this morning, but that’s okay. I am going to putter around today, trying to get some sense of where I am and what I need to be getting to work on. The disruption has really messed me up; it seems like last weekend was months ago, and I have some vague recollections of things I need to be doing…I do have the last to-do list I made (which needed to be updated before the disruption) which will work as a starting point. I also kind of need to stay motivated while I go–but the being tired/exhausted/drained thing will undoubtedly prove to be a problem for me today. I think I am going to do some kitchen cabinet purging as well as book purging; and I do want to spend some time with SIlvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night. Oddly, once we were in the hotel and I had access to the Internet and a television to watch, I didn’t do very much reading…so with Cox still down here at the Lost Apartment, I don’t have television to distract me…although I can probably stream things to my computer or iPad.

Another thing I need to do is figure out what all I ordered and was expecting in the mail before the disruption; I know Rachel Howzell Hall’s book was coming, and I had ordered ink for my printer (which won’t connect via my hotspot to the computer, so I can’t print or scan, which is frustrating–but I will try again later). I also am not sure what the mail situation is here, either–so I will undoubtedly spend some time today trying to figure that out. Paul’s medications also come in the mail, so there’s that pressing need as well (and yet another reason I refuse to have my prescriptions mailed to me. I can stop at CVS and pick them up in person, thank you very much). I also want to do blog posts about all the great books I read when we were without power; I’ve already done Megan’s today, and it would be great to get the rest done as well, but I also want to do them justice. I am still rather in awe of all the good reading I did during the power outage, frankly, and really need to dedicate some time every day to doing some kind of reading.

It looks like our office is still without power. Our gym emailed us last night with their temporary post-storm hours; which is also kind of cool. (I may go over there today; my body has really been missing the stretching and exercising, and, as I said, I had kind of gotten into a groove I’d like to get going again, especially since I am starting to see results from the regular visits; also, since I had to throw away so much food from the refrigerator/freezer, temptations have been removed and I can restock healthier food options…) I do have work I can do at home while we wait for the office to reopen, but I am going to allow my supervisor to have today free before I start pestering him about my work at home assignments; there are any number of things I can do in the meantime, of course, but I do wonder how long it will be before we are able to start seeing clients and testing them again. When will we get supplies? is the question.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for a while. Have a lovely Labor Day, Constant Reader, and will probably be back later with another book post.

You Are Always On My Mind

Saturday morning and LSU football is back–playing UCLA in the Rose Bowl. GEAUX TIGERS! Will the Tigers go back to their usual winning ways after the disappointments of last season? I guess we will find out tonight, won’t we?

Last night I actually fell asleep. I had slept better Thursday night than I had since the power went out, but it wasn’t the same thing–it was mostly half-sleep, but I felt rested, if on edge most of yesterday. Before I even tried to sleep last night, I realized how much stress and tension I was carrying in my back, shoulders, and neck–and so I did some serious, serious stretching to get it loosened up–and it was lovely feeling that tight tension leaving my body. And after I did that last night, I zonked out for real and went into an amazing, blissful, dead-to-the-world sleep and it was marvelous. Entergy is supposedly getting our power back today, so we can return tomorrow–we shall see. I am resisting going to the Entergy website and refreshing the outage page repeatedly; our landlady (who bravely stayed, but her office had power return so she’s been hanging out at her office every day and going home to sleep at night because of the curfew) has promised to call or text as soon as it does…but that will NOT stop me, you know. I am resisting the urge to go do it right this very minute, in fact–which is ridiculous, of course because I already checked before I started writing this.

Yesterday was a lost day, really. Despite being rested, my body was still messed up from the five days; not eating much and not sleeping will take a toll on you, and yesterday was one of those low energy/don’t feel like doing much days–something I’ve not really experienced in a long time, but not surprising, really. We spent most of the day in the room–there’s not much to do here–watching the US Open, scrolling through social media and so forth, and trying to get caught up on my emails. I think I have it mostly under control for now; I am probably not going to mess with email anymore until we get home and I can sit at my desk with my big screen desktop and go to town on it. Still not sure what’s going on with the day job; that’s all up in the air, but in emailing back and forth with my department head yesterday I began thinking of all the things that will need to be done around the office, despite everything, and so I should be able to get work done this week once the Lost Apartment has power again.

Scooter has finally adapted to this motel room and is acting like himself–demanding attention and hugs and back rubs, which is a relief. I was getting a bit worried about him, to be honest; but it just takes him a minute to adjust, I guess. It took me a day to get used to sleeping in this bed, after all, so why wouldn’t it take him a hot minute to get used to being someplace he had never been before, knew nothing about, and was filled with different and new smells and sounds? But he’s a sweet boy, curled up with Paul while they both sleep at the moment. I am making a list of things to pick up to take back home with us from the grocery store here–there’s no telling what the situation will be with the grocery stores in New Orleans, or when they will be restocked; I mean, if getting gas is an issue in Louisiana trucks are going to have problems getting in, aren’t they? I am definitely getting a cooler and some perishables to pack into it with ice, just to be on the safe side. It would completely suck to not have food–but then again, with power, I can cook the stuff in the cabinets, which could get us by for a while; although I am sure we’ll get sick of pasta pretty quickly.

And while I wait for the games to start today, maybe I’ll do some writing. Buried deep in my emails were all sorts of things I should have been able to answer leisurely and put some thought into earlier in the week; yesterday I had to scramble and my brain was already fried from everything, so the recipients of those emails will probably think what the hell? But I did explain the situation and hopefully they’ll understand and not think I am both unresponsive and insane.

And of course it’s Labor Day weekend, which I keep forgetting about. Ordinarily this would be Southern Decadence, which was theoretically canceled, I think, even before Hurricane Ida? (I still cannot believe we stayed and rode out a Category 4 storm; what the hell were we thinking? Well, yes, we didn’t really have much of a choice, but my God. That was definitely not something on my bucket list–and I doubt anything we will ever do again, given a choice. Then again, given a choice, we wouldn’t have stayed this last time, either.)

I think I am probably going to try transcribing that short story I started writing in my journal last weekend, “Parlor Tricks,” which I think could actually wind up being a pretty decent story–even if I don’t know where it’s going or how it’s going to end (which often happens with story ideas I have, but sometimes I can write my way through it)–while waiting for the games to start today; it’s definitely a way to pass the time. I may even (ha, as if) try writing some on Chlorine today–yeah, right, who am I fooling? But I will certainly read some more of Velvet Was the Night, which is very interesting; Silvia Moreno-Garcia is a very interesting writer–and prolific–and I am delighted to see her career taking off the way it is.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hopefully tomorrow’s entry will begin with me announcing we are heading home!