Leaving

Hey everyone! It’s Wednesday already! HUZZAH!

That’s one lovely thing about three day weekends; inevitably it also means a shorter work week at least once. I know, I am simply doing nothing more than wishing my life away; but so be it. I don’t really mind the day job, really; I just wish I had maybe another hour or two free to write every day. Somedays I don’t write at all; some days I write over three thousand words; some days, like yesterday, I only manage six or seven hundred, and I basically was sweating blood to get those done. The three thousand I did on Monday? In the blink of an eye, without even putting any real conscious thought into it; I simply opened the document, knew where the story needed to go, went back to the beginning and corrected and deleted and rewrote and by the time I got to where I’d left off I was in a groove and I had not only managed to correct and revise about 1200 words, I was able to add 3700 to them. I only need one more chapter, and I honestly do think if I go back over the first two again, I can break it down into three, and revise it again to get them to a fairly proper length. Since the painful six or seven hundred words today were an attempt at a third chapter…well, I’ll just take a look at that document tomorrow, hope that I have more energy, and maybe I can have the same writer’s luck I had on Monday.

I’ve pretty much decided to read Cornell Woolrich’s Night Has a Thousand Eyes next; I can’t think why I didn’t pick it back up once I was done with prepping for moderating that panel, whenever and wherever it was. I think I forgot what I had read–I have a vague memory of it being about a man walking home alone late at night in Manhattan along the river, near a park of some sort, and he starts noticing debris on the path–personal belongings, like things that may have fallen out of a purse. He eventually catches up to the woman whose things they are; I vaguely think that she was on a bridge, or standing by a rail along the water or something, like she was going to jump; instead she starts telling him this strange story–which I don’t remember; I don’t know if I didn’t read that part–I think I may have started; I seem to recall her father, an airplane crash, and a prediction that his plane would crash–but I can’t remember anything else. I do remember that the opening section I was reading was very well done–just as his short story “It Had to Be Murder” was very well done and clever. I think I may embark on a Woolrich Project next, in fact.

I was also thinking I should probably reread Joseph Hanson.

Today’s pay day, and most of the bills aren’t due until next week; so I am thinking I may just wait to pay them until say, the weekend, and bask in the false sensation of having money in the bank for a few days. It’s such a lovely feeling, really, even if it’s entirely false.

We continue to watch White Lines every night; it’s really quite a bizarrely entertaining show. One of the things I’ve noticed about Spanish productions (or co-productions, as in this case) is that when it comes to drama, there’s no limits for the writers. For example, White Lines also features, in one of the warring Spanish/Ibiza Mafia families, an extremely twisted mother-son relationship that is physically inappropriate on every level–but never quite crosses over into full-on mother/son incest. The funniest thing about White Lines is the primary story–in which Zoey has come to Ibiza to find out what happened to her d.j. brother Axel twenty years earlier after his dead body turns up–is the least interesting part of the show. If you simply took Zoey out of the show entirely, you could still do the murder mystery about Axel’s murder (he was fucking both mother and daughter in the bizarrely incestuous Spanish mafia Calafat family, as we discovered last night) and you’d eradicate the least interesting part of the show. Zoey makes no sense whatsover; she had a complete mental breakdown when Axel disappeared, wound up in therapy and institutions for a while, married one of her therapists and has a daughter–she has abandoned both husband and daughter to go to Ibiza to solve this mystery…and is having an affair with the head of security for the Calafats (his name is Boxer and I don’t blame her for this in the least), has gotten involved in a cocaine cover-up and a couple of murders…her motivation doesn’t really make any sense, and she can’t seem to make up her mind whether she wants to salvage the marriage her behavior is slowly disintegrating or embrace the party-hearty freedom of life in Ibiza. Unless there’s a big twist coming, she exists solely so this show is bilingual; partly in English and partly in Spanish.

And apparently, my HBO app today is going to transform into HBO MAX today. I am curious to see what difference that may make. More shows to stream! As it is, I often forget about Amazon Prime–and frankly, their streaming service isn’t the best; primarily because a single show will have each season have its own link, rather than having sub-links per season under a single link for the entire show–probably has to do with some of the stuff needing to be rented or purchased, I suppose, but still annoying.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines and back to work. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone!

Later Tonight

So here we are, on Memorial Day Monday, the final day of the three day holiday weekend, and I’m wondering–without checking social media (I do not intend to go on social media at all today)–how many people are wishing others have a Happy Memorial Day? Memorial Day isn’t a happy day–even though the majority of people don’t have to work today–it’s supposed to be a day of quiet reflection in honor (or memory) of those who have died serving the country in the military. It’s a day when you should visit the graves of the military dead and clean them, bring flowers, and reflect on their service. While I have no one in my family, on either side, who was lost to a battlefield, it’s still a somber day, and wishing others well or to have a happy day is in extremely poor taste.

But then, Americans generally have a tendency to go through their lives blithely, completely unaware of their own history and the meanings behind national symbology, holidays, memoriams, etc.

Yesterday was a blissful day. I quite happily finished reading The Red Carnelian, and then reread a kid’s mystery I remembered fondly, The Secret of Skeleton Island, book one of the Ken Holt series–one of my childhood favorites, and was very pleased to see that it still held up. I wrote for a little while, did some cleaning and organizing (not nearly enough of either, quite frankly), and then we finished watching Outer Banks, which is really quite something. It’s kind of a hodgepodge of story, really; at first, it didn’t seem like it was sure what it wanted to be, but once it decided to kick it up a gear after a few dull episodes of set-up, it really took off. A lost treasure, betrayals and murder, class struggles, the heartbreak of teen romance–it was a non-stop thrill ride, culminating in our hero, John B., and his star-crossed lover, Sarah, taking off to sea while being hunted by the cops and driving their boat directly into the path of a tropical storm. Cheesy, completely ridiculous, and over-the-top, Outer Banks turned to be much more fun than I would have ever guessed, particularly given the first few episodes, which were just tedious. We then moved on to another Netflix series, a joint British/Spanish production of a crime thriller called White Lines, set on Ibiza and focusing on the discovery of the body of Axel Collins, missing for over twenty years–and his younger sister’s determination to get to the bottom of who killed her brother. It’s trash, but ever so entertaining.

I also spent some time with Harlan Ellison’s collection of television columns from the Los Angeles Free Press from the late 1960’s, The Glass Teat. Harlan Ellison was a writing hero of mine, yet at the same time he was one of those people I never wanted to meet. He wrote one of my favorite short stories of all time (“Paladin of the Lost Hour”) and is probably my favorite short story writer of all time; he also wrote the best episode of the original Star Trek series, “The City on the Edge of Tomorrow”; and also wrote the original story that became the film A Boy and His Dog, which was a bit of a cult classic in the 1970’s and 1980’s. All of his stories are really exceptional, and he was very opinionated–if he thought you were a garbage writer and you wrote garbage, he would let you know–but his television writings, while undoubtedly accurate, are really dated. It also got me thinking about the time period, and the struggles that were going on in the country–the Vietnam War, the rise of feminism, the Civil Rights battle–and how much of that period is not only not remembered today, but the specific language of the time has been forgotten: people using words like groovy and squares and the establishment, etc.; I also remember how false those words seemed when filtered through the lens of television producers and writers trying to seem hip and modern and cool….which, naturally, killed the popular usage of the words; after all, after you’ve heard Greg Brady enthuse about something being “groovy” on The Brady Bunch, it’s kind of hard to use the word in any other way than ironic from that point on. But a lot of what he was complaining about, what he was eviscerating, is still true today–that the television networks are all too terrified to put something that actually mirrors people’s realities on; that the whole point of television is to sell products to consumers; and as such, the commercial concerns inevitably will outweigh the artistry and truth of the show.

I’d love to know what he thought of All in the Family, in all honesty.

Today I want to get to some serious work on the multiple projects lying around; I also have two short stories queued up on the Kindle to read–“Rain” by Somerset Maugham, and Cornell Woolrich’s “It Had to Be Murder,” which was adapted into Hitchcock’s film Rear Window. I’ve been aware of Woolrich for quite some time now, but I have yet to read his work. He is considered a noir master, not perhaps as well known today as he should be, considering how many of his stories and novels became famous films, and he was also gay in a time period where being gay was exceptionally difficult–so naturally, I have a growing fascination for him. I started reading his The Night Has a Thousand Eyes a few years ago, but had to put it aside to read something else (prep work for a panel I was moderating) and somehow never got back to it….maybe instead of proceeding with another book in the Reread Project–I’ve yet to select one–I can go back and finish reading that? I looked at the opening of “It Had to Be Murder” last night as I queued it up and was most pleased with how it opened…so am looking forward to reading the story today.

And on that note, it’s time for me to get back to the spice mines.

It Always Comes as a Surprise

Yesterday was unusual in that it was a Saturday where I actually had to interact with the outside world more than I usually do on a given Saturday: I had a business conference call at noon, and then last night I did a live reading and discussion of my story for The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and the event was in conjunction with the Golden Notebook bookstore in Woodstock, California. Also reading were Abby L. Vandiver, Alison Gaylin, and Kate Flora. It was very interesting and fun, and my story, of course, is “The Dreadful Scott Decision.” I didn’t spend much time writing yesterday, but I do think I solved some of my computer issues with the desktop; at least it is working fine for now and not making me want to smash it into little pieces with a hammer. We shall see how it goes from now on, however; I reserve the right to lose my temper over it wasting enormous amounts of my time going forward.

It was fun talking about presidents, and history, and my story last evening. The story was fun to write, once I figured out what I was going to write about and how to frame the story. As I have said repeatedly, short stories are difficult for me to write, and I think part of the reason I enjoy them so much–both writing and reading–is because they are a challenge for me; plus, I can explore something–style, character, voice, etc.–vastly different from what I usually do, which I think also helps me become a better writer. I will always accept an invitation to write for an anthology or a magazine or something to challenge myself. The Sherlock Holmes story was a challenge for me–I still don’t know if they are going to use  it, or if it’s going to come back to me all marked up with lots of revision requested, or it’s going to be passed on–but once I got into the rhythm of the voice and the period, it was kind of a fun challenge. I’ve even thought about writing another one, which is really crazy when you think about it. I have never been a Sherlockian, although I’ve always appreciated the character and the importance of the stories to the history of crime fiction–seriously, where would any of us be without Holmes?–but it’s not like I’ve joined any fan groups, or have considered writing pastiches before…I certainly wouldn’t have written this one had I not been asked–and I do think it could be fun to write other Holmes stories set in that pre-American participation in WWI period, from say around 1912-1917, and maybe even beyond. It could, for example, be a lot of fun to write a story around German espionage in New Orleans, and it’s a very interesting time in New Orleans history. Maybe “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” could turn into the start of a whole new direction for me. Who knows? That’s the fun thing about short stories–you’re never sure where writing one might wind up leading you.

But I have my entire day free today, and I am going to shortly adjourn to my easy chair to drink more coffee and read more of The Red Carnelian before I buckle down to my own writing. I am hoping to get a lot of progress on the Secret Project done today, and maybe some work on one of my short stories, perhaps even one of the novellas. I just realized next weekend is actually a three-day weekend–where has May gone already?–and so I should also be able to get a shit ton done next weekend….or at least, so one might think.

Paul and I also started watching The Great on Hulu last night, with Elle Fanning as Catherine the Great. It’s a sort of based on the real story, but a lot liberties are taken with actual history (for one example, Catherine’s husband was not the son of Peter the Great but his grandson; his aunt Elizabeth was actually the empress and selected Catherine as his wife for him–and he didn’t rule for long after Elizabeth died before Catherine usurped his throne. However, the time between Catherine’s arrival in Russia and her seizure of the throne was about twenty years or so; she was no longer a young woman when she became empress–but you can’t spread this story out over twenty years or the series wouldn’t be very interesting.

I also like that they admit up front they are taking liberties; as opposed to The Tudors or The White Queen, which also did but didn’t admit it. It’s also written by the same guy who wrote The Favourite, and the entire show has a similar feel to that movie.

And now, tis back to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I know I intend to!

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I Get Along

One thing I definitely dislike about getting older is that the weekends feels shorter. They aren’t shorter, of course, but I am generally so worn out by the week that Saturdays end up being a waste because I have little to no energy to commit to anything. I inevitably run an errand or so, and then wind up being so worn down from that and the week that I wind up getting very little to nothing done. I made groceries–it was in the sixties(!)–and then came home, made us lunch, and then collapsed into my easy chair, watching television for the rest of the day; we watched a second episode of Gold Digger before moving on to Deadwood Fell, with David Tennant, which was quite good (the next two episodes of Gold Digger drop tomorrow), and then we caught the first episode of Little Fires Everywhere, which is very good–although Reese Witherspoon seems to be making a career out of playing adult Tracy Glicks. She does it very well, mind you, but she might want to think about doing something different. (We still haven’t watched The Morning Show on Apple Plus, which I’ve heard good things about. We’re caught up on Defending Jacob, but I’m not sure if we’ll finish, frankly; other than out of a sense of needing completion.) We also watched Bad Education on HBO with Hugh Jackman and Alison Janney–both of whom were terrific in their roles, but the story wasn’t told particularly well, if that makes sense? (As you can see, I spent most of yesterday in my easy chair with my lap blanket and the remote control close at hand.)

As such, I have a shit ton of work that I need to get done today. I’d like to get this first draft of “Falling Bullets” finished, some work done on the Secret Project, and some more work done on some other stories I am working on, and it’s probably not a bad idea for me to get organized this morning, either. The kitchen is still a big, disgraceful mess–must do the dishes and clean off the counters, maybe clean out a couple of drawers or something–and as always, there’s reading I’d like to do. Probably after I finished writing this, I’ll retire to my easy chair with Thunder on the Right for about an hour or so, to finish waking up (always a risk, though, because I could get caught up in the story and want to keep reading) and really, there’re few things better than reading with your morning coffee, is there? But yes, this sloppy, messy kitchen/office area is too much to be borne.

It’s in the sixties again outside this morning, with today’s high project to be 76 degrees. It seems weird to have the weather be this lovely and cool in early May–because usually the lows are in the high seventies and the highs in the upper eighties by this time of year. Before it was moved up to coincide with the Williams Festival, Saints and Sinners always fell on Mother’s Day weekend, and everyone (from everywhere else) always seemed to have issues with the heat and humidity; which naturally made us locals giggle into our sleeves. But while yesterday was kind of gray, the sun is back today, and that also helps–the cool weather and haziness rather played into my torpor. But this bright sunshiny morning seems to be precisely what the doctor ordered; the cool of last evening helped me sleep deeply and well, and I feel more myself this morning than I did yesterday. Adapting to being older has not been an easy thing for me; and while I appreciate the fact that most people don’t realize I’m pushing sixty, can tell. Whereas the weekend used to be two wonderful days of cleaning and writing and editing and getting things checked off my to-do list; now I must always spend Saturday recovering from the week’s work and schedule, recharging my batteries in hopes that Sunday will make up for the loss of a day’s work to the recovery process.

I hate when my batteries run down, quite frankly. It’s rather unpleasant to have very little energy, but it’s even worse as a reminder that I am not as young as I might internally think I still am. I don’t believe youth is wasted on the young, as so many others occasionally will say or as the axiom states; but when you are young you never really think about what it’s going to feel like, be like, when you’re older. I probably wouldn’t have ever believed that my energy would have limits at some point; that I would need to conserve it from time to time in order to have a productive day.

One of the stories I sent out this past week has already been rejected, but I received a personal rejection rather than the standard one that comes through the Submittable program, which was quite lovely, with an explanation of why they couldn’t use it. I knew that story might have problems being placed; I probably should just submit it to the Saints and Sinners short story contest and be done with it. But it’s a good story and the editor really liked it; it just “wasn’t right for their audience”–whatever that means. I am choosing to believe the personal note rejection was a good sign; the not right for our audience catch-all is a polite way of getting out of getting into specifics. But, ironically, whereas rejections always used to send me spinning into spirals of why am I doing this I have no talent why do I keep beating my head against this wall I am taking encouragement from it; even if it is self-delusion.

Self-delusion isn’t always, after all, a bad thing.

And there are certainly worse things to be self-deluded about, quite frankly.

And now, to the easy chair with Mary Stewart for an hour.

Have a lovely Mother’s Day, Constant Reader!

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DJ Culture

Ah, Kansas.

I only spent five and a half years there, and yet somehow, it more shaped my psyche and who I am than the years as a child in Chicago or the four and a half years in its suburbs; even more so than the eight years spent in California. I’m not entirely sure why precisely that is, but it’s true. I think perhaps it’s because it was there I really and truly started writing, and started seriously thinking that my both life and career were going to be about writing. By the time we took the 1:30 a.m. train out of Emporia for California, my identity as a writer was firmly fixed in my head; when I stepped off the train into the California sunshine, I knew I was going to be a writer someday, somehow, some way.

And when I lived there, in Kansas, I wasn’t really aware of other Kansas writers. (I also wasn’t aware of other gay people there, either.) Now, of course, I know Sara Paretsky is a Kansan, along with Nancy Pickard and Kay Kendall and Lori Roy; I don’t know if Scott Phillips is a native, but he writes about Kansas. Alafair Burke grew up in Wichita.

And of course, there’s Scott Heim.

I recently read a novella by Scott, “Loam”, which was really good, and it put me to thinking about Mysterious Skin, the first of three novels he published, and alas, the only one that I’v actually read. I read it back in the late 1990’s, methinks, when I was scrabbling around trying to get caught up on gay lit and read as much of it as I could. I also saw the film (I’ll watch anything with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in it, quite frankly), and while I have met him and spent a little time with him, and we follow each other on both Facebook and Twitter, I don’t know that I would safe in referring to him as a friend, I do consider him an acquaintance of whom I am very fond. He’s quite witty on social media, and I admire his skill as a writer…so I thought I should take a reread whirl with Mysterious Skin. 

I also wanted to read it as a dark crime novel, borderline noir; I was certain the story would hold up, but since Mystery Writers of America classifies it’s definition of a mystery as writing about the commission, solving, and/or aftermath of a crime….while it can be a stretch, Mysterious Skin kind of fits into that broad definition. Laura Lippman thinks we need to stop claiming literary works, like Crime and Punishment and Sanctuary as crime novels; but I honestly believe Sanctuary absolutely and positively is a masterwork of literary noir; the line between “Southern Gothic” and “crime fiction” is relatively tiny and there is a lot of crossover. Some of Flannery O’Connor’s work, definitely Southern Gothic, crosses over that fine line between literary fiction and crime.

I am not defining literary works, or works from other fields, as crime fiction to try to elevate crime fiction; it doesn’t need elevating to get respect, which was Laura’s point. Crime fiction deserves respect because it is good, and those who dismiss sneeringly as genre need to remember that literary fiction is just as much a genre as anything else.

As Nevada Barr said, “It’s either mystery or romance or just plain boring.”

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The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. I can’t explain.  I remember this: first, sitting on the bench during my Little League team’s 7 P.M. game, and second, waking in the crawl space of my house near midnight. Whatever happened during that empty expanse of time remains a blur.

When I came to, I opened my eyes to darkness. I sat with my legs pushed to my chest, my arms wrapped around them, my head sandwiched between my knees. My hands were clasped so tightly they hurt. I unfolded slowly, like a butterfly from its cocoon.

I brushed a sleeve over my glasses, and my eyes adjusted. To my right, I saw diagonal slits of light from a small door. Zillions of dust motes fluttered through the rays. The light stretched ribbons across a cement floor to illuminate my sneaker’s rubber toe. The room around me seemed to shrink, cramped with shadows, its ceiling less than three feet tall. A network of rusty popes lined a paint-spattered wall. Cobwebs clogged their upper corners.

My thoughts clarified. I was sitting in the crawl space of our house, that murky crevice beneath the porch. I wore my Little League uniform and cap, my Rawlings glove on my left hand. My stomach ached. The skin on both wrists was rubbed raw. When I breathed, I felt flakes of dried blood inside my nose.

Like some of the best crime novels, Mysterious Skin is about survivors of a trauma, and the different ways people react to suffering through trauma. It actually isn’t a stretch to call it a crime or mystery novel; the central story is trying to determine what happened to Brian Lackey when he was seven years old and lost five hours of time. Brian at first becomes obsessed with UFO’s and alien encounters, as those are the only places he can find where other people also lost time; so he becomes convinced that he was kidnapped by a UFO and experimented on; all the evidence, such as it is, certainly points to that. The other boy, Neil, had a sexual relationship with his Little League coach, which he believed was consensual and that Coach loved him; as he grows up he becomes a hustler, tricking with johns cruising a park in Hutchinson (all these small cities in Kansas have/had gay cruising places; Emporia even had one) and eventually moving away to New York, where he continues hustling. Neil’s trauma is actually even unknown to him; he’s convinced himself that he was special and that Coach loved him; their sexual relationship wasn’t perverse or perverted or anything wrong, but rather based in love and consent; his own memories are very clouded, and as a young adult hustler he finds himself drawn to older men, much like Coach was.

It’s very definitely a literary novel, make no mistake, but it is, at heart, a novel about a crime and the trauma that comes from that crime and its aftermath; which fits the definition of “mystery” that comes from Mystery Writers of America. I doubt very seriously the panel of judges for the Best First Novel Edgar the year this was released would have picked it as a finalist (which it deserved to be); the subject matter is hard enough for people to deal with, let alone the sexuality of Neil, who is essentially a teen hustler, getting paid by older men for sex.

Beautifully written with a sparsity of language that Megan Abbott or James M. Cain or Shirley Jackson would embrace; Heim chooses words carefully to evoke powerful images and emotions and realities in as few words as possible, and while some might think the ending a bit of a cheat, leaving the door open to many possibilities–I feel like he found the absolute perfect place to end his novel: Neil coming to realize that what he experienced with Coach wasn’t love (something he has been adamantly refusing to understand since it happened–that whole I’m different than the others thing so many children feel under those circumstances–I’ve known any number of gay men who had relationships with adults when they were very young and didn’t realize it wasn’t love until they aged out of their Lolita-like relationships) and Brian finally piercing through the veil his mind has hidden the truth from all these years because it was too much for him to handle…until he could handle it.

Mysterious Skin is also an incredibly powerful depiction of what it’s like to be grow up working class in a sparsely populated state like Kansas–the worries about money, the beater cars you keep coaxing more life out of, that college might not be an option, and there aren’t that many good jobs to be had–and what it’s like to grow up queer under those circumstances. At one point in the book Heim says something incredibly smart and true–about how the stuff that is hip and cool on the coasts takes about three years to get to the center of the country; which is something I learned very quickly when I moved to California and all of my clothes were dated and wrong and out of style.

This is a truly terrific book, and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.

Confidential

Here we are, Sunday, and I don’t feel nearly as tired as I did yesterday. Friday and Saturday were days of exhaustion, really; nothing quite makes me feel so old as having to spend most of Saturday on my fainting couch (easy chair) because I have so little energy I can’t really get much of anything done. Oh, I got the laundry finished, and I did a load of dishes, but other than that….yeah, most of the time was spent in the easy chair. We watched Parasite last night on Hulu (it’s streaming free there) and was quite impressed and moved by it; it definitely was not like anything I’ve ever seen before, and that’s saying something, given how most films are merely rehashes of other films, as evidenced by Extraction, the Netflix original film we watched directly after, starring Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary hired to kidnap back an Indian drug lord’s son from the enemy Indian drug lord who’d kidnapped him. That was essentially the plot, and the movie was mostly explosions, guns being fired, and physical fighting scenes (at one point, it occurred to me that I could open a Scotty book with Scotty, Frank and Taylor watching a similar type film, and Taylor idly saying, “This is what Colin does, isn’t it?”–which opens up a huge can of worms.); entertaining mildly, but not a satisfying film-watching experience. It was apparently based on a graphic novel…but let’s just say it was no Watchmen, and leave it at that.

I didn’t write much of anything yesterday because I was so tired, and I tried to read, but my brain couldn’t handle continuing to read a novel, and Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin deserves better focus from its readers, so I moved on to some short stories. I read W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter” (more on that in its own entry) and started reading his “Rain” before my mind derailed again and I had to set the iPad down. I also reread some of my own short stories, that are in some sort of progress–remember how I said the other day that I had nineteen in some stage of completion? There’s actually more than that, if I am being completely honest with myself (which I also knew) and some of the ones I didn’t count–“The Trouble with Autofill,” “Night Follows Night,” “The Enchantress,” “Moves in the Field”, “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” “Once a Tiger,” “Please Die Soon”, “Burning Crosses”–are actually closer to completion than I originally thought; some of them are actually better than I remembered; and letting them sit for so long…rereading them now I was able to see for myself what else the stories needed; the necessary tweaks to get them done and ready to go.

Sometimes you need distance.

Today I have to revise the Sherlock story again, as well as the one I am submitting to a blind-read anthology. They’ve both sat, like the others, for quite some time (at least a week) since I last looked them over, and so I am hopeful that, just as yesterday, rereading the two stories today will help me see what they are missing, so I can get them in order to send them out. April is nearly over, and I need to get these finished, as well as get back to work on the Secret Project; the sooner that is finished the better, quite frankly, and I need to get these things finished and out of my hair; or at least not have them hanging over my head anymore.

Surprisingly, I’m feeling better these days about myself as a writer. I’m not sure what that’s all about, to be honest, but it’s kind of nice. The problem is finding the time and energy to devote and commit to it. Working a basic 9-5 schedule these days is highly unusual and taking more than a little while for me to get used to, if I am being completely honest, and I think the early rising every morning is what is making me so worn out by the end of the week–and sometimes it feels like i need an extra day to recover sometimes. But it is what it is, you know, and the sooner I get adapted to this new reality the better off I’ll be. It isn’t easy, after a lifetime of mostly never working 9-5, to get used to working 9-5. (Cue Dolly Parton’s classic, should have won an Oscar, song.)

I’m behind on everything, I might as well add, not just my writing and not just my reading. My email inbox is overflowing with matters needing my attention; I simply haven’t had the energy or strength over the last two days to even face them, and that must needs be remedied today (I always answer emails as drafts over the weekend, preparatory to send them all on Monday mornings; my first rule of emails is never answer on the weekends because emails beget emails). I knocked off the box of index cards I use as an address book (it’s very twentieth century, and I really need to move everything from it to the spreadsheet address book I created years ago) and those need to be sorted and put away somewhere safe that I won’t knock them over again. I need to do the floors, both kitchen and living room. The sink is again full of dishes. I need to clean stuff out of the refrigerator that is no longer edible–the noodles from over a week ago; the Swedish meatballs from last weekend–and I also need to figure out how to stretch my upcoming paycheck to last another two weeks.

And I have to write today. I want to spend some time with my new story “The Flagellants,” and at least get the ideas about the opening in there and written down. I want to write some more on “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I want to read some more, since I clearly can focus this morning; I think after I finish writing this and my entry about Maugham’s “The Letter” I may go ahead and do some stretching and then get cleaned up; that always seems to help with motivation and energy. I think this week I have to do some ZOOM things for promotion; I’ll need to check the calendar so I don’t miss out–which has tragically happened before, and will undoubtedly happen again. I suppose there are worse things….it’s really a wonder I have any career at all, quite frankly.

And yet, here I am, some thirty or so novels and some fifty or so short stories into it. Plugging along like some blunderer who doesn’t know what he’s doing so he happily keeps going, writing books and selling stories and getting more publication credits as he goes with little or no direction. I used to  have a plan; I used to make plans–and then everything got so completely derailed during the Time of Troubles that I no longer look ahead, think ahead, plan ahead–what’s that saying? Man plans and the gods laugh?

The Laughter of the Gods would make a great title for my memoirs, should I ever write them. It’s actually a pretty great title, and I should make use of it. *makes note*

I also, of all things, have an idea for a period mystery short story, set in the Roman Jubilee of 1350–that Barbara Tuchman providing me with more ideas all the time. I’d had an idea about writing a crime series set in the fourteenth century and in Italy, following the last years of life of English soldier for hire Sir John Hawkwood, who retired to Italy and died in Florence–but I don’t think he was there in 1350, when someone attempted to murder the Papal Legate and he got an arrow through his cap–this made me think of a story called “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, in which the Papal Legate hires Hawkwood to find out who committed this borderline sacrilegious assault on, basically, the Papacy. There is but scant mention in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror of the incident, and so more research would clearly be needed–I’m not even sure Hawkwood was in Italy at the time, but of course I could fictionalize the character as well, if need be–but I like the idea of writing a period story. I’ve only done a few of those, and while they may be historicals now, they were set during a period I was actually alive and lived through; “The Weight of a Feather” is probably the first and only story I’ve published set during a time I hadn’t been born yet.

So…maybe a trial balloon with a historical story? Why not? I do love history.

And on that note, I’d better head back into the spice mines.


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Closer to Heaven

Yesterday was Friday, and I was tired.

Really, really tired.

I slept for ten hours last night and woke up still exhausted this morning–bleary-eyed and bone-tired. It makes me a bit nervous, as the last time I was able to sleep so much, or do deeply, only to still be tired, was when I was sick this last time, and whatever that was, I sure as hell don’t want to see it return again. I just feel what we used to say down south–“bone tired”. (Hmm, that’s not a bad title.) So, while I have things to do today–we need to swing by the Cat Practice to get Scooter another bag of food, for one, and I definitely need to do some writing and cleaning and organizing around here, if I have the energy–and in a worst case scenario, I can always simply curl up with some books or short stories. I did manage to do some reorganizing/rearranging of the books last night–out Netflix app on the Apple TV is all fucked up; I’m probably going to have to delete and download it again, which is an enormous pain in the ass. Our wireless was also running ridiculously  slow the last few days, so I rebooted the cable box and the wireless router yesterday, which signed me out of everything fucking thing and I just was too tired to deal with that shit last night. We wound up watching an incredibly bad gay movie on Amazon Prime–I won’t name it out of respect for the effort, time and money that went into it, plus I don’t like dumping on gay creators–during which both Paul and I dozed off here and there, before it was over and I finally retired to bed. I was also too tired last night to focus on doing any reading–which was definitely a lost opportunity, and one that I deeply regret. I’d like to finish reading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin this weekend; it’s really quite wonderful, and I’d like to move on to his We Disappear once I finish it. I’ve also got a lot of short stories to read–not the least of which is W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter,” and I simply love that it’s the source material for one of my favorite Bette Davis movies, of the same name–and there’s another one, by Mark Twain, about an incident that happened at the court of Charles VI in France (I stumbled on this story somehow; the true story it’s based on is detailed in Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror, which is starting to seem like a really great inspiration for me, almost Biblical in its inspiration). Plus I have, as I noticed last night as I reorganized the books, The Collected Stories of Flannery O’Connor and the latest Lawrence Block anthology–Mr. Block does some seriously excellent anthologies, for the record–and so there’s all kinds of good reading on hand should I have the mental acuity to focus on some reading today.

It’s also not a bad idea to read the stories I am currently readying for submission by the end of the month. Perhaps I should spend the day in my easy chair with print outs of stories and perhaps spend some time with some of my favorite short story writers. It’s also not a bad idea to revisit Bury Me in Shadows, which I have decided to completely overhaul–the problem is the main character’s age, but because I envisioned it originally as being about a teenager, I was stubbornly clinging to that idea, and it actually works better if I advance his age to having just graduated Pre-Law from college and readying to attend law school in the fall; this having a free place to live in the summer and a paying job that is relatively easy makes more sense for the character to agree to what he’s doing; plus it eliminates the entire what is his mother thinking in letting him do this? It will also require me to do some other tweaking (not that kind of tweaking, those days are long in my past, thank you very much), but I also think it’ll be stronger and a better story for it.

Which is always a plus.

I would like to do some work this weekend on other stories that are currently hanging in stasis right now, not the least of which is my pandemic story, “The Flagellants.” I’m not certain why that story is nagging at me; I don’t know what it’s going to be or how its going to end; so I guess it’s one of those stories that will reveal itself to me as I write it, which is madness, really.

Recently someone–I think Gabino Iglesias? I could be wrong–tweeted asking writers to stop talking about how much they hate writing, and his tweets really resonated with me. I don’t hate writing, but it would be easy to assume that I do from reading what I post, tweet and blog about writing. I do love writing; I love everything about it, even the frustrations and irritations–which I usually have to express to get out of my system. Publishing is an entire different subject than writing; I reserve the right to always be able to bitch about the publishing industry and its quirks and utter seeming ridiculousness whenever I please, along with the right to complain about being frustrated with the writing process at any time. But I want to make it very clear that I love writing and that’s why I do it. I love writing what I write, even though I am well aware (and if I wasn’t, have been told enough times by my heterosexual colleagues) that there’s not really any money in writing gay crime stories. But I like writing gay crime stories; I like writing gay characters, and I also feel like the full potential for gay crime stories has yet to be tapped. But I’ve dabbled with heterosexual narratives in my short stories, and if I am ever going to write a novel about straight people–or centering the straight point of view–the short stories are an excellent way to practice.

And…every new story I finish writing puts me that much closer to a second collection of stories, which is very exciting to me. I was originally calling the second collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I am thinking about changing it to This Town and Other Stories, primarily because “This Town” is a better story than “Once a Tiger” and secondly, I like the symbolism of “this town” referring to New Orleans–even though that’s not what the Go-Go’s were referring to in their song of the same title, which was the inspiration for my story. (My original collection began as Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories before metamorphosing into Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories.)

I also started writing a blog entry about my love of The Three Investigators, which will probably go up at some point over this weekend; depends, I suppose, on when I finish it. And there’s a shit ton of emails that need my attention in my inbox as well; but I just can’t face that yet today. Maybe later on, after I get some things done, I can spend some time answering emails (as drafts to send on Monday) as well as writing some that I need to send.

But I just heard the dryer stop, which means I need to go fold some clothes and add another load to the dryer, and my coffee cup is also empty and in dire need of refilling; my stomach is growling as well, so it’s probably time for me to push away from the desk, get more coffee, fold some clothes and then have some Honey-nut Cheerios–which has been my pandemic breakfast of choice these days.

It also looks like a beautiful day outside. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

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Can You Forgive Her?

And finally, Thursday rolls around again, turning up like the proverbial bad penny of lore. I really didn’t want to get up this morning–seriously, I’d love to go right back to bed, and I’m also relatively certain I would fall right back asleep. But there’s no rest for the wicked this Thursday morning in late April, and that’s just how it has to be this morning. I was very tired yesterday as well; we’ll see how this plays out this weekend with my tiredness. Hopefully well–hopefully tonight I’ll be plenty sleepy enough to sleep deeply and restfully.

This weekend I have some writing that simply must get done, without question or doubt, and that’s also fine. I’ll most likely be working from home again on Monday, and yesterday I wasn’t really needed in the office, to be honest; so in theory I should begin to work from home every week on Mondays and Wednesdays, at least for now. I completely understand how everyone is chafing and waiting to get out of the house and back to work; I really do, because I think, every morning of every day when I get up, about how much I wish things had magically gone back to pre-pandemic and our clinic was reopened and I was seeing my regular clients again. So, yeah, I do get the frustration, but we also really need to get this thing under control and stop its spread. I also guess that people don’t think of this in the personal but rather the abstract; “let some people die to save the economy” doesn’t really sound like a winning slogan to me, but your mileage might vary. It’s easy to think of it in the abstract, primarily because we have this weird wiring in our heads that makes us think nothing bad will ever happen to me. With young people, it’s this weird sense of invulnerability–and while you’d think that would wear off as people get older it really kind of doesn’t. It’s why HIV infections aren’t decreasing in a world of PrEP and suppressed viral loads, and why the numbers continue to go up amongst young men. But what do those of us who work with infectious diseases know, and why should anyone listen to us?

Ever?

I was too tired to read yesterday when I got home from work…which is unfortunate, but I was also too tired to do the dishes or finish the loads of laundry i started in the morning–and now tonight, when I get off work, I have to stop at the store and get more milk, yay–I hate when I get that tired during the day, but it’s this getting up so damned early twice a week, combined with the trouble I have sleeping. We started watching #blackaf this week on Netflix, and we think it’s funny and are enjoying it, but…as with anything, I can’t help but wonder do people of color find this as funny as we do? And sure enough, I saw a young man of color who’s a friend posting last night on social media that the show is terrible. Oops. It’s also interesting that I did wonder about it, even before I saw his post; and now, having read some thoughtful pieces by people of color critiquing the show and the problems they have with it, I can see their points, and can concede them. I always think it’s important to view criticism of shows that depict and/or center people that are usually under-represented in entertainment, particularly when it comes from people who are members of that under-represented community. I do sometimes think, when it comes to gay people, that some of that criticism is unwarranted, unfair and in some cases, downright despicable (see: Dale Peck piece on Pete Buttigieg; also other critical pieces from coastal queers who decided, with all their unearned status and self-appointed self-importance, that Mayor Pete wasn’t queer enough for them…um, no one picked you to speak for an entire community, and did I mention go fuck yourself?); one of the things I appreciated about the pieces I read critiquing this particular show did not consider the African-American community, nor did the authors of the pieces claim to speak for their entire community.

Coastal queers, take note.

It rained overnight and the humidity (and heat) apparently returned in the wake of the storm; everything outside is gray and wet and dripping, so apparently the lovely cool weather we’ve been enjoying is now a thing of the past, alas. Which is fine–the latest power bill I received was a lot lower than I expected–and with the cost of oil dropping like a stone through water, it may stay low–but the water in the Gulf is very warm this year, which doesn’t bode well for hurricane season, which is just around the corner. If we’re all still in quarantine, where would we evacuate to? Or would we be expected to stay here and ride it out?

Best not to think about those things.

Hopefully, tonight I won’t be tired, can get the dishes and laundry done, and do some writing.

We shall certainly see.

Have a lovely Friday eve, everyone.

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Your Cheatin’ Heart

I love Harlan Ellison.

So, as you might remember, I recently read two wonderful Harlan Ellison short stories (to be fair, every Ellison short story is wonderful; his lesser efforts are better than most writer’s best), “On the Downhill Side” and the Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs,” both included in his collection Deathbird Stories. At one point I had a mass market paperback edition I’d picked up in a bookstore; I literally have no idea where that is–probably lost over the years during a move or something, or it may be on the bookshelves; at this point who knows? But I’ve gathered and collected Ellison collections over the years–recently getting, from eBay, the very same mass market paperback edition of Strange Wine, which was my gateway drug to reading Ellison–and even got the enormous collection The Essential Ellison, which still sits proudly in my bookcase.

The first time I heard of Ellison was when I read Stephen King’s brilliant introduction and evaluation of the horror/speculative fiction genre, Danse Macabre, which reminded me of many great films and books and TV shows I’d loved, and introduced me to still others. Shortly afterward, I was at a friend’s apartment drinking–this was my early twenties–and she had that copy of Strange Wine, and I thought, oh, Harlan Ellison! Stephen King praised him to the skies! I need to read this. I asked if I could borrow it and she gifted me with it (and in all honesty, I thought less of her for not wanting it back, particularly since she raved so much about how good it was), and then I took it home with me that night and the next morning I read the intro and the first story, “Croatoan,” and there was no looking back from that. I devoured the book, learned the term “speculative fiction” (which I much prefer to horror, science fiction, and fantasy; when I worked at Lambda I tried, unsuccessfully, to get that award category title changed to simply Best Speculative Fiction), and also became interested in writing it. This was during the time when I worshipped Stephen King so much that I wanted to become a writer like Stephen King, but wasn’t skilled or trained enough to really write really good speculative fiction–or fiction, really, of any kind. I still write it periodically, and some day when I have the time I’ll work on my short story collection Monsters of New Orleans more (hat tip to Lisa Morton; she suggested I do it years again at World Horror Con in New Orleans); in fact the story I started writing yesterday, “The Pestilence Maiden”, would be for Monsters of New Orleans. I looked for more of Ellison’s works every time I went to a bookstore for about a year after that, to no avail, and eventually Ellison got pushed to the back of my mind.

A few years later, one of the major networks (I want to say CBS) rebooted The Twilight Zone as, I think, maybe a summer replacement series (when that was a thing), and I noticed in the TV Guide one week that one of the two stories in that week’s episode was based on Stephen King’s truly creepy short story “Gramma,” and decided to tune itn. “Gramma’ was the first half hour, and it was totally creepy, just like the story; I stayed turned for the second half, which was called “Paladin of the Lost Hour” and starred Danny Kaye and Tim Reid of WKRP in Cincinnati fame. The story was powerful and beautiful and brilliant, and made me cry. As I watched the credits roll, I saw, to my joy and surprise, that it was based on a Harlan Ellison story and he may have even adapted it into a teleplay. It became a goal of mine to read that story, and so I began haunting used bookstores, looking for Ellison collections. I never, ever regretted reading an Ellison collection, and eventually I did finally find a collection that included “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which remains to this day one of my favorite short stories.

I was reminded of Ellison recently because of a Twitter thread about short stories; I think perhaps Art Taylor may have started it, looking for short stories to teach in one of his classes (it may have been Facebook); and someone mentioned Ellison’s Edgar Award winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs.” (I, of course, suggested “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” which also led to a discussion of The Twilight Zone episode I mentioned earlier, which is actually now on Youtube; you can watch it here. I also didn’t know, until looking up the link, that it was Danny Kaye’s last screen appearance, and he deserved a goddamned Emmy for it; and I’m not even a fan.) I knew I’d recently downloaded, at some point, some Ellison collections to my Kindle app when they were cheap and/or free, so I decided to look to see if I had it. When I opened Deathbird Stories, it was open to “On the Downhill Side,” which turned out to be set in New Orleans; I read it, loved it, and then went to the table of contents, and sure enough, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” was in it. (I must have read it before; I am certain I read my paperback copy of Deathbird Stories, but I didn’t remember either story.)

This is how “On the Downhill Side” begins:

I knew she was a virgin because she was able to ruffle the silken mane of my unicorn. Names Lizette, she was a Grecian temple in which no sacrifice had been made. Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night. My unicorn whinnied, inclined his head, and she stroked the ivory spiral of his horn.

Much of this took place in what is called the Irish Channel, a strip of street in old New Orleans where the lace curtain micks had settled decades before; now the Irish were gone and the Cubans had taken over the Channel. Now the Cubans were sleeping, recovering from the muggy today that held within its hours the deja vu of muggy yesterday, the deja reve of intolerable tomorrow. Now the crippled bricks of side streets off Magazine had given up their nightly ghosts, and one such phantom had some to me, calling my unicorn to her–thus, clearly, a virgin–and I stood waiting.

Had it been Sutton Place, had it been a Manhattan evening, and had we met, she would have kneeled to pet my dog. And I would have waited. Had it been Puerto Vallarta, had it been 20 36′ N, 105 13’W, and had we met, she would have crouched to run her fingertips over the oil-slick hide of my iguana. And I would have waited. Meeting in streets requires ritual. One must wait and not breathe too loud, if one is to enjoy the congress of the nightly ghosts.

She looked across the fine head of my unicorn and smiled at me. Her eyes were a shade of gray between onyx and miscalculation. “Is it a bit chilly for you?” I asked.

New Orleanians, of course, as I have noted before, are very protective and pedantic about fiction written about the city by people who don’t live here (always said with capital letters: People Not From Here)–this also stands for lazy journalistic features that always, inevitably, get everything incorrect–and in this beautifully written and incredibly poetic opening, there’s an error: the Irish Channel isn’t a strip of street, it’s an actual neighborhood, running alongside the Garden District from Jackson to Louisiana and from Magazine to the river. (I don’t know about the Cubans–I don’t know of any concentrated Cuban immigration to New Orleans, but I know enough not to question it because there’s so much about this magic place that I do not know, which is why I am reading New Orleans history) But the opening of this story is simply gorgeous, and the imagery Ellison uses is absolutely perfect; I particularly like the sentence Vestal virgin of New Orleans, found walking without shadow in the thankgod coolness of cockroach crawling Louisiana night–and wish I had written it.

As I read more of the story, it’s spectral beauty began casting a spell on me; Ellison didn’t try to write about New Orleans like a native or a local; his ghostly spirit with the unicorn, trapped like Lizette in the realm between worlds because of unfinished business, is also new to New Orleans, and sees it as a tourist would; and I realized how wise he was to make this storytelling choice; it makes errors not only acceptable but forgivable (I really can turn into a hellish banshee on this topic) and he also wrote some beautifully evocative lines about the city that I wish I had written:

I despise Bourbon Street. The strip joints, with the pasties over nipples, the smell of need, the dwarfed souls of men attuned only to flesh. The noise.

The Saint Louis Cemetery is ancient. It sighs with shadows and the comfortable bones and their afterimages of deaths that became great merely because those who died went to be interred in Saint Louis Cemetery. The water table lies just eighteen inches below New Orleans–there are no graves in the earth for that reason. Bodies are entombed aboveground in crypts, sepulchers, vaults, mausoleums. The gravestones are all different, no two alike, each one a testament to the stonecutter’s art. Only secondarily testaments to those who like beneath the markers.

It really is a gorgeous story, almost dream-like in its telling, and I absolutely loved it. I then moved on to the Edgar-winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”:

On the night after the day she had stained the louvered window shutters of her new apartment on East 52nd Street, Beth saw a woman slowly and hideously knifed to death in the courtyard of her building. She was one of twenty-six witnesses to the ghoulish scene, and, like them, she did nothing to stop it.

She saw it all, every moment of it, without break and with no impediment to her view. Quite madly, the thought crossed her mind as she watched in horrified fascination, that she had the sort of marvelous line of observation Napoleon had sought when he caused to have constructed at the Comedie-Francaise theaters, a curtained box at the reat, so he could watch the audience as well as the stage. The night was clear, the moon was full, she had just turned off the 11:30 movie on Channel 2 after the second commercial break, realizing she had already seen Robert Taylor in Westward the Women, and had disliked it the first time; and the apartment was quite dark.

The murder of Kitty Genovese, based on my limited knowledge of Harlan Ellison and his work, seemed to weigh pretty heavily on his mind; he wrote this story, clearly influenced by the Genovese murder and the stories that arose around it; I also distinctly remember reading an essay he’d written in which he talked about it–I believe it may have been the introduction to Alone Against Tomorrow, or in one of the mini-essays he wrote about each story collected within its covers; I cannot remember which. But I remember how clearly appalled and horrified he was, not just by the murder, but the way the witnesses did nothing, tried nothing, said nothing, to either stop the murder or to help the hapless victim. As his spirits in “On the Downhill Side” are waiting for their green light to ascend to the spirit plane from this mortal realm, “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs” delves, not into the inhumanity involved in every aspect of the Kitty Genovese murder, but what created that very inhumanity, as Beth, new to New York, begins to see the dark, malevolent spirit that drives New York and sometimes, occasionally, demands blood sacrifice; and as she begins to harden her own shell in order to survive. It’s an extraordinary story, well worthy of the Edgar; although I am surprised it was so honored, as it blurs the boundaries between different genres–and back in the day, Edgar judges tended to be very strict about what was and wasn’t a crime story.

And yes, I will be delving back into Ellison’s short fiction–as a crossover between The Short Story Project and The ReRead Project.

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Man of Constant Sorrow

This week a new anthology with a story by one Gregalicious is dropping, The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes and from Three Rooms Press. Three Rooms also produced the 2018 St. Petersburg Bouchercon anthology I edited, Florida Happens, and thus it was lovely to be working with Peter, Kat, and the Three Rooms Press gang again. The book has turned out to be absolutely lovely, and I couldn’t have been more pleased to be asked to write a story for this.

The concept behind the book was, of course, to create noir stories built around a president. I was torn at first when asked to choose a president; there were any number of them that I truly like and admire….yet so many mediocrities. The 1850’s, the lead up or prelude to the Civil War, has been of particular interest to me of late, and I decided to chose someone from that period, where we had a string of mediocre presidents take up residence in the White House: Zachary Taylor, Millard Fillmore, Franklin Pierce, and finally James Buchanan. Buchanan is widely considered to be (or was considered to be, YMMV) the worst president in American history; he was the last president before Lincoln’s election and the outbreak of the Civil War. Buchanan did nothing to stop the coming eruption of war; if anything, he exacerbated the ill feeling between the two sections of the country. All the 1850’s presidents were Yankees with Southern sympathies; they were called “dough-faces” at the time (I don’t know why that particular term was used; so don’t ask. Google is your friend), and yes, many parallels between that time and our present day kind of exist, if you care to look to see them. Buchanan also conspired with the worst Chief Justice to ever lead our Supreme Court, Roger B. Taney, in the court decision that flamed the fans of regional hatred into an unforeseen heat that made the war even more inevitable than it already had been; Buchanan and Taney thought they were putting the slavery question to bed once and for all with the Dred Scott v. Sandford decision; by striking down the Missouri Compromise and the Kansas/Nebraska Acts as unconstitutional, the two attempted to make slavery the law of the land and permissible in the vast unsettled (by white people) territories as well as make it legal in the states that prohibited it.

Yeah, that kind of backfired.

Buchanan was also the only president who never married; and while there is certainly no proof or evidence that is conclusive, it is widely suspected that Buchanan was our first gay president. He lived, for example, for a long time with Senator Rufus King of Alabama; Andrew Jackson jeeringly called Buchanan “Aunt Fancy”; and their surviving letters bespoke an affection and longing between the two that went a bit deeper than being just good buddies. So, as a gay writer, I decided to write about Buchanan. But writing a period story set in the DC of the late 1850’s seemed a bit much and certainly more than I could handle; plus I couldn’t really come up with a plot. I thought about having Buchanan murder a slave he’d been forcing to be his lover and the ensuing cover-up; I made several abortive attempts at writing that story before finally abandoning the idea.

I had no idea what I was going to write–until I read an article on-line somewhere about Buchanan’s mysterious sexuality and sexual preferences, and the author said something along the lines of but for some historians, short of finding daguerrotypes of Buchanan naked with another man, nothing will ever serve as conclusive proof for the deniers.

And there it was. I started writing “The Dreadful Scott Decision.”

faking of the president cover

 

The cheap whiskey tasted like flavored turpentine, burning so intensely as it went down it felt like it was leaving scorch marks in its wake. Scott Devinney was just high enough from the joint he was smoking to consider that a plus—a sign that he was still alive no matter how numb he felt.

He was sitting in the dark in his cheap apartment near campus, streaming the panel he’d been on at the presidential historians’ conference at UCLA the previous weekend. It had aired live on a PBS network in Los Angeles—it took him a while to figure out how to access it, and now that he was watching it was even worse than he feared. He’d always suspected Pulitzer prize-winning historian Andrew Dickey was a homophobe; his behavior on the panel proved it without question.

Alas, Scott allowed Dickey to get under his skin. He wasn’t proud of that, and his doctoral advisor, Dr. Keysha Wells-Caldwell—also head of the department at UC-San Felice—wasn’t happy, either.

He wasn’t about to apologize to Andrew Dickey, though. He’d die first.

“You have no proof!” Dickey wagged his finger at Scott on the computer screen, his face reddened and his voice raising. “Just like the activists who try to claim Lincoln was gay without proof, there is no proof Buchanan was, either, no matter how bad you want him to be!”

He sighed and closed the window. He didn’t need to watch himself screaming in rage, embarrassing himself and the university in the process.

Which was what Keysha really cared about.

At one time, I seriously considered becoming a historian. I’ve always loved history, have loved to read it and study it,  and even write it (I still would love to do a Tuchman-like study of regnant women in the 16th century called The Monstrous Regiment of Women), but as with so many other things, poor professors in college stomped that desire right out of me. (The other problem, of course, being that I could never decide on a period to specialize in–although if forced I probably would have chosen the 16th century) I have heard, over the years, from friends who work in academia as well as reading books and so forth set in the academic world, how cutthroat and nasty the war over tenure can be; office politics as played by the Borgias or the Medici. My story “Lightning Bugs in a Jar” was sort of set in the academia milieu; I even considered writing a series about a college English professor at one time–it’s still there on the backburner; I may write it still. One of the novels I wrote under a pseudonym was set at a quasi-Seven Sisters style college in New England, and of course, my Murder-a-Go-Go’s story “This Town” was about sorority girls, and of course several Todd Gregory novels were set in fraternities.

So, what better idea for this story than a gay Buchanan historian, attempting to prove to the world that Buchanan was, indeed, the first gay president? And how far would he go to get that proof–which is the noir angle I needed for the story? And so the story was born…and you can order a copy here, or from any retailer.

And as you can see from the cover above, there are some fantastic writers who contributed to this book. I am very pleased to be sharing the table of contents with these amazing writers, and a bit humbled. Check it out–you won’t be sorry!