I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Midnight Train to Georgia

Thursday morning, my first cup of coffee and there’s condensation all over my office windows. There’s mess everywhere in the Lost Apartment this morning–which means, of course, that it’s Thursday. My Monday thru Wednesday work days are lengthy and exhausting so I rarely have the energy to do much of anything on those nights when I get home from work, other than watch a little television, write a bit, and possibly read some. Last night I got home from work, moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, started another load in the washing machine, wrote six or seven hundred words, than escaped to my easy chair. I’m watching a lovely documentary in bits and pieces–Tea with the Dames, on Hulu, which is just Maggie Smith, Judi Densch, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright, talking about their careers, their long friendships, and gossiping about other actors and directors they’ve worked with. It’s quite charming, actually, and then Paul was ready to watch another episode of The Boys, which continues to amaze and impress me.

It’s also now August this morning, so that means there are only nineteen shopping days left before my birthday, so I strongly suggest and recommend you get started looking for my gifts now, okay? It’ll save you so much stress if you do it now, and beat the inevitable crowds that are certain to form the closer the actual day comes.

The big project I’m working on that dropped into my lap lately moves closer to completion; or at least, closer to my part being finished; I’ve acknowledged that after a certain point my assistance is moot and would be useless, but I can get a lot of the groundwork finished to begin with, which is in my wheelhouse, and we’re almost there.

As I said earlier, I only managed 700 or so words on the WIP last night, which isn’t terrific, but there are certainly worse things. Writing this book has been like pulling teeth almost from the very beginning, and doesn’t seem to get any easier the closer I get to the end. But that’s okay; I like the way it’s all coming together, despite the roughness of the words and the writing, it’s just taking me a hot minute to get everything finished, and that’s fine. I’m not so sure I know how to make the Kansas book–which I’ll be revising for the final time once I finish writing this draft–go faster than this; I am doing some heavy revisions and heavy lifting with it (I am literally stunned–and glad I waited on it–to see how many high school tropes and stereotypes I played into with this particular manuscript; I mean, literally–pick one and I can almost certainly let you know that it was included in this book), but I am confident I know what to do with it and am hoping I’ll get through it relatively quickly. I’m kind of glad another project I was scheduled to start working on today has been moved back another couple of months–dealing with it while trying to get this other stuff done (especially the one that dropped out of nowhere into my lap) would have sent me straight to the Xanax bottle. As it is, I have some other odds and ends I need to get done that I don’t seem to have the energy to get to once I do everything else for that day; perhaps one morning this weekend I’ll simply focus on those things and get them out of the way once and for all. I have three short stories promised to write, two of which I haven’t the slightest idea of what the story actually is; I definitely need to set aside some time to brainstorm those as deadlines are looming and drawing nearer and nearer.

And I really need to clean out my email inbox once and for all.

I also agreed to participate in a round table discussion about an aspect of writing–you know me, I never say no since I’m always flattered to be thought of and included in the first place–but yesterday I took a look at the questions and JFC, they are way over my head and slightly too smart for me; answering and participating is going to probably make me look stupid. (Shut up, Bryon.) But I agreed to do it, so I am going to print out the questions this weekend and look them over, because they do require thought rather than off-the-top-of-my-head answers. (Let me put it to you this way; the very first question revolves around an Octavia Butler novel…so you see how far it’s over my head already.)

This morning I feel very rested and very good; I feel like I can conquer the world today, which is always a plus and it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve felt this way.

I got some more books yesterday–Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith (I am literally drooling to start this); Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Murder by Cutter Wood; and The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson, a queer y/a set in New Orleans by a local writer; I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but I did and now I have it. I’ve not read a New Orleans novel in a while, and it might be fun to read another writer’s take on our diverse, vibrant city. I’m actually not sure how I heard about any of these books, to be honest–other than Sarah Weinman was talking about the Highsmith on Twitter last week and convinced me I needed to read it. I generally don’t read how-to-write books anymore (other than John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which I primarily read, and reread, for enjoyment because Gardner was such a pompous, pretentious ass, which comes through loud and clear with every sentence–it helps whenever I want to create a character who is a pompous ass literary writer), but Sarah (who has to date never been wrong with recommending something to me) said it’s not only a writing guide but also sort of a memoir, and Highsmith was not only an unpleasant person but she embraced her unpleasantness, which is kind of lovely and fun and admirable–and probably fun to read. I love her novels–I’ve not read the entire canon, and I never finished the Ripley series other than the first one–and I should probably start working my way through the canon at some point. I’ve never been disappointed with a Highsmith, and the last two I read–The Cry of the Owl and The Blunderer, were simply genius and devilishly clever).

I also want to finish reading Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which I’ve been recommending to all my co-workers.

Okay, that’s enough morning reflection. I need another cup of coffee, and I think I’m going to do some chores around answering emails this morning.

Have a lovely Friday Eve, everyone!

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The Cover of the Rolling Stone

Wednesday! Huzzah!

Another lovely night of sleep last night; I was really tired. The two back-to-back twelve hours days have been wearing me out lately; combination of stress with all I  need to get done no doubt, and of course the heat of a New Orleans summer. The kitchen this morning is a bit of a mess, and I hope I have time this morning to get it straightened up a bit. The two short days begin tomorrow–huzzah!–and I need to get so much done it’s not even funny.

I finished Chapter Twenty last night; another 1400 words or so. I am hopeful to get back to my old 3000 per day total soon, but even if they are coming slower than I would like, I am getting them done–slowly but surely. I started to say that the words are terrible but I’ll take them; and then I remembered–Gregalicious, that is self-deprecation and haven’t we decided we aren’t doing that anymore? So, while Chapter Twenty is certainly not ready for the printers, it does what it’s supposed to do–move the story along, show us more about our main character and his burgeoning relationship with his love interest–and therefore, it needs some work but I am quite pleased with how it’s all turned out thus far. The next chapter is going to be trickier still than twenty was; there’s still a lot I need to have happen and revelations to come. But the end zone is in sight; if this were a college football game I’d be in the red zone, which is joyous.

Seriously, there were times when I thought I was never going to finish this draft.

As always, I am behind on everything; I am beginning to think that this is something I do to myself subconsciously to create the pressure which some part of my being thinks is necessary to get things done. I used to think I had a tendency to be self-defeating; that I was so afraid of succeeding that I deliberately set up road blocks to keep myself in a constant state of failure. I no longer think that I am self-defeating, although I do think I have a fear of success somewhat; why else do I keep doing things that apparently, according to all conventional wisdom, are the exact opposite of the things I am traditionally supposed to do in order to succeed?

We watched another episode of The Boys last night, and I have to say we are really enjoying this show. It’s getting progressively darker, and there’s also some scathing political commentary on the modern world as well. The parallels between the show’s United States and our current country’s recent history that are undeniably there, and frankly, we don’t come out of it looking too good–nor should we.

I’m hoping to read more of Steph Cha’s book today, and maybe even later when I get home tonight, if I don’t write for a while when I get off work this evening. There’s a new episode of Animal Kingdom available as well.

And football season is drawing ever closer. Tomorrow is August 1!

Where has this year gone already?

My toothache has almost completely gone away now; the tooth is still a little tender so I am aware of it, but as far soul-destroying pain, that’s no longer an issue. Huzzah indeed! I do need to go see the dentist though. Heavy sigh. I really loathe going to the dentist, but I suppose that’s fairly obvious given my teeth situation.

I am excited for football season; for the cooler weather and for both LSU and the Saints this year. LSU recently unveiled their new football training center, which is absolutely insane, and not without controversy; the battle between athletics and education is never-ending. Frankly, I’m deeply sympathetic to those on the side of education; LSU’s academic budget has been cut to the bone, majors have been decimated, and the campus library is in terrible condition. A brand new, $28 million state-of-the-art training facility for the football team at this time is kind of slap in the face to those worried about the state of higher education in this state. But the money wasn’t taken away from academics; the $28 million raised for this wasn’t taken away from academics but raised from donors who probably wouldn’t have given the money–or as much money–for a new library or to save a major that was being cut. LSU football, whether people like it or not, is big business now; and in fact some of the profits from the football team have been fed back into the University general funds since about 2012. Now, arguing about whether college football has become too big, too big time, and too much like professional sports–yep, college football has seen some enormous changes since I was a kid; it’s certainly not the same sport in 2019 that is was back in 1979, and those questions are valid and perhaps a debate we should be having.

But college football in 1979 was also vastly different from college football in 1959, or even 1969–when it was populated by mostly white players. I also agree that LSU desperately needs more money than the legislature is providing for it; maybe less tax cuts for the rich and for oil companies in Louisiana? Investments, not just in LSU but also in the University of Louisiana system, will pay off in the future for the state, and I’ve never understood why education has never been a priority for any politicians in Louisiana since Huey Long.

Of course, the argument could also be made that the political class isn’t interested in an educated populace; the more critically a person can think, the less likely they are to be swayed by emotional appeals based in nothing when they vote. One could also make this argument a national issue instead of just a state one; the decline of funding for education across the board on a national level over the last few decades is frankly scandalous.

But college sports didn’t create the education crisis, but it’s an incredibly easy target.

Or maybe as a lifelong college football fan (I only care about the Saints in the NFL) I am too hopelessly biased to opine on the matter.

But I will, nevertheless, continue to look forward to football season.

I also watched the third part of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion, which wasn’t particularly interesting. The reunions aren’t my favorites, although if you don’t want to waste your time watching an entire season, you can pretty much catch up on everything by watching the reunions (I used to do this with the ones I didn’t watch much, like New Jersey and Orange County.) But once you’ve watched an entire season, the reunions aren’t as “explosive” as the promos promise.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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Give Me Love (Give Me Peace on Earth)

Hello, Friday, so lovely to see you again.

Last night broke the streak of great night’s sleeping in a row; but it was still effective enough, I suppose. I’m awake and already washing the bed linens (my usual Friday chore) before I head into work for the part time day I am working. Paul was late coming home last night, so I kept cleaning the apartment, more or less–probably more less than more, if you know what I mean–but it was lovely to walk downstairs to a clean, organized desk this morning, and a clean kitchen. Sure, there’s a load in the dishwasher that needs putting away, but other than that, I think I have the kitchen/office under control–and if the weather stays cool, I may even do the windows tomorrow.

I’m not sure what has triggered it, but over the last few weeks (months?) I’ve been thinking about the past a lot. Being one of the oldest people at the office probably has something to do with it–I think the next oldest person after me is still young enough to be my child–and of course, thinking about the introduction I have to write for Jay B. Laws’ The Unfinished being brought back into print also probably has something to do with it. (My story in progress, “Never Kiss a Stranger”, is also set in the early 1990’s in New Orleans, so I’ve been thinking alot about those days when I first started coming to New Orleans and fell in love with the city.) I’ve spent most of my life not looking backwards–at least, since I was in my mid-thirties at any rate–because my preference was to live in the present and think about the future; there’s nothing that can be done about the past, and I was also tired of remembering cringeworthy experiences. But the past is ripe for mining, not only in my work but for recognizing personal growth and change, and so I’ve been looking back. (Probably also has a lot to do with Bury Me in Shadows being set in a part of Alabama based on where I’m from.)

Speaking of Bury Me in Shadows, it’s possible I can finish this first draft by the end of the month, but not likely. The other big project has kind of taken up a lot of my free time over this past week or so, but that’s fine. Another big project got pushed back a couple of months, which gives me a little more leeway with getting it finished. Ideally, I’ll get it finished sometime over the next week, and then I can spend most of August revising the Kansas book, which in turn gives way to September working on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get some more short stories finished and out of the way and submitted–one I’d like to write has a September 1 deadline, but all I have for it is a title and a possible plot scenario, but no ending–and of course, I want to write something for the MWA anthology (actually, I already have something for the MWA anthology, that needs a polish, and then to sit for a few more weeks before going over it again) which is a long shot always, but I usually come away from MWA anthology rejections with a strong story for placement elsewhere, and I’d really like for some more stories to be out there by the end of the year.

Yet time continues to slip through my fingers like mercury.

It also looks like that low pressure system in the Gulf isn’t going to turn into anything, and the Atlantic basin is also quiet and going to stay quiet for another five days, which is, of course, quite lovely.

Another thing I need to do is go through my current journal and take out bits of writing I’ve done when an idea has struck me, and see if it will fit into anything in progress or if it will trigger an idea for a full length story. Opening it up to the first page right now, I find this:

Moira was one of those women of whom other people never grew fond. Things simply never worked out for her. Almost, always getting very close, but never ever winning. The perennial bridesmaid, silver medalist, salutatorian.

I can always count on her to make me feel better about myself. No matter how low or down I am about any or every thing, I just have to think about Moira and realize, gratefully, that I’m not her.

Kind of dark, really. I have no idea what this was for, or when it popped into my brain, but there it is, written down in black ink for all posterity.

Or:

She had an unfortunately masculine type body—broad-shoulder and narrow-hipped—that made her look out of shape no matter how hard she worked out and clothes that fit well  incredibly hard to find. She stopped caring about things like hair and make-up and clothes sometime during her teen years.

Also slightly mean, but not bad.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines for my half-day, after which it’s my weekend.

Huzzah!

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