Academic

Friday morning, and I slept well again last night. The washing machine arrives this morning (between 9:15 and 11:15) so I am up earlier than I would be ordinarily, but despite using an alarm to get up (I need to be sufficiently caffeinated when they get here to remove the old one and install the new one) and then it will be “catch up on the laundry day” while I do my home data entry today–which means the new one will be getting quite a workout today. I also had to remove the doors to the laundry room last night–it’s going to take some serious maneuvering to get the old one out and the new one in, and I figured the doors would be in the way–which made me feel quite butch and masculine. The feeling didn’t last.

The electricians came and replaced the fuse yesterday as well–so now I can use my dishwasher and the coffee maker can be on the proper counter where it belongs again. Slowly returning to a sense of normality here at long last, and starting to not feel quite so fried and exhausted, which is actually lovely.

I also have to do a conference tomorrow, which I need to prepare for, and honestly–my brain is so fried I keep forgetting that it’s happening and that I agreed to do it. I cannot remember being this discombobulated and fried before when I finished writing a book–but then again, it’s also been quite a while since the last time I finished two books in such quick succession without a break in between. Having everything around the apartment go on the fritz almost immediately thereafter was also not much of a help in that regard, and of course, that created more stress and insomnia…I’m really surprised I was able to sleep so well the last two nights, to be completely honest; but that was probably a result of exhaustion from the stress of things.

And of course, I also had to take down one of the laundry room shelves, just in case, and will have to put that back together once the washing machine is installed again.

So yeah, pretty big day around the lost apartment this morning….hopefully I can get going on my data entry before they come, and it’s probably what I am going to be doing for most of the day today. I make condom packs for hours yesterday–and ran out of condoms, so I don’t have that to do today, unless I run by the office to take these others and drop them off, and pick up some more…but I don’t really see that happening today…although….hmmm. Something to ponder before the washing machine gets here. (Of course, it would also depend on when the washing machine gets here as well…if they get here early I could run over to pick up my prescription, then head to the office, drop off the finished condom packs and pick up at least one more box….never mind, I shouldn’t think out loud on here. Suffice to say I have options.)

I actually don’t remember what all I watched yesterday while I was making the condom packs, but I am proud and happy to say that I broke the streak of serial killer documentaries at long last. I know I watched some interesting documentaries about queer horror movies, or why horror appeals to gay men (I honestly have no memory of Nightmare on Elm Street 2, which apparently is the gayest non-gay horror movie ever made?) as well as some documentaries about apocryphal books on the Bible, including Enoch–which led me down a rabbit hole into videos about the nephilim and pre-Flood Biblical history, as well as some interesting discussion about how things get mis-translated from the original archaic Hebrew into other languages over the years and then became stuc–like how “Lucifer” wasn’t really a reference to the devil (or Satan, or whatever) but a literal mistranslation of a verse probably referring to the recent fall of the Assyrian kind and his empire, rather than a reference to angels being cast own from heaven and sent to Hell to have dominion. I’ve always found that sort of thing to be interesting–potentially lost books of the Bible and prophecy, etc.–have always wanted to write a book about a missing or secret book of the Bible that was smuggled out of Constantinople before it fell to the Crusaders in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade, to keep it out of the hands of the Roman Catholic Church, only to disappear for centuries; a lost book that would revolutionize and change Christianity forever (not really an original thought–this sort of thing has been done before, most notably–for me, anyway–in Irving Wallace’s The Word); I’ve always seen it–since 2001, anyway, as a Colin novel (yes, the Colin stand alone novel I’ve been thinking about for twenty years; I’ve always kind of wanted to spin him off into his own espionage thriller series–think gay Dirk Pitt/Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid), but again–when will I ever have the time to write such a book?

So, in a moment I am going to start doing my data entry for the day; while I wait for the washer to arrive and be installed. When I am done working for the day I intend to get down my Henry Willson biography and start mapping out Chlorine–yes, world, I am finally ready to start writing Chlorine, or at least work on it, anyway–and I also am going to start figuring out what to do with these short stories and so forth that I want to get out for submission. So, the goals for this weekend–after getting my work done and the laundry room reassembled–is to finish reading The Russia House, get some work on short stories done, and fill up another box to donate to the library sale (maybe two), and get the outline/character bios for Chlorine started. (I’m very excited about this….although I am getting a little more excited about the next book I want to write, Where the Boys Die.)

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the day. Have yourself a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Bizarre Love Triangle

Recently I got a very lovely private message on social media from a reader; it doesn’t happen near as much as it used to (not sure what that says about me or my career, but I prefer to believe that I am so public with my social media and blog that people don’t feel they need to reach out to me…don’t judge me; it works for me. I often prefer the little fantasy world and life I make up in my head rather than reality. It keeps me sane) so now it’s a surprise on the rare occasions it happens, and that’s very pleasant.

And with this one, it just goes to show what you can do without meaning to, and how the inability to make a decision is sometimes a good thing.

The message was simply that he had recently discovered my books, and was reading and enjoying them. What drove him to reach out and send me a message wasn’t simply because he was enjoying my work but because it was the first time he’d seen anything that mirrored his real life relationship in fiction; in other words, he is in what is now referred to as a “long-time throuple” and it meant a lot to him to read a book series centered around a main character who is also in a ‘long-time throuple.’ This isn’t the first time I’ve gotten such a message–I’ve heard from other readers in throuples, or readers enthralled by the very idea of such a thing, but like I said, it’s been a while. It always catches me a little off-guard, because it never occurred to me that I was doing something revolutionary, or something that had never been done before in crime fiction or not done much outside of erotica; the truth was I couldn’t make up my mind who Scotty should wind up with finally, so I had him wind up with both of them. It never occurred to me that I was doing something never really done before–or that some nearly twenty years later, I’d still be one of the only ones writing about a throuple–there wasn’t even a term for it when Bourbon Street Blues came out all those years ago; I always had to call it a “three-way relationship”–I don’t even think I’d even heard the term polyamorous then, either. I had no idea how such a thing would work, either; but Scotty was unconventional and so it stood to reason his romantic relationship would also be such. I also wanted to make the relationship seem as normal as possible and like it wasn’t unconventional; no one ever comments on it, says that’s odd or unusual, has ever questioned Scotty about having two partners rather than one. I also never wanted to write about jealousy or any of the usual romantic melodramatic devices–they all love each other; there’s never any jealousy; and while Colin sometimes, in the course of his job, does things that seem criminal or dangerous or even endanger them, there’s never any question about expelling him from the relationship–and there’s always a sense of sadness from Scotty and Frank until everything gets cleared up.

I also like to believe that Scotty and Frank and Scotty’s family are Colin’s rock, his tether to the normal world outside of espionage and international spying. New Orleans is his safe place, where he can relax and let down his guard and just be a normal, if extremely hot and sexy, guy. Sometimes I write myself into a corner–which I kind of did with Royal Street Reveillon, and figuring out where the boys go from where I left them isn’t always easy–Twelfth Night Knavery is going to be an incredibly difficult book to write, from that perspective–but that’s part of the challenge of writing the series, and part of the reason I enjoy writing it so much. I stopped writing Chanse because the stories and the series and the character were beginning to feel stale to me…but I greatly enjoyed writing my Chanse short story “My Brother’s Keeper” for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and there’s a Change novella I am tinkering around with that may wind up being a novel–I doubt it, so don’t get your hopes up–but again, I am enjoying writing shorter pieces about Chanse; I can’t imagine doing a Scotty short story if for no other reason that backstory alone would take up the length of the short story.

Yesterday I ran errands, paid some more bills, and went to the gym. When I got back from the gym I indulged in some cleaning and organizing, and then discovered that old episodes of Moonlighting are on Youtube, so I watched the pilot yesterday around watching other Youtube videos, mostly those Queer Cruise videos about queer representation and how queers were presented in old twentieth century television shows, and how that changed over the decades. But Moonlighting–I absolutely loved that show back when it was airing, despite it being a deeply troubled show, often behind schedule with all kinds of behind the scenes drama and clashes, between producers and actors, between the actors, and with the network. It was a highly bizarre show, occasionally indulging in incredible creative choices (the black-and-white episode called “The Dream Sequence Always Rings Twice”, the Shakespeare episode, and probably one of the best Christmas episodes of any show ever produced), and watching young Bruce Willis in the role that made him a star–he later became a surprise movie star, which no one saw coming, with Die Hard–and of course, the chemistry between him and co-star Cybill Shepherd literally burned up the screen with their “will they/won’t they” dynamic. It was always clever, sometimes meta (often meta, before anyone even knew what meta was) and there was nothing like it on television before–or since, really. Witty and clever and uniquely self-aware, the quality was difficult to maintain in the face of all the production problems, and finally the show finally went off the rails and was eventually canceled. But I still remember it fondly, and it was actually lovely to rewatch and see that the pilot still works. One of the things I loved most about the show was that almost every episode began with David and Maddie arguing, both certain they are right–and then the case would bring them around to seeing the other’s point of view, so that by the end of the episode they understood each other better. It was inspired writing, and something I always wanted to do with my work (I’ve never done it)–but while I couldn’t mimic that with either series of my own, I always wanted my main character to learn something from the case he is working on, about himself, and grow a little bit.

At least that was the plan. Whether I’ve managed to do so or not remains to be seen–as well as it not really being up to me to decide these things…

Today I am diving back into the book headlong; yesterday’s grocery-making and gym visit sufficiently drained me of excess energy so writing/editing/etc wasn’t really in yesterday’s cards, alas. But that’s okay. The gym was marvelous and necessary, as was the cleaning and organizing I did–I need to do more, really–and while I know I need to get better organized (I really need to make a to-do list) I am not going to do anything like that before I work on the book. I know I’ll wind up not wanting to if I put it off until later, and while the organizing is terribly important, as is the to-do-list, I really need to work on the book more than anything else.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Academic

And just like that, it’s Saturday again, and huzzah to everyone for making it through another week. It’s another beautiful morning here in New Orleans; the sun already high and shining bright, the sky bright blue. I have errands to run and the gym to get to, and then I am planning on spending the rest of the day reading the manuscript and editing it. It will be a full day here in the Lost Apartment, and I relish getting back to work on my book. I hate being behind–this was the month I was supposed to spend getting caught up on everything else and finishing short stories so next month I could focus on Chlorine–but delays and things happen, as always, and sure, I am in that time of life where one is acutely aware of how quickly the sand is slipping through the hourglass–but I have also learned to not beat myself up over things I have little control over. I have no control over whether I sleep well, for example, and I have no control over my energy levels. I can do the best that I can, but I exert only so much control over any of those things.

Not allowing myself to get upset or stressed over things I cannot control is a lesson I am still learning, alas.

I often feel pulled in many directions (and am fully aware that this is probably the case for everyone; it seems as though everyone is having a rough time since the pandemic shut down the world last year–almost a full year ago; we closed down services at my day job on March 16th) with an inevitable amount of endless tasks for everything I am involved in, and usually every day I have an idea of what I want and/or need to get done with every day; and yet I never achieve those goals because inevitably something new pops in and/or pops up that requires attention of some sort from me, and this inevitably results in me not getting to everything that needs getting to, which then makes the to-do list seem even more endless, and on and on. Part of the problem I’ve been having since the pandemic altered everything is my inability to sit down and make an actual to-do list–because the to-do list would inevitably require me to get through all of my emails, and I sometimes have neither the strength nor the patience to work my way through them all. Right now in my primary in-box I have 56 unread emails–I’ve already deleted the trek–and there’s about another 100 or so in there I’ve already read that probably need a response, or an addition to my to-do list.

I also remembered last night, as Paul and I watched the LSU gymnastics team defeat Missouri, that I’ve never finished watching two shows I really liked and was enjoying that he didn’t–Perry Mason on HBO Max and Penny Dreadful: City of Angels on Showtime. So those, along with a rewatch binge of Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, should go on my list of things to watch while I am making condom packs–or when I am done with work for the day and Paul’s not home. I was quite delighted that he came home from the office so we could watch the gymnastics; I am not really seeing a lot of him these days and so those moments when he is home are more to be cherished and enjoyed because of their rarity. I am a Festival widow every March, really; but this year more so than any other I am really looking forward to the Festival being over.

I also would like to get back into reading some more…I’m not sure what in my brain is broken, but for some reason I can’t read anything other than the chapter of so of Gore Vidal’s Lincoln that I get through every morning. I think it’s a combination of all the things I have hanging over my head, quite frankly, that keeps me from reading–and as I’ve also said, watching television or a movie or even just Youtube videos is much more passive than active and requires little to no brain power. I did come up with a couple of great titles yesterday for short stories as I made my condom packs and continued watching videos about queer representation in films and television from the 1960’s through the 1990’s; there was a lovely little video yesterday of how the Queer Cruise videos guy was helped to come out by viewing The Rocky Horror Picture Show when he was in high school; and that got me thinking about my own history with Rocky Horror, and what it meant to me; perhaps yet another essay someday. Is that still shown as a midnight movie? I would imagine not, given the pandemic and the fact that’s been on television and available to purchase on tape or download now for decades; I remember thinking the first time it aired on television well, that’s the end of that and it honestly did feel like the end of an era. I imagine many freaks and weirdos and queer kids no longer need something like The Rocky Horror Picture Show as a gateway to their own worlds and the possibilities that life holds for them…there’s more and more queer rep all the time, in books, movies, plays, and television; although I would imagine in more repressive parts of the country Rocky Horror would still be a revelation.

And now I am thinking about writing a short story or a book about a murder built around a midnight showing of the movie. Oy, it really never ends…

I also like this other idea for a story I came up with yesterday: “The Rites of False Spring.” I scribbled down a lot of notes about that one.

And on that note, the spice won’t mine itself, so I should probably head on into the mines.

Fine Line

Saturday rolling into our lives and taking no prisoners!

I slept really well last night, which was a good thing. Yesterday wasn’t a good day–suffice it to say I got through it–and after I finished my work-at-home duties I went to the gym, which was lovely (and my muscles are feeling it this morning, which is perfectly fine with me). Paul will be going in to the office later this morning and most likely will be gone for the rest of the dy, leaving me home alone. It occurred to me the other day that this year’s Festival widowhood is different; usually I don’t get off work most nights until eight or so, so I only have a few hours home alone in the evenings before he gets home. Me finishing work every day by five stretches the entire evening out in front of me alone; I think that might be part of the doldrums. It’s noticeable in a non-pandemic year, but this year those lonely evenings are taking a bit of a toll on me. Paul has always been my favorite person to spend time with, and always will be; his absence is always noticeable.

I asked for a two week extension on my deadline for the book, and they actually gave me a month. The weight of that deadline stress lifting off my shoulders was considerable; that means I can try to spend this weekend getting caught up on everything else that has been piling up (and dear God, has it ever been piling up) while also working on the book without the great stress of “oh my GOD it’s due on Monday!”) as well as working on cleaning. Cleaning for some reason is calming and relaxing to me–plus being occupied with my hands frees up my mind to be creative (Agatha Christie said, in my favorite writer quote of all time, “my house is never so clean as when I am on deadline”). I’m also becoming less attached to my books, which are sprawling everywhere and taking up so much room it isn’t even funny. My goal is by June to have cleared out, through donating to the Latter Library’s weekend book sales, most of the piles of books. Should we ever have the means or find a place to live that will provide me with an actual room to serve as my office–so I can have walls and walls of bookshelves–I should have no problem whatsoever with filling those shelves. It’s a long time project, of course, and will require, in many instances, the purchasing or repurposing of boxes, but the truth is the only books I should be holding onto are research ones–and even those can be replaced with ebooks as needed; and let’s face it, ebooks are much easier to use than hard copies because you can search for key phrases and words, etc. much easier than flipping to the index and so forth.

The pandemic, of course, has had a lot to do with the weird, eerie, dream-like existence of the last year; and these additional stressors in my life have, like the Katrina aftermath, affected my short term memory. This entire last year–our office officially shut down services on March 16th last year–is kind of blurry to me; I don’t remember when this happened or when that happened and so forth; I thought, for example, we had closed down earlier than March 16th and opened up for limited services much later than we actually did. I have no recollection of my birthday in August. This is also kind of understandable, as there were none of the usual markers of the year that generally mark the passing of time: no Southern Decadence condom outreach, no Halloween, no Jazz Fest, no Bouchercon, no board meeting in New York in January. I miss those things; I miss my annual events and seeing everyone that I usually see and the social interactions…and given my general misanthropist attitude, that is saying a lot. I miss my friends, I miss my co-workers, I miss the way things used to be. (I do not, however, miss the past administration in the least.) And that’s okay; that’s normal, and I really need to get to a place and point in life where I stop beating myself up for, you know, having the same feelings and experiences everyone has.

I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking in my mind over the last few weeks of issues–and yes, pain–from my past as well as reexamining things that happened. I’ve always been hesitant to write about my past–I’ve always been uncomfortable about writing my memories or a memoir or anything like that, simply because none of the people I’ve known and/or interacted with over the years ever gave me permission to write about them, or tell my version of their stories, which is also why I generally don’t talk about people I know or interactions with them or so forth on here. What constitutes an invasion of privacy in these cases? I really don’t want to find out the hard way. But I am going to start, I think, writing personal essays that will most likely never see the light of day–or maybe, I don’t know. But writing about things has always been the easiest and best way for me to process and deal with them, and while I may not want to pull off the scabs in public here on my blog…I don’t know, maybe someday I could pull together a collection of them. I know when I was using the discography of the Pet Shop Boys for my blog titles last year I kept thinking that not only do their songs have great titles, but those titles would also make great titles for essays, as well as great starting points and inspirations for the essays themselves. Do I have anything interesting to say, anything deep or profound? As Eve Harrington said as she accepted the Sarah Siddons Award for a role written originally for Margo Channing, “everything wise and witty has long since been said–by minds more mature and talents far greater than mine.”

I really need to watch All About Eve again.

So, we will see. Once I finish slurping down my morning coffee and get my gears in order this morning, mayhap I’ll start writing an essay. I am going to spend some time with the manuscript for #shedeservedit–I’ll have the cover art soon, and I can’t wait to share it, y’all–and clean, clean, clean and organize, organize, organize.

I also started watching Allen v. Farrow last night on HBO Max. It’s very well done. I’m very curious to see the rest of it. I never followed the story that closely back in the day–but it was one of those things you couldn’t help but be aware of and everyone had an opinion. I’ve never been a particular fan of Woody Allen, and haven’t seen many of his films–of the ones I’ve seen, my favorite is Bullets over Broadway–nor do I have much inclination to go back and watch them now. I recognize this is yet another one of those “art v. artist” things; and perhaps the distinctions I make in other cases (I won’t watch anything made by Roman Polanski after his crime, but will rewatch both Rosemary’s Baby and Chinatown–justifying those as being before he turned to criminal assault against minors, but apparently he was horrible to Faye Dunaway during the production….at the same time Dunaway is also notoriously difficult, so who is at fault in that instance?) are rationalizations to excuse myself. I won’t read Orson Scott Card nor Dan Simmons anymore, and really–there are so many books I want to read that I will never have time to read that cutting bigots out of my reading schedule isn’t an issue. I suppose the same goes for film–I’ll never have the time to watch every movie that I want to watch, so cutting out films made by predators or abusers or bigots really shouldn’t be an issue.

The art v. the artist! That could be an essay!

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Sugarcane

My word, this week has not been an easy one for our Gregalicious. Suffice it to say that I am really looking forward to this week being over and leave it at that, shall we? I mean, Jesus Christ, already.

Being low energy low whatever it has been this week–started last week towards the end, really–has kind of sucked, to be honest. I’m not sure what the problem is–and it’s usually some kind of chemical thing in my brain, I think, these highs and lows came and go–and the lows really kind of suck; I just don’t have the bandwidth or energy to face or do anything unless it’s relatively easy and/or simple. It’a also incredibly easy for me, whilst in the grips of a low, to feel defeated by almost any and every thing that requires thought or some sort of energy, and I also find myself very short of temper–which means easily annoyed, easily angered, and easily aggravated. I got home from work yesterday evening and forced myself to go to the gym–but despite the energy and good feeling that came with the workout, it really didn’t last very long and didn’t carry over the way it usually does; pushing me into a whirlwind of getting things done and organized and dashing around the Lost Apartment cleaning and straightening. I did manage to get some laundry started, but the dishes are still is the dishwasher and the sink is starting to fill with dirty dishes again. Tonight I don’t have to go to the gym so after work hopefully I’ll have the energy to put the dishes away and finish the laundry and get my act together.

But I am glad I asked for a deadline extension. There’s no way I could have finished by Monday, and that would have made the entire low thing even worse.

I guess this is what I’ve always called the malaise before, only it usually comes around after I finished a manuscript–and yes, I know I finished Bury Me in Shadows, but usually the malaise doesn’t settle in until I have finished everything contracted–I’ve always thought it was triggered by the panic of being out of contract, but since I don’t really sign contracts far in advance anymore, I don’t think that’s what causes it and it certainly isn’t the cause of it now. Interesting that all these years I’ve always been wrong about the malaise, really. I guess I am not as self-aware as I like to think I am (nobody is as self-aware as they should be and I am very aware my self-awareness has massive blind spots; but I tend to think I am more self-aware than most people–which could also be one of the big blind spots, which is a sort of self-awareness and….yes, it’s a spiral endlessly circling back on itself, isn’t it?). I watched some history videos on Youtube last night–my mind wasn’t really functioning well enough for me to either read or write, so mostly I spent the evening with Youtube videos–some interesting ones on American history, Youtube really is a treasure trove of just about anything you could possibly want to watch to waste time–and social media, but I’m really getting a bit tired of social media. I hate the new Facebook design, and I find myself there a lot less frequently than I used to be; mostly I’ve just been sharing the blog there and not really interacting with anyone, and the same with Twitter–although I do enjoy replying to trash bag right wing elected officials with “resign, traitor”–but I also am not entirely certain that might not be a part of the general malaise.

I just want to get past it, really.

My muscles are tired this morning, the way they usually are after a workout day, and I slept deeply and well. The bed was a very comfortable and warm cocoon from which I didn’t want to emerge this morning; we’re back to the normal weather for this time of year in New Orleans–cold at night and warm during the day–which means you can never really properly dress for the weather because there’s going to be a twenty to thirty degree swing in the temperature throughout the course of the day, but rather this than last week’s frigid climes. Our new HVAC system is currently in process of being installed, which is good because while it can get stuffy in the Lost Apartment during the warm times of the day, I discovered yesterday that simply turning on the ceiling fans will take care of that issue immediately–coupled with the drop outside, of course. (I just checked today’s weather–it’s currently 46 but will reach a high of 75 today–if it was humid the apartment would be unbearable today when I get home; thank heaven for low humidity times of the year) It’s so weird to turn on the heat in the car on the way to work and have to use the air conditioning on the way home because the car has been sitting in the hot sun all day. Yay? But it also means that the temperatures are rising gradually to the peaks of the summer–and I am about to find out how the loss of the trees is going to affect the kitchen and my work space. I suspect there will be dark heavy curtains in my future….

Well, would you look at that? I never finished yesterday’s post, how unlike me this is–and yet another example of how off I have been this week; yesterday was much better than Tuesday, but there was still a lot of dragging and not wanting to get things done. I came home last night–Paul was filming a musical performance for the Festival on the roof of the Monteleone Hotel, and so wasn’t going to be home until late–and decided to finish watching It’s a Sin without him. The thought had (and has) crossed my mind that a lot of what I was experiencing this week, emotionally and energy-wise, was a reaction to watching the first three episodes on Sunday night–it certainly opened a lot of doors I had slammed shut in my mind many years ago. When we talk about representation, and how it matters…well, It’s a Sin, painful and heartbreaking as it is, was probably the first time I saw myself on screen–I saw myself in these characters, and some of the scenes could have come from my own experience. I have always compartmentalized my life–it’s how I’ve coped and not gone stark raving mad over the years–and I don’t think I was mentally prepared for all the memories this show was going to bring back to me. It’s a brilliant show, really; and while I can certainly question some of the choices made–I can also argue the counterpoint position as well. It also reminding me of so many choices made during the course of my life, and how, far too frequently, shame and fear controlled my life and the decisions made. When I rebooted my life in 1994–and yes, that is precisely what I did–I closed the doors for the most part on my past. Was that the right decision? I don’t know. But what I do know is that I also decided, in 1994, to live with the choices I made and stop feeling regret–even when you know damned well decisions were made out of cowardice. It was cathartic in some ways–I’ve realized over the course of watching the show that many of the decisions I made back in 1994 when I reinvented my life were for self-protection; a metaphorical wiping clean of the slate because remembering and thinking about things and experiences and losses was self-defeating.

I distinctly remember, at thirty-three, deciding that I could no longer live my life afraid of dying, and that no one at that age or younger should have to live with that fear. It’s also when I started getting angry, about injustice and prejudice and bias and casual hatred. There’s a lot more to unpack here, of course, and I suspect.I shall be processing this for a while.

I then decided, after the cathartic cleansing weeping from viewing the last two episodes of the show, to watch something fun and utterly escapist while I waited for Paul to come home, so I watched Richard Lester’s 1973 version of The Three Musketeers, which I actually saw in the theater when it was released. I’d not read the book (but had read the Classics Illustrated version; many literary classics have only been read throughout my life through Classics Illustrated comic books), but it was a historical and I loved history; so one Sunday after church we went to see it in the theater. It’s been a favorite ever since–the serious attention to period detail was astonishing–and again, Michael York. I think it was in The Three Musketeers that my early crush on Michael York was born–so beautiful, and those blue eyes! It was fun, even if, as I watched, for the first time I realized that the motivations for the characters–the royal and powerful ones, at any rate–made little to no sense. I have been thinking for well over a decade about writing what would basically be fanfic for The Three Musketeers…and in watching the movie again last night I was able to put my finger directly on why I’ve never been able to get that sorted and written, at least in my mind: it was precisely the motivations of Cardinal Richelieu in setting the action of the story in motion that I was never able to wrap my mind around. The antipathy that existed between Cardinal and Queen (the Spanish Anne of Austria) is well documented; and there has always been much speculation about it (I read one novel by, I believe, Evelyn Anthony called The Cardinal and the Queen that posited that Richelieu also loved the Queen and her rejections of him drove his hatred of her…although, per this novel, they eventually fell in love and Richelieu actually fathered her two sons! Yeah, I don’t believe that.) Richelieu was not someone who allowed his own personal feelings interfere with affairs of state and his plans, and his plans were to break the power of the Hapsburg family while building France–and its monarchy–into the preeminent power in Europe. The idea of exposing the Queen’s potential infidelity and humiliating Louis XIII in such a manner doesn’t fit into that plan–or perhaps I am simply not politician enough to see where it would…yes, it would be humiliating to Spain and the Hapsburgs (the Queen was of the Spanish branch of the family), but the marriage couldn’t be annulled as she had already been pregnant (losing all three children), and a divorce? I doubt the Pope would have granted such a divorce…and it surely would have meant war with Spain–at the same time that Richelieu was fighting a war against the Huguenots to unify France, and that war also meant maneuvering to keep England from interfering. But it’s good to know that there’s actually a good, historical based reason in why I’ve not been able to make the story work in my head or even as I scribble notes on it. Alexandre Dumas was able to get away with turning Richelieu into his villain without explanation of his plans and why it was politically important to publicly shame and embarrass the Queen (and the King by extension), and the flimsy “The Cardinal wants to ruin the Queen so he has more power over the King!” doesn’t work because the Queen had no power over her husband, or influence with him–she didn’t from the day they were married until the day he died, and even as he lay dying he tried to prevent her from being made regent for their son, so even then he didn’t completely trust her.

So, once I get the political situation worked out, perhaps I can finally write the book.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and apologies for never finishing this yesterday.

Run Wild

And here we are on Monday morning again: lather, rinse, repeat.

I ran out of steam yesterday while I was organizing (instead of writing, of course) so there’s still a mess around my workspace this morning, but I did get a new file box sorted and organized for all my New Orleans/Louisiana research and ideas–mostly based on true things or legends, really–so that was a major accomplishment. I also went to the gym yesterday, which felt marvelous and I am glad I got back on that horse again (during the cold spell I didn’t go at all; it was too cold for me to be walking five blocks in sweats, and the hassle of changing there is too daunting for me). It was also kind of lovely out yesterday; I was a bit suspicious of the cold so wore tights under my sweatpants and a T-shirt beneath my sweatshirt, and walking there made me a trifle warm….as did walking home after the workout. I could sense that it was one of those days when forcing myself to write wouldn’t take, and the work I might force myself to do would have to be redone, so I just kicked back and went to work on the organizing and so forth. I had also made groceries yesterday before going to the gym, so that was part of it–groceries and the gym wears me out; I simply don’t have the energy and stamina I once did (which is about the only thing I really miss about being younger–that and not feeling the cold so much). I will also need to empty the dishwasher when I get home this evening and reload it with everything piled up in the sink; it wasn’t a very productive day, quite frankly, but I think sometimes you need to have a “down” day to recharge and recuperate…I never used to need such a day, but I also didn’t used to be on the cusp of sixty, either.

I continued watching Sons of Liberty while Paul worked yesterday; it’s actually very well done (although I did comment, rather cynically, to myself that the the founding fathers weren’t young and hot when all this was going on) and I also like that it’s not being all flag-waving; it’s pretty clear that John Hancock’s revolutionary fervor was all about business and making money, while the Adams cousins are a bit more about rights and the law (I also kept thinking it would be interesting to write a murder mystery set in pre-revolutionary Boston, sometime between 1770 and 1775, with perhaps John Adams as the attorney/investigator–a British officer is murdered, etc etc etc). Then when Paul was finished working we watched the first three episodes of It’s A Sin, which I was both looking forward to and dreading at the same time. It’s wonderful, done beautifully and written so well and the acting is stellar—but it’s also heartbreaking; I braced myself as the first episode began, realizing it’s the 1980’s and a show about gay men so most of the characters are probably going to die so be prepared. I cried a lot during the first three episodes, the first death was precisely who I expected, to be honest….but the second one was like a throat punch; just like it would have been back then–unexpected, the last person I expected, and the dying was so awful and so undeserved. My heart broke all over again, like it used to fairly regularly back then until I became inured to it, numbed; each new sickness meant death, meant another light going out, meant that with another one gone my own clock was ticking. Maybe when it’s finished, when we’re done watching, I’ll be able to process the experience more and perhaps it will prove to be cathartic; maybe it won’t. I’ve done a really good job of sealing off that part of my history and my past in my brain…even though I’ve never forgotten what I–we–went through back then and I’ve never forgotten their names or the good times…

I guess we’ll see how it turns out.

Although every time I see someone lamenting what the current pandemic is doing–to young people, to children, etc. and how their lives are being changed–I kind of exhale and think you’ll be very surprised at how well they adjust and adapt and move on–we did. And you don’t have a choice.

I think the most heartbreaking part of it was, now, seeing how young they are in the show, remembering how young we were back then, so young and hopeful and excited about the future. This was why Pose was hard for me to watch; all those beautiful young people, so talented and gifted and smart and energetic, ready to make their mark on the world, and knowing what’s coming. This, along with Pose, is the first time I’ve ever seen the pandemic from the point of view that I most associate with; the generation of gays who came out and begin living their gay lives so young. Usually, like with Longtime Companion and the execrable Philadelphia, the point of view was older–these were the gays who came out in the 1970’s or even as early as the 1960’s, as opposed to those who were so young and coming into the community and world, having to deal with something so impossible to understand. There’s one awful scene where the friends all go in to get tested for the first time….and one of them doesn’t get up and go get his results when his name is called…he waits and once the nurse leaves the waiting room, he gets up and walks out because he doesn’t want to know. It was like having my heart ripped out all over again; because that was me with my very first test. I didn’t stay for the result, I checked in, they called my number–it was done by number–and I just sat there before finally leaving because I wasn’t strong enough, emotionally, to handle a positive result. (I remember that every time I have to give a positive result to a client at the day job, and this was the first time I’ve ever seen a scene from my actual life in a television show or a movie..it was a real gut punch.)

It’s going to take me a while to get over this show, I think, and we have two more episodes to go.

And on that somber note, I am heading into the spice mines. Wish me luck.

Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

Style

And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince

One question that always exasperates authors is the old standard, where do you get your ideas from?

I get why it annoys writers to be asked this; who wants to be psycho-analyzed on a panel or at a reading? It’s a process, of course, and one that cannot be distilled into a quick, witty, quotable sound bite–and the ultimate truth is, it’s almost always different in every case–whether it’s a novel, an essay or a short story; I certainly have not gotten inspiration the same way every time. A lot of the Alabama fiction, for example, that I have written/am writing/have thought about writing, comes from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child about the past–mostly her family’s past, and certainly those stories were self-aggrandizing and self-serving, and still others were apocryphal: the ancestress, for example, who killed a Yankee soldier come to rob her during the Civil War? Yeah, that one was almost certainly lifted from Gone with the Wind–but I have since come to find out that Mitchell probably took the story from legends as well–that story seems to exist everywhere in local legend throughout the former Confederacy (I mention this in passing in Bury Me in Shadows, which also originated in one of my grandmother’s stories).

A while back, I started thinking about doing period novels centering gay male characters and telling their stories about the times when prim-and-proper society swept all things gay under the rug and homophobia was king (or Queen, I suppose). I had already come up with a great idea for a gay noir centered around a health club that operated as a money-laundering front for the local mob in a city in Florida called Muscles, which I hope to write at some point…I cannot recall exactly how or why Muscles led into thinking about other one-word titled gay noir novels set in different periods of the twentieth century; but there you have it. I think Muscles led me to think about setting one in a gay bar in the early 1990’s, built around the time gay porn star Joey Stefano was arrested while performing at a Tampa gay bar for public indecency; Indecency was such a great title that I couldn’t forget it–and I also figured I could link the two books, the way I always link my books together in an Easter eggy kind of way that the majority of people don’t notice but pleases me immensely. Right round that same time a gay man who was very active as a fundraiser and a donor for political causes died; he had started out owning a company that published gay-interest magazines with nude models and had been arrested, and served time, for using the mail to deliver pornography; I wanted to write about him and the rise of gay porn films in Southern California and call it Obscenity. So there it was: a trilogy of loosely connected gay noirs I hoped to write someday…and then one day, as I was blogging–I think maybe two years ago? I don’t recall–my mind was wandering (as it is wont to do) and I started riffing about an idea that was forming in my head as I wrote the entry for a book set in 1950’s Hollywood, dealing with the underground gay community, McCarthyism, and scandal-mongering that would open with a gay movie star’s body being found naked in the surf at the beach…only the autopsy found that the water in his lungs actually contained chlorine…so he hadn’t drowned, he’d been murdered and the body moved. I called it Chlorine; and that was, for me, kind of the end of it–I wrote the idea down, created a folder for it, and posted the entry.

So, I am sure you can imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter a few hours later and had a ridiculously high amount of–what do they call them? Mentions? Anyway, I had no idea what had triggered this–I rarely get much interaction there–and so when I went to check…some people had read my blog and were all about Chlorine–and the more they tweeted about it, the more people had gotten drawn into this conversation. I was thrilled, to say the least, to see so much attention on-line for something that was really just an amorphous idea…and then a great first line occurred to me: The earthquake woke me up at nine in the morning. So I opened a new Word document, typed in that line, and next thing you know, I had an over 3000 word first chapter written, and the entire plot was forming in my mind already. I took voluminous notes, and decided that, once I got finished with everything I was in the midst of writing already, I would give Chlorine a shot.

And in the meantime, I could start reading up on the period, gay Hollywood, and root myself firmly in the period.

Which is how I came across Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.

On November 29, 1954, The Hollywood Reporter’s gossip columnist Mike Connolly wrote about the proud, happiest day of Rock Hudson’s life. The movie star had just been cast in George Stevens’ cattle-and-oil epic Giant, and Connolly’s one-line blurb commemorating Rock’s celebration party was as cryptic as it was pumped with news ready to break: “Saturday Mo-somes: Phyllis Gates & Rock Hudson, Margaret Truman & Henry Willson.”

In one of his rare acts of discretion, newshound Connolly dispensed with the ampersand that should have wedded the names Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Fifty years into the future, “Mo-somes” could be read as slang for the two men’s sexual orientation. But not in 1954. Back then, “Mo” meant something far less provocative but nearly as colorful

“Mo” was short for the Mocambo, the Mount Olympus of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Pure tinseltown fantasy, the Mocambo was an over-heated study in contrasts where oversized tin flowers and humongous velvet balls with fringe festooned flaming candy-cane columns that framed a dance floor designed to induce claustrophobia when more than two couples got up to fox-trot. The tables were equally miniscule, making it possible for the establishment to charge lots of money for not much food, which nobody could see. Overhead, rococo candelabras gave off so little illumination that revelers kept bumping into each other by mistake, and sometimes now, as they tried to check themselves out in the flecked mirrors that recast everybody’s reflection in tones of warm, flattering, fake gold.

I had a vague idea of who Henry Willson was before I read this book–he appeared in the Rock Hudson bio I read a few months ago as well as in Tab Hunter’s memoirs–and of course, Jim Parsons played him in the Ryan Murphy alternate-history Hollywood. I was also vaguely aware–my memory is a lot dimmer than it used to be–of the gay Hollywood underground; the Sunday afternoon pool parties at George Cukor’s, for example–and I had read some gay Hollywood histories (the ones by William J. Mann are particularly good), but I knew my main character in Chlorine needed a Henry Willson-like agent, and so I needed to research Henry Willson. Willson was, of course, notorious in his time and the passage of time since his heyday has done nothing to soften that image. He was the definitive “casting couch” agent–and per this book, which is very well written and very entertaining–men who wanted to be movie stars (whether gay, straight or bi) were more than willing to service Henry if it meant a leg up in the business. And Henry did work very hard for his clients, polishing rough material into diamonds for the camera. He taught them how to speak, how to walk, the proper silverware, how to behave in public; manners and etiquette. Henry believed that talent wasn’t as important to being a movie star as having star quality–the indescribable something that all major stars have, that is impossible to describe–and he knew what he was doing. He also frequently renamed them–hence the proliferation of the one syllable first names with the two or three syllable last names: Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Guy Madison, etc.

This book provided a wealth of information as well as inspiration for me, as did the Rock Hudson biography I read several months ago. This period of Hollywood history is fascinating, and I love that writing this book–or rather, planning and researching, since I haven’t really started writing it–is giving me an amazing excuse to study gay Hollywood history and the post-war film industry.

Make no mistake about it–Henry Willson was good at what he did, but he was also a terrible person; trying to make it in a homophobic culture, society and industry at the time in which he lived would definitely twist a person. He was an arch-conservative; a Log Cabin Republican of his time, friends with the horrific Roy Cohn. Was it camouflage to help protect him and his clients from the Red Scare days of McCarthyism, when being queer was also just as suspect? Or was he really that terrible of a person? The author makes no judgments; rather leaving it to the reader to. make up their own minds about who Henry was as a person. As terrible as he was–and some of the things he did, like the casting couch, were pretty unforgivable–I did feel sorry for him in some ways, and in basing a character on him I kind of have to find the humanity in the monster. He was not attractive in a business that revolved around beauty; while the straight male pigs who ran the business used their power to force women to sleep with them, Henry used and abused his own power to get beautiful men to sleep with him.

My own main character–a second-tier movie star who slept his way into parts and a career–is also not entirely likable; but I think I’ve gotten deep enough inside of his head to at least make him identifiable and relatable to the reader…but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I do recommend this book, if you’re interested in Hollywood history in general or gay Hollywood history specifically.