The Ghost of Myself

So, here it is Wednesday already, and I am worn down already. I was exhausted all day yesterday–physically, not mentally–and both days I had to force myself to get out of bed; I could have easily stayed asleep for hours more. I’m not sure what that is all about–it is most likely tied to the return of the warm weather, including some brutal humidity–but I am also hopeful that it’s a temporary aberration and will go away–but tomorrow morning I have to get up early again, and so we shall see how tired I feel yesterday. When I got home yesterday I was so tired I couldn’t focus–with the end result that my kitchen, an unholy mess from making dinner on Monday–remains an unholy mess still this morning. I did manage to fold some laundry, and then started watching Youtube videos while trying to focus enough to continue reading my Whitney novel (to no avail). I did see some very interesting videos on the Medici family, with a particular emphasis on Catherine de Medici (whom I find one of the most fascinating characters in history; she was also part of that sixteenth century legion of women who held power, and would definitely be a part of  The Monstrous Regiment of Women, should I ever have the time or energy to do the research and to write it), as well as another fascinating (to me) historical personage: Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu videos led me to some more about the Thirty Years’ War, the decline of the Hapsburg family’s power, and how Louis XIV came to solidify and center the power of the crown…so it wasn’t an entirely wasted evening.

I may not have been able to focus enough to write anything new, or watch a television program, but those ten to fifteen minutes videos are quite educational, and they do spur me on to think of other ideas and thoughts and so forth (I especially love the Weird History ones).

I don’t have to work a full eight hour day today, and I am working from home; which means all kinds of things. Later on today–when I am finished with work for the day–I will run my errands–groceries and mail–and then come home to hopefully an evening where I can get some more writing done. I still feel very tired, even though the coffee is now kicking into gear, and hopefully the tired will eventually go away–at least long enough for me to do the dishes.

I did manage to do a load of laundry last night.

The only thing I’ve noticed that’s significantly different about New Orleans thus far with the Phase I reopening is that there’s more traffic. All the businesses still seem to be empty, and no one is walking around much; but there are more cars. One of the nice things about the Shutdown was being able to easily make use of I-10 for me to get around, to and from work–usually the I-10/I-90 exchange I have to use, getting off from I-10 West and getting on I-90 towards the bridge across the river, during normal times is so backed-up that it’s faster and easier for me to drive through the CBD and deal with rush hour traffic that way rather than sitting on the highway, not moving. Yesterday when I got on the highway I could see that further ahead, just past the Orleans on/off ramps, traffic was sitting still; so I got off at Orleans Avenue and cut through the CBD. Traffic is one of the reasons I always preferred to work later; so I wouldn’t have to deal with that irritation….and it looks like that irritation is finally back. Yay? I guess I should appreciate it as a sign of normalcy returning, but it’s frankly one I could have done without.

I imagine this exhaustion is somehow pandemic related in some way; much the same way I have credited the pandemic-concurrent shift and alteration of our reality with why I tire so easily these days. It’s obviously psychological; and while it was nearly fifteen years ago I do remember the post-Katrina time as being remarkably similar to these times physically and psychologically. There are differences between the two situations, obviously; Katrina’s impact truly wasn’t felt world-wide. The world wasn’t left in ruins after Katrina’s floods, and so there was also that weird sensibility of being in New Orleans, irrevocably altered and changed, and then traveling somewhere and having things be perfectly normal there–and then having to return from normalcy to the abnormality of life in New Orleans at the time. That was always jarring….like flying out of the deserted airport to one that was bustling, filled with people and airplanes parked at every gate; or leaving from one that was packed to landing in one that was basically a ghost town, with tumbleweeds blowing down the empty concourses. Now every airport is empty, streets are empty, businesses are deserted–and not just here but everywhere.

And on that cheery note, I am diving back down into the spice mines, and won’t be coming up for air any time soon–so have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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It Always Comes as a Surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Dreaming of the Queen

And here we are, on yet another Thursday, awake before the crack of dawn so I can go screen people at our two offices–mornings at the Marine Building on Tulane Avenue, afternoon at the Elysian Fields office–before heading home. I’m also doing a live reading this evening for Tubby and Coo’s Bookstore; not sure how that’s going to work or how you can tune in–I think it’s a Facebook thing? But I’ll be posting on Twitter and Facebook etc once I have that information handy. I am not sure how I feel about this–I intensely dislike the sound of my own voice, let alone how I appear on camera–but this is a brave new world we’re all living in, and if I want to continue having a career, I am going to have to start doing all kinds of things I generally avoid doing, because doing things you don’t enjoy or like to do is part of the price one has to pay for a career in publishing. I’ve always admired authors who can do the public appearance thing with grace and wit and aplomb; I am not one of those, and inevitably, as is my wont, am aware of every single thing that goes wrong in a reading or on a panel; whether it’s me saying the opposite of what I mean or stumbling over words as I read…yeah.

Which is why I always get a terrified look on my face when people ask me for career advice. I so clearly don’t know what I’m doing that it’s almost laughable that anyone would want my advice on anything, really.

I read some more of Thunder on the Right last night; again, not really sure why Stewart opted to go with a third person point-of-view rather than her usual first; perhaps it will become more apparent as the novel progresses. I honestly don’t remember anything of this story–which is weird.  It’s set in the Pyrenees, a part of Europe I’ve always been interested in and rarely appears in fiction; and how could I forget the plot of a story that begins with the heroine going to visit a cousin staying in a remote convent in the Pyrenees, only to discover on arrival that her cousin died two weeks earlier. (Then again, I remembered very little of This Rough Magic, and even thought the dolphin was from The Moon-spinners; and was wrong wrong wrong)

We also watched another episode of Defending Jacob, which kind of is unspooling. Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery are both superb in this–at least, so far–but the plot itself…as I said to a friend on Twitter, who had issues with the book (I’ve not read the book), the story is familiar–the concept of ‘what would you do is your child was accused of a crime’ has been used plenty of times, and this is what would be called domestic suspense if it was written by a woman and the main character was the wife, not the husband (Alison Gaylin did a magnificent, Edgar winning job of this very story in If I Die Tonight, which you should read if you haven’t already), and the whole “Dad is a prosecutor but will hide evidence and interfere with the investigation to protect his son, thereby risking his entire career and life because he is so convinced his son is being railroaded” thing…the “heroic dad” trope is such a straight male fantasy that it’s very hard for me to take the show seriously. It’s hard to watch someone do stupid things, particularly when they’re supposedly really smart (LAWYER), that you know are only going to turn out badly because it’s necessary for the plot.

I also finished watching Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne. It’s really quite good, partly because it’s one of those weird historical royal marriages that was surprisingly happy. They were only married five years before Marie was killed in a fall from her horse; Maximilian, in an age when kings and princes and emperors rarely went more than a year between wives, didn’t remarry for nearly twenty years after Marie died. He had lots of mistresses, but never remarried–which was kind of a lovely tribute to his first wife. The show is really well done, and the German actor playing Maximilian is quite hot. (The actress playing Marie is also beautiful.) Their two children, Philip and Margaret, were also quite attractive; Philip is also known to history as Philip the Handsome; how good looking did he have to be to earn that nickname while he was alive? Later Hapsburgs, however, were not known for their looks.

Lord, I have a lot of work to get done this weekend, and I am really dreading it.

Heavy sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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DJ Culture

Ah, Kansas.

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

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

And of course, there’s Scott Heim.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Don Juan

Looks like we made it to Wednesday, for whatever that may be worth. Days and dates really seem to have little to no meaning anymore; I can only imagine how bad it is for people who are sheltering in place. We used to be able to tell what day of the week it was based on what was airing on television, but now that we stream everything and rarely watch anything live…yeah, if I didn’t use a Google calendar to keep track of when the bills are due and deadlines and appointments or so forth, I’d never know the date, let alone the day.

I know when I was quarantined at home for that week, I had no clue of days or dates by the time I was cleared to return to work…so those of you who continue to be stuck at home sheltering in place, you have my deepest sympathies. I can’t even imagine. I was going stir crazy after a little less than a full week–well, it was more like nine days total, I think, from beginning to end–and so I cannot imagine how awful it must be for people who’ve been trapped in doors this entire time.

I wonder how many Rear Window type stories are being written as I type this?

I love the whole concept of the Rear Window style of crime and suspense stories. I think my story “The Carriage House,” recently sold to Mystery Tribune, is that precise kind of story; what I think of as ‘the accidental witness.’ I think about this sort of thing all the time; in my neighborhood, for example, the houses are very close to each other. Sometimes as I walk back to my apartment I can hear someone on the other side of the fence, talking on the phone; I can see their upper floor windows from the windows around my desk, and of course, I see my neighbor who lives in the carriage house walking in front of my windows all the time, when he’s coming or going. Likewise, from our bedroom windows we can see into the house next door’s upstairs windows; I never look, really, and most of the time being inside I think no one can see me, either–which is hilarious. (We always think of our homes as being safe spaces, but it wouldn’t be very hard for someone to kick in my front door, really; this is why break-ins and robberies, etc. are so unsettling and feel like such violations–our homes are supposedly our safe sanctuaries, and being reminded that we aren’t safe in our homes in such a way makes things uncertain and uncertainty is often the worst.) Throughout New Orleans, no matter how big the lot our home sits on, we live in close proximity to others; particularly in the French Quarter and most of the neighborhoods of the city; I’m always curious and interested how we all live in such tight quarters to each other and yet pretend we are isolated in our own safe little worlds.

I worked on two of my stories yesterday: “Falling Bullets,” which is a Venus Casanova story, and “Condos for Sale or Rent”, which is one of those “living in close proximity”stories. (And I know–New Orleanians don’t live in nearly as close proximity as New Yorkers or San Franciscans) I also have come to the conclusion that one of my short stories–which I have been trying to make into a short story–is probably more likely to be a novel than a short story; I am going to try to revise it one more time, just to be sure, and if that doesn’t work, “Death and the Handmaidens” is going into the “potential novel” file. I think it’s a good story and one that kind of needs to be told…but it’s been rejected everywhere I’ve ever submitted it; but I do think it still has some potential to work as a short story, so I am going to give it the old college try once more.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work–those early mornings on Tuesday and Thursday are particularly rough on me–and watched some more of Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which is very well done, and we started Killing Eve–free trial on AMC; we decided the quality still holds, but are willing to wait until we can binge the entire season over the course of an episode. I slept really well last night, but still feel a little dragged out this morning. Then again, I’m only on my first cup of coffee; that does make a significant difference to how awake I do actually feel.

I read for a little while on Thunder on the Right last night, but my mind was too tired to focus, so I gave up on reading after a few pages. It is much better than I remembered, and it’s also one of the few Mary Stewart novels that isn’t written in the first person. I’m not certain why she made that choice–it isn’t evident yet–and I’m assuming there’s a reason why she deviated from her usual; perhaps as I read further into the book it will become more obvious. (Assuming there’s a story structure reason for not using the first person is a very author-like assumption to make; I myself inevitably fall back on the first person simply–but not entirely–because it’s easier not to make POV mistakes in the first person.)

The weather here is getting warmer–and the Formosan termite swarms have started–but we still haven’t been punched in the face by humidity quite yet, and every day the 80 degree or so temperature this week has been offset by a lovely, cool breeze that has made it seem temperate, which has been really nice.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines this morning. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Footsteps

I wound up deciding to take yesterday off from the world–computer, social media, you name it–because for whatever reason my desktop was acting wonky yesterday morning and eventually I grew so irritated I decided to run my errands. When I got home from that further irritation–nothing like people not only not wearing masks in public but not maintaining social distance as well–and I just wanted to scream at everyone: “do you want us to be on lockdown through September? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

But then I remember–this is New Orleans and nobody follows rules here; or at least, they ignore them when they’re inconvenient. It’s sadly part of the charm here, and now that it’s something important…I see how dangerous that can be. But it was nevertheless more fuel for my irritation, and by the time I got home my computer was still wonky so I decided to say fuck it and take the day away from the computer and social media. It was kind of nice–I fell into a Youtube hole of history videos (I am really glad to be studying history again; as I’ve said before, I kind of wish I’d majored in History in college–but would have never been able to narrow down a field of majority interest). I spent most of the afternoon moving and rearranging books and filing and cleaning while this Youtube videos played on continually; I learned some more about the Byzantine empire, the plague, and the Hapsburgs–who are so fascinating to me. Let other wars, you, happy Austria, marry.  Someday I’d still like to do a book about the powerful women of the sixteenth century; and many of those important women were Hapsburgs.

One of the things I’ve found interesting is how writers are engaging with their lockdown situation and their social media. Lists are popping up everywhere; and as I daydreamed yesterday while doing my chores and so forth, I started thinking about my own lists–rather than ten albums or books or movies that shaped me, I wanted to come up with more specifics: My Ten Favorite Agatha Christie novels, my favorite romantic suspense novels, my favorite crime novels by women, and so on. The reboot of Perry Mason, coming this summer from HBO (it looks worth a look, frankly; although I imagine there are any number of Mason purists who will naturally hate it; there always are), might be worth taking a look at some Perry Mason novels–I feel the books don’t get nearly as much attention as the TV series based on them; and the books don’t get talked about nearly enough, either. Talk about puzzles–Erle Stanley Gardner was a master of crime plotting, and red herrings, and confusing the reader; I don’t think I ever correctly solved a Perry Mason case until Perry revealed their identity, dramatically, in the court room (which is, of course, where that trope originated); and I do have a couple of them lying around on the shelves in the laundry room–The Case of the Calendar Girl and The Case of the Crying Swallow–so perhaps, as part of the Reread Project, I should revisit them both.

I also spent some time thinking about The Plot Against America–which is directly related to our finishing Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood last night on Netflix. Both are alternate histories, but one of the things about Hollywood is that it was an alternate history that was actually appealing; usually, alternate histories inevitably paint an uglier reality than the one that actually happened (although it’s hard to imagine a more dystopian alternate history for the present day than the actuality); Hollywood didn’t do that. Instead, it showed how horribly racist, homophobic, and misogynist the country was, and how Hollywood reflected that…and then gave us a lovely alternate history where a Hollywood studio saw its duty to change those things and open up society in the late 1940’s. It’s quite marvelous, actually; I kept waiting for reality to break over them, but it never did. It’s very well done, and it’s shot in the style of Hollywood films of the time, right up to the obligatory happy Hollywood ending. And of course, the boys were beautiful. The Plot Against America, on the other hand, was completely horrifying because it was so easy to imagine that we as a country could have gone that way. I don’t know how the novel ends–I never finished it; I have said before that I am not a fan of Roth and I never got past the first chapter of this one–but I thought the way the show ended was perfect, even if it was terrifying at the same time; it was more of an indictment of the United States (as I said to Paul, “this show is terrifying because it could so easily have gone this way here”) and humanity than anything else.  Hollywood also could be seen as an indictment of the way things used to be–its message seemed to be this could have all changed so much earlier if anyone in Hollywood had the courage to make these changes–and that is just as damning as The Plot Against America.

Today I am going to write and edit and revise and get things done. I think I am always teetering on the edge on Saturdays anyway; still leftover tired and so forth from the week, and then having to deal with the general public on top of that is always draining and rough on my moods. Computer issues on top only heightens the aggravation, and being already on the razor’s edge doesn’t make it any easier. I kind of have a mess here in the kitchen that needs to be handled–I deliberately avoided my desk yesterday, so there’s sorting and filing that needs to be done around here as well–but this morning, after I finish this, I am going to abjure to my easy chair and read for a bit. I want to get further into Mysterious Skin, and then I am most likely going to move on to another Mary Stewart reread, either Thunder on the Right (which I don’t remember at all) or Madam Will You Talk?, which I have some memory of; and there are also short stories I’d like to sink my teeth into. I haven’t touched the most recent Lawrence Block anthology, which looks terrific and has some amazing contributors. I want to get my story “Night Follows Night” revised today and possibly submitted somewhere; I’d also love to get some revisions done on “This Thing of Darkness” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

And of course, the Secret Project. I really need to get back to work on the Secret Project.

So, yes, I have my work cut out for me today. I also should spend some time drafting the replies to the massive amounts of emails I’ve accumulated over the last day or so. And then I feel like I can face Monday with a clear conscience.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader. I plan to.

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Forever in Love

Saturday.

I do love the weekends, even the ones when I have over a gazillion things to do.

So, I submitted a story to McSweeney’s. They did an open call for queer stories, and I am a queer writer of queer stories, and I just happened to have a dark little story that just needed to be polished a little bit, which I did yesterday morning and I sent it in. That’s three short stories I have out on spec right now, and my fingers are crossed. All three are kind of long shots, in a way, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’m hoping to work on the Secret Project this weekend and get it under control, tweak another story to send out on Monday morning, and maybe–just maybe–finish one of these stories of which I don’t have a first draft available to tweak/edit/revise. Which one, I’m not quite sure, but it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve worked on any of the novellas in progress…perhaps this weekend I should give a look to either “Festival of the Redeemer” or “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I kind of want to finish “Condos, for Sale or Rent”; it’s a pandemic story, after all, and it would be interesting to get one of  those written and sent out somewhere….although it could very quickly become dated.

Hell, I started writing it three weeks ago (I think) and it’s probably already dated.

We started watching the new Ryan Murphy Netflix show Hollywood last night, which is essentially about the film industry’s (and by extension, society’s) treatment of minorities and gays during the post-war period when television was rising and the studio system was collapsing. This is the same period I will be writing about in Chlorine, so naturally the show was of interest to me: the fabled Sunday pool parties at George Cukor’s with the gorgeous young men who wanted to be movie stars and if it meant the casting couch so be it; Scotty and the fabled gas station of prostitution; fictional characters mixed in with real ones; Henry Willson and his abusive and predatory agenting methods towards beautiful young men (and Rock Hudson, who is a character in this and very well cast); and the horrors of the LAPD vice squad and how a career could be ruined by an ill-timed arrest or visit to the nelly house (gay bar); and how relationships, actual relationships between men that were more than just sex, weren’t seen as possible (Billy Haines to the contrary). It’s the perfect background for a noir novel, quite frankly, and I also, while watching the first three episodes, came up with the one missing component to my plot for Chlorine–the stakes for my main character, which means now the book is completely possible. The show itself is very well done, the acting superb, and the period setting perfectly done (interesting that the last show we watched, The Plot Against America, was also a period piece and also very well done). I do recommend it; the cast is incredibly pretty, both men and women, and it’s very fun seeing Jim Parsons playing monstrous Henry Willson.

I slept very well last night–the weather was stunningly beautiful yesterday, a gorgeous and incredibly unseasonal cool day, without humidity–and got home from work not only not feeling tired, but fairly energetic. I spent some time once I got home in my easy chair with a purring kitty in my lap, rereading stories that I want to work on and some of the partials that need to become complete, before we tuned into Hollywood. Today, I need to make a brief grocery run, stop and pick up the mail, and run by the bank to deposit a royalty check–always a pleasant feeling, quite frankly–and then I am coming home to probably spend most of the day alternating between cleaning, reading Mysterious Skin (it’s not only haunting but compulsively readable), and doing some writing, as well as some organizing. As I said yesterday, I’d like to get more stories out for submission–it always comes in waves like this–but there are four more markets out there I don’t have something submitted to, and I spent a little time on Submittable looking for markets and found a few more with deadlines later this month that I ‘m going to consider looking at. I also need to finish the Secret Project this week as well; always so much to do.

And that’s not even looking at the emails that are piled up in my inbox. Heavy heaving sigh. But I can spend some time, here and there, today and tomorrow answering emails and saving the drafts to send on Monday morning; I refuse to send emails (except in emergency cases) on the weekends because that simply breeds more emails. And since I’m feeling energized this morning, I kind of want to take on things that need to be taken on, if you know what I mean.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I might check back in on you later today–stranger things have happened–or else I will just talk to you tomorrow.

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Break 4 Love

Thursday morning.

I slept rather well last night, even if I did keep waking up periodically throughout the night. I’m not sleepy or tired–at least not thus far,  but it’s still early, Today I have to turn in my Sherlock story, which means going over it one more time today and formatting it properly; it shouldn’t be terribly difficult. Am I nervous? Of course I am; it’s always nerve-wracking when you submit a story that outside of your comfort zone. I also learned yesterday at some point that McSweeney’s is taking submissions for a “queer” issue; I have a couple of stories that might work to submit there–with a little tweaking–so hopefully I will have the wherewithal to deal with doing both of those today.

We watched another episode of The Plot Against America last night, and it’s very well done, and creepy on so many levels. I’ve not seen much about the show in the zeitgeist, but it’s really quite worth watching.

I was tired last night when I finished my work-at-home work (well, it’s not finished, just finished for the day), and so it was another evening of scrolling through Youtube and falling into Youtube wormholes of lists and so forth–and old music videos–before Paul got home and I made dinner, then we talked for a while before watching an episode of the show. Such an exciting life I lead! I literally sometimes  wonder why I bother making myself write these entries every day.  But I am looking forward to this weekend at long last, and my email inbox has already gotten out of control and depressing to look at; my goal for this morning between screening people is to try to get it as cleaned out as possible. Not every email requires an answer, after all, and getting into the trap of answering every email is a fool’s game.

I’ve been extremely scattered again this week, what with all these new story beginnings and ideas I’ve been having. Creative ADHD is certainly the worst, and there are times when I simply can’t reign it in, no matter how hard I try. It’s also sort of frustrating because I know I’m never going to get all these stories written, no matter how hard I work on it; it’s just that some of the titles are almost too good to pass up, you know? I really think “Procession of the Penitents” is a great title; and the idea behind it is also equally good; an assistant ADA, new to her job, sitting second chair to the ADA in charge of sex crimes prosecutions, and the case is a gang-rape at a fraternity party. Then again, it might be too much story for a short story–I’m not certain I can get all the story into six thousand words or less; which sometimes is the problem with my ideas. Before I used to always think in terms of novels–oh this would make a great novel–knowing full well I’ll never get a chance to write every novel I want to write. When I started the Short Story Project two or three years ago, the entire point of it was to retrain my brain into thinking in terms of short stories with the new ideas; it’s worked in that regard, and only in some cases have I come to understand that it’s too much for a short story; but now at least I am thinking in terms of longer stories being novellas. There’s another one I’d love to write–novella or novel–centering Venus Casanova and her last case before she retires from the NOPD; it’s a great idea but then again we have the issue of “should a white gay man write about a black woman?” I mean, sure I can, but will it be authentic? Should I be sucking the air out of the room and taking a publishing slot away from a woman (or man) of color? Probably not, and being a minority myself (although, as I always say, I hit the jackpot by being a cisgender white male; gay is my only crime) doesn’t necessarily make it okay.

The Edgars are being announced today on Twitter at 11 am EDT; you might want to follow @EdgarAwards so you won’t miss a single announcement. Pretty cool. Ordinarily, about now I’d be waking up at the Grand Hyatt in another hour or two, getting some coffee, and getting ready to face the day of the Edgar banquet. I haven’t been in years–I think 2015 was my last attendance–and while I was dreading getting up on stage to speak in front of that glittering room of publishing literati, I’d rather be doing that right now than slurping down coffee and preparing to go to another day of work screening people for symptoms before letting them into our respective buildings. (I work at one building in the morning before switching to the other in the afternoon.)

But such is pandemic life. None of us saw this coming, and back in January when I assumed the role of Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, I certainly had no clue that I’d be presiding over the cancellation of the banquet (first time ever) and symposium (first time ever). Yay for making history?

Heavy heaving sigh.

Yesterday was also payday, but since the first isn’t until tomorrow I don’t have to start paying bills until then–so I am leaving things be, so as to maintain the illusion I have money in the bank for yet another day.

And on that note, hello spice mines! Time to put on my mining helmet and head on back in. Have a lovely Edgar Thursday, Constant Reader!

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The Former Enfant Terrible

I don’t know that I would consider myself a former enfant terrible; I’m not entirely sure I am not currently one, given the actual definition of the term. In French it means unruly child, and I don’t know that I was one of those or not, but the current Webster definition (that of a person whose unconventional or controversial behavior or ideas shock, embarrass, or annoy others)–that I can actually see. I’m certainly annoying; I can be embarrassing; and I am pretty sure I’ve said or done things other people might consider, or see, as shocking. I mean, just being gay shocks some people.

If I could choose which of those three verbs I would pick, if I could only be one: most definitely, without question, annoying.

I am sure there are many who would agree that I have already succeeded on that score. (shrugs) It happens.

Well, we’ve made it to Wednesday somehow, and that’s an accomplishment of which we can be terribly proud. Making it through any day these days is an accomplishment, really; I know that everyone else is as sick of the phrase the new normal as I am (it certainly begs the question of what is normal); and I’m not certain this is a ‘new normal’ anyway; the real new normal is what comes after all of this, and that’s the part I’m kind of worried about, to be honest. What will the new world, arising from the ashes of the COVID-19 pandemic like the phoenix of lore, look like? We had already established that there is a certain percentage of the population who aren’t civic-minded, don’t care about anyone outside of their immediate circle of selfishness, and believe that if they’re unhappy no one else should be; appallingly awful as they are, at least they’re setting example for everyone else of who not to be–although others–a much smaller amount, to be sure–see their wretched behavior and jump on the bandwagon of selfishness and hatred. We’ve always had those people in this country; they were Tories during the revolution; pro-slavery; America First while the Nazis ravaged Europe and began slaughtering undesirables; and so forth.

We started watching David Simon’s new HBO mini-series, The Plot Against America, based on the novel of the same name by Philip Roth. I’m not going to argue the merits of Philip Roth as a writer; he won every conceivable writing award during his lengthy career, and whenever I’ve dabbled into his canon, I’ve not really come away terribly impressed. At the direction of my friend Laura, I read When She Was Good, and I had read another one of his earlier novels already, Letting Go; I wasn’t really impressed terribly by either–I’ve never really understood, or gotten, novels about the sexual messes straight people get themselves into because of their warped sense of everything about themselves, let alone the American puritan ethic about sex and sexuality; I tried reading The Plot Against America because it was a topic that interested me: what if Nazi sympathizer and anti-Semite Charles Lindbergh had been elected president in 1940, rather than Roosevelt winning his unprecedented third term? I gave up about a chapter into it–as I often say about literary novels (looking at you, Jonathan Franzen), why would I read a novel about characters the author clearly doesn’t like? I”m not interested in people debating me about the genius of Philip Roth; I don’t get it, and that’s fine. I’ll give him another try–probably after I finish watching this show, I’ll probably give The Plot Against America another try, It came out around the same time I read Sinclair Lewis’ disturbing, if flawed, It Can’t Happen Here, which was chilling in its depiction of how easily Fascism could rise, and become perfectly acceptable, in this country (I sometimes wonder what Lewis, a brilliant social critic and writer, would think of these modern times in which we find ourselves), which is something I’ve chewed over a few times myself, and have considered writing about at some point. I saw the possibilities of where we are right now back in the 1980’s, during the height of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, as people died and no one cared because it was “the right people” who were doing the dying. That was what first inspired my alternate American history novel idea–one that still is bubbling in the back of my mind, the rise of the American dystopia, and the concurrent horrors that would come in its wake.

I do think that the times in which we currently live will be referred to by future historians as “the Oligarchy” or “the Oligarch Age,” as opposed to the truly falsely named “Gilded Age,” when workers were as disposable as animals and the capitalistic monsters rose to wealth and power in ways unforeseeable to the original founders.

I’m still reading Mysterious Skin (or rather, rereading it) and I’m very interested to find that I don’t remember as much of it as I had originally thought. It brings back to me a lot of memories of Kansas, and while I was never a child there, I can imagine what it would have been like. There’s a dark sensibility to this story, and the writing, that I’m really enjoying; I’ve always believed Scott Heim could write amazing noir stories, and kind of wish he would. I just haven’t been able to focus as clearly on reading as I would like lately; primarily because I’ve been writing again, and apparently, I can either focus on writing or focus on reading, but not both at the same time. It’s a very vivid depiction of being an outsider as a child–for both of its main male characters–and that is certainly something I can relate to, even now; although I never truly felt like an outsider until we moved to suburbia. After that, I spent the next twenty-three years feeling like I didn’t belong, in either my world or any world, for that matter. Heim really gets that across, and far better than I did in Sara.

The weather outside is frightful. Last night as we watched another episode of The Plot Against America, a massive thunderstorm rolled in, and it continued to rain throughout the night–and even this morning, this storm system (or another one, who knows? Not a meteorologist) is still raging outside my windows. Right now the rain has stopped, but when I first woke up it was coming down pretty intensely. It appears that is our forecast for the rest of the day as well, so it’s good, gloomy day for working from home. Ah, there was another blast of lightning, and thunder immediately behind. Yikes! Glad I am not going out there into that mess, quite frankly.

And of all things–because of course I don’t have enough works in progress–I started writing some new short stories last night–“In the Shadow of a Tomb,” “Procession of the Penitent,” “Dimestore Cowboy,” “The Plague Doctor” and “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”–mostly openings and an idea of the story, and who knows whether anything will ever come out of any of them, really, but it’s nice to be productive again, even if it’s scattered and all over the place. But I am going to try to spend this weekend sending stories out for submission again; it’s a really nice feeling to have stories out in the world, even if they don’t get taken.

And on that note, back to work. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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For Your Own Good

As Monday rolls around again–huzzah?–and we’re in the last week of April. These last two months have certainly lasted forever, haven’t they? Christ the Lord.

I did something really strange yesterday morning; or rather, more strange than my usual, which is pretty strange. I started writing another Scotty book. It may come to nothing, but ever since the title Quarter Quarantine Quadrille popped into my head a couple of weeks ago, my mind has toyed with the thought over and over again. And since the intro to every Scotty book opens with an homage to the opening of a truly famous classic novel (Rebecca, The Haunting of Hill House, Lolita, Peyton Place, to name but a few) the thought crossed my mind that I could do an homage to “The Masque of the Red Death”, so I looked it up on-line and cut and pasted the first two paragraphs into a word document, and started playing with it a bit. I’ll probably look at the openings of other pandemic-related fictions, like Death in Venice or The Plague before finally deciding on which one to actually use–or even if a Scotty quarantine book is something the world wants or needs–but the actual opening of the first chapter came to me on Saturday night, while we watched that dreadful Chris Hemsworth as a mercenary movie: as I watched a fight scene where Hemsworth’s character took on basically a team of soldiers by himself and killed them all in less than two minutes, Paul said, “I wonder how long this script was? Two pages of dialogue, maybe?” and I thought to myself, this is probably what a Colin novel would have to look like, and from there I leapt to Scotty, Frank and Taylor sitting around during quarantine, watching a movie like this, and Taylor saying, idly, “This is what Colin actually does when he’s not here, isn’t it?” and then forces the questions I’ve been asking myself over the last few books–especially in the last one–about morality and ethics and how do Scotty and Frank and the family look past what Colin’s source of income is? And since I signaled at the end of the last book that Colin was on his way home…and it did come up, during the book, that being involved with Colin makes them targets…that maybe, just maybe, it was time to deal with that in a Scotty book. So I wrote the first few paragraphs of a first chapter, where exactly that happens: they are watching an action/adventure movie when Taylor makes the observation, and the awkward conversation that ensues from it.

It might be a false start and a dead end–Lord knows I already have enough on my plate without trying to write another Scotty book on top of it–but…stranger things have happened.

I also reviewed my Sherlock Holmes story, which was actually much better than I ever dared dream; revising it and making it stronger will not actually be the odious chore I feared it might. On the other hand, I cannot be certain that the editor will feel much the same way about the story as I do, so it must be honed and refined and polished till it gleams in the light of day. (Ironically, I couldn’t remember the end….) But I did a much  better job than I thought I had–yes, I am my own worst critic, this is absolutely true–and this pleases me to no end. The story itself works, and just needs a little bit of tweaking the language and an added sentence here, a subtracted sentence there…yes, I am very pleased with it. Once I get it in shape, off it goes–and I think my other one that’s due this week only needs a tweak here and there as well.

HUZZAH!

Always good news.

We also watched Hustlers–didn’t care too much for it; sorry, felt like it could have been much better–and then the first episode of the Penny Dreadful spin-off, City of Angels, set in Los Angeles in 1938, and I liked it. A lot. It has a very noir sensibility, crossed over with some supernatural/horror elements, and it addresses not only race but Nazi infiltration into Los Angeles in that year–and pulls no punches. Draw your own conclusions, but I thought it was terrific, and look forward to watching the rest of the season. Nathan Lane is very well cast as a hardboiled LA homicide detective, and you can never go wrong with Natalie Dormer. I then watched–while Paul got ready for the week–watched a historical mini-series on Starz called Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, I think a multi-language production? Sometimes it sounded like French, sometimes like German, sometimes like something in between; perhaps Flemish? Anyway, it’s quite well-produced and this royal couple never gets the attention they quite deserve, given their marriage resulted in nearly five hundred years of wars between France and Germany (through its many iterations, from Holy Roman Empire to Austrian Empire to German Empire). The fifteenth century is an interesting time; one of blood feuds between branches of both the royal families of England (the Wars of the Roses) and the French Valois (the Orleans and Burgundy branches, respectively; ending with the Burgundy branch being absorbed into the House of Habsburg…so yeah), and a tighter unifying of the Holy Roman Empire into a hereditary throne for the Habsburgs. It was also the century in which Spain was freed of Moorish occupation and unified into Spain again–and once again, the Habsburgs wound up getting involved there and absorbing another throne. I’d known about the series for quite some time, and was glad to see it finally available to stream on one of my (too many) services. Yay, HISTORY!!!

I woke up feeling tired this morning, so I decided to make today another vacation day, stay home and get some things done around the house. I may venture out to the grocery store, but then again, I may not; those trips always seem to exhaust me, and why push it if I don’t have to? I have to be jealously guard my health these days, and my energy–bearing in mind the subconscious depression and angst can also be wearing down my body fairly regularly; another post-Katrina lesson–sometimes you’re not even aware of the depression bogging you down until it actually does. I spent the weekend pretty much in a complete state of exhaustion; it was very odd, and limiting in what I was able to work on and get done. Don’t get me wrong, I am delighted I reread all these in-progress short stories that have been languishing in my “edit” folder for so long–so much so that I actually got ideas on how to fix and rewrite and revise them all; there may be a massive flurry of submissions coming to the few publications out there that take crime stories–but the lack of energy I experienced for the majority of the weekend wasn’t very helpful, really.

And it seems to have carried over into today as well. Yay? Not really.

But I have about a million emails to reply to, several more to initiate, and then I’ going to probably head first into the spice mines, where I need to stay for most of the day. Since I am taking a vacation day, I need to make it worthwhile.

And so, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely and productive Monday, Constant Reader. I know I hope to.

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