Wild Heart

I can’t remember where or when I had this conversation, but I do remember once asking Megan Abbott that “is there anything more noir than the suburbs?” I know it had to do with her brilliant novel The End of Everything, but I don’t remember if it was a bar conversation or if we were on a panel or what. I spent four and a half years living in an actual suburb when I was growing up–grades six through sophomore in high school–and while my family has always been loners (not getting involved in neighborhood groups, barely knowing the neighbors, keeping mostly to ourselves), so we didn’t get the full experience of the cattiness, the bitchiness, or the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that are such a rich mine for crime fiction.

On the other hand, we really couldn’t keep up with the Joneses. In our suburb, we were on the lower end of the economic scale than most of the kids my sister and I went to school with, and the longer we lived there, the higher that economic scale continued to go. And there was a lot of strangeness in our suburb–I really do need to write Where the Boys Die and You’re No Good, the two books based on the suburb in which we lived–murders and drugs and undoubtedly affairs and so forth. A famous wife-killer was from our suburb, Drew Peterson. When I was a freshman in high school a junior boy and his girlfriend–a senior–murdered someone over drugs.

And that doesn’t take into consideration all the crimes that were probably going on at the time that no one thought anything about–date rapes and sexual assaults, child abuse, etc.–because nobody talked about them (I found out, for example, that one of my classmates–someone I knew and liked an awful lot–was being sexually and emotionally abused by her father; I never knew until about twenty years later).

Yikes.

Tara Laskowski’s second novel (and Anthony Award finalist!) The Mother Next Door is more evidence that I was right about suburbs being a dark place.

The moms were having a party. I watched from across the street, through my living room window, as aI ate my dinner of chicken piccata on the couch, sipping a hefty glass of merlot.

At dusk, they arrived one by one from the houses around the cul-de-sac, the glow of their phones like fireflies in the dying light. Dressed stylish but casual, ponytails and makeup, jeans and heels.

Viciously, effortlessly powerful.

The blonde mom was hosting. The one I’d noticed walking an oversize dog around the cul-de-sac, cell phone to her ear. She seemed to know everyone, always paused by one porch or another while her dog sniffed in the grass. Yes, my new neighbors were social butterflies. I observed their fluttering hugs as they converged in front of the house. My view inside was limited–a hallway beyond the screen door, painted red, like the inside of a mouth, and at the end, the corner of a giant island in the center of the kitchen where I imagined they set their Tupperware trays and booze.

The Mother Next Door is set in a toney, elite suburb of the Washington DC metro area known as Ivy Woods. Our primary point-of-view character, Theresa, has just moved into a lovely cul-de-sac with her daughter and her husband of a year, who has been hired as principal at Woodard High School–a very top level school, which makes Theresa an appealing target for friendship by the highly competitive moms at the school. Theresa went to college locally, and is now returning, using her connection to one of her professors–they had an affair when she was a student–whose father is school superintendent, to land her husband his job. Theresa has a secret–as do the other four moms who live around the same cul-de-sac–known as the Ivy Five (although there were only four until Theresa moved in and became one of them). Theresa trying to negotiate this strange new world for herself–as well as keeping her secrets, always afraid someone else in the group is going to stumble over one of them.

But the other moms also are hiding a terrible secret–one alluded to in emails and private messages from a mysterious account called “Ivy Woods”–making threats to expose them all and “what they did.” Halloween is approaching, and the Ivy Five are very well known for their massive Halloween block party…so as they try to figure out costumes and decorations, they are also trying to figure out who they can trust, who they can’t, and who could possibly know all their secrets. Our other point of view character is Kendra, the alpha of the group (think Madeline from Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which this reminded me of a lot), with her great job, her ruthless efficiency, and her mad organizing skills.

There’s also an urban legend about the woods behind their houses–Ghost Girl, who fell to her death from a bridge over a railroad track and who now haunts the woods at Halloween, the night she died.

It’s quite the concoction Laskowski has pulled off here, and the way she manages to humanize all of her characters–despite their weaknesses and their really (in some cases) deep flaws–makes the reader engage with and care about them, and the deeper you get into the book, the harder it is to put it down for even just a moment to get something to drink or to go to the bathroom.

Highly recommended.

Riders on the Storm

Sunday morning the Gregalicious slept late.

Yes, that’s right–I didn’t get out of bed until the sinfully late hour of eight thirty. (It’s kind of sad that I now consider that to be late, isn’t it?) But I have eaten two pieces of chocolate-marble swirl coffee cake (my GOD, it’s good) and am about to have the first of my morning coffee. Yum, marvelous. There really isn’t anything quite like the first cup of coffee in the morning, is there?

Yesterday morning’s workshop went okay–there was a light turnout, which I had kind of worried about–so rather than going with the whole presentation I’d prepared (I remembered the correct notes to take this time) I tailored it down to fit a smaller audience and made it more intimate conversation. I don’t know if it was any good or the attendees got anything out of it, but I guess it went well. They did have questions, and there were answers I didn’t have for them–but I also didn’t pretend to know them, either, which I think is worse than not having an answer. I did stop at That’s Amore on the way back home and got us a deep-dish Chicago style pizza, which was absolutely lovely, but other than that I really didn’t do a whole lot yesterday. We finished watching Queer as Folk, which I have thoughts about–am curious to see what other people think about it–but regardless of anything else, the show certainly made New Orleans look beautiful, or rather, really did a great job of capturing how beautiful New Orleans actually is. (One of the only reasons I kept watched Real World New Orleans: Homecoming beyond the first episode was specifically to see my city and how beautiful it looks on television…I am not entirely sure I am going to continue watching it because I don’t really care about any of these people.) We also watched the new episode of The Boys, which we enjoyed, and then I toddled off to bed for the evening. I am going to spend this morning swilling coffee and reading Tara Laskowski’s The Mother Next Door, and then maybe this afternoon I’ll do some cleaning and writing on “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I realized that last week at this time I was scrambling to finish the edits, so this is really my first free weekend in quite a while…and so I think, after taking yesterday off after getting home, I may just take all of today off as well.

How fun is that?

And yes, the kitchen is a mess, but I’ll get around to it at some point today–there’s also a load of laundry that needs folding–but for right now, the entire concept of being lazy and slothful for the rest of the day, to completely recharge my batteries (or finish recharging them) sounds entirely too good to pass up, and so I don’t think I will. AND NO GUILT ABOUT IT EITHER IF THAT IS THE PATH I CHOOSE.

I did spend some time yesterday reading some history in the form of Ernie Bradford’s The Great Betrayal: The Great Siege of Constantinople, which has to do with the Fourth Crusade–and if Constant Reader has been around long enough, they would know that I am fascinated by this historical event, which was of a far greater import than Western historians ever give it–there are reasons for that, too–and has always seemed to me to be the starting point for a great treasure hunt/adventure story, and one that I have always wanted to spin Colin off into. (I’ve always wanted to spin Colin off into his own Indiana Jones/Clive Cussler/Steve Berry type series, where he goes around the world in his role as an operative for the Blackwood Agency…but I’m not really great at writing action/adventure, and of course whenever you write something like what I see as the first Colin adventure, you kind of have to be good at it–I also don’t see how you can tell a story like that making it up as you go along, either.) So, in some ways it’s research that may prove useful someday–which is how I always read non-fiction; with an eye to it being useful to me in some way in the future–and I am learning about the crusade and the fall of the city, which is always a good thing, at least in my mind–I always think learning new things at any age is crucial and vitally important.

it’s also Father’s Day and I forgot to mail my dad his card–which I will put in tomorrow’s mail–as usual. I really am a terrible child.

The one thing I am going to do today is figure out what all I have to get done and make appropriate lists.

And on that note, I am heading to the easy chair with my morning coffee and The Mother Next Door. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and have a great Father’s Day.

Sweet Mary

Preparing for a workshop on writing sex scenes is not as easy as one might think. And of course, I have to do it today since the workshop is tomorrow morning, but I am going to have to do it around appointments and driving all over the metropolitan area of the city and it looks like we’re going to be having a shitty weather day on top of it all. Huzzah. I did sleep in this morning–I suspect my Fitbit, which I am not so sure I trust anymore is going to tell me that I didn’t sleep well (oh, there was some thunder!) and in just now checking the weather I see we are going to be having thunderstorms during the entire time I will be out dashing around the city. Huzzah.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Last night after Paul and I got home, I finished (I’d started the night before while I was waiting for Paul to come home) watching the first episode of The Real World New Orleans: Homecoming, or whatever it’s called. We used to watch The Real World religiously; I think we stopped watching during the Austin season, and never went back. But we were very excited back in the day when the New Orleans show was announced, and of course, even in those pre-Internet days stories about the cast and the filming used to break in the newspaper. They also were living in the Belfort mansion, which isn’t far from where we lived then (and now), but in the years since it’s turned into a boutique hotel. (The owner–mentioned but not by name–used to work out at my gym.) I am not sure where the house they are living in for this taping is, but I think it’s on Esplanade Avenue; I don’t recognize it from the exteriors. I never really had put a lot of thought into the shows before it filmed here–but once it started, I started to understand that “reality television” wasn’t really reality. They weren’t on camera 24/7, like the show claimed, and they also set up shots and maybe there wasn’t a script, per se, but it wasn’t “real”–we used to see the cast walking around the neighborhood, followed by a film crew that wasn’t filming them. They also filmed in places we knew; Danny the gay one worked as a bartender in one of the gay bars (I want to say Oz? I could be wrong, it’s been over twenty-odd years), and of course we used to see them and the signs on the doors of businesses announcing that the show would be filming there, the time they would be filming, and being present inside during those times meant consent to being filmed unless you advised the crew otherwise (those people who are pixilated out in background scenes didn’t give consent). The “job” the cast did while here was to produce a talk-type television show on local public access which began airing while they were still filming; Paul and I actually caught it by mistake flipping through the channels, and as we watched it, we both said, “Oh, this isn’t going to go over well here”–they were being hypercritical of the city, and yes, as you can imagine, it didn’t go over well. Places began denying them the right to film there, they were criticized everywhere–from all the local newspapers to all the local media–and they eventually had to apologize in order to get places to let them film. (I actually kind of felt sorry for them–they were kids, for Christ’s sake.) The reunion show is weird to watch–again, they were going to places I recognized (the drag show was at the Bourbon Parade, the dance club above the Pub), but it’s also weird to see how they look now, who they’ve become, and hear their stories about the impact being on the show had on their lives.

Then Paul came back downstairs and we watched the first two episodes of the new Queer as Folk, which was filmed here and is also set here. New Orleans is a beautiful city, and that’s one thing the producers and editors decided to play off; the show is beautifully filmed, and they made sure they showed off the city’s beauty at every opportunity they had. It was kind of choppy at the start–uneven, but first episodes when you’re launching a new series often are; it is the rare show that pulls off the first episode perfectly, especially when there’s a large ensemble cast. I love the cast, by the way; it’s mixed and diverse and displays a broad spectrum of the community, as opposed to the original (with its focus on white cisgender men, with the token lesbian couple thrown in just for fun). Paul and I watched the original primarily to be supportive; we knew it was a groundbreaking show and we needed to support it so networks would see there was value in queer programming, but neither of us were really fans of the show itself. It was very earnest, very ABC Afterschool Special and preachy when it came to important topics; and then would veer off into the ridiculous. For me, it was this weird mix of a Very Special Episode and silliness, and it is virtually impossible to do both. Daytime soaps make it look easy, but it’s not that easy to do–we always kept saying, “they need to either decide if they want to be a serious drama or gay Melrose Place” (obviously, we were hoping they’d go the Melrose Place route), but it seems like this reboot–despite the shaky opening–is off to a good start. We will continue watching, and hoping for the best (my supervisor at my day job filmed with the show; he does drag as Debbie with a “D”–his outfits and lewks are fucking amazing, so I am also hoping to see Debbie on the show)–and as Paul said, (and is why I’ll keep watching that awful Homecoming show) “at the very least, the city looks beautiful.” Babylon, the queer bar in the show, was actually in the neighborhood of my old office; it sits on the corner of Frenchmen Street and Chartres, and that neighborhood you see in the show isn’t the Quarter but the Marigny (I miss my old office on Frenchmen Street). We will probably continue watching it tonight, and I am kind of oddly looking forward to it. I am definitely here for all the queer rep on television lately, even as the trash continues to come for us and our rights.

Yes, I said trash, even though the word hardly expresses my deep, abiding, and utter contempt for those who hate me and my community and wish us dead.

And there’s the rain.

AND the obligatory flash flood warning came right after it started, of course.

Heavy sigh.

I did work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday some; it’s now about twenty-four thousand words, for those who are keeping track. I am really liking the story and I am really enjoying working on it, for those who were wondering. It’s nice to be writing again and enjoying it–it’s been weird this past year how that has gone; but I’ve also come to recognize that I have had periods of my life where I was going through depression and didn’t realize its extent until it had passed. I feel like I’ve been experiencing at the very least low-key depression since March 2020–the kind where I am tired all the time, not sleeping well, and even when I look back at that period, I’ve either forgotten everything and what I actually can remember…it’s through a bit of fog, with darkness around the edges…and I’ve not really been enjoying writing since March 2020, if I’m going to be honest. I am enjoying it again–good thing, since it’s compulsive for me and I always will do it, regardless of how I feel about it–but my writing has always been a source of joy for me, and having that not be the case has been very unpleasant. I’ve really not been finding much joy in anything since March 2020, but I also feel like I’ve kind of turned a corner, somehow–my brain snapped or something and it snapped back into the place where it should have been all along.

And on that note, best get ready to head out to Metairie in a thunderstorm in flash flood conditions. Woo-hoo!

Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

Don’t Knock My Love

I turned the edits in yesterday and let out a huge sigh of relief. I think I fixed everything that needed fixing, and I think the book is much better now than it was when I actually turned it in (editors are so worth their weight in gold; good ones, anyway).

I feel more confident now about my writing than I have in a long time, to be honest. I feel more confident about life in general, for that matter. I’m not sure what happened, or what caused the change…but I know once I got over being tired from the Kentucky trip, I’ve felt better on every level–emotionally, physically, and mentally. And I hope it lasts.

I also didn’t realize how much stress that turning that revised manuscript in would release from my shoulders. Deadlines are stressful, especially when you have a horrible habit of missing them, and the last couple of months haven’t been the easiest for me on multiple fronts. But when I started working on the edits more deeply this past weekend, I became much calmer than I’ve been in a long time, relaxed, even, which really felt strange. The weekend overall was a pretty good one, to be honest. I didn’t sleep as well last night as I would have liked, either, but this morning feel rested, at the very least. It also feels like I’ve not been into the office in a very long time, which is strange–I mean, I was just there on Friday–but it’s still weird. But even so, this past week was a lot less stressful and tense than I’ve felt in a long time. I am not sure what that’s all about, but I am going to take it as a win.

We watched more of The Boys and Obi-wan Kenobi last night, and are now all caught up on both shows. (I didn’t know Amazon Prime was doing the same, release one episode per week, streaming thing; I don’t remember having to watch The Boys by the week in previous seasons, but my mind has literally become a sieve these days and it’s entirely possible. The ability to binge has seriously affected my memory and how I watch television; it seems completely alien now to have to wait a week to watch another episode of something…let alone having to watch everything that way. How on earth did we used to do that all the time? It’s amazing how easy it is to retrain your mind after a lifetime of doing things one way.) I am really enjoying both shows. I like that The Boys will go places Marvel and DC won’t with their take on super-heroes, and I am really loving Obi-wan Kenobi. I don’t know what the whiners on social media are complaining and/or bitching about, other than it being the usual misogyny and racism. “Oh, no, we have a Sith who is a black female!” Get over your fucking self. Sorry you can accept alien creatures without qualm but get your tiny little nut-sack in a froth over a black woman. The horror of it all! You must have really hated the adaptation of Foundation.

I also wrote nearly three thousand new words of “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night; I decided working on it would be a nice palate-cleanse between finishing the last book and starting the new Scotty. I’m still not sure I am writing it the correct way–novellas are a whole new thing for me, and the structuring is also a new concept for me. But I like what I am doing with it thus far, and while it doesn’t have to be anything, it could just as easily be something I just tinker with from time to time when I feel like it, I am also enjoying it a lot. It’s set in the summer of 1994, and my main character has just retired from the military after twenty years and moved to New Orleans. He’s a gay man who has spent twenty years hiding who he is, and now he has the ability to live his life the way he pleases–so writing about unshackling oneself from the enforced bondage of the military closet is, in some ways, like just coming out of the closet. He doesn’t regret his time in the army, not in the least; he would have stayed in had he not learned he was on a purge list before “don’t ask don’t tell” goes into effect. But I like the idea of exploring how experiencing that freedom for the first time in his life, at almost forty, feels…because in many ways his socialization as a gay man is somewhat stunted; it had to be, because of the military. It’s nice to bring up these things–as well as HIV/AIDS–in a historical piece (sad that 1994 was almost thirty years ago at this point and counts as a historical. This is also my sly way of working some politics into the story, as well. When Peter interviewed me for the Three Rooms Press website as the “featured author of the month,” one of the things he asked about was politics…the truth is my existence is political through no choice of my own, as I told Peter, and I would like nothing more than to just be left alone so I can focus on my writing. I’ve not been active politically for a while–I still vote, and make the occasional donation to a candidate I believe in–but as a gay man in the United States in 2022, the right wing likes to use me and my community to whip up their base of Christofascists, and this year it is particularly ugly.

I also think my work kind of stands as political statements on their own. Let’s look at my last two books, shall we? Bury Me in Shadows examined the generational damage caused by institutionalized racism and homophobia; #shedeservedit was an examination of how toxic masculinity and systemic misogyny damages our young people. Yes, they were crime stories, and yes, I like to think they were entertaining reads–but each had a point that I was trying to make through the story and the characters and what they were facing. I started doing an entry this weekend about the Scotty series, from beginning to its most recent (since I am about to embark on writing a new one)–mainly because there was a song on the list I am using for post titles called “Watching Scotty Grow” and really, was there ever a better title for a post looking back through the years at the Scotty series, its ups and downs and journey from an idea I had one afternoon to getting a contract to write it and going from one publisher to another…and yet Scotty continues to endure.

Well, that’s enough for a Tuesday morning. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader, and I am heading into the spice mines.

I Am…I Said

Monday morning and I am working at home today; hurray! Data entry to be done, emails to check and answer, amongst various other things that must be done today. Later on, I am going to go over my manuscript one more time to make sure I caught everything and made every change that needed to be made, and then sending it off to my editor. Whew. I spent most of the weekend working on it, and I am pretty pleased with the work I’ve done. Is any of that work any good? Remains to be seen, but I think I managed to do what was asked of me. At least, I hope so.

I slept really well last night–I am definitely on a “good sleep” roll now–and actually woke up before six this morning, but stayed in bed until seven. I feel rested–this entire past week, once I got over the exhaustion from the trip, has been a miracle of feeling rested and good sleep–which is a lovely change from the norm around here. We watched the latest episode of Gaslit last night–I am not sure what the point of all the “Liddy being insane in prison” was about other than just filler; but the tragedy of Martha Mitchell is hard to watch play out fictionally, since I watched it play out in real life. I was an early teen at the time of Watergate; I turned thirteen in 1974, and even though I was apolitical at the time and paid very little attention to politics, just going along with what my parents believed until I got a little bit older and started paying more attention, Watergate was ubiquitous; it was everywhere. The hearings aired on every network every day, preempting everything I usually watched when I was home from school on vacation; it was on the news, in the was in the newspapers, Mad and Cracked magazines talked about it endlessly…I can only imagine how viral Watergate would be in today’s world, but on the other hand, it would have been a lot uglier in this current political climate.

And whatever else can be said about Nixon, when it was obvious how bad it was going to get for him, he did what was best for the country and stepped down–even if it was really what was best for him.

We also watched another episode of Merlí, but while it was very well done, it’s beginning to drag a little bit. The cast is very appealing, but there’s really no melodrama (or much of it, anyway); it’s really about a bunch of college kids learning about themselves and learning about the world, and there’s not even a lot of relationship drama. We’ll probably finish it off–they are all appealing, after all–but it’s not a must-watch must-finish kind of thing for us. We also started watching the new season of The Boys last night, which is interesting–I am really waiting for the arrival of Jensen Ackles, whose character has been teased since almost the opening of the season–and so we’ll probably stick with that. We also watched the first episode of Obi-wan Kenobi, which was better than I would have thought, and we’ll definitely go on watching that. I’m really in the mood for a good crime show, to be honest, and will probably go digging around on Acorn and Britbox to find something.

I was too burned out from the book yesterday to read anything last night, so The Mother Next Door continues to rest on my side table next to my easy chair. Maybe tonight, maybe tonight.

The kitchen is also in a bit of a mess this morning. I still have things that need to be filed and things that need to be put away–there’s also stuff in the refrigerator that needs to be tossed–but that’s cool. I can take care of that when my eyes get bleary from entering data and I need to take a break away from the computer. And my eyes will definitely get bleary; they always do when I’m doing this kind of work, which is why I am glad I don’t have to do it every day.

I also have to start preparing for my class this Saturday. I do have my notes I was going to use for the Saints and Sinners workshop (that I wound up not bringing with me when I went to the Monteleone to teach it, so had to wing it) but this is also going to be slightly longer than the S&S workshop, so I need to be better prepared, and I definitely don’t want to try to wing it at nine thirty in the morning. So, that’s the next big thing when I get this manuscript sent off later today. As I was also saying the other day, I am thinking it might be smart to go ahead and try to write a first draft of Mississippi River Mischief before trying to do anything else, so it can sit for awhile before I get back to it with fresh eyes–it really does help to divorce yourself from the work for a period of time. I think that really worked well with Royal Street Reveillon, and it’s probably the best and smartest way for me to get going on this new Scotty. I also am thinking I should go back and reread the entire series–not thoroughly, just a skimming–so I can get a handle on his voice again, maybe figure out some things, find some things from his past that might need to be circled around back to again. I’m thinking maybe a villain from the past might need to come back into his life at this time again…and of course, there’s the personal story that was left hanging at the end of RSR…I really need to stop doing that, don’t I?

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will chat at you again tomorrow.

Groove Me

And now it’s Sunday in the Lost Apartment, and I didn’t even go outside yesterday. Seriously, and it was lovely. I spent yesterday morning doing some organizing and planning and chores, and then dove into my edits. I emerged from the edits, bleary-eyed and more than a little bit tired, about five or six hours later and adjourned to my easy chair for some “be Scooter’s nap lap for a while” time and watched some videos on European royalty and some who were royalty-adjacent (Ivan VI of Russia, Diane de Poitiers, Elisabeth-Charlotte d’Orleans, duchess of Lorraine, and so forth) until Paul came home, and we streamed for the rest of the evening, which was nice and relaxing. Today I am going to finish the edits so it can be polished tomorrow before turning it in once and for all–huzzah!–and then the rest of the week I will undoubtedly have the “just finished a book for good” hangover and won’t get much else done. But I am already starting to feel that release of having a book finished; and my stress/anxiety levels have gone down significantly. I slept very well last night, which was also very nice and lovely, and I hope to do so again tonight–it’s been really nice getting all this sleep lately.

We watched Fire Island last night on Hulu, and I wasn’t horribly disappointed by it. I’ve seen few gay films–written, directed, produced and starring gay men– that weren’t disappointments; even the ones that come from traditional Hollywood inevitably I don’t care for very much. I never made it through Call Me by Your Name, for one example, and do not get me started on Philadelphia, In and Out, and To Wong Foo. But I enjoyed Fire Island, despite thinking I wouldn’t. I’ve actually never been to Fire Island–although I was invited to go for my birthday one year; their big Morning Party was actually on my birthday–but I was timid and shy and didn’t know how to get there from Tampa, because it involved trains and ferries and things, and I was also always broke in those days, and so I ended up not going. I’ve regretted it ever since…especially when I was writing Wicked Frat Boy Ways, which had a segment actually set on Fire Island. Anyway, I am digressing. I went into Fire Island kind of expecting it to be the same old gay story about Fire Island–I’ve read enough gay literary fiction either written or set in the 1970’s to have formed a strong impression about Fire Island–but the movie wasn’t what I was expecting. I was kind of expecting…I don’t know, another movie about beautiful and rich gay men with ripped bodies that didn’t go very deep, even if it was billed as a rom-com (I mean, a rom-com set on Fire Island?). But it was a lot more than what I was expecting; the characters the movie followed (a group of friends who all bonded and became kind of a family when they all worked at a horrible restaurant in Manhattan with “bottomless Mimosas”–that flashback scene might only be hilarious to former waiters, but it made both Paul and I laugh knowingly) were not rich for sure; the only reason they can afford to be there is they have a friend–a lesbian who won a lawsuit and got a shit ton of money and bought a house on the island, played by Margaret Cho–and there’s definitely some class issues played out in the movie, as well as issues of race. It was also nice to see some frankness about gay male sexuality. I won’t spoil the movie, but it wound up being deeply satisfying, had some really funny moments, and Bowen Yang is the emotional center of the movie–and he kills it. Fire Island may not be for everyone, but Paul and I really enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would, and the island itself looks beautiful. I am far too old now to “do” Fire Island…but you can’t always do everything you want.

My, how philosophical I am after one cup of coffee this morning.

We also started watching a Spanish language show called Merli: Sapere Audi (Dare to Know), which is a sequel to a show called Merli about a philosophy teacher and ran for three seasons. This show focuses on one of the teacher’s best students, Pol, who is now studying at the University of Barcelona and is played by a really beautiful young actor named Carlos Cuervas, Pol is still in a relationship with Bruno, the son of his old teacher, and is still struggling to come to terms with his bisexuality (or homosexuality; I am not sure which it is), while developing a new relationship with his philosophy professor, who is played by Maria Pujalte, whom we have seen in numerous other shows; she is always great. It’s entertaining enough, and we’ll probably go ahead and finish it tonight. (I laughed because the opening shot of the show has Pol in the shower, with that shot being a close-up of his lovely ass. “Spain understands the gay market,” I laughed as we watched.) I’m not sure what we’ll watch when we finish this, but there are five more episodes so that will be a question for later this week, no doubt…I think the new, New Orleans based and filmed Queer as Folk will be dropping soon on HBO MAX, and we’ll probably watch that and Obi-wan Kenobi on Disney.

And we still haven’t watched all those Marvel shows, either.

I’ve been thinking–always a dangerous thing–lately about trying my hand at writing a gay romance. I’ve always avoided the genre because of it’s commitment to heteronormativity (which actually came up during Fire Island, which was kind of a knowing wink at the audience), but even before watching Heartstopper (I actually think Patrick/Ivan on Elité was when I first started thinking about it.). I even (of course) have a title for it, and was thinking it might be kind of fun to bring Jake from Bury Me in Shadows back and toss him a romance sequel. (I think my next Alabama may focus on his boyfriend Beau from Bury Me in Shadows….if I write another Alabama book. One never really knows.) But writing another book about Jake, or one about Beau would be kind of lazy since I already created them….but I also couldn’t write another book set in Corinth County and not acknowledge Beau…who was a cousin of the main character from Dark Tide, which did get mentioned. I don’t know. But as I put the finishing edits on my cozy mystery, I am thinking it might be fun and interesting to try something–a romance novel–that is completely outside of my wheelhouse. Sure I have to write Mississippi River Mischief, Chlorine and another project first; there’s all those novellas I have to finish as well as all those short stories; and of course, the essays.

Christ.

No wonder I am so tired all the time…

My goal has been to write a first draft of Chlorine in May, and then a first draft of another project (Muscles) in June, spend July writing the short stories and novellas, and then move on to Mississippi River Mischief in August. I’m now thinking–inspired by these edits–that what I really need to do is spend the rest of this month working on the short stories and novellas as well as getting MRM started; it would be great to have a first draft of MRM completed by August 1, and then spend the next two months writing first drafts of the other projects before returning to MRM to finish by December 1. I think that’s not only workable but doable, but I also have to stay focused on the goal and not allow myself to either get lazy or distracted. I really also want to get back down to 200 pounds before Bouchercon; that may not be entirely realistic, but I can at least change the way the weight is distributed on my body somewhat by then–although back in the day, I generally started working on my Decadence body (ah, the days when it mattered so much to me to be in shape for certain weekends of the year!) around June…but my body has aged and changed since those days, and the metabolism has completely slowed down. But my body also craves exercise and stretching–I may do some stretching when I finish writing this, and before I start putting stuff away and cleaning prior to diving into the edits–and it certainly cannot hurt for me to start trying to make it to the gym three times per week again.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Chirpy Chirpy Cheep Cheep

Friday morning and a working weekend looms on my horizon. I slept rather well again last night–I hope this is actually turning into a habit for me–so I feel pretty good again this morning. My muscles are still a bit creaky; they need to be stretched and they need to be worked, so hopefully after I spend this entire weekend with my nose to the grindstone I can start making the trip back over to the gym next week. Fingers crossed. I wasn’t too terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday, so I did some laundry, got the dishes under control, and did some filing and organizing, which is always lovely–the workspace is much more work-friendly this morning than it has been all week. I’ve not started reading my next book yet–Tara Laskowski’s The Mother Next Door–and I am putting that on hold until I have my work caught up.

We’re almost finished with The Little Drummer Girl, which has only one episode left to go, and it’s very interesting, if dated. At first, with its focus on the Israeli secret police hunting down terrorists, I thought it was going to be a very dated look at the Middle Eastern issue, especially given the time when the book was written (at that point almost the entire world, excepting Muslim countries, were pro-Israel)–but I should have known John LeCarré would never write anything one-sided, or pro one faction or the other. It’s actually quite nuanced, definitely more so than I would have thought for the time it was written and published; it shows both sides and how the irrational blood-for-blood eye-for-an-eye mentality of both deepened and made the hate more deeply ingrained to the point where there really is no possible solution, which is where we are now. I kind of want to read the book now–because, of course, my TBR pile isn’t deep enough as it is.

There’s still work to be done around the house, of course; there always is, and it’s a nice way of waking up every morning over the weekend as I prepare to get ready for the day’s writing; I’ve tended to have it look like it’s under control on the surface while underneath it’s all just a huge mess. (The file cabinet drawers in particular are a mess; I need to spend a weekend cleaning out and emptying and reorganizing my file cabinet…although what I really need is a taller, four drawer cabinet, but I don’t have room for it where the current cabinet sits.) I also need to start preparing my class for next Saturday at the East Jefferson Parish Library; I have the notes for the Saints and Sinners workshop (that I forgot to take with me that morning) that I can build on, and one of the books I discussed in the class–The Rape of the A*P*E* (American Puritan Ethic) by Allan Sherman, happened to be one of the books my dad found while emptying out one of the areas in their basement and pressed on me while I was there last weekend. So I have that to consult and get notes and information from…or not, if I don’t need it. Inevitably I am always afraid I am going to run out of things to say in front of the class, and have to wing it and make myself look stupid, but more often than not I have too much material for the class.

And who knows? Maybe this time–unlike Saints and Sinners–no one will show up.

And on that cheery note, I am heading off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

I Hear You Knocking

I really wish I had discovered how marvelous audiobooks are for long drives years ago. My God, listening to audiobook rather than music makes the drive so much more enjoyable; sure, I do zone out every once in a while when I am driving and listening–I always go off on some kind of mental tangent at some point or another when I am highway driving for a long time, which means I sometimes have to rewind because I missed something–but my old fears of audiobooks in the car (I would get so involved in the story I’d stop paying attention to the driving, or the driving would require so much attention I wouldn’t be able to listen to the book anymore) also proved to be for naught. The drive is still the worst part of the trip (other than the not-being-able-to-sleep thing), but audiobooks have dramatically improved the entire experience so much that I almost don’t mind the drive anymore….almost.

I also wish I’d started reading Carol Goodman a lot earlier. I don’t recall how or why I first discovered her work, but I am a big fan and I was delighted, after reading (and enjoying the hell out of) The Lake of Dead Languages recently to go ahead and download The Night Villa for the trip.

It may just be my favorite Goodman to date.

When the first call came that morning I was with a student, so I didn’t answer it.

“Don’t worry,” I told Agnes Hancock, one of my most promising classics majors, “the machine will get it.”

But it stopped after the third ring.

“I guess whoever was calling changed his mind,” Agnes said, relacing her fingers to conceal the ragged cuticle on her right thumb. She’d been gnawing on it when I found her waiting outside my door–ten minutes early for my eight o’clock office hours. Most of my students were sound asleep at this hour, which was why I held my office hours so early: to discourage all but the most zealous. Agnes was definitely a zealot. She was on a scholarship, for one thing, and had to maintain a high average, but Agnes was also one of those rare students who seemed to have a genuine passion for the material. She’d gone to a high school with a rigorous Latin program and gotten the highest score on the national Latin exam in the state. Not shabby for a state as big as Texas. She wasn’t just good at declensions, though she had the ability to translate a line of ancient poetry and turn it into poetry again, and the agility of mind to compare the myths from one culture to those of another. She could have a successful academic career in classics or comparative literature. The only problem was that her personal life was often chaotic–a result, I suspected, of her looks.

So far, the majority of the Goodman novels I’ve read all have to do with private schools and usually involve a Classics professor; just as in The Lake of Dead Languages, our main character in The Night Villa is a professor of Latin, who can actually sight-read (translate as she reads), but unlike the others, (set in Ne England) when The Night Villa opens we realize our main character is actually a professor at the University of Texas and lives in Austin. The others also were more Gothic in nature; brooding old buildings that used to be family mansions, now converted into schools and dormitories, slightly older heroines with dark secrets in their past that come back to haunt their present, the “woman in danger” trope replayed and revamped beautifully, with poetic writing and vivid settings you can see in your head (had Goodman published back in the 1970s and 80s, I guarantee all the books would have a young woman with long hair and long nightgown running away from a creepy mansion with a light on in one window). Our main character is Sophie Chase, a young woman teaching at UT with a sad backstory–orphaned young, raised by her grandparents and her aunt (M’Lou); she also had a long term relationship with a young man named Eli that ended up badly after she lost their baby in a tragic fall and he became involved with a mysterious, cult-like group. The opening of the book is a lot more violent and in-your-face than what I’ve become accustomed to with Goodman’s work; Sophie and some other professors are interviewing students for a possible internship with an archaeological dig going on in Herculaneum (a city which suffered the same fate as Pompeii and by the same volcanic eruption, but didn’t the press Pompeii did). During Agnes’ interview a troubled young man she used to date comes into the interview room with a gun and starts shooting–Sophie is shot in the chest and loses a part of her lung, but she ends up going on the trip to Italy as one of the other professors who was supposed to go was killed by the gunman. They are being hosted on the island of Capri in the bay of Naples by a billionaire software designer with an interest in archaeology. He has built his own villa on the island as a replica of the villa they are excavating in Herculaneum, the Villa della Norte, the Night Villa. A discovery of some papyrus scrolls in the ruins that reveal some information about an ancient slave girl from the time also has intrigued Sophie, which is part of the reason she has agreed to go–as well as wanting to get away from Austin for a while. (Sophie wrote her dissertation on the slave girl; this discovery offers to give her more insight and information about the girl for the book she is writing.)

The book is, if you’ll pardon my language, fucking amazing. Not only do we have Sophie dealing with the aftermath of a massive emotional and physical trauma (getting shot and losing part of your lung is a serious fucking trauma), but also the fallout from the end of her relationship many years earlier; a kind of feeling of responsibility for Agnes and how she is dealing with the guilt and trauma of the boyfriend going nuts and on a shooting spree (it ended with him shooting himself); and of course the mystery of the scrolls. The scrolls also give a beautiful insight into life in ancient Herculaneum and in the Roman Empire and also tell a story about the slave girl. It’s an exceptionally good novel, literate and smart and complex and multi-layered; and I haven’t even covered everything in the story here. Sophie is strong and likable and vulnerable; she makes for a great heroine, and she also has so much empathy for other people you can’t help rooting for her.

The book, set mostly on Capri, reminded me a lot–in a good way–of Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic with its Corfu island setting; Goodman is also exceptional about setting and place. I could see the Bay of Naples and Mount Vesuvius; the ruins of the city buried by the eruption; and I also love how she weaved mythology and the ancient mysteries as an integral foundation of the story. I would even go so far as to say Goodman is the modern equivalent of Mary Stewart–which is high praise indeed.

Woodstock

June first, and the start of Pride Month. I should probably wax poetic about the long struggle for civil rights for queer people–one that I pretty much spent my entire life witnessing (I was eight at the time of Stonewall; I don’t remember seeing any news coverage of it, but it gradually seeped into my consciousness through osmosis or something) and a lot of years participating in at some level. I sometimes wonder if I could have done more, or fought harder, or been better about it in some ways; if I could have done something more that could have caused a greater impact or advanced the cause more quickly in some way. I imagine that’s probably my own issue more than anything else; I always feel like ai should do more.

I slept pretty well last night, and I think I am starting to get caught up on that. I felt better yesterday, but got tired relatively early in the day and of course, had errands to run after work (I cannot be the only person stunned at how much the cost of groceries has gone up, can I?), and then came home to make dinner (I was very hungry, which was unusual but cool as I am usually not hungry after work), and then Paul and I watched another episode of The Little Drummer Girl, a John LeCarré adaptation we’re enjoying, if not completely certain we are following the story completely. I’ve not read much LeCarré; only The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, which was amazing and yes, I am well aware I need to read more. (I also would like to read more Eric Ambler, for that matter, and there’s some Robert Ludlum I’d like to revisit as well.) I’ve not decided what to read next, to be honest; probably something older is most likely; I have a couple of old suspense novels from the 1960’s I’d like to read, and they are short, which makes them even more appealing. I also downloaded another book to listen to on my phone; I am hoping that I can listen to it while doing chores around the house and/or walking to the gym (which I hope to start doing again). I have an eye appointment on Saturday in Metairie (yay) but maybe after I am finished with that and after running a couple of errands, can walk over to the gym Saturday afternoon and start working out and stretching again. I can feel that my muscles need to be stretched (badly) because it’s been so long…

But I do feel better today, like I am finally over the trip.

I am behind on everything, but that undertone of being tired never helps in that regard; when I am tired (exhausted) I always look at everything I have to do from a perspective of oh I will never be able to get caught up and feel defeated. The trip of course was a disruption, and now I have to piece together the many things I was doing and working on before I drove north. But with some clarity–sleeping well helps–I should be able to get that taken care of this morning as well as starting the incredible chore of clearing out my inbox, which has been out of control for quite some time. (Hell, everything has been out of control for quite some time.)

I’ve been reflecting about my gay life a lot lately–primarily because one of my many many projects are set in the past, which requires me to remember things from my life from way back when (“Never Kiss a Stranger” is set in 1994 New Orleans; another project is set in the mid 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs) and while I certainly wouldn’t ever want to go back in time–no matter how awful things seem to be in the present day, they were definitely worse in the past–it’s kind of nice to think back to what many people consider to be “simpler” times. The fact is the times weren’t actually simpler, we were just simpler and certainly more naïve. Maybe that’s just me projecting–always a possibility–and the cynic in me, when people talk about “simpler times”, always wants to say, “what you really mean is you want to go back to a time when you didn’t have to think about social issues because they didn’t really intrude into your life.” It’s very easy to not care about, or notice, things that don’t affect you–which is where the term “woke” came from, if you were wondering or have complained about it before–but (at the risk of making you think of campfires and “Kum-Ba-Ya”) we kind of are all in this together, and is it really so terrible to care about other people and how they are treated?

Apparently, a lot of people think the answer to that question is yes.

Anyway. I don’t think people will ever stop disappointing me. (For that matter, I don’t think I will ever stop disappointing myself.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely June 1st, Constant Reader.