What Makes You Think You’re The One

And now it’s Saturday.

LSU is playing New Mexico this evening (GEAUX TIGERS!) in Tiger Stadium–it should be an easy win but when it’s LSU you can never take anything for granted–and I have a lot I want to try to get done today before the games get started. I have errands to run, Costco to order for delivery; it just never ends for one Gregalicious, does it? It would appear that way.

I did feel a little tired most of the day yesterday; not sure what that was about, to be honest, but there you have it and there it is. But I also got this lovely review in Publisher’s Weekly; another industry journal I’ve not been reviewed in for quite some time now. I am getting more excited AND nervous as time ticks down to the official release date…but it’s really lovely getting all this pre-publication love from industry journals, early readers, and bloggers. I’m quite sure I don’t know how to act anymore! I’m very happy that everyone seems to be embracing the book, which I thought may be a big departure from what I usually do, but maybe it’s not? I don’t know, I’m not the best judge of my own work. It really never occurred to me that my Scotty series was technically a cozy series–despite the weed, swearing, violence and sex–but Scotty, despite being licensed, never actually had a client (the guy up on the fourth floor in Vieux Carré Voodoo does actually hire him before he is murdered) but usually, he’s just going about his day to day existence when he stumbles over a body or some kind of criminal conspiracy. But when I got home from work yesterday I puzzled over that bad bad chapter, and so this morning I am going to try to get it fixed up once and for all before diving headfirst into Chapter Four. I have some errands that must be run today–and I am going to order a Costco delivery–and I also have some cleaning around here that simply must be done; but I am hoping to avoid the allure and pull of college football as much as I can today to try to get as much done as I can on the Scotty today.

I also did the laundry once I was home, and finished clearing the dishes piled up in the sink–which even now are awaiting me to unload them from the dishwasher and put them away once and for all–and once Paul was home we settled in for Dahmer, which continues to be disturbing and hard-to-watch and almost documentary-like in style, tone, look, and story. Evan Peters and Niecy Nash should each take home Emmys for their work here; Niecy is absolutely stealing every scene she is in, and Peters looks so much like Dahmer…it’s also disturbing to watch as a gay man who went home with a lot of people he had just met for the first time. It really is a wonder there aren’t more serial killers in the gay community, and they certainly wouldn’t have much difficulty in finding potential victims thanks to the casual hook-up culture always so prevalent in gay male communities (which has always been something I want to write about; either in essay or fiction form); a sort of Looking for Mr. Goodbar sort of thing only with gay men. (I should reread that book; I haven’t in years–not since it was a thing anyway. I was thinking lately I should reread all the “thing” books from the 1970’s–Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Coma, Looking for Mr. Goodbar, Jaws, Love Story, etc.–to see how they hold up and what, if anything, they have to say or can be said about the culture and society of the time and why those books, all so disparate, were so successful and popular at the time.)

I slept wonderfully last night, which is always a delight and a plus, and my coffee is tasting rather marvelous this morning. It is most definitely hitting the spot, that’s for sure. I feel rested and good this morning, which makes it a great day for getting things done. I am also thinking about taking my car to the coin-operated self-wash while I am out and about today (reminder: check projected path for Tropical Storm Ian; the one off the Cape Verde Islands formed first and took the name Hermine), and I also want to do some cleaning around the writing. We should be able to watch the LSU game tonight, even though it is on a lesser ESPN/SEC Network sub-channel, which is annoying–but I get it; LSU-New Mexico is a “who cares?” game outside of Louisiana.

I also spent some time last night with Every Frat Boy Wants It, my first erotic novel under the name Todd Gregory, and it’s not that bad. I realized that the three “fratboy” books I wrote are of a type, really, and rereading that long-ago written story (I would swear to God it’s been almost since I bought the new car, which was 2017, so it’s been about five years or more since I wrote it in the first place) made me realize that the concordance I want to put together for Scotty needs to be a part of an even larger concordance of all my work; all the different Louisianas I’ve written about and fictionalized over the years, which is even more important now that this Scotty is going to be driven so much by action outside of New Orleans.

I also need to revisit My Cousin Rachel at some point today before tomorrow morning’s podcast taping; I don’t want to rely on my ever-decreasing memory and should at least be somewhat refreshed in my recollections of what is one of my favorite Daphne du Maurier novels, possibly even more favorite than Rebecca. Big words, I know; but while I am certainly more familiar with the text of Rebecca, having read it so many times, I’ve only read My Cousin Rachel once–and came to it within the last decade or so, on the recommendation of Megan Abbott. I’ve seen neither film adaptation, tempting as the original (starring Olivia de Havilland and marking the screen debut of a young Richard Burton) may be; simply because while I know both films are very well-regarded, it’s hard to imagine a du Maurier adaptation finer than either the Hitchcock Rebecca or Nicholas Roeg’s adaptation of Don’t Look Now; with the bar set so high on du Maurier adaptations, how could either version of My Cousin Rachel stand up to them? I recently read a new-to-me du Maurier long story or short novella called “A Border-line Case,” and like all things du Maurier, it is rather marvelously well-written and twists the knife with something obvious that was there in front of you all the time but du Maurier pulls her usual authorial sleight-of-hand that makes the reveal startling and shocking despite being right there in front of the reader the entire time.

I also had wanted to spend some time with my Donna Andrews novel Round Up the Usual Peacocks, but not sure that I’ll have the time necessary. Ah, well. And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I need to brew a second cup of coffee, and there are odds and ends around here that need attention. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again either later today or tomorrow morning.

Songbird

Thursday!

My back, while still a little tight, is more irritating than painful; it’s at that stage where it is so close to not hurting at all anymore that it’s annoying that it hasn’t stopped, if that makes sense at all? I ran errands on my way home from work yesterday–mail and a prescription–and then came home, did a load of dishes, and then collapsed into my chair with the heating pad. I am taking it to work again with me this morning–more heat can’t hurt, after all, and the office is cold–and hopefully will wake up tomorrow morning feeling ever so much better. We got caught up on House of the Dragon last night–it’s getting better, but man was it ever getting off to a slow start–and it’s not as big and epic as Game of Thrones was; it’s more contained, with fewer characters and fewer story-lines, for one thing–and then we watched Archer (it really misses Jessica Walter; Mallory Archer was too great of a character for the show to do without) before calling it a night and heading for bed. I slept well again last night–only woke up a few times–and my back felt better when I got up…but it is slowly starting to make itself known, so yes, definitely bringing the heating pad to the office with me this morning.

I was thinking, last night as I waited for Paul to finish working (whenever he comes home earlier than usual, he inevitably spends a few hours making calls and sending emails once he’s home), about something that has been sticking in my mind for quite a while–and last night it hit me between the eyes.

People talk a lot about crime in New Orleans–it’s usually code for people to be racist without being outright racist; I always laugh at people in the comments section of the local news stations or newspapers, talking about crime in New Orleans and ‘that’s why they left New Orleans’ for the suburbs/West Bank/North Shore, etc. I laugh at this because they will always claim to other people Not From Here that they are, indeed, from New Orleans (bitch, you’re from Metairie) and I always want to ask them, “was it really crime in New Orleans that drove you out of the city, or was it the desegregation of the schools, hmmm?” Every neighborhood in New Orleans, you see, is mixed; the Garden District neighborhood at one time also included the St. Thomas Housing Projects. And sure, crime has been on the rise here lately. But I have lived in New Orleans since 1996, and white people are always talking about crime here and shaking their heads about how the city “has gone downhill.” Um, if you study the history of New Orleans, the city has always been filled with crime; IT’S A GODDAMNED PORT CITY.

Anyway, as I was standing in line waiting to board my flight out of Minneapolis, the woman in front of me turned out to also be from New Orleans (River Ridge). She was absolutely lovely, and we chatted the entire time we waited and as we went down the jetway to the plane–which, for someone whose default is always social awkwardness, was something–and ironically, she was the person in front of me in line for the flight from Chicago to New Orleans. She began talking to me about the crime and I did my usual shrug “there’s always been crime in New Orleans” and when she asked me if I wasn’t afraid, I just shook my head and said “no–no more than usual.”

That, of course, started a thread in my head about why are you not afraid of the rising crime in New Orleans and I realized, as I had also said to the nice lady, “I’m just always hyper-aware of my surroundings and what’s going on around me.” And then last night it hit me: as opposed to the nice straight white people of New Orleans, the rising crime rate doesn’t really bother me because I have never felt completely safe anywhere or anytime in my life–that’s what life is like for queers in this country.

I had to train myself as a kid to always keep my eyes moving and always be aware of what’s going on around me–I look ahead, I look behind, I always am looking from one side to the other and am always on hyper-alert because you never know when the gay bashers are going to come for you. I’m no more afraid now than I have ever been throughout the course of my life, and I had decided a long time ago that I would not live my life in fear anymore–but to always be vigilant.

Straight white people aren’t used to not feeling safe and they don’t like it when they don’t.

Welcome to what it feels like to be a minority in this country–and let’s face it, I still have white male privilege; I can’t imagine what it’s like to navigate this world as a black lesbian or transwoman.

But straight white people? This is their world and it is the world they made. While straight white women are oppressed terribly by straight white men, many of them have been gaslit into thinking they are less than straight white men and it is simply their lot in life, and they accept that in exchange for protection by the patriarchy. So while it is true that for women, car-jackings and muggings are just one more thing to add to their backpack of oppressive fears–usually sexual assaults (physical or verbal) or harassment. Interesting, right?

But for those Stockholm Syndrome suffering straight white women, crime is outrageous and horrifying to them because the system is theoretically set up to protect them from crime.

And what’s a little sexual harassment if it means you won’t get mugged or carjacked by that scary Black man? Boys will be boys, after all; they’re just wired that way.

I’ve always wanted to write from the perspective of someone like Brock Turner, the Stanford swimming rapist–but I don’t think I can. I can’t imagine what it would be like to be so blind about your own child, especially since I don’t (and never wanted) any of my own.

And yes, this is yet another subject for an essay.

But the fog of exhaustion seems to finally be lifting from my head–hallelujah–and so I think–if I am not too tired when I get home tonight, that is–I am going to be able to get back to work on my writing either today or tomorrow. I also want to start reading my new Donna Andrews novel, and I want to read Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side before October, when I have to turn my attention to the horror genre again for Halloween.

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

Jackson Square Jazz

The unplanned sequel!

That’s not entirely true, you know. Yes, Bourbon Street Blues was always supposed to be a stand alone (I know you’re tired of the story) and they offered a two book series deal and I took it, thinking I would just figure it out later. Well, I did figure it out later; and when I started writing Bourbon Street Blues I already knew there would be a second book and so I had to set it up in the first as well as plant seeds for the next one after that–if there was going to be another one after that. I didn’t know for sure or not whether there would be a third, so when I was writing the first I kept the personal story as simple as I could in case there wouldn’t be a third and I could wrap it all up with the second if need be. But by the time I finished writing Jackson Square Jazz I was already pretty confident there would be a third (the first had just come out and was doing extremely well) so even if the third still ended up not being contacted, everything wrapped up as nicely as possible at the end of Jackson Square Jazz.

I decided the main mystery plot of the book would have to do with the Cabildo Fire of 1988.

When Paul and I had first moved here, sometime within that first year we saw a documentary on our local PBS station (WYES, for the record, thanks for asking, you there in the back) about the Cabildo Fire. I can only imagine how the city reacted to the news that a fire had broken out in one of our most beautiful buildings and recognizable landmarks–especially given its proximity to the landmark of the city: St. Louis Cathedral, and on its other side, the Presbytere. The documentary focused on the remarkable methods the New Orleans Fire Department went to, not only to fight the fire and prevent its spread to other historic buildings nearby, but to preserve the contents of the inside. The Cabildo is the Louisiana State Museum, and it’s filled with all kinds of artifacts and art documenting the history of New Orleans and the Louisiana territory. They brought fire-fighting boats to the levee, and borrowed more from the Coast Guard. They began hosing down the buildings around the Cabildo so they’d be too wet for the fire to spread.

And firemen were sent inside to remove as much of the contents before they turned the hoses on the Cabildo itself.

They literally lined paintings, framed historic documents, and various other historical artifacts with a variety of values along the fence surrounding Jackson Square, delaying until they had no other choice but to turn the hoses onto the Cabildo.

How easy it would have been to walk off with something priceless in its historic value, I thought, thinking of Robin Cook’s marvelous Sphinx and its opening with the tomb of Tutankhamun being robbed before flashing forward to the present day where a young female Egyptologist happens upon a magnificent statue from antiquity; a golden statue of Pharaoh Seti I. I pictured another young woman, in an antiques shop in the Quarter, happening upon something that looks like an artifact lost during the Cabildo Fire (they saved over 80% of the museum’s contents, by the way), and decided upon the Louisiana Purchase treaty. I could also call the book Louisiana Purchase (which also is the name of the state’s food assistance program; you get a Louisiana Purchase card with an amount loaded onto it every month), and possibly weave something about a food assistance program scandal of some sort woven into it as well. I viewed this as a spin-off stand alone for my character Paige Tourneur from the Chanse series (I had always wanted to write about her), and I thought, you know, the Cabildo Fire and some McGuffin gone missing from the museum would make a great plot for the second Scotty book.

The more I thought about it, the more I liked it.

And, being a dutiful writer, I contacted the administrative offices of the Louisiana State Museum and made an appointment to discuss my book and the fire with Executive Director Jim Sefcik.

And when I met with Jim, I discovered, to my great surprise, that not only had he been working there the day of the fire…it was his first day on the job.

“I was sitting in La Madeleine having coffee and a pastry,” he said (where Stanley is now used to be a La Madeleine; I used to get coffee there all the time during the Williams Festival), “when I heard a fire engine. I looked out the window and saw a firetruck pull up onto the pedestrian mall and stop in front of the Cabildo. As I thought that can’t be good another one pulled up from the other direction and THAT was when I saw the smoke.”

He gave all the credit to the fire chief for how everything was saved–“I just kept saying yes yes, whatever you think is best”–and I remember saying, “Well, at least you got it over with on your first day.”

He laughed, and replied, “Yes, now whenever there’s a crisis of any kind I just think well, at least the Cabildo isn’t on fire and that kind of puts things into perspective.”

He even gave me Polaroid snapshots of the aftermath of the fire; they’d scanned the originals long since to archive them. I just found them again Saturday when I was cleaning out cabinets, you can imagine my delight to stumble over them all these years later.

He also explained to me why the Louisiana Purchase treaty wouldn’t work as the MacGuffin (the original is stored in a vault at the Library of Congress; the display in the Cabildo is a copy and it is multiple pages long) and suggested the Napoleon death mask as a suitable alternative–even telling me a wonderful story about how the one in the Cabildo (there were four or five made) disappeared and then turned up in trash dump about thirty years later.

And he was right. It worked perfectly.

Danger is my middle name.

Okay, so that’s not strictly the truth. My middle name is Scott. But when you’re first name is Milton and you’re last name is Bradley, you’ve got to do something. Yes, that’s right, my name is Milton Bradley, and no, I’m not an heir to the toy empire. My parents, you see, are counter-culturalists who own a combination tobacco/coffee shop in the French Quarter.  They both come from old-line New Orleans society families; my mom was a Diderot, of the Garden District Diderots.  Mom and Dad fell in love when they were very young and began rebelling against the strict social strata they were born into. The Bradleys blame it all on my mom. The Diderots blame my dad.  My name came about because my older brother and sister were given what both families considered to be inappropriate names: Storm and Rain. According to my older brother, Mom and Dad had planned on naming me River Delta Bradley. Both families sat my parents down in a council of war and demanded that I not be named after either a geological feature or a force of nature. After hours of arguing and fighting, Mom finally agreed to give me a family name.

Unfortunately, they weren’t specific. So she named me Milton after her father and Scott, which was her mother’s maiden name. Hence, Milton Scott Bradley.

My older brother, Storm, started calling me Scotty when I was a kid because other kids were making fun of my name. Kids really are monsters, you know.  Being named Storm, he understood. My sister Rain started calling herself Rhonda when she was in high school. Our immediate family still calls her Rain, which drives her crazy. But then, that’s the kind of family we are.

So, yeah, danger really isn’t my middle name, but it might as well be. Before Labor Day weekend when I was twenty-nine, my life was pretty tame. I’m an ex-go-go boy; I used to tour with a group called Southern Knights. I retired from the troupe when I was twenty-five, and became a personal trainer/aerobics instructor. The hours were great, the pay was okay for the most part, and I really liked spending a lot of time in the gym. Every once in a while I would fill in dancing on the bar at the Pub, a gay bar on Bourbon Street, when one of their scheduled performers cancelled—if I needed the money. That Labor Day weekend, which is Southern Decadence here in New Orleans, I was looking forward to meeting some hot guys and picking up the rent money dancing on the bar. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be almost killed a couple of times or to have my apartment burn to the ground. I also didn’t expect to wind up as an undercover stripper for the FBI.

It’s a really long story.

The one good thing that came out of that weekend was I met a guy: Frank Sobieski, this mound of masculine, hard muscle with a scar on his cheek, who also happened to be a Fed. They don’t come any butcher than Frank. We hit it off pretty well, and he decided that once his twenty years with the FBI were up, he’d retire and move to New Orleans. I’ve always been a free agent. It’s not that I didn’t want to have a boyfriend, I just never thought I would find one. I enjoyed being single. I mean, young, single and gay in New Orleans is a lot of fun. It doesn’t hurt that people find me attractive, either. I’m about five nine, with wavy blondish hair that’s darker underneath. I wrestled in high school, mainly because the other kids were bullying me because they sensed I was gay. I’ve been working out ever since. Anyone who tells you being in shape doesn’t make a difference in your life is lying. It does.

But I needed a reason for the death mask-MacGuffin to come across Scotty’s path.

So, I turned back to the personal story of Scotty again.

It’s October now, been about five or six weeks since Labor Day and Halloween looms. There’s not been another word from Colin since the end of Bourbon Street Blues and Frank has put in for his retirement while he and Scotty are doing the long-distance thing; Scotty is finding it a bit restraining and having never really wanted or care about being in a relationship, is starting to have second thoughts about giving up his freedom. He has just come back from visiting Frank in DC and that visit has set his teeth on edge and made him even more nervous about Frank moving to New Orleans. David picks him up at the airport, hands him a joint, and Scotty goes on a bender…

…and wakes up with a massive hangover in bed the next morning, realizing to his horror that he is not in bed alone.

How relatable is that? I know I’ve been there more times than I care to remember.

And I realized, the trick is the key linking Scotty to said MacGuffin and the mystery, and as a big figure skating fan I decided to make him a figure skater, in town for Skate America. Scotty doesn’t know he’s a skater until he’s actually at the event and sees him warming up on the ice–and then he gets a note to meet him at his hotel room at the Hotel Aquitaine later that evening, along with the room’s key card–but Scotty shows up only to find a dead man with a knife in his chest.

This one was fun, and having Scotty’s weird ‘psychic’ power allow him to commune with the ghost of a long-dead fireman who knows the answer everyone is looking for was also a lot of fun. (I liked the concept of having Scotty and his mom go down to watch them fight the fire when he was a little boy.)

What a fun book this was to write!

I introduced a very fun Texas millionaire who collects things and doesn’t care how he acquires them (I even brought him back in Baton Rouge Bingo); was able to bring Colin back only to find out he’s not really a cat burglar but actually an international agent-for-hire working for the Blackledge Agency and thus created the “who will he wind up with” romantic triangle; and even had Scotty living in half of David’s shotgun while his home on Decatur Street was being rebuilt (which I had forgotten about until the skim-rereads and changes something with the new book). I also had Scotty get kidnapped again, and this book had the first of his many car accidents. It also contained Scotty’s first trip (in the series) to the West Bank.

One thing I forgot to mention when I was writing about Bourbon Street Blues the other day was how the series (books) were always intended to be insane and over-the-top*; always. The problem I always have with writing this series is stopping myself because something strains credulity and then I have to remind myself, “this series was always intended to be like New Orleans itself: completely unbelievable until experienced personally, and always over the top and ridiculous.”

Which is part of the fun, you know?

*For one example, Bryce Bell, the young skater, lands a quad-axel at Skate America. To put that in the proper perspective, to date no one had landed one competitively, although there’s a young American skater who can land them in practice….eighteen years later.

PS: When this book was released, I got asked a lot if I had posed for the cover; the same thing happened with Bourbon Street Blues; I was always apologizing for not being the cover model. With this book, I assumed it was the same thing…but later I realized they weren’t asking about the guy in front with this shirt open but the guy in back kissing his neck. At the time, I had a goatee and shaved head; this guy also has this and he does kind of look like me. What can I say?

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

Sara

Wait a minute, baby…stay with me awhile.

Ah, Sara. The first actual book I wrote for a young adult audience, and what a long and tortured history this story actually had.

I started writing stories when I was really young, my own versions of the kids’ series books I was addicted to and were blatant rip-offs, frankly, but it was good practice, I started writing original fiction when I was in high school; basically, I started writing about a group of high school students at a small rural high school (kind of like the one I was going to), and always felt that someday I would turn them all into a book about those kids. A couple of years after high school I abandoned the first actual novel I tried to write (I don’t even know if I still have it anywhere but I don’t think so; it most likely got lost in one of the many moves over the decades), and decided to write a novel about high school students in Kansas. Writing in cursive longhand, I expanded the story beyond the teenagers–who were still the primary core of the story–but also wrote about their parents and siblings as well. It was very soapy–this was the time when my daytime soap addiction was at its highest–but ultimately, the real story was the murder. I wrote whenever I could, often changing character names and ending subplots and starting new ones willy-nilly as my mind bounced around, always coming up with new ideas for it. I started in 1980, and I finally wrote the end on it in 1984; four years. I had thousands of wide-ruled paper filled with my loopy, pretty handwriting; now the trick was to somehow type it all up and edit it, cut out all the excess and tighten it, decide on final names, and so forth.

Needless to say, I never did that. I still have it all somewhere, in a box–it did survive all those moves–but over the years I pilfered plots and character names and stories from it. I have a tendency to come up with character names for ideas for stories and books that never get used; I then turn around and use those names again in something else I am writing (I talked about Chris Moore and Eric Matthews before; I came up with those names for an idea I had for a book set in a fraternity, and have used them in Todd Gregory “fratboy” books and they’ve turned up elsewhere, too).

Sara is one of those books born from that original manuscript, and no, despite the opening sentence of this entry, I didn’t take the title from the Fleetwood Mac song. I’ve always liked the name, and right around when I started writing the book as a young adult novel, I went to a family reunion and met a cousin’s daughter for the first time, and she was absolutely adorable. She actually looked like she would grow up to look like my mysterious title character–and her name was Sara. (I had originally named the character Tara; it was an easy switch.)

Being a senior sure doesn’t feel any different, I thought as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, and I sure don’t look any different–besides that damned pimple on my chin.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting. I;’d been looking forward to my senior year almost from the very day I started high school. This was it–when the year ended, I’d be an adult. No more being treated like a kid, no more getting up Monday through Friday at six thirty, no more being at the mercy of teachers and coaches and guidance counselors–it would all end when I cross the stage, took the diploma, and put the tassel on the other side of the cap.

It couldn’t happen soon enough, thank you very much.

And then I could get the hell out of this podunk town in the middle of nowhere, and never look back.

I finished toweling my hair and hung the wet towel on the rack. I looked in the mirror again. I touched the angry-looking red blotch in the direct center of my chin. It might as well have been blinking and neon–no one could miss the stupid thing. I sighed and wondered what kind of omen that would turn out to be as I put on my underwear and a pair of jean shorts. Probably not a good one, I thought, sighing again as I brushed my damp hair into place. I was out of hair gel, so I just parted it on the side and combed it flat.

I was already starting to sweat. It wasn’t even eight in the morning yet, and our crappy house was already turning into a sauna. The house didn’t have central air conditioning–all we had was some window units in the bedrooms. Mom kept saying when she got a little bit ahead she’d buy one for the bathroom, but until then we’d have to make do with fans.

I walked down the hall back to my bedroom, wiping sweat off my forehead. I stood in front of the window unit and raised my arms so my armpits would dry. When I didn’t feel damp anymore, I reached over to the bed for my purple Trojan Football T-shirt. I pulled it over my head, but had to yank it down hard to get it past my chest. The weightlifting I;d been doing all summer had worked–the shirt stretched so tight across my pecs it looked like it might rip. I looked into the full-length mirror hung on the back of the bedroom door and smiled. It made my muscles look huge–so maybe no one would notice the stupid pimple. I tucked the shirt into my shorts and rubbed some antiperspirant into my armpits, hoping it would work this time. I picked up my backpack and made sure one more time I had everything: notebook, pens, my cheap cell phone–yeah, I hadn’t forgotten anything. I put my wallet into my back pocket and sat down on the edge of my bed to put on my socks and shoes.

I’ve often joked that Sara is my “get even with everyone I went to high school” book, but that isn’t true. Yes, I did not have a great time in high school–either of them–but it wasn’t all bad; I did have some friends, even though it often felt like I didn’t have any, and after graduation, I decided to shut that door behind me firmly and move on with the rest of my life. I harbored a lot of anger and bitterness about my high school experience, but time does provide some healing, even if there’s a scar left behind. I was weird and different from my classmates from kindergarten on: I was gay but I was also an artistic child with a wild and vivid imagination in an environment where no one knew what to make of either. I was different, and that was all that mattered, even if they couldn’t quite process that I wasn’t from another planet or an aberration that needed to be shunned and excluded and mocked.

As I have mentioned before, I started writing in high school about a group of high school kids in a rural high school similar to the one I was attending. That eventually morphed into a lengthy, hand-written (and incredibly amateurish and terrible) first novel from which I have pilfered plots, stories and characters ever since. Sometime in the mid-1980’s, as a fan of Stephen King and Peter Straub, I decided to try my hand at writing horror short stories, with an eye to maybe writing a horror novel. I even started writing a horror novel (The Enchantress, which I occasionally think about getting back out of the drawer and working on again; it did, however, lead me to write a different book decades later, but I still think about The Enchantress from time to time). By this time I’d taken a junior college writing class and was starting to get my confidence in my dream back after the horror of my first creative writing course in college; I took another course in it when I started going to Fresno State (CSU-Fresno at the time, to be correct) and that teacher, in a conference about one of my stories (which he really liked), told me, when asked about writing a novel, “The best way to study how to structure a novel is to take one that you really like, and then break down how it’s structured; how the story and the characters are built and the pattern and rhythm of how action is interlaced into the plot.” I’ve always remembered that, and sometimes when I am stuck on a book I think about his advice and think about how a book with a similar story to the one I am trying to tell is structured.

I put The Enchantress aside and decided to try, once again, to do something with fragments of that horrible first novel I’d written, and introduce an element of horror to it. I decided to structure the book the way Stephen King structured Christine–something awful happened when we were in high school, and now, many years later, the main character is looking back and remembering, and at the end of the story we find out that the reason he is telling us this story is because he’s afraid the awful thing is coming back again (reoccurance/revival of something evil is a strong theme in horror, and King has gone to that well numerous times, most famously with It and the dueling timelines). So, I started writing Sara with a prologue written in the present day; ten years later, the main character has gotten an invitation to the high school reunion and starts remembering back, and then in the first chapter we’re back in the late 1970’s and don’t return to the present again to the epilogue. I also decided to do the different POV thing King did in Christine (which I still think is one of his most underrated novels of all time); he tells the first part and the third part of the book in the first person point of view of Dennis, but the second section is the third person and bounces around from character to character before the return in the final section of the book (it really is a three-act structure). I thought this was very clever and decided to use it in this book, too. But instead of an evil car, we had a mysterious new girl at the rural high school who dazzles and enchants all the boys–but there’s something not right about her.

I decided that the book–primarily focusing on teenagers–would work best as a young adult novel (ater discovering there even was such a thing as y/a horror) and so I dropped the looking back prologue/epilogue framing and moved the action into the present day. I finished a first draft in about six months, and then put it in a drawer for about fifteen years before returning to it, overhauling it and dragging it into the new present day and publishing it.

Revisiting Sara now, thirty years after I first conceived it and ten years after publishing it, the first thing I noticed was “hmmm, you should have reread this before turning in the final draft of #shedeservedit, since technically the two books were supposed to be connected; with the newer book set in the county seat and Sara taking part in the rural southern part of the county” but I am also recognizing that my books don’t, in fact, all need to be connected together; there’s no reason why this particular county and its county seat can’t be a county or two away from this one, even if they are remarkably similar geographically; it’s the plains, after all. There may even be characters in this one with the same name as a character in #shedeservedit, but again, it doesn’t really matter–and I’ve written other stories set in Kansas in the same area where the geography is the same and maybe even some of the character names. I used the ten-year-reunion (or possibly twenty) in rural Kansas thing in my story “Promises in Every Star,” for example, and revisited the Kansas well for “This Thing of Darkness” too.

And will probably return to that well at least once more for a book, if not more than one.

You May Be The One

Tuesday and the week seems to be settling into a sort of groove that I can not only handle but isn’t too horrific, to be perfectly honest. The week has started off pretty okay, really; I was notified that Mystery Scene magazine had given an anthology I have a story in a glowing review which included a lovely shout out to my story, “The Snow Globe,” which is absolutely lovely. And I quote: “The Snow Globe,” by Greg Herren, is a dark and humorous Christmas tale–“Santa, Dylan thought, certainly has a great six-pack”–about loneliness, voodoo, and reconnecting with family.

Isn’t that lovely? Usually anthologies I am in get reviewed and my story doesn’t get mentioned; there was a review of one anthology in particular I recall where every single story was individually reviewed…except for mine, which wasn’t even mentioned. Since my story had gay content and characters, I can’t help but think that was due to the reviewer’s homophobia; why would you namecheck every story in the book with a few sentences about each and then not even mention mine, even to dog it? I know, I know, it’s not always homophobia, but one always has to wonder–especially when you have the only gay tale in the book and it is the ONE story that doesn’t even get mentioned. So how lovely was this?

I don’t even mind that the story was called “dark and humorous” even though it wasn’t supposed to be funny (this has happened so many times in my career….)

But, you see, this is yet another one of the problems of being a queer writer of queer work. When things happen like the aforementioned review (where my story was the only one unworthy of review or commentary), as a queer writer of queer work you always have to wonder: was my story that bad, or is this just your average, garden variety homophobia at work? This is always an issue for queer writers; is this a place that will publish a story about a gay man or will they just reject it out of hand? I wonder about this, particularly with the bigger markets for crime short fiction that are out there. I know I’ve sold a gay tale or two to some of the paying markets for crime short fiction; I also know there are some that have rejected every story with a gay character but have taken the ones that centered a straight character. I shouldn’t have to even wonder about this, to be perfectly honest; I should never hesitate about sending a story somewhere as long as it meets their guidelines. And yet, every time I submit something, anything, somewhere anywhere, I always wonder.

I ran my errands after work yesterday, came home and Paul and I relaxed in front of the television, watching the last episode of The Anarchists (weird and sad), and then got ourselves caught up on Becoming Elizabeth, which is quite well done for a Starz English royalty dramatization (earlier series, based on the Philippa Gregory books, were also well done, but not necessarily always historically accurate. Becoming Elizabeth follows the period between the death of Henry VIII and Elizabeth being crowned queen–the eleven year period of the reigns of Edward VI and Mary I, which were quite turbulent and Elizabeth often found herself imprisoned, if not her life in jeopardy. It was in navigating those times that her character was formed, and she learned–often the hard way–how to play both sides as well as how to never ever cross the line into treason.

I slept decently, not great, last night, and this morning I am not feeling either tired or groggy, but that doesn’t mean I won’t hit the wall this afternoon, either. I have so much to do it’s not even funny, and I suppose, as always, that the key to getting everything done is to just go down the list and check things off once and for all. I did get some work done on the new Scotty yesterday–not much but any progress at this point is progress–but I was mostly tired when I got home last night, to be honest. I am hoping for a better day today than yesterday was–not that it was a bad day, but it was a very low energy, low motivation day (which probably had a lot to do with me going in on a Monday, which isn’t the usual and at some point I am going to have to get used to again, which I kind of don’t want to do, frankly) so hopefully today won’t be like that. They set up a work station in my testing room yesterday, which means I don’t have to commute back and forth from my desk all day anymore, so today will be me trying to get used to that and trying to figure out how best to utilize the space in the my room and how to make it easier for me to do my job with the new set-up; I don’t know how I am going to get it set up to be functional quite yet, which means work arounds in the meantime until I can get it all figured out.

If it isn’t one thing, it certainly is another.

I also had ordered a new pair of glasses from Zenni.com that arrived yesterday, and I really do like them–I especially like that they were about one fifth the cost of my last pair, which I bought from the optometrist. (I may order another pair or two today; I didn’t want to go crazy until I got the first pair and could see that they worked just fine, which they do.) I had never thought of glasses as being fashionable; they were too expensive, for one thing, to think about in terms of oh I should get different pairs in different styles to coordinate with outfits; which of course meant that, as with everything, I saw glasses as utilitarian rather than fashionable–function over form, if you will. But this pair of glasses was inexpensive enough that I can actually start thinking of my glasses as form and function, rather than as one. So, maybe on my lunch hour I will look around on their website and see if I can find some others that work for my round face and slight wattle.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! And I will see you tomorrow!

I Miss You

And here we are on a lovely humid Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment. I overslept this morning, or rather, slept later than I had intended or wanted to, but seriously, I’m learning to accept these things as messages from my body that I need more rest. I felt weirdly tired most of yesterday, despite the good night’s sleep; it kind of felt like my body never completely woke up, although my fevered brain was working properly. My body just felt like it would have preferred to stay in bed for the rest of the day. On the way home from work I stopped and made some groceries; today I’ll run uptown and get the mail, making a stop at the Fresh Market for fruit, vegetables and berries on my way home. I may order a Costco delivery for this afternoon (or tomorrow) as well; I haven’t really decided. I started doing some shopping on their website yesterday, but we really didn’t need as much stuff as I would have thought we needed going into their website. (Some of the stuff I wanted wasn’t available, either; which was annoying to say the least–but that would probably also be the case were I to actually go there in person, as well) I also have a library book to pick up today while I am out and about in the humid air of an August Saturday. Huzzah?

I hope I can stay motivated today and get to everything I want to get to this weekend; the jury, of course, remains out at this point.

But if I don’t, I don’t. The world won’t stop turning, after all.

We watched They/Them last night, and it was interesting. It was billed as a horror film, but I really didn’t feel like it was a horror movie rather than social commentary using horror tropes, if that makes sense? The young queer actors playing the kids at the conversion therapy camp were terrific–so were the older cast (Kevin Bacon, Anna Chlumsky, Carrie Preston)–but the movie never quite gelled as being anything more than a clever idea. A “slasher” movie with “they slash them” in the title I bet made the people around the creative table very excited. And maybe I went in expecting a little too much from it, I don’t know. But it really says something about us as a society that this is the first time we’ve ever seen a horror film rooted in the real-life horror of a reparative therapy camp; they are such real horrors that it’s hard to clear your mind to watch the film objectively; obviously, everyone involved with running the camp are the real monsters, etc. and Paul figured out very early on who the killer was–I didn’t bother trying to figure it out, because the identity of the killer (or killers) in these movies, Scream series notwithstanding, really isn’t a big Scooby-Doo reveal or the point of the films. Ultimately, while the film was actually well done, if you want to see a better send-up of slasher flicks, much as I hate to say it, the latest season of American Horror Story was probably better than They/Them, but at least They/Them is mercifully shorter than any season of AHS. Watch it for yourselves and make up your mind; it does bring up some interesting things to think about.

We then watched the first two episodes of a Netflix true crime series The Most Hated Man on the Internet, about Hunter Moore and his horrific revenge-porn site IsAnyoneUp.com. It’s a horrible story–we stopped before the third and final episode, in which Moore is finally arrested and charged–but riveting and hard to stop watching. The story is primarily told through the eyes of his victims–women whose intimate photos were posted on his website–and its yet another compelling example of how women can so easily be dehumanized and devalued by men and society as a whole. It’s a pretty disgusting story, as these kinds of stories so often are, but I think people do need to watch it. It’s pretty frightening how successful a sociopath can become in this country, and a stinging indictment of our society as a whole. Tonight I am excited to start watching The Sandman–one of the greatest comic book series ever done; I hope it translates well to the new medium (I really didn’t care for other Neil Gaiman adaptations, American Gods and Good Omens, even though I loved the books they were based on). There’s a lot of good stuff dropping this month, too–yes, I will watch House of the Dragons because I’ve missed Westeros since Game of Thrones ended, and I am not ashamed to admit it, either.

Just glancing around my home office as I swill coffee and swim up from the depths of Morpheus (see what I did there?) induced sleep, I can also see that there are a lot of odds and ends that need doing around here as well. I am hoping to get some writing done today–I want to really start digging into the Scotty book this weekend, and of course I need to work on some short stories and so forth. I went ahead and bit the bullet and submitted a story yesterday. I don’t think they’re going to accept it, to be honest, but that’s okay. They certainly can never accept it if I never send it to them for consideration, can they? It never gets any easier, either, the longer I do this: the minutes-long debate with myself before I hit the submit button. I hate that I still have so little confidence in my skill as a writer and I am this far into it, which means that confidence will probably never come along; it’s not like one day I will wake up with an entire new mindset and brain…plus, I think the insecurity is a driver in keeping me writing, frankly, which is in and itself probably more than just a little bit neurotic.

Nothing ever really changes around here, does it? I suspect that this blog–going back now seventeen years or so–is nothing more than an endless log of neuroses and insecurity and self-loathing. (A little voice in my head just shouted, and that will be your legacy!) I was also looking at the saved drafts in my folder–entries that I wanted to write but decided I needed more time to think about before posting, and in many cases they are unfinished–and thinking I should spend some more time actually finishing and posting them. While the blog has always been intended primarily for me–it’s a warm-up writing session at best, at worst it’s some writing I do every day to keep my hand in–there’s no reason I can’t use the blog for other purposes; like publishing an essay about something that I care about, or a personal essay built around something that happened to me. I don’t trust my memories, as I’ve often mentioned here (I sometimes think that if I were ever to start writing memoirs, it would have to be called False Memories or Memory Lies), and so writing about personal experiences is something I have always been highly reluctant to do. There are any number of things I could write personal essays about, but everything is entirely subjectively MY opinion, which makes it a bit harder for me to think anyone would even care to read them. I am not known as a great thinker or as an intellectual; far from it, in fact, and there’s quite literally nothing I can think of to say about anything that would be clever or insightful or meaningful.

Then again, that could just be the Imposter Syndrome speaking again, too.

Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow, okay?

Of Thee I Sing

This is a weird 4th of July for me.

It’s always been a strange holiday for me, having grown up as an outsider drenched in Americana and taught American mythology rather than US history. (The more I use the word American to describe things that really only involve the US the less comfortable I am with it, particularly as I grow older. It’s simply a shorthand, obviously, for the much more awkward “US citizens,” but its use erases the fact that Canadians, Mexicans, and those from Central and South America are also Americans, and others them to US citizens. USAmericans also is an awkward construction. And can people of non-indigenous descent have a right to call themselves Americans in the first place? Once you start parsing, it’s a bottomless well.) It isn’t really our nation’s birthday, either–it’s Independence Day; the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Our actual national birthday is the date the Constitution was ratified and we actually became the United States from the thirteen colonies–and after the British defeat at Yorktown and the Peace of Paris, we actually were thirteen independent states in a loose alliance with each other for self-protection, and it was entirely possible those states might not have ever unified into a single nation. That was the real miracle of our nation’s founding–that, and the fact that thirteen disunited colonies who agreed on very little somehow took on the largest and most powerful global empire the world have ever seen and managed to defeat them–without checking I cannot be entirely sure, but it might be the only war the British Empire lost before it’s post-World War II collapse.

So, this year’s celebration is a bit muted. We are losing our freedoms and our rights–losing them to a bizarre political coalition that claims they are the real Americans, what they believe is the only way to believe and/or think about politics and the country, who scream and whine and protest about their freedoms and their liberties as cover for the fact they want to steal the freedoms and liberties–and citizenship–of people who do not agree with them. We have a “supreme court” that uses the Constitution, and almost 250 years of precedent and decided law, to wipe their asses with because it doesn’t really fit their vision of a theocratic nation ruled by a minority that forces the majority to put up with their bullshit because they have gerrymandered, legislated, and ruled in such a way as to entrench their power. This has happened before, of course–it always has happened before (which is why our lack of interest and education about our short national history is so deliberately encouraged; so we won’t learn from the mistakes of the past)–and I feel like we are living in a situation very similar to that in which the country was in between 1850 and 1861: an extremely loud and belligerent minority had been controlling and running the country since almost the beginning, in defense of a completely indefensible belief that it was okay for white Americans to either own people with differently hued skin, or to kill them with impunity. The slavery supporters had packed the Supreme Court with their supporters, and the compromises over the admissions of MIssouri and Kansas to the union were fraught because the slave states saw they were in danger of being outnumbered and thus losing their hold on the government.

And now this illegitimate body currently sitting on our highest court–deciding law for a majority even though most of them were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote–has started legislating from the bench under the guiding conservative principle that “it’s for each state to decide”–abortion rights, same sex marriage, racial equality, etc.

Because that worked so well with slavery?

The entire point of a federal, centralized government is to have the final say on law and rights; the Constitution also makes it very clear that the laws of one state should be honored by the others. But the framers of the Constitution also knew that there would be times when one state’s laws would come into conflict with another’s, and the federal government would have to decide which law was Constitutional–as they both might or might not be; but the idea was the law that restricted or prohibited rights more would be the one thrown out. This balancing act, naturally, was already in trouble because of slavery; a free state could not be forced to recognize the property rights laws of a slave state, and a slave state would never recognize the laws of a free state that outlawed slavery outright. The conflict and battle between states’ rights and the Federal government was baked into the document from the beginning, because the Southern states refused to give up their right to own people in a nation that was predicated on freedom and equality of all men.

The notion that a state like Texas could criminalize abortion (or anything) to the extent they have, and that they expect pro-choice states to not only comply with their laws but turn over documents and accused violators of said law is just the Fugitive Slave Act all over again: conservative states are all about federalism when it comes to enforcing their own laws…but will scream “States’ rights!” to protect their own.

The cognitive dissonance it must require to be a conservative astounds me sometimes.

I’ve spent most of my life with my sex life making me a criminal in almost every state in which I lived. Lawrence v. Texas guaranteed that the government had no right to tell me who I could sleep with and what I could do in my bedroom with that consenting adult. I remember the day that decision came down; it was something I never thought I would see in my own lifetime. One of the things I was trying to recapture (am trying to recapture, really) in “Never Kiss a Stranger” is that sense of criminality; of how it felt to be a sexual outlaw; how every time you went into a gay bar you knew there was a chance the place would be raided by the police–or that every time you left a gay bar you were in danger from the police until you made it safely home. It wasn’t something conscious you’d think about back in those days, but it was always there in the back of your mind. Gay bars inevitably (with the exception of the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Castro on San Francisco, West Hollywood, and the village, among others) were in a sketchy part of town, and often they were own by the Mob for money-laundering purposes. The marriage between the gay bars and the Mob was an uneasy one, of course–a marriage of convenience. The Mob needed to launder their money, bars are an excellent way to do so, and the Mob could also pay off the cops to prevent raids–a corruption-go-round, if you will. (Gay bar raids inevitably wound up being extortion for corrupt cops to get more bribe money from the mob…this weird marriage between criminals–gay men and the Mob–is something I want to explore in fiction more. And the police, for the record, have never been friends or allies to my community; quite the obverse, in fact.)

I should make a note to reread this next year on the 4th of July. Will things be better or worse? My money’s on worse.

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

One More Big Time Rock and Roll Star

And now it’s Friday, Three Day Weekend Eve.

It rained again yesterday, so it wasn’t terribly awful while running my errands after work last night. I came home, put away dishes and did some laundry, provided a lap for Scooter–who stayed there all night, and even when I would get up he would just jump back into my chair and go back to sleep (Paul didn’t get home from work until after I’d gone to bed, so he was feeling abandoned the way he always does when there’s only one of us at home), and did some more brainstorming and plotting for the stuff I am working on. I feel good and rested again this morning (I did get a bit tired yesterday afternoon), and hope springs eternal for another productive long weekend at home. The theme for the weekend is clearly editing, since i have copy edits for two manuscripts to start working through, and two short stories to edit–I also need to go through my “call for submissions” folder and see what is possible and what is not ( as well as tossing the ones that have already passed).

It seems weird to be celebrating Independence Day this year, since the radical, highly politicized “supreme” court continues to demolish every right and protection anyone non-white and not male have fought for and earned since the second World War–even going back as far as JOHN FUCKING MARSHALL to overturn decisions–as they work to establish a Fascist state once and for all. I was thinking about this last night while watching Real Housewives Ultimate Girls’ Trip 2 and remembering why I didn’t miss seeing Jill Zarin on my television, and I was also thinking about memoirs and memories and writing about my life. One of the primary reasons I’ve always backed away from it (and yes, I am aware that I am talking about being reluctant to write personal essays about my past and life in MY FUCKING BLOG) is not only because I know my memory to be faulty, but also because I know that–like most other people–I also have a tendency to rewrite my memories to make me look better or to justify bad behavior on my own part, and that isn’t fair to the other people in said memories who don’t have a platform (no matter how small) to tell their side of the story (which has also been undoubtedly rewritten in their own minds to make themselves look better). No two people ever see the same situation exactly the same; our interpretations and reactions to things are often predicated and formed by our life experience, our education, our opinions, and our beliefs and values that have also developed over a lifetime. An event that may have seemed completely throwaway and inconsequential to one person can be life-changing to another.

I’ve also begun recognizing and finding holes in my memory. For some reason I had always believed we’d moved, for example, from the south side of Chicago to the suburbs in the winter of 1969. That was firmly cemented in my brain as fact…until a year or so ago when I realized I was ten when we moved to the suburbs, which means we didn’t move out there until the winter of 1971. That’s a significant difference, which has skewed the order of memories in my head.

Some friends have been encouraging me to write personal essays, but I’m not really sure I should or not. For a long time I shut the door on my past as much as I could; it was painful to remember and it was simply easier for me to shove everything into a corner of my brain and lock the door behind them. When I started rebooting my life at age thirty-three, I still looked back a lot with sadness and heartbreak and bitterness–but I also began trying to put it all behind me at the same time because it was sad and heartbreaking and I didn’t want to be trapped into that quagmire of negativity. After Paul and I had met and we’d moved to New Orleans and my new life was beginning to take shape–the life I’d always wanted and had dreamed of for years; those dreams sustaining me through even the darkest of times–I decided to put it all behind me once and for all, deciding that I loved my life and was very happy with it, which meant that everything that had happened–no matter how terrible–was necessary to put my feet firmly on the path that led to my happiness and so therefore I should have no regrets about anything. It was helpful to distance myself from my past and never look back, so I tried never to do so. But now that I’ve reached sixty–I’ve started reflecting about the past a lot more over these past few years, plus writing my last two books (Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit, respectively) required me to start digging around in those inner rings of the giant redwood of my life, as did watching It’s a Sin, which, despite being set in London, took me back to the 1980’s and brought a lot of painful memories back. It made me realize that while that coping mechanism of “no regret, not looking back” was necessary for my growth into who I am now, and for me to build a writing career, it wasn’t long-term healthy because a lot of unprocessed pain, anger and grief (and joy and laugher, as well) had never been recognized, processed, dealt with, and moved on from. I think part of the reason I decided to finish those two in-progress-for-years books was precisely so i could start processing and dealing with my past…and sometimes that means revisiting painful memories. It’s also part of the reason I moved “Never Kiss a Stranger” up on the lengthy list of things I want to write and finish and get out there; I want to remember the mentality of what it was like to be a gay man in New Orleans in 1994, just really coming to terms with your sexuality after being closeted at least most of the time for most of your life, and beginning to explore what it means to be gay while the specter of AIDS hung over your head like a death sentence just waiting to be pronounced. As prevention and treatment options continue to lower the risk of infection as well as the threat of death over the last decade or so, people are slowly beginning to forget what it was like back then–and the literature of the period is going out of print and disappearing. I now have clients who don’t remember what it was like because they weren’t alive then, and while it is so wonderful and lovely that they didn’t come out and experience life with that shadow hanging over their heads, periodically I feel a bit of pang remembering all those wonderful bright lights that were extinguished so cruelly, and the old embers of white-hot anger at the societal and governmental neglect, often deliberate and intentionally cruel, that allowed them all to die returns.

Which is why unveiling a commemorative stamp honoring Grendel’s mother, aka Nancy Reagan, during Pride Month was tone-deaf as well as a slap in the face to those of us who survived in spite of that miserable bitch and the raw sewage she married.

I also think this most recent pandemic and the memories it stirred up, timed with watching It’s a Sin and some other things, is why I am so exhausted all the time (well, that plus being sixty); it’s a sign of depression from all of the unprocessed emotions and feelings from locking away my past and turning away from it. It may have been necessary in 1995 to move forward, but it wasn’t healthy, and the longer I kept those memories locked away without dealing with them the worse it became. So I am going to set a goal of trying to write an essay every two weeks about something from my past, unlocking a memory and trying to find the meaning in it, how it impacted and affected my life–and not with regret, but with the cold, unflinching eye of the non-fiction writer. I also feel like something snapped inside my head this past week–I know how weird that sounds–but Wednesday I was really down. Memories flashing through my head, triggered by the reversal of Roe (I remember a pre-Roe United States, and also remember when the decision came down) and what that meant for other decisions revolving around personal privacy/freedom and government overreach. The four or five days following the Dobbs decision were dark ones for me (I cannot imagine what they were like for women), and yet, somehow, in writing something Wednesday afternoon something snapped in my head and I got past it all–and I realized I’d been dealing with a lot more anxiety and depression than I thought I was (and I thought I was dealing with a lot as it was). I have felt much better since getting over that hump on Wednesday, but I am also not foolish enough to think I am past it all, either–it will come back.

If I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that trauma and depression come in waves. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. I usually deal with darkness by writing–not writing makes the darkness even darker–which is something I also need to remember: writing always makes things better for me.

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

Street Angel

Ugh, another toxic Tuesday.

I mean, if Monday is manic, Tuesday can be toxic; Wednesday can be woeful; and Thursday can be…something. Regardless, I am awake at the usual Tuesday morning godawful toxic time, swilling coffee and getting ready to head into the office. Huzzah.

I didn’t feel well this morning when I got up, but I took my weekly return-to-work COVID test and it was negative. I am not really sure why or how I ‘ve managed to go this entire pandemic without getting infected (particularly when you take into consideration how many possible exposures I have had with my job since this all began), but I also managed to get through the entire (and ongoing) HIV/AIDS pandemic without getting infected, either. Just one of the lucky ones, I guess? But as my coffee sinks in and courses through my veins–and the Claritin-D kicks in–I am feeling a lot better. Still a bit tired, but can definitely make it through the day, which was questionable when I first got up this morning. I’m not sure what that was about, but am glad it is passing (or is past).

I have so much to do it’s a bit overwhelming, but when I got up this morning I didn’t have the strength and/or energy to even face up to everything that I have to do, but I am starting to get that necessary second wind and maybe–just maybe–the strength and brain focus necessary to start plowing through this massive to-do list, which also needs to be updated. SO much to do this week, but I also have a three day weekend looming so maybe I’ll be able to actually get some things done this weekend rather than trying to recover from an exhausting week? My energy levels is something that I’ve been very concerned about for quite some time; by the time I generally get home from work the day–from getting up early to being out in the heat to running errands–I am so tired that I have trouble working on my writing and my to-do list, and giving into Scooter’s demands that I sit in my easy chair and provide a lap for him in which to sleep while I watch documentaries or go down Youtube wormholes is way too easy and tempting to avoid–and once I am in that chair, it’s game over for the night.

Paul didn’t get home until late last evening so I watched some documentaries, including Scream Queen, about Mark Patton, the closeted gay lead of what is considered the gayest horror movie of all time–A Nightmare on Elm Street II: Freddy’s Revenge. I remember seeing it and not liking it when it first was available to rent–I rented a lot of movies back in the day–but primarily because the connecting thread from the first movie wasn’t there other than Elm Street and Freddy. Now that I’m hearing about all the gay subtext–some of which was apparently overt–I kind of want to see it again; I’ve never wanted to watch it again because I didn’t enjoy it when I was in my twenties (a foul, horrible decade and probably one of the worst of the seven–yes, seven, this is my seventh decade on the planet–decades of my life. I do have fond memories of the 1980’s, but I also have a lot of horrific memories of that same decade) but now I am thinking I’d kind of like to see it one more time, looking at it with a fresher perspective than I had in my twenties.

And I really need to finish reading John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind. I’ve agreed to read a friend’s manuscript with a gay character in it, but I can’t read two new-to-me pieces of fiction at the same time. (This is not true for non-fiction; I am reading both Robert Caro’s The Power Broker and The Great Betrayal now, and I am trying not to start reading Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man) I need to work some more on all my various writing projects; there are some short stories coming due, deadline-wise, relatively soon that I’d like to write something for, and so I can’t just not be writing in the evenings consistently the way I have not been doing since the summer weather arrived.

Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, tis off to the spice mines I go. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.