A Little Respect

Well, hello, Wednesday morning, how are you doing? I am at home today because I am doing the prep work necessary for tomorrow morning’s procedure (it’s a colonoscopy; I am not sure why I am being so coy about it. I am over sixty now and this is long overdue; the hurdles I had to clear and hoops I had to jump through to get this thing scheduled….oy. I don’t understand the mentality of the people who defend our health care/insurance system…and sadly, it’s better now than it was when I first got health insurance back in 2006), and the doctor recommended being in close reach of a bathroom for most of the day. I have to get up at midnight to begin Stage II, then I have to get up and be at Touro for the procedure by seven tomorrow morning. I also have to go to Touro later today to get a rapid COVID test to get clearance.

Seriously, with my luck I’ll test positive and then not only have to reschedule the entire thing but have to quarantine for fourteen more days.

That sure took a turn, didn’t it?That should give an indication of my late October mood, though, shouldn’t it? I don’t know, maybe it’s the procedure and having to go underneath anesthetic for the first time in a really long time; or perhaps it’s the whole Halloween thing? Who knows? Halloween is certainly a time for darkness and the macabre; which is interesting, since the name is a contraction of all hallows eve, which means, really, the eve of All Saints Day, which you’d think would be more celebratory? It also occurs to me that I’ve never actually written about Halloween, and given what a popular holiday it is in New Orleans, that’s kind of odd. Jackson Square Jazz is set just before Halloween; I think in the afterward Scotty mentions the costumes he and the boys were to the Halloween Ball? It’s been a hot minute, so I can’t remember…but I know there’s not a Scotty Halloween book, and I know I never did one with Chanse–who couldn’t be bothered to wear a costume; he’d find the whole thing tiresome. But not even a short story! (“The Snow Globe,” in fairness, began as a Halloween story and was originally titled “All Hallows Eve”; obviously I changed that.)

Unfortunately, given the timeline I’ve got going with the Scotty books now, I don’t know that the next one can be a Halloween book. Although I could play with the timeline a little more, I suppose. Royal Street Reveillon was set during the Christmas season, and I’ve always thought of it as Christmas 2019 (which means it became cemented into my brain as set in that year; and my stubborn subconscious never lets it go until my conscious mind realizes how stupid I am actually being)….with a pandemic just around the corner. But the book itself came out in October 2019, so I finished writing it earlier that year so there’s no reason it can’t be 2018…or 2017 for that matter, and I can also go back and put books in between the ones I’ve already published, if I so desire…ah, the Godlike power of being an author! What, though, would be a good Scotty Halloween title? Hmmmm…Halloween Season Hijinks? Halloween Party Horror?

Sigh. This will be in the back of my head now for awhile, which is how this always goes, doesn’t it?

I did sleep very well last night, which was lovely. (I set the alarm of course, reflexively, as I slipped into bed last night) We finished the first season of Only Murders in the Building, which resolved the first season but ended with a cliffhanger setting up Season 2–something I was wondering about–and thoroughly enjoyed it. We also started watching Dopesick, a fictionalized version of how the Sackler family single-handedly created the opioid crisis in this country so they can make billions. It’s very well done–I’d watched the documentary version of this already, whose name I cannot recall–and the acting is stellar. It’s powerful, too; I love that they are showing how this all happened through the eyes of a doctor in Appalachia (played by Michael Keaton), as well as showing the lives of some of his patients and how they got sucked into oxycontin addiction. I don’t know how anyone can watch this (or the original documentary) without burning with rage at the Sackler family and the politicians they fucking bought off so they could exploit the pain of the working class for profit, and what a classic example this is of how an unmonitored and unregulated capitalism–the ideal of the conservatives (let the market decide!)–can not only be damaging but lethal. We are still cleaning up the mess this created, while they sip expensive wine and eat caviar and fly to glamorous places on private jets. (I think the next time someone pulls some of that Ayn Rand libertarian “no regulation” bullshit on me I’m just going to smile and say “Oxycontin and the Sackler family disprove her theories on everything.”)

I also got Dr. Alecia P. Long’s latest book yesterday, Cruising for Conspirators: How a New Orleans DA Prosecuted the Kennedy Assassination as a Sex Crime, which I am really looking forward to reading. This is, of course, about the Clay Shaw trials here in New Orleans, and how Jim Garrison abused his power as district attorney; Oliver Stone based JFK on this, treating Garrison as an unsung American hero when he was anything but that–I’ve not seen the film, nor any other Oliver Stone film since this piece of propaganda and packet of lies was filmed. I also don’t trust anything Stone did, or does, anymore to be honest and truthful and factual. He basically ignored all the evidence–and there was plenty of it–and turned Garrison into some kind of folk-hero when he truly was a corrupt monster who tainted everything he touched and made the Puritans look like sex maniacs. And this country being what it is, the completely fictional film JFK and its conclusions and accusations are now seen by people as being factual. I’ve always been interested in writing about this case fictionally–seriously, the history of New Orleans and Louisiana is so rich and deep and rife with potential for writing, I could never run out of material here–and have done some loose reading up on it…and I’ve never come across anything backing up Garrison or his claims that didn’t originate in some insane right-wing crackpot conspiracy generator. I could be wrong, but I feel Dr. Long–whose The Great Southern Babylon is also a must-read for people interested in New Orleans and her history–is not a Garrison sympathizer; certainly the book’s title implies that; but I also trust Dr. Long, her scholarship, and her dedication to research. This will inevitably prove to be the definitive book on the subject.

I’m also still reading Robert A. Caro’s massive The Power Broker: Bob Moses and the Fall of New York, which, like all of Caro’s work, is exceptional. I’m perhaps about a quarter of the way through the book, but it’s also fascinating; a history of the New York parks and recreational facilities and the building of highways and parkways and roads so that New Yorkers could escape the city and enjoy the outside recreationally on the weekends. The power struggle over making Long Island more accessible to the city dwellers is deeply fascinating, as is watching how another idealistic young man slowly realizes that politics is more about reality and power than ideals, and learns to use politics and power to get what he wants–even if doing so might not be exactly legal. (This was my primary takeaway from Huey Long by Harry Williams.) I hope to read more of Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil’s Rock with an eye to finishing it, over the course of the next few days and the weekend. Tremblay is becoming one of my favorite horror writers; I’ve certainly loved everything he’s written thus far, and would like to get some more horror read this month before Halloween and we move into the Thanksgiving/Christmas/New Year’s holiday cycle.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone, and I will check in with you again tomorrow after the procedure. (Depending on how it goes and how drugged I am and how quickly the drugs wear off.)

Drama!

Monday morning never gives me a warning, you know what I mean?

But that’s just how it goes, isn’t it? Weekends are never quite long enough to get everything done that needs to get done, let alone get in the rest and relaxation necessary to get through another week. I don’t have to go into the office every day this week, because of the procedure on Thursday; I get to work at home on Wednesday my procedure prep day, yet have to get up insanely and ridiculously early for the procedure, so that’s not exactly a win. But I am glad to get this needed and necessary part of getting older out of the way once and for all; and here’s hoping the scope finds nothing untoward inside of me.

Ugh, how…icky that last sentence sounds!

Yesterday LSU announced that Coach Orgeron (Coach O) will be finished at the end of this season. This saddened me–it still does–because I love Coach O and was all about the Coach O train when he stepped in as interim coach after Les Miles was fired in 2016. I thought he deserved a shot at the job, I love that he so perfectly embodies Louisiana Cajun country, and he loves LSU as much as anyone. There have been times I’ve not been pleased with him–just as there were times when I wasn’t pleased with Coach Miles–but the news didn’t make me happy. I wanted him to continue to succeed. He gave us the best season of LSU football in over sixty years, possibly one of the greatest football seasons of all time, and to see him ousted a mere two years later doesn’t make me happy. I know it was necessary–after the shock of the UCLA game, followed by the embarrassing losses to Auburn and Kentucky, it was clear some shake-up was needed, but I don’t know. Maybe give him and his new assistants another season to right the ship? I can see why the big donors and the administration didn’t want to wait–the rest of the SEC West alone is catching up, if not already passing us, and the longer it dragged out the more painful it could become (let’s be honest, Miles should have really been let go after the enormously disappointing 2014 season; but he’d succeeded and there was loyalty there–clearly misplaced, given everything that’s come out recently–but LSU is too big of a brand and a marquee name to allow anyone more than one season of mediocrity. Coach O will always be a beloved legend in Louisiana, and that, while small consolation for what he and his family must be feeling this morning, is more than many coaches get when they are let go.

I started reading Paul Tremblay’s Disappearance at Devil Rock yesterday rather than a Stephen King; I started to reach for The Institute, but pulled back when I realized just how thick the book is. I mean, it took me over six weeks to read a 240 page noir novel; how long would it take for me to get through something that enormous? It was disheartening to turn down a book to read simply because of its length–I used to love long books, and the longer the better; poor James Michener could never get published today, let alone an agent, because I can’t imagine anyone looking at the length of Hawaii and thinking, yeah, can’t wait to get through THIS! But Tremblay is a terrific writer, and soon I was very much sucked into the book. I picked it up to spend a little time with while i was taking a break from my chores and working on a revision of Never Kiss a Stranger–which of course is the last thing I should be working on right now, but it’s in my head and I can’t stop until I get through this revision, which has already made it a lot better than it was in the first draft–and had to force myself to put the book down and get back to revising and cleaning, which inevitably makes me always feel better anyway. It was very strange to break the routine of a Saints game on a Sunday–which made the entire day open with possibility, and of course then made me feel as though the entire day was being wasted because I was unfocused for most of it.

We watched a Polish film last night on Netflix, Operation Hyacinth, based on a true story about a police investigation/crackdown on gay men in the 1980’s, including murders covered up by the police, which was deeply sad and tragic and somewhat hard to watch–also bearing in mind this happened during my lifetime, which is constantly sobering (an issue for writing Never Kiss a Stranger–having to remember how much more homophobic American society was in the 1990’s than it is now; also a sobering thought, and the chilling reminder that there are a lot of people want us to go back even further to the time where homosexuality was considered a mental illness as well as a crime). It was good and thought provoking, and then we got caught up on The Morning Show before turning in for the night so I can get up this early.

Of course I am behind–I didn’t get nearly as caught up as I would have liked to this past weekend, as always–and now am trying to get my to-do list for the week caught up. I have an event tonight for Sisters in Crime for a library–a diversity discussion–which is going to wear me out (I’ll already be tired from my work day) and make it much easier for me to go to bed this evening and fall asleep. I feel relatively well rested this morning; we’ll see how the day goes, shan’t we?

And on that note, I need to start getting ready for work. I didn’t even pack my backpack last night! Tis off to the mines of spice for me now, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

Chains of Love

Thursday morning coming at you like a burning ball of pitch hurled at the city walls from a catapult by the invading Huns.

I did two entries yesterday, neither of which was blatant self-promotion (I know, right?); one was my regular entry for the day and the other was…well, it was a really old entry I started writing a long time ago, about my love for Superman and how that actually began when I was a kid. I never finished the post–there are about thirty post drafts that I will someday finish, even though some of them are now YEARS old–but when the news broke about Superman’s bisexuality this week, I knew it was time to finish it and put it out into the world. I also knew when I read that piece of shit’s post on Medium that I was going to conclude by mentioning it, and taking a few nasty digs at his sorry, pathetic, will-die-alone-and-unmourned self. Was I perhaps more petty and mean-spirited, even perhaps nastier, than I usually allow myself to be on here over the last twelve or so years? Probably. Am I sorry? Not in the fucking least.

I woke up this morning at five, as I am wont to do every morning, and moaned a little softly to myself, well, at least I have another hour before I have to get up and then it hit me: It’s Thursday, fuckwit, you don’t have to get up before the sun comes up today, and thus happily burrowed back into my blankets and went back to sleep for a bit. It was lovely, frankly; I feel very good this morning and very alive and ready to get to it. I have a bunch of trainings I have to do on-line today around the condom packing and the data entry (the data entry website was updated, one of the trainings is on that); there’s laundry to do; files to file and an inbox to empty; Leg Day to get through; and of course the apartment is, as always, an utter disaster area. Typical Thursday, really, when you think about it. Yesterday was actually relatively lovely, for the most part; my piece on my favorite Gothic inspirations went live on Crime Reads’ website yesterday, and received an absolutely lovely response–and the afore-mentioned Superman blog piece I did yesterday also got a lot of attention and shares, which was also very nice. The event with Murder by the Book went well for the wonderful John McDougall, our wonderful host and moderator, and I really enjoyed listening to David R. Slayton talk. (I am reading his White Trash Warlock and really, it’s quite marvelous; do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.) Paul had dinner plans last night with friends, so I had the apartment to myself for most of the evening; by the time he got home we were both already exhausted–doing public things always drains me on all three levels (physical, emotional, intellectual) and so we both went to bed relatively early.

So, Bury Me in Shadows is out into the world, and it really was a nice, somewhat soft, release; one of the things I hate about the business side of being a writer is the self-promotion. I was raised in the worst possible way when you want to become a writer; I don’t know if my reluctance to promote myself and push myself on people is inherent, or if it was something I was trained from childhood to have. I was always told if you do good work, let others decide rather than telling them; if the work is good it will speak for itself. That doesn’t really work in this business, and while I am always comfortable to talk about books and writing publicly, I am not very comfortable with talking about myself or my own work or trying to convince people to read/buy it; I can sort of do that kind of thing on here because, well, it’s written and I am not speaking in front of an audience or for a camera. It’s always difficult, and I never think quickly enough to come up with good answers for the questions. I also tend to ramble and get sidetracked and go off on tangents when I talk–as anyone who has ever had a conversation with me in person can easily and happily attest to–which, when you are sharing the stage with another writer, isn’t a good thing. So, with much thanks to John and Murder by the Book for setting the entire thing up and for hosting, and to David for being so gracious and fun to chat with; and I will add my deepest apologies for my feral self and my incompetence at presenting myself as a competent publishing professional.

I also suppose I am far too old to get better at it, as well.

I also got my copy of Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, edited by Steph Cha and guest editor Alafair Burke–you know, the one where I am mentioned in the back for my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” from The Faking of the President, as “other distinguished work”, which is still an enormous thrill (I may still be picking up the book and opening to that page and marveling at the appearance of my name there)–which I am very excited to start dipping into again. My Halloween Horror Month hasn’t exactly worked out the way I had planned; too much other stuff going on, the release of a book, so on and so on and so on–but that’s okay. Things happen, life happens, and things get thrown off track, but I do always believe things work out the way they are supposed to in the end.

And on that note, I am going to get some things done before it’s time for me to start the endless rounds of training courses and meetings I have to attend virtually today. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again on the morrow.

Superman

So, on National Coming Out Day this past week, October 11th, the current Superman—Jonathon Kent, son of Lois and Clark—came out as bisexual. When I saw the New York Times piece I literally gasped out loud. This wasn’t some minor character in a team comic; this wasn’t even a second-tier lead of a less-popular title. This was fucking SUPERMAN, the Big Blue Boy Scout, the tentpole character on whom all of DC Comics, and the DC television and film franchises, are built around.

I literally had tears come up in my eyes. This was So. Fucking. HUGE.

I cannot even begin to tell you how much that would have meant to me as a deeply closeted and terrified gay teenager in the Chicago suburbs and later, small town rural Kansas. I really don’t know how best to explain what this meant to me as a sixty-year-old gay man, but here goes.

Oh, Superman. You are the ubiquitous comic book character; since your debut back before the second world war you have become the default; the super-hero every other super-hero is judged against. It’s even right there in your generic name: you are the super man, hence you are Superman.

Superman is kind of the Bill Jones or Joe Smith of comic book heroes: basic, simply named, and the best of them all.

I was a kid when I first started reading comic books about super-heroes. Before I bought my first Action Comics (all I remember is that Lex Luthor was the issue’s villain), I read Archie in all of its iterations; I also read Millie the Model, Dot, Little Lotta, and some others that have faded from memory. The Jewel Osco where my mom used to buy groceries when we lived in Chicago had a comic book vending machine near the entrance, right next to a soda machine dispensing cans of Pepsi and its variants. You put in a dime and two pennies into the appropriate slots, and pushed the appropriate buttons for the comic you wanted; the metal spiral thing holding the comics would spin and drop your comic down, so you could reach in through the door and pick it up. That particular day I wanted a Betty and Veronica, which was A5 but I was in a hurry and accidentally pressed B5 instead; voila, I got an Action Comics instead, much to my bitter disappointment. One of the local independent stations, Channel 32 (which also showed repeats of The Munsters, among other black-and-white classics) aired reruns of the old Superman television show; which I thought, even for my unsophisticated childish palate, was cheesy and silly. I remember grousing about it to my mother—whose response, “Boys read super hero comics anyway” was the kind of thing that usually would guarantee that I would never read a super hero comic book, but I picked it up after we got home and I started reading, certain that I would hate it.

It probably should go without saying that I didn’t hate it.

And it opened an entirely new world for me. Sure, it got a little frustrating from time to time for me (Superman was such a goody two-shoes, but that was kind of his job) and Lois being so desperate (and jealous) to either marry and/or expose his secret identity was annoying; especially because Lois otherwise was such a kick ass woman. There were any number of Superman or Superman-adjacent titles, Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen had their own titles; Superman often appeared in (and was definitely a charter member of) Justice League of America; there was also Superboy (“Superman as a teenager!”) and Supergirl…it was like the comics readers couldn’t get enough of Superman and his world. I eventually moved on to other DC Comics titles, too—everything Batman (Detective Comics was always my favorite, because there was a mystery to solve) and Flash and Green Arrow and Green Lantern and…yes, my dollar allowance every week for a long time went to comic books (Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys were $1.50 and my allowance was $1 per week; and no, I couldn’t wait until I had two dollars to get one; I always needed to spend my money as soon I got it on Thursday—Mom’s payday—at either Jewel Osco or at Woolworth’s…because I could always talk Mom into buying me a book if there were Hardy Boys or Three Investigators to be had). When we moved to the suburbs the Zayre’s didn’t carry comics, nor did the grocery store in town; the 7/11 only carried Marvel (I tried with The Mighty Thor, but the continuing story aspect Marvel used irritated me because I would inevitably miss an issue), and when Zayre’s finally started carrying comics, things had… changed. Wonder Woman was no longer an Amazon, and was just an every day modern woman running a boutique (somehow she’d given up her powers). Supergirl had been poisoned, which meant her powers came and went without warning; one moment she’d be super, the next she wouldn’t. It was an attempt to modernize the books, of course, make them appeal to the newer, more sophisticated modern audience of the 1970’s; some of them started addressing social issues and became a lot more adult in theme. (Green Arrow actually became my favorite book during this time; he was drawn naturally—had curly chest hair AND nipples—and he had no powers other than being an expert archer and skill at hand-to-hand fighting). I eventually moved away from comics because I started spending my money on novels—Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, etc.—and comics were, I thought, really for kids.

Later on, when we moved to Kansas, I got back into comics again, and things had changed yet again. Some of the Legion of Super-Heroes’ costumes made them look like strippers (male and female); the drawing of the characters had become more natural and realistic (Superman, for example, went from being barrel-shaped to having a narrow little waist and abs showing through his skintight costume), and Wonder Woman was an Amazon again. This was my Howard the Duck period, when I also started delving into Marvel a bit more. Comics always remained of interest to me throughout my life, with me going through periods of collecting and reading in large volumes at different times…before moving on from them again. I am not an expert on comics by any means; I know the names of some artists and some writers, but for the most part, I always paid more attention to story and character (go figure). But I’ve always maintained a love for the characters; and yes, the original Christopher Reeve Superman movie (which I rewatched recently for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival) indeed made me believe a man could fly.

I’ve always had, and always will have, a soft spot for Superman.

To me, Christopher Reeve was Superman–the prior versions of the character, including the popular television show (which I watched religiously) always seemed, to me, to be an actor playing the part; Reeve somehow just was the character. He was so insanely and ridiculously handsome; the body was just right, and he had the right mix of charm and charisma the part demanded. Reeve’s Superman could never be seen as a threat–and he also made it completely believable that no one could tell Clark was him, with different hair, glasses, and street clothes; he physically changed how he stood, his posture, everything about him that was Superman, when he was playing Clark.

Reeve never got enough credit as an actor, frankly.

And while my memories of Margot Kidder as Lois Lane aren’t fond ones–I thought she was a fine actress, but miscast–overall, the first two Reeve films were good ones. They could have stopped there, but didn’t–and the last two weren’t good. I enjoyed Lois and Clark (despite what Dean Cain turned into) and Paul and I eventually succumbed to the simple pleasure that was Smallville…but I wanted to see Superman back up on the big screen, where he belonged. I was very excited when they cast Henry Cavill in the part (I’ve been crushing hard on Cavill since first noticing him on The Tudors)….and then came the movies. I enjoyed them for what they were, and I did think some of the changes made to update and modernize the story (how would Americans today react to the discovery of a super being from another planet?)–and you can never go wrong with Amy Adams, either.

But…they forgot the most important thing about Superman: his kindness and genuine concern for people. In the quest to make the DC Film Universe of all that is dark and angsty like the Batman movies–the direction Batman has gone in since the comic mini-series The Dark Knight Returns–was a bad one. Patty Jenkins got Wonder Woman so fucking right–and it was the same basic formula as Superman. Superman used to be derisively called “the world’s oldest Boy Scout”, but that can work with the character, and with the right actor. I think Cavill has the charisma and the charm–and the extraordinarily gorgeous smile–to pull that off; I just wish they would have let him have the chance.

The new show on CW, Superman and Lois, is also excellent; I absolutely love it, and I do think that Tyler Hoechlin is one of the best Supermans of all time, frankly. (The entire cast is stellar, frankly.)

So, as I said earlier, I was pretty fucking jazzed the other day to see the piece in the New York Times earlier this week about Superman “coming out”–on National Coming Out Day, no less–and even if it turned out to not be Clark Kent, but Lois and Clark’s son Jonathan (in the comics they have the one son; on Superman and Lois they have twin sons, one of whom is named Jonathan), and while I, in my white gay male privilege assumed this meant that he was gay–he’s actually bisexual. But he is attracted to other men, and even has a boyfriend.

There was one particularly noxious piece posted on Medium, which the homophobic piece of trash who wrote it proudly posted on Facebook (I reported his post on Facebook as well as the piece on Medium as hate speech; the Medium piece came down, but the last time I looked, of course Facebook had done nothing about it). I read the whole thing–poorly worded, not grammatical, would have given a C- grade on the construction basics level alone–but the part that I couldn’t get past, the part I can’t forget, was him saying this: But why take one of the few heroes left for the “Straight World” and make him abnormally offensive to us?

Abnormally. Offensive.

I guess I missed the massive closet exodus for the DC and Marvel Universes? Let me see–right off the top of my head, at DC aren’t Batman, Green Lantern, Green Arrow, Nightwing, Cyborg, Aquaman, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, the Question, Beast Boy, the Elongated Man, and Shazam, all straight? (And that is just off the top of my head., and only DC.) But you know those people who are so afraid of the queers–you know, like the piece of shit who wrote the Medium piece–they just can’t help themselves or keep their fucking mouths shut. Oh, no, Mr. I’ve Never Brought a Woman to Orgasm just can’t let us have anything without letting us know how much it offends their delicate, needle-dicked sensibilities. You know, the same kind of guy who undoubtedly always complains about “cancel culture” and “social justice warriors” and “wokeness” and I don’t have a problem with gay people but why do you have to exist? Those kinds–sad, bitter little men with so little joy in their lives they have to spend their precious time on this planet letting everyone else in the world know how much they object to our existence.

But he has a right to his opinion and we are oppressing him if we call it out for the hateful trash it is…and him for the piece of shit he is.

As my editor at Kensington wrote on a note he included with a copy of a bad review of one of my books, this just reeks with the stench of failed author.

This guy claims to be a crime writer, and claims to work for a publisher (I’ve never heard of it or him before this moment)…but after reading this piece and another one he published on Medium, the real crime is his actual writing.

Fuck off, dude. And know that bisexual Superman is going to have way better sex than you could ever pay for, no matter how long you live.

God knows I have.

Sometimes

Tuesday morning and so far so good. Yesterday was a relatively easy day at the office, really; a lovely way to start off the week, actually. I felt rested for most of the day, and had a relatively easy time getting home as well, which I wasn’t expecting; traffic lights in the Central Business District are still out or blinking, including the one at Poydras, which is the main artery of the district–which makes the drive a bit challenging. There wasn’t much traffic yesterday on my way home, so that intersection where I cross Poydras (Loyola) wasn’t as horrific as it has been in the past.

And tomorrow is payday; I had quite literally forgotten! Paying off the car has changed my life so dramatically for the better, Constant Reader, you have no idea. Before paying off the car, I would have been counting down the days to pay day, wondering how much I’d have left to buy food with, wondering if I would have enough to pay for everything. Not having that kind of extreme financial stress, like I’ve been experiencing for the last four years plus, has been literally absolutely lovely for me. I don’t know how people do it–and then buy another car right on top of paying off the old one, or trading one in before its completely paid for and…yeah, I will never understand the joys of having all that extra debt hanging over my head. It’s one of the reasons I’ve never wanted to buy a house or a condo or anything; the thought of being saddled with debt for the rest of my life like that absolutely curdles my blood.

And yes, I am quite aware that I still have to pay for housing anyway, that I am essentially throwing the rent money away every month that I could be “investing” in property, and all the rest of those financial security memes I’ve been told since I was a child. But I am not a fan of debt of any kind, quite frankly. I hate debt, hate it hate it hate it, and my next financial goal is to pay off the rest of the debt I am still carrying, which has become a bit easier since the car has been paid for. I don’t regret buying the car–I still love the car, and will for a long time, no doubt–but I am not sorry the debt is gone.

I didn’t think I slept very well last night–it seemed to take forever for me to fall asleep–and yet I still feel rested this morning. My Fitbit tells me that the majority of my sleep last night was “light” sleep, and I didn’t get the correct percentages of “REM sleep” or “deep sleep”. I imagine what this means is this afternoon I will run out of steam and get tired; that seems to be the case once the caffeine wears off. Ah, caffeine; such a harsh mistress you are.

Today is the official release day for Bury Me in Shadows (or it was yesterday; I’m really not sure how I still have a career, honestly) so there’s one more Blatant Self-Promotion post to come; I’ve been working on it since the weekend, and I hope to get it right and posted today. Tomorrow night I have the launch event at Murder by the Book in Houston (virtual), and I am doing a diversity panel for a library through Sisters in Crime (chessie chapter) this coming Monday. I know, two virtual events in less than a week, who am I? I also realized yesterday I had never posted the BSP post I’d written Sunday morning, so it went up yesterday instead.

I’m really not very good at this blatant self-promotion thing, and sometimes I wonder if it’s a mental thing; defeating myself before I have a chance to be defeated by the rest of the world. It would make sense, wouldn’t it?

I rewatched Scream 2 last night while I was waiting for Paul to finish working and come downstairs, and rather than switching to something else when he came down about halfway through the movie he was fine with just watching it through to the end–we’re both big Scream fans–and oddly enough, no matter how many times I’ve seen these movies they still work and are enjoyable. Greater horror minds than mine have dissected these films, how meta they are, and so forth to death; nothing I could say could possibly lend anything to the discourse already. But I do enjoy them more than most slasher/horror movies, it seemed fairly appropriate for Halloween, and since I have Peacock, which has all the Halloween movies streaming available, I may spend the rest of the month watching every Halloween movie; there are actually some I’ve not seen. And what better films for the Halloween Horror Film Festival than the Halloween series? (And if I can squeeze in a Scream or two, why not?) I didn’t write very much of anything yesterday and am not terribly happy about that, to be honest. I felt a bit tired when I came home from work yesterday–I stopped to pick up a few things on the way home–and tonight I have to go to the gym, since I can’t tomorrow. I did pull up Never Kiss a Stranger and started revising and re-ordering the story somewhat–beginning with the removal of about 2000 words at the beginning that might not be as necessary as I had originally thought; they can go further back in the manuscript than where they were originally placed, if used at all–so that was something, but I was tired and Scooter really wanted to nap in my lap in the easy chair and it was all so much easier to just give into the tired and relax with a purring kitty in my lap…yeah, it’s a wonder I get anything done around here at all.

And yesterday the current Superman–Jonathon Kent, son of Clark and Lois–came OUT. Superman is gay! * (That sound you just heard was any number of homophobes screaming about their childhoods being ruined.) I didn’t see it yesterday–I just saw the piece in the New York Times shared on Twitter–and will read it later this morning between clients. But this is quite thrilling, and that they timed the announcement for National Coming Out Day? Thank you thank you thank you, DC Comics.

Yesterday I also got a PDF file from an anthology I contributed a reprint story to; I had literally completely forgotten about it (my memory is completely worthless these days) and I never recorded it on my “out for submission” spreadsheet either; so my system completely failed. It happens, of course, and more regularly than I would prefer, to be completely honest. Anyway, it’s a gay erotic vampire anthology from Lethe Press called Blood on His Hands, and the story I gave them to reprint is my old “Bloodletting” story; which was originally written as a sequel story to my novella Blood on the Moon, and eventually became the first chapter of my Todd Gregory novel Need. I’ve not reread any of my vampire stuff over the years, and so last night, while I was trying to figure out to watch before settling on Scream 2 I spent some time revisiting this story. It isn’t bad, actually; I was very pleasantly surprised. (I often am pleasantly surprised to read something old of mine and see that it’s not terrible, or a steaming pile of shit…I really do need to stop being so hard on myself when it comes to writing; even as I started moving bits and pieces of Never Kiss a Stranger around last night I found myself thinking, “oh, this is good” or “this needs to be punched up some”–but “this is good” thoughts far outnumbered “fix this”, which was most pleasing to me. I have another story in another anthology coming out later this year–the story is “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” but I cannot think of the name of the anthology; I think it’s Pink Triangle Rhapsody? It really is a wonder I have a career of any kind in this business….

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow on Pay-the-Bills-Day.

*Well, bisexual anyway, but he has sex with men and that’s more than enough for me. It’s a huge step for DC Comics and super-heroes in general; it’s fucking Superman, not some supporting cast super-hero most people have never heard of who only appears in some team-up books; it’s SUPERMAN!

Something’s Wrong

At some point over the past decade, a movement started on-line to promote the voices of minority writers writing about their experience in fiction, called “#ownvoices”. The focus of the tag was primarily for non-white writers, whose work has been so long marginalized and kept out of the mainstream of publishing; forcing those writers to either not see print or go with either a small press or self-publishing. It brought up some interesting conversations about who gets to tell what story, the importance of representation in fiction, and the need for greater diversity in the popular culture.

Recently, the “who gets to tell what story” debate took on an entirely new meaning and went in an entirely different direction with the publication of a piece in the New York Times that became known as, for simplicity’s sake, “Bad Art Friend.” Who owns a story, and who gets to tell that story? Both women on either side of the conversation appeared, to me, to be kind of assholes; but when it comes down to brass tacks, I strongly believe that if you feel your own story—the story of your own life—belongs to you and only you, then you need to write it; not tell the story to other writers (or other people in general, really) and expect them not to use it. Writers are thieves, every single one of us; anything we ever are told, read, see, and hear goes into the computer of our mind and at some point, might come back out in a fictional form. The fact that the “kidney story” was used as a jumping off point for a short story by a writer fascinated by the story of the woman who donated said kidney—and her need for attention predicated on the ownership of that story—shouldn’t surprise any writer; as I read the piece in the Times myself I kept thinking, I don’t know that I could have resisted writing about this woman either—it’s such a fascinating place to start an examination of both altruism and narcissism, how could anyone resist? I also started, in fairness, to think of the story in terms of crime fiction—how would I build a crime story out of this?

I do know, however, how shitty it feels to have my story taken and told in a way I didn’t much care for; yet that doesn’t mean I couldn’t tell my story how I wanted to, if and when I choose to. Everyone’s take on this has been interesting to watch on social media–you can certainly tell how personal experience effects other writers’ opinions on things–but I think the bottom line of it all is, don’t be a shitty person. Everyone involved in that whole mess was kind of a shitty person, at least in how it was reported–and again, those people involved in the group chat/email or text chain or whatever the hell it was and were actually named in the Times piece? Their story is now being told by someone else. Karma? Serendipity? The arc of justice? Who knows? Who gets to decide?

So, who does get to tell whose story?

Most of my work is fiction, and the majority of it is also set in New Orleans. New Orleans is one of the few cities in the United States with a majority minority population (at least it used to be; I’m not as certain post-Katrina of that fact as I was pre-Katrina) and it would be impossible to write about New Orleans without including non-white characters; that would be science fiction. It might be possible to live in New Orleans and never, ever come across a non-white person; I don’t see how, frankly, but, on the other hand, I’ve read any number of lily-white books set here. The casts of my two series contain one person who is non-white; police detective Venus Casanova, a character I love deeply and have always wanted to write more about. I had two ideas for Venus novels over the years—Stations of the Cross is one, and more recently, Another Random Shooting—but I always held back from writing either of them because I am not a Black woman. I don’t know what it’s like to grow up as a Black woman in New Orleans or in the South, let alone the struggles faced with being a Black woman working for the New Orleans Police Department—the racism, the micro-aggressions, the misogyny—and while I still believe both books would be good ones, I still am not entirely comfortable writing from that point of view—nor am I comfortable taking a publishing slot (if it came to that) from an actual Black woman crime writer, of which there aren’t enough as it is.

Bury Me in Shadows didn’t present the same kind of issue that I have with writing from Venus’ perspective (I also started writing a short story once with her as the main character; I revised it to be from the point of view of her white gay partner on the force, Blaine Tujague), the issue here was that I was going to be looking at and examining the racist history of the South and issues of race themselves…from the point of view of a twenty year old white gay kid. Just what the world needs, right, another white take on racial injustice in the southern United States? The possibilities for offending people were endless; do I have blind spots in my white privilege when it comes to racial injustice? Would those blind spots come across in the book? (I don’t care if I offend Confederate apologists, none of whom would be reading anything I write to begin with for fears of gay contagion.)

One thing my main character Jake’s mother always emphasizes to him is “the heritage is hate, Jake—never forget that.”

Jake has no pride in the fact his ancestors enslaved people, or in the family history of what was once a plantation that has now dwindled to a small amount of acreage that is mostly wooded; his mother refused to raise him that way, and I wanted to show how possible and effective—and important– breaking the generational link passing white supremacy along for centuries can be. Like most white people, Jake really hasn’t thought much about the history or his own privilege—there’s a part in the book where he thinks about how many students of color there were in his elite, private Catholic school—and being there, on the ground soaked in blood and perspiration and oppression, he has no choice but to face up to it, think about it, and be appalled by it all. I didn’t want to write something that could be called, or considered, an oh look another white guy explains racism or even worse, oh look another white person discovers racism is actually a thing and is horrified book; but the land is definitely haunted by its past.

Another theme I worked on within the book is the history of this county is written in blood. That’s a recurrent theme within any of my Alabama fictions; I tend to always write about my fictional Corinth County, and its history is actually very heinous. There’s a short story I’ve been working on for years called “Burning Crosses,” about a lynching that happened there many years ago; during the horrors of the Jim Crow era—in which a young white girl, a student at the University of Alabama, comes to Corinth to research the lynching for the Justice Project—a fictional group at the University that researches all racially motivated killings in the South since Appomattox, to name the victims and so the memories never fade with time. Again, not sure if I am the right person to tell this story, and the possibilities for giving offense with it are endless; so, I continue to work on it, tweaking here and there, and maybe someday I will try to get it published. But Corinth County’s bloody history is very real in my mind, and there are countless book and story ideas (and in-progress stories) I have for continuing to write about it.

Whether I will or I won’t remains to be seen, of course, but there are files and files and files…

Because of course there are.

 

Take Good Care of Her

As the launch date for my book draws nearer and nearer, I find myself not experiencing the kind of stress and anxiety that I usually feel as the clock winds down. Maybe it’s because I am making the effort to promote the book this time around? Finding the time to do so? Paying more attention than I usually do when I have a book coming out? I don’t know why I am feeling so much more relaxed than I ordinarily do in the final days before this release, but it’s nice to have some awareness—other than the usual stopping in the middle of something to think, oh yes, I have a book coming out—is it today or tomorrow? I should probably do something about that, shouldn’t I?

It really is a wonder that I have any career of any kind, seriously.

And maybe it’s just the swing back from the twenty months or so of nightmarish existence, but I do feel like I am doing good work when I am writing these days. I don’t really remember much of the final push to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and out of the way, but I do remember doing the page proofs and thinking, you kind of did what you wanted to with this, well done! One of my big worries whenever I start writing something new is the fear I’ve already written the story, albeit in a different form; I was worried, almost constantly, that I was plagiarizing Lake Thirteen, my other ghost story, in this book. But the stories are very different, and the main character in each are quite different from each other. I think the mood in both books—the atmosphere I was creating—are very similar to each other, but I was trying to do something Gothic and almost dream-like with both.

As I mentioned the other day, I’ve always worried about writing about the South, and Alabama, in particular. How does one write about the South without dealing with the racism, present and past, of the region? How do you write honestly, with realistic Southern characters, without touching on that third rail of enslavement and war? Not all Southerners are racists, of course, just as not all Southerners are homophobes (I do make that point—about them not being all homophobes—in the second or third chapter of the book). But you cannot write about the South without mentioning that whole “Lost Cause/states’ rights” nonsense; that misplaced pride in something that was, at its core, evil. I was not educated in the South; I started school in the Chicago public education system; we moved out to the suburbs for junior high and my first two years of high school, finishing in Kansas. I was never taught in school that the root cause of the Civil War was anything other than slavery; and in all my extensive outside reading of American history, I never came across any of that. (I knew that the Southern politicians were all shouting “states’ rights!” in the lead-up to secession; but this was subterfuge. They couldn’t win the argument about slavery on moral grounds, so they fought against emancipation on Constitutional grounds. And, as I often note whenever someone trots out the tired states’ rights canard, the only right they cared about was the right to own slaves, and they sure as hell wanted the Fugitive Slave Act enforced against the will of the free states, didn’t they?)

I also like to point out that all those lovely, wonderful society ladies in Gone with the Wind—Melanie, Mrs. Meade, Mrs. Elsing, Mrs. Merriweather, etc.—would all be full-on Trump voters today. (I’ve not read the book in years, but while I do remember that in several places, Ashley talks about how he would have freed the enslaved people at Twelve Oaks had the war not come; but Melanie talks about the Lost Cause with all the fervor of a believer at a revival meeting in a tent…which makes Melanie, theoretically the moral center of the book, the biggest racist of the main characters in the story—and yes, I know, Margaret Mitchell did a great job of propagandizing the “Cause” as the Confederacy rather than slavery; but there’s an awful lot of racism and “they were better off enslaved” in that book, which, along with the movie, has done a great job of romanticizing something hideous and ugly )

I could write volumes about Gone with the Wind and how problematic both book and movie are (not the least of which is that Rhett rapes Scarlett but she enjoys it), but that’s an entirely different subject, deserving of its own entry (or two or three) or an essay—but I will say this one last thing on the Gone with the Wind subject: since the movie was released, for decades it imprinted on the minds of white Americans “this is what the antebellum South, and enslavement, was like”—when it was actually nothing of the sort and bore no resemblance to anything true or right.

One of the things I wanted to make clear with Bury Me in Shadows is that the shadow of white supremacy can be overcome and the continuing link, from generation to generation (parents teaching it to their children, who teach it to their children) can be broken by a person not blinded to realities or brainwashed by romantic fantasies; that character in this book for me is Jake’s mother, Glynis Chapman. Glynis rejected the white supremacy/racism she was raised with and did not pass that on to her son. I’ve always felt—and this was best exemplified with that Miss California who all those years ago blamed her homophobia on “It’s how I was raised”; it’s how I was raised is perhaps the laziest, most disgraceful, and embarrassing excuse ever given for perpetuating hatred and discrimination. It essentially states that you are incapable of thinking logically and rationally for yourself; you are incurious, and your parents are God-like, with beliefs and values that are above question. At least own your bigotry and don’t blame it on your parents because at some point, you must become your own person; you either continue to blindly believe everything your parents told you, or you actually become a functional human being capable of making up your own mind rather than simply blindly parroting what you were taught. I began questioning everything quite young, frankly; more so than most, but still to a far lesser degree than I should have. I didn’t question American mythology as young as I should have, but I did start questioning religion quite young–and I am also happy that I never fossilized my beliefs and values but rather kept them fluid and receptive to change based on new information, or more in depth thought.

Racism, and white supremacy, are evil. Period. Race theory has no validity or origin in actual science—the genetic differences between white people and non-white people are so infinitesimal as to be practically non-existent—and were created for no other reason than to justify western European colonialism, exploitation, and looting the resources of the rest of the world for power and money. Originally cloaked in religious fervor (if there was gold and riches for the crown, there were souls to be won for the cross), even American expansionism at the expense of the indigenous people of this continent was called manifest destiny, which gave mass genocide and the theft of land a cloak of holiness: it is the destiny of the white man to rule over others and expand his empire.

And it can’t get more white supremacist than that, can it?

I’ve never understood the notion of racial pride, frankly; likewise, I’ve never really grasped the mentality behind ancestor-worship, as evidenced by Confederate apologists. Regardless of reason, the truth is, and always has been, that the Southern states tried to destroy the union, period. They fired on the flag. The great irony that the Confederate apologists also consider themselves to be more patriotic Americans than those who think the Confederates were traitors–talk about cognitive dissonance–is something that always amuses me. How do you chant USA! USA! during the Olympics or other international sporting events of any kind when you have a Confederate flag decal on your car? Why are you do defensive about the crimes of your ancestors, when you have no more control over what they did during their lifetimes than they have over yours? No one can help who they are descended from and no one pays for the crimes of their ancestors. Confederate monuments never should have been erected (again, the groups that raised the money for them and put them up were run by women like Melanie Wilkes and Mrs. Meade and the other society women from Gone with the Wind) so there should have been no need for discussion, debate, or confrontation over their removal; as I always say, “Where are the statues of Benedict Arnold or the other Tories from the Revolutionary War? Weren’t they just standing behind their values and beliefs? They also saw themselves as patriots–just for the King.” I am incredibly happy not to see the statue of traitor Robert E. Lee every time I drive home from work–I hated having to try to explain the existence of the statue and the circle named for him to visitors…I used to say, “And here’s one of our monuments to treason, Lee Circle” every time I drove around it with a visitor in the car.

So, no, Bury Me in Shadows is definitely not a Lost Cause narrative that romanticizes the antebellum Southern states or the Civil War–and is definitely not the place to look for one.

Love Is All That I Ever Needed

And now it’s Tuesday and the world keeps turning.

Hilariously, Facebook flagged yesterday’s hunk as being against their “community standards” and removed the posts from both my main page AND my author page. I protested this ruling and won–yet despite not doing anything wrong, they left the 24 hour ban on me in place. Um, why am I banned when you admitted you were wrong about my posts? Ah, Zuckerberg. You make me want to believe hell is real…and while it is highly irritating to have to protest a suspension and get the “yeah you right our bad” while the suspension remains in place, it’s kind of amusing as well.

I really do miss a world without Facebook. Seriously. And honestly–those four or five days without Internet would have been lovely if we’d had air conditioning and power.

Getting up early is beginning to already become tiresome–so that means things are getting back to sort of normal for one Gregalicious here. I was also relatively tired when I got home last night, so didn’t get much of anything accomplished after getting home from work last evening. I’d intended to get some things done, and made a good start, but once I parked myself into the easy chair the day was essentially over, really. I don’t feel sleepy this morning, or like I had to force myself up and out of bed this morning or anything; I actually feel more awake than I usually do, and the coffee is quite tasty this morning as well. I also keep forgetting that I have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow at one, and therefore only have to work in the morning. I also need to take my car in the have a tire repaired; it’s always had a bit of a slow leak, which has only gradually gotten worse….in the beginning I needed to air it up maybe once every few month, if that often, but it’s becoming a much more regular thing, and so…might as well get it fixed and/or replaced now before it becomes an actual issue somewhere along the line. Heavy heaving sigh. I hate having to get these things taken care of myself, you know–I’d much rather let someone else come along and handle it all for me, or to be able to simply toss the car keys to someone and say, yes, can you get this handled for me today?

Then again, I’d probably not enjoy having someone work for me.

I don’t think I would make a good boss.

I did try to write last night, so don’t get me wrong on this. I just couldn’t think of anything to say, really, which isn’t good. I guess that means the depression is still there, insidiously working on my brain subconsciously. Outside of this blog I’ve not really been able to write anything other than emails for quite some time, and that doesn’t exactly made me thrilled in the least, you know. I am always worried about losing the ability to write–it’s always there, in the back of my mind–but I inevitably can get through it, you know, and eventually will force myself to write something, anything, and the words will start coming and I am over it and the fears recede for a while. But it was really sad last night; I just stared at the words on the essay I had already started quite some time ago and maybe added one sentence to it…if that…and still wasn’t entirely certain it was even much of a sentence, let alone a good one. I know I need to push myself as I go–part of the reason I am so worried about how the next two books are going to be received is because I pushed myself for one and I took on difficult subjects that I generally try to avoid as a rule (or at least that’s what I think, at any rate)…so I am not really sure how the books will be received, which makes me nervous. Working on something new also always makes me nervous, and so this newly contracted book has me a little terrified to work on it, too.

I don’t know why I allow these things to prey on my mind, I really don’t. I really wish I could get past the fear that I am eventually going to dry up; that the next time I go to the well of creativity the bucket will come up empty. It hasn’t yet–although there have been plenty of misfires over the years (just look inside the “short stories in progress” folder in my computer sometime, if you want to see how often it does happen)–but the fear is always there that one day, it will just go away. I can’t imagine ever retiring from writing, or stopping doing it ever (unless the aforementioned fear comes true) until I die, but stranger things have happened and one truly never can say never about anything, really (other than eggs; I will never eat an egg again); I shall certainly, per the filing cabinets and stacked-up notebooks, never run out of ideas before I die, at any rate. There’s always that wealth of ideas to pull from, after all….and of course, there’s always the news, which never fails. I read a news report this morning about the sexual abuse of a bullied teenage boy at a private school in a small town in Louisiana; and as I read it my mind filled with how to present that as a novel; which characters to use for pov, what the point of the story would be, etc etc etc.

I suppose I will only ever stop writing on the day when I no longer want to type anymore.

Tonight after work I am hoping to get the kitchen cleaned, finish the laundry I started last night, and read and/or write for a little while before Paul comes home. I will also probably make dinner while I am doing all of these things; it’s weird knowing tomorrow I only have to work half-a-day, and that I can go to the gym in the afternoon after my doctor’s appointment; and then I will have the rest of the day. I did make a to-do list yesterday, but am not really certain that I have everything on it that needs to be on it, frankly; always a problem and always a possibility.

We also watched some more episodes of Sex Education last night, which is actually an incredibly good show that isn’t getting near the attention it deserves. I can’t remember ever seeing a show addressing teenage sexuality so frankly (Paul and I both wondered if everyone we went to high school with was having this much sex in high school, since neither one of us was having any); and the romance between Maeve and her disabled neighbor Isaac, including a love scene last night where they explored each other and he was telling her what he could feel, what he could experience, and what he was capable of doing, was so sweet and tender and honest; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the sexuality of people with disabilities ever talked about before, let alone so honestly and frankly and intimately. Seriously, check it out–plus there’s amazing gay representation on the show, and the romance between Eric and Adam (while slightly problematic in how it all began) is actually incredibly sweet and charming.

Honestly, there’s so much wonderful queer representation happening in film and on television these days I cannot possibly list them all, let alone watch them all. To be sure, there is still problematic representation, of course; but I also cannot help but think what a difference watching something like this Sex Education would have made for me as a teenager….likewise, I love seeing how men are changing it up and taking risks for their red carpet/awards show looks, as evidenced in part at the Emmys the other night. I’ve always hated that men were always stuck in suits or tuxedos, with very little creativity in anything other than color combinations. I loved that the actor who plays Coach Beard wore a top hat and a walking stick; it was really very cool (I had already decided that should I ever need to dress up again, I wanted a top hat, a walking stick, and tails).

It really is such a completely different world from when I was a kid, seriously.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

The Boss

Probably one of the most annoying, if not downright irritating, thing about being considered a marginalized author–no matter the cause of the marginalization–are the inevitable diversity panels one is almost always required to participate in; diversity is a topic worthy of discussion on panels at conferences or for libraries or bookstores or round tables for websites, newspapers, and magazines, after all; and what better way for people to learn about the challenges non-straight and non-white writers face all the time than public forums where they can talk about those things?

But it’s also a double-edged sword, too: as Steph Cha once put it, very wisely, “diversity panels inevitably turn into let’s teach the nice white people about racism panels.”

She’s right, although in my case, as a general rule, it becomes let’s teach the nice people about homophobia as a general rule.

It’s frustrating, and it’s tiring, frankly, and more than a little bit on the insulting side to realize programmers only see you as being of value because you’re different from the majority of the pool of writers they are programming for; why, for example, can’t I talk about character or plot or story or setting or all the plethora of subjects straight white people get to talk about? I am not just a gay writer; I’m a writer, and the adjective gay shouldn’t overrule or overpower any noun that comes after it.

But…I accept the invitations to do these panels because other invitations to do other panels, other readings, other events, aren’t forthcoming. I only get invited to do “diversity” readings and “diversity” panels; but I do them, even as I gnash my teeth a bit as I read the invitation.

I do them because my hope is that by doing them, queer writers of the future won’t have to do them. It’s a long haul, and a long game to play, but the recent movement of the crime fiction community in the right directions regarding diversity, and diverse authors, has been absolutely lovely.

But I also realized, several years ago, that I myself have no high horse to mount and ride in this game; because I myself wasn’t reading books by other queer and/or non-white writers. I set out to correct this, and an entirely new world of reading opened up to me; other experiences, other points of view, different ways of seeing society and culture and the world–and using these new points of view to breathe new life into a genre that was beginning to get a little stagnant again.

And I hate the thought that I might have, because of ingrained prejudices of a lifetime lived in a culture rooted in white supremacy, missed out on reading authors like Zakiya Dalila Harris.

Stop fussing at it, now. Leave it alone.

But my nails found my scalp anyway, running from front to back to front again. My reward was a moment of sweet relief, followed by familiar flood of dry, searing pain.

Stop it. Stop it.

I’d already learned the more I scratched, the more it’d resemble the burn of a bad perm–a bad perm that had been stung by fifty wasps and then soused with moonshine. My small opportunity for reprieve would come only after the trains started moving, when I could finally close my eyes and take comfort in the growing distance between me and New York City. Still, I continued to scrape at the itch incessantly, my attention shifting to another startling concern: we weren’t moving yet.

My eyes darted to the strip of train platform visible through the open doors, my mind moving faster than I’d moved through Grand Central Terminal just minutes earlier. What if someone followed me here?

The Other Black Girl is a riveting novel of suspense; workplace noir rather than domestic noir–and really, is there any place more noir than the office workplace? I’ve always been fascinated by group dynamics; how individuals behave in groups, and even in the smallest of workplace, office politics inevitably come into play–unfair bosses, under-appreciated employees; the suck-ups who don’t work as hard or aren’t as competent but somehow always get the plum gigs and promotions because they play the game properly; the underminers….the first workplace drama I ever remember reading about was, of course, also set in publishing: Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, which is vastly overdue for a reread (but I barely have time to read as it is). While the workplace and the drama swirling around the coffee machine or the break room wasn’t the center of the novel–it was more about the girls who worked there’s outside lives, and trying to maintain the balance between what they wanted with their ambitions and what is expected of them as women in American society–it’s always remained in my brain as a book about the workplace. The Devil Wears Prada also took a look at a workplace–that of a fashion magazine–and I personally thought the deeply flawed film version was far better than the deeply flawed book–but also firmly established in American culture the character of Miranda Priestley, the monstrous boss from hell; but Miranda was also the most interesting character in both book and film to me. I wanted to know more about her, who she was; Andie was neither original nor interesting enough, in my mind, to center a book or a film around.

The Other Black Girl also takes places at a prestigious publishing company, Wagner’s, and our main character is Nella–and a fascinating, well-rounded, and deeply developed character is she–one it is easy to sympathize with, to become vested in, and root for. Nella is a young woman of color–the only Black employee in editorial at Wagner’s, and her own drive and activism is being gradually worn down by the micro-aggressions and games and politics played in that workplace, only to be further complicated by the arrival of another Black girl, Hazel. At first, Nella is excited to have another Black girl in the workplace with her…until she slowly begins to realize that everyone responds to Hazel better; listens to her more; and sees her own not exactly rock-solid position at Wagner’s slowly being undermined by the other Black girl…is it deliberate undercutting of a fellow Black girl (‘there can only be one”) or is Nella being paranoid, the every day stressors of working in a mostly white environment making her paranoid, her grip on sanity beginning to slip a little bit? And then she starts getting threatening notes left on her desk….

This is a terrific read, and I loved Nella (although I would have loved to see more of her best friend, Malaika); Nella was fascinating to me. Raised in a mostly white upper middle class world, Nella often questions herself about whether she is “Black enough”–she has a white boyfriend, Owen, and has spent most of her life in mostly white spaces, and has for the most part found herself comfortable–if micro-aggressed–there; she’s ambitious and has a role model–a Black female editor who worked at Wagner before disappearing–and you can’t help but root for her to achieve her ambitions. Hazel is more of a mystery, but she is developed as well as can be for someone who isn’t the point of view character; and this mystery helps drive the story. What exactly is Hazel up to? Is she even up to something?

And the book also–spoiler alert–has a huge shift about 2/3rds of the way through that the reader will NOT see coming…and after that point, you won’t be able to stop reading.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I loved it.

Walking on Broken Glass

Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.

This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.

Representation absolutely matters.

And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.

As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”

As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.

And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.

Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.

The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.

Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.

“Yes?” Ike said.

My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).

So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.

For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.

That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)

The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*

Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.

This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?

Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.

Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.

It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?

*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”