Doo Doo Doo Doo Doo (Heartbreaker)

Well, I’ve decided on my audiobook for the drive to and from Alabama this weekend: Carol Goodman’s The Night Visitors. Carol is one of my favorite writers (and has become a friend! I love my life) and I love her works; if you’re not reading her already you need to get on it–and there’s a healthy canon to dig into as well (always a plus). She also has a new book coming out this spring, called The Bones of the Story, which is a great title. I’m working on a short story this week while I am letting my novel manuscripts rest, and it’s definitely some slow going. I got about two thousand words into this story about a year ago, and I think it works perfectly for this anthology a friend of mine is putting together; I just need to finish the damned thing. But tonight I have a ZOOM call I have to do and I have to pack for my weekend in Alabama, and tomorrow morning I’m getting up, writing a post and hitting the road while listening to the divine Carol Goodman.

Does life get better? I think not.

It’s actually kind of funny; after I finished yesterday I realized I could, for the first time in quite a while, take some down time to myself for a minute or two without guilt or something looming over me needing to be done. After I sent the manuscript (such as it is) in along with my editorial thoughts and analyses, I thought, wow, I’ve sure written a lot since just before Christmas and showed an incredible amount of discipline–the kind of single-mindedness you’ve not had for quite a while, and I should feel drained and tired but I don’t. That was an incredibly over-confident assumption to make, even though it was true at the time I thought it. When I got home from work I realized my candle wick had burned down so far that it needed to rest and be replenished for a while. I am still feeling motivated and creative, though; I was simply drained yesterday. Before I went to bed last night (after watching another episode of The Recruit, which I am really enjoying) I kind of felt like the batteries were already starting to recharge. I feel very tired this morning, too–I slept well, don’t get me wrong, but I think I needed to sleep longer. Ah, well. I don’t have to get up before the sun rises tomorrow, so that’s something.

I always like Thursday nights.

But the kitchen is still a mess. I wasn’t in the mood to clean last night when I got home, either. I just felt disoriented, emotionally and intellectually spent, and physically tired. I used to call it the malaise, because it felt like melancholy brought on by the utter exhaustion of my creativity and drive to write. It’s very weird. Usually, the malaise also brings with it the feeling that I don’t even want to think about writing anything else ever again–which is not the case this time, which is very weird to me. I am champing at the bit to get to work on more things, new things, even to start working on the editing of everything else. It is very weird, and I will keep you posted on how this weird new version of malaise works itself out.

But I’ll have to clean the kitchen before the ZOOM thing tonight. That, or turn off all the kitchen lights.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I watched an interesting documentary on Youtube in my tired malaise last night, a new one from James Somerton called The Death of Queer Privacy, which was interesting. The primary focus of the documentary–Somerton does popular media critiques from a queer perspective–was, to begin with, about outing as well as the potentially problematic tropes in Paul G. Tremblay’s A Cabin at the End of the World and it’s film adaptation, A Knock at the Cabin. It was another look–deconstruction, if you will–if whether a straight identified (I don’t know how he actually does identify) writer centering a gay couple/family at the heart of a horror novel/movie is either good representation (they could just as easily have been a straight couple, a mixed-race couple, lesbians, etc.; sexual orientation didn’t play a part in the plot and if anything, the fact that the gay family was presented as normal and not a big deal tends to undermine any critical analyses of this as intentionally or unintentionally sinister) or if the book/movie, at heart, centers the trauma of a queer family as entertainment for the masses. I may want to watch that again; I wasn’t paying a lot of attention because I was tired and scrolling through social media on my iPad, so I may have missed some things, but the critique and look at the film itself was merely an introduction to the main topic, which was the attack on queer people’s right to privacy–which served as an interesting counterpoint to a lot of the public discourse about queer celebrities and how much of their lives, if any, needs to be shared with the audience. The recent forced outing of Kit Conner from Heartstopper is perhaps the best example of this; the idea that queer people in the public eye need to–nay, must–come out and be publicly queer, no matter how they themselves feel about revealing that much of themselves to the world, is problematic on its face. Somerton then went on to talk about how gossip blogger (and garbage human being) Perez Hilton essentially dragged a couple of people out of the closet. And really, are the personal and private lives of any celebrity any of our business? Simply because we enjoy someone’s performance in film and television, or like someone’s music, doesn’t really give us the right to know intimate details of their personal lives. I’ve never cared, beyond mere idle interest in hearing gossip; but I don’t care that much about it because I don’t know these people. What does who Taylor Swift is dating have to do with her music–other than her break-ups tend to spawn some amazing music–and why do I care? Why would I care who Tom Hiddleston is fucking, unless it’s someone I actually know? (There’s an interesting dialogue to be had about our billion-dollar celebrity gossip industry…) To circle around back to Tremblay, I knew he was publicly identified as straight as far as I knew (and didn’t care to know more). I was a fan of his before reading A Cabin at the End of the World (having greatly enjoyed A Head Full of Ghosts and Disappearance at Devil’s Rock–I’ve not read the others yet–and so I was delightfully surprised that the family the book was centered on was a gay couple and their adopted child. It was yet another entry in the “people go to secluded place and then horrible things happen” trope of horror, but with a remarkable twist that made it even more intense and terrifying. (I’m really looking forward to the film.) I read the book and enjoyed it, and I didn’t read anything sinister into it; but I was also reading it from an entertainment perspective rather than to gain a sociopolitical perspective for writing a critique…which now I kind of want to do, thank a lot, James Somerton–this is how this kind of thing always happens to me.

In fact, an essay exploring three mainstream novels by non-queer writers centering queer characters could prove interesting–and the Tremblay, S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears, and Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden would be the perfect trio to look at as they are relatively current, critical successes, and often award recognized.

And on that note I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

I Don’t Know Why

Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day has rolled around again, and my goodness, do I have a lot of bills to pay, YIKES. But with another six thousand word push yesterday, the draft is done. All I need to do now is pull it all together into one document, write the explanatory apologetic email about the mess and how I am going to fix it, and send it off and all is finished–for now. But I know it’s going to be a great book once I tie up all the threads, add in the back story and character development it needs, and I think it’s going to be super awesome when it’s done. Yay! I love creating, I really do, and I actually enjoy the writing.

Well, until I hear back from my editor, at any rate.

I finally started listening to Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, and I have to say, I really like it. I’d always liked her–some of the songs I knew I liked, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her or her music. Spotify changed that, and I really have been impressed not only with the quality of her music but how different it all is; not to mention the evolution from teen country star to major world pop superstar. (“Red” is still my favorite song of hers, probably always will be.) I find that putting her albums on continual play on Spotify is really great when it comes to cleaning things or doing the dishes and things like that. (Back when I first started writing I always would put three Madonna CD’s in the CD changer and hit shuffle and would start writing. I should go back to that, really.) I had a lot of chores to get done last night around my writing–unloading the dishwasher and doing another load; cleaning the counters and organizing the office area, etc.–but I do like having those opportunities to take a break from the writing to clear my head and see what comes to me while my hands are focused on something mindless and music streams through my ear buds.

I really do like writing, y’all.

I still have a lot of work to do on the manuscripts I’ve written the last couple of months, but it’s nice to have workable, fixable drafts in place; that’s always the hardest part for me, and the ability to focus on the writing without having to worry about anything else outside of my job and whether the books are selling is kind of nice, actually. I think it’s part of the reason why I’m calmer every day, don’t get my anxiety going, and don’t get stressed. I was irritated when I got home Monday–because I knew I had writing to get done, and I had errands to run which seemed to take much longer than anything had any need to take (don’t even get me started on the hell making groceries has turned into since the pandemic started) but once I was home and had everything under control and could sit down and pound away at the keyboard for a while, after which I was finally completely and totally relaxed for the evening. And of course, last night after a very productive day at work in which I got all of my day job responsibilities finished and caught up (huzzah!), I came home and wrote while doing those odious seeming chores that I always wind up enjoying. And Paul didn’t come home until after I’d gone to bed, so there were no distractions for me, but I would have loved to have watched another episode of The Recruit. I don’t like it when Paul comes home that late because I don’t see him for that day (I leave long before he gets up in the morning; which is another reason I hate working these shifts; I like when Paul and I work basically the same schedule.

It’s going to be warm and rainy today, which means I’ll be wearing a sweatshirt to work underneath my Crescent Care T-shirt; it was freezing in the office yesterday; last week the heat was on, but the weather changed, and they finally turned on the air conditioning I guess on Friday (it had been insanely warm in the office all week) and so yesterday it felt like the frozen tundra of the great white north in the office, which of course meant I was pretty much miserable the entire day there. But I was productive and got all my work caught up; today of course is the first which means all kinds of things for me to do this morning; pulling logs and forms for the month, putting out new ones for the new month and so forth, and of course seeing my clients.

After talking about them negatively yesterday, I do feel I need to thank the Horror Writers’ Association, which quickly moved to ban the incredibly insulting member from all their events and kicked him out of the organization. I had mentioned that I had left the organization a while back because one I’m not really a horror writer, and second because I felt that the organization had a ways to go as far as being welcoming to the non-white non-straight part of the community–I had been made to not feel welcome when I actually chaired World Horror Con in New Orleans, and while I didn’t have quite the same experience when I went to Las Vegas…there were enough little things to make me decide that my money and time were better spent in the mystery community, and that’s what I’ve done. I returned in December for some reason or another–I think they sent me a really nice “we want you back” email–and to be honest, this whole mess over the last week or so kind of had me thinking I’d made the wrong decision in coming back. But the swift movement of the HWA board of trustees over this matter was heartening, and while I have no intention of volunteering for anything any time soon for anyone or anywhere, I do not regret my decision. (I am also remembering that the community is also cantankerous and there are all kinds of feuds and things–long-time long-held grudges and so forth, which isn’t fun to navigate in trying to remember who doesn’t like who and so on; I usually don’t care or pay attention to such things and generally remain neutral because I don’t know the people well enough to have an opinion one way or the other.)

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Promises in the Dark

I grew up loving both horror and crime stories–those wonderful old black and white Universal monster movies used to scare me to death, not to mention all the marvelous ghost stories and mysteries that got filmed back in the day. I also watched a lot of the 1950’s paranoia horror monster movies–Godzilla and its ilk–and those also used to give me horrible nightmares. I also liked how twisted horror comic books like The Witching Hour, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were. I’ve always wanted to write those kinds of stories, but if you think I have zero confidence in my abilities as a crime/mystery writer, there’s even less when it comes to my writing of horror. I never feel like I ever get it right, you know, and my stuff is macabre and peculiar and slightly twisted, but it’s not really scary. But like I did with the mystery novels and movies I watched as a child, I was always looking for myself in those tales and not finding myself. Oh, every once in a while there would be some homoeroticism in some horror I would be reading (Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now comes to mind), but for the most part, there wasn’t much. Thomas Tryon’s The Other resonated with me–it wasn’t until decades later that I learned Tryon was gay, and that sensibility infused all of his work, hence my connection with it–but usually when gays showed up in horror they inevitably were effeminate and soon to become victims. (Kill your gays has always been a thing, clearly.)

When I was going through my “I want to be the gay Stephen King” phase in the 1980’s, I didn’t put gay characters or themes in any of my stories–although rereading my attempts at horror from then now, I can see the sensibility was always there–but the horror novel I started writing in about 1986 or 1987, The Enchantress, had a gay point of view character, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was always afraid, you see, to include gay characters in anything I hoped to get published because I was so busy keeping my two lives completely separated that I feared writing sympathetic gay characters would out me. (During my many writings about my high school students from Kansas, one of them was actually gay and was probably the most realistic and honest character in all of those writings) Trying to salvage those stories now, decades later, I sometimes will revise one and make the point of view character gay–which inevitably makes the story work better, incidentally–and they see publication eventually; “Crazy in the Night” was one of those stories, and another morphed into Bury Me in Shadows, actually. Just this morning I was thinking about some more of those old stories and how to make a couple of them work–partly because I spent the last two mornings reading Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology from the Horror Writers Association, edited by my friends Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason. The point of the anthology was to focus and highlight horror stories from marginalized writers–where they are marginalized by race or religion or sexual orientation or gender identity, and it includes stories from some of the top names in horror publishing today.

As with any anthology, some stories stick with the reader more than others; this isn’t a dis on any of the contributors to the anthology–every story was incredibly well-written–it’s just that everything is subjective and some stories stick with the reader longer than others. For me, the standouts were Jennifer McMahon (“Idiot Girls”); Alma Katsu (“Waste Note”); Gabino Iglesias (“There’s Always Something in the Woods”); Hailey Piper (“The Turning”); Larissa Glasser (“Kalkriese”), Michael Thomas Ford (“When The Lovelight Gleams”); M. E. Bronstein (“The Voices of Nightingales”); and S. A. Cosby (“What Blood Hath Wrought”). These were the ones that really resonated me, with the connections of strong writing, three dimensional characters, and completeness of the story. For many of the contributors, this is my first experience with their work, and I will definitely look out for more of their work. These were the ones that made me start thinking about ideas and stories and characters; stories that not only were enjoyable and immersive to read but also kick-started my own creativity and inspiration.

And what more can you ask from a reading experience, as a fellow writer?

Now I want to write more horror.

Definitely check the book out, Constant Reader, I think you’ll enjoy it.

The Power of Goodbye

At 3:00 pm, Saturday, January 14th eastern time, I officially (and symbolically) turned over my gavel as Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s going to take some getting used to, methinks.

As you get older, your perspective changes on things when you look back. I’ve never been one to look back at my past–I’ve always tried to focus on the present and the future–but once I hit sixty, it was inevitable. January 20th this month is the twenty-first anniversary of the release of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and with the closing of this chapter–my service to MWA–it’s hard not to look back and remember.

When I was first published, my mystery writer friends kept urging me to pursue mainstream markets and join mainstream organizations. A lot has happened since 2002: Lawrence v. Texas still hadn’t been decided so my sex life was still a crime; “don’t ask don’t tell” was still in place; and it’s not like you could get married to your same-sex partner when our sexuality was criminalized. That was a completely different world and society and culture than the one we currently live in. For one thing, for a gay mystery author, there were queer newspapers and magazines and bookstores. It was entirely possible to make a living and a career for one’s self outside of the mainstream–and this situation developed because of the mainstream’s rejection of most things queer. There had been some queer publishing booms, but I came in at the tail end of the last one–as all the New York publishers had started canceling queer imprints and slowly but surely removing queer writers from their lists. I decided that I would try to arrange signings and appearances at mystery bookstores as well as queer ones, and that was a lesson in homophobia I’ve never forgotten. One mainstream bookstore actually hung up on me after nastily cutting me off to say we don’t carry those kinds of books in our store–some variation of which I heard from all of them except one (which is why Murder by the Book in Houston will always hold a place in my heart). A friend bought me a membership in an organization as a gift (I won’t name it) but it was made abundantly clear to me that mainstream spaces weren’t welcoming or safe for a fledgling queer writer, so I didn’t bother joining any others or going to any mystery conferences–my concerns were always poo-poohed by straight mystery writer friends, which now, in reflection, was a kind of gaslighting, but I was inevitably always proven right (it’s always nice to be told you’re “nobody”). But when I emerged from the haze of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wreckage it made of my life, publishing had significantly changed, as had the rest of the world. The queer stores were closing, and our newspapers and magazines were shuttering–as were some of our publishers. I took a look around and thought, what am I going to do now?

I took a deep breath and joined Mystery Writers of America. Within a year I was asked to run for my chapter board, and then was asked to run for chapter president, which would also give me a seat on the national board. I remember going to New York for my first board orientation, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel–I always loved staying there; it made me feel like an author the way I only really feel when I am in New York, to be honest–and walking into the room where the meeting was being held. I had already met MWA staffer Margery Flax (at the time administrative director, now Executive Director), who had made me feel not only welcomed but like I belonged, which was something I had only rarely ever felt outside of queer publishing. I remember being awestruck that I was in the same (proverbial) room where it happened; the same board meeting that giants of our genre had attended in the past. I was stunned when a beautiful woman asked me if the seat next to me was taken and I was like oh my god, that’s Harley Jane Kozak! (I knew her from my long addiction to daytime, but also from other films she’d done.) I sat there quietly, overwhelmed, absorbing it all, and that night at dinner I had the thrill of sitting next to Jess Lourey, and as we talked over dinner we became friends–something that has lasted to this day; I will always love Jessie–and over the next four years I slowly found my voice and began taking on more and more responsibilities. It became a huge part of my life, and I kept working, as is my wont, to try to achieve equity for everyone in MWA, specifically with the goal to make queer writers feel welcomed and a part of the organization as a vital part of our community. I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day, and it felt very weird when my time there was finally up and I stepped away. Being involved with MWA, and making friends in the organization (which led to making even more friends in the genre) was what got me to start attending our genre conferences, getting involved and being more active in the community, and becoming better known than I was before.

It would have been easy to give up after the collapse of queer media and outlets. Mystery Writers of America gave me hope that my career could and would continue, and that the best part was yet to come.

So one can only imagine my surprise when four years after I left the board I was asked to return and serve as Executive Vice President (basically, chairman of the board). I was thrilled, flattered, and honored, particularly for being the first openly gay one in the history of the organization. What better way, I thought, to let queer writers know they were welcome than by being in a leadership position? There was admittedly some hubris involved in saying yes–the making history thing, for one, as well as thinking I could handle all that responsibility while maintaining a full time job and a full time writing career. I will never regret saying yes; the only regrets I have are the mistakes I made (there were plenty) and not having as much time to devote to the office as was needed so I could get everything done that I wanted to get done while I served. But I am not going to focus on the regrets, ever; instead I shall take pride in the things we were able to accomplish.

And now, it’s over. I could have served five years total, but bowed out after three. Were we still living in the same world we were in when I was initially approached in the fall of 2019, I probably would have stayed for the full five. But we’re not living in that same world–the pandemic that shut down the world within two months of my taking office overwhelmed every aspect of my life, from day job to running errands to my writing and publishing career to helping to oversee the operations of the organization. (I like to joke about how I was not only the first gay EVP in history but also the first EVP to cancel the Edgar banquet) Navigating an organization through the unknown waters of a pandemic and a changing world, where there was no previous experience to draw from was challenging, especially since I had to worry about my day job, adjust to working from home on some days and helping with the COVID testing at our office, exposing me to something that could quite possibly kill either Paul or myself every day I was there. The years between 2020 and now are all kind of blurry to me now; sort of the way everything from the Katrina evacuation through about 2009 is either a blank or blurry.

It’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s going to take a while before it sinks in that it’s no longer my responsibility.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences–both good and bad–for anything. Even though sometimes it was stressful and disruptive, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated because I was very short on time and in the middle of a book that I needed to focus on, it’s going to be weird for me for awhile. It was very weird checking my emails this morning and seeing that there were none with (MWA) in the header line. I worked with some great people and made some friends–at least I like to think so, their mileage might vary–that I would have never made had I not served. I learned a lot about myself, and strangely enough I also think serving somehow has made me a better writer somehow; I know the work I am producing now is vastly superior to the work I did before I served. I know I have a stronger sense of the genre after my total of seven years of service.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be remembering that I no longer have anything other than an opinion and that I am now just one of the many members.

Thanks to everyone I served with, the membership, and the community. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at the community, and maybe, just maybe, I made a small difference.

I can live with that.

Dandelion

I am soon to depart for the airport, where I am catching a flight to LaGuardia for a weekend in New York; I am flying back home on Sunday. It’s going to be a short but busy trip, where I will get to see all kinds of people i really like and run all over the island and do all sorts of things. I also need to carve out time to write while there as well–I have gotten really bad about writing when on trips over the years, but I really can’t go without writing the entire time. I made quota again yesterday–it was a little harder to get motivated and not quite as easy to get into a proper rhythm, but it was also a transitional chapter and my first goes at those are always stilted and awkward and people don’t really talk like that, do they? But I got through it, the transition was made, and the stage has been set. Now we move on to act 2, which is why it really cannot wait. Hopefully, if I am not too tired when I get to the hotel, I can spend a few hours working.

My flight is already delayed, I see–so I don’t have to leave quite as early for the airport as I had originally thought, which is fine. Our Internet was spotty last night, going in and out, so we ended up not finishing watching the Golden Globes and I went to bed early. It seems to be working fine this morning, so I am not going to worry about it–I’m the one who always has to deal with it, the Cox bill is in my name, etc. etc. etc. It would suck for Paul to have no Internet for the weekend, but I am going to assume that last night was an aberration. Our cable box is also so old they can’t even service it anymore, so I need to go get a new one at some point; the Cox office is near my office, so I can run by there during lunch someday when I get back. Sigh, it’s always something.

I am taking A Walk on the Wild Side with me to read on the plane and at the airport, along with a rather short book by Harry M. Benshoff, Dark Shadows, which is a kind of academic breakdown of the original show that I am kind of looking forward to reading. Dark Shadows probably had a much bigger impact on me than almost anything else–my preference for Gothics, supernatural stories, murders–and I should probably do an entire entry about Dark Shadows and its influences and impact on me creatively. I am also trying to decide what other books to take on the trip with me–I need at least one more for the flight home–and am kind of torn as to what to read next. I’ve got some great cozies stacked up in the TBR pile, but I also have some books by other favorite authors and some other books that have gotten some high praise from either reviewers or friends on social media. Maybe someday I can get the TBR pile under control but it won’t be anytime soon, I can promise you that. I am really looking forward to reading more this year than I have in past ones.

I’m also looking forward to writing a lot more this year, too. I can’t believe what a roll I’ve been on since Christmas (or just before); I’ve written at least three thousand words a day on average ever since (some days I skipped, others I did from four to six thousand words), which is quite a bit, really–somewhere between forty-five and fifty thousand words, which is kind of impressive, I must say. It’s also not been wearing me out, or making me very tired. I think some of that has to do with the lessening of outside pressures and stressors–I’ve been sleeping very well (well, last night was kind of spotty) for the most part, feeling rested, and not letting things get to me the way they always seem to have been doing for the last three or four years. I really hate stress and anxiety, and I really need to make sure I continue to focus on reducing those thing. Staying off social media more has done a good job of that, too–nothing can quite raise the blood pressure the way reading something racist or homophobic or misogynist or transphobic from people who should know better, and I’ve started unfollowing and/or blocking people who are, for wont of a better word, assholes. And it actually feels good to hit unfollow or block, knowing you never have to interact with that person or read their shitty screeds ever again.

And it’s not required that I follow every crime writer on social media, either.

I went to a lot of events last year, and will be scaling back dramatically on that this year. Probably Bouchercon in San Diego is all I am going to do involving air travel, and yes, I’ve been offering my short stories and books up for Lefty and Agatha consideration, but I won’t be attending either event so even were I to score a nod, not being present doesn’t help your odds of winning. (For me, being present isn’t enough, either.) It’s weird to think that after this weekend’s trip I probably won’t be flying anywhere again until Labor Day weekend for Bouchercon, and I’m actually feeling kind of iffy about that, to be honest. I hate the thought of traveling over Labor Day weekend, but at least if I fly home on Sunday I’ll have Monday off to recalibrate and recenter and recover from the conference.

I just hope I can sleep this weekend. Let’s focus on getting through that first, shall we? LOL.

And on that note, I am going to bring this to a close and start packing. I made a list of everything I need for the trip, and I got the big black suitcase out last night so everything is in place and ready to go. I may check in with you tonight from the hotel–stranger things have happened–but one never knows. I was actually thinking the other day that I’ve gotten into a bit of a rut with this; I always write it in the morning with coffee and maybe, just maybe, sometime during the day I may write another entry, usually about a book I’ve just finished reading or something–and there’s really no reason for that other than habit. Maybe the blog entries that require a more awake brain, for logic and reasoning and making a rational argument either for or against something, can be worked on during the day or in the early evening or around my writing for the day. I have any number of entries I’ve started over the years–dealing with things like racism and homophobia and all the other, irrational bigotries and prejudices that run rampant in our modern world, and it would be nice to finish them all, get them out there into the world to be read by the two or three people who actually check in with me every day and read these meanderings of my mind.

Ruby Tuesday

Tuesday morning before the sun rises blog.

I have to say, it’s really difficult sometimes to be a pro-New Orleans person the way I am, but it’s not New Orleans that is the general problem, it’s some people. After the massive debacle around the Krewe of Nyx and it’s problematic and racist leadership (they defiantly paraded last year to non-existent crowds; maybe some tourists who didn’t know better were out there, but after the parade before theirs, everyone left the parade route), I thought it would be hard for any krewe to do a worse job of public relations or, for wont of a better word choice, reading the goddamned room. However, this past weekend the leadership of the Krewe of Endymion basically said to Nyx, “hold our beer” and named noted anti-Semite, misogynist, and homophobic racist Mel Gibson as celebrity monarch (co-monarch, to be precise).

I don’t go to Endymion–it doesn’t go past our corner; we’d have to walk to Harmony Circle (I keep calling it Liberty Circle since it was renamed, anything is better than Lee Circle) to see it–and I’ve only ever seen it on the rare occasions when it does come down St. Charles Avenue (rained out on Saturday; abbreviated route after Katrina), or when we used to go out that Saturday night, walking to the Quarter up the route (and getting buried with beads on the way)–so it’s not like I would be boycotting it anyway; but they did rescind the invitation but rather than admitting they made a HUGE mistake, decided to blame the outrage and cite concerns for their safety as the reason.

Fuck all the way off, Endymion, seriously. Yes, blame the outrage instead of your incredibly poor decision-making skills.

Nyx, by the way. went from 3500 members and riders to less than 200. And yes, that will wind up in a book someday–it’s too good to not use it, you know? Also of note: that last pre-pandemic Mardi Gras, back in 2020? Two people were killed by floats during parades that season–at Nyx and Endymion. Perhaps the gods of Carnival were letting us know in advance?

Then again, Carnival has a horrifically exclusionary and racist past we tend to gloss over a lot here (read Lords of Misrule sometime).

It’s dark out this morning and I didn’t sleep as great last night as I would have liked, which is fine. This is my last day in the office this week, and of course tomorrow morning I’m off to New York, so if I’m tired, I’m tired. I did manage another three thousand words on the book yesterday–it really is going well, and I am actually enjoying writing it, to be completely honest–and I managed to get some chores done yesterday when I got home from work–the dishes, mostly. Tonight I’ll need to pack; the flight isn’t until 12:15 tomorrow, so I don’t have to leave for the airport until almost ten, so I can sleep a little later than usual on a Wednesday; which will prepare me for the insomnia of the hotel…which I honestly am hoping won’t be the case this time. After doing the chores last night and writing, I watched a documentary about the Eastern Roman Empire for a while before switching over to the national title game–which was kind of boring and not much fun to watch; I mean, what the hell, TCU? And how on earth did they beat Michigan? Ohio State was a missed field goal in the closing seconds away from playing in the title game; and they lost to Michigan at home. I know it’s pointless to do comparative scoring and so forth because every game day is different, but I can guarantee you neither Alabama nor Tennessee would have gotten rolled 65-7. Hell, even LSU played Georgia better in the conference championship game and they played terribly. I guess the only teams capable of stopping Georgia from doing what no one else has ever done–three in a row–are from our conference.

But it will be fun watching Georgia fans become even more hated than Alabama’s this coming year. And they play in Knoxville this next season. The 2023 season, I think, is going to be even more interesting to watch than this year’s.

You heard it here first.

I need to make a packing list today, too. I already checked the weather for the weekend and it won’t be much worse than it is here when it gets wintery, so that’s bearable for me. Hat, jacket and gloves are all I need, and I think I can manage without getting super cold and whiny, so we’ll see how all that goes. I’m actually more than a little excited about the trip, to be honest. This may be my last trip to New York for quite some time and I am not going to be there for very long; That Bitch Ford has done an absolutely marvelous job of Julie McCoy-ing our weekend up there; we’re going to see a play (Hadestown), to Chinatown, and we’re going to a noodle place, too–I love noodles–and I am meeting others for drinks and so forth–it’s quite marvelous, really. I just hate the drudgery and getting to and from the airport, and the flights themselves–although usually once I am on the plane and have my book open in my lap, I don’t mind the flights quite as much–and I have no plans for tomorrow evening, so hopefully once I am checked into the hotel and unpacked, I can write for a while and then read myself to sleep…or watch a movie on my laptop, or something. It should be a great trip, and I even have the Monday holiday off so I can recover as well as do things to get ready for the week without having to do it around going to the office.

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

19th Nervous Breakdown

Saturday morning and another lovely day in New Orleans–if a bit chilly–has dawned in the Lost Apartment. What a marvelous night’s sleep I had last night. The bed and blankets were so comfortable–not to mention the snoring kitty curled up between Paul and I–that I really didn’t want to get up, but I have far too much to do today to continue to laze in the bed simply because it felt good. So, it was out of the bed for one Gregalicious, and here I sit, swilling my morning coffee and clearing the cobwebs from my brain by trying to write a coherent blog post. (Good luck to me on that, am I right?) Yesterday was a work-at-home day, of data entry and doing quality assurance on testing logs, and yes, it is as tedious as it sounds. But after work I did some great thinking and work on the in-progress story, and am looking forward to getting some quality work done on it this morning/afternoon/however long it takes me to reach the day’s goal, and no matter if it kills me–which it just might do. I also have some errands to do today, but they shouldn’t take long.

Huzzah? Huzzah.

Last night we watched the final episode of Welcome to Chippendale’s, which really dragged on for far too long. There really wasn’t eight episodes of story here, and so it often seemed to drag and drag and drag. It’s a shame, the acting was top-notch and it was a great story, but unless you’re interested in viewing a couple of Emmy-worthy performances, watch the true crime documentary instead. It’s funny to remember how ubiquitous Chippendale’s seemed to be in the 1980’s–I certainly owned a few of their calendars, since they were the first real beefcake calendars produced–and I wished sometimes that I had a stronger memory, at least of the 1980’s, but it was such a dark and brutal decade for me I think I was happy to forget most of it. Paul is going to be gone most of the day today, so I have no excuse not to get a lot of writing and other things completed today. I do want to watch the adaptation of Louis Bayard’s The Pale Blue Eye on Netflix at some point this weekend, and of course we do need to finish watching Sherwood, too. I leave for New York on Wednesday, which is kind of fun–I am really looking forward to having some good Chinese food–and hopefully I’ll be able to get writing done on the road (which never happens, no matter how much I hope that it does).

But this time, it must.

I’m really enjoying all this writing I am doing lately, even though I am lazy and would rather not do anything at all. But it feels good to be pushing my brain and my creativity and trying to come up with fresh and new ways of saying things as well as fresh and new characters and interactions and stories. This first half of the year is going to be hectic and busy for me, but I am developing a plan that should help me get through till the spring. If I can stay motivated and stop being lazy, I should be able to get a lot accomplished before the dog days of summer are upon me. My writing goals for the year are very ambitious, of which I am well aware, but I think it’s better to try to do more and not quite get there than to plan less ambitiously and get even less done. I know I can’t get everything done that I want to get done in 2023 (I don’t think anyone could, to be honest), but I’d rather be overconfident than not, you know?

I am having my first piece of king cake for 2023 with my coffee this morning and it is sublime. It’s kind of hard to believe that Carnival season has rolled around again, and now of course the first part of the year will fly by: New York next week, Alabama the first weekend of February, then Carnival, the one-two punch of Tennessee Williams Festival/Saints and Sinners at the end of March, and then of course it’s practically summer again already, and then the next thing you know it’s football season again. This, for the record, is how your life ends up slipping through your fingers like mercury. Heavy sigh. But I am trying not to look forward to things, if that makes sense? I kind of want to just keep my head down, avoid drama for the most part, and focus on my writing for the year. It seems like writing always takes a back seat to everything else for me, which is ironic since it’s the thing I draw the most pleasure from and being a writer is such an integral part of my self-identity. I don’t see myself as a sexual health counselor, even though that’s my day job and has been for eighteen years. I don’t see myself as Mrs. Saints & Sinners/Tennessee Williams Festival, either–even though that’s been Paul’s job for the last twenty-two years. I see myself, despite all the other identities I take on in my everyday life, first and foremost as a writer; that is the core of my identity and who I am. And yet…it always seems as though my writing in always being shunted to the side or pushed back on the list of things to do because I have so many other things always going on in my life. Writing will be my priority now going forward, and while I still intend to work on volunteer stuff whenever I have time, that isn’t going to be a priority for me and it never should have been, either. I don’t know why the most important aspect of my life is always back-burnered for one reason or another, but it’s not going to be the case anymore. I am going to be even more zealous and jealous of my time and donating it only sparingly, and only when I have time.

I also need to start being realistic about everything I can and cannot do and stop thinking oh I can do everything in the world by all means ask me to do more things. I think it all comes from the fear of being disliked, that goes back to childhood–I don’t think I’ve ever gotten over those scars, truth be told–and I am very aware of the idiocy this implies: oh if I say no to this they won’t like me and won’t ask me again; I have always called this Homecoming Queen Syndrome–the desperate need for approval from other people, the need to be liked and well thought of, the fear of being made fun of, mocked, and disliked. I need to work harder on not giving a fuck, but it’s also part and parcel of being queer and trying to fit into a mainstream culture group, the crime writing community. It’s very strange and off-putting to know that people who’ve never met you, know nothing about you, and never will know you hate you in the abstract; that some people will never like you because they’re homophobic (honestly, when it comes to homophobia I prefer the Westboro Baptist Church version, where they will scream their hatred in your face; at least it’s more honest than people who will smile to your face while voting to strip you of your rights); and those same people will never, no matter what, ever read anything you write. It’s weird knowing that people will find your books on Amazon and one-star you without reading the actual book because you’re a queer and you had the audacity to write a book about queers where they are actually whole, happy people who aren’t suffering at all because of their same-sex attractions. The great irony of this is my own inconsistency; when I actually think about it, I do not give two shits what other people think of me, and haven’t for a long time. Unfortunately, I’ve been conditioned my entire life to care what other people think so I always fall back on that subconsciously; I’m always so flattered to be asked to do anything–which is the sneaky way that insecurity/need to be liked gaslights me into agreeing to do things I may not want to actually do or have the time to get done without something else, something that actually matters more to me, being pushed aside or not getting the full attention it needs and deserves.

A Gregalicious is still a work in progress, apparently–even at sixty-one.

And on that note, this work isn’t going to do itself now, is it? Off to the spice mines with me–and will talk to you later, Constant Reader. Have a fabulous Saturday.

(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction

And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.

I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.

I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elit√© continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.

Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.

I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!

College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.

As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.

I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.

Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.

Under the Boardwalk

My last work-at-home day for 2022, and technically my last day of work for the year at the day job. It still freaks me out a little, or doesn’t feel right, to write 2022 on my clinical testing forms; 2023 is going to be even stranger to write. Where the hell has this decade gone already? It’s almost 2023. I certainly didn’t think I’d make it this far, yet here I am.

It got up into the seventies again yesterday–we literally went from the mid-sixties to a hard freeze back to the seventies in about a week–which is why you can never write about New Orleans without writing about the weather. Our weather affects everything here, and can change everything happening and going on in a matter of hours. It also messes with your moods and how you feel–how can your sinuses adapt to such dramatic weather changes in such a short period of time? And that’s not even taking into consideration the humidity and rain. You always have to plan your day and your life around the weather here, and you ignore it at your own peril (he said, having been caught unawares in enough flash-flooding events to know whereof he speaks). With a great HVAC system I didn’t find myself minding the cold quite as much this past weekend, but don’t get me wrong–I’m not sorry to see it gone, and good riddance to it.

I also had a ridiculous amount of chores to do last night when I finished work. Two loads of dishes, two loads of laundry, and of course I had to do something about the refrigerator, and since I was already doing chores I decided to go ahead and launder the living room comfort blankets and do something about the floors (a chore I’ve been avoiding for far longer than I dare to admit publicly, given my reputation as a housekeeper). I decided not to try for my quota for the day, which of course increased today’s quota, but thought it best to go ahead and reread everything I’ve been doing and get a better sense of things so I can figure out how to get to the end of the book from where I’m at now. Sometimes it’s best to relax and let the muscles rest when you’ve been pushing them for a while; burn out is always a fear, and I suspected yesterday that I was reaching that point and should probably rest from it for at least the night, while planning what to do next. I do have a lovely three day weekend looming, and if I ignore college football bowl games–which shouldn’t be difficult to do–I should be able to leisurely get this done and sent off Monday.

Whew.

I’m still a little tired this morning, and it’s gray outside. Ah, yes, a quick glance at the weather (I seem obsessed this morning with the weather, I know) and it appears that we’ll be having thunderstorms for most of the day. I do have to go out into the outer world at some point today–the postal service is closed tomorrow through Monday–so I won’t be able to get the mail again until after work on Tuesday. I should also spend a little time figuring out what, if anything, I need from the grocery store so I don’t have to leave the house again until Tuesday morning. That’s really turning into my biggest contest–how long can I go without leaving the house? (Along with “how few showers can I take this weekend? ” and “How long can I go without cleaning the house?” These do not speak well of me, I am well aware.) I also am going back to reading Nelson Algren’s A Walk on the Wild Side, after my break from it to read Donna Andrews for Christmas; it’s slow going because it’s an old book written in twentieth century cis-white male literary style, which is something I don’t really care for as a general rule. But I do want to read the parts where the main character (whose backstory is currently being explored) gets to New Orleans and experiences the demimonde; I’d also like to see the film, which I haven’t ever viewed. (I know, right? Barbara Stanwyck and Jane Fonda and I’ve never seen it? Bad gay, bad gay.)

After getting the chores done–Paul didn’t come home until late again–I spent some time read Bad Gays: A Homosexual History by Huw Lemmey and Ben Miller, which takes a look at some gay men in history who weren’t exactly role models for gay men or behavior–some of whom I had heard of, others I had not–¬†which is an interesting approach (usually writers and historians are always looking for positive role models, or take normal human beings and idealize them into heroes). I was a little disappointed to see that my favorite historical homo wasn’t included–Philippe d’Orleans, younger brother of Louis XIV and known as Monsieur (I’ve always wanted to write about Monsieur, he fascinates me to this day)–but the authors did include James I of England and Frederick the Great, so no complaints on royal representation in the book. (But if you’re looking for bad examples of gay men in history, choosing James I over Richard the Lion-Hearted or Edward II was an interesting decision.) I read the sections on Oscar Wilde and Bosie, Frederick the Great, and James I (primarily because the most ambitious book idea I’ve ever had involved James I’s successor as well as his last love, George Villiers Duke of Buckingham); and I enjoyed them. They weren’t very in depth, as they were only given a chapter, so they were at best slightly superficial, but it was interesting to read. I really do need to read a biography of Frederick the Great, who has fascinated me since I was a kid (again, interesting that even as a child I was fascinated by a king who turned out to be gay in the long run); I’ve read histories of Prussia and Europe and other monarchs of the period, but biographies of Frederick aren’t as easy to come by as say, biographies of any Tudor, the Wars of the Roses, or Louis XIV. (Try finding a biography of Louis XIII or said George Villiers, for that matter. There are quite a few of Cardinal Richelieu–but not as many as one would think. Americans seem to be more interested in British history than anything else, and not many of them at that.)

Lightning just flashed, and it’s getting grayer outside, never a good sign for the weather in New Orleans. Then again, spending a little time reading this morning during a thunderstorm while drinking my coffee before starting my work-at-home duties could be just the ticket for kick-starting this day into high gear, so on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

Play with Fire

Well, I met quota again last night which was marvelous. It’s still a bit chilly this morning. By the weekend it should be back into the seventies (it was yesterday as I ran my errands after work; it’s sixty-one this morning but it does feel colder outside of my bed and blankets), as the Alabama and Kansas State fans start arriving for the Sugar Bowl. LSU is also playing on New Years’ Day in the Citrus Bowl against Purdue, which will probably be the only game I actually watch that day.

There’s been a conversation going on over at Book Twitter lately that doesn’t really impact me in any way, but it’s been kind of interesting to follow. The conversation has to do with concerns about what is and isn’t considered y/a fiction as well as what is, or should be, considered age-appropriate reading material for teenagers and pre-teens. It doesn’t impact me because no one considers me a young adult writer, for one thing; despite having written numerous books with younger and/or teenaged characters (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit), most people think of me as a gay mystery writer. Everything published under my own name is a mystery novel of some sort, whether it’s one of the series books or one of the stand-alones. I’ve never really marketed myself as a writer of young adult fiction, really; I shy away from that, I think, because of The Virginia Incident and the subconscious fear that one day that controversy might resurrect itself (which is ludicrous, and I know that; it certainly would have by now and it hasn’t, which further proves my belief that The Incident had nothing to do with me or my writing or my career and everything to do with systemic homophobia and othering used for political gain). It just seems weird to me that in less than five years after that happened–when I was deemed a menace to America’s youth–I could publish books for teenagers without a single whiff of complaint or scandal or even the raise of a single eyebrow.

Interesting, isn’t it? Almost like the whole thing was just more smoke and mirrors whose sole intent was to rile the homophobic base.

I just love that my existence is considered by some as a constant and continued threat to children.

One of the things that has always mystified me over the years is what is and isn’t considered age-appropriate. Intellectually I was far more advanced that most of my classmates (my emotional and personal maturity being an entire other subject–I’d say I am still behind on that score) and I started reading early. The library and the Scholastic Book Fairs were my best friends as a child, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved history, from which grew an appreciation and love for historical fiction (which I really don’t read much of anymore, which is odd. I really want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books…) and of course, my grandmother got me interested in “scary” movies and mysteries.

You’d think I’d be a huge fan of historical mysteries, but I actually don’t read many of them. I did love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and I’ve become a huge fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series…I think exploring historical mysteries might be a project for 2023.

But the point was I was reading books far too advanced for most people my age when I was young. I freely will admit that in my first read of Gone with the Wind at age ten I didn’t know Rhett raped Scarlett the night of Ashley’s surprise birthday party–it wasn’t until a reread in my late teens where I thought oh, this isn’t right–let alone that she enjoyed being overpowered and forced. I also read The Godfather when I was ten, and there was no mistaking anything about Sonny Corleone and Lucy Mancini. He had a cock the size of a horse’s and her vagina was apparently the Lincoln Tunnel. (Although the she felt something burning pass between her thighs still mystifies me to this day.) I also read The Exorcist when I was ten and I was also very well aware of what was going on in the crucifix masturbation scene. As a kid, I was fascinated by these sex scenes (aka “the dirty parts”), and it wasn’t until I was older than I began to question the entire Sonny-Lucy thing (and why it was even in the book in the first place); and while the crucifix scene was gross, shocking and basically icky to me at ten–when I reread the book sometime in the past decade it seemed prurient, to be honest–used primarily for shock value and to get people to talk about it.

So, yes, I started reading books for adults when I was around ten. I also read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots and Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra that same year–I remember doing a book report on Mary Queen of Scots and my teacher not believing that I had read the thick volume; he started opening the book at random and asking me questions–which I was able to answer, so he grudgingly accepted the book report and gave me an A. (Teachers have doubted me all of my life; can’t imagine why I am insecure about my intelligence…)

Over the course of my teens I also read books by Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann and Gordon Merrick-every last one of them crammed to the gills with racy sex scenes. I was also reading Stephen King, Irving Wallace, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney and any number of authors who wrote for adult audiences not teens. Were there things in the books I didn’t understand? Sure there were. Were there things in those books that were probably inappropriate for teenagers? Undoubtedly. (I’ve also never forgotten the scene in Joyce Haber’s The Users where a Liza Minnelli-based character fucked herself with her own Oscar; some images are simply too vivid to forget methinks.)

This is one reason I shy away from calling some of my books with teenagers “young adult” novels. Megan Abbott’s Dare Me centered teenagers, but I would never consider Dare Me a young adult novel. I was thinking about this the other night while watching Sex Lives of College Girls (it’s hilarious, you really should be watching); can I authentically write about teenagers anymore? Have I ever been able to? I don’t speak their language anymore, and I haven’t been one in over forty years (!!!!); I don’t know the technology they use or their slang or what they watch or listen to. I don’t know what today’s teens think about virginity and sexuality these days; do the tired old tropes still exist? Does that whole “good girl/bad girl” dynamic still exist, or are today’s teenaged girls a bit more sophisticated than they were when I was in high school when it comes to sex and sexuality? (Contrasting two high school shows with queer content makes you wonder–there’s the jaded cynicism of the rich kids in Elite vs the wholesome purity and innocence and sweetness of Heartstopper, which also had me wondering–although I feel certain Heartstopper might be closer to reality than Elite…or that’s just my hope?) Of course I have other ideas for more books about young people–I have another in-progress one that’s been sitting around for a very long time that I need to repurpose–and I’d kind of like to write more at some point, but I don’t know. My suburban 70’s serial killer preying on teenaged boys book would be told from the perspective of a twelve year old, but it would definitely not be a young adult novel–but will probably be marketed and sold as one.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines on my last day in the office for 2022. Check back in with you later, Constant Reader.