End Game

I’m really becoming a huge fan of Paul Tremblay.

I’ve always enjoyed horror, ever since I was a kid; I used to love watching Creature Features on WGN in Chicago, and getting scared–sometimes having nightmares. But the supernatural has always interested me, as well as horror; in the 1980’s and even into the early 1990’s I saw myself as becoming a horror writer rather than a crime writer. And while I’ve written some “scary” stories and novels, I don’t know that I could classify them as horror– I think Sara and Sorceress are probably the closest I’ve ever come to writing horror; maybe even Lake Thirteen would count (it certainly bears my favorite cover of all my novels). But I see myself as more of a fan of horror than a writer of it; as I’ve said many times, I tend to write more about human monsters than supernatural ones. I had heard great things about Paul Tremblay before I started reading his actual work; my friend Megan in particular is a big fan of his, and based on her recommendation I started reading A Head Full of Ghosts, but it didn’t really strike my fancy that first time, and so I put it aside and moved onto something else. I did pick it up again later, and then, of course, I couldn’t put it down.

After finishing The Coyotes of Carthage, I was looking through the TBR piles, pulled out a book or two before putting them back, and then finally decided to read a second Tremblay, The Cabin at the End of the World.

It was a most excellent choice.

The girl with the dark hair walks down the wooden front stairs and lowers herself into the yellowing lagoon of ankle-high grass. A warm breeze ripples through the blades, leaves and crab-like petals of clover flowers. She studies the front yard, watching for the twitchy, mechanical motion and frantic jumps of grasshoppers. The glass jar cradled against her chest smells faintly of grape jelly and is sticky on the inside. She unscrews the aerated lid.

Wen promised Daddy Andrew she would release the grasshoppers before they got cooked inside the homemade terrarium. The grasshoppes will be okay because she’ll make sure to keep the jar out of direct sunlight. She worries, though,, that they could hurt themselves by jumping into the sharp edges of the lid’s punched-in holes. She’ll catch smaller grasshoppers, ones that don’t jump as high or as powerfully, and because of their compact size there will be more leg-stretching room inside the jar. She will talk to the grasshoppers in a low, soothing voice, and hopefully they will be less likely to panic and mash themselves against the dangerous metal stalactites. Satisfied with her updated plan, she pulls up a fistful of grass, roots and all, leaving a pockmark in the front yard’s sea of green and yellow. She carefully deposits and arranges the grass in the jar, then wipes her hans on her gray Wonder Woman T-shirt.

Ironically, in my earlier paragraphs I talked about writing crime because I want my monsters to be human; ironically, the monsters in Paul Tremblay’s latest, sublime entry into the horror genre could easily be considered a crime thriller as well because his monsters are all too human, and this set-up is just as terrifying as any supernatural horror novel I’ve ever read. Being out in the country has never really appealed to me very much (ironically, my current work-in-progress is set out in the country) precisely because it’s no safer out in the country than it is in the city; at least in the city someone will hear your screams or cries for help. The very isolation of the country is part of its terror for me; in no less part because country people always smugly assert (and reassure themselves) that crime and murder are MUCH more likely to happen in the big, bad, dangerous city.

Sidebar: I still think there’s a terrific essay to be written about the proliferation of rural horror/crime novels in the 1970’s, directly tied to the inherent racism of white flight from integrated schools and neighborhoods to the suburbs and the country, and perhaps someday I will have the confidence to write the essay based on that abstract theme.

Tremblay has set his terrifying tale in a small cabin on a lake in upstate New Hampshire, close to the Canadian border, where our heroes–a married gay couple (Andrew and Eric) are spending a ‘back-to-nature’ vacation with their adopted child, Wen. The story is told in the present tense (always creepier in horror, seeing the action unfold as it happens rather than in the much safer past tense–it’s happening as opposed to it’s already happened) and the point of view shifts between the two dads and their young daughter. Wen is out on the lawn catching grasshoppers and naming them when a big man appears suddenly out of the woods, friendly and nice, he tries to win her over but ultimately fails, sending her running inside to warn her daddies that they are no longer alone in their rustic cabin–with no cell service and no wi-fi (which, ironically, was part of the cabin’s original appeal–to unplug; that appeal will righteously bite the in their ass now that a Dionysian influence has arrived in their idyllic world).

The big man, Leonard, isn’t alone; he has three friends with him, all wearing similar button-down shirts in different colors and jeans: Redmond, kind of an asshole every-straight-man; Sabrina, a nurse; and Adriane, who is older. As the three family members barricade themselves into the cabin, the four seemingly normal visitors let them know they are there to present them with a horrible, horrific choice: they have seen, in visions and dreams, that the apocalypse is nigh, but have been shown the cabin and the small family, and told that if one of them will voluntarily sacrifice himself, the end of the world will be stopped.

This is, of course, every parent’s worst nightmare: a threat to not only their family but to their child, and Tremblay does an amazing job of letting us, the readers, get to know all three of the family members, developing them into complicated, realistic characters with backstories and levels and layers; I also applaud him for writing about a same-sex family and making the characters absolutely real. (This is how you do it, people; read the book and take notes). Wen is completely believable as a little girl; the family bond and love is absolutely real; and that makes the horror even more horrible, more horrifying, more of a gut-punch…as we go through every step of the process with them, all over the course of less than twenty-four hours, as their lives are irrevocably altered and changed, as they refuse to believe the story of their visitors, but slowly but surely the wonder begins to creep in…what if this is absolutely real and they are indeed messengers from God?

I will leave it to the horror academics to discuss the symbols and symbolism threaded throughout the story–but I have to bring up the colors of the shirts the visitors are wearing, and the fact there are four of them: representing the four horsemen of the apocalypse along with their warnings of doom. The questions of faith, of existing as gay in a heterosexist society, of family and love–all of these are beautifully explored and written about, and the building of tension and suspense is unparalleled; it’s really hard to put the book down and walk away from the story without finding out how it all ends–will they make the sacrifice, or will the world end? Are the visitors right–and how will anyone ever know if they were, because the world not ending doesn’t prove anything if the sacrifice occurs.

Or are they just insane?

I highly recommend this book, and cannot wait to read more Tremblay.

If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got The Time

One of the things I find fascinating about many people is their dedication to nostalgia; their insistence that some past time of their life was somehow this incredibly magical time of innocence (which it could conceivably have been); a utopia paradise of some sort where everything was right with the world and everyone was so happy and–you get the picture. It’s like how people glowingly refer to high school as one of the “best times of their lives” (which, frankly, is terribly sad and tells me more about their present circumstances than I’d care to know); the past wasn’t magic and neither were our childhoods. If they mean I liked life better before I knew how awful it can be, that I can understand–and I do think that is what they actually mean, even if it isn’t what they are actually saying: they preferred life when the bills and putting food on the table was someone else’s responsibility; when the biggest worries were who will I go to the Homecoming dance with and I have to study for that History test and so forth. But my teenaged years weren’t halcyon and rosy. The 1970’s was a very strange decade of reaction to the 1960’s–and for a queer kid, first trapped in a middle to upper middle class suburb of Chicago and then a small rural town in Kansas, it was hard. I’ve no desire to ever relive high school or go back to being a teenager. Sure, it might be easier to be a queer teen  in a Chicago suburb now–but I suspect it’s not that different in a rural high school in Kansas now than it was forty years ago.

Reading was always my escape from the pressures of a world into which I really didn’t fit–and one that from my earliest memories as a child I knew I didn’t belong in. Reading was a godsend for me, and I read ravenously. I was always being told to go outside and play instead of reading; the most effective punishments were the ones either prohibiting me from reading or limiting how much I could read, and the earliest signs of my obsessive/compulsive disorder were evident with my discovery of the mystery series for kids, which was the next gradual move for me as a reader from the Scholastic Book Fair mysteries. My goal has always been to finish collecting all the series I read and collected as a child: the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, The Three Investigators and Trixie Belden, as well as the lesser known ones like Biff Brewster, Ken Holt (over whom I had a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy), Rick Brant, Vicki Barr, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, Kay Tracey, and Connie Blair. (I also collected the Chip Hilton sports series.) I still have the copies I had as a child, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I discovered eBay and tried to finish collecting the series. I don’t have room in the Lost Apartment to display them proudly in a bookcase–I have far too many books; and many of them are boxed up and stored–but I refuse to rid myself of them, because I keep holding out hope that someday I will live in an apartment or condo or house where I can have a room filled with bookcases that will also serve as my office.

But eBay gradually led me to collectors’ and fan pages of these books on Facebook..occasionally someone on one of those pages will be selling a copy of something I need to complete my collections.  There is a generic page for series books in general, and then there are individual pages for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, respectively–and probably still others for the other series that I don’t know about. I know there are also fan websites and serious scholarship on the kids’ series–some of them make for interesting reading, if you have some free time (or are wasting time you should be spending on writing). Some of the fan websites also have conferences and trips–the Nancy Drew group, for example, has an annual trip to where one of the books was set, and tours and so forth to visit the places Nancy also went to look for clues in the course of her investigation. (They were in New Orleans a few years ago; I was going to register–it’s not cheap–until I realized it was more about being a fan than anything else.)

And boy, do these people take their series fandom seriously. I’m not as rabid or as devoted as the majority of them; periodically I might reread one of the series books (I’d love to write an essay about the Ken Holt series, which was darker and more hard-boiled than any of the others; which was why James Ellroy and I bonded over them–which is still so weird to me), but I don’t reread an entire series from beginning to end, and while I used to remember plot details quite vividly, as I’ve gotten older those memories are fading.

I’ve not watched the new CW series Nancy Drew–well, I watched the first episode but didn’t keep watching; primarily because I haven’t had time and Paul and I usually watch shows together–at least, I like to give him a chance to watch something I might enjoy before moving on to watch it on my own (like Riverdale). Maybe he’ll be interested in Nancy Drew, maybe he won’t; I thought he’d like Riverdale but he didn’t. Maybe Nancy Drew is something I’ll wind up watching while he’s working in the evenings; I don’t know. But I’ve also not seen the recent film adaptation, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, either. But boy, do these Nancy Drew fans take their Nancy Drew seriously. They were outraged that Nancy Drew had sex in the first episode (because Nancy of course never had sex in the series; I don’t even think she even enjoyed a chaste kiss from Ned in all 58 of the original books) and Ned Nickerson was black! Nancy Drew was not only having sex but she was having sex with a black teenager!

The pearls were clutched so tightly! And if you stuck a piece of coal up these people’s asses, it would have come out a diamond. There was a lot of moaning and whining about people’s childhoods being ruined (really? Mine is still just fine) and the “horrors of political correctness” and on and on and on. In other words, Nancy should be a virgin and only know white, straight, cishet people. Got it.

Anyway, Hulu recently announced that they are doing a Hardy Boys series; however, instead of Bayport the town is Bridgeport; their first case is their mother’s murder; and rather than being 18 and 17, their ages will be 16 and 12. Their father is off investigating the murder and so he deposits them with their aunt in Bridgeport, but they soon realize their mother’s death is somehow connected to the town–and everyone in town is a suspect.

Yes, these are significant changes to the original canon of the Hardy Boys, but also remember: The Mickey Mouse Club did two serialized versions of the Hardy Boys, making them also about 13 and 14. The Hardy Boys fans are fan with this, of course, and with the other changes Disney made…so what’s the problem? As someone pointed out, in response to all the whining and moaning about ruining characters and childhoods and “political correctness”, someone also commented, grumpily, “I suppose Chet will be slim, gay, and black”–which actually sounded kind of good to me, frankly. The character of Chet is overweight and loves to eat (kind of like Bess in the Nancy series) and also like Bess, his appetite and weight are the subject of lots of jokes, teasing and sometimes humiliation. Not really cool, if we’re being completely honest.

And yes, all of these people are grandparents with graying hair and are white people. All of this whining and complaining over two television series based on characters that have evolved and changed and been rewritten multiple times in the nearly hundred years they’ve been around–to appeal to  new generations of readers. The original versions of the books were all revised in the 1950’s and 1960’s because they were loaded with racial and ethnic stereotypes that were beyond offensive; naturally, the nice old white people prefer the original texts (big shock, right?).

And if any kids’ series need to be turned into television programs, can I vote for The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown?

I am really tired of this whole “you’re ruining my childhood” nonsense. Unless they are traveling back in time to do so, your childhood hasn’t changed.

I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fans and conventions; I might just have to now. I mean, I get it–people don’t like change, and something that was beloved when you were a child you want frozen in amber forever. But I just wish these people would unpack their issues with the updates and changes–and nothing gets my gorge going more than the ever popular whine of every racist, misogynist, and homophobic piece of shit out there: politically correct. Sorry you don’t feel safe expressing your hateful bigoted opinions any more without consequence.

I’ve also always wanted to write my own middle-grade series; I used to think about that all the time when I was a kid, even up to coming up with characters and titles for the books in the series because of course I did. I don’t know if I can write middle-grade or not; but it’s worth a shot sometime.

And of course, I can talk for hours on the subject of the kids’ series. Perhaps someday I will.

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Amarillo by Morning

So, this morning when I woke up, as my first cup of coffee brewed, I dialed the COVID-19 testing hot-line for staff at the day job and made an appointment to get tested. They scheduled me for 9:20 am; I was called at around eight thirty, which left me with about fifty minutes to wake up, drink some coffee, and pull myself together. Our clinic’s COVID testing set-up is in the parking garage which is the ground floor of our building; staff simply drives into the garage and pulls up to the area where the tents and check-in desk are set up, and the doctor comes out and swabs your nose. Needless to say, as I swilled down coffee and brewed another quick cup to take with me in the car, my nerves were definitely feeling a bit frayed. Saturday was a better day than Friday; yesterday was better than Saturday. So far this morning I seem to feel okay other than fatigue–going up stairs to put on a T-shirt and shorts to drive over to the office made my legs and hips ache a bit; it also triggered a small coughing fit (note: the only time my lungs feel tight is when I cough; other than that I breathe fine and they don’t phase me at all. But when I cough, I feel a tightness in the center of my chest that is pretty severe–but as I said, once the coughing spasm passed, I feel fine) but I got dressed and drove over to the office. It didn’t take long as the streets are pretty empty–there’s some traffic, to be sure, and a pandemic and over-burdened hospitals doesn’t seem to be stopping people from driving like thoughtless assholes–and then I pulled into the garage, got checked in, signed my consent to be tested form, and Dr. Halperin came out and swabbed both nostrils.

And while I can see why the vice-president thought it was invasive–I imagine anything put it any of his orifices would be invasive to him–it really wasn’t that bad. It’s certainly not the worst thing I’ve ever had done to me; I’d certainly rather get my nostrils swabbed like that on a regular basis than have an abscessed tooth ever again, and the worst part of it wasn’t the invasiveness at all. The worst part is the chemical on the swab–it doesn’t quite burn per se, but the closest experience I can think of to it is when you accidentally and deeply inhale mothballs; my eyes watered and it burned a little bit, but not painfully.

In a best case scenario, the test results will be back within 2-4 days–it may be longer, who knows? But I have to go into a strict quarantine until the results do come back, which means not leaving the house or running any errands or doing much of anything. Of course I have gloves and masks, so I can theoretically do some things and leave the house if necessary, but I shouldn’t really take the risk of infecting someone else by going out in public until I know for a certain whether I currently have it, or did have it, or don’t have it at all. I was also a little confused because I’d assumed there would be a blood draw to go with the swab test, but I am also conditioned to thinking about testing for different viruses (HIV, syphilis, and Hep C) so I assumed the testing would also have to involve blood. But then I realized, afterwards as I was driving home, that mucous doesn’t carry the HIV, syphilis or Hep C viruses (virii?); but the COVID-19 virus can be airborne transmitted–which means it must be in the mucous membranes along with the antibodies.

At least that makes testing for it that much easier, so that’s kind of a plus?

I also noticed, this morning, a little bit of PTSD kicking in from the good old HIV/AIDS pandemic days–“oh, look, I need to get tested for a potentially fatal virus and have to wait days to get the results back”–but I quickly tamped that down, shoved the lid closed and firmly padlocked it. I suppose it’s a bit of a surprise that particular version of all the PTSD’s I have locked behind various doors in my brain took so long to try to worm it’s way out, but it did finally show up and I was able to beat it down rather easily.

Thank you, coping mechanisms, developed over several decades of seemingly endless trauma.

I didn’t have to take a nap yesterday, but after we finished watching Miss Fisher and the Crypt of Tears, a lovely stand-alone film follow-up to the wonderful Miss Fisher series from Australia (it was kind of an Indiana Jones-lite adventure, set in Palestine in 1928 and quite fun), I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror and opened it up to the chapter about the Black Death. Yes, I recognize that my recent fascination with plagues and epidemics and pandemics is probably morbid, given the current state of affairs in the world, yet my curiosity had always had a bit of morbidity to it and it’s really not surprising that it would take this kind of turn. (And I’m actually kind of glad; I was glad to finally read “Death in Venice” even if it left me a little cold; and it also led me down the path to rereading “The Masque of the Red Death”, and back into my Daphne du Maurier short stories) Realistically, while everyone talks about the Spanish influenza pandemic of a hundred years ago, primarily because it was the most recent pandemic (note to self: reread Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse Pale Rider”), the worst pandemic in history was clearly the bubonic plague, the Black Death, or, as it was known more simply during the fourteenth century, “the pestilence.”

Here’s how the chapter opens:

In October 1347, two months after the fall of Calais, Genoese trading ships put into the harbor of Messina in Sicily with dead and dying men at the oars. The ships had come from the Black Sea port of Caffa (now Feodosiya) in the Crimea, where the Genoese maintained a trading post. The diseased sailors showed strange black swellings about the size of an egg or an apple in the armpits and groin. The swellings oozed blood and pus and were followed by spreading boils and black blotches on the skin from internal bleeding. The sick suffered severe pain and died quickly within five days of the first symptoms. As the disease spread, other symptoms of continuous fever and spitting of blood appeared instead of the swelling or buboes. The victims coughed and sweated heavily and died even more quickly, within three days or less, sometimes in 24 hours. In both types everything that issued from the body–breath, sweat, blood from the buboes and lungs, bloody urine, and blackened excrement–smelled foul. Depression and despair accompanied the physical symptoms, and before the end “death is seen seared on the face.”

The disease was bubonic plague, present in two forms: one that infected the bloodstream, causing the buboes and internal bleeding, and was spread by contact; and a second, more virulent pneumonic type that infected the lungs and was spread by respiratory infection. The presence of both at once caused the high mortality and speed of contagion. So lethal was the disease that cases were known of persons going to bed well and dying before they woke, of doctors catching the illness at a bedside and dying before the patient. So rapidly did it spread from one to another that to a French physician, Simon de Covino, it seemed as if one sick person “could infect the whole world.” The malignity of the pestilence appeared more terrible because its victims knew no prevention and no remedy.

The chapter is pretty horrific, and it’s hard to imagine what it must have been like to live through in the fourteenth century. It’s impossible to know how many people died because they died so quickly that graveyards overflowed and burial pits had to be dug; people simply dragged the bodies of their dead loved ones to the pits and dumped them there. Estimates were obviously guesses and sometimes exaggerated; one monk’s reported death toll for one particular city, in fact, was more than what its recorded population showed. But it’s not inaccurate to guess that one third of the European population died during the pestilence; towns disappeared, families completely died out. Farms went untended because the farmers and their families died; there were also undoubtedly consequential deaths, not from the plague but because of it; young children whose parents had died starved to death, etc. Naturally they thought it was the end of the world, a punishment from God for sin; and the fourteenth century, which Ms. Tuchman describes as “calamitous”, was certainly ripe for that kind of belief.

One of the interesting things to me about this current pandemic is–and this may entirely be because I am not paying attention and my social media is sort of a bubble; but I cannot believe someone would be saying this about the pandemic and no one i know would notice it and be outraged enough to post about it–where are the evangelicals? Where are all those “end times” preachers and ministers and con artists to prey on the fears of their congregation? Why isn’t anyone pointing out that this could actually be the “rapture” where God is calling his own to him? I have seen that some trashbag minister called this God’s punishment for the gays–but it didn’t gain any traction.

Maybe one of the outcomes of this pandemic will be the ending of that nonsense. I rather doubt it, but you know, hope springs eternal.

I did read for a while yesterday–I got further into Ammie Come Home and I read a short story by Harlan Ellison, “On the Downhill Side”, from his collection Deathbird Stories, which I’d originally read years ago, before I moved to New Orleans, and this story is set in New Orleans. Oddly enough, when I opened the ebook in my Kindle app on the iPad (I was actually looking to see if the collection included his Edgar winning “The Whimper of Whipped Dogs”–it does) it was already opened to that story, so I read it, and as always with Ellison, loved it–and while it certainly is brilliantly written, it was written by someone who didn’t live here. I did love the story; like all of Ellison’s stories, the humanity in it was overwhelming and identifiable and relatable. I’ll probably give it, at some point, its own entry here.

And now I am feeling a bit tired, so I am going to go rest for a bit.

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Coat of Many Colors

And just like that, we’ve made it to Friday. How lovely!

I slept extremely well, which was lovely. I feel rested today and I also feel as though I can actually handle whatever blows the world and life decide to throw at me today. Yesterday wasn’t an easy one; I felt tired most of the day and the lethargic lack of energy wasn’t, frankly, very much fun. I got home and rewarded myself with a quick view of Spider-man Into the Spider-verse, which is my favorite super-hero movie of all time (not that I am dogging on Tom Holland, whom I adore as Peter Parker) and that eased me into going to bed last night. I had already decided to go to the gym after work today rather than before; so I have this morning to regroup and get on top of everything again.

I did write a little bit yesterday. I had decided to revise a story I’d written for an anthology, which was rejected (rightly so, he typed grimly, after starting to reread it last night), and submit it to yet another anthology (I have three stories to submit by the end of the month), and I found myself wondering–I can’t say the name of the story, since the anthology is a blind/submission read–if I needed to tone it down a little bit? It’s a gay story, from a gay man’s point of view and there’s a lot of sexualizing and a lot of the gay male gaze; and I began wondering, as I revised and removed sentences from passive past tense to the active past tense (it is amazing how easily I default to passive voice; a problem I never seem to be able to kick; and it’s really not that difficult to avoid, really) and changed some things and made sentences stronger, how often do my stories get rejected for fear of offending a reader or a reviewer, rather than the quality of the story? That’s one of the issues one consistently faces as a gay writer trying to publish in a homophobic society and culture; you’re never sure if your story just wasn’t up to par, or if the gay point-of-view made the editors uncomfortable–or made them worry about offending readers and getting one-starred on Goodreads and Amazon as a direct result.

It’s shitty, but it’s my reality, and that of every gay writer. I’d like to think that a good story that is well-written would rise above that kind of bullshit, but every time I think we’re making progress, either in the culture and society and publishing–we get shoved back hard and shown our place.

And for the record, I’ve only published one short story in a mainstream market with a gay male character and theme. ONE. Everything else I’ve published in a mainstream market was about a straight character without any of the gay in it.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been sickened by the levels of overt and covert homophobia I’ve seen on Twitter. Yes, I know, I know; Twitter is a cesspool roiling with trolls and incels and every other kind of monster imaginable. But I don’t follow a lot of people over there; mostly other writers and maybe some journalists and reporters and reviewers and magazines, etc. Every so often I seem something appalling being tweeted at someone I know and like in the real world, not just cyberspace; I often report problematic tweets I see as harassment against someone else, and it may take a couple of days, but that account eventually gets suspended. It may be like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon, but I figure it’s the least I can do. And it has to be something egregious–like the use of a slur and an outright slander–for me to do something; my litmus test generally is if I start typing out an angry response I should just report it and not engage.

Typing out the tweet before deleting it always makes me feel better, and then I delete and report the person instead. This works for me.

Anyway, many years ago I stopped talking about politics publicly, either here, or on my blog or Facebook, because I have no desire to debate anyone or argue with anyone on my social media accounts. Part of it was, indeed, joining the national board of Mystery Writers of America; the realization that not everyone in the crime fiction world would agree with me on everything and I didn’t want to get into pissing contests on social media, particularly as a board member whose conduct might be held against the organization. Obviously, I still talk about queer equality and homophobia, but anyone who follows me on social media knows I’m a gay man (the pictures in every blog post alone is a tell, hello?) and as such, I feel I’m entitled to talk about that; I also feel like I have every right to speak out against racism when I see it, as well as misogyny and transphobia. These are, in my opinion, societal ills and I cannot just sit idly by and not speak my piece on these things from time to time.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last week–I’ve actually noticed it before, but not to this extreme–is homophobia, particularly from people who actually should know better. That’s the true evil, to me, in our society; that all the hatreds–racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia–are so deeply engrained and systemic that people who should know better sometimes fall back into them quite easily, without thinking twice about what they are saying or how it can be perceived. Do I think these people are actually and actively homophobic? Probably not, but it’s really easy, as I said, to fall back into it.

Pete Buttigieg did something no openly gay man had ever done before; he ran for president as a prospective candidate in one of the two major parties. I don’t know Pete; I’ve never met him or his husband, Chasten, and what I do know is from reading about them in the press (I also follow Chasten on Twitter) and from seeing them speak on television. I’ve been impressed from the very first with Pete; he’s smart, articulate, and passionate about wanting to help other people. If Chasten’s name was Christine, I honestly think Pete would have been mopping the floor with the other candidates; he’s young, he’s attractive, a Rhodes scholar, a great public speaker, and a military veteran. He has flaws, obviously; there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, no matter what anyone might think. But when he announced, I braced myself for the homophobic onslaught to come.

I just didn’t expect the majority of it to come from the left.

Campaigns always tend to be ugly, and this year’s presidential election will be no different from any previous one’s. Primaries can also be ugly–I remember the ugliness of the Democratic primaries of 1968, 1980, and 2016 very vividly, thank you very much (an aside: please note that ugly Democratic primaries inevitably lead to Republican presidents being elected–Nixon, Reagan, and Trump)–and so there are going to be slurs and insults and snide questions thrown around; I get it. Politics and power are an ugly business. But as I observed without commenting…I couldn’t help but notice that people who should know better, either consciously or subconsciously, were falling back on their internalized homophobia.

I never saw derisive nicknames, for example, for any of the Democratic candidates…except for Buttigieg. Think I’m wrong? How is Pete Buttigieg so much whiter than any of the other candidates, so much more so that an appellation of “Mayo Pete” was appropriate? No one was calling Amy Klobuchar “Wonder Bread Amy.” And sure, the ‘Mayor Pete’ branding might have had something to do with that–but as a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t help notice that he was the only one with such a nickname. Were the other white candidates that much better than him on issues of race?

As for the leftists slyly shortening his name to “Pete Butt”–do you really think you’re fooling anyone? Yes, yes, I’m sure you were only calling him that because, of course, you were saving characters on social media where you have limited characters; but you could have saved three more by calling him “”Pete B”; people would have known who you were talking about. I daresay you could have even just said “Pete” since you were talking about the primaries.

So, why Pete Butt? Unless you’re using it as a dogwhistle; you know you can’t call him “Pete Buttsex” or “Pete the Fag” so instead you say “Pete Butt”–knowing full fucking well how that would be read. Congratulations on your wokeness, and go fuck yourself. By disrespecting Pete Buttigieg, who accomplished something I never thought I’d see happen in my goddamned lifetime, you are exposing your own inner homophobia. Oh, sure, you  can criticize him for his conduct as mayor, you can criticize his positions, you can oppose his candidacy all you like without being homophobic…but the glee I saw in basically calling him a faggot by using a dog-whistle?

Yeah, thanks for dropping the mask.

I’m not hurt by this behavior–I’m mostly disappointed. Disappointed in the left, disappointed in Democratic voters, disappointed in people I thought knew better and were allies. Disappointed in myself for once again thinking cishet straight people actually gave a shit about me and people like me.

Kind of like “woke” people who have no friends that are people of color. Why is that, precisely?

I mean, how very dare he run for president! Queers need to know their place, and certainly the halls of Congress and the White House aren’t, apparently, it.

And for the record, he won Iowa.

Nothing will ever change that. You may not like him, you may have dipped into your soul and the dark recesses of your lizard primordial brain to come up with a way to dismiss him and get away without being outright homophobic, but I see you.

And I’ll never forget–nor will I ever look at you the same way again. And don’t bother trying to explain how you’re not homophobic to me.

I SAW for myself.

Bravo.

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Here’s a Quarter (Call Someone Who Cares)

Hello, Thursday, and how are you doing this lovely morning?

Yesterday was bizarre. I got up in the morning and took care of some business while I woke up–laundry, dishes, etc.–aware that we were expecting bad weather. It rained off and on all morning–nothing unusual there–and I got sprinkled on a bit when I walked to and from the gym (and yes, that’s twice this week and I am doing quite well with this so far, and I’m still enjoying the way my muscles feel), and then as I was getting ready for work and a conference call, a nasty thunderstorm rolled in. I got out of the shower and as I was getting dressed, I heard this weird clicking sound. Puzzled, I walked over to one of the bedroom windows and saw little white pellets bouncing off the windows, the fence, and the crepe myrtles. Hail? It’s hailing in New Orleans? But it’s seventy degrees outside! 

That’s correct, it was seventy degrees and hailing.

Plagues of Egypt, anyone?

It’s also rained heavily all night overnight here in New Orleans; it’s still dark outside and sprinkling.  I slept very well–always sleep well during rainstorms–and certainly didn’t want to get up this morning. Working out does, apparently, help with sleep, and I’ve greatly enjoyed the kind of restful sleep I’ve been having this entire week, which is very lovely. It’s also lovely to be working out for the right reasons again; for so long I was working out for all the wrong reasons; making it about aesthetics and how I looked (and enjoying the kind of attention I was getting for having a worked out physique) rather than doing it because of how it made me feel and to be healthier. Now that I’m older, and am on blood pressure medication and another daily pill for cholesterol–well, I should have forced my old fat ass back into the gym before I had to go on both. But we’ll see now what, if any, difference regular working out makes to those–although it will also be hard to tell whether it’s the result of the workouts or the drugs I have to take. Curious.

We watched another episode of Sex Education, and I have to say, the show is really quite revolutionary and clever, while also being well-acted and well-written. As I said the other day, each episode is basically a lesson is actual sexuality; yesterday’s was one in which a group of the teenage girls, not friends, being forced to come up with what they have in common as women: the answer inevitably ended up being sexually assaulted in some way, or as one of them told their teacher as they walked out, “unsolicited penises.” And sadly, they did indeed bond over their shared trauma. What a horribly sad statement about what it’s like to be a woman–or a teenaged girl–in these modern times.

Today is a long day at the office, and once I’m fully awake I have some emails to answer and some bills to pay; as well as trying to assemble everything I need for my taxes so i can get them off to the accountant and filed and out of the way. I need to get to work on the Secret Project again–I didn’t even open the file yesterday–and I also need to get started on my Sherlock story. I’m just going to get it started and try to get the rough draft sorted; I can always fix things later, after all, and as I often say, it’s much easier to edit something then it is to write it. But at the moment I’m still feeling a bit groggy and not quite awake yet–still on the first cup of coffee–and so that will have to be later in the day at some point.

I also finished reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I greatly enjoyed and highly recommend. My next non-fiction history read about New Orleans will be Jason berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Year 300, which should be quite fun. I’ve made lots of notes from the Campanella; I’m sure there will be plenty of notes to be made from the Berry. I certainly am enjoying finally learning the true history of my home, and it is certainly inspiring me to write more historical fictions about New Orleans.

And on that note, the coffee is starting to kick into gear, so I am heading back into the spice mines until it’s time to head into the office. There’s also a lull in the rain–which undoubtedly is helping me wake up–but it’s definitely one of those days where you’d rather just stay in bed and read–which actually sounds lovely; if it weren’t for the coffee situation, I should probably do that more in the mornings, you know?

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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Tear Time

Friday and a rather chilly, grayish day has come to usher in the weekend. I was exhausted last night when I got home from work–which has been happening more and more lately–and slept really well. Paul didn’t get home until late, so we weren’t able to watch anything last night–but we made our plans for the weekend; since we really don’t care about the Super Bowl we’re going to try to get caught up on the shows we watch this weekend. I also want to get deeper into the Dorothy Hughes novel I am reading, Dread Journey. It’s relatively short, so I should be able to get through it relatively quickly, if I can devote the time to it.

This week wore me out somehow–I can’t remember the last time I was so worn down by a week in which it wasn’t parade season or I wasn’t on a trip somewhere. Not sure what that’s about, but it’s also part and parcel of the reboot I need to do on my life and my weekly routine. Most of all I need to start taking better care of myself, for one thing–particularly when it comes to health-related issues; there’s doctor’s appointments and blood work I need to have done that I somehow never seem to get around to, and that’s a big no-no. Last year was supposed to be the year that got taken care of–and it actually didn’t turn out that way.

But…at least now when I am home and too exhausted after work to write or read or focus on a TV show, I have lots of LSU game highlights from this past season to stream on Youtube.

I’m not, I think, going to try to overdo things this weekend; or make a to-do list that I will never finish, you know? I do need to update the to-do list I have running–I think I accomplished almost everything I needed to on the list yesterday, and there are some emails I need to send this morning before I head into the office later this morning–and I have several blog posts I’ve started writing and need to finish–my rereads of Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels and Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley have reviews I’ve started and not finished, for example. And as I begin to move on to the next book in the TBR pile, I should get those out of the way because I will also have to write a review of Dread Journey.

And I have some short stories I should finish, and others I should revisit.

The publishing world has really been a dumpster fire for quite some now–first the RWA mess, and now the whole American Dirt dust-up. Both dust-ups ultimately boil down to the same thing: what responsibility do writers have when they write outside their own experience? Particularly when it comes to the marginalized? I have always held that a writer can write about anything they wish; anything that intrigues them enough for them to sit down and spend the time constructing a novel is something they should write about. I chose to write a novel about rape culture in a small town, but I chose not to write it from the point of view of the victim, but rather that of someone else in the town, another player on the football team who wasn’t involved in the incident–but is close friends with the boys who did. I’ve been struggling with this manuscript for several years now; partly from a sense that maybe I wasn’t the right person to tell this story; was centering a teenaged boy rather than a teenaged girl in this story the right choice; was i doing a kind of To Kill a Mockingbird thing, trying to do a #notallmen type thing that would ultimately be offensive?

I like to think the fact that I actually do worry about these things is a good sign.

Anyway, I’ve always said that writers can write anything they are interested in, but have a responsibility to get things right. I’ve written from the point of view of women before; I’ve written from the point of view of a teenaged girl before. Do I, as a gay man, have a right to write about straight women/girls? Of course I do, and no one has ever told me that I don’t. But I also owe it to women–and all the women I’ve known–to create multi-faceted, complex, complicated women characters that are believable and whose experiences are also believable. Likewise, a cisgender straight person writing about gay men have a responsibility to gay men to get it right and create real characters rather than fantasy, and a white person writing about an oppressed racial minority particularly has a responsibility to that minority to do the work and get it right. As writers, we don’t always get it right, and we owe it to that minority to listen when they say we got it wrong.

We need to do better.

And comparing minorities of any kind–religious, racial, gender, sexuality, ethnic–to vampires and werewolves and zombies to justify writing outside your own experience? Shows that you don’t have the empathy to write about any minority. You can’t compare actual human beings to mythological creatures as a justification for writing about them because we actually exist. 

And if you can’t understand how horrible and odious making those comparisons are…well, I’m not going to read your work because I can be relatively certain it won’t be any good.

And on that note, those emails aren’t going to answer themselves.

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Georgia on My Mind

Huzzah! We made it to Wednesday, and what a lovely thing that is to behold. It’s cold this morning in the Lost Apartment–it’s in the forties outside this morning–so my space heater is on and I am basking in the warmth. Last night was a good night of make-up sleep–I feel amazingly rested and refreshed this morning—and my coffee? Why, it’s delicious and wonderful, thank you for asking!

I was terribly exhausted last night when I got home from work; barely enough energy to fold the towels in the dryer (after a refluff cycle) and literally, just sat in my easy chair and just wasted away the evening rewatching the first half of the LSU-Oklahoma game on the DVR. I still, all this time later, cannot wrap my mind around that game. As I watched, and thought about the upcoming national title game with Clemson, I realized that if LSU loses that game, it will be disappointing; but it won’t really take away the magic of this past season. It was stressful at times, but almost always a joy to watch LSU play this year; to not lose games they shouldn’t and to raise up to the level of the opponent they were playing. There were, to be sure, some sloppy games where the defense gave up far more points than they should have (Vanderbilt and Mississippi come to mind), but it was still an amazing, amazing ride for LSU fans.

Today is pay day, so once I finish this and plow through my emails this morning I have to pay some bills and update the checkbook. I know, I know; I am old-fashioned that way; I like to keep a register of what I spend and on what–it helps at the end of the year with tax prep, which I should start working on soon–and I just can’t, even though I rarely, if ever, write checks anymore, not keep a handwritten register of my spending through the checking account. It’s interesting that no one really writes checks anymore, yet they are still called checking accounts–perhaps someday in the future they’ll be rebranded as debit accounts, to differentiate from credit accounts.

I also came to the conclusion last night that I really need to stop beating myself up for not getting as much done on Mondays and Tuesdays as I would like. I work twelve hour days on both; I get up at six in the morning and get home from work just after eight in the evening. Mondays are generally busier than Tuesdays, but both are busy enough regularly to wear me out. Monday nights I usually am not as worn down as I am on Tuesdays; but it’s still exhausting, and I am usually too tired to even read when I get home from work on those nights. I think it’s not just the length of the workdays but the getting up so ridiculously early as well; and I generally don’t sleep as well on those nights when I have to get up while it’s still dark outside. But the good news is I’ve finally recognized that it’s probably insane to criticize myself for not getting as much done on those two days as I want to; and of course today I feel rested, so if anything today is the day I should beat myself up for not getting anything done–if I don’t get anything done, that is, today.

I’ve not yet ventured onto Twitter to see if RWA is still aflame, a la the firebombing of Dresden during World War II; but those fires were still being fed pretty well yesterday all day. It still staggers me that this enormous rift has formed in one of the largest writers’ organizations in the world, frankly; I believe they have somewhere between nine and ten thousand members, and over 150 chapters. That boggles my mind. Granted, they aren’t all published authors–there’s aspiring authors, and industry professionals, and so forth. I had considered joining RWA at one point–my Todd Gregory novels could be seen as erotic romances, even if it was, in my mind, a bit of a stretch. I talked to a lesbian friend who was a member, and was stunned to discover that if I did join, I couldn’t be a part of forums and so forth that were for authors because I had worked for a publisher so I was therefore suspect and couldn’t participate in forums where authors might talk about publishers because my presence could inhibit their discussions. It was absurd on its face, I felt; when Harrington Park Press was sold and the fiction lines discontinued, I continued to work as an editor–but strictly on a contract basis; Bold Strokes Books would offer me manuscripts to edit and I would say yes or no. I didn’t have the power or control to offer contracts or negotiate them; I was sometimes sent a manuscript for evaluation and if I thought it was something that held promise I would say yes I’d like to work on this one and they’d offer a contract to the author. But that was enough, in the eyes of RWA, to make me a “publisher” and not an “author.” I didn’t think that could be right, of course, so I wrote to the main office of RWA asking–and was told, yes, even simply editing on a contract/for hire basis was enough to make me a publisher rather than an author in their eyes.

So, I didn’t join. At the time I wondered if this was all because I was gay and wrote gay books–the ever-present shadow of homophobia always lingers in the back of my mind, making me question any and everything–but eventually simply shrugged my shoulders and figured, well, if they don’t want my money they don’t want my money.

Now, I really wonder. For one thing, publishers aren’t permitted to file ethics complaints about authors–and yet the complaints against Courtney Milan that led to this entire mess were filed by what RWA would classify–or did when I considered joining–as publishers. But the complainants were nice white ladies (NWL’s), so one can’t help but think that yes, they wouldn’t let me join as an author because I was a gay man; exceptions are made for NWL’s and no one else. But, as I said, I’m glad I didn’t join–even if their decision about how I’d be classified as a member was rooted in systemic and personal homophobia, because I am very happy to know I never gave money to such an organization so riddled with bigotry and nastiness.

I was always wary of joining writers’ organizations, because as a gay author I could never be certain me and my work would be welcomed into the group. I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime a bit warily, but as I slowly became more and more involved with both groups, I found them not only welcoming but encouraging. (To be sure, there are undoubtedly members who are homophobic, but I’ve not had the displeasure of experiencing any of that, and I am very grateful to both groups for that.) I also belonged to Authors Inc for a while, and I also belong to the Thriller Writers. I was never terribly involved with either group, so I don’t know what those groups are like–but when I belonged to Authors Inc I was asked to contribute to their anthologies, which is where my stories “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian” first appeared (you can get them now in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, available through the Bold Strokes website or any on-line book retailer), which I always took as a good sign. I always wanted to go to their annual convention, but it was just out of my financial reach each and every year. Same with the Thriller Writers yearly event in New York–too expensive.

And of course today is merely a half-day for me, so I can leave the office early and come home, get some things done, perhaps even make dinner–madness, right?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Jacob’s Ladder

Tuesday morning and all is fine…at least so far.

I managed to finish the reread/outline of Bury Me in Shadows last night, which is very cool, and as I said the other day, it doesn’t need nearly as much work as I thought it did–which, given how it was written in fits and starts over the period of a few months, I figured there would be tons of repetition. As it is, I did repeat something–the first time my main character, Jake, was ever called a gay slur–about three or four times. Obviously, I only need to have that in there once.

What’s funny about it, though, is that each instance is based on a different time it happened to me when I was a kid–and I managed to remember four different times. Who knows how many others I can remember? Ah, the joys of being a queer kid in America back in the day.

But the book is, as I said, in much better shape than I remembered or thought, and so it’s not going to be as much work to finish it as I thought. Don’t get me wrong–it’s still going to be a lengthy slog, it’s just not going to take me as a long to finish this final edit than I thought it might. It’s still entirely possible that I could have it finished and ready to go sometime next week, which would be really lovely. One can certainly hope, at least.

I’ve managed to sleep well both nights so far this week–I didn’t even feel tired yesterday until after I got home from the office. I somehow managed to make it through an entire twelve-hour day without feeling exhausted or worn out. On the other hand, we were also pretty slow yesterday; perhaps not having client after client after client made the difference.

We finished watching Big Mouth last night, which is easily one of the funniest things on television right now, and will now slide back into watching our other shows each evening, trying to get caught up on them all. A plethora of riches for us to choose from, and we still have only watched the first episode of the first season of Succession, so there’s also that.

I’m not as energetic this morning as I was yesterday; but that’s probably par for the course. I may not have been as worn out as I usually am on Monday evening last night, but it was still a twelve hour day, and today is probably a vestigial hangover from that. That doesn’t bode well for the day, but I”m hoping it’s just a slow waking up morning type of thing. I’ve still got so much to do it’s not even funny. Motivation is the primary problem I am having this morning, and my coffee doesn’t seem to be working the way I generally expect/need it to. Oh, wait–there it is. Hello, caffeine!

There was a cold front that came through last night so today is supposedly going to be cooler than it has been–sad that temperatures in the mid-80’s is “cooler than it has been,” but that’s life down here in the swamp. This summer has certainly lasted longer than any have seemed to before, but that could also just be my own faulty memory. My memories are questionable, it seems. That’s why people who can write their own memoirs or autobiographies amaze me so much–how do you remember all of that? There are so many gaps in my memories, and memories that are simply flat out wrong; for example, I would have sworn on a Bible and testified to it in court that we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs in the winter of 1969, which is incorrect. We moved in the winter of 1971, two years later; I was ten years old and in the sixth grade. I knew I was ten when we moved, and yet somehow I always managed to convince myself we moved in 1969. Why or how or when that year became fixated in my brain as the year we moved is beyond me; I’ve always been able to remember the year we moved to Kansas because it was the summer before my junior year. I graduated in 1978, so we had to have moved to Kansas in 1976. It was also the Olympic year–Montreal–and the same Olympics where Nadia Comenici started throwing perfect 10’s in the gymnastics competition.

Why have I been thinking about the past so much lately? I’m not sure. Maybe because Bury Me in Shadows is set in a fictional county that is based on the county where my family is from, so I’ve been drawing on childhood memories to construct a fictional place based in reality from my past. It’s strange to look at Google Earth renderings of where we’re from, and see that my memories are, in fact, incorrect; but in fairness I never drove anywhere in Alabama. I was always a passenger, and I think driving cements directions and so forth in your mind–when you’re just riding in the car you don’t pay as much attention as you would if you were driving. I’m also writing “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is set in New Orleans in 1994, so I’m having to delve into my memories of visiting here and remembering what the city was like then. It does seem different now than it was then–certainly the city has changed since that first visit all those years ago, when I first explored the gay bars and the Quarter and fell in love with New Orleans; part of the reason I am writing the story and setting it in that time is to write about, and preserve in fiction, my memories of the city back then and what it was like. I’m also glad I decided to turn it into a novella–I may do a book of four novellas, like Stephen King’s Different Seasons and Full Dark No Stars–which would be kind of a departure for me. I already have “Never Kiss a Stranger” in progress, and there’s also “Fireflies,” and perhaps I have two other stories on hand that could easily be adapted into longer novellas….often the problem I have with writing short stories is the word counts; some stories struggle to come in under 6000 words.

Which, now that I think about it, could easily make “Once a Tiger” and “Please Die Soon” and perhaps even “Death and the Handmaidens” work; simply make them longer and that will probably solve the issues with all three stories.

An interesting and intriguing thought.

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

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Walk Like an Egyptian

And just like that, it is now Friday. I’m still not entirely certain of everything I must get done this weekend, but at some point today I am going to have to make a list. I know I have to finish my essay, get further along on that short story I have due at the end of the month, and get some work done on another that isn’t due until March, but I want to start playing with.

Last night was another bad night as far as sleep was concerned, but I do feel somewhat rested today. My friend Lisa from Atlanta is in town, and I am meeting her after work today to hang out for a bit. My schedule has changed from early morning to early afternoon, which is always my preference–I’d rather never do any early mornings, quite frankly–and I am hoping this morning’s coffee will not only fuel me through this entire day of work but get me through hanging out with Lisa with some coherence. I have a lot of work to do this weekend–one of the many things I’ve allowed to fall to the wayside whilst working on this enormous volunteer project is housework, other than the dishes and laundry–and I really need to get that under control. The weather is still pretty awful here, although it’s getting to the point where it’s cool in the morning and cool in the evenings, which is a sign the heat’s going to break relatively soon.

It’s also Friday the 13th, which I just realized, and there’s a full moon tonight, methinks.

I’ve been reading Lords of Misrule by James Gill, as I have mentioned previously, and it’s really quite eye-opening. It’s funny to me in some ways because all of my reading of New Orleans history this and last year has shown me that New Orleans has always been a rather lawless city, with high rates of brawls, murders and robberies; I am sure rape rates have always been high but never reported back in those days. The history of the city can essentially be summed up in the theme I am using for Bury Me in Shadows: “The history of this city was written in blood.” It shames me that I’ve not studied the history of my home city and state in more detail, and that it has taken me this long to start. I’m going to be writing a historical short story soon–I’ve been asked to write one for an anthology, and I am setting it in 1913-1914 era New Orleans, in Storyville, and I think it will be incredibly fun to write, and I know it will be incredibly fun to research. I really do want to, at some point, write more historical fiction set in New Orleans; the history here is fascinating, if a little frightening–the white supremacy and racism is particularly horrible for such a seemingly tolerant city; but we also have to remember the horribly homophobic reaction of most of the city when the Upstairs Lounge, a gay bar in the French Quarter, was set ablaze in the worst mass murder of queer people in American history until the Pulse massacre in Orlando a few years back. (I really can’t wait to read Robert Fieseler’s Edgar winning Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Upstairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation.)

Anyway, I am at the chapter in Lords of Misrule called “The Battle of Liberty Place,” and I am already dreading reading it in some ways. I know a little about this; all I really need say is it involves a mob of white supremacists and it happened in 1874, during Reconstruction while the state was occupied after the Civil War and…I don’t really need to draw a picture, do I? The Battle of Liberty Place monument was one of the Confederate memorials in the city that were taken down during Mitch Landrieu’s administration, and while I believe they all had to go (I was truly tired of saying to visitors I was showing around, “and here we are at politically incorrect Lee Circle, which memorializes treason”), the Liberty Place monument in particular was a disgrace to a modern city. (I had considered doing a Scotty book around the memorials and their removal, but decided ultimately against it. I don’t like the Scotty books to be fixed in time; there are times when I’ve regretted writing about the Saints winning the Super Bowl) I don’t consider myself to be particularly “woke”, but I do recognize I’ve benefited from privilege most of my life, and while being gay has resulted in some marginalization, I’m still a cisgendered white male, which in this society and culture puts me on third base already.

I can always do better when it comes to issues of race, gender, and sexuality–and it’s something I think about every day at least once. I strive to be a better ally than I am. It really is amazing, when you think about it, how indoctrinated we all are into this shit.

And the history is absolutely horrifying–and it’s disgraceful how it’s been sanitized into mythology.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, aren’t they? Sheesh. But it’s hard not to read about  angry mobs murdering people they’ve othered, and not be appalled by it. I haven’t even gotten to the xenophobic massacre of Italians in the 1890’s yet.

Yes, New Orleans is a city with a history that drips blood; a city of massive contradictions, and it’s not hard to believe that the city’s history haunts it. And yet it is still a magical place, where all that pain and blood and suffering has been somehow transmuted into gold through art and music and literature. The city will probably never stop fascinating me, and I will undoubtedly spend the rest of my life studying it.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. One of the things that is completely out of control is my inbox; I’ve got to do something about that this morning.

Heavy sigh.

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C’est la Vie

Wednesday morning and I’ve made it thru the long days of my week. Today is a short day; I am free after three thirty, and then it’s back home to the spice mines and getting the house cleaned, organized and so forth, all around me not only writing at my desk but preparing a new taste treat for dinner–shrimp and baked potatoes–which is the same as my shrimp-and-grits, only substituting a baked potato for the grits. I saw this somewhere on social media recently, looked at the recipe, and realized it simply meant making baked potatoes instead of the grits…and realized that with a baked potato, timing the meal isn’t quite as important as it is when you’re making grits at the same time as the shrimp.

I managed another good night’s sleep last night, which was incredibly lovely; it’s amazing what a difference that makes to your quality of life–and productivity. I’m still behind on everything this morning, just as I was last night when I went to bed, but this morning I feel like I can do anything and everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we?

But as I face my computer with my first cup of coffee this morning, I do feel almost as though I can do anything and everything.  I had a slight minor panic attack last night about everything I need to get done this week, but it passed quickly, as I remembered my favorite mantra: sometimes, it just is what it is. Simple, but helpful and rather wise; there’s only so much one can do, there’s only so many people one can please, and sometimes you just have to let the worry go–because it just is what it is.

I sat down with Royal Street Reveillon last night, and opened the book up. When Paul got home he told me that someone whose opinion I deeply value had told him to  let me know she’d read and loved the book, and invited me to be on her radio show. Yes, it was Susan Larson, the long-time books editor of what was once the Times-Picayune and now has her own show on WGNO, “My Reading Life.” This naturally made my day, if not the week or month; Susan has read practically everything and everyone, has been a Pulitzer Prize judge (!!!!!), and is one of the most respected reviewers in the country. Her opinion means, obviously, a lot to me. As I sat in my chair last night holding a copy of the book–and it’s a beautiful looking book, probably my favorite cover of all time–I thought about how it never gets easier, no matter how many books you write; at least for me, it’s like the first one every single time. Will people like it? Will people hate it? Is it any good? Writing the books never gets easier over time, either. If anything, the only thing that’s changed with the actual writing is efficiency; I am more efficient in the use of time when I write now. But the self-doubt, the insecurity, the imposter syndrome–all of that still plagues me, even after all this time and all these books and all these short stories.

So, I opened the book and started skimming through it. My goal when I wrote it was to make it the best Scotty book thus far; I don’t know if I achieved that goal, but I am pretty pleased with the book. I think it turned out well. I also realized, as I was reading through it last night, that the reason I don’t like to reread my work–why I never go back once its published and look at it again, isn’t because I always wind up dissatisfied and disappointed with it (although that’s some of it), but primarily because I only reread my work to correct, edit and fix it. So, I am so trained from revising and editing my work that when actually reading it in a print format my mind automatically switches into editorial mode and I want to fix things and oh this sentence could have been better or look at this, you used the same word twice in the same paragraph and so on and so forth; it’s impossible for me to read it as a reader coming to it for the first time. And with Royal Street Reveillon, I don’t feel like I rushed the ending the way I inevitably feel about most of my books–which is a direct result of deadlines. So, I’m kind of glad I don’t write on deadline anymore; it’s relieved that bit of stress from my life, thank the Lord.

I also got out a copy of Bourbon Street Blues last night, because one of my co-workers wants to read it. She was reading the latest Janet Evanovich, and we got into a bit of a discussion about Evanovich, mystery novels, and so forth. SHe eventually said, “I really need to read one of your books”, and me being me, I said, “I’ll bring you a copy” and then realized, hey, I can give her a copy of Bourbon Street Blues,  my first Scotty!

So, I actually looked through it as well. I remember so little of the story now; I barely remember writing the book now. It was all so long ago; I turned the book in to Kensington on May 15th, 2002. Christ, we were so broke then, cobbling together an income from Paul working part time and teaching aerobics, me writing, doing some part time work for a friend as their assistant, and eventually getting a part time job at the LGBT Community Center to supplement the writing income, as well as doing some freelance editorial work. I was mostly working for Bella Books then–yes, I got my start as an editor working for a lesbian publisher–before moving on to Harrington Park Press and then Bold Strokes Books. Bourbon Street Blues is, of course, the Southern Decadence book I’d been wanting to write ever since I first came to Decadence as a tourist back in the early 90’s. I was also writing the book, ironically, on 9/11–I didn’t actually work on it that day, but I always associate 9/11 with Bourbon Street Blues because I can remember being glued to the television in horror all day, and glancing over at the pile of pages on my desk and wondering if I could distract myself by working on the book. I never tried…I didn’t get back to working on the book for a few days. As I looked through Bourbon Street Blues last night, thinking about how Southern Decadence had just passed and how much the world, the event, the city, everything had changed since the days when I was writing this book.

My career as a published writer of fiction dates back to 2000, with the publication of two short stories in the month of August, one in an anthology and the other in a magazine. It’ll turn twenty the month I turn fifty-nine; but I of course started getting paid to write (journalism) in 1996. I moved in with Paul and within a month had published my first column in a local queer newspaper in Minneapolis; as I used to say, Paul was my lucky charm for my writing career; it truly started when we moved in together.

So yes, he never has to worry about me going anywhere, since I do emotionally consider him entirely responsible for my career–and all of it tied up in a nice New Orleans bow. New Orleans inspired me, and I knew I would become a writer if I moved to New Orleans. I met Paul here, and while I was already writing before we moved here, New Orleans made it possible for me to meet the love of my life and create the career I’ve always dreamed of and wanted.

And you know what? As I paged through Bourbon Street Blues, reacquainting myself with the original story I came up with for Scotty all those years ago, I thought, this is a pretty decent book, really. There’s never really been a character like Scotty in crime fiction–and certainly not one like him in gay crime fiction. I also never dreamed that people would connect with him the way they did–I may not sell books in Harlan Coben or Stephen King numbers, but the people who read the Scotty books love him, and that means I did my job well.

I also realized, looking through both books last night, that the occasional charges of “political agenda” I get on Goodreads and/or Amazon are accurate. I never really think of the Scotty books as having an agenda or being political, but I forget that any book centering a queer character is still radical and political; let alone a book centering a queer character who is perfectly happy and loves his life and has some terrific adventures, finding love to go along with the wonderful loving family he already has. This is still, sadly, for some a radical concept; as is the idea of having Scotty never change the core of who he is,  no matter what happens or how awful a situation he’s in might become. The Scotty books were never intended to be, nor ever will be, torture porn. Bourbon Street Blues was all about homophobia and the religious right. Jackson Square Jazz, long before Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon, looked at homophobia in figure skating and Olympic sports…and on and on it goes. Royal Street Reveillon actually goes into several things–familial homophobia, for one, and date rape/sexual assault for another–and ultimately, I am pretty pleased with it.

And yes, for those of you worried I may never write another Scotty book–there will be at least one more. Hollywood South Hustle is already taking shape in my head; I have several disparate threads of plot to weave together for it, but never fear, they are most definitely there. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it–I have several books to write before I can even think about starting work on it officially, and yes, that includes a new Chanse–and so it goes, on and on forever and ever without end, amen.

And now I should perhaps return to the spice mines. This shit ain’t gonna do itself.

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