Take Me Home Tonight

Paul and I drove home last night from dinner with friends during a New Orleans summer thunderstorm, complete with torrential rains and high winds and low visibility and lightning, sometimes three different strikes at the same time lighting up the sky. It was a lovely evening, with an excellent cold meal and wonderful drinks and terrific conversation and much laughter. These types of evenings are too few in our life, I think; I was incredibly relaxed and cheerful when I got home, and slept the sleep of the righteous last night. It does feel lovely to be all rested this morning.

In these trying times, one must always take these spots of comfort and joy when one can find them.

We were supposed to go into a heat advisory today, but I think last night’s storm might have have some effect on that; apparently it’s only in the 80’s and with the heat index, “it feels like the low nineties.” The forecast I’d seen late last week indicated a “feels like 109” for today, so this is a blessed relief. I am going to make it to the gym today later on if it kills me; I have some things I need to get done today and I am determined to do them. Yesterday afternoon I braved the hideous heat to make groceries, and then came home and cleaned the floors and washed the bed linens. The Lost Apartment doesn’t look quite the disgusting mess it has all week; when the exhaustion from the heat kind of had me reeling and not wanting to move when I got home. But today, for the first time in a long time, I feel motivated and ready to get a move on.

Which is, quite frankly, absolutely lovely.

So, there’s definitely some organizing that needs to be done around here, and then some cleaning as well as some writing. I’m very close to being finished with the Scotty draft, and I need to work on a short story, and I also want to make a list of things I need to get done this week.

I’ve also started thinking about the next book I’m going to write. I really want to write Bury Me in Satin this year, but I am also thinking about making developing my story “A Holler Full of Kudzu” into a novel; it seems like it would work better as a novel than as a short story. Both are Corinth, Alabama stories; and of course there’s still the WIP to whip into shape. So, I am thinking September will be my revision of Scotty month while I continue to work on revising the WIP, with an end goal of being finished with both by October 1 and then diving into Bury Me in Satin, which I think is a terrific idea and long overdue for me to write….but the other story also beckons me. We shall see; things always seems to change when situationally and I am trying to be more of a go with what is interesting me at the time kind of writer.

I only have to work two days this week: Monday and Tuesday, then I am taking a stay-cation that has me not returning to the office until Tuesday of the following week, which is absolutely lovely. I need to get a list made of everything I need to get done during that free time as well.

I also am way behind on my reading. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda hasn’t really grabbed my interest but I’ve also not gotten very far into it, either. Maybe it will pick up; maybe today when I go to the gym I can take it with me and read it while on the treadmill; or I can watch something on the iPad; which was how I managed to get back into and enjoy Black Sails.

I really need to start going to the gym with greater regularity; hell, I just need to start going again, period. I’ve always had an adversarial relationship with my body; and I think part of my lackadaisical/not motivated issue comes from not going to the gym with any regularity. I need to actual focus on trimming the fat-weight down on my body, and focus on eating better and healthier. It’s not going to get easier to lose the weight, and at the same time I don’t want to keep gaining as I get older either.

That would be a disaster.

And so now I will return to the spice mines. I am going to work on Scotty for a bit before I go to the gym.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Sound of a Soul Crying”:

The dream was mild at first, scarcely remembered upon awakening—a vague flash of a blonde man in a pair of tight underwear, wrapped in a blanket of multi-colored wool, almost like a serape, but that flash brought with it a sense of unease, discomfort, that horrible gut feeling that something was wrong. Galen sat up in bed, the slight breeze from the ceiling fan tousling his light brown hair. Rubbing his eyes, he glanced over at the clock. Just before four. He tried for a moment to recapture the dream, the image, but it was just that—an image, nothing more. Not again, he thought, climbing out of bed to get a drink of water. The last time had been too painful, too hard on him. It had taken weeks to get over; he couldn’t afford that again. He took a couple of aspirin. There was no headache this time, but it never hurt to be careful.

More was revealed to Galen the second night, more of a picture of what the blond man looked like: thick blond hair parted in the center, perfectly straight, bleached even whiter by sun exposure. His skin was tanned bronze-gold, his lips a thin, almost austere line drawn above a slightly pointed jaw. The nose was long but not so long as to offset the rest of his face. His eyes were small, frosted with white lashes and crowned with two white brows. Their color was a blue too dark to be called azure. His slender neck connected with heavily muscled shoulders that descended to a hairless, equally impressive chest. He was wearing navy blue cotton sweatpants that hung loosely off his waist, revealing two lines of definition where his hips and torso intersected. Slight lines around his eyes and lips betrayed his age to be early- to mid-forties.

His face looked as though it had forgotten how to smile.

He was watching a video on his television, holding the remote in his long fingered hand. He pressed the FF button, and Galen’s perception of the scene rotated as though a movie camera on a track was moving around until his line of sight was coming from behind the couch the man sat on, enabling him to see the same blurred images on the television moving quickly by that the blond man was watching: images of three naked young men with low body fat, veined muscles, and erect cocks—one getting fucked while sucking the third’s cock. The blond was watching, massaging his crotch, but nothing was happening; there was no physical reaction at all. He finally stopped the tape, turned off the television, and walked into a bedroom. He dropped the sweatpants, revealing a tight pair of thirty-five dollar white briefs. He slid beneath the multi-colored blanket, turned off the light and lay there, staring at the ceiling in the darkness.

This time Galen woke with a headache. It wasn’t the worst he’d ever had after such a dream, but it wasn’t pleasant. There was a dull aching throb in his forehead over his right eye, close to the bridge of his nose. Lying in bed, his breath coming faster and faster as he focused on the pain, he attempted to will it away. He got out of bed and headed toward the bathroom, his erection poking out from beneath the elastic waistband. The dreams always had that affect: headache and hard-on, two things he would ordinarily consider mutually exclusive. He shook two aspirin out, popped them into his mouth and cupped his hands beneath the faucet for water to wash them down. He stared at himself in the mirror. The bags under his eyes were getting thicker, darker, larger. The whites of his eyes were laced with red, and even the white was starting to look yellowed and tired. He splashed water on his face. “It’s only going to get worse, so stop bitching about it,” he told his reflection. “Now is the easy part.” Praying for the aspirin to work their mysterious magic, he got back into bed.

This is another story that was written for an anthology pre-Katrina whose name I don’t recall; but I had the idea for the story when I was in college, and actually wrote a partial draft of it by hand (as I always did for the most part in those horrible pre-computer days), and when I was asked to write a story for this anthology–it had to do with dreams and nightmares; that much I do recall–I remembered this story of an empath who sees people hurting emotionally in his dreams, and started writing. It was, for an erotic story, much longer than they usually run, and there was a lot more story than there was erotica, which often happens in my stories.

I really like what I did with this story; it’s really more about heartbreak and loneliness and isolation than anything else, and it turned out pretty well.

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Dancing on the Ceiling

So, yesterday I managed to finish the afterward to the short story collection; worked on “Never Kiss a Stranger” a little bit (also figured out the rest of the story, crucial!); decided on the story I am going to revise/rewrite to submit to Cemetery Dance; did some thinking about the Scotty book and where to go with it next; and continued the copy editing of Bourbon Street Blues.  I am about a quarter of the way through with this; hoping to have it finished by the end of the month so I can get the ebook/print-on-demand up before the end of summer. The book has been too long out of print, and by the way, I fucking love the new cover I got for it and the new one for Jackson Square Jazz.

I’m having some seriously terrific luck with covers this year, methinks.

So, I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked this weekend but again, progress, which is everything. As long as I am moving forward, I celebrate the win because staying in place is a loss.

Last night, I started watching the new Ryan Murphy series, Pose, and was most impressed with it. I still have not watched the Versace season of American Crime Story, but that’s on my ‘to-watch’ list. The thing with Murphy is that his series are so frequently hit-and-miss. Often they start out fantastic (Glee, Nip/Tuck) and then go south; the uneven quality of pretty much every season of American Horror Story is legendary. So, I am not holding out much hope that Pose won’t derail; but at the moment it’s high-quality, riveting television; taking us back to those awful days of the late 1980’s and shining a spotlight on queers of color, which doesn’t happen very often–and especially, the transwomen and drag queens, who rarely get to see themselves on television or in the movies. Having the show set during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis was also a brilliant move; there was, I think, a tendency in the late 90’s and ever since, for queer publishing to shy away from HIV/AIDS; it enveloped so much of queer writing for so long…and I’m thinking that it might be time for us to start addressing it again.

HIV/AIDS plays a part in “Never Kiss a Stranger” and in “The Feast of St. Expedite” (the story I started writing last week); both are set in New Orleans in 1994 and you simply can’t write about gay men and the gay male community in that time and not have it be a part of the story in some way. The question of whether I am handling it properly or not remains to be seen…but I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past lately, and it’s been kind of fun.

I had gotten tired of most of my iTunes playlists last week and then remembered, duh, the new car has an actual CD player in it; you can listen to some of your CD’s. This thought led me to browsing through our CD tower–yes, we still have one, and yes, it’s covered in dust–and discovering a lot of great music that I don’t have in digital form and haven’t listened to in a long time. I found a lot of dance music mix CD’s, including Deborah Cox: The Remixes and so every time I get in my car I’ve been listening to old gay dance music. I even was playing some of them while I was cleaning the house on Sunday (the only CD players in the house are in the computers), and yes, I’d forgotten how much easier dance music makes cleaning (note to self: always play dance CD’s in the computer when cleaning).

In the car this morning I was listening to a Pride 2001 CD, and a song come on called “Movin’ Up” (I think) and without even realizing it I was singing along with it and this lyric popped up: I take my problems to the dance floor. and I was flooded with memories. I remember someone in the bars back then had a T-shirt that said this, and although I don’t remember his name, he was around a lot back in those days and he always had a great time on the dance floor; and I enjoyed watching the joy and sheer abandon with which he danced.

I do kind of miss dancing.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Holding Back the Years

Yesterday was rather dreary, weather-wise, and I feel fairly confident we are still under a flash-flood warning; but this morning all I see is blue sky and sunshine. Things still look a little damp out there, but over all, much better than one could have hoped. And in checking the project path for Alberto, the cone of uncertainty has narrowed to New Orleans in the west to Panama City in the east; much, much smaller cone; but we are on the outside of the western edge. As storms also tend to turn to the east–even Katrina did before landfall–I’ve breathed a slight sigh of relief this morning.

It is, I suspect, going to be a long hurricane season–particularly since it doesn’t officially start until June 1.

I slept deeply and well last night, and my back–which was aching–no longer hurts, which is a good thing. I wish I could figure out what the hell I am doing to it to make it hurt in the first place, so I can be more careful, but I am more than happy to take the pain being gone as a win this morning. Huzzah!

Yesterday I was scribbling away in my journal as I continued to read Philip Roth’s When She Was Good. The writing is very good, and the characterizations are also quite good; all that remains is the plot/story, and I am intrigued enough with it to continue reading it. Maybe I should dial it back for a while on the crime fiction and read outside my genre for a little while; not just for a break but to come up with better ideas for my own writing, which can never hurt.

I wrote all kinds of notes in my journal yesterday; notes for the WIP, notes for the short stories “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” and “The Brady Kid” (I’ve not even thought about the latter for months now), so I am feeling all kinds of productive here in the Lost Apartment this morning. I am going to actually write today for a while; I also intend to do some reading–not just the Roth, but I am going to read everything I’ve written on the Scotty thus far and make notes. I also don’t know my characters in the Scotty book as much as I should, and I need to get the plot figured out so I can get the goddamned draft done. I also have a few other things I need to get done as well.

And there’s always cleaning, of course. I am currently working on washing the bed linens, and the living room of course needs to be vacuumed. I also need to clean out my car a bit; and Armor-all the inside of my car now that summer is looming. I also need to put the recycling out. But I have to say, this well-rested thing is actually working out quite beautifully. I could easily get very used to it, I must say. I must also say that I’m greatly enjoying this creative phase I am currently experiencing. I am thinking about character, and why I write the things I write, and how to broaden my reading audience. I’ve been thinking about moving forward with the agent search, how best to approach an agent, how to put my best foot forward, not only with industry professionals but also with the readers of my genre.

I’ve also come to realize that, over the last few days, as I’ve put my finger precisely on why I wasn’t getting anywhere with “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is because I was trying to not be subversive; the write from the gay male point of view without rubbing people’s faces in the sexuality. But WHY? Why would I do that? The point of the story, the theme, if you will, has everything to do with the point of view character’s sexuality; of beginning to understand what your sexuality is and that is partly why you feel different from everyone else, and also, learning how people feel about people who are like you, and how dangerous those feelings are, can push you deeper into the closet. I think the theme may be larger than the story itself, to be completely honest with you; which is why I am tending to think this story may actually be a novel a-borning in my mind rather than the lengthy short story I was thinking it would be. As I plug in some of the story pieces today that I brainstormed in my journal last night, I will come to a better understanding of the story and how long it is going to be.

Likewise, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is becoming much longer than I originally thought it would turn out to be; it’s going to come in far longer than the six or seven thousand words I originally had planned. That will make it harder to place, of course–not that it’s not already hard to place stories with gay characters and themes; it’s almost impossible–but I’ve also decided that I simply have to stop writing things that are specifically intended for markets. I have to write the story the best I can and then try to find a market for it. And I can always, always, always, simply do another collection of stories.

I also like that “The Brady Kid” is starting to shape in my mind; mainly, who the point-o-view character is. Part of the issue with some of my stories is that maybe I don’t define the characters enough; it’s hard to write a good story when you don’t know who your characters are.

I’m also finding that experimenting with voice and style and tone and place is much easier to do in a short story rather than in a novel. I think writing these stories is making me a much better writer, to be honest, which is ultimately going to be more helpful to me in the long run than I’d possibly thought. During my brainstorming last night I also figured out some of the problems I am having with the Scotty novel; not solutions, per se, but actually diagnosing the problems, which is key to figuring out how to solve those problems.

Which is fun, actually, and I have to say, it’s so awesome that writing is fun again.

I also read some short stories. Here’s one: “Crazy Margaret” by Jack Fredrickson, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017 issue.

The gravestone had room for only the first name, but it was the largest he could carry up the hill. He set in on ground covered now, as then, with curled brown leaves.

He’d meant to slip into town quietly, place the stone, and slip out again. There was no one from his old life he wanted to see. But a voice had called his name when he was gassing up the rental, a guy he’d known in high school. They’d chatted for a moment before Dave, acting casual, asked about her.

The old classmate had scratched his head, surprised. Crazy Margaret, he said; that’s what the kids sneaking out there called her after she dropped out of school. But new kids came along, kids who didn’t know her, and soon enough, nobody gave her any mind at all. “Hell, it’s been at least twenty years,” he said. “She could be dead.”

I enjoyed this story; which is told from the perspective of someone coming home to their small town and remembering something that happened years earlier, something criminal; this is something I often do in my own stories–in fact, “This Thing of Darkness” is sort of one of these stories. The Margaret of the title is a beautiful young woman who sunbathes out at the lake where she lives in skimpy bikinis; luring young boys out there to watch her and possibly, just possibly, killing some of them. It’s sort of a retelling of the siren myth, from the Greeks: the beautiful woman who lures men to their deaths. Although…really, should the boys be out there spying on her in the first place? Isn’t that a form of harassment?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story; it’s very well done and how Margaret gets her own punishment for what she’s doing is very Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery; crime is always punished in a macabre, ironic way and so it is for the Crazy Margaret of the title.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Higher Love

Since Philip Roth died this week, I decided to get down one of my copies of his work and give it a read. Roth is one of those authors whose work I know intellectually I am supposed to like and admire and aspire to be more like, but…I read his first novel several years ago, Letting Go. I was having another one of those periods where I realized that maybe I needed to not focus on reading so much crime fiction and needed to expand my mind more, read more critically acclaimed literary authors. I go through these phases periodically; I remember this particular phase not only included Roth but also William Styron’s Set This House on Fire, Faulkner’s The Reivers, something by Jonathan Franzen, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. As always, I appreciated some of the books and disliked others. My primary takeaway from the Roth, since he is the subject of this paragraph, was this is really well-written but I neither like nor care about any of these characters. The characters were richly drawn, almost intricately so; which is no small accomplishment, but the more I got to know them, the less I liked them and the less I cared about them. Even as I type this I realize how important characters are to my enjoyment of anything; short story, movie, novel, television show. I have to care, or why bother? I got the sense that as I read Roth didn’t much like the characters he was writing about either, which I don’t understand. Perhaps this is why I am not a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner; I cannot write about characters I don’t care about, and I don’t want to watch or read the same.

Why would I invest hours of my time with characters I don’t like when I wouldn’t spend time with them if they were real?

As I said to begin with, I never read Roth again–I tried reading  The Plot Against America, but it lost my interest several chapters in; I do intend to try again–but I do have copies of some of his novels. The one I am going to try to read is When She Was Good. I’ve heard Laura Lippman, one of my favorite writers and intellects, discuss how much she admires Roth while being conflicted about his work; her novel with a similar title, And When She Was Good, is one of my favorite novels of hers. It’s also relatively short–from the looks of things, Letting Go may have been his longest novel–so I will be giving him another shot over the course of this weekend.

So, yesterday on my first day of vacation, I spent the day organizing and cleaning primarily, but I also did some work; I worked on the opening of my short story “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which, I fear, might actually wind up being a novel; but I am going to continue working on it as a short story in the meantime, I also went to meet a writer friend in town for a few days for drinks at the Saint Hotel bar, which is becoming my go-to. It was fun to talk about writing and laugh about the nonsensical nature of this business with her; one of the best things about being a writer is being able to connect with other writers and in hearing other people are going through the same things.

It really is lovely.

I took the streetcar down there and back, and lugged the Roth with me to start reading. He really is a great writer; I’ve only managed the first chapter and it’s so well-written. I’ll be taking it with me to the Honda dealer today for the car’s oil change, and so I am hopeful the quality will continue; I think it will. I just hope the characters are likable, or at least relatable in some way.

After I finish with the oil change, I’m going to grab lunch over there and then do some errands, and then it’s home to get to work. I have some news brewing, and can’t wait to share it with you, Constant Reader! But until it’s all carved into stone…must say nothing.

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I’m on Fire

Friday, and the day and the weekend stretch out before me like an unpainted canvas; blank and full of possibilities. I have a short day at work today, and I slept relatively well last night, so am feeling fairly good this morning. My left shoulder is mysteriously sore, tbough. Not sure what that’s about, but there you have it.

We finished watching Episodes last night, and it ended perfectly; very meta, and very funny. The entire show was kind of meta, really, and I have to give Matt Leblanc credit for not only playing himself, but playing himself as a complete egotistical self-absorbed asshole actor. Not sure what we’re going to watch now that we’ve finished both The Alienist and Episodes, but I have faith in us to find something–although we haven’t had much luck lately in finding something new; although The Alienist was absolutely a lucky find.

My kitchen is a mess this morning, which indicates that I need to get this mess cleaned up, and the sooner the better. Heavy heaving sigh. But….since I don’t have to go into the office until later, perhaps I could spend this morning cleaning the kitchen so I don’t have to do it tomorrow, which makes all the sense you can imagine, you know? I generally try to do some cleaning when I get home on my early day as well, so the weekend is freer to write or edit or do whatever it is that I want to. I need to write this weekend, as I’ve not been doing as much of that lately on the weekends as I need to. I’ve been asked to contribute to an anthology this week; which means I need to either find something I already have in a draft form, or write something entirely new. I don’t know how I feel about writing something entirely new, if I am going to be completely honest. I have the book to catch up on, some other stories that need to be finished so the collection is done, once and for all–primarily work on “My Brother’s Keeper” and “Don’t Look Down”–but there are an awful lot of stories that I have in various stages. I NEED TO REVISE THAT STORY BASED ON EDITORIAL NOTES AS WELL. WHY CAN’T I EVER REMEMBER I NEED TO DO THAT?

Heavy sigh.

Okay, I read a couple more stories for the Short Story Project, and first up was “Thinkers” by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color:

1970

Leo’s blood, warm against her cold hands, steamed in the frosty night air. Like hot coffee in a paper cup.

Lisa tried not to giggle, because she knew the giggle would be hysterical. She ran a hand over Leo’s face. He was leaning against the marble edge of the empty pool surrounding the Fountain of the Waters, legs splayed, head pointed toward Wade Lagoon.

Irv was just staring at him, and Helen–God knew where Helen had gotten off to, because Lisa didn’t. Her ears still rang from the explosion, which had been louder than she had expected.

This is a good story, flipping back and forth through time. In 1970, it’s about a group of student revolutionaries, planning to blow up Rodin’s “The Thinker” statue as a blow against the ruling class. The bombing goes awry and one of them is killed, and the viewpoint character, seeing death and destruction in person for this first time, starts rethinking her own radicalism and the ‘revolution.’ In the present day, the viewpoint character is a docent/intern/volunteer, working at the museum to advance herself, and she witnesses eventually a confrontation between a museum volunteer and a museum donor, and it doesn’t make any sense to her…but for the reader, they can see that’s the two women from the group in 1970, and how they, themselves, have gone from counter-culture revolutionaries to the ruling class they once despised. It’s very The Big Chill in some ways, and these theme–youthful radicalism aging into conservatism–has been explored in crime novels/films/television shows, and it’s always interesting, at least for me.

Next was “Gaslight” by Jonathan Santlofer, also from Alive in Shape and Color:

It was true, she hadn’t been feeling well, hadn’t been herself, the headaches, the nausea, the slight vertigo. But she was fine. She’d always been predisposed to colds and flu, periods of time when she didn’t feel quite right, sensitive, her mother used to say, and that was true. It was a virus, that’s all, at least she’d thought so for the first few weeks. But now, after three months, she wasn’t so sure.

“Give it time, Paula, you know how these New York colds can linger, especially in winter,” Gregory, her husband of six months, always so sweet, always trying to reassure her.

But what sort of cold lasted three months?

I loved this story; about a young, wealthy woman married to a struggling artist, who soon begins to suspect her husband might have married her for her money and might just be poisoning her…and what is she going to do about it? This is a classic romantic suspense trope, from the title being borrowed from the film that won Ingrid Bergman an Oscar to the trope which was the plot of almost every Victora Holt novel and was also used by any number of romantic suspense writers back in the day–but Santlofer turns it on its head, and shows how the line between romantic suspense and noir is actually rather blurry. The twists in the story are fantastic and earned, and the way Santlofer builds the suspense is magnificently done. Bravo, sir!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Missing You

Sunday morning, and after a glorious night’s sleep I am wide awake this morning and pretty ready to give the day my best shot. The Lost Apartment needs to be cleaned, as always, and I am wanting to do some writing/editing today as well. I am going to go to the gym later today–it is my experience that going earlier wears me out, despite the endorphin high, with the end result I often don’t get any writing done. I want to work on revising and polishing a story to get it out of my hair–early submission, since the deadline is a long way’s off–and the same with another. I also want to get that Chanse story–the first one–revised and sent off somewhere as well; and in addition to all that revising I want to work on the Italy story.

My work, as it were, is cut out for me today, is it not? I’ll also probably finish watching season 2 of Versailles as well this evening.

Yesterday I got my contacts ordered and did some shopping at Target, which was lovely. I also went car shopping with a friend; he needed a ride and I took him out there. I merely sat there and read short stories from Sue Grafton’s Kinsey and Me; I finished all the Kinsey short stories yesterday, and read some others as well. I was, frankly, worn out by the time I got home but managed to finish the laundry somehow, despite being so tired; I also watched several episodes of Versailles before finally retiring for the evening once the laundry was finished. Paul moves into the hotel this Wednesday; tomorrow morning I am touring the FBI offices in New Orleans with the local Sisters in Crime chapter, and then Tuesday is my usual long day. Then of course the festivals kick into gear, and the rest of the week/weekend is utter and complete madness.

There’s also some filing needing to be done, as always. I’ve also renamed both the Italy story and the Chanse story–the Chanse title, “Glory Days”, only worked if it were his high school reunion, which I dropped from the story–and I think the new title of the Italy story is better.

Here are two of the short stories I read yesterday”

First up is “Trapped! A Mystery in One Act” by Ben H. Winters, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

Setting

Studio L, an unremarkable rehearsal studio in a warren of unremarkable rehearsal studios, collectively known as the Meyers-Pittman Studio Complex, located on the sixteenth floor of a tall nondescript building in Chelsea, a couple blocks south and one long avenue over from Port Authority. The walls are mirrored; the floor is marked with tape; tables and chairs are clustered to represent the location of furniture on the real set.

Downstage right is a props table, laden with all manner of weaponry. The play in rehearsal is the Broadway thriller “Deathtrap” by Ira Levin, and the table displays the full range of weaponry called for in that show, viz., “a collection of guns, handcuffs, maces, broadswords, and battle-axes.”

This is an incredibly interesting twist on the short story; it’s actually a short story written in play form, and it’s also an homage to the classic thrilled play Deathtrap by Ira Levin. The play was an enormous hit on Broadway, and featured the wonderful Marian Seldes in a supporting role; she set a record for most consecutive performances by one actor in this play. Ira Levin is also one of my favorite writers. Deathtrap was made into a film; not as successfully as the play, alas; the film starred Michael Caine, a young post-Superman Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. What makes this story/play so clever is it’s a play on Deathtrap; which is a play about a play which basically tells the same story of the play–and this is a play about a murder during a production of a play about a play; complete with the requisite twists and so forth. Winters is an Edgar-winning author (for The Last Policeman), and one of my favorite novels of the last few years, Underground Airlines. if you’re not familiar with Winters, you should make yourself so. I loved this; clever clever clever.

It also reminded me of a crime short story I wanted to write about the production of a play. *makes note*

Next up is  “Fat” by Raymond Carver, from the collection Will You Please Be Quiet Please?

I am sitting over coffee and cigarets at my friend Rita’s and I am telling her about it.

Here is what I tell her.

It is late of a slow Wednesday when Herb seats the fat man at my station.

This fat man is the fattest person I have ever seen, though he is neat-appearing and well dressed enough. Everything about him is big. But it is the fingers I remember best. When I stop at the table near his to see the old couple, I first notice the fingers. They look three times the size of a normal person’s fingers–long, thick, creamy fingers.

When I talked about Barry Hannah several weeks ago, I mentioned that the other writer my professor in my second attempt at taking Creative Writing wanted us to read, whose glory we should bask in, was Raymond Carver. The only texts for the course were Airships by Barry Hannah and Will You Please Be Quiet Please? by Carver. We read two stories before starting on our short stories; I was unimpressed with both writers. Several years ago I decided to repurchase the collections and try them again (I’ll talk about Hannah another time) thinking that perhaps now, as a more mature adult and reader, I might appreciate them more. It wasn’t the case with Hannah, and it certainly isn’t the case with Carver, either.

I am not sure what the point of this story is; waitress waits on a large gentleman, everyone else on staff is mean and cruel about him whereas she is fascinated in him in some way; it’s rather oblique in its meaning, and in its ending; when she says she feels like her life has changed in some way, why? Why did this man have such an effect on her? It isn’t clear and maybe that’s the intent; is it the recognition of the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her boyfriend? Why is she so fascinated by this customer and how much he eats?

It’s a very small story, and rather intimate; I like the way Carver does his writing and tells his story, yet I fail to see the genius here in the actual story itself. I learn nothing about the waitress, not do we learn anything, really, about her customer other than he is polite, well put together, and enormous. Is it about the waitress seeing, and disliking, the casual cruelty of her co-workers and her lover, seeing them in a different way in their inability to see her customer as anything other than enormously fat, that his size somehow strips him of his humanity? Is that what Carver’s intent is, to be so vague and uninvolved with the story that it’s left to our interpretation? I honestly don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care. I don’t care about this waitress. I don’t care about her friends. The authorial distance just doesn’t work for me. I’ll keep reading his stories, though–I read “Neighbors” for the class, and I remember it fondly–although it didn’t drive me to read more of Carver’s work.

I suppose this is why I am not a literary writer, and could never be one; my purpose is writing a story is to not only to tell the story but to make the reader understand the characters, get to know them, and hopefully empathize with them; to make, in the case of anything I write, to make the inexplicable explicable. I don’t get that from either Carver or Hannah, to be honest. Ah, well.

And now, back to spice-mining.

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Strut

FRIDAY!

It’s overcast here in the Crescent City today; rain in the forecast and a slight damp chill in the air. I didn’t sleep well last night, so am more tired than I should be; not as focused and alert as perhaps I could be. But it’s my short day, which is absolutely lovely, and this afternoon I can get home early and do some cleaning, maybe even some editing or (gasp) writing.

The two currently-in-progress short stories, one a Chanse and the other the Italy story I’ve been itching to write since I was there, have stalled; I know what I want to do with the Italy story, and the Chanse needs to be figured out. I know where it went off track, so I am going to have to go back and start writing again; changing things while keeping the base structure of what I’ve already done. I realized last night what’s wrong with it; it’s very important for me to know the character who is the murder victim, and I don’t know him at all; what I had amorphously had swimming around in the fog of my brain is too cliche and too similar to other things I’ve written; something I’m taking away from The Archer Files, the further I get into them, is how breathtakingly similar Macdonald’s short stories are to each other, which makes reading more than one of them at a time problematic. They are, on the other hand, a master class in writing the private eye short story, as are Sue Grafton’s. The most important take-away from reading them is not just the story structure, which I am starting to understand better, but the importance of the character voice. Grafton and Macdonald had those character voices down, and I worry that part of the issue, the things I have wrong not only in the Chanse story I’ve already written but this unfinished one, is that I am not getting the voice right. But that’s what rewrites and edits are for.

I also know how to fix the one I finished a draft of, which is lovely.

Tomorrow is one of those awful days where I have to run errands throughout the day; I am doing a favor for a friend (I know, right? Who am I?) and that includes leaving Orleans Parish; but I also have to go out there anyway to order new glasses and contact lenses; the rest of the day will involve doing the cleaning and organizing I don’t get done today. I managed to get all my tax info to my accountant yesterday, and I still have a few things left on the to-do list that don’t involve writing/editing; I want to finish the Bouchercon anthology this weekend and get it sent off to the publisher on Monday.

I also need to get back on track with the Scotty book and the WIP. I was thinking of spending the rest of this month working on the short stories, as well as wrapping up some other loose ends, so I can get back to work on both in April and get them finished. We’ll see how that goes. I also have another y/a manuscript to revise, rework, and do something with; and then there’s the gay noir I’ve been wanting to write for years.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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