Life in a Northern Town

Today is our twenty-third anniversary.

It sometimes seems hard to believe we’ve been together that long, but there it is, you know? When I think back to what my life was like back then, and how much things have changed, not just for me personally but for the culture and country, it seems like a million years ago.

Bill Clinton was president. Same-sex marriage was something we didn’t even dare dream about. I was getting to the stage of my life where I was sort of settled emotionally; figuring out what I wanted from life and realizing I wanted a lot more than working at a ticket counter for an airline in Tampa. I was starting to think about making a serious run at pursuing writing, and boy did I ever weigh a lot less than I do now! It’s been an amazing twenty-three years so far, and it just gets better all the time. We’ve certainly weathered some hard times (levee failure, anyone?), but we are still happy, still together, and every day I wake up grateful that I was lucky enough to find him. Or he found me. Our mutual friend Lisa was the one who thought we’d make a good couple, and I have to hand it to her–she was right. “I know someone who would be perfect for you,” I remember her saying to me, and of course, I took it with the proverbial grain of salt.

Boy, was she right.

I also woke up this morning to discover I am the BOLO Books composite sketch! How fun is that?

What a lovely anniversary!

But I should get started making our anniversary dinner and cleaning this messy apartment. Sigh.

Today’s short story is “The Book Thing” by Laura Lippman,  which is one of the Bibliomysteries published by Mysterious Press:

Tess Monaghan wanted to love the funky little children’s bookshop that had opened almost two years ago among the used bookstores that lined Twenty-Fifth Street in North Baltimore. There was so much to admire about it–the brightly painted miniature rockers and chairs on the converted sun porch, the mynah bird who said “Hi, hon!” and “Hark, who goes there!” and–best of all–“Nevermore!”

She coveted the huge Arnold Lobel poster opposite the front door, the one that showed the bearded man-beast happily ensconced in a tiny cottage that was being overtaken by ramshackle towers of books. She appreciated the fact that ancillary merchandise was truly a sideline here; this shop’s business was books, with only a few stuffed animals and Fancy Nancy boas thrown into the mix. Tess was grateful that gift-wrapping was free year-round and that the store did out-of-print searches. She couldn’t wait until her own two-year-old daughter, Carla Scout, was old enough to sit quietly through the Saturday story hour, although Tess was beginning to feat that might not be until Carla Scout was a freshman in college. Most of all, she admired the counterintuitive decision to open a bookstore when so many people seemed to assume that books were doomed. She just thought it would be nice if the owner of The Children’s Bookstore actually liked children.

Lippman is one of my favorite writers, and has been for quite some time now. Her short stories are also amazing–this one, which is about a book thief, manages to be both smart and clever and touching at the same time. Highly recommended.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Rumors

I wrote a short story the other day; or rather, I finished writing one. It’s called “This Thing of Darkness” (I love that title. It’s from Shakespeare; The Tempest, to be exact.) and it’s one I started writing several months ago and then set aside to work on other things. I’ve always wanted to finish it, and while the story I should have been working on was kind of stalled out for me, rather than trying to force it or work some kind of voodoo magic somehow, I thought, oh, I should just finish “This Thing of Darkness” and soon enough have the first draft banged out. It needs work, of course, but I am very pleased, as the writing has been very slow going this month.

The second story I am writing, the one I really need to finish, continues to be a slog. Heavy sigh. But I am hoping to have a breakthrough on it really soon; otherwise I am just going to have to push myself to write through it.

I really hate when the writing stalls, don’t you?

I also started another story this week. It was one of those things where it came to me Monday night as I was sitting in my easy chair watching the news unfold, and shaking my head in disbelief, frankly. It’s called “Please Die Soon” and I think it’s kind of a clever idea; we shall see if I can deliver on its original promise, shan’t we?

Our anniversary–the twenty-third–is this Friday, and to celebrate we are going to go see a movie on Saturday and go out to dinner. There’s no end to the living large, is there?

And hurray for Thursday! I’ve almost made it through the week.

Today’s short story is “Prey” by Richard Matheson, from The Best of Richard Matheson:

Amelia arrived at her apartment at six-fourteen. Hanging her coat in the hall closet, she carried the small package into the living room and sat on the sofa. She nudged off her shoes while she unwrapped the package on her lap. The wooden box resembled a casket. Amelia raised the lid and smiled. It was the ugliest doo she’d ever seen. Seven inches long and carved from wood, it had a skeletal body and an oversized head. Its expression was maniacally fierce, its pointed teeth completely bared, its glaring eyes protuberant. It clutched an eight-inch spear in its right hand. A length of fine, gold chain was wrapped round its body from the shoulders to the knees. A tiny scroll was wedged between the doll and the inside wall of its box. Amelia picked it up and unrolled it. There was handwriting on it. This is He Who Kills, it began. He is a deadly hunter. Amelia smiled as she read the rest of the words. Arthur would be pleased.

The thought of Arthur made her turn to look at the telephone on the table beside her. After a while, she sighed and set the wooden box on the sofa. Lifting the telephone to her lap, she picked up the receiver and dialed a number.

Her mother answered.

“Hello, Mom,” Amelia said.

“Haven’t you left yet?” her mother asked.

Amelia steeled herself. “Mom, I know it’s Friday night–” she started.

She couldn’t finish. There was silence on the line. Amelia closed her eyes. Mom, please, she thought. She swallowed. “There’s this man,” she said, “His name is Arthur Breslow. he’s a high-school teacher.”

“You aren’t coming,” her mother said.

Amelia shivered “It’s his birthday, ” she said. She opened her eyes and looked at the doll. “I sort of promised him we’d…spend the evening together.”

Every one who was old enough to watch television in the 1970’s knows this story, because everyone watched the made-for-TV movie Trilogy of Terror, which starred Karen Black. Trilogy of Terror was an anthology film; three short stories adapted into thirty-minute stories, all starring Karen Black, and “Prey” was the final story. It was completely unforgettable, because it was absolutely terrifying. It gave me nightmares for weeks, and I had to sleep with a night light on for months. All three were stories by Matheson; Matheson only wrote the screenplay for the third segment. It’s equally chilling as a short story as it was a short film; Amelia buys a fetish doll for a male friend with whom she has a date that night. She has to cancel a visit to her mother, who is very controlling, but while she is on the phone with her mother the gold chain that keeps the spirit of the fetish doll imprisoned and trapped falls off….and the real terror begins.

Absolutely unforgettable.

The movie was also produced by Dan Curtis, of Dark Shadows fame, who also produced and directed Burnt Offerings.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Typical Male

The male gaze.

Per Wikipedia (which isn’t always accurate):  In feminist theory, the male gaze is the act of depicting women and the world, in the visual arts and literature, from a masculine, heterosexual perspective that presents and represents women as sexual objects for the pleasure of the male viewer.

Or, as Laura Lippman likes to quip about crime fiction written by men: A beautiful woman is dead and a man feels bad about it.

Lippman is joking, sort of; much of male-centered crime fiction can be boiled down to that sentence. The sexualization of women in crime fiction, particularly in hard-boiled fiction or noir, has been a thing since the early pulp days; classic English crime fiction, like that written by Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and their other contemporaries, probably didn’t sexualize their women characters…although I do seem to recall that Arlene Marshall in Christie’s Evil Under the Sun was not only sexualized, but also highly misunderstood; it isn’t until Poirot solves the crime at the end of the book that we finally begin to understand Arlene as something other than a sex object who devours men like a praying mantis; the Christie version of a femme fatale being softened, as it were, in the final reel.

It is surprising to read books published in prior decades with their attitudes towards women–sometimes my jaw literally drops at how writers used to describe women, reducing them to their sexuality and their sex appeal; older, or less attractive, women, are written about in an almost contemptuous manner. This still pops up from time to time in modern fiction, but it’s not nearly as common as it used to be.

I was sitting at a literary luncheon, for example, while the speaker was talking about his admiration for John D. MacDonald–an admiration I share–and in particular, about MacDonald’s Travis McGee series. I was nodding and smiling when a female author friend leaned over and whispered to me, “I wonder if he’ll mention McGee’s magic wand.”

I was startled at first, and then I stifled a laugh–it wasn’t the appropriate time in the talk to laugh–but the more I thought about it, the more I realized she was right. One of the major things about Travis McGee, and the novels written about him, was how he ‘sexually healed’ the damaged women he was assisting during the course of the book; even his friend and cohort often referred to him as a ‘knight-errant coming to the rescue of the lady.’ It never really dawned on me, when I was reading the books–either the first time or any of the successive times I’ve reread them–that he was actually fucking them back to good emotional and mental and physical health; I always thought, since it usually involved them going sailing on his houseboat and fishing and doing the mindless, physical work while relaxing and getting tan and enjoying life away from the worries and problems of the world and day-to-day life.

I missed the bit about the magic wand because I’m gay and it never crossed my mind.

Which is doubly ironic, considering how much MacDonald and McGee influenced my Chanse MacLeod character and the series I wrote about him; but despite the influence in the creation of the character/series, my series was dramatically different from MacDonald’s.

Being a gay crime writer, while limiting in many ways, is incredibly freeing in others. I fully acknowledge that my books are firmly centered in the gay male gaze; that when I write either Chanse or Scotty, I often devolve in description of male characters the way male writers used to/sometimes still do write about women; their looks, their sex appeal, their fuck-ability factor. Sometimes I wonder if that’s what people mean when they talk about my books being all about sex; because Chanse and Scotty view men as sexual beings and that is something readers aren’t accustomed to seeing?

Perhaps.

Something to ponder.

Today’s short story is “Born of Man and Woman” by Richard Matheson, from  The Best of Richard Matheson collection:

X–This day when it had light mother called me retch. You retch she said. I saw in her eyes the anger. I wonder what it is a retch.

This day it had water falling from upstairs. It fell all around. I saw that. The ground of the back I watched from the little window. The ground it sucked up the water like thirsty lips. It drank too much and it got sick and runny brown. I didn’t like it.

Mother is a pretty I know. In my bed place with cold walls around I have paper things that was behind the furnace. It says on it SCREENSTARS. I see in the pictures faces like of mother and father. Father says they are pretty. Once he said it.

And also mother he said. Mother so pretty and me decent enough. Look at you he said and didn’t have the nice face. I touched his arm and said it it alright father. He shook and pulled away where I couldnt reach. Today mother let me off the chain a little so I could look out the little window. Thats how I saw the water falling from upstairs.

Richard Matheson isn’t as well known as he should be; he is a giant in the horror community and deservedly so, but he should also be highly acclaimed as one of the great writers of any genre from the twentieth century. His novels were filmed frequently–so even if you don’t think you know his work, you do. SOme of the films based on his novels include The Incredible Shrinking Man, Legend of Hell House, I Am Legend (The Omega Man), Somewhere in Time, Stir of Echoes, What Dreams May Come, and countless others. His short stories were often adapted for episodes of Twilight Zone or Night Gallery–probably the most famous being “Nightmare at 50,000 Feet.” Just a creative genius.

This story is chilling, absolutely chilling. We never really know much about the poor young man (or woman) chained in the basement of this family’s home; other than he was born of their union and something went terribly wrong. He is treated terribly and not educated well and they feed him, but they also are so repulsed and horrified by him that they beat and abuse him and keep him chained against the wall…but as the story progresses his pathetic need for love and company turns.

And it’s hard to feel any sympathy for the rest of his family…who are about to become his victims.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Why Can’t This Be Love

Wednesday and I am very tired this morning; not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

I had yet another breakthrough this week on something I’m working on–which brings the breakthroughs in recent weeks to an almost ridiculous level. I finally recognized, through my own stubbornness, that the story I was trying to tell in the WIP is the wrong story; I kept trying to  make it fit the story I wanted to tell, ignoring the little voice I would hear every once in a while telling me no, this is the real story, why won’t you listen to me? Finally, on Monday night, it hit me upside the head with a two-by-four; and when I finally stopped fighting it and  listened to the voice, the entire plot fell into place and all the problems I couldn’t seem to iron out completely magically answered themselves. And you know what? Once again it all comes down to me being ridiculously stubborn when I didn’t need to be, and not listening to  my inner voices.

Seriously, you’d think I’d know better by this point. But I never seem to learn. And of course, rereading the previous paragraph now I realize it sort of makes me look sort of insane. But you know, I don’t know any other way to say it than a voice in my head. I kept trying to make this manuscript, characters and town fit this story I was trying to tell, with the end result that I wasn’t seeing their real story.

And now I can’t wait to fix it and make it better.

I am so behind on so many things I need to get done–I need to get the Scotty revisions done; I need to get to work on this; I have a short story I need to write….madness. And I have so much reading to do! I need to get back on the Short Story Project, and I want to read Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita and Alex Segura’s Blackout and…heavy heaving sigh.

We watched a really good Australian show this weekend, Secret City, which starred Anna Torv (been a fan since Fringe, and she was also terrific in Mindhunter), which had a lot going for it–the cutthroat world of domestic and foreign politics is at the core of the story, which opens with a young man being murdered and a reporter (Torv) happening upon the crime scene and starting to investigate. I do recommend this show highly, and there’s also a wonderful subplot where it turns out that Torv’s ex-husband is a transwoman, and I thought the show handled it beautifully, with one slight quibble.

We also started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects, which I thought was spectacular. I actually preferred this Gillian Flynn novel to Gone Girl, the book that made her famous and a publishing superstar, and I still need to read her other novel, Dark Places.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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