The Warrior

Wednesday, and I finished the first draft of my short story yesterday. It’s quite dark, and I quite love it, but it needs some serious polishing and editing. I changed my mind about the ending while i was writing it, you see, and that changes some things back at the beginning. I want to have that finished by the end of the weekend, as well as another story I’ve worked on recently. Huzzah!

I am also thoroughly enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire. I do highly recommend it, even though I am not even halfway finished with it, it’s that engaging. Sure, the plot could go off the rails, but I rather like the main character and the story she is telling–both the crime itself as well as the main character’s story in confronting her past–is quite enjoyable.

This weekend, I have to work Saturday and we are going to a Christmas party that evening; Sunday we have tickets for The Last Jedi and I am very excited. I’m a huge Star Wars fan, of course, and I wisely chose to buy tickets in IMAX during the Saints game, so I am assuming the theater won’t be full. Hoping, at any rate, and since we live close to the Superdome the traffic will be going the other way in both instances as we head out to Harahan to see the movie. It’s a much more busy weekend for me than I would ordinarily prefer, but the next weekend is a four day weekend for Christmas and of course, the next is the three day weekend for New Year’s. So…not really having a full day at home this weekend isn’t going to be nearly as traumatizing as it could be.

Anyway, I am really happy with my story. I was asked to write a story for an anthology of crime stories inspired by the work of Joni Mitchell, and when I chose my song, read the lyrics and listened to it again, I really went down a rabbit hole and man, did it ever get dark. Really dark. But what was also fun about it was having to research malls in the early 1990’s; research can be a bit of a drag sometimes, but for me, most of the time it’s so much fun because it triggers a lot of memories, or inspires me even more if it’s from before my time. (note to self: do some research on Washington DC in the early 1950’s; I’ve written a story set during that time but I’ve never done the back-up research, which could be incredibly fun.) Usually, when I write a story that’s set during a time I lived through, I depend on my memory–which ain’t what it used to be, but priming the pump by looking up things on-line triggered memories; memories of stores and displays, the way malls smelled, the parking lots and so forth.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines.

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The Warrior

Yesterday I wrote approximately 3300 words of a short story that is due by the end of the month, and I am rather pleased with how it’s going, if I might be so bold. It flowed rather easily from my keyboard also; I’m hoping that mojo will still be there as I try to finish the draft today. It’s dark–when are my stories anything but dark, really–but I am very happy it’s getting close to completion in this draft. I would love to have it finished so I can spend my weekend revising and editing this and another short story I finished in a first draft recently.

I also mapped out a young adult novel over the weekend I’ve been wanting to write for years. I originally wrote it as a short story back in the 1980’s, calling it “Ruins”; I’ve always thought it would make a really good y/a novel if I could figure out how to deal with some societal and cultural issues with it which really couldn’t be ignored. And then I realized, this weekend, that the best way to deal with them is to face them head on. It will get criticized, of course, and I may even get called out, but you can’t not write something because you’re afraid of repercussions, can you? And hope that good discussion comes from it.

Then again, it could just come and go without notice. That happens, too.

This year has mostly been, for me at least, a struggle to write. I’m not sure what has caused this for me; the year had some remarkable highs–the Macavity Award nomination; the Anthony Award win–but for the most part it’s been a struggle with self-doubt and it’s horrible twin sister, depression. I don’t know why this happens to me; I always find that writing–even if I have to force myself to do it–always makes me feel better, even if the work isn’t going particularly well. Sinking my teeth into a story, feeling the characters come to life in my mind and through my keyboard, always seems to make me feel better. I also can use the writing as a way to channel things that upset or bother me; writing is an excellent way to channel anger and rage and heartbreak and every other emotion under the sun. But as this bedeviled year draws to a close, I am feeling creative and productive again; and most importantly, driven.

Then again, tomorrow I could feel like crap and be all ‘why bother’ again.

This is why writers drink.

I’m also really enjoying Krysten Ritter’s Bonfire, even as it is reminding me of Megan Abbott’s The Fever. There are some similarities; although in Abbott’s novel the mysterious illness in the girls is current and in Ritter’s it’s in the past. But it’s very wwell written, and there is some diversity of representation in her characters. It also reminds me a little of Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things, with it’s small town Indiana setting and it’s strange story from the past. (If you’ve not read Abbott or Rader-Day, buy their books NOW. You’re in for a magnificent treat!) The book also makes me think of my own Kansas past…and book ideas I have that mine that past. Reading good books always inspires me…and that really is the ultimate compliment I can give Ritter’s book. It’s inspiring me.

And that’s terrific.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Sister Christian

It’s cold, gray, and damp in New Orleans this morning. I would guess it’s probably less than sixty degrees inside the Lost Apartment–I am wearing a wool cap and my hands are cold as I type this–but I also have a short day of work today, and I intend to use this time wisely this morning–writing, cleaning, etc. Paul returns home tomorrow everning late; so I am going to need to finish cleaning the upstairs. I bought our advance tickets for Star Wars VIII: The Last Jedi yesterday; Sunday of opening weekend so I won’t have to avoid spoilers on-line as long as I did for The Force Awakens. Woo-hoo!

I’m about halfway through Patricia Highsmith’s The Blunderer, and marveling at how bleak her world view is, to be honest. Highsmith writes in a very distant third person point of view, and her voice is terribly matter-of-fact, which makes the reality of the story she is telling much worse. Highsmith is a master of the wrong-place-wrong-time suspense tale; which is something I absolutely love. These kinds of stories build suspense naturally; the reader and the main character know they’re innocent of any wrong-doing, but no one else believes them, which also tends to make them paranoid and the pacing picks up the more paranoid the main character becomes. I sort of did this in Bourbon Street Blues, only Scotty’s only crime was to be the unwitting recipient of something both the villains and the FBI wanted to get their hands on. You can’t, of course, turn that type of a tale into a series, although part of the problem I’ve always had with writing Scotty books is I’ve always tried to turn each new book into a traditional mystery series tale, and Scotty books aren’t, and should never be, a traditional mystery tale. I always run into trouble when I try to make them out to be that way.

Heavy sigh.

I managed to get some work done on a short story yesterday as well; I’d love to get that first draft finished sooner rather than later, so I can polish it and get it into submission-ready shape.

Lord, it’s cold in the kitchen this morning. I may have to go get a blanket in a moment.

Christmas looms on the horizon, and I have yet to shop for anything. I will finish the Christmas cards this weekend–yes, I actually started addressing them and signing them and putting them into envelopes; I may even get them in the mail so people can receive them before the holiday, look at ME adulting–and I also probably should do some shopping this weekend. I need to make up my mind whether I want to simply shop on-line or if I want to actually brave a mall. I used to abhor malls, but over the years as I spend less time in them the rare occasions I actually go to them turn out to be kind of enjoyable. Lakeside Mall has both an Apple Store and a Macys, and that’s usually all I need to do at a mall, besides the Food Court–I always treat myself to something at the Food Court whenever I go to one; and yes, I am aware how weird it is that fast food is something I consider a treat. But I never eat fast food; there’s really not anything conveniently accessible, which made moving into this neighborhood a genius move for that reason alone.

And on that note, I think it’s time for me to head back into the spice mines.

Here’s a Calvin Klein ad for your delectation; Marky Mark from the 1990’s for Throwback Thursday.

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Sunglasses at Night

Sunday morning. Last evening I went to a Christmas party and had an absolutely lovely time; but stayed much longer than was probably warranted and got home much later than I should have. But there were lots of laughter, and I got to hang out with friends that I don’t see nearly enough, and so overall, I would classify it as a win. I also slept beautifully and deeply and restfully after getting home, so that, too, was absolutely lovely.

Today I have to do a lot of writing; I finished a project yesterday, which was also lovely, and managed to get the cleaning of the downstairs finished. Today I will move to the upstairs, doing cleaning and organizing when I take breaks from the writing/editing I have to do. I also will read some more of Donna Andrews’ How the Finch Stole Christmas when I can; hopefully wrapping up reading it this evening as well. I’m not sure what I am going to read next; I am rather torn between a reread of George Baxt’s A Queer Kind of Death, Joan Didion’s Miami, Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse (also a reread), or something else in the pile. I also haven’t done my annual reread of Rebecca, but I think I am going to save that for actual Christmas. There are also some other duMauriers lying around the apartment I haven’t read that I need to (The House on the Strand, The Progress of Julius, The Scapegoat), some Ross MacDonalds, many Margaret Millars, and so many other books by writers I adore and am way behind on–I still have Stephen Kings that are languishing on my shelves, unread–and of course, come January it’s going to be Short Story Month again.

I also have another short story to write that I keep forgetting about, which, of course, is insane. (Note to self: put post-it note up on computer.)

But the good news is I am finally feeling motivated again about writing; this past year hasn’t been, for me, a good one as far as writing is concerned. I had a long conversation with my friend Susan last night about the current Scotty and the problems I’m having with it–and of course, while talking about the problems out loud with her I solved the problem. (It really is amazing, isn’t it, how saying things out loud can make a difference and make you see what’s been missing? The same thing happened with the WIP when I was chatting about it with my friend Wendy in Toronto–as I spoke I could see in my head what I needed to add, and then she put her finger right on the problem and pointed it out just as I was coming to the realization, which confirmed that it was the correct one. Again, it’s all a matter of having the time to make these fixes, but now that I know whatI need to fix, well, that makes it all a lot easier.

I also finished post-it-noting Garden District Gothic yesterday while watching the first half of the SEC championship game, so the Scotty Bible also proceeds apace, which is also lovely.

So much I need to get done this month!

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Borderline

Saturday morning. I have a lot of writing to do this weekend, and a lot of cleaning, My kitchen is a mess, but I made progress on the living room last night while reading Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, and am now reading How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews. It’s a lovely comfort read; I love Andrews’ series, the characters, the lovely life of the small town of Caerphilly, where everyone cares about everyone else and has no problem stepping up when needed. It’s an idealized world that I wish were real…and Andrews’ Christmas novels are splendid; this is her fourth. It somehow seems apt to be reading an Andrews Christmas novel during the season,

It’s chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and I am washing all the towels (it’s a long, OCD related story, don’t ask) while I wake up and warm up with coffee. I am going to a Christmas party this evening; the first of the season, and one of my personal favorites: my friends Pat and Michael’s, with a splendiferous view of downtown New Orleans and Audubon Park. (I always try to take pictures from their balcony with my phone, but they don’t always turn out so well.) I need to finish that short story today, which reminds me of something really funny. The other day I said I hadn’t written a story for the second Lambert-Cochrane anthology, Foolish Hearts, and then yesterday when I was cleaning and reorganizing books…I saw two copies of Foolish Hearts sitting on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep my copies of  my books and anthologies I’ve been in. I literally did a double take; what on Earth? What story did I write for that anthology? I took one of them down, flipped it open to the table of contents, and there it was: Touch Me in the Morning by Greg Herren.

Two days ago, I would have bet anyone a thousand dollars that I never finished the story “Touch Me in the Morning” nor contributed anything to Foolish Hearts.

Kind of makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

I woke up alone.

It wasn’t the first time, and it most likely wouldn’t be the last, either.

I could count on one hand the number of times a guy had spent the night with me—genus gay pick-up always seemed to slip out in the middle of the night, desperate to avoid that awkward conversation in the morning, with the exchange of phone numbers that would never be dialed.

Yet somehow, against all odds, I’d hoped this time somehow would be different.

I lie there in my empty bed, eyes still closed, with daylight bleeding through the blinds. I chided myself for having hoped, for even taking the moment to wonder if maybe he was in the kitchen making coffee, or in the bathroom. When will you learn? I thought, softly pounding the mattress with a fist, life isn’t a Disney movie—your prince may not come—stop being such a hopeless romantic.

But was it so sentimental, too much to ask, to want to wake up with his body spooned against mine?

I was time to face reality. I couldn’t hide in bed all day, so I pried my eyes open. My lashes were gummy, and my head felt like it was hosting a heavy metal battle of the bands. I sat up in bed and fought a wave of nausea as I lit a cigarette, not yet having the energy to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and splash water in my face first. My stomach lurched against the combination of the taste of the smoke, the fur that had grown on my teeth, my swollen tongue, and the aftermath of too much alcohol and tobacco from the night before.

God, I’d been drunk.

Maybe that was the best way to play it. Too much alcohol added to smoking too many joints plus the depression from being dumped for the umpteenth time this year—wouldn’t that justify just about anything short of committing murder?

I closed my eyes and groaned, wishing I’d had the sense to die in my sleep.

How could I face Dennis this morning?

I looked at the clock. It was ten thirty. I closed my eyes and thought about it. He always taught an early morning aerobics class at six on Mondays, and then trained clients until about eleven. He’d be free after that until the late afternoon, and always came home, usually taking a nap to rest up for the next round of classes and clients. Maybe that’s why he left, I rationalized. Of course—he had to go to work, and I had been sleeping the sleep of the damned, the drunk, and over-indulged. Maybe he’d tried to wake me up to say goodbye before he left, but I was too unconscious to wake up.

There might be a note in the kitchen.

I remember when I wrote this story to begin with; I have absolutely no recollection of finishing it or revising it or anything, seriously. It was part of a series of interconnected short stories I was writing about a group of gay guys who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter–the courtyard I actually used in Murder in the Rue Dauphine and my story “Wrought Iron Lace”–which I basically was hoping to turn into a book called The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. That book, obviously, never happened.

And now, back to the spice mines as I wonder what else I’ve written and published and forgotten.

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I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

My brake light came on in my car yesterday, so I have to take today off to take it in to the dealer for an inspection at eleven this morning. Hardly thrilling, and not how I wanted to spend my day–but Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley will make the trip with me, so there’s that. The book continues to enthrall me; it really is quite remarkable, and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before, either.

That is quite an accomplishment.

Writing/working on that short story the other day seems to have shaken me out of the glumness about writing/career that I’ve been experiencing lately; there will obviously continue to be peaks and valleys, but I am thinking more about being pushed, and pushing myself to do better work. I watched the Joan Didion documentary last night, The Center Will Not Hold, and that, too, was inspirational. Writing should always be about your quest to find the truth, whether it’s about a situation or your characters or your work or your life; a way of learning,  not only about the world but primarily about yourself. I am going to finish that story today–after the car dealership–and then I am going to work on some other things. I am also going to clean the Lost Apartment a bit, possibly run to the gym for a light workout–something I’ve been putting off for quite a while–and get organized, with a plan to get me through the rest of the year.

I am most likely going to read Donna Andrews’ latest, How the Finch Stole Christmas, when I finish reading Ivy’s wonderful book, but I may read Joan Didion’s Miami soon as well; I’ve never read any Didion. I’m aware of her, and her body of work, but I could have sworn I had a copy of Play It as It Lays around her somewhere, but I looked for it last night and couldn’t find it. It also required me to look in a vastly neglected bookcase, the one nestled in the corner where the staircase makes its first ninety degree turn on its way upstairs, and I noticed a lot of books that I’ve not only been meaning to read but others that I’ve forgotten that I owned. It’s always fun, for me, to look at a book and try to remember it’s provenance, how it founds its way into my collection: oh, yes, I met him at a conference and he was lovely; oh, someone mentioned this book on a panel I was on and I was intrigued by it; oh, I was wondering what happened to this book, I remember going to the signing and enjoying the talk immensely; and so on The only Didion I can lay my hands on right now is Miami, which seems like a perfect time for me to read since I am getting ready to start working on the Florida Bouchercon anthology. Didion may just be my muse; I’ve been thinking about writing a sort of memoir lately (because that is what the world needs; another memoir from a writer), but it’s something I’ve unknowingly been gathering material on for many years, and rediscovering my journals will be an immense help in that regard as well. We shall see.

And on that note, it is perhaps time to return to the spice mines; I have many emails to answer and generate before I depart for the dealership on the West Bank this morning.

Here’s a Calvin Klein underwear ad:

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Stuck on You

Nothing makes me angrier than when a writer slags off a genre, or a style of writing. Every genre comes in for it now and again; but without question the most maligned genre is also the biggest and most successful: romance.

You think it’s so easy to write a good romance novel? Try it sometime. It isn’t easy, by a long shot, nor is it something that I would ever dare attempt. The closest I’ve come to writing one–actually, there are three–would be with Sorceress, The Orion Mask, and Timothy. But those were also crime/suspense novels, with a dash of romance thrown in.  I don’t know that I could write a strictly romance novel. Perhaps someday I will try, just to see if I can do it.

I’ve written some short stories that would, or could, be classified as romance; I am currently trying to write one that I promised to an anthology and should have been turned in months ago. It’s actually a story that’s been in my head for a long time; it’s a sequel to a story I wrote a long time ago, “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time.” That story was originally published in an anthology called Fool for Love, edited by Timothy J. Lambert and R. D. Cochrane; a wonderful anthology in whose pages I appeared with numerous other writers I admire, some of whom were just getting started and have become writers of note. I’d intended to write the sequel for a second anthology Lambert and Cochrane were putting together, Foolish Hearts, but I never wrote the story or they decided they didn’t want one from me or something; it’s lost in the mists of time but if I had to hazard a guess I would say I was supposed to write one for them and wound up not doing it.

I’ve been worried lately about my lack of motivation with writing; wondering if, with all these abortive short story problems I’ve had lately that perhaps I had, finally, run out of juice for writing and was finished. But yesterday I opened a new word document, and over the course of the day I managed to write almost three thousand words of a story called “Passin’ Time,” which is, at long last, the sequel to “Everyone Says I’ll Forget in Time.” I had to reread the original in order to get the names of the characters, and I have to say, it was quite a lovely little story, if I do say so myself. “Passin’ Time” is a title I’ve always wanted to use for a New Orleans story; it’s a uniquely New Orleans saying; it means waiting; because in old New Orleans at least, you always found yourself waiting–waiting for the parade to show up; waiting for the streetcar; waiting for the bus; waiting in line at the grocery store; waiting, waiting, waiting. We call that “passin’ time,” and you generally do it by talking to the other people who are doing that as well. Now, of course, everyone has a cell phone and there are parade tracking apps; even the New Orleans MTA has an app so you can see where the streetcar/bus is. Writing the story, thinking about the phrase, made me a little sad and nostalgic for times past; yet another little piece of old New Orleans that has changed over the last decade or so since the levees failed and the city rebooted; one of the little things that was so friendly and charming and lovely about this city that made it so different and precious, something that was so worth saving.

Here’s the opening of “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time”:

The bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up.

It’s been almost two years since he died. We were together for almost fifteen years, and the disease took us by surprise. Then again, you never see things like that coming. I suppose on some level we knew we weren’t immortal, but it was something we never talked about, never planned for. Sure, we had powers of attorney paperwork and wills and all of that in place, but we never thought we would ever need them. We loved each other and had a wonderful life, and thought it would go on forever.

But cancer doesn’t care about love when it starts rotting you from the inside out. And when it finally took him, my life didn’t end. I didn’t go into the grave with him, no matter how much I wanted to, no matter how much I just wanted to curl up and cry. I still had my horror novels for teenagers to write with deadlines looming, a cat to take care of, bills to pay, a life to somehow keep living. The world didn’t stop turning, even though I thought it should. I had to get used to all the changes, the little ones that you don’t think about so they blindside you and make your eyes unexpectedly fill with tears and your lower lip quiver.  I had to get used to cooking for one, shopping for one, and deal with those sudden moments in department stores when I’d see a shirt he’d love and pick it up, carry it to the cash register, and have credit card in hand before I’d remember, and somehow manage to hold myself together while smiling at the clerk and saying, “Um, I don’t think I want this after all” before returning it to the display table and fleeing the store. I had to find ways to fill those hours that used to be our time together, flipping idly through the many channels on the television looking for any distraction to take my mind somewhere else. I had to get used to sleeping alone, to not having something warm and cuddly next to me every night and every morning. There were no more pancakes to surprise him with in the morning, on a tray with a glass of milk, to wake him with. I’d had to accept that I would never see the sleepy smile of childish delight he always displayed when he smelled the maple syrup again. He was so cute, just like a little boy on those mornings when I’d decide to give him his favorite treat. I got through it all, I survived, I went on. I went through the closet and the dresser and took his clothes to Goodwill. I did all the things you are supposed to do, and I got through it all. But the bed still seems empty every morning when I wake up. The house seems quieter, no matter how loud I play the stereo. The world seems different, somehow—the sun a little less bright, the sky a little less blue, the grass a little less green.

Everyone says I’ll forget in time.

I am trying to mirror that melancholy, that slight sadness, that poignant matter of factness, in the new story. I hope it turns out well. I really want it to.

For Throwback Thursday, here’s a Marky Mark Calvin Klein ad. (And thanks for no one pointing out that yesterday’s was actually a Perry Ellis ad.)

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