Thursday morning and I am slurping coffee and trying to get awake and ready for an exciting day of data entry and condom packing. I’ve not been terribly successful with my goal of cleaning out my inbox; I am going to try to work on that today after I finish working, after I go to the gym, and after I get today’s writing done.
I’ve identified a problem–a pattern, if you will–with my writing. I will get to a point in a short story where I am kind of stuck, and whereas what I do with a novel (write my way out of it) I won’t do that with the story, instead agonizing over it for a bit before consigning it to the oh well I’ll finish this later at some point folder. This is defeating, and why, ultimately, I have so many unfinished stories languishing around in my files. So, I am determined to solider on with the one I am currently working on, “The Sound of Snow Falling”, and try to get it finished. I am also determined to revise chapter one of Chlorine this weekend, and hopefully get into my next novella–either “Never Kiss a Stranger” or “A Holler Full of Kudzu”–and also get the Lost Apartment back under control at some point.
It’s amazing how little time it takes yet how easy it is for this place to look like a disaster area in need of FEMA assistance.
I also want to get back to reading–oh, how the books pile up!–and maybe it’s something I should do before I go to bed every night. I had tried for a brief while–after that less screen time before going to bed will help you sleep better thing circulated a few years ago–to read before bed every night; I have a non-fiction book on my nightstand that is now coated in dust that I would love to get back to reading–but it also wouldn’t hurt to do some fiction reading downstairs before I go up to bed, risking the getting caught up in the book and not wanting to put it down thing, which all too often happens to me with reading fiction. I am still greatly enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker, by the way; Caro is an exceptional biographer. I also love how he weaves historical context into his biographies–I’ve only read the first volume of the Johnson biographies, and his description for how hard life was for poor rural women has never stopping haunting my mind–and always am blown away. I’ve never read the two biggest biographies of this century–Chernow’s Alexander Hamilton or McCullough’s John Adams, which I need to remedy–but then again my non-fiction reading (outside of necessary research for writing) has been woefully overshadowed this century by my fiction reading.
I also received copies of the MWA anthologies Deadly Anniversaries (edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini) and When a Stranger Comes to Town (edited by Michael Koryta), which reminded me of how much I’ve been languishing on the Short Story Project–while continuing to buy anthologies or single-author collections, which are also piling up around me. I also have a lot of short stories to read for my Bouchercon panel in August; I am on, of all things, a short story panel; which kind of caught me off-guard because I don’t consider myself a master of the form–or even half-way decent at it. But I have published quite a few of them, and my goal is to publish more (which means writing more of them) and I figure with the terrific panelists, maybe I can pick up a thing or two from some of them.
We started watching another Spanish language show last night, High Seas (Alta Mar in Spanish), which is a murder mystery set on a luxury liner sometime in the 1940’s, traveling from Spain to Rio de Janeiro. It’s gorgeously shot, the period costumes and decor are first rate, as is the acting. We’re on episode 4 now; there have already been two murders and some mysterious shenanigans, including a fire, and yes, we are completely sucked into it. (We’re taking The Underground Railroad slowly, because it’s not really something to be binged, since it raises so many philosophical and societal questions; you kind of need to absorb each episode. It’s really one of the most literate series I’ve ever watched, in part because the visuals are so incredible and poetic; I think it’s one that needs to be rewatched as well because it’s almost too cerebral–yet compelling–to absorb all at once for someone of such diminished intellectual capabilities as me–it’s also making me want to revisit the novel)
And on that note, I am heading into today’s spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.
So we had a major thunderstorm yesterday afternoon, complete with street flooding and thunder and lightning and all the fixin’s. This naturally led me to wonder, as the lights flickered at the office and Elysian Fields (the street, not the Greek afterlife) filled with water, whether or not to wait until the advisory was lifted (in theory at 5:45 pm), or head home when my work day was complete? One can never be certain where and when parts of the city are going to flood; and the last thing in the world I need–being this close to having the car paid off–is to risk flooding it out and possibly ruining it.
Sigh. It’s never easy living in New Orleans.
Getting home was a challenge; Claiborne Avenue’s low-lying areas were filled with water, water was pouring down not just from the clouds but from the I-1o high-rise, and I decided to risk going through the CBD, never the best option, but potentially even worse than usual since the Plaza Tower started falling apart and
And now for some blatant self-promotion, The Queer Crime Fiction roundtable I participated in for Crime Reads can be found here. And my brief appearance on Writer Types recommending queer crime writers can be found at this link right here.
Thanks again to Lisa Levy for the roundtable, and to Eric Beetner for inviting me onto his podcast. Both were a lot of fun, frankly, and it’s always fun for me to have the chance to talk about books and writers and make recommendations of books and writers I admire and enjoyed. I really missed that during the pandemic.
We got caught up on Lisey’s Story last night–we were both dismayed to see that it hasn’t all aired yet, and so no new episode until Friday–and then went on to the second chapter of The Underground Railroad, which was equally as disturbing as the first, but in a completely different way; I do remember, reading the novel and thinking, my God, so many different ways white people have found to punish and hurt black bodies and souls throughout our history. The show, being a visual medium, is even more disturbing than the book, because my imagination wasn’t quite strong enough to erase the imagery from my head I had grown accustomed to throughout a lifetime of privilege, that kept elbowing the stark realities Colson Whitehead so poignantly and beautifully wrote about in his book, out of the way; the show does not allow this, and the beautifully way it is filmed so poetically reflects the beauty of Whitehead’s language, even as the subject matter in truly an abomination.
Laura Lippman’s Dream Girl drops today, and so those of you not fortunate enough to get an advance copy can now indulge yourselves in reading a truly marvelous book by a great thinker and a terrific writer. I need to get back to reading; Robyn Gigl’s By Wayof Sorrow needs to be finished, and on deck I have Bath Haus by PJ Vernon, Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng, Arsenic and Adobo by Mia Manansala, and several others. So much reading; I really need to focus on getting my reading done and caught up. Now that I’ve finished the novella I can take a look at duMaurier’s “Don’t Look Now” again, as well as her “Ganymede”; I already know, from doing some post-writing research today that there are some major adjustments that need to be made to my novella, and it may wind up being longer than than 20, 430 words it sits at now–not the least of them the days of the week, and so forth. I also have to figure out some way to make the story work a little better, more suspenseful, than it sits right now; but that has a lot to do with figuring out the story as it went. I also want to start pulling together the next short story collection–madness, I know–but I do love when I am basically overwhelmed with projects; so I always have something to be working on if something stalls out or I just don’t want to work on something in particular.
I also took some time and started plotting out another Scotty; yes, I know–I really need to dive into Chlorine again, but I had also decided that I was going to do that in July; it doesn’t hurt to have the Scotty’s various intertwining plots planned and mapped out. I generally don’t do this with Scotty books, primarily because the writing inevitably takes me in much different directions than I had planned, and thus inevitably all the planning turns out to be waste time. Also ironically, despite having any number of possible and potential titles on hand, none of them seems to fit this story–and since I can’t ever really work on anything without a title, and knowing that the title can be eventually changed–I am calling this one, for now, Mississippi River Bottom, which was actually the working title for Jackson Square Jazz.My editor didn’t like Mississippi River Bottom (which I rather thought was a clever play on words) and asked me to change it. I also know that this working title doesn’t really fit the alliteration patterns of the rest of the series, and thus will inevitably have to be changed. Perhaps while I am actually writing it, the title will come to me; stranger things have, indeed, happened before.
Last night’s sleep was terrific–there were strange dreams, of which I’ve been having a plethora of lately; last night was me working at Target for some reason–but I again feel terrific and rested this morning; everything looks wet outside, so I am assuming the rain continued over night. It must not have been terrible or dangerous, as we never got one of those horrible WARNING alerts during the night on our phones. Tonight when I get off work I’ll go uptown and get the mail before heading home and to the gym. The Tuesday night workout is somehow always rushed, with me skipping things–more to do with too many people being there than me being lazy, really; the free weight area is always so crowded I inevitably skip the two exercises I used free weights for–and then it’s back home to watch some television and possibly do some writing. This weekend is going to see weird; I have a broken tooth that needs to be extracted, and I scheduled that for Friday afternoon. That inevitably will mean a strange diet of soft food over the weekend and pain killers; but better that than the dull throb and swollen gums I’ve been dealing with since the molar broke. Ah, the endless saga of Greg and his bad, bad teeth. One thing I definitely envy in other people is good teeth…I also want to get to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I am assuming I’ll be incapacitated this weekend after the tooth extraction, but I am hoping I can at least sit in my easy chair and edit.
And yesterday, the first active roster NFL pro football player to come out came out! Yay, and welcome to the team, as it were. I’m old enough to remember when David Kopay came out in the 1970’s; the first former NFL player to do so.
And on that note–writing ADHD, my bad teeth, NFL player out of the closet–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely and winning Tuesday, everyone.
So, yesterday I finished the first draft of the novella!
It was around 1200 words when I started working on it again about a week or so ago; for some reason Venice was haunting my imagination, and so were my two poor gays in the majorly dysfunctional relationship gone there for a holiday. To be honest, I’ve been having so much trouble finishing anything since I turned in the last book manuscript (which needs more work) that I was beginning to think I wasn’t going to be able to get anything finished ever again, ever. I couldn’t even finish short stories (in fairness, I’ve always found the shorter form to be harder than the longer, which I also am very aware makes little to no sense except in my warped brain); despite having made some amazing starts and having some amazing ideas. And yet, when I started working on this novella again, BAM! Words started pouring out of me, and even though I had no plan for the story (I knew the end, that was it) it just kept going, new scenes and twists and turns coming to me as I wrote. It’s sloppy, I know, and there needs to be more of a pay-off for a subplot (which I allowed to peter out like a wet firecracker), but I am also certain I can easily repair it with a vigorous edit…after letting it sit for a while and rise like yeast.
But yeah–I wrote close to 20,000 words in just over a week; usually getting anywhere fro three to four thousand done in a sitting–and those sittings were generally around two hours, give or take.
Not fucking bad at all.
I also got the web copy done before I started work on the novella, too, and then with everything done I wanted to get done, I left for the gym. I had a lovely workout–and while I was there, it rained pretty hard for a bit, but was it was all over by the time I finished. I walked home a different way than I usually do, wanting to document my neighborhood some more on Instagram, and thinking, I should take a picture of the Norwegian Seaman’s Church on Prytania, since it was a pivotal part of the part of one of the Scotty books. But as I aimed my camera (well, the phone) at it, I realized all the signs marking it as the Norwegian Seaman’s Church were gone, and it looked…well, renovated. This bothered me a little–the Norwegian Seaman’s Church had been there for 112 years! But while it sort of IS a gentrification issue, it’s not one as bad as I might have feared; turns out in 2018 the Norwegian government stopped funding this churches around the world, and without a funding source, they had to close the church and sell the property. The new owners are turning it into an accessible wellness center–I didn’t know there was a pool!–and I am curious to see how that’s going to work out. I wouldn’t mind doing some yoga–my flexibility as I am now aged has become a concern, and as we all know, flexibility is one of the three measures of fitness (and the one everyone ignores).
So many changes to the city, seriously. It’s part of the reason I’ve felt so disconnected from the city for so long–between my job and everything else going on–not the least of which is my office moving from Frenchmen Street to Elysian Fields and Claiborne–I don’t really feel like I know the city as well as I used to. I think–once the weather gets back to something resembling bearable again–I am going to have to take a few trips down to the Quarter to explore and see how things look now. What if the Nelly Deli is gone? YIKES! How can I write another Scotty novel without knowing what’s going on in the Quarter?
I can’t, that’s how!
And I really cannot imagine moving Scotty and the boys out of the Quarter. But…everything changes, doesn’t it?
I slept fairly well last night, inevitably having to get up groggily a few times because I always drink a lot of water on gym days. I am a bit groggy this morning–which the cappuccinos are helping with–and am actually looking forward to seeing what I can get done today. We started watching Lisey’s Story on Apple Plus last night., and are pretty absorbed into it. I don’t really remember much of the book, to be honest–I enjoyed reading it, as I always do with Stephen King novels (the only ones I didn’t like were The Tommyknockers and Dreamcatcher)–but I don’t remember much other than her dead husband was a writer, there’s a psychotic fan, and a different world her husband was somehow able to slip away into from time to time–and he’s left clues behind for her to somehow slip into that world looking for something. I don’t remember her having sisters in the book–although Jennifer Jason Leigh and Joan Allen are killing it in the adaptation–and I am actually kind of glad I don’t remember the book well, to be honest; it makes enjoying the series that much easier. I do remember, reading the book, that King does a great job when he centers women in his books–Delores Claiborne was also exceptional–and it’s a great part for Julianne Moore, who is one of our finest actresses.
It’s also very cool that television productions of high quality are there so terrific actresses can continue to do great work once they’ve reached that age where film roles become sparse because they’re considered too old; sexism is still rampant in the film world, despite #metoo and #timesup, alas; while sexual harassment and the casting couch were addressed (though probably still a reality) the sexism and ageism (which only applies to women) has not…
And now to make a to-do list for the week. I am hoping to get caught up on my emails and maybe finish “The Sound of Snow Falling” this week; perhaps do some edits on another story, and revise the first chapter of Chlorine. Again, very ambitious plans, but definitely do-able….as long as I continue to get sleep every night and nothing untoward drops into my lap. Have a great Monday, Constant Reader!
Sunday morning is here, and along with it sunshine and no doubt smothering humidity–later today I will be heading to the gym for the beginning of this week’s workout schedule and also trying to get some other things done today. I have to finish the web copy I promised to do today, and I am itching to get back to my writing. Yesterday was a very good day on every level–I was highly functioning for a change, and it felt wonderful, more like the kinds of days I am used to having, or rather, got used to back when I was regularly highly functioning. I did sleep very deeply last night–I did have some very strange dreams, though; all I remember is they involved Taylor Swift and losing teeth–but I woke up very well rested this morning and ready to go. I am awake and not sleepy-tired, my muscles don’t ache or feel tired, and we watched some amazing television last night.
And I actually started writing another Scotty book yesterday–nothing like creative ADHD, right?
But the opening scene for this book has been in my head for quite some time now. One day recently as I was toying with an idea for the next Scotty book, this line popped into my head: “I’m really worried about Taylor” (those who have read Royal Street Reveillon will understand) and then another sentence came to me recently: It was the Monday after Mother’s Day and the termites were swarming. I’d initially thought the swarming termites line was the opening for a short story, and yet…couldn’t figure out a story for it to go along with. The other day it hit me: the two sentences go together, and are the perfect opening for the next Scotty. Yesterday when I sat down to write, these two sentences were swirling together in my head and I thought, why not go ahead and put it down on paper, so it’s there when I’m ready to go back to work on another Scotty? I don’t even know what I am going to call this one yet. I had already–because of these openings, and knowing they wouldn’t work for the next Scotty I had planned to write–so I decided to push Twelfth Knight Knavery back in the Scotty schedule to be the one after this one. I am going to leave it as “untitled Scotty book” for now. I have two stories I want to weave together into this one, and another subplot, but I’ve not taken the time to actually map any of that out or anything as yet. But hey, I wrote nearly twelve hundred words before turning my attention back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and I am going to take that as a win.
And “Festival of the Redeemer” is now sitting at over seventeen thousand words. Not too bad, really; I’d estimate that I wrote well over four thousand words between the Scotty (around 1200) and the novella yesterday. The story also took an incredibly dark turn, too–I’d always intended it to, of course, but still–the turn was so much darker than I’d planned it even kind of caught me a bit off-guard. I do like it, though–it is a first draft, and as such is very sloppy and slipshod and is going to need some serious revisions and edits, but I am pleased with it. This twisted tale seems so perfect for Venice–and it may turn out, after revisions and edits, to be much longer than the original planned twenty thousand; but word counts are inevitably goals, anyway, and more a measure of progress than anything else.
Have I ever mentioned how much I actually love writing? It makes me so happy to be writing, and it’s so satisfying; there’s really nothing like it, and I can’t even remember the last time that I derived so much pleasure from actually doing it; I don’t remember going into the zone the way I have been lately–I feel like it’s been years since I went into the zone where the words just flowed out of me and I lost track of time and word counts and so forth; which is probably why I’ve been having so many concerns about burn out and losing my ability to write–always a fear for me, always–and yet here it is back again, and I feel centered again. I feel like the last malaise last forever–at least for years–and now I am past it, and even if what i am writing is not anything I should be writing… but if I am going to publish a collection of novellas I have to actually write them, don’t I? And this one is really going somewhere–even if that place is somewhere incredibly dark…and you know what? HUZZAH FOR SOMEWHERE INCREDIBLY DARK.
But when I get this done–I think I may even get this first draft finished today or tomorrow-I am going to get that short story draft finished next and then I am going to get back to Chlorine. I need to get that first chapter revised and rewritten; a good task for this week, I think, and then I am going to work on that other proposal I want to get turned in to see if anything comes of it. Hey–you never know, right? You never know until you put it out there.
I also managed to clean the kitchen yesterday and worked on the filing, The area around my desk is a lot more neat and tidy than it has been, and my inbox is almost completely emptied out. This feels like a major accomplishment, and it’s nice to look over there and see just a few loose papers in there–which I may even get rid of today.
It’s amazing what I can do when I’ve slept, seriously.
We finished watching Elite last night, and it was terrific–perhaps not as good as the earlier seasons, which is a very high bar to reach; but with a cast reshuffle and an effective reboot of storylines, not surprising. We had three seasons to get to know the original cast, and with half of them gone (oh, how I miss Lucrezia!) and their replacements coming in, the story had to go into a bit of overdrive to get them involved with the original cast, and there were times it felt a bit forced and like it went too far too fast. The ending of the season was satisfying, and the next season–with two more characters being added–is now really well set up.
We then moved on to Apple Plus, with Rose Byrne’s new starring vehicle Physical, and I really enjoyed it–the three episodes that had dropped already, at any rate. Byrne plays a dissatisfied housewife whose own gifts and talents are being subsumed by that horrific housewife trope of the time–and even her supposedly “progressive” husband subscribes to that old patriarchical notion of what women’s value was in the progressive movement–they were there to fuck, feed, and clean up after the men; the men did all the thinking and the women did all the work. Then she discovers an aerobics class at a mall…and finds it incredibly empowering; rediscovering herself and who she is through the class. She’s not completely likable–she has a horrible inner monologue voice that is snarky and bitchy and judgmental (if funny at time)–but she’s understandable, and Byrne brings her charisma and likability along with everything she does. It will be interesting to see how the show develops.
After that, we switched over to Amazon Prime to watch the first episode of their mini-series adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad, a book that I loved and thought was absolutely brilliant. Here is slavery in all of its degradation, abuse, and horror–the Georgia plantation depicted here isn’t the prettified Tara of Gone with the Wind, and these slave owners and overseers aren’t the genial paternalistic Gerald O’Hara the Lost Cause movement insisted were the reality. It was incredibly difficult to watch, but necessary; my own discomfort in watching, I kept reminding myself, was nothing compared to what the enslaved people endured, and my white fragility needed to look the reality directly in the face and deal with it. These are my ancestors; and even if the family legends my grandmother told me when I was a child was mythology and lies, they certainly believed enough in this horrible system to fight and die for it.
And if I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that no matter how terrible something looks and appears on television, the reality and its scope is a thousand times worse. The show is beautifully shot–the cinematography is stunning; and the beauty of the production, and the care taken, only adds to the horror of what the viewer is witnessing.
I kept thinking, the entire time I watching, heritage not hate, huh? Fuck all the way off.
And now I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, everyone.
I picked up a copy of Sarah Schulman’s Let the Record Show: A Political History of New York 1987-1993, this week at the Latter Library. I imagine it’s going to be a rather painful read, and probably difficult at times, but I also feel that it’s important for me to read it. I am pleased that she, one of our community’s best writers and brightest thinkers, has written it. Sarah, whom I have known now for over twenty years plus, has written extensively about HIV/AIDS, both in her fiction and non-fiction; her non-fiction work is always thought-provoking, incredibly well thought out, and written beautifully. Her fiction is always fascinating; she always tackles enormous and important themes in her work–and often plays with form and style, in innovative and creative ways that would never occur to me, let alone attempt (Empathy is one of the most creative novels I’ve ever read; she reminds me of Faulkner in her willingness to experiment with styles and narrative form). She’s always incredibly fun to talk to–I have greatly enjoyed every conversation we’ve had; she is fiercely intelligent and yet has the remarkable ability to not make you feel stupid, or incapable of understanding what she is saying. (As someone whose intellect has always been somewhat less than, or been made to feel less than, I’ve always appreciated her speaking to me as an equal and peer; even though I am inevitably humbled and awed by how her mind works.)
Lately, I have found myself worrying that the truth and actual history of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, and the societal neglect and systemic homophobia that made it so much worse than it could have, should have, been would be erased from history and forgotten. I am reminded of this every day at work, really; as I’ve aged in my job, the people I test and see regularly become younger and younger. At first, I was always a little taken aback by clients born in the 1980’s; now those people are nearing forty. As we move into the third decade of the twenty-first century, I am now starting to see people born after the turn of the century; 2000 babies are turning twenty-one this year, which is stunning to me. Those born in the 1990’s don’t remember a time when infection was a death sentence; and slowly but surely the horrors of the height of the plague seem as distant as the Spanish flu epidemic of the World War I era, or the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.
This month was the fortieth anniversary of the New York Times article announcing the discovery of the first cases of what was soon to be called the “gay cancer”, eventually renamed GRID (gay-related immune deficiency) before it was finally labeled as HIV/AIDS (human immunodeficiency virus/acquired immune deficiency syndrome)–this is a vast over-simplification of the history of the disease and its naming; you can find an excellent timeline for it here:
1981 was the year I turned twenty; it was also the year I moved to California, putting Kansas in my rearview mirror once and for all (I’ve never returned); and I can remember the feeling, the excitement, of moving to a more progressive state (or so I saw it at the time) from one that was deeply mired in conservative values and Christianity. I already knew I was a gay boy before we moved to Kansas when I was fourteen, but that short period of time spent there (short in the overall scheme of my life; at this point as I stare down sixty rapidly approaching on the road ahead, I spent about a twelfth of my life there) was warping. (Then again, what part of my life wasn’t warping?)
It’s also very weird to think HIV/AIDS has now shadowed two-thirds of my life.
I tend not to look back at the plague years before 1994 very much; it’s all a part of my “never look back” mentality. I made some great friends in college–the ones who didn’t give a shit when I finally came out to them; I relish and love those memories made with them during the 1980’s, but the shadow always falls over that part of my life too; I was, as I said on the San Francisco Public Library panel the other night, trying everything I could think of to make myself straight (or able to push my true self so deeply into the closet that it would never ever see daylight) and yet there was still the other part of my life my straight friends knew nothing about; the sneaking out at night to gay cruising areas where other closeted types like myself met up; the furtive visits to gay bars and hoping no one from my other life saw me coming or going or saw my car parked nearby; the trips to hospitals to visit the always held at arm’s length gay friends who tried so hard to help me be myself, even when they were dying alone and unvisited in their quarantined hospital beds. The specter of HIV hung over me at all times; the shame of what would happen if I got infected, and the certainty that my family and straight friends would turn away and leave me, too, to die alone and unmourned, getting what I deserved.
And even when I moved to Florida, getting away from Texas and California and trying to get my life and act together, trying to be who I was, to live openly and honestly for once on my life, the phantom was always there, just out of my line of sight: the death sentence we were all sentenced to by fate, by timing, and by the callous indifference of the mainstream American community.
By some strange twist of fate I survived the plague years, never got infected, never got the bad news I expected was my inevitability.
I merely served witness, and even then, I was never anywhere that saw the worst of the decimation: New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and even New Orleans; this small Southern city’s community was ravaged and decimated; that shadow was over this city too. I can remember coming to New Orleans every month after I discovered its magic, and seeing the evidence of the plague here in the disappearances of people from previous visits; a waiter at the Clover Grill, a bartender here or a bar back there–service people who made me feel welcomed, made me feel like a part of the family, helped convince me that my gut feeling New Orleans was the right place for me, helped me believe that gut instinct was correct. Now, years later, I don’t remember their names and maybe, if I try hard enough and come up with other memories, I can also summon up their faces but the names are gone–just like those I lost in the 1980’s, names I never recorded in my journals for fear someone might find and read them, experiences and joy and laughter gone forever because I was too afraid of leaving a record behind if and when the plague came for me.
Never look back was the theme of my life from 1994 on; a maxim or motto that should have been cross-stitched onto a sampler for me; the only words I ever thought about having tattooed on my body: NEVER LOOK BACK. There was only pain in the past, and I wanted to move beyond that pain, forget the scars, and try to live in the now and for the future–whatever it might hold, if I was even fated to have one.
I always thought, even as a child, that I was destined to die young. When I became aware of HIV/AIDS, I assumed that was the ticket to the hereafter I would eventually punch. And yet here I am, nearing sixty, and the last twenty-seven years of my life have held more joy than I ever dared to dream were possible for me, and the dreams I held wrapped so tightly to my chest, those dreams that got me through even the most difficult of times, eventually did come to pass, and came true for me.
Watching It’s a Sin earlier this year brought it all back to me; as I have mentioned to friends, it hit me much harder than any other HIV/AIDS film or series; primarily because in films like Longtime Companion and in the fiction that has come to be known as “witness” or “survivor” fiction inevitably the story began in the pre-HIV hedonism of the 1970’s before the change; and while the lives were always cut dramatically short, they were somewhat older. It’s a Sin was the first time I saw it all through the eyes of characters who were the same age I was when it all started; and while their experiences and what they went through was so different than my own, it was impossible not to watch and remember and think my God, we were all so young when it hit. Watching the show allowed me, for the first time, to grieve; I know at some point back then I simply went numb. I know where my aversion to funerals comes from; I’ve always known, really, just never faced up to it before.
I’ve never wanted to write about the plague years, never wanted to write about what I witnessed and what I saw, the unbearable sadness I lived with for so many years. Others had it so much worse than I did, and so I never really felt like it was my story to tell; there was always a sense, a feeling, a fear, that I would make it all about me when it wasn’t, and sometimes I do wonder–since watching the show–if the work I do at my day job is, in some ways, an atonement for still being alive when so many are not. Survivor’s guilt is very real, and something I think about on those days when the pendulum of my moods swings too far in the wrong direction, when despite my best efforts not to look back, I do. I also think I don’t ever want to write about that time because my memories are so untrustworthy; and I am not entirely certain that I can tell those stories without centering myself…because it’s not my story but theirs.
So, I am both looking forward to and dreading reading this book, but no matter what, I am very grateful that it exists and that the record of the times, the anger, and the way the community rose up to challenge authority and thus changed the world will not be lost to the passage of time.
There is still, to this date, no vaccine for HIV–and yet, one was developed in less than a year for COVID-19.
All is calm outside my windows this morning. Claudette’s eye has passed–to the east of my neighborhood, leaving us on the dry side–and while there are reports of heavy rainfall and flooding on the north shore and along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, we remained here pretty unscathed. The flash flood warning for New Orleans has been cancelled, but we remain under a tropical storm warning, with the possibilities of high winds and heavy rainfall still there. Inevitably, it’s always a relief when we are merely struck a glancing blow, but there’s something untoward, for me at least, about being grateful somewhere else got hit instead. But that’s the nature of hurricane season–wishing to be spared means wishing disaster on someone, somewhere, else.
I didn’t get much writing done yesterday after all; perhaps about two or three hundred words on “Festival of the Redeemer”–after I finished my work yesterday I was feeling tired again, both mentally and physically, and was actually rather pleased with that minuscule output, honestly. I slept extremely deeply and well last night–the occasional odd dream was there, but this morning I don’t really remember much of them other than some weird communal living situation Paul and I found ourself in, trying to insist on our privacy as others came in and out of our living space while at the same time allowing their cats access to it, thereby traumatizing poor Scooter. This led me to wake up around six in the morning–I always seem to wake up around that time, thanks to my three-days-per week early mornings–but had no problems whatsoever falling back asleep again for another two hours, which was lovely. Today I intend to make more headway on the Lost Apartment and perhaps make a final push to get this novella’s first draft completed and out of the way; I’d also like to make another strong push to get my story “The Sound of Snow Falling” completed, but I’m not entirely certain what the possibilities of managing both, while getting that web copy written, are.
I also need to get my inbox cleared at some point this weekend as well.
Work, work, work. And perhaps make some time to read; we’ll see how that goes.
Last night I also made a second attempt at making a dirty vodka martini, and was much more successful this time around. I took a co-worker’s advice (she also bartends) and simply swished the dry vermouth around in the glass before dumping it; adding the vodka, shaken with ice and then the olives and juice. I can certainly see why excellent vodka is called for; since the drink is almost entirely vodka (it’s really just a big chilled vodka shot, with garnishes), and I had found an old bottle of Rain, leftover from the days of the Iris parties, and I was quite pleased with how it turned out. I had one in honor of Season 4 of Elité dropping on Netflix, and we binged six episodes last night. There are only two left, and I have to give the show props–they lost nearly half the cast, so had to introduce new characters as well as terminate relationships between characters who remained and those who left; and it would be incredibly easy to simply make the new characters carbons of the old. They didn’t do this, and while these new characters are mostly unlikable, the old characters had three seasons, for the most part, to make us care about them. There is a crime–the show is following the former pattern of the previous seasons–flashing back between the present and the past to show the build up to the crime; but as Paul said, “some of these relationships feel a bit forced.” He’s not wrong–but as I said, this is the most new characters they’ve ever had to add into a season before, and weaving them into what is basically a reboot season isn’t as easy as adding in new characters, scattered amongst the established cast, was in previous seasons. I am enjoying it, and it’s still everything I loved about the previous seasons–sexy, lots of queer representation, high production values, interesting twists and turns; but sadly, characters like Lucrezia and Carla (played brilliantly by Danna Paola and Ester Exposito) are incredibly hard to replace. But, all things considered, they are doing a great job with season four.
I feel, of all things, oddly settled this morning, and calm–like it is outside. I’ve been feeling off-balance for quite some time now; something I hadn’t really noticed until this morning, since I seem to have stopped rocking back-and-forth for now and feel rested. (I think rested is truly the key word in that sentence; I am not feeling tired this morning–physically or emotionally or intellectually–which is quite a marvelous feeling, frankly. I have things to do, as is always the case, but I also feel no stress about any of them; today I feel like I can conquer the world, which is a pleasant feeling and one I’ve not had in quite some time. But really, it’s lovely to be in a good place. I am writing an being very productive at it; I’ve sorted out some issues in my head that have not been easy to get through; and while this year has been a bit tough–writing two books at the beginning; dealing with burnout and some other issues I won’t bore you with–I feel pretty good right now. That may vary– I could wake up tomorrow feeling like something the cat dragged in–but for now, I am doing great and that’s all that really matters right now.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.
So it looks like we’re going to take a direct hit from Claudette tonight–with conditions deteriorating throughout the day with the worst of it passing through overnight and into tomorrow morning. Yay. I have to run out to Metairie this morning to get my new glasses at some point, and I had hoped to make it to the gym after my work day; we’ll see how that goes. Much as I hate to not go and skip yet again, if we are having torrential rains and street flooding, I’ll have to give myself a break and not beat myself up over not making it today.
I also managed to write last night. When I opened up the document for “Festival of the Redeemer” last night, it was at around 10, 670 words; when I finished working on it and saved it last night it was at well over fourteen thousand. Yay! The original plan was for it to clock in at around twenty thousand; if I am going to do a book of novellas, four at twenty thousand would be a total of eighty thousand, and I always think a book should be between seventy-five and a hundred thousand words, give or take. My last Scotty was nearly a hundred thousand; my next two are certainly over ninety, and I think that’s always going to be my goal from now on; to try to hit that sweet spot between eighty and a hundred thousand words. I also, more importantly, kind of like seeing how the story develops as I write it; I really had no plan other than some vague, amorphous thing like troubled gay couple comes to Venice and something dark happens, so it’s kind of free form writing that I generally shy away from, out of a sense of “don’t waste time or energy on things you’ll eventually have to cut from the story and not use”–especially since I have always managed to use that deleted material in something else at some point. But I am really enjoying writing this, which is really the big news, and once again I am not really paying attention to how much I’ve written as I am writing–the hole in the page (thank you, Stephen King!) opens and I fall into it and before I know it, I’ve written an almost obscene amount, which is always absolutely delightful.
I was tired yesterday, which is never a good thing–partly because of the weird sleep of the night before; I slept extremely well last night and feel very rested this morning, which is a good thing since I have to go to Metairie. It’s also only about eighty degrees outside, which is also lovely (and indicative of a tropical disturbance on its way). The power outage the other night also messed up the calibration of our air conditioning system, meaning there’s again about a fifteen degree difference between the upstairs and the downstairs–the living room/kitchen feels like a freezer, and the upstairs beach weather–but it is slowly but surely beginning to even out; the difference this morning isn’t as significant. But it was so cold downstairs–and yes, I did turn the setting to higher, to no avail–I was literally wearing a T-shirt under my sweats and a stocking cap to keep my head warm.
I think I may allow myself to take the day off from writing the novella today; I have a lot to get done today–not the least of which is the drive out to Metairie–and I want to get to the gym, weather permitting; I also have some website writing to get done, which I will probably tackle tomorrow morning, if we have power–always an issue–so I need to be sure I have all laptops powered up as well as my phone, so I can turn it into a hotspot to email the copy in when it’s done if we don’t have power. It’s always so hit or miss, really, with these kinds of storms. But it’s also nice to know that even if we don’t have power, I can probably get it all done and turned in anyway–and I can even write on the novella as long as I have a laptop that has power, and I am not going to have to use both to write the copy, so there’s that. The novella really went in a stranger direction than I expected it to yesterday, but it’s happening organically, so I am going to see where this developing plot takes me.
And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and finish waking up before I get going with the rest of my ay. Happy Friday, Constant Reader!
Our power went out for nearly two hours last night–we were watching The Housewife and the Hustler, the damning ABC News documentary focusing on the crimes of celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi and his spouse, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Erica Girardi (whose alter-ego is entertainer Erika Jayne, who has had some hits on the dance charts)–and while it was out, I fell asleep in my chair and when it came back on, I was too drowsy and tired to write last night. I had done about two or three hundred words before we started watching the documentary, and was really looking forward to making some more progress on the novella last night. Alas, it was not to be–and I have yet to check the progress of the tropical depression in the Bay of Campeche, which is aiming directly for us and would arrive at some point over the weekend. (note to self: fill car’s gas tank TODAY)
UPDATE: I just checked. Strong possibility it will form into Hurricane Claudette, but the primary threat appears to be heavy rainfall over the weekend as it comes ashore. Sort of relief, not really. What it does mean is errands must be run and completed before the weekend; we could lose power at some point; and probably at least being housebound with the car at risk of being flooded (and ruined) if the street floods.
Oh, well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.
I had weird restless dreams last night–nightmares, actually–so I am not as well rested as I could be this morning. I also made it to the gym last night, so my muscles are a bit achy and tired this morning. But I am not sorry I went to the gym–and believe me, I had to make myself go–but I could do without the groggy tiredness this morning. I have a lot to get done today and very little desire to do any of it; but am also up way earlier than I usually am on a Thursday so hopefully that will translate into a lovely night’s sleep tonight.
I can dream, at any rate.
Any way, as I walked home last night from the gym, sweating sweating sweating, I continued the Instagram experiment, which is actually going fairly well. I did worry about it a bit last night–thinking to myself you don’t want to get addicted to likes and so forth, and allow your obsessive personality to take over here–but at the same time, if I can subversively slip some promo in, why not? I also love taking pictures–I have literally tens of thousands of picture files saved in various digital storage locations, and since I am never going to ever be a professional photographer, why not share the with the world? At least the good ones? And I do live in a very picturesque area in an incredibly beautiful city. Last night, for example, I took a picture of a house that I used in The Orion Mask; the house in New Orleans my main character, Heath, inherited from his mother the painter–who died from a gunshot wound when he was a toddler; the story being it was self-inflicted–and the actual house was merely a starting place. I loved this house in my neighborhood; still do, it’s one of my favorite houses in the city, actually, but I changed and made alterations to it. I needed the gallery to run all the way around the house, on each side, rather than just in the front (like the original’s); and I have no idea what the house’s floor plan was. In the book I made the entire downstairs one big room, with the amazing ten foot windows and shutters on each side; so that when the shutters were all opened the downstairs would be flooded with light–and her studio was a corner of that room, figuring a painter would want lots of light and lots of windows for views and inspiration from the gorgeous colors of the vegetation in the city.
New Orleans really is a breathtakingly beautiful city.
It occurred to me though, as I was posting the picture of Heath’s inheritance, that I don’t ever really write about working class or poor people, at least in my books (and of course, now that I’ve written that, Heath was from a middle-class background and worked for an airline; the hero of Dark Tide was definitely working class/poor, and the main character in Timothy wasn’t exactly rolling in money either–before marrying the master of Spindrift, at any rate. Likewise, Tony in Sara wasn’t even middle class, either. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be so rough on myself about issues of class) and I can’t help but think I should do that some more. I know that if I ever write Where the Boys Die (and I will; it’s really just a matter of time and when I will get to it; MUST FOCUS ON WRITING) it’s going to be set in a white-flight suburb and focus on families at various levels of the class system in this country; as would You’re No Good, should I ever get to that one as well.
So many ideas to write. Honest to God, I will never have the time to write them all, especially since my work ethic isn’t what it used to be–which is mainly from not having the energy I used to, in all honesty. I keep hoping that going to the gym regularly (if and when I ever get to the point where I have developed a routine that I can stick to) that there will be an increase in stamina and energy for me as I get back into better physical condition. I can dream, I guess.
All right, it’s nearly time for me to head back into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Thursday, okay?
Tuesday morning and we here in New Orleans are in the midst of a heat wave of sorts; I gather from my social media accounts that it’s pretty widespread nationally. It’s often difficult to tell here whether this year is hotter than previous years; it’s always, to borrow a lovely phrase from the Brits, bloody hot here in the summer (technically, it’s not even summer yet–not until June 20th–but summer always seems to arrive in New Orleans around Mother’s Day in May; which is also when the termites start swarming) and one always questions one’s self as the heat descends upon us in all its blazing fury: was it this hot last summer? Surely I would remember, wouldn’t I?
Ah, the joys of selective memory. Again, why I will never write a memoir.
I slept very well last night, but was yet again plagued with some seriously bizarre and strange dreams; which is becoming a nightly occurrence. I don’t remember said dreams this morning, which is more normal than those from the previous two nights–which I did remember; but I remember having them, which is also not ordinary for me. I o feel rested–although I would have gladly slept the rest of the day away. Last night after work I also was interviewed by Eric Beetner for his Writer Types podcast; although I guess the correct way of saying that is that I was a guest on a taping of a future podcast, along with the always delightful Dharma Kelleher. (She and I are also going a ZOOM-type panel tonight for the San Francisco Public Library, moderated by my personal hero, Michael Nava, along with fellow panelists Cheryl Head and PJ Vernon, whose Bath Haus is releasing today; my copy should be delivered sometime today and YAY!) Doing those sort of things is always draining for me, and of course, with the time differential, this will be wrapping up tonight past my bedtime, which may mean I am not at my best as I will undoubtedly be drooping–but Cheryl is on EST, so it’s even later for her, so I need to fasten my seatbelt, sit up straight and participate. I just figure it means I will sleep even better tonight than I did last, frankly.
Today looks to be another hot one–but we’re getting thunderstorms later this week, so that might bring the heat down a little bit. When I went out to get into my car after work yesterday, it was literally like opening the oven door. I reached in, put the keys in the ignition and started the engine, reaching down to turn up the a./c, waiting for a bit before getting inside–but even then, the steering wheel was too hot to touch and the seat belt buckle was also pretty rough and nasty. I think I need to have my windshield tinted at some point–the direct bright sunlight can’t be good for the dashboard, and it’s certainly not good for me, personally.
I also intended to write some more on “Festival of the Redeemer” last night, but by the time the podcast was over–always a delight; I really enjoy Eric Beetner a lot, and Dharma is always lovely to talk books with–I was tired. I was already tired before signing into the podcast–spotty sleep Sunday night–and the drive home included a stop for groceries and the heat is so draining…I was worried I’d be deadly dull, and am not entirely sure I wasn’t anyway. But when we were finished, I needed to do some dishes and laundry before finally plopping down into my easy chair. I do need to get back to writing it, though–maybe tonight, since the panel is so late for me, I can do some since I won’t be able to get sucked into the television, watching something. I was going to go to the gym, and then rethought that–heat, lifting weights, losing lots of fluids; probably not the best idea and I can always go tomorrow night after work–so yeah, getting some things done and some writing under my belt is probably the best way to go with that.
We watched the first episode of Loki last night, and I wasn’t really impressed with it. Tom Hiddleston, of course, is always wonderful, and I think the premise might be interesting, but it just seemed like a lot of set-up was being done and there was a lot of backstory being recapped to set the series up, so for me, it wasn’t terribly involving. It wasn’t terrible by any means, so I will keep watching–I always try to give a show a few episodes before abandoning it entirely–but I found myself more than a little disappointed, and my mind wandered a lot.
This next scene I am writing for “Festival of the Redeemer” is also a rather hard one to write, in which a lot of complex feelings must be dealt with, as well as the deteriorating relationship between the two main characters, while they are having a lovely, romantic dinner at a restaurant on top of a hotel along the Grand Canal with a magnificent sunset view of the Serenissima; and it occurs to me that’s why I’ve been hedging about writing it, frankly–which is dumb (and I do this all the time; a scene or chapter that’s going to be difficult so I delay writing it because I forget it can always be revised, rewritten and edited BECAUSE I AM A MORON!).
And on that note– calling myself a moron is always a lovely spot to stop–I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!
Wednesday and pay the bills day; which hasn’t been depressing in a while but I suspect will be by the time I am finished with this always odious chore. After a sleepless night on Monday, last night’s sleep was much better. I was horribly tired all day yesterday–the combo of no sleep and the workout Monday night; tonight I will be heading back to the gym again after work–and as such did no writing last night. I did write yesterday–in my head; I finally came up with the perfect concept for a story idea I’ve been toying with for quite some time, “Murder on the Acela Express”, with an assist from a very good friend, so I did scribble that down and made some notes in my journal. I also had to proof the final draft of this year’s Edgar annual, which also took up some time Monday evening and on breaks at work, so it’s not like I have been slacking this week. But I really want to get back to “Festival of the Redeemer,” and at some point I want to look over “The Sound of Snow Falling” and see what to make of it; I have figured out the story at last–I knew who the characters were, the set-up, and the setting; I just didn’t now how to write the crime and end it, which I do know now.
So, progress of a sort, right?
There was also exciting news at the day job this week–my position has been funded again by the CDC for another five years, which will actually take me all the way to retirement. While it was always unlikely that the funding would ever be pulled with the concomitant loss of my job, every time the grant is up for renewal it always rather hovers in the back of my mind like a slightly sore tooth you can’t help but worry with your tongue even though it hurts. I also got a raise (the entire staff did), which was a pleasant surprise, and we were also given two extra vacation days, with the agency closing down on a Friday and Monday in August to give us all a long weekend–and it’s the weekend before I turn sixty; my birthday will also be on a Friday this year, which is generally a work-at-home day for me (if that still holds after we go back to full operations again) so I can stay home, watch movies, and make condom packs all day, which will be kind of nice. And then Bouchercon is the very next weekend, and then the next weekend is Labor Day and Southern Decadence–which I am not entirely sure is going to happen, or what is going to go on with that at all. And my car will be paid off come January, which will be even more lovely. So there are things to look forward to, certainly; and I am getting a little bit excited. I generally don’t look too far ahead–there’s always so much to do to keep me occupied I don’t think about the future much–but maybe I need to start doing that a bit more; although there is something to the idea/notion that looking ahead is sort of wishing your life away, which is why I try not to do that unless of course a deadline of some sort is involved.
Although I seem to tend to do that a lot every week by looking forward to the weekend and wishing it would arrive faster.
The summer humidity has returned after all the rain of May; this morning my windows are covered in condensation as the sun is rising, and I feel very rested and alert this morning, which is lovely. I did a load of laundry last night, which I need to fold before getting ready to head into the office this morning; I suspect I will be very tired tonight simply from working, stopping at the grocery on the way home, and then going to the gym–plus we have the last episode of season one of Blood on Acorn to watch, and another episode of Cruel Summer should be loaded on Hulu–the show is surprisingly compelling, and watching it unfold over three different timelines, each one a year apart but on the same day–is a story device I’m really liking a lot more than I thought I would. I know it can be done in a novel–Alison Gaylin’s What Remains of Me did a dual timeline, and Laura Lippman’s After I’m Gone bounced around in time like that, and I think it did have three time periods–and it’s something I think I would like to try at some point in the future. I think part of the reason I’ve been in the doldrums about my writing is because I’ve not been pushing myself to try new things, to experiment and play with the form of story-telling, and I’ve been feeling stale….which isn’t a good place to be when you fancy yourself a writer.
And I think that has been a lot of the malaise I’ve been feeling lately–the last few years with my writing, really–that sense of writing by rote, on automatic; and not pushing myself and trying new things. I will say that the short story writing has been really terrific in that regard, getting to explore themes and ideas and form in a shorter medium (I have published several short stories recently that, ironically, have been reviewed with the note: should have been longer, like a novella–which is always the problem with writing short stories for me; I always feel like there’s more to the story, and apparently that is indeed the case with some of them; but I am trying not to turn short story ideas into longer forms of fiction anymore…which is also kind of why i am experimenting with the novella form). I will say I enjoyed the hell out of Royal Street Reveillon because I was really pushing myself by juggling plots and subplots; it also felt more like a Scotty book than the ones previous–mainly because the plots were more simple and linear. I was having a lot of fun writing it–I do remember that–despite the headaches of juggling so much plot and story-lines.
Aaaaaannnnnndddddd….I think I know what the next Scotty is going to be. I am going to start making notes on it today…we’ll see how it goes.