Friday and I like my new doctor. It’s nice to finally be in the care of an actual doctor again–with no offense intended at all to the nurse practitioners I’ve seen over the last two years; they were also wonderful–but there’s something subconsciously psychologically more affirming about seeing someone who has the actual title of doctor, which is curious in and of itself–what is that rooted in? What kind of societal expectation, which may be based in absolutely nothing rational, created that as a comfort zone for me, and further, made it instinctual?–which I will leave in the hands of the clinically trained behavior experts to research.
Instead of working on anything already in progress last night, of course I started writing another short story. This one is called “Wash Away Sins”, which makes a sort of loose sense in my fevered creative brain, and it’s another Alabama story and it’s a follow-up to “Smalltown Boy,” actually; I can’t remember precisely the thought chain that wound up there, but I read something somewhere that made me think of washed in the blood of the lamb, which means baptized, and in the Christian sect i was raised in, that meant your baptism washed away all your sins before the baptism….which made me think of everything before the baptism as a “wash away sin”, and then i thought about the opening of “Smalltown Boy” and how that poor woman killed her husband to end the abuse, and the sentence You could have knocked everyone down with a feather when Vonda Hackworth answered Brother Burleson’s call to salvation and I was off to the races. I was writing in my journal, though, rather than typing the story up–which I will have to do at some point, probably today or maybe tomorrow.
Again, not anything I should be working on, of course.
I also started reading S. A. Cosby’s marvelous Razorblade Tears yesterday while at the doctor’s office, and it is, actually, quite marvelous. Maybe the most delightful thing of being a part of this community, as well as being an avid reader, is watching talents grow and develop. I’ve always enjoyed Shaun’s work, but every book is exponentially better somehow than the one before….and that is saying something. I am really looking forward to a deep dive on the book this weekend. Huzzah!
I also had a dentistry appointment this morning, and I hope, whenever the health care situation in this country is ever resolved, that the dentisty insurance issue is also addressed. I’ve always had terrible teeth–the only good thing about them was they were perfectly straight–and now I am going to have to spend a lot of money on my bottom teeth to have a functioning mouth again. It’s horribly depressing, really–hurray for even more debt–but I suppose it’s money I need to spend.
Or I can keep going through life looking like a Clampett.
Today turned out to be almost a complete waste. After the dentist experience–which took much longer than anticipated–i made groceries and then decided to go upgrade my phone. Again, took waaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated; seriously, y’all, I left the house for the dentist at nine this morning and i got home from the AT&T store after three…so I figured, fuck it, I may as well get the gym out of the way and take pictures with my new phone on the way home so that’s what I did. The new phone, an iPhone 12 Pro, is pretty amazing. The sound quality is so dramatically better than the old phone–which I thought had amazing sound, actually–and my word, the pictures are so much better, too! I am going to need to play with this phone’s camera a bit, methinks.
And on that note, I am ending this tiresome entry and ending my on-line presence for the day.
It seems hard to believe–and writing it out makes it seem even harder to believe–but my first book came out over nineteen years ago. Right? I’ve been a published author of crime fiction now for almost a third of my lifespan–more, if you consider my career beginning when the original contract was signed–and yes, it makes me feel a bit old and weathered, and no, it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible (well, that so much time has passed).
It’s also a little weird to remember that one of the launching pads that got publishing in the first place was book reviewing. I started reviewing books for IMPACT News here in New Orleans around 1998, which led me eventually to national magazines, and an assistant editor position at Lambda Book Report (now LambdaLiterary.org) for a few months before taking over as editor-in-chief for twelve issues. Over the next few years I still did the occasional book review, but was slowly backing away from it. As a novelist myself, reviewing books was basically a mine field for me. If I reviewed a book badly, someone would inevitably pull out the old canard of “he’s just jealous!” (nothing could be further, ever, from the truth; I am not jealous of anyone’s success; if anything, I am jealous of other writers’ abilities and skills and creativity–which would never result in a negative boo review in the first place)
Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve never been accused of jealousy of other writers’ careers and/or success; it amuses me a bit, because clearly the person lobbing such an accusation doesn’t know me at all–but I also don’t like being perceived that way. So I stopped reviewing books for money and for publication–it wasn’t a big financial loss for me in the first place; few places pay incredibly well for reviews; certainly not the places paying me for them, at any rate–and it eliminated any future accusations of “jealousy.” I also stopped talking about queer writers, and/or blogging about their books, a while back for various reasons. For one, I don’t want to be seen as a reviewer or my blog as a review site; as it is, I got requests from authors and publicists periodically wanting me to read and review their book(s) here; inevitably, I never am able to get to it and I don’t want to read for anything other than pleasure anymore.
When someone sends you a book to review, it turns the reading from pleasure to work and I don’t want that; it’s hard enough to turn off my editorial brain when I read, let alone adding the reviewer’s mindset back into my psyche.
I also realize, now, that all of this dissembling might sound like I am about to write some terrible things about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus; nothing could be further from the truth.
This is a fucking mistake.
My heart beats against the back of my sternum like it might knock itself still.
I kill the ignition and Nathan’s SUV sinks into silence. My wedding band slides right off, joining spare console change. Nathan and I aren’t married, but he insists we wear rings.
The iPhone buzzing in my pocket is a miniature washing machine. Nathan’s calling. I wait it out, don’t move. A simple phone call I treated like a kidney stone. Excruciating and it needs to pass. He leaves a voicemail.
“Oliver. Dinner’s wrapped up, heading back to the hotel now. Give me a call if you can. Wondering what you’re doing. Did you remember Tilly’s heartworm medication? Don’t forget. It’s important. Call me. Love you.”
Mental note: return Nathan’s call within the hour. Thirty minutes is his typical limit. If he doesn’t hear back within half an hour, we fight. But he’s out of town, and I can stretch it to an hour. He can’t fight me from Manhattan, and it sounds lie he’s been drinking anyway.
First of all, I want to point out that back when I was getting started, the chances of this book being published by a mainstream press like Doubleday, in hardcover, were so infinitesimal I can’t even think about such a manuscript being delivered to a mainstream editor in 2000 without laughing out loud. The book opens in a bath house, for God’s sake; my QUEER publisher made me make a slight change to Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which meant not having the murder victim and his wealthy closeted lover meet in a French Quarter bath house. (I was told they would not be seen as sympathetic by the reader, which also struck me as odd; but it was also my first book and I wasn’t going to argue, assuming my queer publisher knew better than I did) Hell, even the title is Bath Haus–which kind of lays it all out for you, right there. This book also doesn’t shy away from gay sexuality, either–another third rail in thriller/crime fiction. It’s all right there for you, and not done in a prurient way; it is simply presented as another facet of their lives, much as it would be if it were a heterosexual couple.
And I absolutely love this opening–which contrasts the mundanity of the coupled existence vs. the lure of cheating.
I mean, how genius to have his main character, about to enter a bath house to cheat on his partner, get a text reminding him to give the dog her heartworm medicine! Well played, indeed!
PJ has called this book “Gone Girl with Grindr and gays”–which is a great elevator pitch, really–but the only similarities here with Gone Girl is that the book focuses on a dysfunctional relationship that spirals out of control, and that it’s a thriller with the same kinds of surprising twists and turns and surprises that keep you turning the page, very curious to see how this is all going to end–and to find out what is going on as well.
The book focuses on a relationship that really isn’t an equal one: wealthy surgeon Nathan, from a socially prominent family, has rescued a lower class drug addicted younger man from drowning in his own no-where life. But that power differential (rescuer/savior and rescued/victim), when added in with the financial differences, has made Oliver almost as dependent on Nathan as he used to be with drugs; if he loses Nathan, he will have nothing–which he is very aware of, and yet…like all addicts, there is a self-destructive streak in Oliver. He has never gotten over the self-loathing that was only amplified by drug addiction–and so he has begun checking out other guys on a Grindr-like app called MeetLockr (props for the clever app name! PJ needs to trademark that before someone else makes a fortune off it…then again I am assuming it’s NOT a real app, aren’t I?) and finally, with Nathan out of town and the coast, as he sees it, clear–Oliver decides to go to Haus, a bath house, for a night of anonymous sex which should never intrude into the picture perfect life Nathan has provided him. But his encounter turns terrifying, as Kristian, a gorgeous Scandinavian, begins choking him far past the point of pleasure and Oliver panics, fights back, slashes Kristian’s cheek open with his locker key–and then has to lie to Nathan about the bruises on his neck, beginning a downward spiral of lies and deception that begets more lies and deceptions as he frantically tries to hide the truth from Nathan–but few things in this book are what they seem at first glance, and the deeper the reader gets into the book, the more surprises are in store….
Bath Haus is definitely a thriller; a non-stop thrill ride that is difficult to put down, with brief chapters and short staccato sentences that come at the reader like bullets from an AK-47, almost daring you to put the book down–which you won’t be able to.
The book has received a lot of hype–also thrilling for me to see–and I am very happy to say it lives up to said hype.
I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)
We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.
I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.
We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.
Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.
And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.
I slept very strangely last night–for the first time in a very long time I had what I call “stress dreams”; they’re really not quite nightmares, in that they aren’t scary, but rather me dreaming about something that causes me stress. It’s been years since I’ve had one of these–I guess you could say that the ‘test I didn’t study for’ or ‘went to class naked’ fall into that category; I’ve never had either of those–but this was one in which I was going to have to go on stage and perform for something to do with work; but for some reason I needed to have a cricket and as the time for me to go on stage drew nearer, the cricket I was given got away and I couldn’t find it; finally had to go outside and try to catch a new, untrained (it was a dream; of course none of it made the slightest bit of sense) and of course, for some reason my parents were in the audience and I couldn’t find a cricket. I woke up around six and thought, do I want to go back to sleep and into that dream again? But I closed my eyes again, figuring the dream was interrupted, but no–back into this weird dream where I had to have a cricket and go on stage and perform in something vaguely Dickensian.
At seven thirty I woke up again and thought, fuck it, I’d rather be tired than go back into that dream. So I got up and came downstairs to make coffee. And here I am.
I bit the bullet and bought a more expensive (and dependable) vacuum cleaner yesterday–the same model we bought like nine years ago that I didn’t really maintain properly but still managed to work well for nearly seven years; I am going to maintain this one properly–I read the manual, believe it or not–and so part of my day today will include working on the floors. I’m also going to make watermelon gazpacho–I may have to run to the grocery because I need both lemon and lime juice, and I also want to get a bag of ice so I can make a proper dirty martini this evening–still working on getting the taste right–and I also want to work on my writing some as well as get to the gym. I also recognize this is a rather ambitious program for the day; there’s reading I need to get done as well–I really want to finish Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow, which I was enjoying before I got distracted from it; a great debut by a trans author (which we need more of, by the way), and I’m not really sure what distracted me from it, to be honest…but I’ve not really been doing much reading for a while–but I am enjoying Robert Caro’s The Power Broker.
I guess I should say I am not reading anything new to me, because that is more accurate. I think I mentioned yesterday that I got a lovely tweet from a reader about Mardi Gras Mambo the other night, and then I tried reading it again–I have the ebook on my iPad–but for some reason there was an issue I couldn’t resolve to get it open, and it kept freezing my Kindle app (don’t come for me, I also have iBooks and Kobo and generally try to buy ebooks through platforms that allow percentages to go to either non-profits or independent bookstores; and I also take advantage of deeply discounted sales and I especially love when the books are offered free); yesterday I deleted the app and redownloaded it and voila! Problem solved. I haven’t reread the book in a really long time–I’ve not reread any of the Scottys in a really long time–and as I was reading (skimming mostly) I was remembering things from the time I was writing the book: that the original idea was vastly different from the final iteration; I actually stopped writing it and then trashed everything I had written and started over; the second iteration was also significantly different from the final, and something else happened that kept me finishing; and when I finally went back to finish it I trashed the entire thing for yet a second time and started over completely. It took me–because of the stops and starts–much longer to write than anything else I’ve ever written (that was published); I remember often referring to the book as my own personal Vietnam (although now Afghanistan would be more indicative of endless quagmire) and–now that I think back on it–the inability to finish this book was why I started blogging in the first place. I needed to get back into the habit of writing every day, so I could kickstart my creativity and finish the damned book.
But as I was rereading/reskimming, I was amazed at how fucking complicated the plot was, and how much juggling was required to not leave loose ends, to not contradict things that had happened, and I remember that last summer before Katrina (the book was turned in three weeks before that bitch came ashore) how much work I had to do on that manuscript; how I had to keep checking and double-checking to make sure it made sense and I had the right people in the right place and that it was possible for characters to move around the way they did; and how I wanted the pacing to be completely frenetic and crazy because it was taking place over that final weekend of Carnival, and how badly I didn’t want to the book to end the way it did. It was also during the writing that I discovered that the original way I’d planned the trilogy (once I knew it was going to be more than a standalone) couldn’t be completed in this volume and that the personal story–always intended to be resolved by book three–was going to have to roll over into a fourth book….which I eventually (thanks to Katrina) began to think would never happen. I hated leaving it as a trilogy…but how do you write a funny book set in New Orleans after Katrina? I couldn’t think of any way to do it, and when I finally did start Vieux CarréVoodoo, I just jumped ahead a few years. (Although now I am thinking I can go back and do that very thing; maybe I could do a couple of post-Katrina Scottys, to give me some breathing space away from the pandemic and go back to him being younger?) It also made me realize, again, that a lot of the post-Katrina Scotty books I’ve done didn’t have very complex or complicated plots; they were always very straightforward and simple until Royal Street Reveillon. I have several ideas of what to do next with Scotty, and rereading/reskimming Mardi Gras Mambo made me realize–instead of deciding which plot to do next, why not do them all in one? Why NOT write another complicated, complex, all over the map plot with subplots galore? It’ll be hard work, of course, but why am I shying away from hard work?
I’ve also been researching more about folk tales and legends of Louisiana; I saw that someone is doing a graphic novel built around one of them–the Grunch–and as I started digging around into that particular myth/legend, a Grunch story started forming in my mind, and I soon realized Monsters of Louisiana could happen very easily; again, it’s a matter of time to write and time to research.
I did manage, around groceries and getting the mail and trying to get organized and relaxed and everything, to put about another 1200 words into “Festival of the Redeemer.” I also remembered that I had made, years ago, a Pinterest board for Venice, and so I visited it yesterday to look at the pictures to help me with a dream sequence I am writing into the story–I needed to see Venetian Carnival costumes, and oh, did my Pinterest board ever have some fantastic images pinned to it! I had completely forgotten that I’d made a Pinterest board when I was writing Timothy to help out, with images of the house I was basing Spindrift on, and images of rooms to use for descriptions, and so forth…and as I scrolled through these amazing images on my Venice board, I kept thinking to myself, why the fuck don’t you use this website for images for works in progress? This would have come so in handy for the two you’ve just turned in, you fucking moron.
And seriously, it really is a wonder I have a career anymore. I have all these wonderful tools at my disposal to make it easier to write things and then never use them.
And on that note, this floor isn’t going to vacuum itself. Catch you tomorrow, Constant Reader.
Today I am going to venture out to run some errands and then probably (possibly) brave the horrible heat to head over to the gym. I also want to get a lot of writing and cleaning and so forth done today–yes, yes, what else is new, I know–but I was able to get the car back yesterday and then we ventured to Costco before coming home to collapse like heavy woolen blankets that didn’t completely dry in the dryer.
Christ it is hot this June.
Paul did point out that last June probably was just as hot–which reminded me of working the screening desk in the garage at work and getting dehydration sickness (HYDRATE PEOPLE)–and then he also pointed out May was unusually mild and much rainier than usual, so the bitch slap of the return of your usual New Orleans summer weather felt even nastier than it generally does when it happens.
I am tired this morning, despite sleeping like a stone. I was tired yesterday–any amount of time spent out of doors in this type of New Orleans weather is exhausting and draining (and I am not, alas, in as good of physical condition as I should be; but despite the draining nature of this weather I draw the line at driving the short distance to the gym, which is simply insane and goes against the entire idea of going to the gym in the first place)–and while I need to, am trying to, exercise and be more conscious of self-care, I cannot allow the weather to keep me from doing things. (Yesterday when we picked up the car–shout out to Dawn, our amazing Lyft driver–it was 97 degrees and morbidly humid; after the Costco trip and unloading the car, all I really wanted to do was curl up in a corner in the air conditioning and hide for the rest of the evening. But there were other things that needed doing, so I wrote for a while (adding about another thousand words to “Festival of the Redeemer”), finished some laundry (I just heard the dryer click off from a fluff cycle, since I left the clothes in there over night), and then we finished watching an absolutely delightful HBO MAX show called Starstruck, which is incredibly charming, funny, and sweet–the premise is a young woman who has two horrible dead-end jobs, approaches life with a kind of grin and sense of humor but is really adrift, hooks up with someone one New Year’s who turns out to be a major film star–and follows their back-and-forth fumbling towards a relationship. The chemistry between them is absolutely fantastic, and we absolutely loved it. Rose Matafeo plays Jessie (she’s also the writer of the show) and she is just perfect; while Tom Kapoor, the movie star, is also perfectly played by Nikesh Patel–the cast is perfect down to the smallest role. The irony of the show is Jessie is positively NOT starstruck; she finds his celebrity appalling and a barrier to any possibility of a relationship between the two. Constant Reader, I think you would love it. It’s probably one of the most charming shows I’ve seen, up there with Schitt’s Creek, Ted Lasso, and Kim’s Convenience–which is high praise indeed.
Someone tweeted at me yesterday about having finished Mardi Gras Mambo and having tears in their eyes by the end; which was absolutely a lovely thing and an incredibly pleasant reminder that I kind of needed…we so often as writers live in a vacuum, and the negativity out there about our work is so intrusive and debilitating sometimes that it’s always lovely when someone who enjoyed your work reaches out to let you know. Thank you, person on Twitter that I don’t know; you made my evening…and it really takes so little.
I read a wonderful article in LA Review of Books written by Michael Nava yesterday (he really is a treasure; I am so delighted he has taken up the Henry Rios character again), which was the second part (I somehow missed the first and will be looking for it today) about the history of queer publishing. This was about the Golden Age, from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s; and reading it reminded me of so many names that I hadn’t forgotten but simply hadn’t thought about in a very long time. I came into queer publishing around this time, as a book reviewer for the New Orleans queer newspaper Impact; eventually branching out into national queer glossies and Lambda Book Report, where I actually wound up working; first as an assistant editor for about five months before taking over as editor for a year. I made many friends during that year and a half at LBR; it was while I was working there that Michael ended the Henry Rios series (I got Katherine Forrest to interview him and put him on the cover, using my very poor and picked-up-on-the-job Adobe Photoshop skills to pull together my most ambitious cover design to date; I have all the issues I worked on in a box up in the storage attic…and reading Michael’s piece made me think about bringing that box down and going through them, for the sake of the memories they would bring back for me–and then I thought, wow you sure have been experiencing a lot of nostalgia this year and decided to skip it for now), which was heartbreaking for me, a long-time fan. I left LBR–which in many ways was my dream job–just before the release of my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, because I felt I couldn’t really run a review magazine focusing on queer lit while I was also publishing my own fiction; I felt it created too much of a conflict of interest. I still stand my that decision–a lot of people were disappointed that I stepped down from the job; I remember one legendary queer writer telling me I was “destroying my career” by doing so (I think things worked out rather well, though; always trust your own instincts). I continued reviewing books for a few more years, but really felt uncomfortable doing so; for me, as a writer of queer fiction, it seemed–and still does–like a conflict of interest and so eventually I stopped being a paid reviewer. Now, of course, I review the occasional book I loved here on the blog; but I am not being paid for my opinion and I won’t talk about a book I didn’t like on here…I also don’t write about every book I read on this blog, either; and sometimes I worry that people think I didn’t like their book if I don’t review it…but then I remind myself that reviewing books isn’t the point of this blog, and it never has been….the blog is something I primarily write for myself, and I’m not interested in having a book review blog. I love reading for pleasure, and really, when I do write about a book I loved on here it’s to emphasize how much I love to read more than anything else.
And I really do need to get back to reading more.
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. There’s a lot on the agenda today, and randomly riffing on my musings here isn’t going to get any of it done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and see you on the morrow.
So, my car–not so new anymore, and nearly paid off–wouldn’t start yesterday, which was horrifying and traumatizing; like any car drama inevitably always is.. Mostly for the incredible inconvenience of having to deal with it all, really–and the inevitable unexpected expense. There are few things that can drive me to the brink of tears more quickly than car trouble; years of having old, old, OLD cars have trained me to be expect expense and heartbreak every time something goes wrong with a car. I specifically bought a brand new car so I’d never have to worry about this again, I thought sadly, feeling terribly betrayed, but..it’s almost paid for (and oh, how long I’ve been looking forward to that day)and this is the first real trouble of any kind and so I sighed, came back inside and called the dealership. I explained what was going on–the technician was looking me up in the computer from the called ID and when I finished, he said, “well, that doesn’t sound like the battery, it sounds like an electrical system issue and I am seeing you bought the extended warrantee so that’s completely covered. Have you arranged for the tow yet?”
GREG: “Well, no, I was waiting to talk to you and–”
He cut me off before I could finish saying “…can you recommend someone?”
“Mr. Herren, do you have full coverage with your car insurance?” When I answered in the affirmative, he replied, “Call them and see if they cover tows–most of them do and most people don’t know that. Regardless, they can arrange for the tow for you, and the tow company will simply bill us, so it will be included in whatever costs you may incur here; if this is completely covered by your warrantee you just pay us for the tow charges when you pick up the car. So, give them a call and we’ll take a look at your car when it arrives.”
I hung up, dumbfounded, and went to my insurance website. I called, the automated system texted me a link to their app, and within two minutes I’d arranged for a tow; it arrived exactly on the dot when the app said it would, and that was it.
The app will even arrange a ride for me to pick up the car.
I mean, wow. I don’t even know how to feel about being so bad at being an adult–if not for the tech at my dealership, I would have paid for the tow, and I might have even just decided to take it to the Firestone on Camp Street because it’s walkable from here. I mean, it’s still entirely possible I need stuff done that isn’t covered under the warrantee, but just the savings on the tow truck alone has made me really happy and joyful and now I don’t even care about the inconvenience of both not having a car momentarily and having to go to the West Bank eventually to pick it up. UPDATE: they just called and it was the battery; not covered. But it’s fine. Batteries generally last three to five years and mine made it to 4 1/2, not bad, really.
I also spent some time on-line chatting with Apple Support because the latest upgrade to Big Sur messed up Safari somehow and it kept failing. tl:dr we had to reinstall the OS, but it still didn’t work, but I had created another user account on this computer–and everything works there; in fact, it’s so fast it’s like a new computer so I figure well, what the hell, until THIS user account fucks up I’ll keep using this one instead of the other one, but none of this makes sense to me in any way, shape or form.
But whatever works, works, you know? And my computer is still working beautifully this morning, so…not complaints. I’m just going to keep doing this, and then when the opportunity presents itself–when I have time to spend hours futzing with it and Apple Support, maybe then we can get it all worked out. But I am not going to look this gift horse in the mouth, until I have too, and in the meantime I have a desktop that is highly functioning and I am very very happy about that–it’s been soooooo long since the Great Data Disaster of 2018 (or was it 2017?) that I’d almost forgotten how lovely it is to have a functioning computer.
My day job’s functionality is about to change, now that we are nearly post-pandemic; we’re going to be opening more and offering more services for our clients again. It’s going to require some serious adjustments–seriously–and of course the old dog is going to have to readjust to new scheduling and new writing times. I am a little bit concerned on that level, because of course my adaptability isn’t quite what it used to be, but this too shall pass and I am relatively certain that I can eventually evolve into whatever this new work schedule is going to be…but the main adjustment I am primarily trying to make now is getting used to the return of summer to New Orleans. I probably say this every year, but GOOD LORD, it seems so much hotter and ever so more humid this year; far earlier than usual, I would also say. Maybe it’s no different that previous years–and am far too lazy to go look anything up–but yesterday waiting outside for the tow truck I honestly felt like I was broiling. I will never understand how people lived, worked, and functioned down here before air conditioning.
Last night’s panel for Tubby and Coo’s was quite fun–I really enjoyed meeting and listening to Traci Taylor, whose debut novel And I You sounds fantastic; a Black lesbian romance set in Detroit in the 1990’s and exploring issues of sexuality and stigma. The book she is currently working on also sounds amazing. I am trying to also get ready for next week’s San Francisco Public Library panel, moderated by Michael Nava (gulp), and the other authors are Dharma Kelleher, Cheryl Head, and PJ Vernon, whose Bath Haus is getting buzz everywhere this summer (so exciting to see this for a queer writer), and of course, I need to get some writing (and cleaning, the never-ending cleaning) done this weekend as well as getting back into the gym. I also updated my to-do list yesterday, and was pleased to see that I had gotten at least half–if not more–of the things on it done. The new one, of course, isn’t quite as extensive–I didn’t really add anything new to it, just disposed of the things done–but now there is, indeed, room for more, and I am assuming that as I go through the weekend and clean up things and get stuff put away and so forth, I’ll be adding to that list.
And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines. Happy Friday, all.
Thursday morning and the work-at-home portion of my work week begins. I slept really well last night, which was lovely–but it was humid when I got home from the errands I ran after work I simply couldn’t face walking the five blocks or so to the gym. It was a complete wimp-out, of course; and one I cannot continually use or I might as well cancel my membership. But I want to get back to working out regularly–the lapse in working out gained six pounds back, more or less, and that trend needs to be reversed–so I am hopefully going tonight after my event at 6 pm for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop, with J. M. Redmann and Traci Taylor. Should be interesting.
As always, I am behind on everything I need to get done–I don’t allow it to stress me out anymore, though, unless there are some major work deadlines for writing or something that really needs to get done–otherwise, those deadlines are merely arbitrary ones that I’ve set, and they don’t matter in the long run, other than personal satisfaction and why allow something for personal satisfaction to get me upset, seriously? I have some more reading I would like to get done this weekend, and of course, there’s always laundry and cleaning to get done. It never ends, says the hamster trying to get to the end of the wheel. But at least I do have things to keep me busy, and there’s never a reason for me to be bored unless I want to be bored, you know what I mean? I chose not to be bored–although even when I am too tired to really think or read or get absorbed into something, there’s always plenty of content on Youtube to keep me entertained at the very least.
I also should drag out my to-do list and see where that stands. While I wish I could rely on my memory, it has proven to be too unreliable for me to completely trust it–if I trust it at all, which is becoming a lot less likely the closer I get to sixty (yet another reason to never write a memoir; if I can’t trust my memory… how can I write them?). I used to think I had a great memory–another lie my memories told me–but I also believe, in many instances, that it isn’t so much that my memories are lies but more a matter of perspective. The way I experienced situations, how they affected me and therefore how I remember them, are colored by many other things, many other aspects–my own life experience, my own biases and prejudices and beliefs, are the prisms through which my memories are filtered; which is why witness testimony is so entirely unreliable. The way any two people can witness and see the same event can be radically different, depending on who they are as a person, their own experiences and beliefs and values, prejudices and biases. Think Rashomon.
I’ve also been thinking about the next Scotty–I think I am going to write something–maybe two books, for that matter–that is/are pre-pandemic. I hate anchoring the series in time, and who knows? Maybe I will never write a pandemic Scotty book; the beauty of fiction is you create your own alternative universe where you control all the events and everything else that happens there…although avoiding the pandemic entirely feels like cheating in some ways. I don’t know; the jury is still out on what to do, but I can easily get away with at least a book or maybe two that are pre-pandemic; hell, maybe even three. I still want to do a book about the cursed Carnival of 2020; the last gasp of the old order, as it were.
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Y’all have a great day.
Our new stray (we’re currently calling him Guzman, after a character on Elite) is very friendly, and is clearly someone’s cat, or was; he wants to come inside (alas, already have one indoor kitty) and not only is happy to be fed, but he also wants to be petted and loved on. He’s also very talkative and purrs while being fed/petted. He’s also enormous; he’s a bit on the skinny side, but if he were fed regularly he’d probably eventually expand to Bubba size, and Bubba was essentially the size of a small wildcat–he had to weigh thirty pounds, and his fangs, like Guzman’s, were very long and scary-looking. Guzman could do some serious damage were he so inclined…and I’ve not seen hide nor hair of Tiger since Guzman showed up. Guzman has also yet to figure out he could and would be fed by every door in our little complex–something Tiger learned very quickly–and instead just hangs out on our steps.
While he’s nice to have around, he clearly was–or is–someone’s cat, and I worry that maybe we should have someone come and take him in–he’s been chipped (clipped ear), but if he was abandoned that just makes me furious. I’m hoping he belongs to someone in the neighborhood (the way Simba did) and just has decided to hang out around our steps for a while.
I did make it to the gym last night after work, which was marvelous–despite the heavy soupy humidity; I was drenched in sweat by the time I got there–and I did one set of everything at the weights I was using before the break–three to four weeks, however long it was–and only lat pulldowns was a real strain; I’ve never really had much back strength, at least not in my lat muscles, which then becomes compounded by not wanting to do those exercises or push myself, which becomes the vicious cycle of the lats never getting stronger so the exercise never becomes easier so I don’t like to do them or push myself with them so they never get stronger so the exercise never becomes easier so I….you get the point. I had hoped to be on a split workout by June–different body parts on different days–but that’s going to have to be pushed back to July now, and only if I manage to keep consistent with my three times per week visits. I think I can do this, but I’ve also thought that before. But sixty is also staring me in the face–scratching at my back, as it were–and if I don’t want to continue becoming more and more feeble, regular visits to the gym needs to become part of my routine. Now that summer is here in its full force, that also means the walk to and from will result in heavy loss of body fluids…as it did last night…so I need to make sure I remain fully hydrated.
Insomnia also reared its ugly head again last night; but I am okay with it. I’ve not suffered from this at all since my return from Kentucky, and as long as it doesn’t become a nightly occurrence again I am good with dealing with being tired today–right now I don’t feel tired; my eyes a bit and my legs, of course, but that’s not from lack of sleep so much as it is from the workout last night–but we shall see how the day goes. At the very least I don’t have to go to the gym tonight, so being tired won’t impact my workouts…but tomorrow is another story.
I also didn’t write last night, which wasn’t ideal, but between going to the gym and then coming home for my protein shake and shower there wasn’t much time before Paul came home–and I started falling asleep a bit while we were watching our current Acorn series, Blood–which is interesting, and boy oh boy is the family it focuses on seriously fucked up–but that was also, I think, partly due to Scooter sleeping in my lap; Paul and I have both noted that our cat’s superpower is the ability to lull us both to sleep simply by cuddling with either of us. It’s probably his regular breathing, heartbeat, and warmth, but it is interesting; Skittle didn’t have that power over me. But I have been thinking more about “Festival of the Redeemer,” and am hopeful I’ll get a few thousand words done on it today at some point. I also want to work on “The Sound of Snow Falling” this week; my goal is to get rough first drafts of both finished by the end of the weekend as well as an edit of “A Dirge in the Dark” finished, and I also want to revise the first chapter of Chlorine I’ve already written. An ambitious plan, to be sure, but one that is possible to accomplish. I really need to start achieving at a high level again, and stop whining about lack of sleep and getting older, and using both as an excuse to not achieve–if that makes any sense?
I’ve also, of all things, started exploring Instagram some more. I was discussing it with That Bitch Ford over the weekend, and he was pointing out that he often gets more engagement there than he does on other social media; which I thought was kind of interesting. So, on my way to and from the gym on Sunday in the rain (that aborted trip because I had the operating hours wrong), I was taking pictures of my neighborhood and posting them on Instagram–and yes, there was a LOT of engagement and I gained a lot of new followers; which was, as I mentioned before, rather interesting. Maybe it’s because it’s more of a visual medium than Facebook and Twitter? I have no idea, but will keep you apprised as I continue what I call The Instagram Experiment. I mean, I love taking pictures–I have literally THOUSANDS of picture files stored in the Cloud–so why not combine my love of photography with a social medium dedicated to sharing images? I doubt I will start making videos–I recorded one yesterday at the request of the San Francisco Public Library, to promote the queer mystery panel I am doing for them later this month–since I hate the way I look and I really hate the sound of my voice–but one never knows.
Stranger things indeed have happened.
And on that note, it’s time to get ready to head into the spice mines and get my day rolling. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!
I’m not going to tell the story of my college writing professor who read the short story I turned in for his class and told me I would never be a published writer–as tempting as it is (oops, looks like I told it again, didn’t I?) but every time I sell a short story I do think of him and the smug look on his face as he tried to obliterate my life-long dream. I think of it every time the anthology or magazine or wherever I’ve sold the story to comes out, when the reviews begin (even the ones that don’t mention my story or didn’t like it) coming out, every time I Iook at the pdf file to proof, and so forth.
And I definitely think about him when I cash the check.
As I hurtle towards sixty (less than three months away) I have been remembering a lot about my life, reflecting and looking back, memories long buried coming to the forefront of my fevered little brain. I really had horrible professors in college, without fail–one after the other at that godforsaken college; it’s little wonder I experience bouts of imposter syndrome.
Let it go, Elsa, let it go.
Zane parks his wobbling shopping cart next to the island divided in half. The side he parked beside contains cantaloupes, separated by a partition from round, green-striped watermelons beneath a sign reading Red Seedless Personal Watermelons, $3.99 The cantaloupes are cheaper, per the sign casting shadow on the stacks of melons below. He glances around. There’s an older woman, rooting through the baking potatoes like a pig hunting truffles. A younger woman is inspecting the rubber-banded clusters of green onions. Two men in uniforms are building salads at the salad bar, scooping things into Styrofoam boxes. Three people are waiting for their orders at the deli meat counter, their backs to him.
No one is paying him the slightest bit of mind.
He picks up one of the cantaloupes and does what he’s seen others do. He sniffs it where the vine had been attached, holds it up to his ear and thumps it with his thumb. He doesn’t know how it should smell or sound if it’s ripe or not, but he’s too self-conscious to not go through the same motions everyone else does when selecting a melon. He’s terrified someone will notice him not thumping and laugh at him, mock him for his stupidity, point out he doesn’t belong in this big modern supermarket with its aisles and aisles of bounty. He’s always afraid someone, anyone, will notice he doesn’t know how to do a simple task every other shopper seems to know how to do instinctively, something so incredibly simple his failure will be like an enormous neon sign announcing to the other shoppers in their yoga pants or tennis skirts that he doesn’t belong here.
One of these things is not like the others.
Stop thinking like that, he scolds himself as he puts the cantaloupe back with the others. You belong here just as much as anyone. Who knows what secrets these other shoppers might be hiding?
He closes his eyes for a moment, hears his heart thumping rapidly in his ears. It’s too fast, but that isn’t anxiety or stress, it’s because he just taught back to back spin classes, it’s why his legs are tired and why he’s in the produce section of the Rouse’s Supermarket on Tchoupitoulas Street, listening to melons while wearing a black tank top drenched in sweat and tight bike shorts under looser-fitting cotton ones and shivering in the air-conditioned coldness.
I love dark fiction, and particularly love horror. I used to go back and forth between horror and crime; I couldn’t decide which I wanted to do more. The first books I wrote to completion (besides that silly, lengthy Peyton Place ripoff I wrote in my late teens and early twenties, from which I regularly pilfer characters and plots from)were horror, technically; Sara, Sorceress and Sleeping Angel–which eventually, with a lot of revision and updating, saw print; although Sleeping Angel in its final form was more of a mystery than anything else. I don’t write “jump-scare” horror, and eventually realized that I didn’t have the imagination to write horror; almost everything I tried–story, novel, whatever–inevitably was highly derivative of other books, authors, stories. Inspiration for crime stories were everywhere–the daily news, for example–and I also realized my bent was more along the lines of Gothic stories and/or psychological horror.
The inspiration for “Night Follows Night” came from one of my several-times-per-week visits to the grocery store; that mundane experience we all have, we all deal with; the necessary chore that can only be put off for so long. As a slightly obsessive-compulsive person, I always plan my trips to the grocery store for maximum efficiency; no wasted time, no wandering down aisles, no just looking around. I have a list every time I go grocery shopping, and the list is made completely predicated on where everything is located in the store–so I don’t have to waste any time. I go only to the aisles where the things I need are stocked; skipping the ones I don’t need anything from, and work my way from the right side of the store to the left before completing the circuit by checking out and heading back out through the same doors I entered, having parked near them. One afternoon I stopped at the Rouse’s on Tchoupitoulas, list in hand (always on a small legal pad) and pen in pocket, when I got a cart from the corral with a loud, wobbly squeaky wheel–again. I always get a cart with a wobbly, squeaky front wheel; it doesn’t matter where I shop, it happens every time. (Of course, I could always put it back and get another, but somehow that disturbs my sense of order.) As I pushed the cart into the store, the wheel wobbling and squeaking, and headed for the melons–a seedless watermelon was on my list, the very first thing–and I picked one up and thumped it…and as I placed it in my cart I wondered, what precise sound is the thump supposed to make? Am I just so lucky that I pick up a ripe one every single time?What does an unripe one sound like?
And as I worked my way through the list with my wobbling, squeaking cart that day, the story kept forming in my mind; someone doing the mundane task of making groceries (as we say here) in a brightly lit, sparsely crowded supermarket–the character taking shape in my mind, having a near breakdown and his tightly held grip on reality and sanity starting to slip–but why? What would trigger such a reaction, and who is this guy? He held my imagination, my mind idly wondering about him and coming up with reasons for this break in a public place–which, I figured, would also make it worse for him–and I started thinking about that sense of not belonging there; that he feels like he doesn’t belong still, in a normal everyday environment, and wondering why that was as I drove home, unloaded the car and putting the groceries away, and I sat down at my computer and started to write this story–which, through several title changes and various iterations, became, finally, “Night Follows Night.” It languished in my files for about a year until a friend–Felice Picano, to be exact–sent me the call for submissions for Unburied, and I thought to myself, “hmmm, that grocery store story might work for this” and I opened the file and polished it again before sending it in early last year. It was one of four stories I sent out in a day, and one of the two that were accepted within twenty-four hours, by editor Rebecca Rowland, and now the entire anthology is available.
Some of the reviews, and information about the other contributors and their stories as well as ordering information can be found here.
I actually managed to spend several hours writing yesterday, for the first time in I don’t know how fucking long; it was quite marvelous, and when I finally stopped writing to go to the gym–also for the first time in I can’t remember how fucking long–I was very pleased to see that I had done well over two thousand new words; as I had started by editing and revising the 3552 words or so I’d already written on this piece I may have actually written more than that; it’s really hard to say, but I do know that at my stopping point “Festival of the Redeemer” was clocking in at 5573, and I’ll take it. It felt good, and the story was coming to life for me; I could see Venice clearly in my head and I knew who my character was–it was remarkably easy to slip into his head again and tell his story. At one point, I remember looking at the word count (at that point, it was 4700 or so) and thinking okay, when you get to 5000 you can stop and when I stopped to look again I was at 5573 and was like, damn–it’s been a hot minute since I went into the writing zone like that and not been checking the word count every few sentences to see how long before I could call it quits for the day.
It really did feel amazing.
Ironically, when I got to the gym they were closed; despite the schedule on its Facebook page, they still close at three and I got there just as the poor guy was getting ready to start shutting anything down. Instead of going Chadwick on him, I apologized–he clearly felt bad–and decided that I would make every attempt to go tonight after work. It’ll be more crowded than I would prefer, of course, but as I need to get back into the swing of a regular workout again after however long I’ve not been going–three weeks, methinks–I’ll merely keep the weights the same as they were the last time but only do one set tonight; two on Wednesday, and three on Friday; do three sets of these same weight next week and then add more weight the following week. I actually enjoyed the walk, to be honest; despite the light rain and heaviness of the air. I had some music playing through my headphones and too some pictures, both going and coming back, for Instagram. I’ve made another new goal, and that’s to function on Instagram some more; I live in and write about one of the most beautiful cities in North America, and why not exploit that a little more on a social medium devoted to pictures?
Yeah, well, we’ll see how it lasts, won’t we?
It was certainly fun, and the failed walk to the gym today certainly qualified as something I’d planned to do more of this year: exploring New Orleans, and my neighborhood in particular. I’m starting to get a bit itchy about writing another Scotty book, but that also means going down to the Quarter and having a look around. I feel fairly confident that entire part of town has completely changed in the years since I’ve actually set foot down there; it’s weird to remember that I just can’t walk out my office door and go take a look at the building where Scotty lives, see what business are open around there, and get incredibly annoyed by tourists. I really miss our old office on Frenchmen Street; I miss going to the bank in the Quarter, or going to the Walgreens on Decatur Street to buy Claritin-D, or to get food from one of the corner stores–I miss the Nelly Deli, for one, and Verti Mart for another, or getting something at the Rouse’s on the corner of Royal and St. Peter. I’ll be staying at the host hotel for Bouchercon this August, but it’s also August–and do I really want to go exploring outside during those horrendous dog days of summer?
Meh, like I’m not used to August in New Orleans?
Actually, that was a trick question. Nobody ever gets used to August in New Orleans.
I’ve not looked at the weather forecast for today yet–not sure why I bother; it’s going to be ‘hot humid chance of rain’ every day from now until late September–but it’s also hurricane season, so I always have to start paying attention to what’s going on out in the Atlantic basin as well as in the lower Gulf. But my windows are covered in condensation this morning, and the sidewalk–as much of it as I can see through the wet windows–looks to also be pretty wet, so it probably rained overnight. After the misfire of the gym expedition yesterday afternoon, I am going to try to make it tonight; but I am not sure how I will feel. I slept weirdly last night–I kept having bizarre dreams about drinking too much and getting wasted (not sure what that was about–memories, maybe? But it’s been years since I got wasted, and not terribly sure I ever want to do more than get a slight buzz ever again) and kept waking myself up every now and again, which was also weird–it’s been awhile since I’ve not gotten a deep night’s sleep. Maybe it was unconscious worry about not waking up this morning–no, not dying in my sleep, but rather not hearing the alarm and then having to rush trying to get ready and remember everything I need to take to the office today on my way out the door. I don’t even know why I would even worry about sleeping through the alarm; it’s been so long since I’ve slept so deeply that it was even a possibility (maybe when I was in my thirties?) I’m not certain it’s something I need to have a phobia or neuroses about anymore.
Since when has that ever stopped me from being neurotic?
Never, that’s when.
But it’s a new week, and I am hopeful things will go well, and I will be productive and follow through on everything I need/want to get done this week, and when the weekend rolls around the house won’t be a mess and I can relax and write and clean and get errands done and have another productive weekend like this last was.
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.