Shame on the Moon

I have, as an almost fifty-six year old gay man, witnessed some history throughout the course of my over half a century on this planet. When I was young, I used to hear about the great wisdom you acquire with age; I’m still waiting for that to happen. I remember when Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were shot; I remember the Tet offensive and when the first man walked on the moon. I remember the Watergate break-in, the scandal that followed, and how a newspaper toppled a corrupt presidency that was abusing its power. I remember the Iranian revolution and the taking of American hostage in the embassy in Teheran; I remember the slaughter of Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village in Munich. I remember watching my gay brethren die from AIDS while the political establishment laughed and made jokes about the right people dying; and I remember the Towers falling that beautiful September day in 2001. I watched CNN non-stop while a military coalition liberated Kuwait,  when the Berlin Wall fell,  when Communism in eastern Europe collapsed.

There have been times in my life when I’ve shaken my head over the actions of my government, the ruling of our courts, and at legislation debated and passed by Congress.

But never did I imagine, in my wildest dreams, that I would bear witness to Nazis marching with torches in a college town in support of white supremacy, bigotry, anti-semitism, racism, misogyny, and homophobia in the United States of America in 2017–or that scores of people would be defending them.

Have I been a good ally to the oppressed people of this nation? I don’t know, but I tend to doubt it. I tend to focus, as most people do, on my own rights and that of my community; I’ve spent most of my adult life fighting for my rights as a gay man but have always advocated for people of color and women, because I do recognize that the oppression of one is the oppression of all; that none of us are truly equal until we are all equal. I’ve studied history; I’ve studied civics; I’ve studied the Constitution. The entire point of learning and studying is history is to learn from the mistakes of the past so as not to repeat them.

Sinclair Lewis was an extraordinary social critic and fiction writer who probably isn’t remembered, and studied, as much as he should be in this modern day.  I’ve not read enough of Lewis; most of his canon remains, sadly, unread by me. But I did read Elmer Gantry about ten years ago, and was stunned by how true it was; and how it still applied in so many ways today. Shortly after that I read It Can’t Happen Here, which is one of his lesser known works and considered to be highly flawed in terms of being a novel. The point of the book, written and published in the 1930’s, was that so many Americans of the time didn’t believe what was going on in Italy and Germany could happen in the United States; Lewis, ever the social critic and commentarian, took that as a challenge and titled his book that, and wrote a novel detailing exactly how fascism could rise in the US and take over our government. It was chilling reading it, in the wake of some of the laws and executive orders passed in the wake of 9/11. I don’t really remember much of the story, frankly; the days when I could remember plots and characters and quotations from every book I read have long passed. But it is, I think, due for a reread.

We often wonder how the good German people allowed what happened there to happen. It is easy  for evil to persuade basically decent people to take its side, and how, when things are going well, incredibly easy it is for people to only look at the good and turn their heads away from the bad. The towns near the concentration camps, who claimed they didn’t know what was going on? Bitch, please. You never noticed the smell? You never wondered what that smell was? But, hey, I’m prospering and we don’t have to worry about where our next meal is coming from and how to keep the lights on, and aren’t the streets clean and the trains running on time? I don’t believe those stories we’re hearing about what’s happening to the Jews! And since they’ve been oppressed, look at how much better things are!

That’s how it happens, people.

I will do better. We all must do better. No one is free and equal until we are all free and equal.

In 2006 I was invited to speak at the Virginia Book Festival in Charlottesville. I was given a tour of the town and a tour of the University of Virginia campus; I was shown where Edgar Allan Poe lived when he was a student there and other landmarks. I was not only impressed with how beautiful the town and campus were, by how friendly and welcoming the people who lived there were. I always meant to go back again, to spend more time there–I didn’t get to see Monticello–and it was with horror that I watched the news over the weekend, seeing what was going on in the lovely little town I remembered, appalled and ashamed that this was being broadcast to the entire world.

This is unacceptable. The state of the union is unacceptable.

I have to do better. We all have to do better. As a nation we can do better by our most vulnerable citizens, and we must.

The eyes of history are on us.

Have you ever wondered what you would do if you’d been a German in the 1930’s? What you would do during the Civil Rights era of the 1950’s and 1960’s?

This is your chance to find out who you are as a human being and as an American.

This is Heather Heyer, who gave her life on Saturday to oppose evil. May she never be forgotten.

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Come on Eileen

Saturday! I managed to finish Chapter One last night and started Chapter Two; huzzah! They are crap, of course, but I’ll worry about that later. I finally got a good night’s sleep today; I have Wacky Russian this morning, have to go to the office to work for a bit, and am going to make a Costco run on the way home. (Just a minor one.) It’s so nice to feel rested; I am hoping that tonight I’ll be so worn out I won’t have any choice but to sleep deeply and well.

I can dream, at any rate.

My weekend this weekend is actually, therefore, Sunday and Monday; it’s going to be strange to have Monday off–next weekend is my birthday, so I am taking a three day weekend to celebrate–so I am, of course, hoping to get some more Scotty written, some more of the line edit finished, and maybe revise a short story or two. Ambitious plans, to be sure, but I am nothing if not overly ambitious. We’re also trying to find a new show to watch; Orphan Black ends this weekend, Game of Thrones only has a few more episodes to run, and  I suspect Animal Kingdom is also approaching its season finale. We never did finish the final season of Bates Motel, though, and there have to be some other shows out there that we just haven’t discovered yet, or forgot we watched.

I want to finish reading Journey Into Fear this weekend so I can get started on my annual reread of The Haunting of Hill House. I think I might read something more noirish after that; not sure what, but there are plenty of things for me to read around the house, believe you me. Maybe I’ll do something I’ve really grown to love over the last year or so–a short story challenge, where I read a short story every day and then blog about it. I do love short stories, and I really would like to write more of them. I’d love to do a collection of my crime and horror short stories…perhaps by the end of the year I would have enough of them on hand to actually put a collection together. (I may already have enough; I’m not sure, but I’d love to have some new, unpublished material.) Maybe I’ll wait and do short-story September, which would be way fun.

And on that note, I think I shall head off to the spice mines. Here’s a Saturday hunk for you viewing pleasure, Constant Reader:

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Just You and I

Thursday morning, and it looks like rain again.

I got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday; the first chapter isn’t going very easy but that’s partly because I am trying to cram so much into it, I think. I plan on getting that first draft finished today and moving on to Chapter Two tomorrow. I hate that I am behind schedule; I am kind of behind on everything at the moment and it’s making me crazy. I have to try to remember to breathe and not get stressed. I want to honor my self-imposed deadlines, but one of the reasons I decided not to have contractual deadlines was primarily to eliminate the stress of them, and that’s worked beautifully so far. But it’s self-defeating to make myself crazy over self-imposed ones…while at the same time I do want to make sure I get things done.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I am feeling spectacularly unmotivated this morning, but that must cease and desist immediately. I have too much to do to just sit around scrolling through social media and hoping to find something to entertain me there.

Procrastinate, procrastinate, procrastinate.

There’s thunder rumbling outside. Heavy heaving sigh. I do love thunderstorms, but only when I’m able to stay home, grab a blanket and a book, and get snug and cozy in my easy chair. Having to go to work, or be out in it? Not so much.

All right, I am boring myself so it’s time to get back to work.

Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you, Dick DuBois:

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Do You Really Want to Hurt Me

Wednesday; the week is half-over–although I am also working on Saturday; my weekend this week will be Sunday and Monday, which is lovely. My birthday is also nigh; I shall be fifty-six! Closer to sixty than fifty, but hey, there you go, you know? Getting older is not for the faint of heart, someone once said, and while there are definitely more aches and pains, and my memory isn’t what it used to be, and I don’t quite have the energy I once had–I ain’t doing too badly. Yesterday I managed to get some significant work done on Scotty; the book is really taking shape in my mind, and I also got some work done on the line edit. I am not as far along on the line edit as I would like to be, but I am getting closer to being done with each bit that I do.

Progress. It’s everything, really.

I’m enjoying the Eric Ambler novel, Journey Into Fear, that I’m reading, and am hoping to get some more of that read today at some point. I like the way Ambler writes, and there’s just this amazing sense of 40’s noir to the story and the writing; I can visualize everything in my head really easily. Writing something in a different time period–one that I didn’t live through–is kind of intimidating to me; I’ve only written one story that is set in a time period before I was alive; set ambiguously in either the late 40’s or early 50’s, it’s a noir story that still need some work. The title, “The Weight of a Feather,” is one of my favorite titles, so I am pretty determined to do something with the story.

So many stories, so little time. Seriously.

Football season looms on the horizon as well; not sure how well LSU is going to do this year, but as always we have high hopes down here in Bayou Country. New coaches, new offense and defensive plans…I guess we’ll see how it’s going to play out at the season opener over Labor Day weekend in Houston when we play BYU. And football season is, as a general rule, kind of exciting. Ten years ago was the last time LSU won the national championship, in that insane year of 2007 which was one of the wackiest football seasons of all time; from week to week no one had any idea of who was going to win and who was going to lose; Top Ten teams would get beaten by someone unranked every week. SBNation has a great website about that crazy year; I wasted some serious time reading and remembering the other day.

And on that note, ’tis time to return to Ye Olde Spice Mines.

Here’s your Wednesday hunk.

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Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Tuesday morning, and my windows are covered in condensation. Nothing new there, of course, but at least I can see blue sky and sunshine through the beads of water. Perhaps today will be our first day this summer without rain? Stranger things have, of course, happened.

I got quite a bit done on the line edit yesterday; at some point I am going to have to input all of this work into the e-document, and I will be very curious to see how much I wind up cutting. As I go through the manuscript, line by line, I am amazed at how often I repeat myself, or how often an entire paragraph is simply a series of sentences saying the same thing only in different words. A very strong push this week, and I might actually have the entire line edit finished by the end of the weekend. It’s not very likely to happen, but there’s always a possibility. My friend Lisa will be in town later this week, and I am going to try to see her for at least a drink and perhaps dinner. I don’t see her enough as it is.

I also got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday as well. The story is starting to take shape in my mind, and I need to get a strong first chapter together before I can get going on the rest. I am trying to take what I can from the several different versions of a first chapter I’ve already started; I think I can make the whole thing come together–at any rate, that’s my goal for today. I hope to get at least two more chapters finished this week, if not more. I also want to revise a short story. It will, I suppose, depend on how much energy and how much time I have.

I am still processing Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” and I also can’t stop thinking about Owen Matthews’ The Fixes. There’s an essay I’d like to write, about straight people writing gay characters that reading this book put into my mind, but it’s not really taking form and I am not really sure if it will–the curse of a creative imagination; too many ideas. But The Fixes is so incredibly well written and well done you’d never know that Owen Matthews himself isn’t gay; but really, if you have any experience whatsoever with alienation, you should be able to write believable gay characters; alienation is the key, now that I think about more deeply, and I wish I had thought of that before I taught my character building workshop at SinC Into Good Writing last September here in New Orleans.

Alienation, in fact, is a constant theme in Harlan Ellison’s oh-so-brilliant work.

Paul and I are thinking about going to see Dunkirk this weekend; whether we actually do or not remains to be seen. I have to work on Saturday, and as such my weekend shall be Sunday and Monday; having a Monday off will actually be rather lovely.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines before I head into the office.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Maniac

Monday morning in New Orleans, after a crazy kind of weekend that included insane street flooding and torrential rains. My neighborhood doesn’t flood quite as bad as others–we’ve had high water on our street, but it rarely lasts for long–because two blocks from the house is Coliseum Square, which is much lower (as is Camp Street on the far side of it) and serves as a kind of flood basin for the neighborhood (which was WAY fun when we lived on Camp Street; my car flooded once and we got water all the way up to the top step–of six–outside out front door). I didn’t work much on the line edit (read: not at all) because I was too busy reading, first Lyndsay Faye’s brilliant The Gods of Gotham, then Owen Matthew’s epic The Fixes, and then I started reading Eric Ambler’s Journey Into Fear. (I’ve not read Ambler before) We also got caught up on Orphan Black, and continue to muddle along with The Last Tycoon, which is quite visually stunning but more than a little dull. (And just HOW do you make 1930’s Hollywood dull? Nicely done, F. Scott Fitzgerald.)

Game of Thrones was just EPIC last night. Oh my God, was it ever epic. I won’t post spoilers for those who may not have seen it yet, but all I will say is finally. I’ve been waiting for that episode ALL SEASON. Huz-fucking-ZAH.

So, I read Owen Matthews’ The Fixes yesterday. Owen Matthews is the name Owen Laukkanen uses to write young adult fiction (his first was How to Win at High School, which I have but is still in the TBR pile), and as Owen Laukkanen he wrote one of my favorite books of last year, The Watcher in the Wall (I may have read it this year; my memory has truly become a sieve). Owen and I are on a panel at Toronto Bouchercon this year–while the schedule hasn’t been posted yet, I was curious as to why Owen was on a panel called “Reading the Rainbow”; but I haven’t read all of his work as of yet. The panel moderator and I were talking the other day and I brought that up, at which point I was told he does write gay characters, and in fact, one of the main characters in The Fixes is gay. I moved the book to the top of the TBR pile, and tore through it yesterday afternoon: it is a quick read, and moves really fast.

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This is a story about a boy’s first crush, and how it blew up in his face.

And all of its explosive consequences.

(You know what? Forget it.)

Let’s start over.

Let me tell you why E set off that bomb.

Eric, or E, as he comes to be called by his friends over the course of the novel, is the son of a state senator, the grandson of yet another politician, and has been raised to understand that he isn’t just anyone; he is a CONNELLY MAN and he has to live up to the family name–maybe even so far as eventually running for president. Eric has given up a lot to live up to his father’s expectations, and is more than a little resentful. As a sophomore, Eric had dated Paige but soon realized he was more attracted to guys than girls…which as a CONNELLY MAN could prove problematic. His future is laid out for him completely, and he is giving up the summer before he starts college to intern at a legal firm his father used to work for. And then, a chance encounter in the office at his high school with Jordan Grant, the gorgeous son of a wealthy filmmaker, derails his entire summer….and possibly his future as well.

Soon, Eric (E, as Jordan likes to call him) has a full blown crush on Jordan, even though he seems to be involved loosely with Haley. All four of these kids–they live in a Malibu-like, affluent wealthy town called Capilano–have some damage: Paige’s father is going to be tried for embezzling and misleading investment clients (a la Madoff); Haley’s mother is a model who idealizes her eldest daughter, a successful model, and is always putting Haley down and making her feel bad about herself, which led to an eating disorder and a stay in a hospital; E himself is struggled against the life path his father has chosen for him; and Jordan is…well, what exactly is Jordan’s damage?

I don’t want to spoil anything, but suffice it to say that the group becomes involved in ‘fixing’ things around Capilano; injustices they step up to correct. And as E becomes more deeply involved in the fixes, as his own life path begins to spin out of control and he falls deeper and deeper under Jordan’s spell..the book continues racing along at a frenetic, insane pace that makes it impossible to put down until it’s finished.

It was also lovely to see a novel, published by a mainstream press and written by a non-gay author, that so carefully, conscientiously, and sympathetically explored the struggle and complexity of coming to terms with a sexuality that does not jibe with family expectations, as well as the emotional grappling with how can I not be my true self for the rest of my life?; not to mention the emotional complexity of falling in love for the first time.

The story is intricate as well; this is a fine example of young adult noir, the kind the amazing Jay Bennett used to write.

Highly recommended, and really looking forward to reading How to Win at High School.

 

Baby, Come to Me

Yesterday was had a rather intense storm here in New Orleans; there was flash flooding all over the city, cars ruined, water inside buildings; that sort of thing. I don’t know if my street flooded or not (guess I’ll find out if my car got ruined tomorrow morning when I am ready to go to work), but we certainly were lucky and didn’t get water inside of our house. The rain is going to continue some today; there’s an advisory for everyone to stay inside and off the roads, just in case. We get these kinds of storms and flash floods every once in a while–the price of living in a low lying city surrounding by water where parts of the city used to be swamp and are now floodplains, and our pumping system tends to get overwhelmed when we get a lot of water in a short period of time. I’ve been caught out in these storms before, having to wade through water up to my hips at times. My car was flooded when I was on my way home from work the first year we lived here and I got caught in one of these storms. There’s no point in railing against these storms and short-term floods; they happen periodically and you have to deal with them, unfortunately. Last night was also supposed to be White Linen Night, an annual event every August in the Arts District where all the galleries serve food and alcohol, booths are set up on Julia and Magazine streets to sell food and drink, and people wearing white go from gallery to gallery looking at (and hopefully buying) art. Satchmo Fest was also this weekend; clearly, both annual events were cancelled yesterday because of the deluge. I ran my errands early–thank God–and so intended to spend the rest of my day inside and working on the line edit, doing some writing, and reading as well. I did no line editing and no writing yesterday; instead, I was caught up in the last half of Lyndsay Faye’s staggeringly brilliant The Gods of Gotham, and could not put it down until it was finished.

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When I set down the initial report, sitting at my desk at the Tombs, I wrote:

On the night of August 21, 1845, one of the children escaped.

Of all the sordid trials a New York City policeman faces every day, you wouldn’t expect the one I loathe most to be paperwork. But it is. I get snakes down my spine just thinking case files.

Seriously, is there anyone who enjoys paperwork?

The Gods of Gotham is the perfect historical crime novel. I’ve read a number of them, and there are some truly excellent ones (one of my favorite novels of all time is The Affair of the Blood-Stained Egg Cosy, set in the 1930’s), but I’ve also staggered my way through some seriously bad ones. But even with the bad ones, I always have tremendous respect for the writer for even trying; I can’t imagine trying, much as I love history, because there are so many gaps; so many things to research, from small to large, intricate intimate details that may be impossible to find out–or you might find them out when it’s too late. To be truly successful, a historical piece of fiction has to be completely immersive; the author has to bring that world to life but make the reader understand it and how it was to live in that period without giving in to the temptation to put everything you’ve researched into the book/story, aka hitting the reader over the head with a history lesson. Writing a convincing, involving story with characters the reader can identify with, appreciate, and root for, is hard enough without setting it in another time period.

Lyndsay Faye has managed this incredible juggling feat, and pulled it off with aplomb. The Gods of Gotham is set in New York City (obviously) in the late summer of 1845; when the city has newly created a police force, identified by the copper stars they wear (which, obviously, is where the slang term copper, and its derivative, cop, came from; this is clearly made obvious throughout the story without Faye stopping to explain; a lesser writer certainly would have made that egregious take-the-reader-out-of-the-story error). Our hero, Timothy Wilde, is a bartender when the story opens; his older brother, Valentine, is a good-time Charlie who likes to get wasted, frequents whorehouses, and also works as a fireman. The relationship between the brothers isn’t great; they lost their parents to a fire when they were children, and they butt heads alot. Valentine is also involved with the Democratic Party. After an enormous fire leaves Timothy jobless and homeless and broke, he rents a room from a widowed German baker, Mrs. Boehm, and is then pressured by his brother into becoming a copper star; a beat cop in the newly formed city police, which not everyone in the city wants or approves of. Soon, Timothy is wrapped up in a bizarre mystery involving a child prostitute he runs across one night; wandering the streets in a nightdress, covered in blood; and soon the investigation expands to involve a possible serial killer of child prostitutes. Politics, nativism, religious and ethnic and racial bigotry all play a part in this tale; as do sexism.

The truly great historical novels not only shine a bright light on the past, but thematically show how little has changed over time. The Gods of Gotham could easily be set in the present day, with Timothy Wilde as a modern police detective. The bigotry against the Irish and Catholics could easily be translated to Middle Eastern refugees and Muslims; it is truly sad to read and see how we as a society and a people fail to learn from the mistakes of the past, repeating the same errors over and over to our own disgrace. Faye has brought New York of 1845 vividly to life with careful brush strokes that never are too big or too broad or invasive to the story; her city streets are alive with noise and people and sights and sounds and smells. Her characters are all-too-real; even the worst of her villains (particularly the diabolical madam, Silkie Marsh) are believable three-dimensional and live and breathe on the page.

I hated seeing the book end, quite frankly; but there are two more Timothy Wilde novels to savor and look forward to, as well as her Edgar nominated Jane Steele (The Gods of Gotham was also an Best Novel Edgar finalist), and her Sherlock Holmes work. (And yes, my recent interest in Holmes was triggered by Lyndsay’s interest in Holmes…and there were times when this book itself reminded me of, in the best possible ways, of Nicholas Meyer’s Holmes pastiches from the 1970’s, The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and The West End Horror.)

The Gods of Gotham, if you haven’t read it yet, needs to be added to your TBR pile immediately.