That’s a rather charming title for a blog post, isn’t it? As you may have noticed, I generally pick a list of songs to use as titles for the blog, and I am currently (perhaps obviously) now working my way through the Rolling Stones’ extensive discography, which will occasionally provide something a little off-color (the best was the Pet Shop Boys; every song title sounds like a great essay title about gay life), like today. Today’s title just makes me think of sex and “getting your rocks off”; I don’t think I am familiar with the actual song, in all honesty, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the gist of the song.
Whatever gets your rocks off, man.
Ah, the 1970s were such a different time, weren’t they? I’ve been going down a lot of 1970s wormholes lately, not just for the sake of the nostalgia afforded (all those lovely memories of the Top Forty AM stations in Chicago, WLS and WCFL, that I grew up with; WGN before it became a nation-wide cable channel) but because it’s also a bit of research, you see. Yes, after I finish writing the book I am writing and editing the one I turned in last month and then editing the one I am turning in at the end of this month, I plan on writing Chlorine and a different book I’ve been planning for a while, but after that I am thinking about a 1970’s book–or a romance; I can’t decide which I would prefer to do next. Romance is a whole new ball game for me, which is part of the appeal, but then I look at Romancelandia on Twitter and think, yeah, not so sure I want to go swimming with those sharks. I’m not even sure what precisely is going on in that world anymore, either; I don’t know if RWA ever recovered from the “burn it all to the ground” December of 2019, and I think Romantic Times has also gone away? It’s funny, though, every time I dip my toes into the waters of another genre something inevitably will run me screaming back to crime fiction, my publishing safe space as it were. I do feel like doing something completely different from everything I’ve done already–it’s always fun and challenging to go in another direction than you usually do, and I think it helps me with my mystery writing, frankly–but I am not sure if a romance is the way to go. I have what I think is a great idea for one, but….it’s not like I haven’t thought that before, either.
Of course, writing what would be best for my career and my “brand” (whatever that may be) never enters my head. Which is probably why I am not a New York Times bestseller and a household name–yeah, that’s why, Greg.
But I went to my doctor’s appointment and am pleased to report that the arm was just a pulled muscle and lingering tendonitis (he added that I should keep it wrapped until the swelling goes does–yes, there is some weird swelling), got my prescriptions refilled, and started the process rolling that will hopefully result in my getting hearing aids at long last. My weight was high, but my blood pressure was also fine and all vitals were good, so…yay for that at any rate. And now I find myself home earlier than usual and more time to work on my writing than I ordinarily would, so hurray! I also got Art Taylor’s new short story collection The Adventures of the Castle Thief and Other Expeditions and Indiscretions, from Crippen and Landru (order direct from them! It’s better for everyone!), which is very exciting–Art is one of our best crime short story writers, period, and has won every possible award in crime fiction for short story writing at least once, and I love his work. I started reading Abby Collette’s Body and Soul Food while I waited for my appointment and it’s off to a really good start, which is very cool.
I am really excited about the hearing aids, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I’ve always had trouble hearing conversations in crowded restaurants and whenever there’s ambient noise, and it’s gotten progressively worse as I’ve gotten older. (I smile and nod a lot…) And since I’ve long since stopped caring how I look, who cares if people can see me with my hearing aids in? (I wish I’d stopped caring about that a lot sooner than I did, frankly.) So once I get this done and a load of dishes in the dishwasher and a load of clothes going in the washing machine, I am going to dive headfirst into my book and see what I can get finished today.
So, best to head into the spice mines else I’ll never get started.
Monday morning and all is quiet in the Lost Apartment. I am heading back into the office this morning–I have a lot of trainings to get done today, as well as plenty of my own day job work that needs to get finished–and then I hope to come home and get some work on the book done, as well as some cleaning up around here. I made dinner last night and I made chili in the slow cooker, so the sink is full and the counters a bit on the sloppy side. I feel well rested this morning, which is something I’ve noticed happens on Monday mornings now that I have shifted my work-at-home days again; when it was Monday I always somehow woke up tired every Tuesday morning and starting the week off being tired was always unpleasant, as it continued building until the weekend. I think I needed this past weekend to get rest, to be honest; I’ve been feeling a lot of fatigue lately. I’m also worried a bit about burnout, too–I am not feeling 100% this morning, to be honest, but my COVID test was negative, small victories–and I am wondering if it might not be my blood sugar. I’ve noticed lately that my blood sugar sometimes spikes and then wanes, and again, I have to wonder if that has anything to do with my eating habits and so forth. I felt hungry a lot all weekend, yet nothing sounded either appetizing or appealing to eat. I didn’t make dinner on Saturday–I was going to make Salisbury steaks–and so while the chili cooked yesterday I made the steaks. They were good–Paul didn’t have any, he waited for the chili–and then this morning again I felt like my blood sugar was low enough for me to be concerned about it. (the last time I had lab work done it was high; which reminds me, I need to have it done again soon.)
I worked on the book this weekend around my fits of fatigue and television watching; yesterday we watched House of the Dragon (enjoyed), The Serpent Queen (not one of the better ones), and Interview with the Vampire (I was rather disappointed with this episode, which is a shame; I loved how they were doing Claudia when they first introduced her but missed the mark with this one, methinks). We also started watching A Friend of the Family, which led me to remark at some point, “You know, the 1970’s really were awful for the most part, weren’t they? The clothes, the cars, the furniture, the home decor, the hair…everything was a style crime.” Watching this, it’s very hard to imagine that such a thing could happen–there seems to be this sense of innocence in non-urban areas (sorry, but Pocatello, Idaho doesn’t really count to me as an urban area, apologies to Idahoans) that lasted from the 1950’s through the 1970’s so things like this could happen. And while fathers and mothers were always deeply concerned about their daughters’ sexuality and keeping it locked down until they were “safely” married; it would never enter the minds of good Christian people that someone who went to church with them and was a close family friend (although there was some incredibly questionable behavior, and the ‘family friend’–played with just the right dose of charm and smarm by Jake Lacy–really crossed many lines) would be a child molester or a pervert or a sexual deviant; people were sooooo convinced back then that you could actually spot such a person because they were so vile and depraved it had to show; the character I find the most interesting is the family friend’s wife, who was clearly emotionally (if not physically) beaten down by her husband and clearly had what we now call ‘Stockholm syndrom’–that, to me, is the interesting story. How could you write such a story from her perspective and gain the reader’s sympathies and understanding?
Paul is leaving for slightly over a week on Friday and there’s no LSU game this weekend–there are some interesting games on this weekend, but nothing I actually need to watch; I can always check scores and watch highlights if I need to; the big conference games this weekend are Georgia-Florida and Tennessee-Kentucky–no need to watch either, other than they are rivalry games and thus one can never be sure of how might actually win the game; Florida and Kentucky certainly needs the wins more. How wild would that be if both undefeated teams in the East went down to defeat in the same weekend? So, I think I’ll spend the weekend writing, reading and cleaning. I don’t really need to hit the grocery store for much since Paul will be gone, either. We’ll see how much I can get done, and we’ll see how productive my evenings are going to be. Scooter will be much more needy than usual, but rather than just hanging out in my chair and watching tv with him in my lap I can actually watch television in bed when I get home at night…an interesting thought.
I am also enjoying my reread of The Haunting of Hill House, and my God, how much do I love the way Shirley Jackson writes? I think my holy trinity of women writers of dark fiction (I can’t really call Jackson a crime writer, although there’s some terrific overlap) are du Maurier, Jackson, and Mary Stewart. Stewart isn’t really a dark writer, though; I don’t know what to call them but those three women are probably, if I had to pick three, my holy trinity. The Haunting of Hill House is so melancholic and dreamlike; the word choices and the sentence structures and the paragraph construction things of absolute beauty. I also love the character of Nell (I wonder how much she influenced Stephen King in his creation of Carrie?) and how sad and lonely and despondent she is, particularly since she is so young (just past thirty). Then again, at the time it was written that was pretty much middle-age and she would have been considered a spinster.
The weather has turned into the beautiful fall we always enjoy in New Orleans; that we long for yet forget about during those long, hot, damp hideous days of summertime. I am also expecting some things in the mail; an anthology I contributed a story to a very long time ago is supposed to drop this month, and when I met with the Crooked Lane publicist at Bouchercon she told me I’d get my box of author copies in late Halloween; so I am resisting the urge to run to the post office every day just in case. It has been eighteen years since I had a hardcover release of any kind; it’s kind of lovely to have one again after all this time. I need to start posting about the new book a lot more once November 1 pops up on the calendar; as the countdown to the release date draws near I need to amp up the promotion. Does it work? I don’t know, to be honest, and that often makes it hard for me to want to make the effort at all.
And on that note, I need to get cleaned up and head into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will speak to you again tomorrow morning in the darkness of the predawn.
Look at me, up and awake before seven in the morning on a Sunday! Who would have ever thought that would happen? I feel surprisingly awake and alert and rested this morning, given the early hour and all, but that’s okay. When you’re awake, you’re awake–so I figured I might as well get up and get a jump on the day. I will be going deep into the edits of A Streetcar Named Murder today. I ran the errands I needed to run yesterday, got some organizing and cleaning done around the house, and started the deep dive into the edits yesterday–most of the day was spent planning and figuring out things in the book that I didn’t have time to figure out when I was actually writing it (mistake mistake mistake; how do pantsers do this all the time?) and with my lesson firmly learned, am ready to get cracking on fixing the errors here and clearing up and tightening up the story. I want to be finished with it all before I leave on Thursday, because it will be very hard for me to finish it while I am in Kentucky. (And I’d rather spend whatever time I have free while I’m up there reading, frankly.) I’m getting a bit excited about the trip, if I may be so bold as to say so, which is a good thing; right now I am not even dreading all those hours in the car–I have Carol Goodman and Ruth Ware novels to listen to in the car–and while I do have to go into the office tomorrow, I work at home on Tuesday this week and can packed and ready to go that day so Thursday morning I can get up, have some coffee, and head out on the highway early.
There’s also some straightening and organizing I need to get done this morning–looking around the workspace is making me shudder right now–but it’s nice to feel rested and ready to go, honestly. I wonder what was so different about last night that I slept so much better? I’m not even going to check the Fitbit because I don’t necessarily trust its judgement and evaluation of my sleep, to be honest. I mean, it’s interesting to see how I feel vs. how it thinks I slept–but there are times when I wake up and feel rested and great but I supposedly slept poorly; and then mornings when I get up and feel groggy and tired and exhausted, it claims that I slept very well. I don’t know if I can trust it, and frankly, if it wasn’t part of the complicated system of trying to get cheaper health insurance through my job, I sure as hell wouldn’t wear it. Paul often buys me really nice watches as gifts and I never wear them–mainly because I am clumsy as fuck and inevitably break things that are nice–but the Fitbit…like I said, there’s this really complicated system of scoring points through a program that helps reduce the cost of my health insurance. I’m not entirely sure I understand it–I never really grasped it when it was explained eight or nine years ago–but I know I score points, earn a medal status (bronze, silver, gold) and if I get to silver, I don’t have any “out of paycheck” contributions to my health insurance, and registering my daily steps and how well I slept through the Fitbit scores fifty points per day. (The points also can be cashed in for gift cards; I always get Amazon to buy books, of course. Don’t @ me; the other options don’t really work for me.)
It looks to be a nice day outside my windows this morning, although it’s undoubtedly already incredibly hot outside. I’m hoping to manage to not go out into it much today–maybe taking out the trash or something–and I may be meeting a friend who’s in town for drinks later this evening (not too late, since I have to get up early in the morning), but other than that, I mostly plan to sit here at this desk and edit and revise and rewrite today. I also don’t know how long it’s going to take me to get this finished; I am hoping by focusing and working really hard and not allowing myself to get distracted I can power through and get this back to my publisher before I leave on Thursday.
One can always hope and dream at any rate.
We watched Hacks last night, and the most recent episode of The Offer, although I’m not really sure why we continue to watch the latter. I noticed last night that there are any number of shows we’re in the middle of (Severance, Pieces of Her, Slow Horses) that we forgot we were watching and thus will need to pick up again–it wasn’t that we weren’t enjoying them, but rather that we inevitably ended up having our viewing disrupted by something for several days and when we had time to go back and get caught up on things, we forgot we were watching them (we also never finished Physical either). It is interesting–I thought about this while watching The Offer last night–how many shows we’ve seen lately that were set in the 1970’s (Minx, Candy, The Offer) as well as what a great job they are doing depicting the era. I remember saying during one episode of Candy, “living this kind of life was my biggest nightmare when I was a kid, and they are doing a great job of showing how bleak and ugly and dull suburban life was back then.”
I also have started up again with The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. I’d stopped watching last season because I quickly grew tired of the Erika Jayne/Erica Girardi mess–I’d never particularly liked her very much, but at least she was somewhat entertaining–but given that the great wealth she has flaunted ever since she joined the cast was essentially stolen from settlements for victims of great and horrific tragedies and she was completely unrepentant and tried to play like she was the real victim, I no longer felt any desire to watch a sociopathic narcissist who has knowingly or unknowingly participated in embezzlement, fraud and God knows what else. I’d reached a point where I kept thinking someone just needs to slap the shit out of that fucking crooked bitch and felt that giving them eyeballs and a rating point on Hulu was endorsing the fact that Bravo was enabling her and giving her a platform to try to redeem herself in the public eye, which was shitty. Sure, innocent before proven guilty and all that–but The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills isn’t a court of law; and the fact they milked her potential criminality for ratings was disgusting and craven. I don’t love to hate her, I just fucking hate her. And the rest of the cast–outside the newer ones–are equally garbage. I stopped watching The Real Housewives of New York during its most recent season because I couldn’t watch the blatant racism being offered up as “entertainment.” Fuck you, Bravo, and fuck you, Andy Cohen. The Real Housewives shows have become a microcosm of everything that is wrong with American society and culture: there’s no accountability for anything. In fact, it’s quite the opposite: people are rewarded for being horrible.
It also makes me feel like I’ve always been incredibly naïve about the world, believing that being a good person means you’ll be rewarded and bad people will be punished for their wrong-doing, when the harsh reality is quite the opposite. I feel like I’ve been gaslit most of my life, frankly.
Which, of course, always comes back to me being a crime writer. I want to see justice being done. I want to see evil-doers punished and good people rewarded for their goodness. I want to write about a world where murderers and criminals are caught and punished, their victims avenged; not the real world where the wealthy can hire great lawyers and outspend the prosecution to get off, while so many innocent people who cannot afford great lawyers are convicted or talked into taking plea bargains every day and doing time while having committed no crime other than not being able to afford a great lawyer. (I’ve always wanted to write about a public defender–but who wants to read a book where the public defender loses every case?)
Heavy heaving sigh. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.
Tuesday and back into the office, which means I am awake waaaaaaay too early for my liking.
Sleep wasn’t great last night–yesterday was a very trying day, to say the least–and so I didn’t expect to sleep particularly well to begin with, and well, I was correct. I don’t feel groggy or tired right now, but I am sure will hit a wall big time later this afternoon. I’m not entirely sure it was that bad of a night’s sleep; I just know I woke up several times during the night and each time had trouble falling back asleep. But the coffee this morning is going down well, and I feel awake in a way, if a little physically tired still. But I shall make it through this day, I am going to power through and get things done. Yesterday I did manage to get work done–even if it wasn’t the greatest–but it was something.
I also got some bad news that I had to process–still processing, really–but life goes on, you know? The world doesn’t stop turning and you still have to go to work, pay your bills, and so forth. Scooter needs to be fed, and his litter box needs to be cleaned, and wallowing in bad news doesn’t get the dishes cleaned or the mail picked up or my clients seen. Or my stories written and edited and so on and so forth. The news did kind of derail me from finishing that short story that was due yesterday, but that’s life and it’s not the first deadline I’ve missed for an anthology or short story call. And at least I got more of the story written–and it could, if I can figure out the middle, be a really good one should I ever finish it.
So that’s something, at any rate.
Last night we caught up on Gaslit (Julia Roberts is really killing the role of Martha Mitchell, and I’m not a big fan of hers, either) and The Baby (a truly bizarre show) and started watching another show whose name I cannot recall right now–which is probably an indication of my brain fog from lack of sleep last night. (Although according to my fitbit I had a much better than average sleep last night, go figure.) Oh, yes, Tokyo Vice, starring Ansel Elgort. The first episode didn’t do much for me, but the story began picking up in the second episode and so we’re probably going to continue watching. The thing about Gaslit –asides from being yet another 1970s set television program–is that as we watched Paul kept saying, “were they really this stupid?” and I had to keep replying, “yes, they actually were this stupid, which is why they got caught. And it was all completely unnecessary–if I’m not mistaken, he won at least 48 states.” Idiot. And really, the country has never completely recovered from Watergate, either; the damage to public trust in our institutions has never been restored, which is part of the reason the country is in the shape it’s in now. Ironically, it was the Republican party responsible for Watergate–and then later they became the “you can’t trust the government” party. Coincidence? Or a pattern?
I’ve not decided what I am going to read next, either. I am having to head up to Kentucky for Memorial Day weekend, so I will be trying to decide what to listen to on the drive up and back, and I also should be able to get some reading in while I am up there. I have a lot of great books on deck–my TBR stack(s) are literally to die for, seriously–which makes the deciding that much harder for me to deal with and make final decisions. But I need to start clearing books out again–an endless struggle–and—and—and–yeah, I have a lot to do. Tonight I am going to turn in the Bouchercon anthology and start diving into my edits on my book, which is going to make it a lot stronger than it currently is; obviously my preference would be to have that finished before I drive up there a week from Thursday (it’s incredibly difficult for me to get much writing work done while I am on a trip) but we’ll see. (Ironically, I still had the submission call for that short story open on my browser tabs and they’ve pushed it back a week so in theory at least I could get that story done as there is more time now…we’ll see how it goes. I am in such a dark space this morning I can’t really picture getting anything done here or in time. Heavy heaving sigh.
And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader, and I hope your Tuesday is as lovely as you are.
Wednesday and yet another Pay-the-Bills Day. I also didn’t set my alarm last night–could have sworn I did, though–but fortunately managed to get up anyway shortly after six. That could have been truly scary, really; I could have easily slept for another few hours–even now that I am up and sipping coffee, I really can feel the pull of my bed, calling me back to its cozy, comfortable warmth. I would much rather spend a few more hours there than get cleaned up and head into the office any day of the week, quite frankly. I’m not sure why I was so deeply asleep last night yet again, but I am calling all of this great sleep I’ve been getting an awesome thing and just riding the wave as long as it continues, frankly. It’s weird feeling rested in the mornings, I have to admit. Nice, but weird.
I got my editorial letter for A Streetcar Named Murder yesterday, and it wasn’t nearly as bad as I feared it would be. I need to process it all, get it organized, and then get to work on it as soon as I can. I also need to finish the Bouchercon anthology and get it turned in as well; I also had a business call about a book project I am considering taking on. (Money makes the world go around, the world go around….) I also started working on a short story idea I had a while back and had gotten started on, called “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop,” for a very quick turn around short story submission call that I will most likely not get finished in time to turn in, but at the very least I will have a finished draft of the story at some point. I’m still not entirely certain what happens at the rest stop when my character winds up there–but I do have some thoughts–so we will see how it all goes. I also saw another submission call that struck my fancy recently; it might prove to be a home for another one of my stories that I can’t seem to find a home for–which is fine; my stories follow my imagination, and my imagination rarely works in a way that produces stories that short fiction markets like. (I do want to see if I can some out for submissions over the course of the next week or so; it’s all going to depend on my motivation, as everything always does…)
We also watched another episode of Candy last night, and it’s really interesting. I keep saying to Paul, “this suburban existence being depicted on this show–late 70’s, early 80’s–is my idea of hell. This was the environment I grew up in, and definitely was not the future I wanted for myself.” I’ve been hankering (my God did I really just say hankering?) to write about the 1970’s lately–probably has something to do with my turning sixty last year–and the suburbs and what that was kind of like; I have several ideas for stories/novels to be set in my fictional suburb outside of Chicago (where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; remember, all of my books and stories, regardless of authorial name, are connected together in some way; the Gregiverse, if you will); one is based on a true story that happened when we lived there and I was a freshman in high school (a murder involving some students) and the other is sort of based on the Candyman serial murders in Houston. So yes, those days of cheap faux wood paneling and station wagons and lawn mowers and Schwinn bicycles with streamers coming out of the handgrips and cards woven through the tire spokes so they clatter will someday be written about by yours truly.
So many ideas, so little time to actually write any of them. Heavy heaving sigh.
I think today I need to make a to-do list. I have a bunch of things that need doing, and I cannot count on my memory to remember them all–not that I have been able to count on my memory for that sort of thing for quite some time; this is not something new that has developed with age; no matter how much I want to believe that I used to have this truly fantastic memory, the truth is I was always able to simply manage tasks through list-keeping and obsessive organization…both of which have kind of fallen off track over the years, hence me forgetting things. I did kind of let my life get out of control for quite a number of years; the process of getting reorganized is one that is so overwhelming that I’ve just kind of let it go (my file cabinet is terrifying, seriously; even though I know I can probably clean a shit ton of things out of it and make it into something functional and workable…it’s also incredibly time consuming and the one thing I never seem to have in abundance of any kind is actual time) and as such, I can never really find anything…not to mention that I will look for a folder I know I created, not find it, and simply make a new one…so yes, I have files every-fucking-where.
And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a happy Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.
Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone, I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).
To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.
I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed.
Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love. David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)
(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)
My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.
Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.
Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.
One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.
Interesting, isn’t it?
And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.
And what about desire?
A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.
I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)
I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.
I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.
It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.
And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.
And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)
Thursday–the last full day of work for me this week; Fridays I only work half-days. The weekend looms on the horizon, and in theory, my life should be settling down into a normal routine next week at the day job after weeks of never being completely certain what I would be working the next day. For someone who is an utter control freak about time and scheduling, this has been torturous for me. For some reason I crave structure; I have to be at the office at this time, I can go to the grocery store here and then I can come home and spend this time writing and this time cleaning and this time watching television, relaxing.
And yet I also don’t like being caught in a routine, a rut, if you will.
I am nothing if not a writhing mass of contradictions.
But, like with audiobooks, an old dog can learn a new trick every now and then.
I am currently rereading Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods?, which I originally read in the 1970’s. The 1970’s was, for some reason–probably all the upheaval of that decade and attempts to recover from the social unrest of the previous decade–a decade of weird conspiracy theory and even more peculiar science; the Bermuda Triangle, UFO’s, Area 54, ancient aliens, etc. I used to read a lot of these books, mainly because they were interesting, even though there were frequently enormous gaps and huge leaps of logic required to follow the authorial reasoning to the points they were trying to make in those days; and even as a teenager I often spotted these logistical flaws. But the concept behind Chariots of the Gods? was one that I was interested in, and while von Däniken’s writing style (in fairness, the book was written in German and translated) left something to be desired, one thing I took away from the book in the first place was the realization that exclamation points used in non-fiction usually means most of the reasoning is bullshit.
(I also loved the movie Stargate, which can probably be directly traced back to reading Chariots of the Gods?)
I kind of love these theories, though, even as I recognized they are problematic. A lot of human history isn’t recorded, and so we are left, for the most part, to wonder about the origins and rise of Egyptian civilization, or what life was like in Ur, or how the idea for written communication began or where it came from, and so forth. I also remember one of the reasons I was partly drawn into the whole Chariots of the Gods? things in the first place was because one of the “sites” he tried to explain away as being designed for ancient astronauts were the strange lines on the plan of Nazca, in Peru–which I had read about in the forty-fourth Nancy Drew mystery, The Clue in the Crossword Cipher. (In retrospect, I am also horribly disappointed neither Nancy or the Hardy Boys–in the original series–never went to Egypt; both Rick Brant and Biff Brewster did, in The Egyptian Cat Mystery and Egyptian Scarab Mystery, respectively.)
But, as I said, even I, a relatively uneducated and unformed preteen, could spot fallacies in logic and reasoning in the book. It was made into a TV special, In Search of Ancient Astronauts, and then a feature film with the same name as the book. Von Däniken wrote several more books–turning it into a virtual cottage industry–but I never read beyond the first.
I was reminded of this recently when I came across an article on Von Däniken’s racism, and that his theories were based in racism (you can read it here), and as I read through the piece, nodding, I was also amazed at how it never occurred to me that essentially, Von Däniken’s theories were predicated on racism and asserting white supremacy by erasing the historical accomplishments of ancient, non-white civilizations. So, I checked the book out of the library to reread it and look for the racial coding–plus, to see if there are as many irrational and illogical leaps made as I remember.
And I also can’t stop thinking about the Bermuda Triangle and other conspiracy theories that were huge in the 1970’s…and wondering why the 1970’s was such a fertile ground for pseudoscience.
I managed, yesterday, to polish off Chapter Two; I wrote 1700 words or so in about an hour and fifteen minutes and voila! The pesky chapter was finished. I also started Chapter Three this morning; alas, maybe about a paragraph was all I was able to get done, but it was a start, and a start is always lovely. This weekend is my birthday; I will officially be fifty-six; but I’ve been saying I’m fifty-six for quite a while now. (I usually add the year after New Year’s; it’s just easier and I don’t really think of my birthday as a big deal, quite frankly). Paul and I are going to go see Dunkirk tomorrow night, and then out for dinner afterwards. I’ve taken Monday off, and I am working a late night on Tuesday, so I won’t have to be in to work until around three, which means I basically have a three and a half day weekend, which is lovely. I am hoping to be able to get a lot done this weekend; I want to finish reading the Ambler, which I am loving, then I am going to reread Dorothy B. Hughes’ In a Lonely Place, and then I am going to reread The Haunting of Hill House. After that, it’s either Jeff Abbott’s Blame or my advance copy of Laura Lippman’s newest, Sunburn.
One of the best perks of being a writer is that I get advance copies of books, or know people who do that can pass them along to me. My dear friend Lisa recently gave me an advance copy of this:
I don’t consider myself to be a horror writer (SHUT UP BACK THERE! I said horror, not horrible), but I do consider myself to be a big fan of the genre. I read a lot of these books–not all, who knew there were so many? But I was a voracious reader, and I loved to read horror. The first horror novel I read was The Other–I still have the hardcover copy I originally read in junior high; I’m not sure I remember how I got a hardcover copy of it, maybe it was my grandmother’s–and I also read The Exorcist in junior high; everyone was reading it, and as all tweens (although we weren’t called that then) are wont to do, all we talked about was the crucifix masturbation scene. I always liked horror–I remember watching old black and white scary movies with my grandmother (she also likes mysteries) when I was a kid, but I never thought I could write it. I certainly never tried until the 1980’s, when my fandom of Stephen King made me give it a try. I still love reading horror, and there are certainly some amazing horror writers being published today whose books I greatly enjoy.
My inability to get any of it published is an indicator that crime was a better fit for my talents.
But what a wonderful resource this is! And a lovely trip down memory lane. To be honest, I thought I hadn’t read much horror throughout my life outside of the usual suspects (Stephen King, Peter Straub, Poppy Z. Brite) and some others that have come along more recently, but in going through this, I saw many titles I’d forgotten I’d read, and authors I’d forgotten.
This is a must for all horror fans; even those who are too young to remember the glory days of the mass market paperback boom of the 70’s and 80’s.
I’ve always loved to dance. In fact, many times when I’m cleaning and Paul isn’t home, I’ll put on some dance music and dance around the Lost Apartment while I’m cleaning. If it’s a song I particularly love, I’ll slip into Drag Queen mode and perform as I sing and dance along to the music. It brings me joy, and there’s nothing I love more than a dance jam. One of the things I tried to imbue in the Scotty books–especially Mardi Gras Mambo–was the joy that can be found in dancing and dance music; some of the best times of my life were on the dance floor.
When I was a kid I used to watch Soul Train and American Bandstand, and tried to copy the way the young people on the show danced. I loved going to high school dances. Of course, gay bars are often all about the dancing. I was also a child of the 1970’s, very much, and so I lived through the popularity of disco, which I loved because it was dance music. And while I sadly never went there, you also couldn’t live through that period without knowing about Studio 54.
So, you can imagine my disappointment when I saw the movie 54<; it was a glossy “boy from Jersey moves to the city gets caught up in the glitz but then walks away from it and learns from his experience” type movie. And while I may have never gone to Studio 54, I knew enough about it–and lived through that time–to know that this movie was deeply, deeply sanitized.
When I heard there was a director’s cut, that was much better because the studio had redone almost the entire film, I thought–I want to see it. Paul went to a play Friday night, so after I was finished with my daily work I got in my easy chair with Scooter and rented it from Amazon.
Seriously, it was amazing.
The only resemblance this movie has to the studio release is the cast and it’s about Studio 54.
This movie is bleak, dark, and realistic–I would say it’s just as dark as Saturday Night Fever, which is an incredibly dark movie.
Shane, the main character, played by Ryan Phillippe in all of his stunning young beauty, lives in Jersey City with his father and two younger sisters. This is blue collar America in the 1970’s in all of it’s realistic bleakness. He works as a pump jockey at a gas station; the hostage crisis in Iran is going on; the economy is in the toilet, and he is uneducated but wants something more–like so many people did from that background (like Tony in Saturday Night Fever, for that matter). He has a crush on Julie Black, an actress on All My Children, and after one wretched night in a bar where he meets a girl, they have mutually unsatisfying sex in the backseat of his car, and when he asks her if she want to go out sometime, she dismissively says, “I’m from Montclair and you’re from Jersey City. I don’t date guys from Jersey City”–he gets the big idea to cut off his long frizzy hair into a more stylish look and convince his two buddies to go into the city with him and try to get into Studio 54, where he might have a chance to meet Julie Black.
Shane catches the eye of Steve Rubell, played by Mike Meyers, in the crowd outside and is picked to go inside–his two buddies aren’t–and Meyers tells him, “Not in that shirt”–forcing him to take it off as the price of admission. Once he is inside, though…and this is very important–he is dazzled by the inside: the people, the decor, the music, the dancing, the celebrities.
Before long, he’s hired to be a busboy, which requires him to wear those hilarious little running shorts that were in vogue back then–the bartenders are all gorgeous and shirtless–and he befriends another barback, whose wife works in the coatroom, and he moves in with them after his father throws him out for working at ‘that freakshow.’
The director’s cut doesn’t shy away from anything–the sexuality, the hedonism, the drugs. Everyone is smoking pot, snorting coke, popping Quaaludes. And of course, gorgeous as he is, Shane is getting laid left and right and using his body as his commodity. Shane also explores his own bisexuality; the movie never really makes it clear whether he is hustling when he is with wealthy men, or if he genuinely is fluid sexually. He often sleeps with people that Steve tells him to, and even gets some modeling gigs.
But the relationship with his married friends–Anita and Greg, played by Salma Hayek and Breckin Meyer, is also at the heart of the movie. They genuinely love and care about each other, but it’s never clear whether Shane is just close to them or if he’s part of the relationship. He definitely has sex with Anita–but after his initial anger Greg forgives him because they’re family.
There is also an incredibly awkward moment when Shane misreads a cue from Greg–now supplementing his income by dealing drugs–and they kiss for a moment before Greg freaks out and runs away.
I am not kidding when I say the director’s cut is a completely different movie from the theatrical release. There are characters in this version that don’t even show up–or if they do, it’s a small scene–in the theatrical version; there are whole stories and plots that vanish from this to the ‘original.’ This movie is very much in the tradition of Saturday Night Fever and Cruising (both of which I need to revisit now), and in its darkness and complexity, is equal to–and in some ways, superior–to both. This was the 1970’s I remember.