The Long Run

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.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

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!)

I’ll Be There

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.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Let’s Dance

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:

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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.

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

I Love the Nightlife

Ah, disco.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

And the music! Oh, the music is so fantastic.

I highly recommend it.