Georgia on My Mind

Huzzah! We made it to Wednesday, and what a lovely thing that is to behold. It’s cold this morning in the Lost Apartment–it’s in the forties outside this morning–so my space heater is on and I am basking in the warmth. Last night was a good night of make-up sleep–I feel amazingly rested and refreshed this morning—and my coffee? Why, it’s delicious and wonderful, thank you for asking!

I was terribly exhausted last night when I got home from work; barely enough energy to fold the towels in the dryer (after a refluff cycle) and literally, just sat in my easy chair and just wasted away the evening rewatching the first half of the LSU-Oklahoma game on the DVR. I still, all this time later, cannot wrap my mind around that game. As I watched, and thought about the upcoming national title game with Clemson, I realized that if LSU loses that game, it will be disappointing; but it won’t really take away the magic of this past season. It was stressful at times, but almost always a joy to watch LSU play this year; to not lose games they shouldn’t and to raise up to the level of the opponent they were playing. There were, to be sure, some sloppy games where the defense gave up far more points than they should have (Vanderbilt and Mississippi come to mind), but it was still an amazing, amazing ride for LSU fans.

Today is pay day, so once I finish this and plow through my emails this morning I have to pay some bills and update the checkbook. I know, I know; I am old-fashioned that way; I like to keep a register of what I spend and on what–it helps at the end of the year with tax prep, which I should start working on soon–and I just can’t, even though I rarely, if ever, write checks anymore, not keep a handwritten register of my spending through the checking account. It’s interesting that no one really writes checks anymore, yet they are still called checking accounts–perhaps someday in the future they’ll be rebranded as debit accounts, to differentiate from credit accounts.

I also came to the conclusion last night that I really need to stop beating myself up for not getting as much done on Mondays and Tuesdays as I would like. I work twelve hour days on both; I get up at six in the morning and get home from work just after eight in the evening. Mondays are generally busier than Tuesdays, but both are busy enough regularly to wear me out. Monday nights I usually am not as worn down as I am on Tuesdays; but it’s still exhausting, and I am usually too tired to even read when I get home from work on those nights. I think it’s not just the length of the workdays but the getting up so ridiculously early as well; and I generally don’t sleep as well on those nights when I have to get up while it’s still dark outside. But the good news is I’ve finally recognized that it’s probably insane to criticize myself for not getting as much done on those two days as I want to; and of course today I feel rested, so if anything today is the day I should beat myself up for not getting anything done–if I don’t get anything done, that is, today.

I’ve not yet ventured onto Twitter to see if RWA is still aflame, a la the firebombing of Dresden during World War II; but those fires were still being fed pretty well yesterday all day. It still staggers me that this enormous rift has formed in one of the largest writers’ organizations in the world, frankly; I believe they have somewhere between nine and ten thousand members, and over 150 chapters. That boggles my mind. Granted, they aren’t all published authors–there’s aspiring authors, and industry professionals, and so forth. I had considered joining RWA at one point–my Todd Gregory novels could be seen as erotic romances, even if it was, in my mind, a bit of a stretch. I talked to a lesbian friend who was a member, and was stunned to discover that if I did join, I couldn’t be a part of forums and so forth that were for authors because I had worked for a publisher so I was therefore suspect and couldn’t participate in forums where authors might talk about publishers because my presence could inhibit their discussions. It was absurd on its face, I felt; when Harrington Park Press was sold and the fiction lines discontinued, I continued to work as an editor–but strictly on a contract basis; Bold Strokes Books would offer me manuscripts to edit and I would say yes or no. I didn’t have the power or control to offer contracts or negotiate them; I was sometimes sent a manuscript for evaluation and if I thought it was something that held promise I would say yes I’d like to work on this one and they’d offer a contract to the author. But that was enough, in the eyes of RWA, to make me a “publisher” and not an “author.” I didn’t think that could be right, of course, so I wrote to the main office of RWA asking–and was told, yes, even simply editing on a contract/for hire basis was enough to make me a publisher rather than an author in their eyes.

So, I didn’t join. At the time I wondered if this was all because I was gay and wrote gay books–the ever-present shadow of homophobia always lingers in the back of my mind, making me question any and everything–but eventually simply shrugged my shoulders and figured, well, if they don’t want my money they don’t want my money.

Now, I really wonder. For one thing, publishers aren’t permitted to file ethics complaints about authors–and yet the complaints against Courtney Milan that led to this entire mess were filed by what RWA would classify–or did when I considered joining–as publishers. But the complainants were nice white ladies (NWL’s), so one can’t help but think that yes, they wouldn’t let me join as an author because I was a gay man; exceptions are made for NWL’s and no one else. But, as I said, I’m glad I didn’t join–even if their decision about how I’d be classified as a member was rooted in systemic and personal homophobia, because I am very happy to know I never gave money to such an organization so riddled with bigotry and nastiness.

I was always wary of joining writers’ organizations, because as a gay author I could never be certain me and my work would be welcomed into the group. I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime a bit warily, but as I slowly became more and more involved with both groups, I found them not only welcoming but encouraging. (To be sure, there are undoubtedly members who are homophobic, but I’ve not had the displeasure of experiencing any of that, and I am very grateful to both groups for that.) I also belonged to Authors Inc for a while, and I also belong to the Thriller Writers. I was never terribly involved with either group, so I don’t know what those groups are like–but when I belonged to Authors Inc I was asked to contribute to their anthologies, which is where my stories “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian” first appeared (you can get them now in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, available through the Bold Strokes website or any on-line book retailer), which I always took as a good sign. I always wanted to go to their annual convention, but it was just out of my financial reach each and every year. Same with the Thriller Writers yearly event in New York–too expensive.

And of course today is merely a half-day for me, so I can leave the office early and come home, get some things done, perhaps even make dinner–madness, right?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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Suddenly

Yesterday I finished revisions on four stories, took a deep breath, and submitted them. Now, we wait. I’m not entirely certain the stories were right for the markets I sent them to, but you know what? Letting them just sit in my computer wasn’t getting them out there. Better to try and fail than not to ever try at all.

As I said yesterday, my confidence in my writing, which, despite all appearances to the contrary has never been strong, was dramatically shaken in the last year; I am only now starting to come out of it, and I am coming back out of it by working. I’ve written well over a hundred thousand words thus far in 2018; most of it short stories, some of it work on a new Scotty novel, still other the manuscript I intend to try to lure the ever elusive agent into my web with; and since sitting down and actually taking stock, I am realizing what I’ve accomplished, and am very proud of myself. The stories I worked on again this week, revising and editing and reading aloud, were quite strong; the two I am struggling with perhaps not as strong–although I do like their titles. Forcing myself to continue working on them is futile at this moment; much as I am loath to put them to the side, I am going to; there is nothing more self-defeating and depressing than trying to force yourself to write something that just isn’t coming. The stories are there, of course; I just haven’t yet worked out how to get them down onto paper yet. I think very often we, as writers, get so bogged down in our stubborn determination to finish something we are working on that we just keep fighting, pounding our head determinedly against an immovable wall–when the smart thing is to take a break from it and work on something else; then come back to the wall with fresh eyes and a rested forehead.

A vanity project that I have always had in the back of my mind was to put together a short story collection of my crime stories. I first had the idea several years ago, but didn’t have enough stories and was going to combine my horror and crime together: the folder and table of contents I created at the time was for Annunciation Shotgun and Other Stories. I’ve never forgotten this vanity project; and even now, when I should be preparing the manuscripts of Bourbon Street Blues and Jackson Square Jazz for their long overdue ebook editions, I go back to the vanity project again and again: well, I’ve published THESE stories since then, maybe I can just go ahead and remove these others that don’t fit as well–take these horror stories out, since my horror is clearly not as strong as my crime fiction. I made another table of contents, just the other day; only now I am calling it Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. Whenever I’ve been stuck this past week or so, for want of anything else to do, I’ve started pulling the stories together into a single document to get a word count. The realization the other day of how many stories I’ve done so far this year already, and adding them casually to the table of contents–today it hit me: the manuscript is already publishable length, is over eighty thousand words, without an introduction  and without all of the stories I’ve done so far. I removed all the horror–goodbye, “Crazy in the Night” and “Rougarou” and “The Snow Queen” and “The Troll in the Basement”–and added some more of the newer material. It was astonishing to realize how much there actually was; that I cannot add much more because there simply isn’t room, and that I might have enough for a second volume in a couple of years.

Mind-blowing, really.

Short story collections don’t sell as well as novels, of course; short stories are the bastard stepchildren of publishing, and crime stories even more shunned at the family holiday dinner table. I don’t know if my publisher will want this collection, and I may end up having to self-publish it. Whereas I would have shrank in horror from that possibility a few years ago, it doesn’t matter as much to me now as it did then to have a traditional publisher pull the book together; although I would like another pair of eyes on it, some copy editing, a cover design and packaging done for me. But I am very proud of all of these stories; each one of them means something to me in some way. And if my fears about crime stories with gay characters in them not being acceptable to mainstream short story publications, well, I can always get them seen this way. And I am proud of the new crime stories I’ve written with gay characters in them.

I didn’t write crime stories for the longest time because of that fear; the fear that no matter how high the quality of the story, gay characters would make them unpublishable. The two stories I published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, “Acts of Contrition” and “The Email Always Pings Twice,” were mainstream–not a gay character in either story. I did publish two stories in Novelists Inc. anthologies with gay characters, “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian.” My stories in New Orleans Noir and Sunshine Noir (“Annunciation Shotgun” and “Housecleaning”, respectively) were about gay characters. My story in Blood on the Bayou, nominated for the Macavity Award last year, “Survivor’s Guilt,” wasn’t gay in any way, nor was my story “Keeper of the Flame,” published in Mystery Week. Some of the new stories are gay, some are not. Two that went out today were about gay characters, two of them were not. I was originally not intending to write any crime stories with gay characters this year; it just sort of happened. I think the Chanse story I’ve written–which needs a new title–is pretty decent; but am I limiting my chances of getting the stories into print by writing about gay characters? It’s already a difficult haul finding markets that still take short stories, and the competition is obviously fierce.

And again, as I said yesterday, you never can be certain your story was rejected because you wrote honestly about gay characters. It’s all part and parcel of the insanity of being a gay writer, or a writer who is gay, or whatever the hell label fits on my sash as I walk across the stage at the beauty pageant of publishing.

But I’ve got more than enough stories for a collection now, and I am going to keep playing with the manuscript; what is the proper mix of previously published stories versus new material? Should it all be new material, or should it all be previously published material?

Decisions, decisions.

Therein, indeed, lies the path to madness.

I also read some short stories. First was “Still Life with Teapots and Students”, by Shirley Jackson, from the  Let Me Tell You collection.

Come off it, kids, come off it, Louise Harlowe told herself just under her breath. SHe smiled graciously at her husband, Lionel’s, two best students, noticing with an edge of viciousness that they both held their teacups exactly right, and said lightly, “You’re going to have a pleasant summer, then?”

Joan shrugged perfectly, and Debbi smiled back, as graciously as Louise had smiled, but with more conviction. “It will be about the same as the others, I guess, ” Debbi said. “Sort of dull.”

They’re both too well bred to tell me what they’ll be doing, Louise thought, and asked deliberately, “You’ll be together, of course?”

Jackson is one of my favorites, and while she is mostly known for “The Lottery” and The Haunting of Hill House and macabre, Gothic work, she wrote a lot more than people think and not everything she wrote was macabre. This nasty little tale, in which a professor’s wife has two of his students over for tea–during the course of which she lets the rich little bitches she knows about their affair with her husband, and what’s more, doesn’t care because they are nothing more than something of the moment, is quite rich and layered and textured. From a modern day perspective the wonder is why she doesn’t leave him, as it becomes clear this happens regularly; they politely discuss another faculty wife who wasn’t quite as calm in confronting the student her husband was messing around with, and it’s all very polite and reserved…yet, in this modern era of #metoo and power differentials, the agency both Jackson and the wife in the story give the students–and the contempt and hatred for them the wife feels, but never reveals–makes me wonder. I’m still unpacking this story, several days after reading it; which is how amazing it–and Jackson–are.

And then it was time for “The Doll” by Daphne du Maurier, The Doll: The Lost Short Stories.

I want to know if men realize when they are insane. Sometimes I think my brain cannot hold together, it is filled with too much horror–too great a despair. And there is no one; I  have never been so unutterably alone. Why should it help me to write this?…Vomit forth the poison in my brain.

For I am poisoned, I cannot sleep, I cannot close my eyes without seeing his damned face..

If only it had been a dream, something to laugh over, a festered imagination

It’s easy enough to laugh, who wouldn’t crack their sides and split their tongues with laughing. Let’s laugh till the blood runs from our eyes–there’s fun, if you like. No, it’s the emptiness that hurts, the breaking up of everything inside me.

DuMaurier’s story often have a polite, observational distance and formality to them; much like her novels, even in the first person. This story, of obsession and lust and desire, all of which are thwarted, is not only reminiscent of My Cousin Rachel, but also, as I was reading, made me wonder. We never learn the name of the first person narrator, but the object of his obsession is a woman named Rebecca–you see where my mind was going with that, don’t you? And in some ways, it works as an almost prequel for the novel; the deep obsession and need; the mysterious woman who plays out her cards slowly. What of course doesn’t fit is the doll itself; the woman owns a male doll she has a strange attachment to, a doll our narrator despises, hates, is jealous of; it’s a terrific story of darkness and deep passion and obsession and perhaps, madness….a great example of why I love du Maurier so much.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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