Together Again

Oh, wow, it’s pay the bills day and I didn’t even see it coming! How weird is that?

I managed to write 1500 words or so on a short story yesterday–AND I went to the gym. I slept well again last night, which was also pretty marvelous. It’s lovely to feel rested, as well as to feel awake when I leave the house, rather than walking and driving in a fog I don’t remember later. As such, my moods have been better and I haven’t been on edge, either. While this is all quite marvelous, at the same time I find myself reluctant to deal with odious chores or tasks–simply because I worry about opening Pandora’s box and releasing the demons of stress, irritation, and insomnia into my little world again.

The short story I am working on is called “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and it was one I had thought up in order to submit to the Minneapolis Bouchercon anthology I am co-editing with the marvelous Terri Bischoff. But I have also been thinking lately that I probably shouldn’t submit anything to the blind read; I did for the other two I edited, and my stories were chosen. No one ever said anything, but after the books were released I always felt a little uncomfortable because it could be seen as improper (the New Orleans story was nominated for a Macavity Award and the St. Petersburg for an Anthony, so that helped alleviate that somewhat), but I am thinking this time around that it’s better to not mess with it at all. I like the idea behind the story, and I might try to actually go the submit it to a magazine route, but we’ll see. Right now I am just regurgitating stuff up on the page that I’ll have to whittle down later to make it work, but I love the title and I am interested in the story, so will keep going with it and see how it turns out. I am thinking this weekend I am going to edit stories–I have one that was rejected by the last MWA submissions call that needs a bit of work, and of course, the novella; hopefully I’ll have a first draft of this one finished to edit this weekend. I also would like to do some reading this weekend–but this is all dependent on how things go with the tooth extraction. If I am still on painkillers this weekend, well, it’s not very likely I’ll be writing or editing or doing much reading–if my memory of painkillers is accurate–but I am not going to worry about any of that now, and am just going to proceed with making my plans. It won’t be the first time life interfered with the plans of mice and Greg.

I am enjoying writing again, frankly, and it feels very good, to be honest. I am enjoying going to the gym again. I feel like in some weird way that I am more of myself now than I have been in a long time, and I am not really sure what that is all about, to be completely honest; like I’ve just been going through the motions for a very long time and somehow in a dark cloud that turns everything into an odious chore, one more thing I need to check off the list, one more task to accomplish on the slow descent into the grave or something. Plotting out the Scotty is also turning out to be something a lot more fun than I had thought it would be; I am enjoying thinking and plotting and creating, and also thinking of other ways to challenge myself and stimulate myself into taking bigger chances with the writing and pushing myself harder. I’ve been thinking a lot about one of Michael Nava’s questions for us all on the San Francisco Public Library panel on queer crime writing–how do you keep your series fresh? It also came up during Laura Lippman’s interview on CBS This Morning that I watched the other day; and it’s a valid question. One of the reasons I stopped writing the Chanse series was a sense that I had fallen into a repeating pattern with the stories–and now that I am thinking back on the Scotty series, I am also seeing patterns developing in the last few books. I’ve already mentioned here about someone asking how many car accidents HAS Scotty been in?–which is actually valid; I think he’s been in one at least four times out of eight books–and last night I was thinking, you know, the last two Scotty books opened at parties–or rather, with him GOING to a big party, which then set up the story for the rest of the book…

Not good, Gregalicious. But this new one–working title Mississippi River Bottom, although Mississippi River Mayhem fits the alliteration pattern of the previous books in the series better–will NOT open at a party, and there will be some changes for the boys as well–no, I am not moving them out of the Quarter, no worries on that score–but some significant changes nonetheless. For one thing, and I’d hinted at this in Royal Street Reveillon–Scotty has bought the building from Millie and Velma, who have retired to the Florida Gulf Coast (which will give me a chance to the send the boys to the panhandle at some point to solve a mystery). But I’ve also got a sticky note on my computer reading NO CAR CRASHES THIS TIME.

I also worry about repeating myself with short stories and the novellas, frankly. I was thinking about my 1994 New Orleans novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and realized that the scene I originally envisioned for my main character meeting the younger man he becomes involved with I had lifted and used in another story, “A Streetcar Named Death.” I mean, there’s clearly no reason why my character can’t first see the young man on the streetcar in the early hour of the morning–it happens, and it’s definitely a way for people to meet in New Orleans, for sure–but there’s always that nagging worry about have I done this already? Is this story pattern the one I default to following all the time?

Sigh. It’s never easy being a Gregalicious,

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Take It on the Run

It has been seventeen years, more or less, give and take, since it happened and my life–and my worldview–went through a significant change.

It’s weird how it sneaks up on you when you aren’t expecting it, isn’t it? In the weeks leading up to Memorial Day I am vaguely aware of a sense of unease and discomfort, a feeling like some sort of impending doom is waiting for me just over the horizon. I’ve noticed in recent years that times and date have little meaning to me; at my day job every form I fill out requires a date–month, day, year–over and over again, and this constant use of dates makes them seem to lose their meaning as I write them down, recording them by rote; sometimes glancing up at the display on the telephone mounted on the wall above my working table to remember when my brain seizes up–as it is wont to do from time to time–and the date slips out from my short-term memory and cannot be retrieved by the processor. These meaningless days continue passing, recorded on form after form after form, until one day a date I am recording catches me off guard and I am startled by the rapid passage of time and think something like my God, next week is Paul’s birthday or next week is our anniversary and so forth.

And yet every May, without fail, as I go through the motions of my day to day life and run my errands and put gas in the car and make meals and clean up and work with my clients and try to make it to the gym, I forget about Memorial Day looming in the future, just around the corner, up ahead, waiting to land like a sucker punch in the solar plexus when I am least expecting it to happen. Is it a protective thing, I wonder, my subconscious pushing the memories deep into the darkest corners of my brain, to keep me from reliving some of the darkest hours and days of my life? I’m not sure–and the weird thing is that somehow I am vaguely aware. The memories don’t get pushed back into the cobwebby recesses completely, because I always, inevitably, feel unsettled every May, vaguely off-center, knowing there’s something back there I don’t want to remember, and it makes me tense, stressed, anxious.

And then, between episodes of a show we were streaming (The Drowning, on Acorn or Britbox, I cannot remember which) I got up to make garlic bread as a snack. As I sliced the loaf of French bread to spread the garlic butter paste on to broil in the oven, Paul was telling me about how crowded the Quarter had been on Friday afternoon when he’d gone down there to get his haircut. “It was more crowded than it would usually be before the shutdown,” he said with a shudder, “and all I could think was how awful it seemed.” I agreed with him, expressing that I had little to no desire to ever go out in the Quarter again–while thinking ah yes, you have become the tired old man you always feared you would–when Paul laughed and said, “Well, it’s not like Memorial Day is my favorite time to go out and do anything” and I laughed and kept spreading the paste on the bread as the memories and realizations all came flooding back to me; why I have been so tense and anxious lately; why I was so desperate to get my Xanax prescription refilled (telling myself it was because I needed them to sleep) and WHY I had been unable to sleep in the first place; why there was so much tension and so many knots in my neck, shoulder and back; why I have been unable to focus and why it has felt like I’ve been living under a dark cloud of looming depression for so long.

Memorial Day weekend, 2004, and that horrible phone call that Sunday morning, that Paul was at the emergency room at Charity Hospital and all that ensued from there.

I’ve only written about what happened that weekend once; in the wake of the Pulse massacre, that horrible morning in 2016 when I woke up to the horrible news and sat, glued to my computer screen, refreshing social media and new sites and worrying about my friends and acquaintances in Orlando to check in, so that I would know they were alive. Pulse was horrifying in and of itself, without it being a triggering event for me personally; watching those friends and family outside the bar in the morning hours in Orlando, terrified and wondering if someone they loved, someone they knew had been inside Pulse that night and hadn’t yet heard from, was alive or dead. I’ve never felt that the story of Memorial Day weekend 2004 was mine to tell; as I said to a friend recently, as we talked about the HBO show It’s a Sin and how deeply it affected me, “I’ve never written about my own experiences during that time because I was a survivor and a witness, and to me, writing about it and making money from it seemed wrong to me somehow.” Part of this mentality–which is probably wrong, but I can make a rational case for it from either point of view–comes from being raised to keep personal pain private; I’ve always called it ‘bleeding in public.’ I’ve never wanted to be seen as a victim; I’ve never wanted to publicly dissect my pain for others to see, comment on–especially to belittle or demean.

We survived it, and isn’t that the most important thing?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever really processed it all; dealt with it properly and adequately. I saw a therapist for a few years, and obviously we discussed all of my traumas, all the PTSD from everything I had experienced, but I’m not sure that I’ve ever faced it, dealt with it, handled it. I wrote a short story about it once–“A Streetcar Named Death”–and of course I wrote that blog entry after the Pulse massacre.

But now as I approach sixty–only a few more months–I find myself wondering, about all of the pain and trauma of the past, and whether I have dealt with it in a healthy manner, and if writing about it, which is how I inevitably deal with almost everything, is the way to go with it?

I don’t know. But…I can’t help but feel that I need to; that somehow, despite whatever blowback and snark might come from doing so, that it will finally help me to deal with it and maybe–just maybe–Memorial Day weekend can go back to being what it used to be for me, and I can finally be free from it all.

Big Star

Sunday morning, and all is well–as well as it can be, at any rate–in the Lost Apartment. The Saints play the hated Falcons today at noon, with Taysom Hill–he of the sparkling blue eyes, the shredded muscular body, and the big warm infectious smile–getting the start as quarterback in place of Drew Brees, who is injured with broken ribs.

LSU eked out a win yesterday over Arkansas by partially blocking a field goal attempt in the closing minutes, 27-24, but with the only games left being Mississippi (it really requires effort not to say Ole Miss), Texas A&M, and Florida left to play, and a possible rescheduling of the Alabama game (still to be determined), means a losing season is still hanging in the balance. Alabama and Florida are both ranked in the Top Five, and none of those remaining games are going to be easy. They could easily go 0-4; 4-0 is unlikely; 2-2 is possibly the best we can hope for, which would leave the Tigers 5-5 on the season. The officiating in the game yesterday was absolutely terrible–not biased; the calls both for and against LSU were constantly questionable (some of the things that weren’t overturned were astonishing in retrospect).

I got some things done yesterday–the early game time for the Tigers certainly helped in that regard–did some serious cleaning, which was absolutely necessary, as well as some deep filing, which was enormously helpful. I discovered that, much to my surprise, my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” actually began as a short story called “A Streetcar Named St. Charles”–which, obviously, I ditched once I wrote a story called “A Streetcar Named Death”–and what was interesting about finding the original story was that I originally intended for my main character to meet the love interest on the streetcar; I think that’s still going to happen in the new version I am doing, but not quite in the same way (plus, that was also how I started “A Streetcar Named Death'”–a chance encounter on the streetcar, so yeah, changes). Some of what I wrote can still be used, of course, in the newer, improved version I have in progress, but what was truly amazing was how completely I’d forgotten the original.

I also started writing another story that formed, somehow, in my brain as I cleaned and filed yesterday: “The Rosary of Broken Promises.” If you will recall, I had started my story for the Christmas horror anthology, “To Sacrifice a Pawn” (really love that title) and then decided I didn’t have enough time to write it and do a really good job….so of course, yesterday I began to form another idea, drawing from the mists of my brain a similar opening as the “Pawn” story, but with a different tone, mood, and main character, and the newer idea was much darker than the original. I love this new story’s title as well; because of course I don’t have enough work in progress already (eye roll).

My back is still sore–I’m not sure what the hell I’ve done to myself, but I’m also not entirely sure it’s a muscle strain issue. I mean, it easily could be, but I am still going to the gym regularly, and it doesn’t affect the exercises I’m doing, nor does it make any of the exercises impossible. In fact, usually after I work out it doesn’t hurt at all, and it takes a while–usually overnight–for it to come back with full force. Yesterday I was aware of it, wincing periodically, with it getting worse the later in the day it got; this morning it is really miserable. Today I am going to use some heat on it with the heating pad; slather it with Icy Hot, and am going to use the yoga roller on it to try to loosen it up.

And of course, periodically I have those “creative mind” moments like, what if it’s something serious, or you had a mini-stroke or something and don’t know it?

A creative mind is truly a curse sometimes.

We watched a delightful film with Sir Ian McKellan and Dame Helen Mirren yesterday, The Good Liar, which wasn’t anything like I expected it to be; for some reason I had gotten it into my head that it was a comedy, and it was anything but a comedy. It was a very dark story about the sins of the past and swindling–very well written, with some terrific surprises in it and some truly terrific acting; Russell Tovey also was good in a supporting role as Dame Helen’s suspicious grandson–and I am surprised this film didn’t get more attention, particularly from fans of crime fiction. Very twisty, very interesting, and very well done. We then moved on to a French limited series, Le Manti (The Mantis) in which a present day serial killer is copying the crimes of a confessed serial killer who has been in jail for twenty-five years–and the serial killer is a woman. Played creepily by former Bond girl Carole Bouquet (For Your Eyes Only), the Mantis offers to help the police catch the killer, a la The Silence of the Lambs, with only one stipulation: her liaison with the police has to be her son, who is now also a cop. Very twisty, very creepy, very well plotted, we tore through three episodes of it last night. I do recommend it, even if there are some plausibility questions. And how nice to see Carole Bouquet so many years after her Bond girl days, still strikingly beautiful as an older woman, and with much stronger acting chops than in her days scuba diving with Roger Moore in the Greek islands.

And on that note, tis time to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–will check in on you again tomorrow morning.

The Man

Yesterday was rather lovely, if I do say so myself.

I woke relatively early after a wonderful night of sleep, and drank my coffee while primarily doing some chores around the kitchen/office. Once I was sufficiently fortified with coffee, I sat down and edited/revised my story “The Snow Globe,” and Constant Reader, I have to tell you–I feel like an absolute idiot for putting off doing it for so long. There really are few things as satisfying as editing and revising something you’ve written, making the language better, making the story flow better, deepening the characters, and tying up the ending in a more satisfying bow than the one you originally used.

Why do I always forget how much I FUCKING love doing my job? WHY do I always have to force myself to do it?

One of the eternal mysteries of life, I suppose. I always have to force myself to do things I enjoy–like going to the gym and working out, which is what I did as soon as I finished the revision. I really need to put that on a sticky note for my computer: REMEMBER YOU LOVE TO WRITE.

I also spent some time plotting out my novella-in-progress “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hoping doesn’t turn into a novel. I like the story a lot; it actually began life as the idea that eventually became “A Streetcar Named Death”–that happens to me sometimes; I get an idea that could go off in two different directions, and they both wind up becoming stories of their own. I like–still do, in fact–the idea of “chance meeting on a streetcar”, which is such a lovely way to open a story, really, but it truly fit with “A Streetcar Named Death” better than with “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and it didn’t take me long before I realized that this particular story was too long to be a short story–I needed to go too in-depth with the main character as it was, and then other characters began talking to me more, insisting on being more important to the story, and I finally realized fuck it, it’s a novella, deal with it and just write it. I have several other novellas in progress at the moment (insanity, well aware)–“Fireflies,” “Once a Tiger,” “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” and “Spellcaster” being the others (I’m probably forgetting one–still on my first Monday morning cappuccino)–and feel fairly confident that at some point I’ll get them all finished and ready to be published.

My Internet is out this morning; fortunately I can turn my phone into a hotspot so functionality this morning isn’t lost completely. Yet it’s still annoying–as I muse every time we lose power, we’ve become so dependent on modern conveniences that even something so minor as a cable/Internet outage is teeth-grindingly annoying.

We watched another episode of both Mr. Mercedes and The Undoing last night–Donald Sutherland is extraordinary–and I’m not really sure where The Undoing is going; it’s an interesting mystery thus far, and I am not really sure if Hugh Grant is a killer or not. But there’s more going on in that family and marriage than we’ve already seen–or that they’ve shown us–and I am hopeful the show isn’t going to blow its premise. It is based on a novel–You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, that I’d never heard of before. I also think I prefer the original title, frankly–and am also thinking that maybe David E. Kelley should adapt one of Alafair Burke’s novels, like The Ex or The Wife.

I slept really well last night–I even woke up before the alarm this morning at six–and am hopeful this will be a nice, productive week. I need to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, and I also need to work on getting a draft of “A Dirge in the Dark” completed; I have an amorphous idea of where I want to go with the story, and it isn’t going to be easy, frankly–which is part of the reason I’ve been delaying working on everything (nothing is going to be easy) and that’s just stupid, really; part of the reason I kept pushing the revision of “The Snow Globe” to the bottom of the to-do list was because I thought it was going to be difficult to do–and it wasn’t, really. I need to stop doubting my creativity and my ability to do my work–but that’s been something I’ve struggled with pretty much my entire life so far. It would be lovely if at age sixty I finally turned the corner there.

I also made it to the gym for a workout yesterday, which was lovely; I’ve managed three workouts a week for three consecutive weeks now, and if I keep my head down and keep plodding along, I’ll continue feeling better and sleeping better and getting shit done. The Saints also won yesterday–they’ve now won six straight, although they just as easily could have lost any number of those games–and so who knows? Perhaps they are going to turn out to be a contender this year after all.

And on that note, my dear Constant Reader, I am returning to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, everyone.

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.

adam hagenbuch 1.jpg

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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