All Down the Line

I did not want to get out of bed this morning. I didn’t sleep as deeply or restfully last night as I have been, but it was still a good night’s sleep–at least, one that wasn’t riddled with insomnia, so I’ll take it and be grateful. I mean, I don’t feel fatigued or anything. I’m still fighting this cold I caught in New York (the COVID tests have been consistently negative since my return, but I haven’t taken one this morning yet, either) which is miserable, and means I’ll probably continue masking at work. They lifted the masking requirement yesterday, which was kind of a surprise, but…making those kinds of decisions is way above my pay grade. I don’t know why people were so hateful and nasty about the masks, but I know I’ve kind of enjoyed not getting sick (other than COVID) over the last three years–which is why I hate this cold even more than I ordinarily would because I haven’t had one in three years.

Sigh.

I made more than quota yesterday, which was also nice–the deadline looms, which makes every word more important–and I hope to do so again tonight. I also managed to get some dishes done last night, some cleaning up around the kitchen, and even made dinner, which I rarely do on weeknights (mainly because Paul gets home so late, but yesterday was his work-at-home day, so he was here and it wasn’t an issue). I need to do some more dishes tonight and more clean-up/organizing around the kitchen. I have to do that signing event for two hours at ALA on Saturday at the Convention Center (which I keep forgetting about, like I keep forgetting about my doctor’s appointment tomorrow, which isn’t good or smart), so getting ahead of the game is better for me and I should take advantage of the writing being easy and write as much as I can when its flowing, right?

We also started watching Jack Ryan on Amazon Prime last night. I like John Kasinski, but have never been much of a fan of Tom Clancy’s. I did read The Hunt for Red October when it was the “it” book of the year, but didn’t much care for it and never went back to Clancy afterwards. It’s just not my thing. I preferred Alistair MacLean, to be honest–no one really talks about him anymore, but I read a lot of his canon; I think if there’s any one book he might be known for it’s either The Guns of Navarone or Where Eagles Dare. My personal favorite was the one whose name I cannot recall right now, but it was about a lifeboat full of people escaping Singapore in December 1941; their ship is torpedoed and sinks, and they are trying to make it to Australia. South by Java Head! I also enjoyed Circus and Bear Island. I’ve been meaning to revisit MacLean again now that I’m an older and more sophisticated (!) reader, just as I’ve been meaning to revisit Robert Ludlum (the actual Ludlum) in the last few years. I’ve also been meaning to revisit Helen MacInnes–her The Salzburg Connection is one of my favorite espionage thrillers (you can never go wrong with Nazis as your villains, seriously). I’ve also wanted to reread Ian Fleming for the first time since I was a teenager as well; I think I would appreciate the books more than I did then. Anyway, we weren’t terribly engrossed by Jack Ryan and I don’t think we’ll be continuing with it.

This morning’s COVID test is negative, as I had suspected and hoped, so I know this is just a cold. Is it annoying that I still have it? You bet your ass it is. I can’t believe I used to get colds and think nothing of it and just went about my day and business like it was nothing. Clearly, I am out of practice with being ill. I don’t think it’s just me, either; I finished off my DayQuil yesterday so it was on my list on the way home from work and they didn’t have much in stock–either DayQuil or NyQuil, and none of the extra strength kind I always use. Supply chain issues? One thing I’ve really been noticing over the last year or so is how empty the shelves in the grocery stores are, and things that I used to pick up regularly without concern sometimes aren’t there. I don’t know if this is a New Orleans issue–it really became noticeable after Hurricane Ida, and the stores here never have seemed to bounce back from having to toss all that food back then–or if it’s across the board, but it’s strange and one of those things that makes you wonder about how serious the decline of the American democracy actually must be. (It also goes to show how spoiled we are–do other countries even have supermarkets? They didn’t in the village in Italy we vacationed in all those years ago–and I never saw one in either Florence or Venice, but wasn’t looking either. Or is even thinking that part of American exceptionalism? It’s hard to know anymore.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

Tumbling Dice

Monday morning and all is quiet and dark in the Lost Apartment this morning. I slept well again last night–I’m getting rather spoiled by all this good sleep, really–and yet it’s weird to be up again when it’s so dark outside. Today is my first full week of work this entire year–not bad, really, since it’s the last week of the month–but it’s also going to be weird to be working every day. I have that event this Saturday at the Convention Center, but other than that my entire focus this entire week is going to be writing (just like always). Everything is going the way it’s supposed to –I’ve already started questioning my choices about the story, so we’re right on track–and I am not getting stressed about anything, so that’s also working for me this year. I’d love to have another day off, though.

And parade season is literally right around the corner.

I didn’t write as much this weekend as I would have liked to, unfortunately; that seems to be very much par for the course, sadly. I’ll have a lot to get done this weekend, of course–that’s how it always seems to work, doesn’t it? That last minute push–but it’s fine. I guess the Joey Burrow and the Bengals won again yesterday–I really only pay attention to the Bengals and the Saints; I pull for the Bengals because of Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, of course. I wish the Saints could have gotten him, seriously, but we had a really good run as Saints fans and so I am not going to complain about their return to mediocrity.

We watched two more episodes of Mayfair Witches and there are some substantial changes to the story from the book, but it’s enjoyable watching and there was one point last night where I kind of had to laugh; one of the most vivid and poignant things in the book is how they always parked drugged out of her mind Deirdre on the side porch every day for everyone and anyone walking past the house to see–it wasn’t until last night that it dawned on me how uniquely New Orleans and Southern Gothic that actually is; of course they put her out on the side porch on display for the entire world to see rather than keeping her hidden away inside the decaying mansion. I’m enjoying the show, much like how I enjoyed Interview with the Vampire. I am not one of those people who inevitably are disappointed with adaptations of novels I enjoyed; I long ago sensed that you can’t compare a television series or movie to a novel as they are completely different media and differences are inevitable–they should be viewed and valued for what they are rather than what they should have been. Changes have to be made–just like how the house they used for filming and converted to look like the house at First and Chestnut isn’t exactly the same; Deirdre’s porch wasn’t the main gallery of the house but a completely separate and different side porch, coming off the living room windows. But you have to adapt to what you are working with, and since they couldn’t use the actual house–obviously there would be differences.

I also have a doctor’s appointment in the afternoon on Wednesday, which means having to leave early that day (so I guess it’s not really a full week of work after all), so I can finally get my arm looked at and possibly start the process of getting hearing aids. Yay for health insurance! I am tired a bit this morning–more like still sleepy more than anything else, it’s funny how the meaning of tired has changed over the years–and could easily climb back into bed and sleep for another two hours or so. I like that I am getting good sleep so that I feel rested; weekend after next will be the weekend in Alabama which means I won’t be sleeping again relatively soon, sigh. (It’s getting to the point where I don’t even want to travel at all anymore because the lack of sleep becomes debilitating.) But I won’t be traveling again after that weekend until San Diego and Bouchercon in August/September, unless I have to go to Kentucky for something in the meantime, and I am really looking forward to the build up of accrued time off. I really do think I may just take a week off in May or June just to stay home and work on things around the house–which will inevitably lead to me being lazy and doing nothing for most of that time, which is not good. I am hoping that the arm check-up will go well and will eventually lead to me being cleared to return to the gym, but I also fear I am being overly optimistic. Visually the arms look vastly different from each other now, which really has me concerned about something like a torn muscle or something like that–but you’d think that would be more painful and wouldn’t have stopped hurting as quickly as this did? It’s always something. I guess I should check into the yoga schedule at the gym and see if there’s any classes that work with my schedule. Stretching, riding the bike, walking on the treadmill…these are all things that don’t require me to actually use my arms much, so….no excuses.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again later.

Jumpin’ Jack Flash

He’s a gas, gas, gas!

Here we are on another gray weekend morning. It was supposed to rain off and on all day yesterday–it didn’t–but it turned out to be a pretty good day. I wrote about eight thousand words or so, give and take, and made groceries in the afternoon. I did take care of some chores around the Lost Apartment, too, and I spent some time yesterday morning with Other Horrors, which I should finish this morning as I only have three stories left. There have been a couple that puzzled me, but overall, I’ve enjoyed the collection for the most part. I’d be pressed to pick a favorite story, though. Reading it has again reminded me that I am not, no matter how much I wish I was, a horror writer. I just don’t have the imagination, I don’t think, to be a horror writer. I can write Gothic suspense–suspense stories with a touch of the supernatural in them, like Lake Thirteen and Bury Me in Shadows–but I just don’t have the kind of mind that goes to horror when I think about writing.

We also finished off That 90’s Show last night and started watching Mayfair Witches, an adaptation of Anne Rice’s Mayfair trilogy, beginning with my favorite of her novels, The Witching Hour. I am predisposed to like this, since I loved the book so much (the rest of the trilogy not so much), and of course I drove past the house they turned into the Mayfair house for filming on Prytania Street all the time. (They did not use the actual house at First and Chestnut; one thing I did have a problem with was the way they showed Dierdre’s porch, which was different on the actual house than how depicted on the show) There are two more episodes for us to get through tonight, which is cool. I slept extremely well last night again–it’s remarkable how well I’ve been sleeping since getting back from New York–and my psoriasis seems to be under control again for the first time in years. There are a few things I need from the grocery store, but I think I can safely put that off until tomorrow and can stop on the way home from work. This morning I did get up earlier than I wanted to–I am sleeping so well I could stay in bed all day without an issue, I think–but I eel good. My legs have finally stopped feeling sore and tired, thank God, and I think I can safely say that I have completely reacclimated to my day to day life again.

I’m still listening to the Hadestown score, but I also started listening to the Christine McVie-Lindsay Buckingham album the two recorded a few years ago, and it’s quite good. The harmonies! Although I can’t help but think two things while listening: first, I wish Lindsay Buckingham had produced one of her solo albums and second, the one thing missing is Stevie Nicks and this would have made an amazing Fleetwood Mac album, which I think was what it was originally intended to be but Stevie wasn’t available or something or another. It’s also sad to know there will never be another Fleetwood Mac album since Christine’s untimely passing last year (not with my favorite line-up, at any rate). I need to move her solo album from the 1980’s back into my rotation–it’s a great and always underrated record. It’s hard to imagine the band moving on without either Christine or Lindsay (whom they fired), and Stevie already has a band she tours with as a solo act…sigh. Fleetwood Mac was the soundtrack of my teens and twenties and it’s just very weird that it’s finally over after all these years for me. When I write about the 1970’s–which I probably will do either later this year or sometime next–it will indelibly have Fleetwood Mac music all over the score of my work.

When I finish this book, I have to spend February revising Mississippi River Mischief and should spend some time doing a massive copy edit of Jackson Square Jazz so I finally have all of the Scotty series for sale as ebooks at long last. Once I get that done, March will be spent revising the one I am writing now, and then finally come April I can get back to work on Chlorine at long last. I’d like to get a draft of it finished in April so I can write another first draft of something else in May (I already know what it is going to be) and then will probably spend the rest of the year writing short stories and novellas and revising everything to see what can happen with them. Next year I want to write yet another Scotty book and that’s when I am going to try to write my 1970’s Chicago suburb boys-are-disappearing novel, too. None of this is carved into stone tablets, either–things always come up along the way, new ideas or hey Greg want to write a book we’ll pay you xxx for it and I never ever say no to things like that. I’d also like to come up with a new short story collection at some time, or perhaps the three-in-one book novella collection; it’s hard to say. And I kind of want to try to write a romance. There’s always so much I want to write, isn’t there?

Heavy heaving sigh. I don’t think I’ll ever match the days when I used to write four or five novels per year, but I do think I am going to be able to get a lot more writing done now in the next few years. Next weekend I am doing a signing at the ALA event here in New Orleans at the Convention Center, and of course the next weekend I am off to Alabama, and then it’s Carnival. Utter madness!

And now I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will probably check in with you again later.

Goodbye Baby

Tuesday morning and all is quiet at this ungodly hour.

I’m up earlier than usual because I made the decision, whilst I was out of town, that the smart thing to do was get up when I actually wake up, rather than just continuing to lie in the bed awake. It’s comfortable, to be sure, and getting out from under my pile of blankets is never an easy thing to do….but it’s also wasteful of time and staying in bed doesn’t make getting up with the alarm any easier, nor does it make me less tired later in the day. All in all, it’s not going to kill me to get up earlier, so today is my first day trying it (not really, I woke up an hour earlier than necessary yesterday and just went ahead and got up then, so this is my second day of trying this to see how it all works for me). I had errands to run after work last night and I had to write a promotional piece for another blog for A Streetcar Named Murder–there really is no worse timing than having a book coming out as you are trying to meet the deadline on another.

It’s also weird because at the same time I have to try to remember things from Streetcar, which was finished months ago, and of course I’ve moved on to something new that I need to focus on. Heavy sigh. But I think the post I wrote last night is fun and interesting, and hopefully will spark some interest in the book. I’ve also been asked to sign at an event here in New Orleans in January–I want to say ALA, but I could be wrong–and I’ve also agreed to return to the dual Murder event weekend in Alabama yet again. I think this is the fourth time I’ve been invited? I love Margaret and Tammy, and I always have a lovely time at the event.

WE started watching that Hulu series about Chippendales last night, Welcome to Chippendales, starring Kumail Nanjiani as Steve Batterjee. I’ve watched a couple of documentaries about Chippendales and the resultant murder of one of the partners, but I’d forgotten about Dorothy Stratten’s connection to the club before she was murdered (someone really needs to do another series or movie about her life and death; Star 80 was good but…). It’s entertaining enough, and Chippendales also has something to do with the societal change in the sexualization and objectification of the male body that began in the 1970’s (along with the explosion of gay porn and Playgirl, followed by Calvin Klein ads in the 1980s), as well as the beauty standard for men. I recently (it may have been longer ago than what counts as recent, but time has lost all meaning to me now) commented to one of my younger gay male co-workers that “you used to be able to tell if someone was gay or not by how well built they were; if they clearly spent time on their bodies at the gym and ate right to improve the way they looked, they were gay because straight men didn’t give a shit.” Tribal tattoos also used to be a tell that a hot guy was gay. NOT ANYMORE. And the guys today–whatever their sexual orientation–have even more amazing bodies than we used to have back in the day; the definition and the focus on ab development and the absence of any body fat is far more pronounced amongst hot young men these days than it used to be. And they are everywhere. My Instagram and Twitter feeds are often filled with beautiful shots of incredibly handsome young men with unbelievable bodies; some of which I’ve sometimes shared here on the blog. I’ve also been seriously considering going to something else with the blog images, to be honest–I know some people would miss the sexy men images, but it also might be keeping other people away at the same time. I don’t know. But I started using pictures of hot men years ago because when the blog cross-posted to social media it would always show up as with a pale blue square box with a pencil in it, which I hated. When I talked about books, the book cover would come over, so I decided to use images of very hot men that essentially pop up somewhere on the Internet throughout the course of the day and it kind of became an ingrained habit, a default if you will, perhaps even a brand–I hate thinking of myself or anything I do as a writer as a ‘brand,’ and yes, I do recognize that my writing is a product for sale, but it’s not a pack of T-shirts or underwear or a pair of pants hanging on a sales rack. So, do I really want my ‘brand’ for my blog to be sexy shirtless men?

Probably a little late to worry about that now.

The Chippendales calendar–how many years did I buy that? I can remember being deathly afraid to take it to the cash register at the bookstore…but now that I am thinking about it, I don’t remember which bookstores I used to patronize in Fresno. Perhaps a Barnes and Noble at the mall? A Waldenbooks, maybe? But yes, I used to feel my face burning with embarrassment as I tried to nonchalantly buy a Chippendales calendar, all the while thinking the cashier knows I am gay because why else would I be buying this calendar? Now I laugh at the memory of the shame I used to feel. The cashier couldn’t have given two shits about what I was buying, and even if they did, who cares? I had always been attracted more to athletes than any other type of male; I always had a thing for muscles and worked out bodies. Why, I don’t know; whether I was simply wired that way for physical attraction, or if it’s because the first naked bodies of men that I saw were those of athletes in school. Junior high was the first time I ever had to change into gym clothes, shower and be around other naked boys, and I was never comfortable doing so. The locker room before and after gym in junior high was a nightmare, but once I was in high school and on sports teams…the boys I was attracted to were usually athletes. That never really changed over the years as I got older and grew more comfortable with my sexuality–what changed were the bodies. Whereas only athletes and dancers, gay men, and narcissistic straight men used to regularly go to the gym and work out their bodies to build muscle, gradually it became a thing for all men across the board, regardless of orientation. On the rare occasions when I go to the gym now, I see incredibly well-built and well-muscled young men all the time–and while thirty years ago I would have assumed they were gay or bisexual, now I can’t assume anything. I just marvel at the shift in societal attitudes towards men no longer in school who continue to exercise and work out–whether to be healthier or for something to show off and attract women, who knows?

But aesthetically, I appreciate them.

So, the quandary remains. Do I try to rebrand the blog by using other types of pictures, and if so, what kind should I start using? Would people miss the hot guys? Would more people be drawn to the blog rather than closing the browser window as soon as the hot guy loads?

Or do I just not worry about it–as I have never worried about people coming here to read the entries–and keep on as I have been? Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Domino Dancing

I was very tired yesterday for most of the day, with the end result of not going to make groceries on my way home–an odious chore that has now defaulted to today. I slept very well last night, for the first time in a couple of nights, and slept later than I’d intended. I woke up at seven this morning, as is my wont, and I thought, oh just a few more minutes, the bed feels lovely and the next thing I knew it was after eight. I also feel like I could have stayed in bed for the rest of the morning without the slightest quibble or problem. But I peeled myself out of the bed and am now drinking my first cup of coffee. I was too tired last night when I got home to do much of anything, either, so I pretty much stayed in my easy chair for most of the night. We’re giving up on Defending Jacob, because the plot isn’t making much sense–it kind of went off the rails, which is a shame; it’s done very well and has a remarkable cast, but there’s only so much you can do with a script and plot that don’t really work all that well. It’s a shame, since I love both Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, but the material didn’t do right by them. We then started watching Dead to Me–the second season dropped yesterday–but while Christina Applegate (whom I love) and Linda Cardellini are pitch perfect, again, the story of season two didn’t grab either one of us, so we moved on to an Acorn show, Gold Digger, starring Julia Ormond, as a recently divorced, wealthy woman of sixty who has fallen for a handsome young man the age of her oldest son–and naturally, her children aren’t terribly thrilled about this. It isn’t clear if her lover actually loves her or is a gold digger; there are only two episodes, so I guess we’ll find out tonight.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. Shitstorms aplenty and as always, lots of foolishness. Rather than try to explain, I will send you to S. A. Cosby’s response to the attacks and outrage from “y/a twitter” (most of whom are pieces of shit, quite frankly) about ALA Booklist using the cover of his upcoming novel Blacktop Wasteland (which is getting the kind of advance buzz you don’t see very often in this business; similar to the buzz that built for Gone Girl and Rob Hart’s The Warehouse last year). You can see his response here, or if you’d rather, you can read the entire response not as a thread on Booklist’s website, right here. Perhaps the best thing about the entire controversy (which still makes my blood boil a little bit) is the incredible self-own of so-called “woke y/a twitter” to the cover of a crime novel written by a man of color and centering a man of color being featured on the cover of the American Library Association’s trade publication. I want you to sit and think about that for a moment: the American  Library Association. Which means librarians were the ones who saw it and became “outraged”, and therefore decided ALA needed to change the cover….LIBRARIANS. I’ve noticed over the years that “y/a Twitter” is borderline trash; they’ve already taken over the world of y/a publishing, obviously, and have decided that they, and only they, can anoint and crown the proper authors and the proper books; and the elitism and privilege on display is horrifying. Libraries, after all, are the key to the success or failure of y/a as a general rule; the librarians come after you, and your book, and you’re done. Y/A Twitter has done this before–there are at least three novels I can think of that they have come for; in one case, the book was pulled to be revised and I don’t remember what happened to the other two, frankly, after they were charged with racism and otherism (one was called The Black Witch–you can tell by the title it had a target painted on it almost from the font); I’d always meant to go read those books to see for myself how problematic they actually were (while recognizing that I read through a lens of white privilege). This happened to a friend of mine who wrote a book with a trans character; he got a detail wrong and y/a Twitter came for him and his book–the charge led by a trans librarian whose own book, I might add, was released recently to much applause from y/a Twitter. You see how insidious this is? How the self-righteous Madame Defarges and their knitting needles can pick and choose whose book is going to do well and whose isn’t?

And yet, for all their “woke” screaming and screeching about how “we need diverse books” and “own voices”–they have no problem rewarding straight white women writing books about queer youth for mainstream presses, while ignoring the work being done by actual queer voices writing about actual queer youth, rather than the nice straight white suburban lady’s view of what queer youth is. Only those published by the Big 5 need apply, as well–actual books about queer youth being written by actual queer people and being published by queer presses? Ignored, pushed away and aside–those books don’t matter (because obviously, if you aren’t published by the Big 5, clearly you don’t matter). God forbid the same straight white woman write about any other marginalized community; then they would be cultural appropriators and buried under a firestorm of angry tweets….but it’s perfectly okay for them to write about queer people.

Interesting, isn’t it?

One of the reasons I’ve recently decided to change the age of my main character in Bury Me in Shadows from seventeen to twenty-three was because I knew ALA and y/a Twitter would ignore the book completely; a book about a queer seventeen year old by a queer writer and published by a queer press? Not queer enough and not important enough–but by all means let’s applaud some books by straight women writing about teenaged gay male eunuchs who are just looking for love and romance. Straight y/a characters, of course, are allowed to experience love and lust and desire; gay characters have to be eunuchs…because, you know, gay sex is actually kind of icky, right, ladies?

I kind of have mixed feelings about the ALA, to be honest. I love libraries, and I love librarians, who are actually kind of fierce and usually are out there on the front lines every day fighting for the First Amendment and against the banning of books. But when I had my own experience with suppression and so forth; the ALA sat aside and pretended it wasn’t happening. I actually wrote to the ALA asking for help in that situation. They didn’t respond. Neither did Lambda Literary, for that matter, or any of the gay press. I wasn’t a big enough Hollywood star to merit any attention for what was actually happening from either Out or The Advocate–which have been joke publications cine before the turn of the century–but when push came to shove, not a word of support, nothing. The Publishing Triangle in New York and the ACLU took some action…but I can honestly say there’s no worse feeling than being targeted by a right-wing hate group, smeared and slandered by said hate group, and seeing ALA and Lambda Literary sit on their hands and pretend like it wasn’t happening. The great irony is that in the spring of 2006, well after this all had happened, ALA came to New Orleans–the first major conference to return to the city after the flood–and asked me to do a reading at one of their events. I did it, of course–but the whole “we did nothing at all while you and your work were under attack, but please, come read to our conference” kind of left me with a seriously bad taste in my mouth.

But y/a Twitter? As they pat themselves on the backs for their “wokeness”, they can all fucking go to hell and burn there for all eternity. By all means, keep promoting the people who kiss your ass and build up the books by your friends; because that’s really what ALA should be all about, right? Gatekeeping?

Disgraceful.

It is also very important to add to this that even after it was repeatedly pointed out to them by actual crime writers that it was 1) a book cover 2) a book by a man of color and 3) the cover was one that the author loved, they doubled down, refused to listen, and insisted that the cover was offensive and racist.

Yes, that’s right: y/a Twitter got a man of color’s book cover taken off the cover of ALA Booklist because they thought it was racist.

As for me, well, I cannot wait to read Blacktop Wastelandwhich you can order right here. Cosby’s first novel, My Darkest Prayer, was a revelation; and I honestly believe Cosby is destined to become one of crime fiction’s biggest stars. Blacktop Wasteland is going to be one of the books of the year–it’s getting starred reviews all over the place; the reason it was selected to be on the cover of the magazine in the first fucking place was because of the great review it got in Booklist, and their staff recognizing how important of a book it’s going to be this year.

Today I have to go get groceries because I was too tired to do so yesterday; I was tired all day for some reason, and I just got more and more tired the longer the day progressed. Maybe that was why I was so not into anything we were trying to watch last night; but I did manage to read another chapter of Thunder on the Right, and I did get another thousand words done on “Falling Bullets”–which I also want to try to get finished this morning before the Rouse’s run. There was a wonderful storm last night–lots of thunder and torrential rain, which I always enjoy and always helps me sleep better–and it looks hazy out there this morning. There’s branch and tree debris all over our sidewalk, so there was clearly some strong wind last night as well.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Nasty

I was writing notes in my journal the other day when this thought came to me : social media is actually neither. You aren’t really being social, or socializing with anyone; and it’s not really media either. If anything, it’s anti-social media, because people tend to spend their time looking at their phones and spending time on their computer on social media sites rather than actually talking to, or engaging with, actual human beings.

When I was a kid I was taught that there were three things you never discussed, at parties, dinner, bars, etc: politics, money, and religion. Your politics, your income, and your religion were no one else’s business; likewise, everyone else’s were none of mine. At the time, I was told it was simply manners; you weren’t supposed to know or care about anyone else’s politics, money or religion–nor were you supposed to hold that against them. This is why we vote in booths with a curtain closed, because our politics are supposed to be private. Likewise, so is our religion, so is our income.

The rise of social media, however, has broken down those barricades of politeness and what used to be known as minding your own business. It’s very difficult, you know, to find out someone you’ve been friends with for a very long time might hold a belief or a value that is not just not in line with your own, but might even be repugnant to you. I’ve long recognized that simply because my core values and beliefs are my own doesn’t necessarily make them right; but I have also always been willing to change my mind, to learn and grow, from talking to other people, from reading, and from occasionally questioning my beliefs and values. 

What I often find astonishing is that people not only do not want to rethink or analyze their beliefs and values, but how quickly they are to not only take offense at the very idea but also how quickly they will get defensive and immediately go on the attack. Asking for a careful reevaluation of what you believe is neither telling you you’re a horrible person nor does it mean the other person is attacking you; it simply is ‘hey, have you ever thought about it this way?’ I have often enjoyed my exchanges with friends who believe differently than I do; sometimes it has actually changed or altered my opinion in some way, even if it’s minor: I don’t understand why anyone would not be interested in personal growth, or would want to shy away from intellectual stimulation.

As a writer, I long ago realized two things: I always need to listen, and it is very rare to actually change someone’s mind in a social media exchange about anything. Social media discussions quickly descend into vitriol, condescension, and name-calling; I have the privilege of knowing people who have far higher degrees of celebrity than I can ever hope to achieve and when I see the venom and vitriol directed at them in the public sphere, it makes me recoil quite a bit. Why do people have to be so nasty? I wonder, and then of course the inevitable “what-about-isms” and “your side started it” and all of that nonsense that deflects and derails what could actually be constructive conversation is tossed aside, and beliefs and values become more deeply hardened, the brain more callused.

I have evolved on many issues throughout the course of my lifetime; many. I was raised in a society that believed many terrible things, and I was raised to believe many things that I now find abhorrent. But as a gay male who always knew he was different, even when he didn’t know what precisely it was that made him different, I had to question everything. It was hard–my teens and my twenties were horrific and I often thought about suicide–before I finally realized that the problem wasn’t me but rather the values and beliefs that had been drilled into me for as long as I remembered. Once I realized that I could reject those values and beliefs because they didn’t stand up under scrutiny, my life changed and I continued to grow and evolve and achieve all the things that I wanted in life.

This is why I find the trope that’s just the way I was raised to not only be tired but the sign of intellectual laziness; a mental atrophying that I neither understand nor sympathize with. But I also recognize that being an outsider, someone consigned by the dominant culture and society to the margins, has also created a higher sense of empathy and sympathy for the others out here on the margins; and all we are interested in, really, is being allowed to be on the actual page; why I am willing to always listen rather than react–no matter how tempting it may be to simply react.

This past week, I saw a lot of people proudly showing how mentally atrophied they were, and how much they preferred remaining in a state of atrophy rather than listen to other people. This was, of course, in regards (in this example) to the American Library Association’s unanimous vote to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, because of some racist tropes and language used in her books.  What was even more shocking was that a lot of this appeared on a list-serve for a writer’s organization I belong to whose entire purpose is to focus on diversity in literature. 

Not just atrophied brains, but ones also incapable of irony, apparently.

It wasn’t the first time something like that has exploded on the list-serve; several months ago there was a, to me, shocking outbreak of homophobia on the list. The situations weren’t the same, of course; no one had decided to change the title of an award because the person it was named after was homophobic. No, in this instance a writer had simply posted a question about a manuscript she’d submitted to her agent, who’d told her no one would publish it because of its depiction of a gay character as well as HIV. I started to reply to her, explaining precisely why her plot was problematic and also incredibly ill-informed about HIV when the list exploded with a bunch of wonderful straight white women who completely missed the point, called the agent’s remarks censorship (they most emphatically were NOT) and advised the writer that ‘she needed to find another agent who wasn’t so worried about political correctness.’

I was so horrified by these comments and remarks by writers who belong to a writer’s organization committed to diversity that I almost resigned from the organization.

Instead, I decided to keep writing my quarterly diversity column (which these women clearly never read) and keep fighting the good fight; because the marginalized never get the chance, no matter how tired we are, to just sit back and let things develop or run their course. If we want anything, if we want to move in from the margins, we have to keep fighting because they simply aren’t going to give it to us unless we make them.

And you know what? There’s still a lot of fight left in this tired old queen.

Be fucking warned.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Pool Boy”:

I waited until I heard Jason’s car back out of the driveway before I got out of bed. I was being a coward, I knew, but I still wasn’t ready to face him with what I knew. I didn’t want to have that argument, that confrontation. I wasn’t sure I was ready yet to talk calmly and rationally. It still hurt too much. I wasn’t sure I could discuss this with him without getting angry, without saying something that shouldn’t be said, words in anger that couldn’t be taken back. I wasn’t sure I was quite ready yet to turn my back on ten years of loving and laughing and fighting, of good times and bad, of sleeping in the same bed with him and drawing comfort from the warmth of his body.

I called in sick to work. I might not have been physically ill, but I was certainly an emotional basket case. There wasn’t any way that I could help my clients in this state. Their needs and concerns and problems all seemed so unimportant, so completely pointless to me, that going in to the office was probably a bad idea. I brushed my teeth and took a shower, then put on my robe and went downstairs for a fresh pot of coffee. While I waited for it to brew I got the notice out of the bill drawer, the notice that proclaimed his guilt to the world, the indisputable proof of his guilt; that he’d betrayed me, lied to me,  ignored how I felt and did what he wanted to anyway.

Funny that a twenty dollar parking ticket could mean so much more than what it was on the surface.

I stared at it. Yes, that was Brent’s address on the ticket. The time of the offense was four thirty in the morning. The date was that weekend I’d gone home to my nephew’s wedding. Jason had been illegally parked in front of Brent’s house at four thirty in the morning while I was out of town. There was absolutely no logical explanation for Jason’s car to be there at that hour.

He was still fucking Brent. Even though we’d talked about it. Even though he’d promised me he would end it. Even though he assured me he still loved me and he didn’t love Brent.

This just happened to be the one time he was caught.

How many other times had he gone over there without me knowing, fucking Brent’s pretty little ass?

I don’t remember which anthology I wrote this for; but it was pre-Katrina, and I’ve always liked this story. It’s basically about a guy whose partner is cheating on him, has promised to stop, but he’s caught him in yet another lie. Hurt and devastated and not knowing how to deal with the whole situation (do I leave him? Do I forget it? Do I pretend I don’t know? How do I even approach discussing this with him?), he calls in sick to work and stays home…and then the pool boy shows up; a beautiful, sexy young man and yes, before long, they are hooking up…and that hook up is what heals his soul; reminds him that despite this betrayal he’s still an active, vital, attractive, sexual human being who deserves better; sexual healing, if you will.

I really like this story.

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If You Leave

Sunday morning.

I wrote another chapter, slightly less than three thousand words, yesterday. I don’t know that I can match the output today, but I’m certainly going to give it another try. I only have five chapters left to go on this excruciatingly sloppy first draft, but a finished first draft is a finished first draft, and I can tear it apart and patch it all back together again in September. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to doing that, to be honest; I just wish these five chapters were finished already.

Heavy sigh.

Last night I took a streetcar named St. Charles down to the Quarter to have dinner with a friend in town for ALA (I am heading back down there again today, to meet the publishers for the Bouchercon anthology), and it was absolutely delightful to talk with someone incredibly smart about books and writing and publishing; it always is, frankly. The heat and humidity were somehow bearable on the way there; it was the way home that was horrific. I was completely soaked when I got off the streetcar and by the time I got to the Lost Apartment, and the heat/humidity just sucked the energy right out of me. I feel icky and sticky still this morning; I feel asleep in my chair and just went to bed from there, forgetting the cardinal rule of summer in New Orleans: always shower whenever you can, especially before bed.

But, it was a lot of fun. I really do have amazing and smart friends.

So I am going to try to get some work done before it’s time to hit the streetcar again. I would prefer to hit my three thousand words today before I get leave, since I probably won’t be in the mood when I get back home again–note to self: take a second shower when you get home, you won’t be sorry in the least.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Desire Under the Blankets.”

Blair lit a cigarette. The light cast from his match flared briefly, casting shadows in the darkened room. He shook out the match and tossed it into an overflowing ashtray as he sucked in hungrily at the smoke. The menthol clotted in his lungs and he fought against the cough that fought its way up his windpipe, determined to expel the poisons. His eyes watered for a moment, and he gave in to the cough at last, muffling its sound. The clock on his desk read four fifteen. The rest of the fraternity house was silent. The majority of them were undoubtedly passed out from too much alcohol; some of them, he was sure, were huddled in rooms smoking pot out of bongs or snorting cocaine off the glass in picture frames. His own supply of cocaine was sitting in a small pile on a framed photograph of his mother on the desk top next to a bong made of glass and plastic in the shape of a dragon.

He opened his small refrigerator and got a can of Pepsi. He was still a little drunk from the evening’s festivities. Big Brother night, a semesterly tradition in which the pledges received their protectors and advisors amongst the group of the already initiated, ended around two in the morning when the keg ran dry and the last pledge had vomited. His own little brother, Mike Van Zale, was sleeping off his drunkenness in Blair’s bed, snoring a little softly. Mike had puked around midnight, thanks to the Jose Cuervo shots Blair had poured down his throat. After Mike had staggered down the hallway to the bathroom and lost the contents of his stomach, Blair took pity on him and led him up to his room. Some of the other brothers would force their new charges to drink again after throwing up, but Blair was a little more compassionate. Besides, the previous semester one of the Alpha Chi Omega pledges almost died from alcohol abuse. Blair’s brothers at Beta Kappa, for the most part, only paid lip service to the new University regulations regarding alcohol hazing of pledges. They were idiots, Blair reflected as he stubbed out his cigarette and made another line from the cocaine.  It wasn’t the first time he’d thought that nor, he reflected, was it likely to be the last.

His nostrils were already numb from previous snorts and he knew that this one wouldn’t restore the high the first one, hours earlier, had given him. All this would do was make his hands shake and his teeth grind. It was a waste but he was in the stage he called the “I  wants”, when he began to mentally crave more and more cocaine. He took a hit off the bong to lessen the edge of the coke when it hit. He held the smoke in as long as he could before it exploded out of him in a massive coughing fit. He grabbed a tissue and spit out a wad of phlegm.

On the bed, Mike shifted and moaned a little.

Blair took a sip of his Pepsi to cool his burning throat and walked over to the bed. Mike was sprawled on his back on top of the covers. In the moonlight coming through the slightly parted curtains, his skin looked like smooth alabaster. His hairless and hard chest gleamed in the ghostly light. Thick wiry hair sprouted from under his arms. A thin line of drool hung from the corner of his mouth. His face was expressionless. A thin trail of wiry black hairs ran from his navel to the waistband of his white briefs.

He was quite beautiful.

I created the character of Blair–along with two others, Chris Moore and Eric Matthews–years before I was published. When I belonged to a fraternity and was actually living in the house, I created these three fraternity brothers that were very close friends, and wrote lots of notes about them. I was originally thinking along the terms of writing a fraternity thriller, with these three characters kind of a Three Investigators team solving the murder. I’ve always thought a fraternity would be a good setting for a murder, and I still do. This entire scene, in fact, was born from that idea for a novel; I’d always intended Blair, whose parents were movie stars, to be flamboyant and gay, if closeted within the hallowed halls of the fraternity house. I wrote this particular story out as an idea; the title was obviously a play on the Eugene O’Neill play. I used this story for an anthology, and then years later incorporated it into my novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, the first of three erotic fraternity novels I’ve done as Todd Gregory.

I always liked Blair, and should have done a sequel about him. (The fratboy series always focuses on a new character with the new book; the main characters from the previous one show up, but don’t have a lot to do .)

Who know? Maybe someday I will.

And now back to the spice mines.

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