Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Everybody Wants to Rule the World

Monday morning. The weekends never really quite seem long enough, do they? Oh, it’s fine…I do like my job ((even if I don’t like waking up in the morning so much) but I’ve been going to bed earlier to make getting up easier. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, but I do feel considerably more rested than I used to in the mornings. This weekend is the first weekend of parades, but I am off to a weekend of events in Alabama, which I am, oddly enough, looking forward to; lovely people will be there, which is always nice.

I do hate missing the first weekend of parades, though.

Although….it’s not like there won’t be plenty of them the next weekend, right? It’s so weird how greedy  we are when we it comes to parades. There’s probably an entire essay in that, as well.

I didn’t get as much writing done as I would have liked this weekend–I never do, of course, I always think I can get more done than I can–but I am rolling with it. I’m not sure how much–if anything–I can get done while I am in Alabama; as I recall last year, we all hung out together all evening and laughed and laughed, and one of the attendees this year is Carolyn Haines….and if you’ve never met her, she’s good energy and she is pretty damned fun and funny. I suppose I can read.

Speaking of which, I did read two short stories yesterday, and I also read a novel over the course of the weekend (I’ll save the novel for another entry).

The first story was Kristen Roupenian’s “Cat Person,” which was published on-line and in print by the New Yorker last month, and rather went viral; it seemed like everyone was reading it and everyone was talking about it, and Roupenian came out of it all with a healthy book contract (GOOD FOR HER! Seriously, I never understand why other writers get so snarky about the success of other writers. I always see it as a win for one is a win for all). I didn’t read the story at the time–discussions and arguments about it were everywhere, and I didn’t want to be influenced in my reading by the social media furor. But yesterday, after my workout (yes, made it to the gym again!) I curled up in my easy chair and read it.

Margot met Robert on a Wednesday night toward the end of h er fall semester. She was working behind the concession stand at the artsy movie theatre downtown when he came in and about a large popcorn and a box of Red Vines.

“That’s an…unusual choice,” she said. “I don’t think I’ve ever actually sold a box of Red Vines before.”

Flirting with her customers was a habit she’s picked up back when she worked as a barista, and it helped with tips. She didn’t earn tips at the movie theatre, but the job was boring otherwise, and she did  think that Robert was cute. Not so cute that she would have, say, gone up to him at a party, but cute enough that she could have drummed up an imaginary crush on him if he’d sat across from her during a dull class–though she was pretty sure that he was out of college, in his mid-twenties at least. He was tall, which she liked, and she could see the edge of a tattoo peeking out from beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt. But he was on the heavy side, his beard was a bit too long, and his shoulders slumped forward slightly, as though he was protecting something.

I thought this story was very well done, myself–but I can certainly see why it upset men, and why women embraced it. I don’t think I’ve ever read before such an honest depiction of a bad date and bad sex in my life. God knows I’ve had bad sex before, but I’ve certainly never written about it; usually when I write about sex its erotica so it kind of has to be hot, you know what I mean? Whoever writes about bad sex? There were times, when reading it, when she encapsulates a conversation into a paragraph of prose (then he said this, and she thought well this but said that, and so forth) where I would have much rather read the actual conversation, but other than that complaint I kind of enjoyed it; although given all the discussion I’d seen on line made me know where it was going–but that ending was so incredibly perfect. Perfect.

Then I read Michael Bailey’s “I Will Be The Reflection Until the End”, from Tales from the Lake Volume 4:

My sister used to collect cherry plum pits in her napkin secretly, under the kitchen table. A strainer full of mixed yellow and red and deep-purple fruits would separate us each spring, with a small bowl next to it to collect the pits–although mine were typically the only ones in there–and a plate beneath the strainer to collect any drips from the rinsed fruit. My sister was coy like that. Her lie had become our lie, and every once in a while she’d throw a pit in the bowl to make it look like we were being honest. She knew I wouldn’t bring it up to Mom, because that meant I could have more if I kept my mouth shut. It was one of the few secrets we kept from Mom in our  youth. Call it a sibling bonding moment.

This story is on the longlist for the Bram Stoker Award for Outstanding Achievement in Short Fiction, and it is a beautifully written, moving short story. It reminded me a little of one of my favorite Stephen King short stories, “The Last Rung on the Ladder”–it’s a gorgeously written tale about a younger brother remembering his older sister, loving childhood memories of closeness that went away as she got older, and things went wrong with her. I absolutely loved it. I met Bailey and his wife several years ago at Stokercon in Las Vegas, and they charmed me completely; this is my first time reading his work, and it certainly won’t be the last. The only reason I can’t see this story not making the short list (or winning) is because I’m not entirely certain it’s horror; it may qualify, but not the in-your-face, jump scare or gross out horror–it’s a quiet horror of the Shirley Jackson kind; the horror of the heart from what life can do to someone we love.

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Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go

I overslept this morning, which is really fine; I feel very rested, which means I needed the sleep and my muscles, which have felt tired all week, don’t this morning; so there you have it. I have some errands to run in the early afternoon, and I also have some writing to do today; I need to finish a chapter in the WIP and finish one in the Scotty. I should probably do so organizing and of course, the Lost Apartment is a mess. I also need to revise two short stories, whose due dates are rapidly approaching. Next weekend I will be in Alabama for the Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu events, and the next weekend is the final parade weekend of Carnival (yes I am missing the first weekend for the first time in years). I do hate missing the King Arthur parade; I have lots of friends and acquaintances in that one, so I generally get buried in beads. I can’t believe I agreed to miss that weekend, but I also was so busy making sure it wasn’t the final weekend of Carnival that I didn’t notice.

Stupid, stupid, stupid Gregalicious.

Heavy sigh. I finished watching the first season of Black Sails last night, both at the gym and then when I got home after; I am, as I have said, really enjoying the show. I can’t quite figure out why I didn’t like this show when I tried to watch it several years ago, but I am really enjoying it now and glad I gave it another chance. I suspect I didn’t pay enough attention to it as I watched, and you kind of need to pay attention. There’s a lot going on, there are a lot of cross-plots, and lots of scheming. I don’t think I much cared for the way the women were treated in the first episode or two, either; it appeared that the women were all whores or mistreated terribly by men. But that’s not the case; the women are stronger and smarter than the men, and Eleanor Guthrie, who runs Nassau, is developing into quite the cold-blooded manipulative she-devil, which I am also rather loving. And of course, you can never go wrong with a hot, sweaty men in tight leather pants. My favorite, of course, is Tom Hopper, but Zach MacGowan, who plays Captain Charles Vane (and also played Roan on The 100; I thought he looked familiar) isn’t a slouch either.

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I also read two short stories last night, both horror, to keep the Short Story Project going.

The first, “Minuke,” by Nigel Keale, is from a very thick book edited by Marvin Kaye called Ghosts:

The estate agent kept an uncomfortable silence until we reached his car. “Frankly, I wish you hadn’t gotten wind of that,” he said. “Don’t know how you did: I thought I had the whole thing carefully disposed of. Oh, please get in.”

He pulled his car forward and frowned. “It puts me in a rather awkward spot. I suppose I;d better tell you all I know about the case, or you’d be suspecting me of heaven-knows-what kinds of chicanery in your own.”

As we set off to see the property I was interested in, he shifted the cigarette to the side of his mouth,

“It’s quite a distance, so I can tell you on the way there,” he said. “We’ll pass the very spot, as a matter of fact, and you can see it for yourself. Such as there is to see.”

This is a ghost story, or more properly, the story of a haunting;  it was originally written and published in 1950–which makes the story sixty-eight! It’s also told in a classic horror trope that is hardly used anymore, because it’s become cliche–someone is telling the story of what happened to someone else, a disinterested party. Stephen King has used this method a time or two; most notably in his novella “The Breathing Method” from Different Seasons, and sometimes in short stories. It’s a very classic trope–Dracula is an epistolary novel, after all, told in diary entries and letters. But at the time “Minuke” was originally published, horror wasn’t considered a form of literature and as such tropes hadn’t evolved into cliches quite yet, and it’s a well-told tale. The house of the title is merely a bungalow, built in the housing boom of the post-war era, and therefore its tenants are the first to live there; it is too young of a house to have a haunting, and yet it does. It turns out, you see, when the foundations were being dug, they came across some ancient Norse grave markers…(of course, at the time the story was written Poltergeist was many years away in the future, and the ‘never build on an Indian burial ground’ theme hadn’t become deeply engrained in the culture).

(Aside: the collection Ghosts is a gorgeous, leather bound edition with gold inlay and a ribbon page marker that I purchased for a few bucks off a sale table at Borders many years ago; I don’t know why I’ve never dipped into it before, but it’s going to definitely play a role in this year’s Short Story Project.)

The second story I read was “Fallen Boys” by Mark Morris, from Best Horror of the Year Volume Three, compiled and selected by Ellen Datlow, and originally published in Jonathon Oliver anthology The End of the Line:

When the child screamed, Tess Morton felt guilty for having to repress the urge to snap at it. She was aware that it wasn’t Matthew Bellings who should be punished, but his tormentors, and yet the boy’s cry of pain or distress was so whiny that it grated on her nerves.

The reason she felt little compassion for the child was because she knew it took almost nothing to provoke a wail of complaint from him. Matthew would cry out whenever someone barged into him in the school corridor; whenever a football was kicked towards him in the playground; whenever a classmate flicked a paper pellet at him, or snatched a text book out of his hand, or pushed in front of him in the lunch queue. Indeed, the merest slight would cause Matthew’s red-cheeked, strangely wizened face to crumple, his mouth to twist open and that familiar, toe-curling bleat to emerge.

This story, about a class field trip to an abandoned tin mine (now open as a tourist attraction and advertised as an education experience for children), is predicated on a horrific truth about bullying that we don’t like to acknowledge or understand; one that Stephen King exposed and explored powerfully in his own debut novel, Carrie. 

When we read accounts about bullying, and how teachers and other adults look the other way, we are horrified by it; when we read short stories and novels about bullying  our hearts naturally go out to the victims and we loathe the bullies and their enablers; long for their comeuppance, and are infinitely satisfied when it does come. But that bears no resemblance to the reality. That comes from the emotional distance, and the pleasant lies we so often tell ourselves, the lies about who we are as people, and how we would behave in certain circumstances–we identify with heroes and see ourselves as heroes; part of the brilliance of Stephen King’s work is he so often lays bare that horrific truth that we aren’t all heroes.

Take Tess Morton, the teacher taking her kids on this field trip. The story is completely told from her point of view. She knows that kids are bullying Matthew, and she also knows that as the voice of authority she has to try to put a stop to it. She does try, but it’s not taking because Matthew himself irritates her and sometimes she herself wants nothing more than to give him a good slap. This is the same way Miss Desjardin, the gym teacher who stops the shower assault on Carrie White in the opening scene of Carrie, feels about the victim; she has to punish the girls who did it, but Carrie irritates her, she wants to smack her a good one, and she understands why Carrie is bullied.

This is also why school–the hallways, the playground, the cafeteria, the gym–is so scarring for so many people, because they are so evocative of Lord of the Flies or The Hunger Games.

This is a great story; Morris builds his suspense beautifully, and the denouement is rather sudden when it happens–more than a little reminiscent of EC Comics, but it’s also rather satisfying.

And now. back to the spice mines.

Take Me to Heart

Being an LSU fan is not for the faint of heart.

Saturday afternoon in Toronto, after my panel, Paul and I retired to our room and flipped on the television to see if we could see the LSU-Auburn game up there. There was a CBS station from Buffalo, so we were able to do so; the primary problem being that when we turned the game on, it was late in the first quarter, the score was 17-0, and Auburn had the ball.

We both sighed resignedly and collapsed onto the bed.

I was raised on college football. My dad’s family are Auburn fans, my mother’s Alabama. I’ve had relatives play for both teams; bestselling author Ace Atkins also played for Auburn, and we bonded many years ago over our lifelong fandom of the Auburn Tigers. The rules in my family were very clear: we rooted for Alabama when they played everyone but Auburn. I always liked LSU, though–I thought the whole “Death Valley” thing and having an actual live tiger mascot was kind of cool, and of course I’ve always loved the colors purple and gold. After we moved down here to New Orleans, Paul started watching college football with me on Saturdays, and he started rooting for LSU; the same way we both rooted for the Saints. I followed the same rules I’d grown up with: root for Auburn, root for Alabama when they play everyone else but Auburn, and added root for LSU when they play everyone else but Auburn and Alabama.

Paul, of course, always rooted for LSU.

I remember one night a year or so after we moved here, we were out with friends at Lafitte’s and I happened to notice that the Clover Grill’s television was tuned into the LSU-Florida game. Florida was riding the nation’s longest winning streak, hadn’t lost an SEC (Southeastern Conference) game in a couple of years, and was ranked Number One in the country; LSU wasn’t given much of a chance. I wandered across the street with my beer to watch the kick-off and was stunned as LSU jumped out to an improbable 14-0 lead early in the first quarter. I only walked back across the street to get more beer or go to the bathroom or when it was half-time; I watched that entire game without sound through the Clover Grill’s windows and improbably, upstart LSU managed to hang on and win the game 28-21. It was probably the biggest upset in LSU football history, and Death Valley went crazy–I could also hear people yelling around the Quarter every time LSU scored.

Everyone knows about the great Halloween game between LSU and Ole Miss back in 1959, when LSU was ranked number one and Ole Miss number three, and LSU won on the great Billy Cannon punt return, 7-3. I watched the Auburn-LSU game in 1988, when LSU upset 4th ranked Auburn 7-6 on a last minute touchdown and the fans were jumping up and down so much it registered on the LSU’s geology department’s Richter scale (my cousin was playing for Auburn then, and in full disclosure–I wasn’t thrilled to see that Tommy Hodson pass completion). That game is now known as the Earthquake Game, and clinched a tie for the SEC title that year for LSU with Auburn.

I switched fully over to LSU after Hurricane Katrina, during the evacuation and the return, watching the LSU games because watching those games was something about Louisiana that was normal; when everything else seemed to be disrupted there were the Tigers playing in Death Valley. I didn’t have the Saints that year because they weren’t playing in the damaged Superdome, and there was talk about them being moved to San Antonio. Tiger Stadium had been a triage center as FEMA and the Coast Guard and the Marines air-lifted people out of New Orleans; many of the players were from the city and had relatives and friends and neighbors crammed into their apartments with them. LSU and the campus were instrumental to the rescue efforts, and essentially, a life-line for the city I loved so much. That year LSU moved to Number One in my heart, and they have stayed there ever since.

And the games! My God, LSU games are nail-biters almost always. and from 2005-2007 LSU seemed to almost always pull the game out at the end with some kind of insane end. LSU won the national championship in 2007; the only time a two-loss time did so, and were the first team with more than one loss to be able to lay claim to the national title in over forty years. There were so many great moments that year–including the insane come from behind win over Auburn. With time running out and the ball on the thirty yard line, one point behind…quarterback Matt Flynn threw a pass to the end zone that was caught to win the game 30-24 with one second left on the clock.

There have been many games like that since–the Tigers don’t always pull them out, but they do more often than they don’t. Last year’s Auburn game was the same–a touchdown pass completed to win the game as time ran out, only to have the officials rule the ball was snapped after time ran out and nullified the touchdown.

Coach Les Miles was fired after that game.

This year’s LSU team hasn’t looked good. Paul and I went to watch the lackluster win over BYU in the Superdome to start the season; we went to the season opener in Baton Rouge to see another lackluster win over a second-tier team. LSU was blown out at Mississippi State, but still managed to stay ranked….until they lost two weeks ago against Troy in Tiger Stadium; the first loss for LSU against a non-conference opponent since 2000. Somehow they managed to upset Florida 17-16 the next week in Gainesville…but this weekend, Auburn was ranked Number 10, rolling over everyone they played. Mississippi State, who had beaten LSU by thirty points, lost to Auburn 49-10. No one had high hopes…even though Auburn hadn’t won in Baton Rouge since 1999.

That year, after beating LSU 41-7, Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville and some of his players walked out onto the field to the tiger eye at the fifty yard line to triumphantly smoke cigars. It was an insult no one here has forgotten….and Auburn has lost every time they’ve played here since.

After forcing Auburn to kick a field goal to go up 20-0, LSU scored to make it 20-7. Auburn managed another field goal, but LSU scored in the closing seconds of the first half to make it 23-14, and were getting the ball back first in the second half. A comeback wasn’t out of the question….but on that first possession they had to punt, and despite keeping Auburn from getting a first down, a stupid penalty gave Auburn another set of downs and it was time for us to go.

I was certain the game was over.

I checked my phone later in the lounge as we ate hors d’oeuvres and drank wine in the lounge while waiting for it to be time for our dinner reservation–and lo and behold, the score was now 23-21 with about ten minutes left. I kept hitting refresh and BOOM! LSU kicked a field goal to finally go ahead 24-23.

They held on, kicking another field goal with just seconds left in the game to go up 27-23…and somehow pulled it off.

I still can’t believe I missed seeing it.

Geaux Tigers! I hope to see a replay of the game at some point.

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Death Valley: where dreams come to die.

We’ve Got the Beat

Staring down a twelve-hour day at the office today, rather grimly. Actually, it’s eight hours of testing at the office, and then three hours bar testing tonight, but I get a very short day tomorrow as a result and hopefully, I won’t be dead tired by the time I get home tonight. I slept in again this morning; would be perfectly happy to continue sleeping, quite frankly; so sleeping in tomorrow morning is actually going to be rather lovely. For some reason, though, my days are messed up this week; I kept thinking yesterday was Thursday, for example, and so am still a bit disoriented this morning about the days of the week.

Clearly, I am getting old.

As I continue to work on “A Holler Full of Kudzu” I am constantly second-guessing myself; I’ve written about the world/area where the story is set before, and I am worried, of course, that I am repeating myself with it. This morning I decided to just forge forward and stop worrying about it; that’s what edits/revisions/rewrites are for, after all. Part of the reason I’ve been so drawn to Southern Gothic fiction lately has been because not only because I am Southern but because I’ve so rarely used that personal history to write. As I have said before, two of my favorite short stories that I’ve written are “Small-town Boy” and the as-yet-unpublished “Whim of the Wind”; recently I’ve been thinking about that Civil War ghost story I’ve been thinking about writing for thirty years–which is also set in the same area (fictional Corinth County, Alabama, which I briefly touched on in Dark Tide–it’s where my main character is from originally–and again in Going Down for the Count–again, where the main character is from originally); and the more Southern Gothic fiction I read, the more I want to write that book. “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is also set in that area; and I am more than a little concerned that the story might wind up too derivative of “Small-town Boy”; but I will, as mentioned before, deal with that in the rewrites.

I also watched Captain America Civil War yesterday, since it marked the debut of Tom Holland as Spiderman. (And yes, I have become a huge fan of young Mr. Holland, but not in a creepy old-man pervy way. I just think he’s adorably cute.) I mean, the movie was okay, but Holland was definitely the highlight of the movie for me. I’ve not seen Captain America The Winter Soldier, so I obviously missed some plot points that probably would have helped the viewing experience somewhat; but it wasn’t that hard to figure out. I am, however, tempted to go back and watch it; I do love Chris Evans, but there are just so many Marvel films now that it’s a huge time commitment to get caught up on them all–and much as I love Chris Hemsworth, the first Thor movie was kind of boring.

All right, Constant Reader, ’tis back to the spice mines with me. Here’s a shot of Chris Evans, without a shirt, to help you through your Hump Day.

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Be With You

Tuesday morning, and I am not fully awake. I didn’t want to get up this morning–not that I ever do–but this morning was one of those whining, complaining and I just want to keep sleeping mornings. I never spring from the bed fully awake and revved up and ready to go; those days are long past, alas, but this morning was a bit harder than usual. Even coffee doesn’t seem to taste right this morning. It’s going to be, I fear, one of those days.

It was like pulling teeth, but I did finish my first (really bad) draft of “For All Tomorrow’s Lies” yesterday. That’s something, I think. It’s a mess, frankly, scattershot and all over the place, and clocked in at slightly less than four thousand words. Ideally, I think it needs to be between five and six, with me leaning more towards the longer end; but now I have a framework down to fix, so that’s something. I have another idea that I started working on over the weekend–the opening came to me out of nowhere; it’s one of those Alabama stories I like to write from time to time, and I suspect reading Tomato Red and the Faulkner short story “Smoke” had something to do with getting my mind into that particular gear. Unusually enough, it doesn’t have a title; I rarely write anything that doesn’t start with the title, and I haven’t the slightest idea of what the title would be, which puts me way outside of my comfort zone. The story itself is amorphous, a fog in my mind I need to take form, but I am going to start working on the rest of the story this morning. It’s grim–so much of what I’ve been doing lately has been grim–and I have to figure out what I am trying to say with the story. I think I know; it’s a tired old theme, but the beauty of writing is you can make tired old themes new and fresh again. We shall see. I probably have a title somewhere scribbled down that would be perfect for the story.

Uncharted territory! Writing something that has no title! Madness.

We got caught up on Season 2 of Animal Kingdom last night, and this show is very addictive. I don’t understand why it’s not better known, or generating more buzz. Ellen Barkin is fantastic, the young men who play her sons are terrific (and hot) as well, and the writing is pretty crisp. I think we’ll get caught up on Claws next, and then Orphan Black. We can’t decide if we want to give Will  a shot or not. We may be going to see Spiderman Homecoming this weekend, as well.

All right, I think it’s time to get back to my story. Here’s a hunk for your Tuesday:

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