Heart to Break

The first Sunday in August. I think we’re in the midst of yet another excessive heat warning today–I’d swear I’d heard that last night on a newsbreak during the Olympics, but haven’t bothered to check yet again this morning. I slept in yet again–again–and am only now getting to my morning coffee, which tastes marvelous. Yesterday wound up being one of those days; the ones where I get very little done and just kind of gave in to the mental and physical exhaustion, turning it into essentially a “rest and recover” day. Finishing Shawn’s book had a lot to do with it; I kind of just sat around for a couple of hours, thinking about it and figuring out what I wanted to say about it when I sat down to write my blog piece about it. I’m still thinking about the book a bit this morning, to be honest; it’s really thought-provoking and very well done. I also spent some time reading the first few chapters of The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris, which is also quite remarkable–definitely off to a good start, and made me feel much better about selecting it as my next read after finishing Shawn’s–and I think I’m going to have a lot of really great reading ahead of me, which is, as always, incredibly exciting. There’s also a new Stephen King and a new Megan Abbott dropping this week, too–life simply doesn’t get better than that, methinks.

All I know is yesterday I overslept, read for a while, wrote a second blog entry and before I knew it was already after four–shocking, to say the least–with the end result that yesterday wound up being an off-day, and you know what else? I think I must have needed an off-day, which is the only proper response. I am trying not to beat myself up over having a lot to do and yet still taking a day off–because most people get to occasionally take a day off, and it’s not the end of the world when and if I myself chose to take one. Today I have things to do to get caught up on, of course–my email inbox is completely out of control, as always, and the Lost Apartment could stand another cleaning, and there’s always writing to do, and I also have to go to the gym this afternoon–but all of those things will inevitably get done, as they always inevitably do. I shall have to consult the to-do list, of course; and perhaps make another one with additional things, like I want to get my various state “bibles” made eventually, starting with Alabama (in this instance, a ‘bible’ means recording names, places, geography, etc. so it’s all in one place and easily consulted when writing something new set there; I want to do one for Alabama, Louisiana, Kansas, and California, as well as one for both the Chanse and Scotty series; it’s way overdue in each instance, which is why there are so many continuity errors–but mostly in the state stories more than anything else). I guess this is what one calls “world-building”? All of my books are inevitably, in some roundabout way, connected; even the main character in Chlorine is from Kahola County (he’s from the tiny, population 63, town of Furlong, a whistle stop on the Missouri Pacific railroad line) and thus it is connected with the others, too. (I really need to finish Chapter Three today if it kills me; it’s a transitional chapter and as we know, I always have trouble with transitional chapters). I also need to type up my notes from my editorial call as a guideline to the final polish on #shedeservedit; which I need to focus on this month–which will not be easy to do with an unfinished Chapter 3 hanging over my head, you know?

But I think I am going to try to keep the burner on beneath Chlorine; it’s just on a slow cook rather than being brought to a boil at the moment. It would be great to be able to get these revisions done and then be able to get the first draft of Chlorine finished this month as well; almost too much to hope for, really. I also need to get some other things further under control, and much as I would like to take yet another day off from everything and just spend the day reading, I don’t think that’s either wise or in the cards. I am going to try to get this finished, spend an hour with The Other Black Girl, and then get to work on other things that need to be worked on before heading to the gym. I generally am exhausted when I get home from the gym–inevitable, particularly with us in a excess heat warning–and while drinking my protein shake I’ll probably spend some more time with The Other Black Girl. This is the last full week of work I have for a while; the following two weeks we are being given a long holiday type weekend with the agency closing on the 13th and the 16th; and then the following week after that second short week Im on vacation for most of it because of Bouchercon–and no matter what happens (or doesn’t, for that matter) with Bouchercon I am still going to take that time off, and then it’s Labor Day, and you know…it’s August, and August, from all indicators, is going to be miserably hot this year anyway, so I need to take what I can get from all of this.

And once the Olympics are over, and our moratorium on watching outside television ends, we are going to have a lot to watch–Ted Lasso, Outer Banks, and several others as well, which is quite interesting and exciting, methinks.

I also saw a wonderful looking Spanish series, set in the 1720’s, on Netflix that looks like it could be quite entertaining, The Cook of Castamar–and you know Paul and I are crazy about some Spanish language shows.

I am also kind of pleased to have Bury Me in Shadows all finished except for the proofing. That’s always a lovely feeling, really.

So–let’s tally everything, shall we? I am in the midst of writing a new novel, the midst of revisions of another, and planning yet a third; I am pulling together a short story collection AND an essay collection; and a collection of novellas. That’s six books right there that are in some sort of progress for me; and of course I am also co-editing the Bouchercon anthology for Minneapolis. So, seven books in some sort of progress–no wonder I am so fucking scattered and on edge all the time, always certain I am forgetting something!

And on that note, I should probably get another cup of coffee and take a look around and see what I need to get to first–after an hour of reading the Harris novel, of course.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Who Do You Think You Are

Wednesday and hump day; it’s the Wednesday between bi-weekly Pay the Bills Days and all the bills are paid and thus all is right in a Gregalicious world. Huzzah? HUZZAH!

I didn’t want to get up this morning–definitely didn’t want to get out of bed–which is a lovely contrast to a few weeks ago when I was getting up earlier than usual because I couldn’t sleep. The caffeine experiment also seems to continue to work–I wasn’t tired from less caffeine yesterday, didn’t crash from caffeine drop in the middle of the afternoon, and felt fine when I got home from work (other than exhaustion from being out in a heat advisory, which convinced me to skip the gym last night and try again tonight). I worked on Chlorine a little before being sucked into the Olympic vortex last night, but tonight I am going to try to get more work on Chlorine done and maybe do some editing etc. rather than staring at the television for most of the evening. I am really enjoying working on Chlorine–it hit me yesterday that I am having a lot of fun with the character voice, and another key to his character, who he is, came to me last night–more than anything, he’s a survivor, a queer man in a horribly homophobic society doing what he has to do in order to survive and work and keep going without being destroyed in the process–and as such, he has to make some moral compromises…but he truly sees those compromises as endemic to Hollywood and the system; everyone has to make compromises in Hollywood.

I am really, really liking the character, and really really liking writing it. I mean, yesterday I got to write the line “I’ve never cared much about dames.” That inordinately pleased me to no end, and is emblematic of the voice and the tone I am striving for in this book. And I’m actually believing this will be a really good one–which is a feeling I rarely get when I am in the midst of writing something, if ever.

So, I am just kind of basking in the glow of writing something I am enjoying and am proud of at the same time, since it’s such a unique experience for me.

I’m also speaking to my editor tomorrow about #shedeservedit, which she apparently thinks, in her own words, is “amazing”, which nevertheless means I’ll be taking a break from other writing relatively soon in order to do the revisions and edits on it for its January release. At long last, “the Kansas book” will be out there for people to read. I’ve kind of worked on this book, in one form or another, since 1977, really; it’s been a long time a-bornin’, as they used to say in the olden days in the rural midwest. There are some other Kansas book ideas in my head, but unless something really jumps out and grabs me by the throat, this may very well be my last Kansas book. Alabama, on the other hand…one of the things I need to do (which I forgot to add to the to-do list I created yesterday) is go through the Alabama stuff I’ve already written and clear up discrepancies and so forth, as well as make a list of who’s who in the county and the county’s history and so forth. I will be revisiting Corinth County again–for some reason, I’m thinking that one of the supporting characters from Bury Me in Shadows (namely, Beau Hackworth) may even get his own book at some point, and there are numerous other Corinth County stories I want to tell. I may even do some more California books, for that matter…and there’s definitely a book with a Houston tie-in I want to write eventually.

I guess we’ll see how it all turns out.

But I am pretty jazzed I’ve somehow made it to Wednesday relatively unscathed.

This bodes well for the future, methinks. And in a few more weeks I get a four day weekend; they are closing the agency on the 13th and the 16th as a thank you to the staff for working through the pandemic (which isn’t over yet, but I appreciate the long weekend) and we also all got a raise for the year, which was also rather nice. Bouchercon in New Orleans is also happening in a few weeks–at least, so far it is still happening–and while it’s going to involve social distancing and masking, I am still looking forward to seeing my friends whom I’ve not seen in years now. Years.

But if Louisiana’s numbers keep worsening…sigh.

And on that note, I am going to get my day started. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Lose My Breath

Well, I over slept this morning. As someone who regularly suffers from insomnia, you can imagine how weird it felt to wake up, look at the alarm, and see that it was after nine (yes, nine is what I consider oversleeping; on days when the alarm isn’t needed I generally rise sometime between seven and eight); yet at the same time it was kind of delightful. I feel very rested this morning, which is definitely a good thing, so even though my morning hours were cut back by sleeping, I can still spend some time reading S. A.Cosby’s delightful Razorblade Tears all while still being able to get the writing and organizing done today that I need to get done. Huzzah!

And I also need to get to the gym this afternoon as well, around one-ish/one thirty.

Yesterday was a bit odd, if I do say so myself. I intended to get some writing done, and do some cleaning and organizing. But writing yesterday’s blog entry put me into a weird state of mind, also partially triggered by starting to write “Wash Away Sins”, and I wound up getting down my Todd Gregory short story collection, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories to see if I had, indeed, included “Smalltown Boy” in it the way I had originally thought I had. The answer is I didn’t; I originally intended to but finally pulled it because, while there is a tiny bit of a sex scene in it, it wasn’t then and never has been considered an erotic short story (or porn, if you will) and so I did pull the story–even though I didn’t remember pulling it. This also reminded me that not only has one of my favorite short stories never been collected into either of my short story collections, but that it was available to go into my next one, This Town and Other Stories; it fits better into a crime story collection anyway, even though the crime isn’t the heart of the story, the aftermath of the crime does drive it–which also makes me want to write “Wash Away Sins” all the more. I do have another story that fits into the same universe, “Son of a Preacher Man,” which is definitely erotica (and is available in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories) but is also definitely in the voice of “Smalltown Boy” and “Wash Away Sins,” which is also the voice for “A Holler Full of Kudzu”, which had me wondering yesterday if I should actually put them all into a single book–a novella and short stories, all from the same voice and all set in an around Corinth, Alabama…which also sparked my imagination in a million different ways; such was the state of my mind yesterday.

This also made me remember, or think about, another story or two I had published way back in the day under a pseudonym, “The Troll in the Basement” and “The Snow Queen”; neither of which had ever been published in either of my collections. Both are more like horror than anything else (although “The Snow Queen” has some erotic elements to it), and I had used a pseudonym which I’d hoped to use as my “horror” brand, but it wasn’t a good pseudonym (it sounded like a soap opera character more than anything else) and I only used it twice….so those stories are just kind of amorphously out there. Needless to say, I then had to track down copies of all these stories, and reread them, just to see what needed to be done with them, and then of course I also tracked down the unpublished novella, Spellcaster, which I then spent some time rereading and trying to decide if it could be turned queer and how much work would that entail. I just didn’t really see how I could add 30k plus words to it as it stood, and then realized, maybe the ending isn’t really the ending, and maybe the story goes on from there? And my fevered brain started working and I thought, yes yes this will work and will be fucking clever so I started writing a gazillion notes and then the next thing I knew the evening had rolled around.

I find it both amusing and terrifying that I have work lying around that I have completely forgotten about.

Which is inevitably why it’s important for me to go back and reread my work. I kind of need to reread Dark Tide, if for no other reason is that it’s an offshoot of the Corinth Alabama stories (the main character is from Corinth, even if the book is set elsewhere), not to mention this is where Scotty’s sort of nephew Taylor hails from, which means now the Scotty books are connected to my y/a’s, and the y/a’s are all connected to each other in some way, and…yeah.

So that was where my day yesterday mostly went. I cleaned out my inbox, did a shit ton of filing–and there’s still a shit ton of organizing that remains needing to be done–and perhaps one day I will find the time to get it done, tedious chore that it is–but I have not really been organized since the Great Data Disaster of 2018, and three years is an incredibly long time to go without some sense of organization, which is undoubtedly the core symptom of the disconnect I’ve been feeling for several years (probably since the Great Data Disaster of 2018). I also took all the book-length projects (anything destined to be more than 20k, to be fair) and bound the print-outs into binder clips, which makes the organization of them in my “needs work” pile MUCH easier, but when I took a picture and posted it I realized I had not included the short story collection or the essay collection; and there’s another pseudonymous manuscript lying around here somewhere as well. WHICH IS WHY I AM BURIED IN PAPER, SERIOUSLY.

I do kind of wish I’d learned to write and edit after everything went electronic, to be honest. All the paper…JFC. I am undoubtedly responsible for the loss of hundreds of acres of the rain forest. I try to work electronically, but I spend so much time at a computer already that the idea of reading and editing entirely this way gives me hives.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and may your day be terrific.

Let’s Have a Kiki

SATURDAY!!!!!

I’m not quite sure why I always am so excited about Saturdays rolling around; left over from childhood and not having to go to school most likely…which now has adapted into my adult life into I don’t have to work today! Of course, I do have to work today–writing and editing and revising, oh my–but I don’t have to be anywhere, nor do I have to do anything I don’t want to do. I am going to spend some time cleaning today (what else is new, it’s an on-going battle here in the Lost Apartment) and I am going to try to get slightly better organized as well (one can dream) and I am definitely spending some time with Razorblade Tears today. But I am feeling well rested this morning (hurray for better living through chemistry), and honestly think I can get everything I need to get done completed. Hope does spring eternal, does it not?

Last night we watched the final installment of the Fear Street trilogy, 1666, which was quite fun. I couldn’t help but love that a lesbian romance through the centuries was at the heart of the story; I am a sucker for those kinds of stories (I was thinking of Anya Seton’s terrific Green Darkness the entire time the movie was back in colonial times; that book has been an enormous influence on me and my writing, and one I don’t often think about)–where reincarnation and lives play themselves out in different times, with the souls going back to try again to get it right. I also remembered a wonderful old ABC Movie of the Week called Crowhaven Farm, with Hope Lange, that was also rooted in that reincarnation/different times trope–it terrified me as a child and I rewatched it a few years ago when it was up on Youtube–it doesn’t hold up as well as I might have hoped, but it’s still quite interesting…I’ve always loved both ghost stories and reincarnation stories, obviously.

Last night after we finished watching the movie (and now we have to decide what new to watch, as Happy Endings played out to its truly tragic end the other night), I transcribed “Wash Away Sins” into my desktop, making changes for the better as I went. It’s an interesting story, of course, but I also need to go back and read some of my old Alabama 1970’s stories to get a better feel for it, and to, of course, name the characters properly; I can’t remember the names of the characters from this time period in my Alabama tales, and there are getting to be enough of them now that I need to keep better track of them and keep my continuity going so there aren’t mistakes. (I really need to do an overall Scotty Bible, as well as one for Chanse; you never know when I might write another Chanse something, at any rate.)

I also remembered that I have an unpublished novella in my files somewhere; years ago I had written a lengthy sequel to Sorceress, but the small press that published Sorceress went out of business or something (the ebook of Sorceress is still up, but I don’t paid anything for sales, if there are any, and I don’t care enough to do anything about it–which is yet another reason why I always say it’s a wonder I have a career) but Spellcaster is just sitting there in my files, doing nothing….obviously Fear Street triggered my thinking about it because it was part of the linked y/a books I was doing along the lines of Stine’s series; set in Woodbridge, California (also where Sleeping Angel was set) and it wasn’t bad, I don’t think; the ending didn’t work and the characters were all straight kids, but I always thought I could go back and change the main character from a girl to a gay boy–he could be a cheerleader, just as she was–and maybe expand it out another twenty to thirty thousand words and voila–another novel finished.

I guess I’ll add that to my list of “books to get finished this year or next.”

I have to say, I really love my new phone, too. The sound quality when listening to Spotify is so much better than my old one, and the pictures are absolutely gorgeous and sharp and so forth; I may go take a walk around my neighborhood later this morning (and before I shower–no point in showering before going out into the heat and humidity of a July New Orleans Saturday; hey maybe I can get phô today!) and take some more pictures. I need to take full advantage of these last weekends before football season begins again, which is when I inevitably spend my weekends almost entirely in front of the television with games on all day–well, Saturday at any rate; I only watch the Saints on Sundays–and so the window of opportunities for working on the weekends is inevitably closing.

And on that note, I am going to close this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader–no matter how you choose to spend it.

Kitty Girl

Friday and I like my new doctor. It’s nice to finally be in the care of an actual doctor again–with no offense intended at all to the nurse practitioners I’ve seen over the last two years; they were also wonderful–but there’s something subconsciously psychologically more affirming about seeing someone who has the actual title of doctor, which is curious in and of itself–what is that rooted in? What kind of societal expectation, which may be based in absolutely nothing rational, created that as a comfort zone for me, and further, made it instinctual?–which I will leave in the hands of the clinically trained behavior experts to research.

Instead of working on anything already in progress last night, of course I started writing another short story. This one is called “Wash Away Sins”, which makes a sort of loose sense in my fevered creative brain, and it’s another Alabama story and it’s a follow-up to “Smalltown Boy,” actually; I can’t remember precisely the thought chain that wound up there, but I read something somewhere that made me think of washed in the blood of the lamb, which means baptized, and in the Christian sect i was raised in, that meant your baptism washed away all your sins before the baptism….which made me think of everything before the baptism as a “wash away sin”, and then i thought about the opening of “Smalltown Boy” and how that poor woman killed her husband to end the abuse, and the sentence You could have knocked everyone down with a feather when Vonda Hackworth answered Brother Burleson’s call to salvation and I was off to the races. I was writing in my journal, though, rather than typing the story up–which I will have to do at some point, probably today or maybe tomorrow.

Again, not anything I should be working on, of course.

I also started reading S. A. Cosby’s marvelous Razorblade Tears yesterday while at the doctor’s office, and it is, actually, quite marvelous. Maybe the most delightful thing of being a part of this community, as well as being an avid reader, is watching talents grow and develop. I’ve always enjoyed Shaun’s work, but every book is exponentially better somehow than the one before….and that is saying something. I am really looking forward to a deep dive on the book this weekend. Huzzah!

I also had a dentistry appointment this morning, and I hope, whenever the health care situation in this country is ever resolved, that the dentisty insurance issue is also addressed. I’ve always had terrible teeth–the only good thing about them was they were perfectly straight–and now I am going to have to spend a lot of money on my bottom teeth to have a functioning mouth again. It’s horribly depressing, really–hurray for even more debt–but I suppose it’s money I need to spend.

Or I can keep going through life looking like a Clampett.

Today turned out to be almost a complete waste. After the dentist experience–which took much longer than anticipated–i made groceries and then decided to go upgrade my phone. Again, took waaaaaaaaay longer than anticipated; seriously, y’all, I left the house for the dentist at nine this morning and i got home from the AT&T store after three…so I figured, fuck it, I may as well get the gym out of the way and take pictures with my new phone on the way home so that’s what I did. The new phone, an iPhone 12 Pro, is pretty amazing. The sound quality is so dramatically better than the old phone–which I thought had amazing sound, actually–and my word, the pictures are so much better, too! I am going to need to play with this phone’s camera a bit, methinks.

And on that note, I am ending this tiresome entry and ending my on-line presence for the day.

Kiss on My List

Today is one of those days in which I’ll be running around all day and feeling scattered before I finally can come home and relax at last. I have an eye appointment out in Metairie–I really need new glasses; my eyes have gotten so bad that the ones I have now just do not work as well as they should, which makes me terribly uncomfortable about driving and so forth–and then errands all over the place. I also have boxes and boxes of condom packs to take by the office, so I can get them out of the house; I was really productive yesterday and may have broken my condom-packing record while watching In the Heat of the Night (the Oscar winning film, not the television series based on it) and then catching up on The Real Housewives franchises that I still watch. (I have some ambivalent feelings about these shows, but will discuss that at greater length when I have more time to spend on writing an entry then I do this morning.) The movie was interesting to watch, and I have some very deep thoughts about that as well; but I will say for now that they did a really excellent job of capturing small town/rural Southern areas of the time and what they were like…and they could have just as easily filmed that movie in the area of Alabama where I am from.

If you are a film fan, I do highly recommend Pictures at a Revolution by Mark Harris, in which he examines the five films nominated for the Best Picture Oscar in 1967–the year In the Heat of the Night won–and how those five vastly different films were representative of the enormous cultural and societal shifts going on in the country at the time. It’s fascinating. (The other nominees were Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Bonnie and Clyde, Dr. Dolittle, and The Graduate.)

I still haven’t made my to-do list yet; that’s one of the things I want to get done today; at least one for the weekend that I can revise for next week, and then I want to get back into the habit of doing one every week, knowing that there will be some weeks where I get it all done, weeks where I only get some of it done, and weeks when I won’t get any of it done. I am trying to stay focused and I am also trying to be easier on myself going forward; no more feeling like a failure when I don’t get as much done as I need or want to, no more Imposter Syndrome, no more allowing myself to be easily tripped into dark places that I really need to not go to anymore. It’s strange to be almost sixty and still trying to grow and rewire myself; I would have thought years ago that by now I would have everything figured out. But I don’t–and I don’t think anyone ever really does, to be honest. I also need to remember that I am not perfect, I am human, and humans will always make mistakes…and the thing is to not let the mistakes take you somewhere dark and self-abusive, but to correct them the best way you can and learn from them and not repeat them–which is part of the issue I am having with the Real Housewives shows, I think (but more on that at a later date, like tomorrow).

It’s gray outside this morning–it rained off and on yesterday, mostly from the late afternoon on–and I will probably get soaked at some point while I run my errands; it’s inevitable, really–but hopefully traffic won’t be too bad.

And on that note–as you can tell, I still haven’t quite figured out what I want this blog to be going forward–I am going to call it quits this morning and head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

Young Offender

As I said yesterday, I had been wanting to reread Summer of ’42 for quite some time now, and finally decided to bite the bullet and start it yesterday.

He always intended to come back, to see the island again. But the oppertunity had never quite presented itself. This time, however, with a break in his schedule and with events moving remrkably in his favor, he had driven far up the New England coast to see if the magic still prevailed. Aboard the old ferry his Mercedes convertible earned the icy nonchalance of a half dozen craggy islanders, for very few new cars ever make that crossing. Cars that came to Packett Island are usually well into the varicose stage of their lives, and as such, they are by time and temperament unconcerned with a return trip to the mainland. “Cars come to this fuckin’ island to die.” Oscy had said that. Oscy, the big deal philosopher. And it was as true in 1970 as it had been in 1942.

He studied the faces around him, each turned to the wind, taking the breeze full face. It was apparent that none aboard remembered him. But then, he was barely fifteen that last time he forked over the twenty-five-cent fare. And in the intervening years nmuch had changed, including the twenty-five cents, which was now a dollar, and himself, which was now forty-two. How, then, could anyone remember him? The nerve.

The Mercedes moved with disinterest along what purported to be the Packett Island Coastway, for the speed limit was thirty, hardly a challenge for an exhumed LaSalle, let alone a hot Mercedes-Benz. To his left were the familiar dunes, sulking in the grass, incongruously scattered with the uncatalogued refuse and bleached timber that the sea could toss so casually across the road whenever it felt so disposed. And to his right, the sea itself, choppy and gray-green. And large. Very large indeed. One of the largest in the world.

I first read Summer of ’42 when I was either eleven or twelve; I don’t remember which; I just know that we had already moved out to the suburbs and I bought a copy off the wire racks where the Zayre’s stocked paperbacks, cover out and about four books deep. I’m not really sure why I picked it, of the scores of paperbacks from Dell and Fawcett Crest and Pocketbooks; there had to be a reason but nearly fifty years later I cannot remember. The movie was out at the time, and the cover art was from the movie, with Jennifer O’Neill standing in the sand looking out to see, and Gary Grimes seated in the sand behind her looking at her longingly; her little beach cottage was in the background along with the dunes and sea grasses. Was it because the cover depicted a beach scene, and we were beginning to spend our summer vacations including the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle in our annual jaunts to Alabama to visit family? The answer is lost in the mists of time, alas, but I did buy it, I did read it, and never really forgot it. It’s a lovely little book, nostalgic and sweet with a little tinge of sadness running through it; I think I also identified very strongly with Hermie, the main character (obviously, standing in for Herman Raucher; the book is supposedly semi-autobiographical). Hermie was a dreamer whose family didn’t really understand him, he had an older sister who is barely a presence at all in the book, and his fantasy life/world was just as strong as mine. He often went off into daydreams the same way I did, and he didn’t really fit with his friends, whom he enjoyed and was annoyed by in equal measure. At just fifteen, he is just starting to experience his own sexuality, and that summer of 1942 he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman who stays in a cottage just outside the small town on the beach. He sees her with her husband–also stunningly handsome, and they are so clearly in love, and begins to sort of watch them whenever he gets the chance. The husband goes off to the war, leaving her alone, and he contrives a way to meet her, offering to help her carry packages home when she is overburdened. He is also clumsy and awkward; saying and doing things that embarrass him, and they begin to develop a kind of weird and different little friendship. She just thinks he’s a sweet boy, but he is crazy about her, and she becomes his sexual fantasy; speeding along his awakening awareness of sex and sexuality.

The book is entirely from his point of view; so deep inside that we really don’t get to know any of the other characters in the book other than from his perspective and how he perceives them. There are parts that are actually quite funny–the scene where he buys condoms is hilarious–and the bittersweet feeling that she was his first love that he can never quite forget is the motor that drives the engine of the story forward. It’s melancholy, and Raucher was a really good writer; he captures that awkwardness of being insecure in your own skin at fifteen beautifully, and the entire tone of the book–that bittersweet melancholy for a lost love and a lost time and really, lost youth–is rendered exquisitely.

And yet…

He doesn’t know this woman at all, other than she’s quite beautiful and in their little exchanges, very kind to him, if a bit confused by his behavior. He doesn’t even know her name until the book is almost finished. (SPOILER) And when she does have sex with him in the end–after getting the shattering telegram that her beloved husband has been killed in the war and she’s been drinking, in the throes of a powerful grief–it never really made sense to me. Why would she do this? She’s in her early twenties and he’s fifteen. And despite her vulnerability in that moment, she’s the adult here…when I first read the book and saw the movie, that power differential wasn’t anything I noticed (as I said, I wrote my own story inspired by this one without a second thought about statutory rape and so forth), but now…it’s weird. And he of course has never forgotten the first woman he had sex with (they say you never forget the first) but it also doesn’t go into any of those directions, and why now has he decided to go back and see the place? There’s a lot left out, and I actually was thinking, as i read it this last time, how much I would have liked to have seen the story from her point of view.

It’s a short book and, as I said, the writing is well executed and it flows nicely. It made me start thinking about my own story and how I could possibly rewrite it now. I was able to read over the course of the afternoon (like I said, it was really short) and I did enjoy the reread…but this time it raised a lot more questions than it did to my much younger self.

But like Hermie, I also never forgot the story, so that’s something, right?

Turn

Saturday morning and I’m up much earlier than I usually am; I woke up around seven–the last time; it was a restless night–and finally decided to just go ahead and get up. We have to take Scooter to the vet at eleven for follow-up blood work (monitoring his diabetes) but other than that, the day is pretty free for me. I am thinking about going to the gym later to do arms (I skipped them last night because…well, because there were too many people there in the small space that is the gym and I don’t like having to force my way into spaces because so many gym-goers seem to feel like they are the only people there or they own the gym or something; I despise many things, but I have an especial hatred for inconsiderate assholes at the gym; always has been a pet peeve of mine) and was actually thinking it might be a good idea to go to alternating workouts; arms on one workout, shoulders/chest/back/legs on the other, with a goal to eventually give legs its own day in June). My muscles feel tired this morning, which means I worked them hard yesterday. That is a good thing. I also don’t want to waste today–which has a tendency to happen far too often on these weekends. The apartment needs some work done on it (it’s horrifying how much I’ve allowed the housework to slide since the first of the year) and perhaps getting up early this morning and using this time to actually do stuff rather than be a slug will help.

We shall see how this day progresses, at any rate.

One would never guess, looking around my apartment this morning, that I prefer to be organized, that’s for certain.

I’ve kind of decided to reread Summer of ’42 by Herman Raucher next. I think I need a break from reading crime fiction–a palate cleanser, if you will–and I’ve been thinking a lot about this book and the film made from it lately; I don’t know why, or I don’t remember the reason it came up in my brain recently (hell, it may have been two years ago for all I can remember; I have absolutely no concept of time anymore). I read the book when I was eleven or twelve; I’m not sure when, but I know it was when we lived in the suburbs, and I’m also not really sure why I was so interested in it. I know I didn’t see the movie until it aired on television, and years later I rented the video to see the unedited version, but it always stuck in my head–so much so that I wrote a short story somewhat predicated on the same premise; nostalgic looking back at the coming of age of the main character. The story was called “The Island”, and rereading that story about ten years ago–I was fond of it, and it was very popular in the creative writing class I wrote it for–I realized, in horror, that it was very clearly a product of its time and could never be published without an extensive rewrite. There was a young woman in that creative writing class, and she hated the story, which of course deeply bothered me; particularly because her criticism was based on nothing–she had nothing concrete other than “it just made me squirm a bit,” was all she could say, and of course everyone else in the class just kind of rolled their eyes and dismissed her. On the reread, I realized precisely why it made her squirm, even though she couldn’t–or was afraid to–put it into words: the main character was thirteen and is seduced by a woman in her early twenties, so I kind of unintentionally wrote a grooming/pedophile story but wrote it as a nostalgic, coming of age romantic story. Ick ick ick. In retrospect, her reaction was the right one to have, frankly. I tried to rewrite it and make the characters closer in age–making the main character seventeen and the young woman twenty–but it still had an ick factor to it. I thought about changing it to a gay story, but that made it even ickier.

This set me to thinking about how our viewpoints on this sort of thing have changed over the course of my life, and whether Summer of ’42, which inspired the story in the first place, would still read the same way all these years later. NOW I REMEMBER! (There’s still some juice in the old brain yet!) I started thinking about my story again when I made the list of all the unpublished short stories I have in my files, and I remembered, not only this story but another one I wrote for that class that was never published anywhere, “Whim of the Wind”–and I was thinking about that story a lot over the last year because that one was also set in Corinth County, Alabama–the place I was writing about in Bury Me in Shadows, and the two stories (“The Island” and “Whim of the Wind”) are forever linked in my head because I wrote them for the same writing class and turned both in together (we could turn in as many stories as we wanted, but had to turn it at least once twice in the semester…I turned in two the first time, and six the second time; the first example of how prolific I can be when I set my mind to it and do the work). But I digress. Back in the day, when I was growing up and even up to my thirties and forties, the age gap thing–and the sexuality of teenagers–wasn’t as big a deal as it is today, if that makes sense. Even now, when there’s a scandal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult woman–usually a teacher in her early twenties–a lot of men don’t see the problem and say lucky kid or wish I’d had a teacher like that when I was in high school and things like that; as though there’s something natural and “manly” and normal about a teenaged boy having sex with an adult (incidentally, if the teacher is male these same responses are most definitely not used; adult male teachers who have sex with girl students aren’t treated or looked at the same way, nor are male teachers having sex with male students; adult men are inevitably seen as predators–the very same type of double standard the classic Tracy/Hepburn film Adam’s Rib addressed in 1949).

It’s rather interesting now, as sixty looms on the horizon, to look back and see how the world has changed since I was a kid.

We got caught up on Cruel Summer last night, then tried watching The Serpent on Netflix–I’d read Thomas Thompson’s book about the murderous couple, Serpentine, years ago–but it didn’t really hold our interest, so we decided to skip it and move on to something else.

Okay, I’ve put off getting the day started for long enough now. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Face Up

Wednesday has rolled around again, as it always does, and last night was another restful sleep of the same sort I had on Monday; restful but awake or half-awake the majority of the time. I am beginning to wonder, quite frankly, if this is just another affect of getting older; the inability to sleep deeply every night. Yesterday I wasn’t as tired as I feared I would be, which actually was kind of nice, and I do think this will be the case this morning too. I intend to go to the gym this evening for a workout with weights after work–so being tired will not be helpful in the least. Maybe that will put me into a deep sleep tonight.

Maybe it won’t–which is more likely.

We watched two more episodes of The Capture last night on Peacock, which is incredibly good. I still have absolutely no clue what’s going on, but the suspense is so ratcheted up that I cannot wait to get home tonight so we can finish watching it. I want to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series, but focus is so important when reading and what little focus I have these days really needs to be spend on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows, which needs to be finished by the end of the month–so time is running out on me, as always. I was thinking about how I reacted to rereading the manuscript with an eye to edits last weekend, and how I always am enormously dissatisfied with the final product when it is released. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of every book I’ve written, as each represents surmounting a struggle of some sort in some way, and finishing and publishing a novel is always an accomplishment, regardless of how it turned out in the end. I was dissecting this in my head last night while I was making tacos for dinner (nachos for Paul); my strengths are premises, titles, and character–but inevitably whenever I start writing a book most of the time I don’t know how it’s going to end. I try to figure out how to end a book before I start writing it–but on the rare occasions when I have figured out the end beforehand, I question that as I write and inevitably change my mind at least once, if not twice, and as a result, I never am completely confident in my endings. Adding to the neuroses in my brain, the last few chapters of a book generally don’t get as much attention as earlier chapters, either, which makes my insecurity even worse.

I really do wish I could slap my first creative writing teacher across the face for doing such a number on me that it has lasted all these years. FUCKER.

Then again, he typed smugly, I’m about thirty-six novels, five novellas, and fifty short stories into my career; he’s still unpublished, forty years later. So, there’s that…and the fact I never forget a grudge.

I’ve also been toying with some 1970’s research in my spare moments–looking up things and trying to remember things from my tween years–like “sissy bars” (and no, it’s not a bar for effeminate gay men, though it is a great name for a gay bar). I remembered “sissy bars” as being the high bar on boys’ bicycles that girls’ bikes didn’t have back then; turns out it’s actually the back bar at the end of a bike that the passenger behind the driver/rider can lean back on for balance. (I still remember it the other way; and that other bar doesn’t seem to have a name, which is weird.) I’ve been wanting to write about the early 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs for quite some time–I have an idea based on a murder that happened in our suburb when I was a freshman in high school, You’re No Good, which could be a lot of fun to work on and write–and my main character from Lake Thirteen (Scotty?) was from that same fictional suburb…which leads me back into that weird Greg Universe where all of my books are somehow connected, between New Orleans, Alabama, Chicago and it’s suburbs, California, and Kansas–which I completely forgot that I was doing. (Aside: Bury Me in Shadows is set in Corinth County; which is where the main character in Dark Tide was also from; where I set the story “Smalltown Boy”; and where Frank and Scotty’s nephew Taylor is from, making his first appearance in Baton Rouge Bingo.) But the early 1970’s was an interesting and somewhat volatile time, between Vietnam, the economic crisis, and Watergate; where television gave us stuff like The Partridge Family and Love, American Style and horrible variety shows; when the post World War II economic boom in the United States was beginning to crumble and fade away; when Top 40 radio ruled the AM channels and everything was still on vinyl or eight-track tapes, before cable television and 24 hour news and no Internet or cell phones. But… as I mentioned earlier, while I have a great premise and a terrific title, I don’t know the story or how it ends…but that won’t stop me from obsessively researching the period.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a great day Constant Reader!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.