Chains of Love

Thursday morning coming at you like a burning ball of pitch hurled at the city walls from a catapult by the invading Huns.

I did two entries yesterday, neither of which was blatant self-promotion (I know, right?); one was my regular entry for the day and the other was…well, it was a really old entry I started writing a long time ago, about my love for Superman and how that actually began when I was a kid. I never finished the post–there are about thirty post drafts that I will someday finish, even though some of them are now YEARS old–but when the news broke about Superman’s bisexuality this week, I knew it was time to finish it and put it out into the world. I also knew when I read that piece of shit’s post on Medium that I was going to conclude by mentioning it, and taking a few nasty digs at his sorry, pathetic, will-die-alone-and-unmourned self. Was I perhaps more petty and mean-spirited, even perhaps nastier, than I usually allow myself to be on here over the last twelve or so years? Probably. Am I sorry? Not in the fucking least.

I woke up this morning at five, as I am wont to do every morning, and moaned a little softly to myself, well, at least I have another hour before I have to get up and then it hit me: It’s Thursday, fuckwit, you don’t have to get up before the sun comes up today, and thus happily burrowed back into my blankets and went back to sleep for a bit. It was lovely, frankly; I feel very good this morning and very alive and ready to get to it. I have a bunch of trainings I have to do on-line today around the condom packing and the data entry (the data entry website was updated, one of the trainings is on that); there’s laundry to do; files to file and an inbox to empty; Leg Day to get through; and of course the apartment is, as always, an utter disaster area. Typical Thursday, really, when you think about it. Yesterday was actually relatively lovely, for the most part; my piece on my favorite Gothic inspirations went live on Crime Reads’ website yesterday, and received an absolutely lovely response–and the afore-mentioned Superman blog piece I did yesterday also got a lot of attention and shares, which was also very nice. The event with Murder by the Book went well for the wonderful John McDougall, our wonderful host and moderator, and I really enjoyed listening to David R. Slayton talk. (I am reading his White Trash Warlock and really, it’s quite marvelous; do yourself a favor and pick up a copy.) Paul had dinner plans last night with friends, so I had the apartment to myself for most of the evening; by the time he got home we were both already exhausted–doing public things always drains me on all three levels (physical, emotional, intellectual) and so we both went to bed relatively early.

So, Bury Me in Shadows is out into the world, and it really was a nice, somewhat soft, release; one of the things I hate about the business side of being a writer is the self-promotion. I was raised in the worst possible way when you want to become a writer; I don’t know if my reluctance to promote myself and push myself on people is inherent, or if it was something I was trained from childhood to have. I was always told if you do good work, let others decide rather than telling them; if the work is good it will speak for itself. That doesn’t really work in this business, and while I am always comfortable to talk about books and writing publicly, I am not very comfortable with talking about myself or my own work or trying to convince people to read/buy it; I can sort of do that kind of thing on here because, well, it’s written and I am not speaking in front of an audience or for a camera. It’s always difficult, and I never think quickly enough to come up with good answers for the questions. I also tend to ramble and get sidetracked and go off on tangents when I talk–as anyone who has ever had a conversation with me in person can easily and happily attest to–which, when you are sharing the stage with another writer, isn’t a good thing. So, with much thanks to John and Murder by the Book for setting the entire thing up and for hosting, and to David for being so gracious and fun to chat with; and I will add my deepest apologies for my feral self and my incompetence at presenting myself as a competent publishing professional.

I also suppose I am far too old to get better at it, as well.

I also got my copy of Best American Mystery and Suspense Stories 2021, edited by Steph Cha and guest editor Alafair Burke–you know, the one where I am mentioned in the back for my story “The Dreadful Scott Decision” from The Faking of the President, as “other distinguished work”, which is still an enormous thrill (I may still be picking up the book and opening to that page and marveling at the appearance of my name there)–which I am very excited to start dipping into again. My Halloween Horror Month hasn’t exactly worked out the way I had planned; too much other stuff going on, the release of a book, so on and so on and so on–but that’s okay. Things happen, life happens, and things get thrown off track, but I do always believe things work out the way they are supposed to in the end.

And on that note, I am going to get some things done before it’s time for me to start the endless rounds of training courses and meetings I have to attend virtually today. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again on the morrow.

Oh L’Amour

Well, we made it to Wednesday again, Constant Reader, and it’s Pay-the-Bills Day. Huzzah!

Yesterday was a very good day, overall–maybe a little too low energy for what all I need to get done, but I really cannot complain. I was a little distracted for most of the day–the inability to focus was almost Olympic level, seriously–but I’ve certainly had worse days. Paul was late last night–board meeting–so I sat in my chair with the purr-kitty in my lap and watched Youtube documentaries about a historical woman who has always fascinated me since I read about her in a biography of Charlemagne: Irene of Athens, the only woman to rule as Roman Emperor (she took the title of Emperor rather than Empress) in Constantinople. She was ruthless and cruel–she had her own son blinded for daring to challenge her for power (it was his throne)–and she was later sainted by the church for her belief in and promotion of icons; after several emperors, including her late husband, violently opposed as idol worship. (Icons are images of holy figures, whether paintings, statues, etc.; despite the 1054 schism, both Orthodox Christians and Catholics continued to worship them. The Eastern Roman Empire (forever branded as Byzantine by western Europeans, to deny them the Roman title which they felt they inherited rather than the actual, continuing Roman empire based in Constantinople) is fascinating to me; the court intrigues and palace revolutions; the murders and conspiracies and plots would make the basis for great historical novels. It’s very strange to me that we don’t have more of those, really; an indication of how the West has very determinedly erased and forgotten the East.

We watched the latest episode of Only Murders in the Building, which we are continuing to greatly enjoy; and it’s also nice to see Steve Martin and Martin Short both working on something high quality. I’m sorry there’s only one more episode; but I am sure it’s successful enough that they’ll try to do a second season–which is rife with the possibility of enormous disappointment, but could also have a lot of potential. (Obviously, there can’t be another murder in the same building.)

I slept really well last night–at any rate, without checking the Fitbit (which, seriously–if I feel rested, is there any need to actual check the sleep statistics? Probably not) I think I had a really good night’s sleep; I certainly feel more rested and a-rarin’-to-go than I did yesterday–which, granted, was a pretty low bar. But feeling rested rather than tired really makes a difference; my fuse is much shorter when I am tired, and it’s also much easier for me to give in to meh I don’t want to deal with this now…which is definitely not a good thing. But tomorrow is a work-at-home day and I can sleep later, there’s also a lot less stress when I am working at home, and I have a lot of trainings to get done tomorrow while I am at home, which will certainly make the time pass a lot easier. I didn’t go to the gym last night because I felt so drained; I cannot go tonight because of my event tonight at Murder by the Book, click here to register!

So, I will go after work tomorrow. It’s Leg Day anyway. Sigh.

Bury Me in Shadows had a lovely release day yesterday, which wasn’t easy because a shit ton of new books by terrific authors dropped either yesterday or on Monday: The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver; Death at Greenaway by Lori Rader-Day; Tara Laskowski’s The Mother Next Door; and of course, the newly launched Best American Mystery and Suspense 2021, edited by Steph Cha and guest editor Alafair Burke (yours truly made the “other works of distinction” list in the back of the book; cannot wait to get a copy–the stories included sound fucking fantastic). Yeah, that’s a lot of noise at the same time–it’s easy to see how my book could get lost in all the noise and thunder there. It’s going to be a lot of fun talking to John at Murder by the Book tonight, along with David Slayton (whose Trailer Park Trickster also dropped yesterday; so much goodness out there in such a short period of time!); I just hope I don’t, as always, talk too much and babble like a moron.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will see you again tomorrow.

I’m on the Road

We tried to stick it out, ever hopeful that Entergy would pull off a miracle, but today we cracked and couldn’t take it anymore. We were also out of food, and while some stores are indeed open (without power), it was incredibly ridiculously hot today; I’ve not really slept since the power went out Sunday morning; and we decided to go today. With it being the Thursday before Labor Day weekend, I knew–between Louisiana evacuees and “last holiday weekend at the beach” people, there was no point in following I-10 East and trying to find anywhere to stay. I only had a half-tank of gas, and wasn’t sure we’d be able to get any if we went north or west, so we headed east on I-10. We got gas near Biloxi (yay!) and once we hit Mobile we turned north. I knew we’d be able to find a pet friendly room somewhere between Mobile and Montgomery, and I was correct. Paul, Scooter and I are now checked into a motel in Greenville, Alabama. We’ve both taken our first hot showers since before the power went out, and are relaxing in the air conditioning (on high and full blast) while the US Open plays on the television. Everything is currently charging. Scooter isn’t sure what to make of this, as he has never stayed anywhere besides our house or the Cat Practice in the last eleven years, but he was great in the car and just slept…which is his usual state. I am looking forward to tonight’s sleep–you have no idea, Constant Reader, how much I am looking forward to finally getting some sleep. We have the room until Sunday–we’ll either go back to New Orleans or decide what to do next then. I’ll worry about it tomorrow.

It was very weird how quickly this storm came together–we barely had space to breathe or even think, and then it was already too late to go. I had to turn in my edits on #shedeservedit by the first; there were rumblings Friday morning that we were in trouble, and I had to power through the edits to get them done just in case (a wise decision, for once). I had to have my teeth cleaned Friday morning, and after I got home from that I just worked on the edits, finally finished about half an hour before I was due to meet my friend Ellen Byron for dinner at Red Gravy on Magazine Street. (The dinner and the conversation was marvelous.) Saturday morning I got up and by the time I was coherent–I overslept a bit, as did Paul–it was too late, really. I-10 in both directions a parking lot; I-55 and I-59 north both the same. We left very late for Katrina–and the crawl across the twin spans with the beginnings of the system starting to come in was not something I ever wanted to live through again. We just kind of looked at each other, and decided to ride it out and hope for the best–figuring if we made it through, we could leave afterwards. We watched a lot of television Saturday night, went to bed relatively early, and then of course, Sunday morning the power went out around eleven. I grabbed a book–I had started Megan Abbott’s The Turnout last week, and so I read for the rest of the day.

The storm was terrifying. The entire house rattled and shook, and there were times when I thought–I would swear to God this is true–I felt the house shifting before settling back to where it was once the gust had finished. I kept waiting for the windows to blow out–I moved my computer away from the windows–and finally, it was over. I never want to ride out a storm like that again, frankly; once was more than enough. And then we settled in to wait for the power to come back on, with no Internet and very very VERY spotty (did I say VERY) cell phone service, we were essentially cut off from the rest of the world. My friend Alafair texted me at some point and I asked her if the levees held; we literally had no idea what was going on, not only in the rest of the world, but in our own city–let alone our neighborhood. The weather was hot and humid but bearable–it was miserable, but it could have been much worse; had Monday been like today we would have left then.

I did manage to read a lot–I finished The Turnout and moved on to Yes, Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage (loved it!), Dead Dead Girls by Nekesa Afia (also recommend); A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen; Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng; and A Letter of Mary by Laurie R. King. I started rereading Paul Monette’s The Gold Diggers, and also started Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Velvet Was the Night, which came with me to Alabama. I am going to do blog posts on all of these books at some point–it was a week of amazing reading, frankly–and I also thought a lot about things I am working on and things I want to be working on, so it wasn’t a total loss of a week. I cleaned and organized in the kitchen some, and of course today I had to throw away everything in the refrigerator and the freezer, which was sad–all that money into the trash–but better to clean it out now rather than let it sit in there rotting and then come home to it. (A valuable lesson from Katrina.)

I thought about bringing manuscripts to edit with me, but then decided not to–I have the electronic files, after all, and I have enough paper around as it is. I started purging books again too–and I spent a lot of time, as I mentioned, thinking about things and life in general and what my priorities should be going forward–there’s nothing like a catastrophe to make you sit down and think about what is and isn’t important–and I am going to probably make some changes going forward. I hate that this disruption came when I was on a roll–with my writing, with the gym, with the reorganization of the apartment–but I am glad that it did happen in some ways; I was kind of letting myself drown again and a reset was kind of necessary. I also don’t know how long this particular disruption is going to last, either.

So, I am going to relax, enjoy hot showers and air conditioning and having access to the Internet again–and read and write and try to dig out from under.

And now I am going to take a doll and go to sleep.

Til tomorrow, then.

I Really Want to Know You

So, last night I was sitting in my easy chair waiting for Paul to come home–he was quite late; I spent the entire evening debating whether or not to just watch a movie while I waited; I never did and wasted the majority of the evening, so tonight when I finish working I am going to just pick something on TCM and start watching–I got tagged by Nikki Dolson on Twitter. Nikki was congratulating me (and Thomas Pluck) for being listed as “Other Distinguished Mystery and Suspense of 2020” in the back of Best Mystery and Suspense Stories of 2020, edited by Steph Cha and guest edited by Alafair Burke! I stared at my phone screen in disbelief for quite a few minutes, trying to process the enormous thrill and honor two women I greatly admire and respect, not just as authors but as intellects and people, had bestowed upon one Gregalicious. The book won’t be released until October 12th, but I am still agog and aglow with the thrill and shock of almost being included in it–with a gay story, no less, about hidden gay American history. Yes, the story was “The Dreadful Scott Decision” from The Faking of the President, edited by Peter Carlaftes, and ironically, I was just telling a friend the other day about how gracious Peter was about my story, which was utterly and completely different from everyone else’s in the book; everyone else set their story during the President’s incumbency and also set them in the White House. Mine was about James Buchanan, theoretically, but was set in the present day and had nothing in the White House, nothing in Washington, nothing in general–so while my story stood out like a sore thumb from the others, Peter never said a word, never asked me to change anything, never asked me to do anything different. In fact, he was incredibly supportive and encouraging.

Three Rooms Press has always been delightful to work with–I worked with them for Florida Happens, as well–and the entire experience was marvelous.

It’s been a good week for me, career-wise. Not only did this happen (aren’t you glad I am not boring you to tears with my usual “short stories are so hard” and “I have no confidence in writing short stories because of my evil college professor” the way I usually do when something good happens to me with a short story?), but I signed a book contract for a new series on Monday–more on that later–AND I also found out yesterday that an anthology I’d written a story for (completely forgotten) is finally being released this fall as well….looking at the contract, I am due a rather nice and hefty fee for my story as well. So, yeah, this has been a great week for me and my career thus far; and now I get to wait for publishing (or life) to pull the rug out from under me again.

Yesterday was a good day, if weird. I kept thinking it was Thursday (likewise I keep thinking today is Friday), but I made a list of things I wanted to get done yesterday (the micro list) and the good news is I made it through the micro list–but the bad news is I haven’t made the macro list yet. But it’s fine, really. I picked up the mail, dropped off a book I am returning, and then stopped in the Irish Channel to take pictures and get a sense of the part of the neighborhood where I am setting the new series. It was sooooo hot yesterday–I mean, furnace level, and I kept thinking, I’m supposed to be hanging out with Wendy this afternoon and having dinner with Laura and Alison and Wendy later…as I walked around taking pictures and sweating. I also realized as I was doing this that I had pictured the neighborhood differently; my primary memory of it was when my friends Lisa and Carrie rented half a big Victorian on Constance Street back in 1995 (the same house I am using for “Never Kiss a Stranger”, actually) and I realized my memories don’t match because they lived further down town in the Irish Channel. It’s not a big deal that my memories were off–I am not using the exact houses on the block I’ve chosen anyway; the pleasure of fiction–but it was a bit of a surprise and a bit of a reminder that I need to not completely count on my memories and sometimes need to actually go look at the area I am writing about. After I got home from my research trip, I changed and walked to the gym in the heat–and my God, it was hot. I was drenched in sweat when I got to the gym (they’ve started getting the new equipment in) and put myself through a Leg Day (which I am still feeling this morning, to be honest), then walked home. I was drenched in sweat by the time I got back to the Lost Apartment, and was also drained of energy by the heat and the sunshine–so I chose to not work on the book yesterday and start doing clean-up and organization stuff around the Lost Apartment, and I did get a lot done, actually. Today I am not leaving the house (I was thinking about doing the gym again, but it looks just as miserably hot out there today as it was yesterday and it can wait until tomorrow, quite frankly). I have some other errands I have to run tomorrow as well, so I am just going to make a micro list for tomorrow as well. I don’t have to go back to the office until Tuesday, which is nice, but I want to get even further in the revisions of the book today (ideally, finishing it tomorrow so I can let it sit for a day or two before going over it again). I also spent some more time brainstorming the new series last night, which I think I am going to try to make funnier than I originally intended it to be.

And as low as I had been feeling about my current manuscript, I have to say the love my writing has been shown this week has really made me feel much better about it. Writing and publishing is always highs and lows, peaks and valleys; a rollercoaster of sorts, if you will–and I seem to spend most of my time in the lows and the valleys for some reason–probably a mental issue of my own having to do with fearing and mistrusting happiness and joy, probably–so yes, positive reinforcement is as necessary for me as it is rare. And of course, even as I am aglow with happiness and joy over this latest bit of positive reinforcement, that ugly little voice in my head is there, whispering its poison: you’re excited about ALMOST making the final cut? My, how pathetic IS your little career?

I fucking hate that voice, for the record.

But I am not letting it harsh my buzz this morning. I am going to finish this, drink some more coffee, eat something, and then I am going to get to work. The book isn’t going to fix itself, after all, and the Lost Apartment most definitely isn’t going to spend a single second cleaning itself…and Megan Abbott’s book is calling me.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

The Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DJ Culture

Ah, Kansas.

I only spent five and a half years there, and yet somehow, it more shaped my psyche and who I am than the years as a child in Chicago or the four and a half years in its suburbs; even more so than the eight years spent in California. I’m not entirely sure why precisely that is, but it’s true. I think perhaps it’s because it was there I really and truly started writing, and started seriously thinking that my both life and career were going to be about writing. By the time we took the 1:30 a.m. train out of Emporia for California, my identity as a writer was firmly fixed in my head; when I stepped off the train into the California sunshine, I knew I was going to be a writer someday, somehow, some way.

And when I lived there, in Kansas, I wasn’t really aware of other Kansas writers. (I also wasn’t aware of other gay people there, either.) Now, of course, I know Sara Paretsky is a Kansan, along with Nancy Pickard and Kay Kendall and Lori Roy; I don’t know if Scott Phillips is a native, but he writes about Kansas. Alafair Burke grew up in Wichita.

And of course, there’s Scott Heim.

I recently read a novella by Scott, “Loam”, which was really good, and it put me to thinking about Mysterious Skin, the first of three novels he published, and alas, the only one that I’v actually read. I read it back in the late 1990’s, methinks, when I was scrabbling around trying to get caught up on gay lit and read as much of it as I could. I also saw the film (I’ll watch anything with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in it, quite frankly), and while I have met him and spent a little time with him, and we follow each other on both Facebook and Twitter, I don’t know that I would safe in referring to him as a friend, I do consider him an acquaintance of whom I am very fond. He’s quite witty on social media, and I admire his skill as a writer…so I thought I should take a reread whirl with Mysterious Skin. 

I also wanted to read it as a dark crime novel, borderline noir; I was certain the story would hold up, but since Mystery Writers of America classifies it’s definition of a mystery as writing about the commission, solving, and/or aftermath of a crime….while it can be a stretch, Mysterious Skin kind of fits into that broad definition. Laura Lippman thinks we need to stop claiming literary works, like Crime and Punishment and Sanctuary as crime novels; but I honestly believe Sanctuary absolutely and positively is a masterwork of literary noir; the line between “Southern Gothic” and “crime fiction” is relatively tiny and there is a lot of crossover. Some of Flannery O’Connor’s work, definitely Southern Gothic, crosses over that fine line between literary fiction and crime.

I am not defining literary works, or works from other fields, as crime fiction to try to elevate crime fiction; it doesn’t need elevating to get respect, which was Laura’s point. Crime fiction deserves respect because it is good, and those who dismiss sneeringly as genre need to remember that literary fiction is just as much a genre as anything else.

As Nevada Barr said, “It’s either mystery or romance or just plain boring.”

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The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. I can’t explain.  I remember this: first, sitting on the bench during my Little League team’s 7 P.M. game, and second, waking in the crawl space of my house near midnight. Whatever happened during that empty expanse of time remains a blur.

When I came to, I opened my eyes to darkness. I sat with my legs pushed to my chest, my arms wrapped around them, my head sandwiched between my knees. My hands were clasped so tightly they hurt. I unfolded slowly, like a butterfly from its cocoon.

I brushed a sleeve over my glasses, and my eyes adjusted. To my right, I saw diagonal slits of light from a small door. Zillions of dust motes fluttered through the rays. The light stretched ribbons across a cement floor to illuminate my sneaker’s rubber toe. The room around me seemed to shrink, cramped with shadows, its ceiling less than three feet tall. A network of rusty popes lined a paint-spattered wall. Cobwebs clogged their upper corners.

My thoughts clarified. I was sitting in the crawl space of our house, that murky crevice beneath the porch. I wore my Little League uniform and cap, my Rawlings glove on my left hand. My stomach ached. The skin on both wrists was rubbed raw. When I breathed, I felt flakes of dried blood inside my nose.

Like some of the best crime novels, Mysterious Skin is about survivors of a trauma, and the different ways people react to suffering through trauma. It actually isn’t a stretch to call it a crime or mystery novel; the central story is trying to determine what happened to Brian Lackey when he was seven years old and lost five hours of time. Brian at first becomes obsessed with UFO’s and alien encounters, as those are the only places he can find where other people also lost time; so he becomes convinced that he was kidnapped by a UFO and experimented on; all the evidence, such as it is, certainly points to that. The other boy, Neil, had a sexual relationship with his Little League coach, which he believed was consensual and that Coach loved him; as he grows up he becomes a hustler, tricking with johns cruising a park in Hutchinson (all these small cities in Kansas have/had gay cruising places; Emporia even had one) and eventually moving away to New York, where he continues hustling. Neil’s trauma is actually even unknown to him; he’s convinced himself that he was special and that Coach loved him; their sexual relationship wasn’t perverse or perverted or anything wrong, but rather based in love and consent; his own memories are very clouded, and as a young adult hustler he finds himself drawn to older men, much like Coach was.

It’s very definitely a literary novel, make no mistake, but it is, at heart, a novel about a crime and the trauma that comes from that crime and its aftermath; which fits the definition of “mystery” that comes from Mystery Writers of America. I doubt very seriously the panel of judges for the Best First Novel Edgar the year this was released would have picked it as a finalist (which it deserved to be); the subject matter is hard enough for people to deal with, let alone the sexuality of Neil, who is essentially a teen hustler, getting paid by older men for sex.

Beautifully written with a sparsity of language that Megan Abbott or James M. Cain or Shirley Jackson would embrace; Heim chooses words carefully to evoke powerful images and emotions and realities in as few words as possible, and while some might think the ending a bit of a cheat, leaving the door open to many possibilities–I feel like he found the absolute perfect place to end his novel: Neil coming to realize that what he experienced with Coach wasn’t love (something he has been adamantly refusing to understand since it happened–that whole I’m different than the others thing so many children feel under those circumstances–I’ve known any number of gay men who had relationships with adults when they were very young and didn’t realize it wasn’t love until they aged out of their Lolita-like relationships) and Brian finally piercing through the veil his mind has hidden the truth from all these years because it was too much for him to handle…until he could handle it.

Mysterious Skin is also an incredibly powerful depiction of what it’s like to be grow up working class in a sparsely populated state like Kansas–the worries about money, the beater cars you keep coaxing more life out of, that college might not be an option, and there aren’t that many good jobs to be had–and what it’s like to grow up queer under those circumstances. At one point in the book Heim says something incredibly smart and true–about how the stuff that is hip and cool on the coasts takes about three years to get to the center of the country; which is something I learned very quickly when I moved to California and all of my clothes were dated and wrong and out of style.

This is a truly terrific book, and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.

D-I-V-O-R-C-E

Well, the number of positive cases for COVID-19 in Louisiana has now jumped to 867, with 20 deaths; by my brain calculator that is somewhere between 2 and 3 percent, which isn’t great, but isn’t terrible. As we start amping up our testing here–and I suspect my day job is going to eventually become a testing center–the numbers will only continue to rise, which means an even longer period of self-isolation and this “shelter-at-home” order.

As I said to a friend earlier this morning, I’ve seen New Orleans this empty and quiet before; it’s just weird that a hurricane isn’t involved. I realized yesterday I was sort of expecting there to be an evacuation order eventually in my subconscious, which is where this sense of anxious waiting was coming from. And of course, once I realized my mind had lapsed into “hurricane prep mode”, the anxiousness went away.

I didn’t do much writing yesterday, but I’m fine with it, really. I’m going to try to focus today, and at least finish the revision of one story while hopefully getting to work on another. All of these writing projects, the ones that began before the virus outbreak, seem like they are from a different place and time; almost as though they are someone else’s stories. But that’s okay, really; I am hoping that I’ll be able to start focusing better now that I’ve achieved what passes for mental stability around here. I’ve decided to start reading short stories, picking up the Short Story Project again because my attention span doesn’t seem particularly well-suited to reading longer works of fiction at the current moment. I tried getting back into the book I was reading before all of this started, but unfortunately it had been so long I couldn’t really remember what was going on and who the characters were, so I sadly put it aside. I also am not sure where this came from, but I am going to look for my copy of Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; although now that I think about it more, I think someone was making a joke about watching the movie. I’ve not read the story but am vaguely familiar with it; I think it takes place during a cholera outbreak in Venice which is why someone mentioned it on Twitter yesterday. I refreshed my vague memory of what Death in Venice is about, and I began to wonder–how much of Daphne du Maurier’s is an homage/pastiche to Death in Venice? I had also been thinking about rereading “Don’t Look Now,” perhaps I should read them back to back to get a grasp on whether there is anything to the thesis. As one of my many projects-in-progress is set in Venice, it cannot hurt to read other works about Venice, and my own story was sort of an homage to “Don’t Look Now” in some ways, so yeah, it can’t hurt.

I also want to get some straightening/organizing done in the living room, which has been let go for far too long. Books are piled up everywhere, I haven’t vacuumed in God knows how long, and every time I sit in my easy chair to watch something on the television, I get a little perturbed looking around at the settled dust and so forth. It’s also time to do another cull of the books; I have books I haven’t read that I’ve forgotten that I own, and if reading short stories again will get me reading muscles flexed and warmed up and ready to go again, it’s not a bad idea to start looking through the stacks to see what I want to read next. Maybe something by Michael Koryta? He’s one of my favorite writers, and I’ve yet to read a book of his that I haven’t thoroughly enjoyed, and then there also my Alafair Burke backlist; some Daphne du Mauriers I’ve not read yet; and so it goes.

Having so many unread books by so many talented authors around the house makes it  hard to decide what to read next–especially when you’re also trying to reread things.

SO, for now, I am going to make myself another cup of coffee, curl up in my easy chair with du Maurier’s “Don’t Look Now,” and once I am finished reading that, I’ll find my copy of Death in Venice and read it before heading back to the computer to finish revising this short story, and then I’m going to try to get everything organized that I need to get organized so I can sail into the week prepared and ready for whatever challenges the pandemic will be sending my way.

Have a lovely Sunday.

antmadam

He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Every Time Two Fools Collide

So I finally went back to work on the book last night when I got home from the office. Huzzah! I was beginning to think I never would work on the damned thing again, but maybe there is something to this “arbitrary date chosen by Julius Caesar to start the new year” thing, after all. I started writing two new short stories, I got back to work on the book–pretty amazing, I have to say, especially taking into consideration that I’ve been such a fucking slug about writing for quite some time now.

Huzzah for the end of that nonsense!

Whether it actually means something remains to be seen, of course, but at least I also started the next chapter as well. It felt good to be writing again, and it felt really good to be making this manuscript better. It’s been so long since I last worked on it that I am going to have to go back to my notes and review them again; but that’s fine. At least I have the notes, you know, and that puts me ahead in a way–look, I’ll take these little victories where I can, thank you very much.

It does seem as though the RWA mess has calmed somewhat on Twitter, and what the future holds for the organization remains to be seen; it’s always sad to see an organization tear itself apart in this way, especially when the real root cause of the whole mess is racism. Sorry, Nice White Ladies, but we’re not going back to the 1950’s–the people of color aren’t going back to the back of the bus and the queers aren’t going back into the closet. And inevitably, there’s going to be issues any independent audit turns up; aren’t there always? I can only theorize the paid staff’s been colluding with the people masterminding this insidious leadership coup, and there are probably irregularities that will turn up in their books once the inevitable independent audit shows up. There’s something terribly rotten at the core of that organization, and it’s just a matter of time before it gets dragged out into the light and exposed.

I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, and I’ve now reached the period of time–the 1950’s through the 1960’s–where the street truly earned its name and reputation as a strip for sinning. As always, ideas are flooding through my mind for new stories and perhaps a new series; I think the story I originally started writing a while back, “The Blues Before Dawn”, might actually work better as a short (70k-ish) novel set in the late 1950’s/early 1960’s rather than the WWI/Storyville era I was thinking about setting it…and also makes me wonder about my Sherlock Holmes story; perhaps moving it to a more modern era might be better? But I must get these other two manuscripts finished before I really even start thinking about other novels–and let’s face it, Chlorine needs to be the next novel I write anyway. I wrote a first draft of the first chapter a few months back, and it turned out better than I’d thought it might; and last night, as we watched John Mulaney stand-up comic specials on Netflix, the second chapter came to me, almost fully formed. It’s lovely when that sort of thing actually happens, you know–it’s so organic and I love it, it makes me feel like a real writer when it does–and it doesn’t really seem to happen all that often.

Although I probably should be spending all this time researching for Chlorine while I finish writing these other two books, shouldn’t I?

I don’t have a timetable for finishing Bury Me in Shadows or the final revision of the Kansas book, either. I probably should set one–although I’ve been doing that for the last year and it never seems to motivate me to get the work done.

OH! I also realized the other day when I was listing my favorite reads of 2019 I forgot two: The Better Sister by Alafair Burke and The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead. Both are frigging fantastic, and you need to read them sooner rather later. Get on it. Don’t make me come over there, because I will.

Tonight after work is the office holiday party, so I’ll be stopping there on my way home from work and probably then proceeding to Rouses so I won’t have to leave the house all weekend. Fingers crossed, at any rate.

I also have some errands to run on my way into the office today. It rained last night–everything is slick and shiny and dripping outside my windows this morning–and I suspect the temperature went south overnight as well; it’s very cold in the Lost Apartment this morning. I always forget how bipolar the weather in southeastern Louisiana is in the winter–it was warm and muggy yesterday. I stand corrected–it’s 62 with a high of 71 forecast for the day, so it’s clearly just cold here inside. Sigh, New Orleans.

I’m still rereading both The Talented Mr. Ripley and Kirkland Revels  as well; once I finish those rereads (and blogs) I’ll go on to my annual reread of Rebecca, I think, and then it’ll be time to read some new things from my TBR pile. The new Elizabeth Little ARC has been taunting me from the top of the TBR pile since I received it (read me, read me, come on and read me, you bitch!), and I was actually thinking about taking it with me as one of my “to reads” for the trip to New York; there will be lots of airport/airplane time involved, after all, and there’s no better time to read then when you’re traveling.

And on that note, I have some laundry to fold before I get ready for work. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

adam hagenbuch

The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.