Rock Me Amadeus

PRIDE MONTH!

Yesterday was a late day for me; I didn’t have to be at the office until four–I had a late night of bar testing last night—so I spent the day paying bills and doing odds-and-ends around the apartment. Today is my short day, and then I am easing into the weekend; I will probably come home and clean tonight, plus prepare for moving some things over to the storage place tomorrow. I did some writing yesterday–not nearly enough–but I am terribly pleased with the progress I am making on not only the Scotty novel but the WIP. I’ll see how I feel when I get home this evening, but I am hopeful I’ll be in the mood to do some writing. The kitchen also needs to be sorted out a bit; I’ll be damned if I can understand how it keeps getting so out of control all the time–it’s not like I’ve been cooking or anything.

I continue to read the Philip Roth in dribs and drabs; I’m just past page 100. It’s taking me, as you can tell, a long time to read; longer than usual. It’s the story, I suppose; the writing is really good and I can savor the way he uses and puts together words, and even how he develops the characters, but not a whole lot happens. For someone who reads mostly crime and horror, as you can imagine, I kind of need stuff to happen. I am hoping to finish this book at some point this weekend because I really want to read Alex Segura’s Blackout.

I watched Streets of Fire again this week; it’s streaming on Starz, and while this was a movie I loved when I saw it in the theater–I even saw it twice, and owned the soundtrack–I was curious to see if, thirty-odd years later, it still  held up. It does, in a way; I see the flaws in the film now, which I didn’t see back then, but at the same time, there’s an aesthetic about it that I like; it’s a “rock and roll fable” set “another place, another time”–so it’s amorphous in its time period, which allowed the set and costume designers to have some fun with creating their own aesthetic look; it’s a combination of 50’s and 80’s style that oddly works; plus there’s so many bright colors in costumes and neon, but at the same time there’s a sense of drabness; the characters all live in a very drab, working class world, almost a slum-like neighborhood. The soundtrack–which includes a Marilyn Martin cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Sorcerer”–doesn’t really hold up; the big numbers, performed by Diane Lane as rock star Ellen Aim, are very operatic to the point of being over the top–think Meatloaf/Jim Steinman. The one hit to come off the soundtrack was “I Can Dream About You,” which still holds up. The movie could have been a lot better; the primary problem is the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Michael Pare and Diane Lane…Michael Pare, who was quite beautiful, just kind of sleepwalks through his role, reading his lines in an almost complete deadpan, unemotional way that you can’t help but wonder what someone equally pretty who could act could have done with the role. Diane Lane does a good job, but Amy Madigan steals the movie out from under everyone in the sidekick role; as a butch former soldier at loose ends who signs on to help Tom Cody (Pare) rescue Ellen (Diane Lane), his ex, from the motorcycle gang (led by a very young Willem Dafoe) who’ve kidnapped her. It’s an almost Western-style movie in its sensibility/plot; the characters are all archetypes–the Tough Guy hero, the Damsel in Distress, her Money-grubbing Manager (a young pre-Ghostbusters Rick Moranis), etc. etc.

I enjoyed it still, but not as much as I did when I was in my early twenties.

So pretty:

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He was also in the cult hit Eddie and the Cruisers, albeit briefly, as Eddie (which is another film I should revisit).

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Glory of Love

Saturday morning and it’s chilly in the Lost Apartment; the sun is out and there’s condensation on the windows. Scooter is perched next to my keyboard, staring out the window, watching Kitty TV; I’m not sure what’s on, but he’s fascinated. It rained brutally yesterday with flash floods and so forth throughout the city. It had been a few weeks since it had rained, but there it was; a long overdue downpour. I managed to get home before it got too terribly bad, and spent the evening organizing and cleaning out files, rather than actually writing. I just didn’t feel like I was in a writing place, and so I decided to go with that but demanded of myself to complete this tedious chore that I hate doing so much.

Essentially, it meant cleaning out old files that no longer need accessibility–old book contracts, royalty statements, and even file folders of old short stories now published, etc.–out of the file cabinet and boxing them up to put in storage. This, naturally, has freed up space in the file cabinet for files to be moved into from the ACTIVE files. (Yes, I am aware how insane this all sounds; but I have two small file holders on the small bookcase next to  my desk, where I file new ideas, articles that might lead somewhere, and new stories that I have started or are not immediately working on; on my desk itself I have a metal file rack that contains the folders of what I am immediately working on. I know, I know, but it makes sense to me, and it works for me.) I also gathered all my non-fiction research on being queer in America, as well as my journal (materials for my memoirs, should I ever write them, or at least personal essays about being gay)  to collect in one place: a lovely box that is currently sitting on my kitchen counter, preparatory to going into the storage space. While doing all of this I ran across several of my old journals.

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These are some of my journals–I suspect some of them have been lost to time, through moves and so forth–but the oldest is from 1994; the most recent of these is from 2003. I started my blog in late 2004, and I suspect that’s approximately also when I stopped writing in these. It was an interesting experience, idly paging through these before placing them in the box; some of the earlier ones are from, of course, when I worked at the airport. That’s when I started carrying one with me at all times; I always had a pen, my journal, and whatever book I was reading at the time with me when I was at the airport, on an airplane traveling, etc. The ones from my time at the airport are all written in green ink; because we used green pens at the airport for everything. I wrote on my breaks, I wrote when I was in between flights at the gates, I wrote while I was waiting to board an airplane, I wrote while on airplanes. Later, I wrote between clients at the gym, or while waiting for it to be time for an aerobics class I was teaching; I wrote in coffee shops. There are scenes in these journals, that eventually made it into Murder in the Rue Dauphine or Bourbon Street Blues; there are the openings of short stories I’ve written, scrawled in long hand on these pages. I’ve even found things like when I first had the idea for the book that became Dark Tide many years later; places where I worked on developing characters or plots of themes for the book or story I was currently trying to work on and/or finish; there are also personal moments, moments of frustration or joy or happiness, all recorded in my neat, broadly looping handwriting. Starting to keep another one of these this year has been enormously helpful for me in many ways; it was lovely to reconnect with the bound journal format. (I actually need to buy a new one; I am hoping they have some at Tubby and Coo’s, where I am going this afternoon for Bryan Camp’s book-signing for his brilliant debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes)

This morning I need to finish packing up these boxes, and perhaps work on getting some of the other files moved; it is literally astonishing how much paper I have. One entire file cabinet drawer is filled with short stories and novels-in-progress that I stopped working on at some point, folders with ideas jotted down, characters and names and ideas for stories and books. All this effort, besides keeping me from actually writing anything, is an attempt to declutter my workspace as well as to make it more organized; I had an idea for a story for an anthology call I saw recently, and I knew I’d written a draft of an appropriate story (possibly) years ago–which meant it was probably in the file cabinet and I should probably drag it out to see if there was anything written in it that was usable. The need for this file made me see how desperately flawed and out of control my filing system had actually been allowed to become so as it thundered and lightning lit up the sky and the yard filled with rushing water I started working grimly on fixing this mess.

I did find the file, by the way.

I need to go to the grocery store at some point this morning as well; I could wait to do it tomorrow,  but between the cleaning and the filing and the going to the book signing I don’t see any window for actually writing, so rather than putting it off till the morrow I should probably do it today, since today is going to be shot on that score. Or maybe it won’t be; I may be able to get some things done today on the writing. My writing/editing goal for the weekend is to read “Burning Crosses” aloud and be finished with it; to finish revising Chapter Two of the WIP, and possibly read all fourteen chapters of the Scotty book and see where things sit with it, preparatory to getting back to work on it as well.

I also want to dive into Alex Segura’s Blackout, which is getting rave reviews everywhere.

We started watching the second season of Thirteen Reasons Why last night, and I have to say, I am not overly impressed with it. The first two episodes were terribly uneven–the third began to pick up steam again–but the device of having Hannah appearing as a sort of ghost to Clay isn’t working for me and is something that I hope is used either sparingly as the show moves on, or is eradicated completely. We don’t need Hannah appearing as Clay’s conscience, nor do we need her at all. It derails the show, frankly; them having conversations is, to quote youth culture of some time ago, kinda whack.

So far, we’re disappointed with it. but not so much so that we will stop watching.

That, however, could change.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Sentimental Street

It’s Saturday morning! Lots to do today; Chapter Fifteen, read “My Brother’s Keeper” aloud, work on “Don’t Look Down,” revise “Burning Crosses,”–the list goes on and on. It’s supposed to rain today as well; not sure if that’s going to actually be a thing today, but it does look sort of gloomy-esque outside my windows this morning.

And the Apartment is, of course, a complete and total mess.

I was thinking last night, as I started reading Megan Abbott’s extraordinary Give Me Your Hand, about my own writing (reading amazing writers always makes me contemplative) and putting into some perspective. Megan is one of our best writers, and the crime genre is very lucky to have her writing within our boundaries. Reading her work is always very humbling for me, whether it’s a novel or one of her jewels of a short story (hello, publishers! A Megan Abbott short story collection is way overdue! Get! On! It!), as I find myself wondering how does she think of putting these words together? Her sentences are never overly complicated and yet she manages to put them together in such a way as to create a very vivid and complex image, not to mention how she uses her sentence structure to create these characters that are so nuanced and real and complicated…she really is a master of the written word. I will dive back into her novel today, when I am finished with all of the things I must, I have to, do today; it’s always lovely when there’s a wonderful reward waiting for you at the end of tedious writing and editing and cleaning. (I also have ARC’s of Lori Roy’s The Disappearing and Alex Segura’s Blackout; I cannot wait to dive into those as well.)

And while I should be thinking, of course, about where the Scotty novel needs to go in Chapter Fifteen and going forward from there, I was thinking last night about short stories. I always abhorred writing short stories before, thought them incredibly difficult to write, and a discipline of writing that I was not particularly good at (I am also horrible at writing horror fiction, for example). I always believed that whenever I was actually successful at writing a short story, it was purely by accident; not anything conscious that I managed because I wasn’t good at the form. But in writing these reams of short stories this year, I am finding that not to be true; I am having to revise my thinking about so many things I once believed true about me as a writer. Yes, a short story might fail; everyone makes false starts. The Archer Files, with its final section of short story fragments that Ross Macdonald had started yet never finished, taught me that. My own files are filled with fragments of short stories that I began yet never finished; first drafts of stories I never finished because I wasn’t sure, I wasn’t convinced, that I knew how to fix and repair, how to edit and revise to make right. But that doesn’t mean I am a failure at writing short stories. It simply means those stories are ready to be finished; that Ifor whatever reason, am simply not ready to finish them. And there’s nothing wrong with that, of course.

This is, and has always been, just another way my lack of self-confidence in my ability to write manifests itself.

I started writing another story last night, currently untitled; I’m not sure what its title will be but I do have a vague idea of what it’s about. There’s a great little place to eat in my neighborhood, in the same block as my gym, called simply Tacos and Beer; I am meeting someone in town for an early dinner there on Sunday. That, of course, got me thinking about that great simple name for the place, and what a wonderful opening that would make for a story; someone going there to meet someone for dinner and choosing that place because it’s simple, straightforward name pleases them so much. The story is still amorphous, of course. But perhaps I’ll be able to work on it today. I’m also thinking I might even get to work on Muscles  a little bit today.

Who knows? The day is fraught with possibilities still. I may wind up being lazy and not doing a fucking thing.

Here’s the raw opening of “Burning Crosses”:

“Population four thousand four hundred and thirty two,” Leon said as they passed the Welcome to Corinth sign. There were a couple of bullet holes in it, as there had been in every official green sign they’d passed since crossing into Corinth County. “I guess it’s not hard to imagine lynching here.”

“I can come back with someone else,” Chelsea Thorne replied. Her head ached. She needed coffee. Her Starbucks to go cup was long empty. “Can you check on your phone and see if there’s a Starbucks in town?”

Leon laughed. “I don’t have to look to know the answer is no,” he shook his head. “There’s not even five thousand people in this town, girl. There ain’t no Starbucks. I’ll bet there’s a McDonalds, though.”

“It’ll have to do.” The throbbing behind her temple was getting worse. It didn’t help they’d gotten lost trying to find this little town, the county seat of a county she’d never heard of, let alone knew where to find. It wasn’t even near a highway. They’d had to take a state highway out of Tuscaloosa and drive about an hour or so, depending on the roads and depending on traffic. It took longer to get out of Tuscaloosa than they’d planned, thanks to some road work and then another delay because of Alabama Power cutting down some tree limbs, but they’d finally gotten out of town when she was halfway through her latte. Leon had dozed off, snoring slightly with his head against the window as they got out of town on the state road, passing through fields of cotton and corn and orange-red dirt. The state road was stained orange on the edges, the white lines looking like her fingertips after eating a bag of Cheese Puffs. It was supposed to be an easy drive; she didn’t need to make any turns, just keep following the state road that would take them straight to Corinth. But a bridge over a stream was being worked on and there was a detour, taking them down an unpaved road with cotton fields on either side, barely room for her Cooper Mini, and God help them if they met a truck or something coming the other way. Ten minutes down that dirt road and her latte was gone, finished, nothing left. Then she’d turned the wrong way when she’d reached the other state road—but it wasn’t her fault. She’d thought the sign was wrong—how could a right turn take her back to Tuscaloosa? But then she’d figured there must have been more twists and turns on the back road than she’d thought, and turned left. She’d gone almost seven miles before she say the TUSCALOOSA 7 miles sign, and had to make a U-turn in someone’s driveway.

She knew it was wrong, she knew it was stereotyping, but she hated driving on country roads in rural parts of the South.

You can see how rough the story is in its initial stage; it definitely needs work. There are also things missing from it in this draft; things I need to add in to make it stronger, to add nuance, to make the sense of dread and discomfort the characters feel more clear; I want the reader to feel that same sense of unease.

And I do think writing all these short stories this year has been enormously helpful to me, not only as a short story writer but as a writer in general; short stories give you the opportunity to stretch and try things you can’t try in a novel; different themes and voices and styles.

And now back to the spice mines.

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All She Wants to Do is Dance

Hello, Wednesday, how are you this morning? I’m a little out of sorts this fine spring morning in New Orleans; my sleep has been restless this week and thus I am not as rested as I would prefer. The book has turned once again into a slog, but the best thing about the slog is–as I was slogging through Chapter Fourteen yesterday–I had one of those “only when I am writing a Scotty book” moments: when I get bored with what I’m writing so I toss in a plot twist out of nowhere. And it’s a good one too; I can’t believe it never crossed my mind to do this. It also makes sense with what else is going on. I do think this book is going to eventually turn out to be something pretty decent; it’s just getting this slog of a first draft finished. It’s going to be a lot more sloppy than the first drafts usually are; because I am not going back and polishing whenever I get stuck, I am simply forcing myself to keep going.

It also occurred to me yesterday that since it was May 1, I am officially further behind than I’d wanted to be. I wanted to have the first draft finished by now, and obviously, I am still slogging through the middle, with at least another eleven chapters to go. Zounds! Zoinks! Heavy sigh! I also need to finish revising/rewriting some short stories, and need to remember to buy and send a mother’s day card to my mother.

Must. Make. List. Must. CONSULT. List. Regularly.

There’s no point in having a list if you don’t look at it, after all, and avoiding consulting the list for fear its length, and the things still to be crossed off, is not an excuse. It’s simply enabling the procrastination.

So, despite being tired, I am determined to get Chapter Fourteen finished today, and I am going to go back and polish/revise “My Brother’s Keeper.” That is the goal for the day (well, that and paying bills since its payday; avoiding thinking about it because it’s depressing isn’t going to make it go away).

Sad, harsh truths.

What was really funny was yesterday I was looking through real estate listings for a part of New Orleans where one of my characters in the book lived; I’d found a house the day before whilst working on Chapter Thirteen and described it. But the website was still up yesterday, and I looked at it again, and the perfect house for this character was sitting right there, a couple of rows below the one I’d used; one of those ‘faux Tara’ type houses that pretentious nouveau riche southern people like to build and live in; with the wide veranda and, of course, the ever-present, stereotypical COLUMNS. But I wasn’t feeling particularly witty at the time, nor did I want to take the time to revise the entire section, so I simply put in a note in bold, revise this and make it a plantation style house and make lots of snarky Gone with the Wind jokes.

I do love when that happens.

We are also still watching The Terror, which is quite well done. I am always amazed when the credits roll because the episodes go by rather quickly, despite the fact that the story actually moves rather slowly. I did comment last night, after we had watched two episodes, that I couldn’t believe we were only five episodes in, because the show is so complex and layered yet seems so simple on the surface, that it seems we’ve been watching for a long time and should be closer to the end than we actually are. That’s some pretty masterful storytelling, I think. I think I’ll be terribly sorry when this is finished.

In other exciting news, I got an ARC of Megan Abbott’s forthcoming Give Me Your Hand in today’s mail, which has me thrilled to no end. I love her work; and she somehow manages to surpass herself with each successive novel, which is no easy trick. Now, to find the time to read it. I also have ARCs of Lori Roy’s new novel as well as Alex Segura’s, and I simply have got to find the time to read these books.

give me your hand

I know I’ve not been keeping up with the Short Story Project, but I have read a shit ton of stories already this year! I’ll get back to it, I promise, but I also think I’m going to proceed a little differently than I have been. I’ve been talking about every story I’ve read here, and I don’t think I am going to do that from now on; instead, I am only going to talk about ones that hit it out of the park for me. That may also mean I don’t post about newly read stories every day, but I think I would rather do this than try to find something to say about stories I didn’t care for as much as others; this ends up diluting the Short Story Project, and not allowing me the time nor the opportunity to delve as deeply into the stories I really enjoy.

And now, back to the spice mines. I only managed two thousand words yesterday; and as I said, I am behind. So, must make daily word counts!

Don’t Lose My Number

Easter! April Fool’s Day!

I ran my errands yesterday and got that over with, did some chores around the house and a little bit of writing–a very little bit, which means I must do a lot today–and then settled in to watch some movies: Office Christmas Party, Atomic Blonde, Five Dances, and Alien: Covenant, which was much better than I’d heard it was, although it didn’t make any sense compared to what I remembered of Prometheus, which it theoretically followed in the series. I also started brainstorming another short story, “Malevolence,” while sitting in my easy chair. I may start writing the story today; or I may not. It’ll depend on how I feel once I get home from the gym this morning, and how much progress I make on the disaster area also known as my kitchen.

I also read more of Jon Ronson’s So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, which I am really enjoying. I also read some more short stories, but I am also about to start reading Bryan Camp’s debut novel, The City of Lost Fortune, so I can review it around its publication, which is rapidly coming up. I’ve also got ARC’s of Alex Segura’s new novel, and Lori Roy’s. So many riches…and that doesn’t even take into consideration everything else in my TBR pile. Sigh, I am such a lucky bastard.

But…I also need to get some writing done, I need to get some cleaning done, and I need to be productive today. I haven’t been the last two days, despite running errands and doing chores, and so  yes, I really have got to get my act together today. Next week is a normal, five day work-week, and then things will be normal again for a while, until Memorial Day weekend, at least. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as I head back into the spice mines, I am going to share with you the opening of Vieux Carre Voodoo, which was not only the fourth Scotty book, but the comeback Scotty book, after several years away in the wake of Katrina.

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One of the rules of walking in the French Quarter when the weather’s warm is always look up when you walk underneath a balcony, or you’ll be sorry.

 You’d think having lived in the Quarter all of my life, looking up would be second nature for me by now. But I was lost in thought as I hurried up Governor Nicholls Street. I was really missing Frank and wishing he were here instead of in Ohio. I was on my way to ride on my parents’ float in the Gay Easter Parade, and it felt really strange to be doing it without Frank. I was debating myself as to whether my relationship had descended into an unhealthy level of co-dependency. I was paying absolutely no attention to my surroundings, other than making sure I wasn’t about to walk into a support post for a balcony. I had just decided here was nothing neurotic in missing your boyfriend, and that I should just relax and enjoy myself. It was a beautiful spring day, after all, and riding in a parade was always fun. I took a deep breath, cleared my head of all negativity, and started walking faster so I wouldn’t be late.

And that was when I was completely drenched by a cascade of cold water from above.

My reaction was reflexive and instinctive. “FUCK!” I screamed at the top of my lungs, which got me a really nasty look from the couple pushing a stroller across the street. I sighed, gave them an apologetic shrug, and their disapproving frowns turned into slight smiles at my expense.

I was soaked. Water was running down my back and chest, dripping out of my hair, and to my horror, I realized the white bikini my mother had so thoughtfully provided for me to wear in the parade apparently became see-through when wet. I immediately dropped my hands to cover my crotch as my eyes darted back and forth, looking for other pedestrians. The couple with the stroller shook their heads, gave each other a look, and started pushing the stroller a lot faster.

Obviously, they were tourists.

I shivered. The cool damp breeze coming from the river was much colder on wet skin. I knew I should’ve worn sweats over the costume.

Scotty? Is that you? Oh, dear, I’m so sorry!” a familiar voice said from above me. There was apologetic concern tempered by a slight bit of amusement in the tone.

I looked up and my initial irritation faded away to embarrassment. “Oh, it’s okay, Doc.” I called up to the bald older man peering down at me through gold-rimmed spectacles. “I wasn’t looking, like an idiot.” I sluiced water off my arms and shook my head from side to side. Droplets of water flew away from my hair.

“Well, come in and let me give you a towel.” He shook his head. “I’ll buzz you in.” His head vanished for a moment before reappearing almost instantly. “And you can explain to me what you’re doing in that ridiculous get-up.”  His face broke into a wide grin, and I couldn’t help but laugh as I dashed over to the metal gate at the side of the building in time to open it when the buzzer sounded.

Dr. Benjamin Garrett was a friend of my parents. He’d taught them both when they’d attended the University of New Orleans. He had been a full professor in both history and political science, and my mother frequently credited him for ‘opening her eyes to all the injustice in the world.’ We all called him Doc—well, when we were young we’d called him “Uncle Doc” until he asked us to drop the ‘uncle’ because he said it made him sound like a relative of the former dictators of Haiti. He loved to debate politics with my parents into the wee hours of the morning over bourbon; his eyes twinkling as he deliberately took an opposing viewpoint to wind my mother up.  I’d always liked Doc. He was fiercely intelligent, a bit of a curmudgeon, and one of the funniest people I knew.

No matter the situation, he always managed to have the absolutely perfect, droll thing to say on his lips. He was the epitome of the old-style Southern gentleman, and he was always dressed stylishly and appropriately. In the summer, he wore seersucker suits, bow ties and Panama hats. After Labor Day he switched to navy blue suits and dark red ties. He liked his bourbon and cigars, and he always seemed to have a mischievous twinkle in his blue eyes. He walked with a cane now that he was older, and had been completely bald for as long as I could remember.

I paused long enough to take a look at myself in the plate glass window of the candle shop on the first floor of Doc’s building. I’d been working hard at the gym since Frank left. Now that I was in my thirties, my body seemed determined to develop love handles. Frank said he didn’t mind them, but I did. My goal was to be as lean as I’d been when we first met by the time he came home and I was making progress. The wet white bikini was unforgiving, but I didn’t see any pesky fat hanging over the sides. I winked at myself and dashed down the dark passageway alongside the building until I reached the back stairs. Another blast of wind brought up goose bumps on my skin as I climbed the stairs.  Doc was standing in the door to his apartment holding a huge fluffy white towel, which he handed to me. One of his gray eyebrows went up as he peered at me over his round gold spectacles.

 “It’s for the Gay Easter parade,” I explained as I toweled my hair and wrapped the towel around my waist. “I’m riding on the Devil’s Weed float.” The Devil’s Weed was the tobacco shop my parents ran on Royal Street.

 “And your mother decided you should dress up as a gay Easter Bunny,” he nodded as he stepped aside to let me in. “And to her, that means a white bikini with a cottontail and rabbit ears.” His eyes twinkled. “Now slip off that bikini—I’ll throw it in my dryer for a few minutes.”