Kodachrome

Friday morning bliss.

It kind of feels like Saturday, which means I’m going to soon be completely disoriented, with no idea what day it is any day. Which is kind of lovely; I rather enjoy being a little off-kilter. It’s one of my many peculiarities; the vast number of weird idiosyncrasies housed inside my head. I didn’t sleep well at first last night, so I took something around two in the morning to help me sleep, so I wound up sleeping later than I usually do and am still a bit groggy this morning. While this is most definitely not a terrific start to my long weekend mini-vacation, I am going to roll with it. I am going to keep drinking my coffee, eat a little something (I forgot to eat yesterday, so my stomach is empty and deeply unhappy with me this morning), and perhaps retire to my easy chair a little later on to finish reading S. A. Cosby’s  My Darkest Prayer, which I am really enjoying.

I just hate that I have so little time to read during the week anymore. Books continue to pile up and the TBR pile grows like kudzu over a field in Alabama. But it’s okay; it’s always been that way around here; never enough time to read everything I want to read. That’s what it would say on my tombstone, were I to have one: NEVER ENOUGH TIME TO READ. (I do not intend to be buried or have any kind of tombstone/marker/any such thing; I want to be cremated and the ashes spread into the Mississippi River at Jackson Square–after all my organs are harvested)

I also suspect, given how groggy my body still feels (that first cup of coffee worked only on my brain thus far) that I most likely won’t be leaving the house today, other than taking recycling and/or garbage to the cans in the front of the house. I like those days, really; if I were given a choice I would probably never leave the house, which is one of the many reasons it’s probably best that I never have a work-at-home job ever again; I would never interact with people outside the artificiality of social media.

I do intend to write today–I have a couple of interviews I need to get done–and I’d like to maybe even get started on my next chapter of Bury Me in Shadows–and there are a ridiculous amount of emails that need to be answered or deleted in my various inboxes. A ridiculous amount–I’ve let them slide all week knowing I had a five-day weekend with which to deal with/answer them. I’m also going to launder the bed linens (it’s Friday, after all) and there’s also a load of laundry in the dryer that’s going to need to be folded and put away. The kitchen/office is messy–at least, it needs to be straightened up, and I of course need to move that stack of books off the counter, where I placed them in order to pose them for the obligatory stack of copies of the new book photos, which I took Thursday morning, methinks, or Wednesday night; I cannot be certain of when I precisely did take the pictures, as well as put together the stack of books to send to people to whom I owe copies of the book.

Which also means I need to go get envelopes to put them in–which means venturing out into the heat advisory to get them from the Office Depot on St. Charles. Heavy heaving sigh. I suppose there are worse things? I was also thinking it might be fun to get a pizza from That’s Amore this weekend (it IS my birthday weekend, after all), but that might need to wait until Saturday or Sunday.

Last night we watched Animal Kingdom, and after Paul retired upstairs to do his usual “night-before-work” prep, I watched a documentary about Bob Fosse on Youtube; Steam Heat, which was rather interesting. (As you might be thinking, my interest in Bob Fosse–and Gwen Verdon–came from watching Fosse Verdon, which was spectacular.) I find the Fosse choreographer/director aesthetic interesting; and I’ve also enjoyed watching old clips of Gwen Verdon performing live–there aren’t many, unfortunately; particularly when you consider she was one of the biggest Broadway stars of her time; she won more Tonys than any other major stage diva, including Ethel Merman and Mary Martin, but isn’t as well known as they are to modern audiences. Verdon’s virtuosity and charisma doesn’t come across as completely on film as it must have on stage, but you cannot help but admire the commitment and the dance ability she displayed. I was telling Paul how ubiquitous the music from Sweet Charity was at the time it was playing on Broadway. Everyone knew “If They Could See Me Now” and “Hey Big Spender”; it was interesting watching a clip of the latter from the film version and realizing that I knew all the words, every beat of the song, and every highlight–simply from watching variety shows on television in the late 1960’s.

And let’s face it–even the film version of Cabaret was right up Verdon’s alley had she been young enough; Sally Bowles is the kind of role she inhabited to perfection.

Which reminds me, I would like to watch Cabaret again. I watched it again a few years ago, for the first time since I was a teenager (when I didn’t get it at all; but was watching the disemboweled ‘cut-for-television’ version, where the bisexuality was completely erased from the film, which also removed the sense from the story), and was enthralled by its absolute brilliance. (I still think The Godfather is a far superior picture, but can see why Academy Awards voters went for it in so many categories at the time instead of voting for The Godfather.)

And maybe I should reread The Berlin Stories by Isherwood again. I did read most of the Isherwood oeuvre back in the day, but would probably appreciate his work more now than I did when I read them.

All right, I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read My Darkest Prayer for the rest of this morning.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

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I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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The Cover of the Rolling Stone

Wednesday! Huzzah!

Another lovely night of sleep last night; I was really tired. The two back-to-back twelve hours days have been wearing me out lately; combination of stress with all I  need to get done no doubt, and of course the heat of a New Orleans summer. The kitchen this morning is a bit of a mess, and I hope I have time this morning to get it straightened up a bit. The two short days begin tomorrow–huzzah!–and I need to get so much done it’s not even funny.

I finished Chapter Twenty last night; another 1400 words or so. I am hopeful to get back to my old 3000 per day total soon, but even if they are coming slower than I would like, I am getting them done–slowly but surely. I started to say that the words are terrible but I’ll take them; and then I remembered–Gregalicious, that is self-deprecation and haven’t we decided we aren’t doing that anymore? So, while Chapter Twenty is certainly not ready for the printers, it does what it’s supposed to do–move the story along, show us more about our main character and his burgeoning relationship with his love interest–and therefore, it needs some work but I am quite pleased with how it’s all turned out thus far. The next chapter is going to be trickier still than twenty was; there’s still a lot I need to have happen and revelations to come. But the end zone is in sight; if this were a college football game I’d be in the red zone, which is joyous.

Seriously, there were times when I thought I was never going to finish this draft.

As always, I am behind on everything; I am beginning to think that this is something I do to myself subconsciously to create the pressure which some part of my being thinks is necessary to get things done. I used to think I had a tendency to be self-defeating; that I was so afraid of succeeding that I deliberately set up road blocks to keep myself in a constant state of failure. I no longer think that I am self-defeating, although I do think I have a fear of success somewhat; why else do I keep doing things that apparently, according to all conventional wisdom, are the exact opposite of the things I am traditionally supposed to do in order to succeed?

We watched another episode of The Boys last night, and I have to say we are really enjoying this show. It’s getting progressively darker, and there’s also some scathing political commentary on the modern world as well. The parallels between the show’s United States and our current country’s recent history that are undeniably there, and frankly, we don’t come out of it looking too good–nor should we.

I’m hoping to read more of Steph Cha’s book today, and maybe even later when I get home tonight, if I don’t write for a while when I get off work this evening. There’s a new episode of Animal Kingdom available as well.

And football season is drawing ever closer. Tomorrow is August 1!

Where has this year gone already?

My toothache has almost completely gone away now; the tooth is still a little tender so I am aware of it, but as far soul-destroying pain, that’s no longer an issue. Huzzah indeed! I do need to go see the dentist though. Heavy sigh. I really loathe going to the dentist, but I suppose that’s fairly obvious given my teeth situation.

I am excited for football season; for the cooler weather and for both LSU and the Saints this year. LSU recently unveiled their new football training center, which is absolutely insane, and not without controversy; the battle between athletics and education is never-ending. Frankly, I’m deeply sympathetic to those on the side of education; LSU’s academic budget has been cut to the bone, majors have been decimated, and the campus library is in terrible condition. A brand new, $28 million state-of-the-art training facility for the football team at this time is kind of slap in the face to those worried about the state of higher education in this state. But the money wasn’t taken away from academics; the $28 million raised for this wasn’t taken away from academics but raised from donors who probably wouldn’t have given the money–or as much money–for a new library or to save a major that was being cut. LSU football, whether people like it or not, is big business now; and in fact some of the profits from the football team have been fed back into the University general funds since about 2012. Now, arguing about whether college football has become too big, too big time, and too much like professional sports–yep, college football has seen some enormous changes since I was a kid; it’s certainly not the same sport in 2019 that is was back in 1979, and those questions are valid and perhaps a debate we should be having.

But college football in 1979 was also vastly different from college football in 1959, or even 1969–when it was populated by mostly white players. I also agree that LSU desperately needs more money than the legislature is providing for it; maybe less tax cuts for the rich and for oil companies in Louisiana? Investments, not just in LSU but also in the University of Louisiana system, will pay off in the future for the state, and I’ve never understood why education has never been a priority for any politicians in Louisiana since Huey Long.

Of course, the argument could also be made that the political class isn’t interested in an educated populace; the more critically a person can think, the less likely they are to be swayed by emotional appeals based in nothing when they vote. One could also make this argument a national issue instead of just a state one; the decline of funding for education across the board on a national level over the last few decades is frankly scandalous.

But college sports didn’t create the education crisis, but it’s an incredibly easy target.

Or maybe as a lifelong college football fan (I only care about the Saints in the NFL) I am too hopelessly biased to opine on the matter.

But I will, nevertheless, continue to look forward to football season.

I also watched the third part of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills reunion, which wasn’t particularly interesting. The reunions aren’t my favorites, although if you don’t want to waste your time watching an entire season, you can pretty much catch up on everything by watching the reunions (I used to do this with the ones I didn’t watch much, like New Jersey and Orange County.) But once you’ve watched an entire season, the reunions aren’t as “explosive” as the promos promise.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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The Morning After

Today I will be testing in the Carevan, parked on Rampart Street near the New Orleans Athletic Club, for Tales of the Cocktail. It’s going to be hot as hell, and while there is climate control in the van–it’s still basically a parked RV. The eight hours I spent in there on National HIV Testing Day was rough, and I was exhausted. This is only four hours, but I have to take the streetcar and walk a few blocks in the heat both coming and going; so I imagine by the time I get into the cool of the Lost Apartment this afternoon, I’m going to be done for the day.

We got caught up on Archer and Animal Kingdom last night, both of which are terrific shows–this week’s Archer was the funniest one in a couple of seasons, at least in my opinion–and then it was an early night for one Gregalicious. I managed to not get any writing done last night, but I did get the dishes situation straightened out, and then of course I did several loads of laundry. Today after I get home from work I have to do the bed linens, and if I am not too terribly worn out from the heat I might be able to get some writing done tonight.

I spent a lot more time yesterday thinking about the concept of vanity. I’m not going to deny that part of the reason I started working out–and it took–when I was in my early thirties was entirely due to vanity. Yes, I wanted to feel better and be healthier–particularly as a smoker (I quit nine years ago finally, don’t @ me) but vanity also played a part in the decision to work out; I wanted to be healthier but I also wanted to look better. And as I mentioned yesterday, as the way people treated me better the less overweight and the more muscular I became, that “reward” helped drive me to go to the gym when I wasn’t feeling it, or when I wanted to lazy; I could remember the stimulus of the compliments, the smiles, the guys hitting on me in the gay bars, and that would motivate me to head to the gym when I didn’t want to go. Part of the reason now that it’s so difficult to get myself up for a workout is the vanity motivation is simply no longer there.

Which leads to another question: is it better to be vain–which is frowned upon in polite society, at least in theory–or is it better to no longer be vain because I feel older? Just because I am turning fifty-eight doesn’t mean I should stop caring about how I look or my appearance; but that’s also a part of the problem I have. I don’t care any more if anyone else thinks I’m fuckable, to go back to the Laura Lippman essay (I told you, it’s brilliant, and if you haven’t read it, you really should; I am still thinking about it several days later), and I’m not sure how I feel about that. That shouldn’t play a part in my decision as to whether I should work out or not; and yet, without having that small bit of vanity and pride no longer there as a driving force…I no longer go to the gym.

One of my younger co-workers complimented me yesterday, and asked me if I’d been working out, which I found mildly amusing, particularly since I’ve been blogging and thinking so much this week about body image and working out. It was a lovely compliment about my chest, and my automatic reaction, my default as always, was to self-deprecate. “Oh, God, no, I haven’t been to the gym in over a year and my chest isn’t that big; I have a big ribcage so it makes me look bigger than I actually am.” I then demonstrated to him how big my rib cage is, mainly by putting my hand on the ribs just below my pectoral muscles, and then cupping my right one in my right hand. “See? My chest isn’t that muscular, it just looks like it is.” Thinking about that now, why couldn’t I simply accept the compliment without tearing myself down in the process? Would it have been so hard to simply say, “Thank you! I’ve actually not worked out in quite some time, but I worked out for years and was a personal trainer and taught aerobics.” Just as honest, just as true as what I actually did say, but no deflecting of the compliment and no self-deprecation.

I’ve never been able to simply accept a compliment, and I think that’s a real problem.

Compliments have always made me uncomfortable, and for a writer, this can also be a serious problem. I’ve spent so much of my life trying very hard not to be arrogant, or come across as arrogant, that my default on every kind of compliment is to deflect and demur. I think I was in my twenties when I decided that if I self-deprecated, ran myself down, and humbled myself constantly, no one would ever think I was arrogant (which is a personality trait I really loathe in other people) and if I insulted myself no one else would.

As such, I have always belittled my accomplishments and never take credit for successes–but boy, will I ever obsess over failures! I also have this very bad tendency to never celebrate the moment because I am always looking, not only ahead, but at the things I don’t have, or haven’t accomplished yet. This is also incredibly self-defeating. I always tell people–as I did when I was a personal trainer–that you cannot compare your accomplishments with those of other people; you should only judge yourself against yourself. Would I love to have the career of certain other writers (Harlan Coben, Laura Lippman, Michael Connelly, etc.)? Of course I would, who wouldn’t? But just because I don’t have their careers doesn’t mean I am a failure at my own. I’ve done fairly well for myself, and have published a lot of books and short stories and an essay here and there. I’ve been nominated for a lot of awards and even won a few times–in fact, there are some I forget about when I try to list them. I have difficulty even remembering all the books published under my own  name, let alone those published under pseudonyms. I’ve been very active, first in the queer publishing community and more recently in the crime fiction community; I was even really active in the horror writing community–although I do see myself as more of a horror fan than a writer.

Is it so wrong to be proud of your accomplishments?  I really don’t think so. Last year, on the suggestion of a good friend who is also a writer, I wrote up a list of daily affirmations I intended to speak out loud every morning, because there’s something about saying things out loud that makes them more concrete, more solid, more real. As usual, I stopped saying them out loud after about a month or so, but the time I was actually doing it was an incredibly productive time–it was that time last year during which I wrote first drafts or more of like twenty short stories. I also still hold myself to the standard of those years when I was producing so many novels–it’s so incredibly easy to consistently defeat yourself–and think, oh, you haven’t had a book out in forever, you fucking loser.

I’ve spent most of my life deprogramming myself from so many things I was taught to believe and value as a child; I think one of the things I need to reprogram out of me is the self-deprecation and inability to take a compliment–I never know what to say other than thank you to readers I encounter who say lovely things to me–and stop being embarrassed when people say nice things to me. I should be able to accept a compliment without worrying about becoming arrogant.

Obviously, I need to work on myself; I am still, oddly enough, evolving and growing as a person and as a writer as my fifty-eighth birthday draws near.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader! I need to get back to the spice mines.

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I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby

I wrote twenty-three hundred and sixty-six words yesterday; a rather precise amount, I admit, but I am rather proud of them, as I’ve not written anything new in nearly two weeks, I think.

It was also new, nothing do with any of the many works in progress I am in the midst of; it was one of those things where the idea came to me, and I knew how to write the chapter, so I sat down and I did lest I forget it. I also wanted to see if I could get the voice right, the tone, and all of that. I think it kind of works, but I am going to let it sit for a moment or two (or weeks) and see what I think of it then.

It’s the first chapter of Chlorine, which is a start. Probably not what I needed to be writing or working on, but

I do want to get back to the WIP–and I’m not really sure why I keep calling it that. Why am I superstitious about sharing the title of this book? I like the title, and I believe I have even mentioned it before. I originally had the idea a million years ago, when I was a little boy. My grandmother–the not sane one–used to love to tell me stories about the past; she always swore on the Bible the stories were true, but I’ve long suspected that most of them were invented or stories she read somewhere–she did like to read, and encouraged both my sister and I to also read. I never wrote the stories she told me down, but I do remember bits and pieces of them, and one of those bits and pieces became a short story I wrote in college called “Ruins.” I wrote it as a ghost story, weaving what I remembered from my grandmother’s story into a modern-day story in a fictional county based on the one my family is from (I also planned to do a lot of writing about this fictional county when I was in college…I have published some work about the county; it’s where Scotty’s sorta-nephew Taylor is from and where Frank’s sister lives. It’s where my main character from Dark Tide  was from, and also where “Smalltown Boy” was set, along with various other short stories, like “Son of a Preacher Man”…so I’m using some of those old ideas today. There are also any number of short stories in some form of completion set there, and the current WIP is, of course, set there). I always thought “Ruins” (still unpublished) could be expanded into a pretty decent novel, and that’s what I am currently working on, have been for the last few months. I no longer call it “Ruins”–that title has already been used multiple times for a novel, and why invite comparison–but when I needed a new title, I wanted something more poetic. I started looking through poems (can you imagine? I know so little about poetry it’s staggering) and wanted something Barbara Michaels-ish. I decided to riff on her title Be Buried in the Rain, which is from a poem, and then a lyric from The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young” stuck in my head, and I started using that as the title, Bury Me in Satin. But that didn’t really work or fit, and it evolved into Bury Me in Shadows, which had the right creepy, spooky, Gothic feel to it that I wanted, that I am trying to get in the book. It’s a ghost story of sorts, it’s set in the woods of rural central-western Alabama, and there’s a ruin of a plantation back in the woods, which an archaeological team from the University of Alabama has started excavating. There’s a legend about the “lost boys” around the ruins; two boys who disappeared during the Civil War. I’m also working rural drug addiction into it, as well as the Klan, and racism and homophobia. It’s a lot, and it has to been done correctly, in order to get the points across that I want to make in the book. This is why it’s been such a slog, really. I am trying to make points about important topics without sounding too preachy-teachy, while trying to weave in an interesting story, all told from the point of view of a rather intelligent gay teenager from Chicago, who has to spend the summer in Alabama being the point person for the family while his grandmother, who has had several strokes, dies in her own crumbling Victorian style home from the late nineteenth century, and then the archaeologists discover the skeleton of a young man. Is he one of the lost boys from the Civil War, or is there something more sinister going on back in the woods?

I’m trying to write about race sensitively, without giving offense. I am trying to be conscious of my own internalized prejudices and bigotries, which is sadly a life-long process of deprogramming. (But that’s a subject for another time.) But I am hopeful that my own keen editorial eye will catch things in the editing process, and there’s also going to be my editor’s eyes on it. So, hopefully it won’t turn out to be yet another sad white person’s attempt to deal with race that turns out to be problematic.

I am also writing it in a style different than what I usually use–first person present tense, and it’s obvious when I reread chapters I’ve written that it’s not my default; I slip into the past tense very easily and naturally and because I’m so used to writing that way it’s easy for me to miss things in the wrong tense.

I’m up early because today returns normality to my life; this is my first work week that won’t be disrupted this month. First it was a brief vacation, and of course last week was disrupted by Barry. I got very little accomplished over the last few days–storm disruptions make it very hard to focus or get anything done, frankly; as you wait for the storm you don’t want to start anything in case you lose power suddenly, plus there’s the weird tension of waiting for the unexpected. When I walked to Touro to get my car yesterday and run by the grocery store, it was strange; the city was still deserted and lifeless. There were a few cars out driving but not the usual amount of people out and about on a Sunday, even in the rain. I actually think we got more rain yesterday than we did from the storm on Saturday, frankly. I was soaked by the time I got to the car–$21 is a very low price to pay to keep your car safe, to be honest–and of course, everything at the grocery store was on sale because it was old and ripe; I got a great deal on two enormous smooth avocados, and there were still some Creole tomatoes out, but the grocery store was still depleted from people stocking up for the storm. I came home, we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and last night we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me, a cute comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate MacKinnon. I love both women, and they worked very well together, and the plot was clever and funny enough to hold my attention, but it could have been better–but it was mostly the charisma of the two women, and their chemistry together, that made the film enjoyable.

So, wish me well on my first full week of work this month. It’s gray and drizzly outside my windows this fair morning; I’m hoping my shoes have dried out from yesterday as well. (note to self: order new shoes, you’re due.)

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again

It isn’t very often that I look back at the past. While memories and nostalgia can be quite lovely, they can also be a trap; it is far too easy to start second-guessing your life and thinking things like oh if only I’d done this or maybe if this hadn’t happened and so forth. Many years ago, shortly after I moved to Minneapolis to live with Paul, I gave up on looking back. The truth was, no matter how many bad decisions or wrong turns I’d made in my life, no matter how many shitty things I endured, no matter how many times a friend betrayed me or whatever…the truth was everything in my past was part and parcel of who I am today and my life would be different now if any of those things had changed; so having regrets about the past and playing the if only game indicated that I was, in fact, not happy with my life at the present time because why else would I want to change something in my past if not to change the present?

And I’m pretty fucking happy with my life and my career(s). I do love my day job, where I get to  help people every day, and I love my writing career. I marvel from time to time that I have one at all; it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember–I remember being a little boy and getting my weekly Scholastic book club books, sitting on the back porch of our little apartment in Chicago and reading them, and thinking that what I wanted to do when I grew up was write books for people to read and enjoy, the way I read and enjoyed books. Are there times when I wish I was more successful? Of course there are; I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have some ambition. And really, while some of that ambition is about making more money, it’s mostly about writing more complex stories and exploring complicated themes and characters.

Right now I have three unpublished manuscripts here in the Lost Apartment; one has been languishing in a drawer after two drafts for nearly seven years, another has gone through five drafts and needs one more to correct everything then another to polish; and the partial I am currently working on (which is like pulling teeth for me, for some reason. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to write this book…). I want to spend probably the rest of this year getting those manuscripts ready for publication before I start writing yet another; I am also working on a proposal for a potential new series, and I have another idea for a stand alone thriller….there’s also an amorphous Scotty book swirling around in the mists in the creative part of my brain. I also would like to do another short story collection, but I need to get those stories written and sent out. I also want to do an essay collection.

Yesterday was a lost day for me, because I was tired all day. I didn’t sleep particularly well either night of the weekend; I was asleep and resting, but not a deep sleep that rests up everything; more of a I’m sort of asleep and wake up every few hours. This made my twelve hour shift yesterday more of a survival thing rather than a participatory day–I was present, and I gave my clients excellent service yesterday (I am, he typed modestly, extremely good at my day job), but I was too tired to really function mentally and creatively. When I got home last night, I was too tired to do much of anything other than stream the first two episodes of the new season of Archer, which I love–even though it’s not quite as good as the earlier seasons were. I’m also considering buying the first season of The Other Two, which isn’t available to stream for free anywhere, I’ve heard good things, and it’s only ten bucks…I hate paying for anything television, but since getting rid of the cable service and using Hulu’s streaming service, even with subscriptions to certain services (HBO, Showtime, ESPN) I still am paying less than I  used when I had cable, so paying to watch a TV show isn’t that bad of a thing. Animal Kingdom has also returned, and we’re watching it as well–and in just over two months college football and the Saints will be back, taking over my weekends. I’m taking a long weekend around the 4th of July–five days; it falls on a Thursday so I am taking Wednesday and Friday to go with it.

Anyway, to bring this back around to the first paragraph, as I said yesterday being interviewed for the Writer Types podcast put me into a reflective mood, looking back at my past–and part of that is also the current WIP, which requires me to probe memories of my childhood summers in Alabama to make the book come to life–and that, in turn, brings back other memories and reflections. At first, I resisted the rabbit holes of memories that were flooding through my brain, determined to never look back–but I also think part of that was not wanting to remember mistakes made and revisiting bad decisions. But embracing the memories hasn’t made them rosier and glossier; but I am able now, with the proper time and distance, to examine them dispassionately and deconstruct how and why, and the lessons learned from them.

And that isn’t a bad thing, really.

I was talking to my co-workers last night about how much change I’ve seen throughout my life–not just for the queer community, but for women and people of color–and even though none of us in those groupings have achieved true equality yet, we’re closer than ever and getting closer every day.

It’s also amazing how patchy my memory is–as I told Eric and Steve during the podcast, the years from 2005-2009 are mostly blanks, which I have learned is a result of the PTSD created by everything from Paul’s gaybashing through the Christian attacks to Katrina and it’s aftermath; it’s not unusual for people to have memory gaps after that kind of emotional trauma.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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