Gold and Braid

Positive again this morning, despite waking up and feeling pretty good–and then I remembered the last few mornings were the same and it started kicking in about an hour after getting up. So, I am sitting here drinking my first cup of coffee, staring glumly at the two lines on my test strip, and waiting for this stupid virus to wake up inside my body and start fucking with me again. Ah, well, I should make use of this hour, shouldn’t I?

Yesterday was glum, really. I started experiencing fever for the first time since I tested positive last Friday or whenever it was, and that was particularly unpleasant. I did, however, realize hey one of the things you’ve never done is have things delivered rather than going to the store, and since I needed to be isolated from the world during this period, I thought why not go check and see if, say, Costco will deliver? So I went to their website, saw that yes, indeed, I could have an order delivered to my front door, and so I did. When Ashanti (my shopper/driver/delivery person) arrived, I put on rubber gloves and a N95 mask to go meet her at the gate–she saw the mask and gloves and wisely kept her distance (I have never before in my life understood how lepers must have felt back in the day the way I did when I saw the look on her face)–and then wore myself out lugging everything back to the Lost Apartment…but still, I got the stuff I needed. I couldn’t focus long enough to read anything–I had started Sandra SG Wong’s marvelous In the Dark We Forget at some point over the weekend, but I wasn’t really able to get far into it or focus on it yesterday, either–so I mostly spent the day under blankets in the easy chair trying to brainstorm and so forth on the things I am working on–without much luck. I also had a marketing meeting yesterday afternoon over the phone with Crooked Lane, which was daunting–reminding me again how far behind on everything I am, but it was nice for them to do and to give advice and tips on what to do, which was very cool. I also spent a good amount of time writing two emails–which ordinarily wouldn’t have taken long at all, but yesterday it took hours because of the inability to focus I mentioned–and after writing each, had to go sit and rest for a while as they wore me out. Dragging the Costco order back to the apartment in the heat also exhausted me.

Ah, there’s the muscle fatigue and joint aches I was missing when I woke up this morning.

Paul is feeling much better, which makes me tend to think he had it first and gave it to me (there’s no way of knowing, really, since it’s different with everyone) but I’m glad he’s feeling better, to be honest. If one of us has to be ill, I would prefer it to be me because I don’t worry about me the way I worry about him when he gets sick, if that makes sense at all? I hate that helpless feeling when someone you love isn’t feeling good and there’s not a damned thing you can do about it. That’s the absolute worst.

We’re watching Becoming Elizabeth, and I have to say–while I am certainly not an expert by any means on Tudor England or on Queen Elizabeth (I do have some knowledge–for example, at one point last night a new character was introduced and I thought, “I bet that’s Amy Robsart” and I was right) I have to say this is one of the most accurate fictional series based on history I’ve seen. There aren’t many books about the period when young Edward VI reigned–obviously, it’s talked about in other books from a sideways view, like Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots–and the only one I can actually think of is Mary M. Luke’s A Crown for Elizabeth, which detailed the Tudor period from the deaths of Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn through Elizabeth’s succession to the throne in 1558, and of course Carrolly Erickson’s marvelous Bloody Mary also covers this territory, but from Mary’s point of view. Sigh, I do love history, and watching this is making me want to reread not only Anya Seton’s Green Darkness but Philippa Carr’s The Miracle at St. Bruno’s.

And now I am feeling tired again, so am going to go sit for a spell. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

I Can Help

All Soul’s Day; November. Two months left in 2016, and before you know it, it’s 2017. Heavy heaving sigh. The time change is coming this weekend, which means it will be dark before five. This always feels oppressive to me; I truly despise Daylight Savings Time (although I always enjoy the extra hour in the fall; hurray for consistency!). But, if I am being honest, I am more productive in the winter. I read more and I certainly write more. And God knows, I have a lot of writing to do in the next few months.

Madness.

I had a mini-breakthrough the other day while feeling sorry for myself that Wicked Frat Boy Ways was turning out to be such a bitch to write. It was such a “d’oh” moment–and it not only applied to the work in progress, but also as to why I have so much trouble writing short stories that I literally wanted to pound my head on my desk until it was soft as an overripe melon.

Seriously, I do not understand how I have a career of any sort in writing. The end result, however, was a great insight on not only how to make this book ever so much better, but how I can make my short stories better. So now all I want to do is write, rewrite, revise, lather, rinse, repeat. True madness.

I’ve been reading The Bird’s Nest by Shirley Jackson. It’s about what was called at the time she wrote it “multiple personality disorder;” the term now is dissociative identity disorder. The book was originally published in 1954, was filmed as Lizzie with Eleanor Parker in the lead role, and prefaced the more famous book/film The Three Faces of Eve by three years; although Eve was a true story and not fiction (and won Joanne Woodward an Oscar). I’ve always been interested in DID; when I was a kid, of course, I saw it handled on the soap One Life to Live, and of course, in my teens was when Sybil became a huge bestseller (and TV movie starring Sally Field, who won an Emmy and was the turning point in her career when she started being taken seriously as an actress). That story was later debunked, I believe; but DID is something I’ve always wanted to write about, but at the same time not in an exploitative way. Maybe at some point…it would require a lot of research to do it properly.

Anyway, I digress. I’m enjoying The Bird’s Nest, but it is slow and harder going than Jackson’s short stories and her two exquisite novels The Haunting of Hill House and We Have Always Lived in the Castle, or her delightful memoir Life Among the Savages. Jackson’s style is definitely present there, but it’s different. I am also very curious to read the recent bio of her, to see where the ideas for The Bird’s Nest came from.

As I was so busy sticking to my horror theme for October, I wasn’t able to talk about many other things–my reread of Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots; the new gay-themed crime show Eyewitness; how much I’m enjoying the show Versailles; and so many other things–but I do look forward to talking about them now that I am no longer shackled to a theme here. (Hilarious, isn’t it? I can’t tell you how many mornings I’ve stared at the ‘post an entry’ page blankly, with no idea of what to write about…and then when I tie myself to a theme for a month the blog ideas burst forth from my head like Athena springing fully formed from Zeus’ forehead.

Oy.

I am also rereading Barbara Michaels’ sublime Be Buried in the Rain, and I do want to talk about Michaels some more at some point, as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Here’s today’s hunk:

hot-guy-on-the-beach

Cat’s in the Cradle

The death of Agnes Nixon this past week saddened me, and spurred me to write two blog posts about her greatest, and most famous, creations; All My Children and One Life to Live. I watched both shows, along with General Hospital, off and on for over thirty years; I only stopped watching soaps when I needed the time I spent watching them to write–a decision I’ve never really regretted all that much. But I watched, over the years, many different soaps at one time or another: The Edge of Night, Dark Shadows, Love of Life, Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, The Young and the Restless, Another World, Days of Our Lives, The Bold and the Beautiful, Capitol, Love is a Many Splendored Thing–it’s really quite staggering. And at night, I remember watching Peyton Place with my mom as a kid–although I don’t really remember much of it–and later, I was a huge Dynasty fan. I did watch Dallas, Knots Landing, and Falcon Crest during the 80’s night time soap heyday; I also watched others that didn’t last very long, like Emerald Point NAS, Flamingo Road, Paper Dolls, and Bare Essence.

It’s pretty safe to say I am a fan of the serial/continuing story format. When I was in college, I managed to get into a graduate level English course despite being an undergraduate because I was able to write a paper that was good enough to get me in; it was on Popular Culture in the 20th Century, and attendance wasn’t required–always a plus for me–and there were no tests; you only had to write a lengthy paper on some aspect of popular culture in the 20th century for your grade. I chose to write about soaps; the paper, which would wind up being 120 or so typewritten pages long, was title “How Changes in Daytime Drama Storylines Have Reflected Changes in American Culture and Society Since the 1950’s.”

God, how I wish I still had a copy of that paper.

I really wanted to work for the soaps in the 1980’s; my ambition switched from being a mystery and/or horror writer to being a soap writer. I still think it would be a lot of fun, even if there are very few soaps left to work for. But writing that paper required me to do a lot of research into the soaps and their histories; I’ve never minded doing research if it was a subject I was interested in. So, I kind of became a mini-expert in the soaps, and their histories, and there were a lot of interesting trends. It was interesting how moralistic the soaps were–something that hadn’t changed from their early days; back when there was a Motion Picture Code and a Comic Books Code, and censors for television (do they still have censors?); in which someone who did something bad always had to be found out and punished. (An interesting aside: one of the bad things that characters could do, and be forgiven/rehabilitated for and not necessarily punished for, was rape. But that’s a subject for another time–but I want to go on record to say that characters who had long runs on soaps, and in fact became very popular, at one time were rapists: Luke on General Hospital, Mickey on Days of Our Lives, John on As the World Turns, Roger on Guiding Light, Todd on One Life to Live; far too many for it to be a one-off, and enough to make it a trend. Even in prime time, on Dynasty Adam raped Kirby and was never prosecuted; she later agreed to marry her rapist.)

I even wrote, as a joke, a soap parody when I was in college, with my friends as characters. I called it The Young and the Pointless, and it was primarily for my amusement, and that of my friends. Basically, I looked at my friends and asked myself the question, if you were a character on a soap, what kind of character would you be?  I came up with the storylines myself; borrowing liberally from the storylines I’d learned so much about writing the paper, and ironically, my friends couldn’t get enough of it. They really became invested in the story; one even told me “My character wouldn’t say this.” Every day they would ask “have you written any new episodes?” It finally became over-bloated, because people who weren’t in it originally wanted to be, and I tried to be accomodating, and I cancelled it at long last midway through the third “season”. But it was a valuable learning experience for me, in that I learned that 1. I could write stories that interested people and made them want to keep reading; 2. I learned valuable lessons in creating characters and writing dialogue; and 3. I learned how to plot out a story. It was more like the classic parody SOAP than a real soap opera, but it was so much fun to write. I still have the originals somewhere–I’d always intended to type it up and make copies for the friends who were characters in it. Alas, some of them have died in the years since–a rather sobering thought–but The Young and the Pointless lives on in my files.

Yesterday LSU won, beating Missouri 42-7 at Tiger Stadium; their first win under interim head coach Ed Orgeron. LSU looked terrific; the defense played incredibly well, and the offense misfired a couple of times, but over all looked terrific. Unfortunately, it’s hard to tell if that was because they’ve come together as a team and are playing up to their potential, or if Missouri just isn’t particularly good; but LSU looked much sharper against Missouri than they did a few weeks ago against Jacksonville State. Their schedule now turns into Murderer’s Row, with games against Florida, Arkansas, Alabama, Ole Miss, and Texas A&M, so we shall see.

I wound up not being as productive yesterday as I’d intended; I did a lot of laundry and did some cleaning, but not all the cleaning I’d wanted to do. I also didn’t do any writing; I wound up getting sucked into watching some games on television (the last five minutes of the Georgia-Tennessee game was amazing; it reminded me of the last three minutes of the 2009 Georgia-LSU game, where LSU went ahead 12-7, only to fall behind with forty seconds left 13-12, but scored with less than twenty seconds left to pull off the win 20-14). Amazing.

I also spent some time opening Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots and reading random sections yesterday; I originally read the book when I was eleven. The Queen of Scots has always interested me, and also, she was one of that ‘monstrous regiment of women’ who held power in the sixteenth century–when, as I’ve mentioned before, more women were in positions of power throughout Europe than any time prior or since. I also read some of Barbara Tuchman’s essays in Practicing History, and again, thought about how much I would love to write a book about the sixteenth century.

God, how I love history.

And now, I need to make up for the work I didn’t get done yesterday, so it’s off to the spice mines I go.

Here’s a hunk for you to enjoy:

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