Too Far from Texas

I used to think you could never be too far from Texas, in all honesty, despite my deep appreciation and affection not only for Houston (I lived there for a time) but for all my marvelous friends in Texas. Murder by the Book, the only mainstream mystery bookstore that would allow me to have events in their store when I first published, always holds a deep place of affection within my heart and soul; I love that store, and of course, I also love me some Whataburger.

Whataburger alone makes Texas worth visiting, to be honest.

The Chanse MacLeod series was originally going to be set in Houston. I created him, and actually started writing about him, while i lived in Texas from 1989-1991. I remember distinctly that he had an office and a pager, as well as a secretary and an off-hours answering service…clearly, I didn’t understand how private investigators actually worked and was basing everything off movies, books, and television programs. But I do recall the name of the first book was going to be The Body in the Bayou–and Chanse was also straight in his original iteration–and it wasn’t until later (after my birthday visit here in 1994) that I decided to move it to New Orleans, and of course by the time I started rewriting the New Orleans version, I’d discovered gay mysteries and so of course, I changed his sexuality (I’ve never once regretted that either, I might add). I also put The Body in the Bayou aside and started writing a whole new murder mystery for him (Murder in the Rue Dauphine) that eventually became my first published book. Chanse remained from Texas–a small town in east Texas called Cottonwood Wells–and I even wrote a short story where Chanse goes back home to that small town. (I’d always wanted to write a book where he goes back home and has to deal with memories and so forth; I just never got around to it and his original publisher always made the sign of the cross at me whenever I suggested, “hey, should I set the next one in Chanse’s home town, where he has to go to clear up a crime someone from his past is accused of?”) Cottonwood Wells also popped up in earlier drafts of #shedeservedit, as where main character Alex’ family was originally from; that eventually got edited out over the final drafts.

Sunday morning and I slept late, and even after waking, stayed in the bed for a while longer. It felt very comfortable and my body was very relaxed, which was lovely, and I didn’t really want to get out of the bed, to be honest. I made swedish meatballs last night for dinner and left the mess for this morning (I am now cursing lazy Greg last night who made that decision–part of the reason I made this decision was I realized while cooking that the dishwasher had a clean load in it that needed to be put away, and it was a pain in the ass to do while cooking and trying to time everything) and I didn’t really want to come downstairs and face the mess. I did get some cleaning and organizing done yesterday–I did the kitchen floors at long last–and I also worked on the living room some. I wrote about fifteen hundred words yesterday to flex my writing muscles a little bit–I’ll probably go back over them again today as I write more–and I also have to get the proofs for Streetcar significantly finished today. I also want to work on the new Scotty a little bit as well. We’ll see how much I can get done this morning/afternoon before Paul gets up–although he is going to go into the office today; there was a lot of thunderstorms yesterday and street flooding, so he and the IT guy rescheduled for today (can’t say as I blame him, we were in and out of flash flood alerts all day yesterday; the joys of the tropics in the summer) which will free up this afternoon for proofing.

My self-care appointment (okay, it was a back wax; someday I will write an essay about my issues with body hair) went well and after that, I swung by and picked up the mail. On my way back home I stopped at the Fresh Market (I rarely shop there; I always forget it’s there) to get a few things, and while it is more expensive than other places, I like shopping there. The fruit and vegetables always seem much fresher, and rather than buying prepackaged ground sirloin, I instead got it from the butcher counter, remembering suddenly that it’s fresher that way–and those meatballs turned out superlatively. I think in the future I might shop there a little more regularly. They don’t carry everything I would need, of course–that would make life too easy–but for meats and fruit and vegetables…well, it really cannot be beaten. I spent some more time with In the Dark We Forget–which I am also going to do this morning for a bit, it’s really good and I want to find out what happened to Cleo and her parents–for the rest of this morning, and then I need to vacuum the living room at some point (I swept up the floor in there last night as well, and tried to get it to look cleaner and better organized in there as well; it’s amazing what a difference the clean floor makes). So, a busy busy day for one Gregalicious. But that’s fine, I kind of like having things to do…it’s just when I have so much to do the thought of it is soul-crushing and defeating that I don’t like it.

We started watching The Anarchists on HBO MAX last night, and it’s….something, all right. It’s also interesting how these people chose to define “anarchy” as something other than what most people generally accept it as meaning; but they were using the actual definition of anarchy rather than the societal definition. I always laugh at people who think that laws and rules and regulations are things that restrict freedom and are unnecessary in a society; it’s really just another branch of libertarianism or Ayn Rand’s insane “objectivism”–those laws and rules and regulations exist because they were necessary, because human beings tend to always operate by putting their own needs first. Regulations exist because food manufacturers regularly sold bad, or dangerous, food to the general public because there were no regulations and no one keeping them honest; robber barons created monopolies to exploit the public and make themselves rich (Bezos, Musk, etc are simply the modern day version of the robber barons) at the expense of the needy; hence we needed government intervention to prevent abuses. I’ve never understood the mentality of “oh, if we do away with regulations and laws and rules we’ll all live together in peaceful harmony” because there’s always at least ONE asshole in every group.

ALWAYS.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, put the clean dishes away, and go read for a bit. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and we’ll talk again tomorrow, if not later. (I’ve been going down the Stevie Nicks discography for my titles, and some of them–along with some of them from other song lists I was using before–wind up having the same titles as some of my books, and I’ve decided–see yesterday’s post about Sleeping Angel–that when I have a blog list song title that matches the title of one of my books, I am going to post about the book. Right now, I have Timothy in my stored draft blogs folder, and I think there’s another called “Watching Scotty Grow” in which I am trying to write the history of the series, which could be helpful as I am writing Book Nine at the moment, and since I am doing Stevie’s discography, that means Sara will also be coming up at some point.)

Stay Beautiful

I really do miss the gym.

All those years of inactivity, and of not going to the gym, and now of course I am becoming more acutely aware of how soft, saggy, and squishy my body has become. Heavy sigh. But, per my new mentality and outlook on life that I am trying to implement, I am not going to allow myself to regret said last time or anything of that nature, and simply will try to find time in each week to not only get a nice stretch done, but to do some crunches and possibly push-ups; based on the theory that some exercise is better than none. And I also know it helps make me feel better; I have one of those round ridged things that you can roll your back over to self-massage (I am describing this badly, well aware) and I used it yesterday, and felt exponentially better; I am going to try to use it as many days I can remember to do so. Self-care is always crucial, and during these difficult and strange times in which we find ourselves, even more so.

Yesterday morning I got up an hour earlier than I usually do on Mondays; something I was resisting doing because I am not now, nor have ever been, much of a morning person, and the thought of getting up at or around six in the morning was anathema to me. But I did it, and had coffee and breakfast and woke myself up a great deal more than usual, and I even managed to get to work early and have a jump on the day–and that was actually lovely. When I got home from work I was tired; very tired–partly from getting up so early and partly because there was some minor stress involved at work in the afternoon; I  was required to do some problem-solving, and while (he typed modestly) it’s something I am actually quite good at, it’s still draining and stressful and tiring while I am in the midst of it, and particularly when the adrenaline from the stress finally drains away. I came home and tucked myself up in my easy chair with Little Fires Everywhere (I cannot emphasize enough how much I am enjoying this book) and then did some organizing and cleaning in my office while the LSU-Texas A&M game from last season played on Youtube as delightful background noise while I waited for Paul to come home.

After Paul got home–and I read some more–we settled in to watch this week’s episode of The Vow, during which I kept dozing off, which I thought meant I had a lovely night’s sleep ahead of me. Alas, my old friend insomnia came back for a visit last evening, and so while I was enormously relaxed and comfortable in the bed, my mind never completely shut down, so I was partially awake for the majority, if not all, of the night, I’m not tired per se this morning as I drink my coffee, nor am I groggy; but I don’t have high hopes for a productive day other than seeing my clients. It’s definitely fine; I suppose–what other choice do I have, really–but a good night’s sleep would obviously have been more preferable. Ah, well, perhaps tonight that will happen–Lord knows I should be tired and sleepy tonight.

I also started working on a new short story for some reason last night instead of working on the book; reading Little Fires Everywhere started making me think of a new story–as good writing always does inspire me–and I wanted to write the opening down before I forgot it; it didn’t quite go the way I’d planned, as these things never really do, and it is definitely veering off the track I’d originally intended for it to go, but it’s called “Noblesse Oblige”–the relationship between Mrs. Richardson and Mia in the book made me start thinking about a certain kind of wealthy, or upper middle class, woman; whom I generally tend to refer to as “limousine liberals”–the kind who are all about the right causes and doing what they can to help those who aren’t as privileged as they are, but don’t want to get too close to those underprivileged people and are inevitably surprised and shocked when their “generosity” isn’t met with the worshipful adoration and gratitude they feel it should be–and become resentful. You know, the ones who say things like “after everything I’ve done for you”–which, to me, has become an incredibly loaded statement.

While the show Friends hasn’t aged terribly well, every so often there was an episode that was absolutely (and probably accidentally) insightful about the human condition; this was one in which Joey and Phoebe had an argument about doing charity work or doing things for other people; Joey’s position (which, ironically, was the same as Ayn Rand’s) was that there was no such thing as a selfless act, because even the most noble person gets a sense of satisfaction after doing something charitable. Phoebe, who “didn’t want to live in a world where Joey was right, desperately spent the entire episode trying, and failing, to prove Joey wrong. It was so strange to me, and jarring, to see a philosophy of Ayn Rand’s being illustrated so perfectly on a situation comedy on my television screen that I never forgot the episode (yes, I’ve read Ayn Rand; but unlike many who profess to be her devotees and acolytes I have read beyond Atlas Shrugged and The Fountainhead; I also read her other novels–Anthem, We the Living–and most of her non-fiction as well–which is why I find the modern day political posturing of those who profess to be her followers revolting and a bastardization of her philosophy; because they clearly haven’t read anything beyond the two novels that she used to illustrate her beliefs and values. For the record, I believe her philosophy and theories were interesting, but ultimately would never truly work because they weren’t based in any sort of reality–however, the purpose of this entry is not to point out the fallacies in Randian philosophy and this is merely a sidebar); and I think about it every now and again whenever I am presented with someone’s “good works”.  One is never supposed to question someone’s motives for doing something charitable; it is always to be assumed they are doing it because they are a good, generous, kind and giving person; and it is cynical to question the motives behind charity: that the reason and motives behind the act aren’t important and shouldn’t be questions because the act is, in and of itself, such a good thing that it should be above reproach.

And while there is some truth to that, I always question motives, and if that makes me a cynic, so be it. I do a lot of volunteer work, and I’ve donated writing to charity anthologies over the years, and have edited, for free, others. Inevitably, though, I do gain something from all of this: self-satisfaction in helping others because I enjoy it, my name on the spine of a book is promotional even if I did the editing for free, and the same with the donated short stories–if someone who has never read my work before reads one of the donated stories and likes it, there’s always the possibility they will buy my other work–so inevitably the donation works as promotional material for my career. And I do get some satisfaction from helping people–it makes me feel good about myself, makes me feel like I am a better person than I probably am, and there’s also a sense of paying a cosmic, karmic debt in advance–the idea that doing something to help other people either repays people who’ve helped me, or will be banked so that someone will help me out in the future.

Which probably isn’t how that works, is it?

And on that philosophical note, tis off to the spice mines with me.

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Also Sprach Zarathustra

Yesterday was a day.

Never mind why–it is simply too tedious for me to get into any detail and trust me, you’d be bored to tears–but the one nice thing about it was once it was finally over and donw with and I was safely inside the Lost Apartment and in my LSU sweats, with a purring kitty sleeping in my lap, I was able to rate rested and relaxed and now, hopefully I’ll be able to get my life back under some kind of control. That would be so lovely.I work a longer day now on Fridays–five hours instead of four–but shifting to coming in later in the day was an extremely smart move.

But the good news is that I was able to finally finish reading Rob Hart’s wonderful novel, The Warehouse.

the warehouse

Well, I’m dying!

A lot of men make it to the end of their life and they don’t know they’ve reached it. Just the lights go off one day. Here I am with a deadline.

I don’t have time to write a book about my life, like everyone has been telling me I should, so this’ll have to do. A blog seems pretty fitting, doesn’t it? I haven’t been sleeping much lately, so this gives me something to keep myself occupied at night.

Anyway, sleep is for people who lack ambition.

The rise in popularity  in dystopian fiction since the turn of the century isn’t really that difficult to understand; the world is kind of on fire and each day we seem to be inching our way to the inevitable collapse of civilization as we now know it. I do recognize how pessimistic that thought is, but it’s one I’ve been finding myself having more and more as the years have passed since the century dawned with so much promise back in 1/1/00. Remember how exciting the new century seemed back then, when it was fresh and new and full of promises? Yeah, well. Who knew? I wonder if people felt the same way in 1919…but given they’d just gotten through the first world war and the Spanish flu pandemic that killed millions, probably.

Early in the 1990’s, as queer equality issues began to become more and more mainstream–with the inevitable holier-than-thou nasty religious pushback–I wrote down many pages of thoughts and ideas I had about a dystopian future world, one in which queer people finally obtained equality only for there to be a horrific and horrendous pushback, similar to the one depicted in Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale that pushed back against feminism and women’s equality. I saw an America where evangelical Christianity was encoded into our law; where people of color and other undesirables began to disappear as they were blamed from everything wrong with modern society and the economy; and where those unaffected by those prejudices and legalized bigotry turned a blind eye to the suffering of fellow Americans as long as they could pay their bills and buy nice things for their family. Since that original idea–which was easy to scoff at by friends I talked about it with, as they weren’t queer or marginalized–I’ve come back to that idea, time and again, as the idea sometimes seems to be taking root in reality. I tend to avoid dystopian fiction, as a general rule; I’ve read Brave New World, 1984, The Stand, Alas Babylon, The Handmaid’s Tale and many others; I’ve watched the Mad Max films. I generally try to avoid it, to be honest; I find our the dystopia evident in our reality far more frightening and oppressive than anything I might find in fiction.

But I couldn’t get into The Hunger Games  or any of the others published in the twenty-first century to great sales and acclaim; just had zero to no interest. I got into the zombie apocalypse stuff for a while, with The Walking Dead, but even it eventually devolved into misery/torture porn and I lost interest.

But Rob Hart’s The Warehouse…I don’t know; for some reason as soon as I heard the concept behind it, months before its publication date, I knew I wanted to read it. Part of the exhausting frustration I’ve felt over the last few weeks as I slogged away at the volunteer project has partly been due to my inability to spend more than twenty minutes or so at a time with the book; the one good thing, as I said already, about today’s errands was the ability to sit in a waiting room for long stretches of time with nothing to do other than read–and occasionally delete emails from my phone.

What a wonderful, frightening, and all too realistic book Rob Hart has gifted the world with!

The Warehouse is set in a world in the not-too-distant future where almost everything has collapsed. This collapse of functionality of the general society isn’t explained; but it has to do with climate change and economic shifts and rising seas. One company, Cloud, which allows everyone to buy everything they need on-line and have it delivered quickly via drones, with MotherClouds scattered all over the United States, has pretty much monopolized means of production and delivery; their employees are given free housing and so forth and live in climate controlled dorms that are all connected with the warehouses and entertainment complexes; enclosed cities, where your every move and your every purchase is monitored. There’s health care and communal bathrooms and showers and you need your Cloud wristband to get anywhere or do anything.

Sound all too frighteningly familiar?

The story is told from three different points of view; the book opens with with a blog entry from Gibson, the man who thought up and founded Cloud and became worth billions as he essentially took over the United States; Paxton, a small business owner who invented a thing called Perfect Egg, so that you could make a perfect hardboiled egg in the microwave and peel it perfectly every time, a business that flourished until Cloud’s demands for deeper and deeper discounts eventually forced him out of business and has now landed a job there; and Zinnia, a young woman we don’t know much about who is also starting work there, but she has an ulterior motive. Zinnia and Paxton eventually cross paths, become friends, and as he works security, she begins manipulating him for information as she also starts to develop feelings for him.

It’s a terrific story, very well told, with very smart things to say about capitalism, consumerism, and how easy it is to compromise your principles in exchange for security. Bright and intelligent and well-written, you can’t help rooting for both Paxton and Zinnia to somehow make it through everything and somehow come out on top.

Most dystopian tales deal with the aftermath of nuclear war, or Big Government taking over, or some kind of religious fascism, but rarely, if ever, has the dystopia arisen out of capitalism and consumerism, and Rob Hart hits the bull’s eye squarely with this one. (Well, also Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand, but Ayn Rand deserves many posts all by herself, and she wishes she had one tenth of Rob Hart’s story-telling skill)

This is destined to be a classic, and I do hope Ron Howard does the story justice on film.

In closing this, I’d like to thank Rob–and other writers like him, like Ben Winters and Adam Sternbergh–for pushing the envelope of the crime genre, melding crime and speculative fiction in clever, innovative stories that broaden our genre and enable them to tell bigger stories than we customarily see in crime fiction. I loved this book from start to finish, and it’s so layered and clever–the development of Gibson, through his blog entries, his justifications for his egotism and so forth, was chillingly genius.

Read this book. It’s amazing.

Drift Away

Good morning, Tuesday; the last day before a long and glorious fourth of July celebratory vacation weekend for the Gregalicious.

I managed almost two thousand words on the WIP last night when I got home from work last night, before Scooter’s lonely neediness kicked into full gear. I also managed to get the rest of the dishes done and loaded into the dishwasher, so all in all, the evening was a win on every level. Huzzah!

I also slept well somehow Sunday night and was totally rested and fine all day yesterday’; no being tired, no being brain dead, none of the usual nonsense on one of my long days, and I suspect that was primarily adrenaline from knowing I don’t have to work all week (HUZZAH!). I also got the final version of the manuscript i was editing into the publisher (check that off the list) and then also got started reading a short story I am reading for a friend–it’s quite a good story, in fact, I’m sure you will all get to read it someday.

So, it was quite a Monday for one Gregalicious. Let’s see how long I can keep this roll going.

I slept well again last night; I went to bed around ten and slept beautifully and restfully the entire night; not even waking up once, which was quite lovely. So this morning I am feeling extremely rested and able to get going, which is again quite lovely. Tonight I will come home and watch the season finale of what is one of the worst seasons ever of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills; so bad, in fact, that I may not continue watching when the next season rolls around. I have, however, apparently replaced it in my affections with Southern Charm New Orleans, which has sucked me in completely and I am not certain why; it’s first season was so atrocious, and the only explanation I can think of is that it’s the bromance between Jon Moody and Jeff Charleston; we’ll see how long they can hold my attention before i get bored and move on. Although I am hearing things about this season of Real Housewives of Potomac that might bear investigating.

Tomorrow I can sleep late and do whatever it is that I want to do, because I am on vacation and Paul is out of town. I want to finish reading I the Jury, which I will probably also work on today between clients–I did come up with an interesting idea for an essay, using Mike Hammer to extrapolate out further to toxic masculinity and the American male, and can even tie in Ayn Rand, who I’ve been wanting to write about for quite some time–I even wrote the intro to the essay last night. I have no market for essays, of course; but I am doing a collection, which is slowly but surely coming together. Will my collection of essays find an audience? Highly unlikely, but it’s something I’d like to do. I’ve done so much essay writing and journalism over the years, it would be kind of nice to collect it all in one place, and an essay collection is certainly more easy than writing a memoir no one would want to read.

And after I conclude reading the Spillane, I am either going to move on to Kristin Lepionka’s first novel, or to Angie Kim’s debut; I’ve heard terrific things about both, and I was on a panel with Kristin in St. Petersburg and she impressed me with her intelligence and wit. She also has picked up the baton on promoting queer writers, which I appreciate.

I have to say that working on the Diversity Project this year has been incredibly enjoyable for me; I am only disappointed that it took me so long to diversify my reading list.

I will do better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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Little Willy

Today’s title song always kind of amused when it was a hit; I was a tween at the time and since willy is also a euphemism for…well, you can see where this is going.

I found it highly (if more than a little bit juvenile) amusing that someone wrote a song about a small penis.

Hello, Monday morning of my sort-of-vacation! The vacation starts Tuesday evening when I get off work, actually, but it’s also kind of lovely to know I only have to work my two long days at the office this week before I can lounge around the house and do what I want when I want to do it. How lovely, right?

I did manage to squeeze out about thirteen hundred words or so on the WIP, and I also printed out the pages of the manuscript i am suppose to be dedicating myself to finishing in July. (I’ve already redone the first four chapters of it before I had to push it to the side for Royal Street Reveillon, whose time had come.) I did look at the first few pages again, and liked what I was reading. So, I’m still undecided about what to do. Should I push through on the WIP, getting that first draft finished, or should I get back to work on what I scheduled myself to do for the month of July? Truth be told, I am actually thinking that what with the five day vacation looming, I could theoretically go back and forth between the two; but the voices are so terribly different, I’m not sure how well that would work.

Yet another example of why writers drink.

I started reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury yesterday as well. It’s a short novel, really, and I can’t imagine it taking a long time for me to finish. I’ve never read Spillane, but of course I know all about him, his writing, his character Mike Hammer, and everything he kind of stood for. Spillane was one of the last writers who kind of became a folk hero/celebrity of sorts; it was a lot more common back in the 1950’s and 1960’s; Hemingway, Spillane, Gore Vidal, Truman Capote, and Norman Mailer all were celebrities of sorts; I believe Spillane even played his own character in one of the film versions of his work. He also used to regularly appear in commercials and advertisements as Mike Hammer in the 1970’s, which is kind of hard to imagine now. It would be sort of like Stephen King being hired to do commercials and print ads for, I don’t know, Jim Beam? The author as celebrity is something I’m not sorry we’ve gotten away from as a society and a culture, quite frankly. The idea behind reading I the Jury as part of the Diversity Experiment is precisely because it’s the kind of book I’d never really read; Sarah Weinman asked the other day on Twitter if Spillane counted as camp (I personally think it does; my responses was something along the lines of “Imagine Leslie Nielsen playing him”) and then realized I needed to read at least one of the books, as part of the Diversity Project.

But Gregalicious, you might be wondering, why are you reading a straight white male novelist writing about what basically is the epitome of toxic masculinity in his character Mike Hammer?

Well, first of all, the name of the character itself: Mike Hammer. It almost sounds like a parody of the private eye novel, doesn’t it, something dreamed up by the guys who wrote Airplane! and not an actual novel/character to be taken seriously. We also have to take into consideration that Spillane’s books were also, for whatever reason, enormously popular; the books practically flew off the shelves. (Mike Hammer is actually one of the best gay porn star names of all time; alas, it was never used in that capacity.)

But it’s also difficult to understand our genre, where it came from, and how far it has come, without reading Spillane; Spillane, more so than Hammett or Chandler, developed the classic trope of the hard-boiled male private eye and took it to the farthest extreme of toxic masculinity. Plus, there’s the camp aesthetic I was talking about before to look for as well.

Chanse was intended to be the gay version of the hardboiled private eye; I patterned him more after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than anything or anyone else. But reading a macho, tough guy heterosexual male character from a toxic masculine male author is also completely out of my wheelhouse; and therefore, it sort of fits into the Diversity Project along the lines of well, the idea is to read things you don’t ordinarily read; not just writers of color or different gender identities or sexualities than your own.

And there’s also an entire essay in Ayn Rand’s nonfiction collection of essays on art devoted to Mickey Spillane; it should come as no surprise to anyone who’s ever read any of Rand’s fiction that she was a huge fan of Spillane. Given what a shitty writer Rand was, that’s hardly a ringing endorsement–but it also gives me something else to look out for as I read Spillane’s short novel.

There’s also a reference to Spillane in one of my favorite novels, Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show–in which some of the  boys are wondering if blondes have blonde pubic hair, and “the panty-dropping scene in I the Jury” is referenced.

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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