Christmas Tree Farm

And now it’s Christmas. I woke up this chilly morning to a barrage of well wishes in my inbox; thanks, companies who have my email address; I appreciate your concerns about my holiday and how it is going to go. It’s cold this morning, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining and there are no clouds to be seen anywhere in the sky; it was also cold yesterday but much more dreary outside. This morning appears to be one of those mornings where it feels colder inside than it does outside.

I was a slug yesterday, admittedly so. I just didn’t have the energy or the inspiration or the drive to do a whole lot of anything all day–i feared this would be the case, and was proven, rather early on, to be correct. I spent the morning finishing reading The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and yes, this was magnificent research for Chlorine, but at the same time is was a fascinating journey into what it was like to be gay in the entertainment industry in the post-war period, and needless to say, it was a fascinating read. And while it was completely impossible to feel deep sympathy for Henry Willson–he did terrible things, and used his power to force beautiful young men with Hollywood aspirations and dreams into having sex with him, among many other terrible things; and although it was also the era when beautiful young women also had to have sex with producers, directors and studio executives to get ahead, that doesn’t lessen, or in any way mitigate, what he was doing to those young men. Willson was gay but was also homophobic, and serves as an interesting case study into the mentality that drives and draws gay men into sociopolitical conservatism–and the cognitive dissonance that must exist in order to embrace a self-loathing world view. Willson was a friend of Roy Cohn, probably the most horrible gay man to ever exist in this country, but that friendship really came as no surprise. Reading the book was a fascinating, if horrifying, reminder that it wasn’t all that long ago that the closet was the only option and going to a club or being involved with another man or even going to a private party, was putting everything in your life–career, family, whatever–in jeopardy.

And needless to say, I have a lot of great ideas now to work into Chlorine; I’d say this book was probably the single most important resource I’ve come across in my research for the book–more so than even Tab Hunter’s memoir or the biographies of Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift; yesterday afternoon as I digested what I’d read, plot twists and story kept coming to me–scenes, character development–and I am, as always, looking forward to that day in the now not so distant future when I’ll be able to write this book…although I am also thinking reading a biography of Anthony Perkins also might not be such a bad idea.

We finished watching Tiny Pretty Things yesterday, and I have to say it was quite delightful fun–but the dialogue! OMG, the dialogue was sometimes so jarringly bad it took me right out of the show. I don’t blame the cast at all–some of the dialogue was so fucking bad not even Streep or Lange or DeNiro or Pacino could have made it work–but everything else about the show was marvelous. It was well plotted and planned very well; apparently there are two novels set in that ballet school, and the first season ended with an amazing cliff-hanger as well to set up the second season, even if the crime from the first was still unresolved–at least, thus far. I’ve always thought ballet was the perfect setting for noir–the sacrifices it requires, the commitment necessary, and the willingness and desire to push your body through incredible pain to achieve great beauty…it’s amazing to me. Do I wish I had some ballet training? Kind of, although I don’t think as a child I would have had the drive to push myself through the pain…but you also never know. I’ve always been able to commit fully to things I’m interested in or enjoy; the question would be whether or not I would have enjoyed it enough to commit to it. Hard to say, really.

I do know if and when I start writing about ballet, I’ll need to immerse myself in it. I do think the young men who commit so fully to dance–particular in our culture and society, which still sees such things as “unmanly” and “gay”–are fascinating, and most books about ballet–shows, etc–inevitably default to the female point of view and perspective; no one has, to the best of my knowledge, ever really delved into the world of ballet from that masculine perspective.

We also watched the second episode of The Stand, which isn’t really generating a lot of buzz as it airs; which is kind of curious to me. Someone mentioned it on Twitter last night, something along the lines of “How bad must this version of The Stand be if there’s no on-line discussion of how hot Alexander Skarsgard is in it?” I hadn’t really thought about it–I’m kind of enjoying the non-linear story-telling technique they are using, even if it does kind of lesson the impact of the apocalyptic end of the world from the flu story King told in the first part of the book–which is one of my favorite parts of the book, honestly. (I do love the book, even if it’s been years since I reread it–it used to be one of my comfort reads) There were some responses to the tweet about how bad the show is, and I don’t know that I would go that far–I’m enjoying it thus far, even if the non-linear story-telling is kind of jarring–but the lack of conversation about the show is pretty telling, I guess.

I didn’t do any physical writing or editing yesterday, but I did spend some time thinking about it, and i hadn’t planned on doing any writing or anything today, either, what with it being holidays and all (remember, I suspected this would happen yesterday morning), but that’s okay, really–not going to beat myself up over it too terribly; it is what it is–and today I will most likely try to get some of this mess cleaned up; my office area is a disgrace as always, and I have paper and folders and books stacked everywhere. And we are definitely watching Wonder Woman 1984 today.

And that, Constant Reader, is as good a segue as any into my return to the spice mines. Have a lovely holiday, everyone/

Last Christmas

And it is Christmas Eve for those who celebrate–and even for those actually don’t, really; it’s rather inescapable in the United States. I generally don’t make a big deal out of Christmas anymore. Decorating is out because the decorations aren’t safe from Scooter, who is sweet but dumb enough to chew through an electrical wire for lights and will try to climb/pull down/destroy the tree. We don’t buy gifts for each other anymore because neither of us is wanting or in need of anything that is an affordable gift, and we generally just buy what we want or need whenever we can. So, for us, it’s more of a “don’t have to go to work” thing, and we generally just lay around and relax on Christmas, and this year’s plan includes watching Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO MAX.

I went to the gym yesterday evening, and I have to say, while I always have to make myself go and even after I am there, I still have to make myself resist the urge the lighten the weights so it’s not so hard, and not to skip machines and exercises…it always feels amazing after I get home and get cleaned up. I also noticed yesterday that my moobs are turning back into pecs. The veins in my arms are becoming more visible–if not prominent quite yet–and I noticed that my backside is getting firmer. (I notice this primarily when I sit down on the wooden floor of the aerobics room to stretch…it’s not as comfortable as it used to be, when everything was squishier.) I don’t really have a set goal at the moment for my working out or the development of my body; right now, I am still primarily focused on getting to the gym three times a week and pushing through the exercising…but it is always lovely to notice progress. Once the routine is more secured and there’s less concern for me about skipping, maybe then I’ll figure out a physical goal, but for now, I am enjoying the feeling of exercise and it’s effects on my body. I’ve always had a contentious relationship with my body, to be honest, and I am actually kind of enjoying getting reacquainted with my muscles and my body and reevaluating it. I don’t know that I’ve actually achieved any wisdom in my sixty years on this planet, but I feel like I am not nearly as hyper-critical of my body as I was when I was younger. I think in February is when I am going to change my workouts to body parts rather than the full body workout I’ve been doing.

Last night we started watching Tiny Pretty Things, the ballet school series on Netflix–I’ve always been fascinated by ballet, and have always wanted to write a gay noir set in a ballet company–and while it gives in to tropes from time to time–the villainess among the students is a bitchy blonde girl from a wealthy family, for one–and of course, the ‘girl from nowhere’ who comes to the school as a student with a stunning amount of raw talent that shakes up the power dynamics of the school; periodically I would say, “this is Showgirls only in ballet”. There’s a gay kid, who is having sex with his ostensibly straight male roommate; there’s a kid whose father died in the Middle East (whether Iraq or Afghanistan isn’t made clear) who of course has to share a room with the French kid who’s also a Muslim; Lauren Holly chews every piece of scenery she gets near as Monique DuBois, who runs the school (it also took me a while to realize it was her, because she doesn’t look much like she used to; I’d see her full face and think yes that’s her and then they would show her in profile and I wouldn’t be so sure anymore); and of course there’s all the competition and backstabbing one would expect from a ballet school/company. Most of the cast came from the world of ballet–there’s really no way to fake the bodies or the dancing–and it’s always a joy to watch them rehearse, practice, warm up, and actually dance. There’s also a central mystery; the prima ballerina at the school is in a coma, having fallen off the roof–or was she pushed? Nova Ren Suma’s The Walls Around Us is an excellent novel about the cutthroat world of a ballet school–it was an Edgar finalist the year I was a judge for young adult crime novels, and I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve been wanting to write a ballet noir since the early 1990’s, and Megan Abbott’s next novel The Turnout, is a ballet noir I cannot wait to get my hands on. I still might write one–while Megan’s book will probably be the definitive ballet novel, mine would be about a gay dancer (of course), so I think I could get away with writing about the same subject.

So many things to write, so little time.

I’d actually planned on sleeping in this morning, but I woke up just before seven and went ahead and got up. I figured I could drink some coffee while cleaning and organizing my office space, and then later, when my mind is more awake and focused and clear, I’ll dive into Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get through this last chapters–I still have to write one more chapter, the end–so I can get to work on my story for the MWA anthology deadline. I’m also going to try to finish reading The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I also have a couple of secret projects I need to start thinking about. I also have an advance copy of the new Alison Gaylin novel, The Collective, that I cannot wait to start reading.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader!

Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground)

Thursday! Yesterday was strange; I was enormously tired all day, it felt like I’d never woken up mentally the entire day. I wasn’t physically tired, I was mentally tired all day, and had little or no energy. I guess I didn’t get good rest on Tuesday night, despite sleeping fairly well. As such, I made little to no progress on anything yesterday.

The other night Paul and I watched the documentary Dancer, about Russian ballet dancer Sergei Polunin. (I guess that makes him a ballerino, which term has never really caught on; most male ballet dancers are just called ballet dancers, which is interesting.) The documentary was pretty amazing; particularly when it focused on showing him dance. I will be the first to admit that I have not watched nearly as much ballet as I would like to have; not as many ballets are recorded on film as perhaps we should wish. I have spent time on Youtube watching Nureyev and Baryshnikov and the gorgeous Italian Roberto Bolle, which is how I originally came across “Take Me to Church,” the video of Polunin dancing to the song and shot by Dave LaChappelle (if you haven’t seen it, you really need to; the things he can do–how high he can leap, how gracefully he can spin–just take your breath away). I really do want to write a noir about ballet; it’s on the list of things I want to write.

Sergei:

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Roberto Bolle:

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I will never, I fear, have the time to write all the books I want to write. This is one of the reasons I always beat myself up when I have either an unproductive day (yesterday) or a lazy one (say, last weekend, for example). But I somehow cannot write every day; no matter how much I try. I need to get focused on finishing my short story “A Whisper from the Graveyard,” and I need to start getting the Scotty rewritten as well as some work done on the WIP. July is slipping through my fingers, and with less than three full weeks left, time is running out. Which is how I then start berating myself and sliding into negativity, which usually correlates with self-flagellation, and a further downward spiral.

Lather, rinse, repeat.

But, as I said earlier in the week, I did have a massive breakthrough on both the WIP and the Scotty; both are going to take some serious work, but I feel confident that I can get them done. Just not so confident that I can get them done by the end of this month, but hey, focus is the key. I want to get the short story finished, or at least a draft of it, before I can focus totally on the Scotty; and I really need to reread the entire WIP from start to finish, to make notes and figure out what and where can be salvaged and what needs to be jettisoned.

But I do highly recommend Dancer. I think, even if you aren’t a ballet fan or don’t know anything about ballet, if you’re an artist of any sort you would enjoy it; it’s really about sacrifice in the name of art and success; Sergei was separated from his family at a very early age in order to pursue his talent for dancing–the sacrifices his own family made are extraordinary (his went to Portugal to work to pay for the training; his grandmother moved to Greece to do the same, and neither saw their family for years; his family never even had the opportunity to see him dance after he went away to London to train) and how the enormous early success, plus not having any family to ground him, caused him to crash and burn–not in a dramatic way, he just had an emotional breakdown and walked away from his career not once, but twice.

One of the things I found most interesting was his own take on things–basically, he reached the pinnacle of dance at an early age, and then, what was there left to achieve? Which is an interesting concept, an interesting question, for any artist: when you’ve reached the top of your field, or produced your best work, what do you do next?  I kind of crashed and burned early last year, which resulted in a desultory year where I not only didn’t write but didn’t really want to; it is incredibly easy to fall into that trap. I failed to see the point in it anymore, and I once heard myself saying to someone during that miserable year, well, I’ve published this many books, no one can ever take that away from me, I will always be an author no matter what, and as the words came out, as I heard them, they bothered me.

It took me a while to realize that they bothered me because I hadn’t accomplished everything I had set out to do when I decided to take writing seriously some twenty-odd years ago; and there was a hint of resignation and defeat in the words. But I do think last year was necessary, for my personal growth as well as my professional. It made me take stock of things, made me remember what I wanted, and even though it took me a long while to get to a point where I was ready to write again and felt invigorated and recharged enough to do so.

I do feel like the work I am doing now is some of the best of my career thus far; so there is also that. Maybe I’m fooling myself and maybe I am not; we shall see.

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

 

Loverboy

The ballet last night was exquisite.

I’ve seen ballets–or parts of them–on television or Youtube; and I remember, as a child, being taken to see The Nutcracker (isn’t everyone dragged to that as a child?), which I hated (interestingly enough, many things that most children love are things that I didn’t; The Nutcracker is one; The Wizard of Oz another). But as lovely and awe-inspiring as seeing ballets on Youtube or on television can be, there is nothing like being in an auditorium and watching one being performed live on the stage in front of you. I liken it to the difference between watching figure skating on television and then watching it in person; it’s very different, and you never watch it on television in quite the same way again. Romeo and Juliet is, of course, an ubiquitous story; everyone knows it, to the point that it has become almost trite and hackneyed; it’s been adapted for everything imaginable–opera, ballet, film, and of course West Side Story–but, at its heart, it is still a beautiful and sad story.

The opening sequence of the ballet reminded me so much of the opening of West Side Story that I couldn’t help wonder how much the ballet influenced the musical’s choreography, or vice versa.

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I read Romeo and Juliet when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d taken a class called Dramatic Literature; a class in which we read plays. Romeo and Juliet was paired with West Side Story (it’s also the class where I first read Tennessee Williams; A Streetcar Named Desire and Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, to be exact); we even watched the films (the version of Romeo and Juliet was the 1968 Franco Zeffirelli production, with Leonard Whiting and Olivia Hussey with the gorgeous score by Michel Legrand). Shakespeare’s language was, to me at fourteen, a mysterious puzzle I couldn’t unlock; archaic references I didn’t understand written in verse, yet somehow beautiful in how the words were put together. At the time, I didn’t understand how two families could feud so bitterly and violently in an Italian city during the Renaissance; of course, now that I’ve read so many Italian histories (I am still greatly enjoying The Black Prince of Florence), I am more than a little surprised that the feud between Capulet and Montague was so bloodless (see the Pazzi-Medici feud, circa fifteen century).

Yet, despite the overwhelming familiarity with the story, it was impossible not to be drawn into last night’s version of it; despite there being no dialogue, no words. The entire story was, as is typical with the ballet, acted out without words and through dance. The choreographer’s choices in telling the story were quite interesting; the stage setting was incredibly minimalist, with emotions and passions being evoked through the movement of the two curved walls that served as set pieces; the long rising ramp that served as not a way to exit the stage but as Juliet’s fabled balcony; and the use of costume and lighting.

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The friar was used as a connective device throughout each scene; he was, if anything, the true star of the show, and its emotional heart. The dancer who played the role was magnificent. The ballet was a thing of beauty; I couldn’t stop marveling at how fantastic the dancers were, the exceptional shapes and lines they could form with their bodies, the almost super-human stretches and leaps and twirls and spins, the intimacy of their lifts and how they could mold their bodies around one another’s.

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It was also my first time inside the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts since Katrina; ironically, it was also the first time the Ballet des Monte-Carlo performed there since 2005. Both the outgoing and incoming mayor were there; the Honorary Consul for Monaco, and the ambassador from Monaco were all introduced and thanked from the stage.

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And yet, as a crime writer, and someone with a vested interest in group dynamics and politics, who has viewed documentaries about ballet companies, with a knowledge of human nature and interaction,I couldn’t help wondering, as the company took its well-deserved bows to a long standing ovation last night,  what turmoils and temperaments boiled beneath the surface of the linked hands and bowing bodies; what slights and grudges boiled behind the smiling faces; which members of the company were friends and which were enemies; who were lovers and friends and who were enemies and rivals, who was gay and who was straight.

I definitely want to write a ballet noir.

And here are two short stories, for the continuation of the Short Story Project.

First up is “Split Second” by Daphne du Maurier,  from the New York Review of Books collection of Don’t Look Now and Other Stories:

Mrs. Ellis was methodical and tidy. Unanswered letters, unpaid bills, the litter and rummage of a slovenly writing-desk were things she abhorred. Today, more than usual, she was in what her late husband used to call her “clearing” mood. She had wakened to this mood; it remained with her throughout the morning. Besides, it was the first of the month, and as she ripped off the page of her daily calendar and saw the bright clean 1 staring at her, it seemed to symbolize a new start tom her day.

The hours ahead of her must somehow seem untarnished like the date; she must let nothing slide.

“Split Second” is an exceptional exercise in character. Du Maurier thoroughly examines and exposes Mrs. Ellis’ character from beginning to end, and while she doesn’t go into a great amount of detail, it isn’t hard to figure out exactly whom she is from what we are told as readers. She’s a widow and her entire world revolves around her daughter, who is off at school; she decides, after a thorough cleaning of her home to go for a walk and is almost run down by the laundry truck as she walks back home. But when she gets back to her house, things are different. It is her house, but it’s no longer the house she left behind; other people are living there, her neighbors are gone–the entire world has changed and shifted as she walked home. It’s a horrifying story, even as the reader begins to glean what has actually happened long before Mrs. Ellis does; not that she ever does, even by the end of the story, and that is part of what makes it so sad, so effective, so powerful; no one has ever quite captured that elegant, melancholy sadness the way du Maurier does.

I then moved on to “The Picture of the Lonely Diner” by Lee Child,  from the Mystery Writers of America anthology, Manhattan Mayhem:

Jack Reacher got out of the R train at Twenty-Third Street and found the nearest stairwell blocked off with plastic police tape. It was striped blue and white, tied between one handrail and the other, and it was moving in the subway wind. It said: POLICE DO NOT ENTER. Which, technically, Reacher didn’t want to do anyway. He wanted to exit. Although to exit, he would need to enter the stairwell. Which was a linguistic complexity. In which context, he sympathized with the cops. They didn’t have different kinds of tape for different situations. POLICE DO NOT ENTER IN ORDER TO EXIT was not in their inventory.

Lee Child is one of the most successful writers in our genre today; everything he publishes is a New York Times best seller, and his character, Jack Reacher, is one of those ubiquitous characters that will go down in the history of the genre, like Poirot, James Bond, and Kinsey Millhone. I am years behind on Lee’s novels; but if you’ve not read Lee Child, you simply must read The Killing Floor, the first Reacher novel. It is quite superb. This story isn’t Child at his best, but Reacher the character is at his best at novel-length, with the labyrinthian plots Child somehow concocts and manages to keep track of (one of my favorite fanboy moments was having lunch with him and Alafair Burke at the Green Goddess here in New Orleans several years ago; while I just sat there wide-eyed and listened to the two of them talk about writing and publishing, praying that I didn’t have sauce running down my chin), but this story does evoke the melancholy that Child evokes in his novels; the inevitability of fate and the powerlessness of humans to counteract it once the gears are moving. I do recommend the story; there is some amazing imagery in it as well.

And on that note, I am back to the spice mines. There are bed linens to launder, and short stories to edit, and a chapter to write; it is rainy and gloomy outside my windows this morning but I am well-rested and ready to work.

Or maybe it’s just the caffeine kicking in. Who knows?

Miami Vice

This wasn’t one of my better weeks, to be frank. I had issues with sleep and motivation; being tired had something to do with that. I didn’t get up Wednesday morning and go to the gym like I should have; I am hoping to go tonight, Sunday, and Monday, so as to get back on track. I did get a horrific transitional chapter on the Scotty book finished, though–and I also did some major brainstorming about the plot and how to make it work. It’s probably going to be longer than Scotty books usually are; it may come in somewhere between 90 and 100k. I am also being rather ambitious with this plot, too. It’s going to be complicated, and I am also going to take on some issues, which I generally do not do in the Scotty books. Here’s hoping it plays out the way I want it to.

I also have some deadlines coming up this coming week, which has me petrified with fear. I have several short stories in process…no, I’m not going to think about it. That will just paralyze me some more. Instead, I am going to think good thoughts about how wonderful the stuff I am working on is, rather than freaking the fuck out about everything I have to get done. Tomorrow night we are going to the ballet; I am very excited about this as I’ve never seen one live before. This was one of my Christmas presents from Paul, and I can’t wait…although it is probably going to make me want to write about the ballet and push everything else to the side.

Because the stuff I need to work on is never the stuff I want to work on.

I did read a lot of short stories yesterday, after several fallow days of not reading any. I had to do testing at Nicholls State University yesterday afternoon, which is about an hour and a half drive from the office. I didn’t drive; I rode in the backseat and read stories on my way to and from there, and then last night as I watched the Olympics I read some more. That’s the beauty of short stories; you can read a lot of them in a very short period of time. I think I may have read six or seven yesterday, so I’ve got them stockpiled for the Short Story Project. Huzzah!

And sorry to be so brief this morning; but I’ve got to get to the office.

Here’s a hunk for you as I head back into the spice mines.

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Almost Paradise

Christmas. I am still not 100%, but so far this is the best i’ve felt on waking in a while. The temptation is to, of course, overdo it some today, but I also don’t know what my energy levels are like; are they still depleted as they have been, making even the simplest of tasks exhausting? I was so drained all day yesterday that I couldn’t focus enough to even read, let alone do anything involving heavy lifting. The apartment is a disaster area, ready for a FEMA inspection. I’ve fallen so far behind on everything that I despair that I will ever be able to get caught up. But I know I will; I know I shall have to simply buckle down and focus, and with focus, all things shall come to pass.

I also did fairly well in the Christmas present department this year. Paul got me an incredibly comfortable long-sleeved LSU T-shirt (which I am wearing); a Team Italia soccer shirt; two books–one a memoir by a male ballet dancer and the other a history of the Bolshoi Ballet; tickets with great seats to see the Ballet des Monte Carlo at the Mahalia Jackson Theater in February; and a gorgeous new watch. We had watched the documentary Bolshoi Babylon some months ago, and I had mentioned my fascination with the ballet and thinking it would be a great setting for a noir novel–and that I would love to go see the ballet sometime. Being Paul, he remembered. This is why I am so shitty at gift-giving, to be honest; I am so self-absorbed so much of the time that I don’t notice things other people say that could be used as hints for gifts.

I have to say, the ballet noir is sounding better and better all the time.

Okay, I am starting to feel hollow-headed, so I am going to go lie down for a little while.

Merry Christmas, Constant Reader!

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I’ve Got a Rock and Roll Heart

I wish the time would change already. I don’t know why it was moved back another week or two, but seriously.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I needed to, but that’s okay, you know. Any progress is better than no progress, and I am inching closer to the finish line. Yesterday I started doing a line edit of Jackson Square Jazz, but decided that it would be easier now to just do an electronic edit–there’s a lot that needs to be fixed and changed (I cannot believe what a messy manuscript I turned into Kensington all those years ago!) and so instead I am rereading it and making an outline from it, as well as making notes on continuity errors that need to be checked against later volumes in the series…you so rarely get a chance to correct them from the beginning, you know? I really shouldn’t let this opportunity to correct the continuity mistakes in the Scotty series go by; plus I also see this as an excellent opportunity to finally get the Scotty concordance/Bible done, so as to avoid these problems in the future. But it’s a lot of work, seriously, and I do wonder if I am using all of this as an excuse not to work on the new one.

In fact, I am wondering if I am using this as an excuse to not work on many things, if I’m going to be completely honest.

In other exciting news, we’ve got tickets for LSU-Arkansas. Huzzah!

But I did start rereading the Scotty WIP last night and started making an outline for it. I’m also going to slowly start revising it, based on the notes I’ve made, and keep going forward. I’ve not heard back from any agents, but I am going to focus on Scotty this week and then spend the weekend and the next week to tweak the book I am submitting for representation. Another young adult novel that i wrote a while back and put in the drawer because I didn’t know how to fix what was wrong with it–of course, last night it came to me how to fix it, so I am now trying to figure out when to squeeze working on THAT into my already busy, hectic writing schedule.

Sigh, life as a Gregalicious is never easy or for the faint of heart.

And now back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hunk for your Tuesday:

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