Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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I’ll Be Good To You

Well, wasn’t yesterday an amazing day for one Gregalicious? Not only was it payday, but I stopped and got the mail on my way to the office (there was a check!), and then right around the time I got to the office my phone (which was in my pocket) made the sound of breaking glass, indicating I’d gotten a notification from Facebook; I pulled it out of my pocket on my way up the stairs and lo! The Anthony Award short-lists had been announced, and I’d been tagged in the post. This usually means one thing and one thing only–a nomination–but I thought, no, that can’t be. But sure enough I clicked on the notification, scrolled down the list, and there I was, nominated for Best Short Story for “Cold Beer No Flies” from Florida Happens…along with four other amazing writers–Art Taylor, S. A. Crosby, Barb Goffman, and Holly West!

Wow.

It’s really lovely to be nominated for awards, and I know I’m luckier than so many others–who can go their entire careers without ever getting any award recognition. This is my second time up for an Anthony (I won, in Toronto, for Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou), and came as an incredibly pleasant surprise; the decision to not have a Best Anthology Anthony for Dallas Bouchercon was, I thought, the death knell of any shot I might ever have at possibly getting another Anthony nomination. I certainly never dreamed I’d somehow make the short-list for Best Short Story for my contribution to Florida Happens, “Cold Beer No Flies,” a story that’s been hanging out in my files in various different forms since the late 1980’s. But I am also pleased that it’s a story about a young gay man trapped in a small, conservative Florida panhandle town who has big dreams to get out of there–and isn’t afraid to break the law in order to make those dreams come true. This is also my second time nominated for a Short Story award from the mainstream mystery community–the first was the Macavity in Toronto, and the nod was for “Survivor’s Guilt” from Blood on the Bayou–and I also can’t even begin to tell you how thrilling it is to be nominated for a short story in the mainstream; but “Cold Beer No Flies” is, as I said before, a story with gay character/themes…and it might be the first time such a story has been nominated. (John Copenhaver is also nominated for Best First Novel, for Dodging and Burning–still in the TBR pile–and he’s also an openly gay writer of a book with gay characters and themes; I think it’s possible the two of us may have made history with our nominations as the first time this has happened; I could be wrong.)

This is especially thrilling when I take into consideration the fact that my writing self-esteem (never high in any discipline) is particularly low when it comes to short stories, as Constant Reader is undoubtedly aware. I love them, and I love the challenge of writing them, but…I’ve never had much luck with selling or placing them in places, but sometimes I do catch lightning in a bottle and the story works.

I spent most of yesterday trying to keep up with the congratulatory posts, comments, tweets and emails yesterday but failing miserably; I woke up this morning to a lot more of them and I suspect a lot of my free time today will be spent making sure I thank everyone.

Which is, frankly, kind of a lovely problem to have, amirite? I mean, I’d certainly rather spend a day basking in the glow of warm congratulatory messages/posts/tweets/comments than pretty much anything else, to be honest. Who woudn’t?

And to be on a short-list with talented writers like Art, Barb, Holly, and Shawn? Very very cool, quite frankly, and just the kind of flattering ego-stroke I needed at this moment as I struggle with the WIP (which I didn’t touch yesterday, for obvious reasons) but I am hoping to get back to today because things will, I am sure, be settling down somewhat. What’s interesting is that Holly is also nominated for her Florida Happens story; Barb also has a story in Florida Happens but is nominated for another work; and Art was the person who got me involved in working on Bouchercon anthologies in the first place. I met Shawn briefly in St. Petersburg at this last Bouchercon, and I am certain at some point in the future we’ll have a professional connection of some sort like these others–I certainly hope that’s the case, at any rate.

And now it’s back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, everyone, and thank you!

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End of the Road

I started researching new markets to potentially submit short stories to–after my breakthrough that my stories cannot be described, as a rule, as ‘mystery’ tales–and I was very surprised to see how few magazines actually are interested in stories that could be considered mysteries. The stories I have–that I am thinking about sending out into the void–are technically not mysteries, but then again…will markets not looking for mystery stories consider them to be mysteries?

I guess the only way to find out it to actually submit stories.

What was also really interesting to me was that there are still markets that want you to send them hard copies through the mail, with the SASE for response. Ten years or so ago, when I was doing an open call for Blood Sacraments, I wanted hard copy submissions, and was surprised (and more than a little appalled) at some of the emails I received from authors who demanded to know how very dare I not want to take electronic submissions? Needless to say, those were writers I put on the “never work with” list; I would never presume to write an editor and demand an explanation for their submission guidelines, never ever ever ever. But with the passage of time, my own reluctance to read submissions electronically and get them in my inbox has gradually eroded away; times change and you have to change with it. If I want to submit to those markets, I will have to get large envelopes, print out copies, and purchase postage.

I am certainly not going to send them a pompous email demanding they explain why they don’t take electronic submissions.

And, FYI? Blood Sacraments was the last time I did an open call for submissions untilt he Bouchercon anthologies. And yes, the entitled attitude in the emails from people who saw the call and “had questions” about my guidelines is entirely why.

Helpful hint: editors and publishers don’t owe anyone explanations for why they set their guidelines the way they do. And when you send snarky emails questioning them, all you do is point out to them that you would be an enormous pain in the ass to work with. And unless you have the kind of star power that will guarantee lots of sales, you aren’t worth it.

Sad, perhaps, but true.

And I have absolutely no problem whatsoever with disqualifying stories that are not submitted properly or ignored the guidelines in any way, shape or form. That’s my first system of weeding out stories from “possibles” to “rejects”: did they follow the guidelines?

I won’t read anything that doesn’t–nor will I write the person back to tell them they need to. You get one chance.

I have myself submitted things and not followed the guidelines–primarily out of stupidity–and you know what? If that got me rejected without being read, it’s only fair and I have no one to blame but myself.

Next up in Florida Happens is Barb Goffman’s story “The Case of the Missing Pot Roast.”

Barb Goffman
 

Barb Goffman has no idea how to cook pot roast, but it sure was fun to write about. She’s won the Agatha, Macavity, and Silver Falchion awards for her short stories, and she’s been a finalist for national mystery short-story awards twenty-two times, including eleven times for the Agatha (a category record). Her book Don’t Get Mad, Get Even won the Silver Falchion for the best collection of 2013. Barb is thrilled to be a current Macavity and Anthony award finalist for her story “Whose Wine is it Anyway?” from the anthology 50 Shades of Cabernet.  She works as an independent editor and proofreader and lives with her dog in Winchester, Virginia. Learn more at www.barbgoffman.com.

About her story, Barb says, “My story is about a woman whose husband has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She wants to care for him at home, but it’s proving challenging, with strange things going on, including a missing pot roast. I can’t say any more about the plot without giving things away, but I will say that I loved writing this story. It’s heartfelt but also funny and–perfect for an anthology about Florida–also a little bit weird.”

Looking back, I should have known something was wrong when the pot roast disappeared. Sure, everyone misplaces something sometime. I once searched for the remote control for an hour till I spotted it in the bathroom. And for years I’ve found my husband, Charles’s, false teeth all over the house—they’ve never fit quite right so when they bother him he takes them out and puts them down, never paying attention where. But the pot roast? I was sure I’d left it defrosting on the counter when I went to get my hair done, yet when I came home, it was gone.

I searched for it in vain. It wasn’t in the fridge or freezer. Not in the garbage. Not in the oven. Charles was clueless. There was no way he’d cooked and eaten it in the hour I was gone. So what happened to that pot roast was a mystery. In the back of my mind, I wondered if I’d only dreamed I’d bought the roast. But I couldn’t admit my faculties might be failing. So I dismissed the missing pot roast as weirdness and whipped up some pasta.

That was a month ago. Perhaps if I’d forced myself to figure out what happened to the pot roast, I wouldn’t be in this position now. But back then, I had bigger problems. Charles had started suffering from short-term memory loss and personality changes, and he was getting worse every day. One minute he’d be the man I’d loved for decades, optimistic and kind; the next, he’d be surly and paranoid, acting like a wary stranger. He’d accused me of stealing from him—me, his wife of fifty-one years. And then, in a heartbreaking moment, he’d accused me of trying to kill him.

“Alzheimer’s,” his doctor had diagnosed.

I’d figured that was the problem, but having it confirmed was a terrible blow. His doctor gave me all kinds of pamphlets and urged me to look into long-term care for Charles. I cried when he did that. I knew eventually such care would be necessary. But not yet. I was only seventy-one years old and in relatively good health. I was determined to care for Charles in our home for as long as I could. He was my husband. My love. I owed him that.

It’s easy to see why Barb’s work is so award-worthy with this tale. She really gets inside the head of her main character, who is dealing with a raeally difficult situation–complicated with her own issues of dealing with her husband’s illness in addition to questioning, at times, her own sanity and whether the things her husband says to her when in the grips of his dementia are true, real, or based in anything even slightly reality based. Can she trust the home health-care worker who is helping out with things around the house? Where are the pot roasts going?

And that last paragraph is chilling, absolutely chilling. Well done, Barb!