Fingers & Thumbs

Here we are on a Tuesday morning with the time change coming and the weather shifting into big-time fall. Yesterday was simply beautiful outside; the sky that magnificent shade of cerulean I’ve never seen anywhere else (Italy has the most beautiful skies) and you can go for a walk without getting drenched in sweat. It’s hard to believe Thanksgiving is right around the corner, with Christmas and New Year’s hot on its tail; and whatever Carnival is going to be is right behind.

Yes, it is that time of year again. HOLIDAYS.

Sigh.

I loved the holidays when I was a kid. Christmas meant presents and a tree and turkey and dressing and decorations and candy and no school for at least two weeks. Thanksgiving didn’t mean presents, but I always always loved that meal (we always had turkey and dressing for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, and got to eat the leftovers for days after). As I got older the thrill of the holidays slowly began to wane. By the time I moved in with Paul I was almost completely over them. Almost six years with an airline–which meant working on the holidays if they fell on your scheduled day to work; the airport never closes and neither do the airlines–had kind of robbed the joy from them for me; I could only see family sometime around the holidays, depending on open seats on flights, which were scarce, and spending them with friends wasn’t quite the same thing. We stopped putting up Christmas decorations when we got Scooter–Skittle wasn’t an issue; he’d go knock a ball off the tree, lose interest and go away; Scooter saw Christmas tree and decorations and thought amusement park! And since he loves nothing more than chewing plastic–the first time I caught him trying to chew on a string of lights, that was it for the Christmas decorations. And every time I go up into the attic, I see the box of decorations and think, should I throw them away? We don’t use them, and even–God forbid, knock on wood–when the day comes that we no longer have Scooter with us, will we use them again?

Given our history, it’s very unlikely. And while the Lost Apartment isn’t as festive around the holidays as it could be, as we’ve gotten older it’s just not as important to either of us as it once was. Sure, we enjoy buying each other gifts, and sharing them–Paul always wins Christmas, no matter how hard I try to get him something absolutely perfect, he always gets me something that is so incredibly thoughtful I get teary-eyed–and we enjoy the new traditions that we have come up with together.

And really, the true gift of the holiday is spending it together, unplugging from the world, and just enjoying each other’s company.

But it’s after Halloween now, so the Christmas stuff is coming out in the stores, and the music will start playing everywhere (thank God I don’t listen to the radio anymore). The Christmas specials and movies will start airing again, every television series will have a Christmas episode of some kind (thank you, Ted Lasso, for doing it in the summer time), and advertising will have a distinctive green and red flavor to it. I will inevitably start grumping about the serious overkill–and I am also not looking forward to this year’s noxious and untrue revisitation of the right-wing “war on Christmas” narrative.

My latest Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, was an actual Christmas book, set in New Orleans during the Christmas season. One part of Christmas I never get tired of is the way New Orleans dresses herself up for the holiday–and seriously, if you are in town and can get a chance to go look at the lobby of the Roosevelt Hotel, it’s breathtakingly beautiful; which is why I had the book start with Scotty getting Taylor his first sazerac in the Sazerac Bar of the Roosevelt Hotel. I wanted to talk about how beautifully the hotel is decorated, how gorgeous the city is in its Christmas finery, and of course–I got to talk about a particularly New Orleans Christmas tradition–reveillon dinner. It’s funny, because I have tried to write about Christmas before–I do, at heart, love Christmas and everything it is supposed to stand for, even if I get Scrooge-like about the overkill in mid-December–but I’ve never really had much success with writing an actual Christmas story. I tried writing Christmas short stories before, but coming up with something original that is also sweet and about love and kindness is incredibly difficult; it’s like every possible idea has already had every bit of juice squeezed out of it already (how many versions of A Christmas Carol or It’s a Wonderful Life do we really need, anyway?). I wrote three first drafts of Christmas stories–“Silver Bells,” “Silent Night,” and “Reindeer on the Rooftop”–but the first two turned out incredibly sad and depressing and the latter so saccharine sweet it made my teeth ache. I’d always thought of doing a Scotty Christmas book, once I decided to keep the series going past the original three; the original idea of the first trilogy was the gay holidays–Decadence, Halloween, Carnival–and then I thought I would tie all future Scottys around holidays; when I revived the series with Book 4, Vieux Carré Voodoo, opened on Easter Sunday and the end of Lent–which seemed appropriate since the previous book was set during Carnival (I’d actually forgotten about that). Of course, I moved away from that with Who Dat Whodunnit (which was around the Saints Super Bowl win, but also included a Christmas scene with the other side of Scotty’s family, the Bradleys, now that I think about it) and Baton Rouge Bingo…so maybe actually doing a Halloween Scotty book might be in order (I have mentioned this before, of course) since Jackson Square Jazz was set the week before Halloween.

And thinking of the kind of trouble Scotty could get into over Halloween puts a little smile on my face.

I need to buckle down and get to work on my book. It’s due in January and time is slipping into the future…so on that note, dear Constant Reader, I am going to finish this and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday!

Face Up

Wednesday has rolled around again, as it always does, and last night was another restful sleep of the same sort I had on Monday; restful but awake or half-awake the majority of the time. I am beginning to wonder, quite frankly, if this is just another affect of getting older; the inability to sleep deeply every night. Yesterday I wasn’t as tired as I feared I would be, which actually was kind of nice, and I do think this will be the case this morning too. I intend to go to the gym this evening for a workout with weights after work–so being tired will not be helpful in the least. Maybe that will put me into a deep sleep tonight.

Maybe it won’t–which is more likely.

We watched two more episodes of The Capture last night on Peacock, which is incredibly good. I still have absolutely no clue what’s going on, but the suspense is so ratcheted up that I cannot wait to get home tonight so we can finish watching it. I want to start reading Laurie R. King’s A Monstrous Regiment of Women, the second in her Mary Russell series, but focus is so important when reading and what little focus I have these days really needs to be spend on the revision of Bury Me in Shadows, which needs to be finished by the end of the month–so time is running out on me, as always. I was thinking about how I reacted to rereading the manuscript with an eye to edits last weekend, and how I always am enormously dissatisfied with the final product when it is released. Don’t get me wrong, I am proud of every book I’ve written, as each represents surmounting a struggle of some sort in some way, and finishing and publishing a novel is always an accomplishment, regardless of how it turned out in the end. I was dissecting this in my head last night while I was making tacos for dinner (nachos for Paul); my strengths are premises, titles, and character–but inevitably whenever I start writing a book most of the time I don’t know how it’s going to end. I try to figure out how to end a book before I start writing it–but on the rare occasions when I have figured out the end beforehand, I question that as I write and inevitably change my mind at least once, if not twice, and as a result, I never am completely confident in my endings. Adding to the neuroses in my brain, the last few chapters of a book generally don’t get as much attention as earlier chapters, either, which makes my insecurity even worse.

I really do wish I could slap my first creative writing teacher across the face for doing such a number on me that it has lasted all these years. FUCKER.

Then again, he typed smugly, I’m about thirty-six novels, five novellas, and fifty short stories into my career; he’s still unpublished, forty years later. So, there’s that…and the fact I never forget a grudge.

I’ve also been toying with some 1970’s research in my spare moments–looking up things and trying to remember things from my tween years–like “sissy bars” (and no, it’s not a bar for effeminate gay men, though it is a great name for a gay bar). I remembered “sissy bars” as being the high bar on boys’ bicycles that girls’ bikes didn’t have back then; turns out it’s actually the back bar at the end of a bike that the passenger behind the driver/rider can lean back on for balance. (I still remember it the other way; and that other bar doesn’t seem to have a name, which is weird.) I’ve been wanting to write about the early 1970’s in the Chicago suburbs for quite some time–I have an idea based on a murder that happened in our suburb when I was a freshman in high school, You’re No Good, which could be a lot of fun to work on and write–and my main character from Lake Thirteen (Scotty?) was from that same fictional suburb…which leads me back into that weird Greg Universe where all of my books are somehow connected, between New Orleans, Alabama, Chicago and it’s suburbs, California, and Kansas–which I completely forgot that I was doing. (Aside: Bury Me in Shadows is set in Corinth County; which is where the main character in Dark Tide was also from; where I set the story “Smalltown Boy”; and where Frank and Scotty’s nephew Taylor is from, making his first appearance in Baton Rouge Bingo.) But the early 1970’s was an interesting and somewhat volatile time, between Vietnam, the economic crisis, and Watergate; where television gave us stuff like The Partridge Family and Love, American Style and horrible variety shows; when the post World War II economic boom in the United States was beginning to crumble and fade away; when Top 40 radio ruled the AM channels and everything was still on vinyl or eight-track tapes, before cable television and 24 hour news and no Internet or cell phones. But… as I mentioned earlier, while I have a great premise and a terrific title, I don’t know the story or how it ends…but that won’t stop me from obsessively researching the period.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a great day Constant Reader!

Everything’s Gone Green

My memory has truly become amazingly awful and limited as I grow older. Yesterday was one of those days that reminded me just how bad it’s become–and how rarely I follow through on plans I make.

I started writing about Kansas when I was a teenager living in Kansas, and I wrote a long, messy manuscript by hand that was essentially a kind of Peyton Place tip-off, with tons of characters and plots and subplots that meandered about and never really had one cohesive central story. Over the years since that handwritten, almost a thousand page first draft was finished, I came to the realization that as a single novel itself I would need to cut out a minimum of fifty percent of the characters and even more of the subplots while tightening it into one cohesive story. The name of the town changed multiple times, as did the names of the some of the characters, while others remained the same from beginning to end. I had no idea at the time of how to write a novel, or how to structure one…but since it already existed, I began mining it for other novels and short stories, pilfering names and subplots and so forth (the murder story in Murder in the Garden District, and the Sheehan family in the book, were directly lifted from this old manuscript; I changed the family name from Craddock to Sheehan). My young adult novel, Sara, also had a lot of story lifted from this same old manuscript–even characters’ names–so when I started building this iteration of what I’ve taken to calling “the Kansas book” over the years, I knew it was possible I was repeating names from the old original, and at some point I would have to check Sara at some point to get the character names from it, to not repeat them. The Kansas book was also intended to be set in the same world as Sara–Sara being primarily set in the county and the small grouping of three small towns consolidated into one high school; with this book set in the county seat, the small city/large town I called Kahola. Kahola never really sat well with me for the town name; it’s perfectly fine for the name of the county as well as the lake (there actually is a Lake Kahola; it’s where we went when I lived there and “went to the lake”), so I decided to change it to Liberty Center (which I got from Philip Roth’s When She Was Good, so it’s also an homage) and Sara geography be damned. So, yesterday while the Saints played terribly and ended their season (and possibly Drew Brees’ career), I was scanning though the ebook of Sara and pulling out character names–even minor ones– as well as place names and so forth.

I am very pleased to report that there is only one character name that traveled from the original manuscript to Sara and finally into this new iteration of the Kansas book, and obviously that needs to be changed. I am not willing to change the name of the county seat back to Kahola; it never really seemed to fit, and Liberty Center works much better on every level, but I can change the name of the character in #shedeservedit to avoid confusion…not that there would be much, since Sara is my lowest selling book for some reason I certainly don’t get, but it would unsettle me, so it cannot be. As I was pulling names out of the ebook, and place names and places of interest, I also began remembering other things.

I had originally intended for all of my young adult novels to be connected in some way, kind of how R. L. Stine had done his Fear Street series, where all of the books take place in the same town and high school, and a minor character in one would become the hero of another. I was reminded of this because Laura Pryce is mentioned by name in Sara; she was the protagonist of Sorceress, and she was from the same rural part of Kahola County and went to the same consolidated high school. Sorceress tells the story of how Laura goes to live with her aunt in a huge house outside the California mountain town of Woodbridge; Woodbridge is also the setting for Sleeping Angel, and characters overlapped from Sorceress to Sleeping Angel. The Chicago suburb in Sara where Glenn is from is the same suburb that the main character in Lake Thirteen was from; it is the same suburb where Jake’s father, stepmother, and half-siblings live in Bury Me in Shadows; and of course, this latter is set in Corinth County, Alabama–which is where my main character in Dark Tide was also from. As I was picking out the character and place names from Sara, I was also reminded of other books I’d wanted to write, and I had introduced some of these characters in this book intending to revisit them again at another time in another book or story–books and stories I have since forgotten about completely, and yet there are the characters, crying out to me from my Kindle app for me to write about them.

Having triggered my brain into the creative mode yesterday by doing this chore during the Saints game (I started during the men’s finals at the US Figure Skating Championships; congratulations to our world team o Nathan Chen, Vincent Zhou, and Jason Brown) I also began remembering other things I was working on–like “The Rosary of Broken Promises” and “To Sacrifice a Pawn,” two stories I started for a submissions call I didn’t manage to make; or some of my pandemic story ideas (inspired by the pandemic or during it) like “The Flagellants”, “The Arrow in the Cardinal’s Cap”, and “The Pestilence Maiden”; amongst so many, many others. This is why I despair of ever writing everything I want to write during the limited time I have on this earth; I could spend the rest of my life trying to write every story and novel idea I already have and would never be able to finish them all.–and I have new ideas, all of the time; it’s almost ridiculous.

I already know I am most likely going to revisit Corinth County in Alabama again–it’s basically where my already-in-progress novellas “Fireflies” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” are set, amongst many other ideas for short stories, novellas, and novels. I will undoubtedly return to Liberty Center at some point as well; I have ideas for other Kansas books and stories, too; I’ve revisited Kahola County, Kansas in my short stories numerous times already as well. I’ve also got my own parish in Louisiana–Redemption Parish, which I wrote about in Murder in the Arts District, The Orion Mask, and some other short stories. I’ve also already invented a fictional town on the north shore–similar to Hammond–that showed up in Baton Rouge Bingo and will undoubtedly turn up again in my work, although perhaps not under my own name.

I spent some more time with Laurie R. King’s The Beekeeper’s Apprentice and am thoroughly enjoying the ride. King’s authorial voice is so strong (and reminiscent of the late great Elizabeth Peters) that I cannot wait to read more of the Mary Russell series–it’s so different from her Kate Martinelli series, which I also love–and intend to spend some more time with it this morning with my coffee as well; I see a new tradition for non-working days developing; reading with my coffee in the mornings, which is simply wonderful. I recently acquired Alyssa Cole’s thriller When No One Is Watching, which I am also looking forward to, and I have added both Stephen King’s The Stand and Faulkner’s Sanctuary to the reread pile…and I’d also like to get back to the Short Story Project at some point….and of course there are all those ebooks piled up in my Kindle as well.

We also spent last evening after the Saints’ loss getting caught up on The Stand, which I am enjoying, although it’s made some choices I find questionable. I’m okay with everything having to do with the plague and the characters making their way to either Boulder or Las Vegas being done entirely in flashback, but the focus on the character of Harold Lauder–whom, while important to the story, was at best a supporting character in the novel and the original mini-series–is an interesting choice. They’ve certainly spent more time with him than they have with any of the people who were the novel’s protagonists–Stu, Larry, Glen, Frannie–so the focus of the mini-series seems a bit off to me….but props to them for casting the delightful Alexander Skarsgard as Flagg; his beauty and charisma–so evident as Eric on True Blood–playing perfectly into the role of the dark leader of the other side. Over all, the series is well done and well cast (Whoopi Goldberg as Mother Abagail doesn’t quite work for me; in the book she was old and frail and Whoopi is many things but frail is not one of them; I’d have gone with Cicely Tyson or any of the other gifted Black actresses who are older now) and I am a bit more forgiving than most when it comes to adaptations, I think–especially since the key part of the word is adapt. (I saw some more Hardy Boys enthusiasts bitching about the Hulu series somewhere again yesterday; honestly–I really have to center a book and a mystery around a kids’ series’ overly enthusiastic fans) We still have the rest of the first season of Bridgerton to watch, and season two of Servant has dropped on Apple Plus–do NOT sleep on this creepy-as-fuck show; you will not regret it–and I am also anticipating the release of Apple Plus’ adaptation of Foundation, starring Jared Harris, and we’ve also got a second season of The Terror somewhere to watch, and the second season of Mr. Mercedes on Peacock as well…so we seem to be set for things to watch for a good while.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Today is going to be mostly spent reading Laurie King this morning, and then the rest of the day spent with my manuscript as I try to work out the kinks and figure out what else needs to go into it. Have a happy holiday Monday, and do try to remember Dr. King’s message of equality, unity, and freedom for all.

The World Is a Ghetto

Well, Constant Reader, we made it to the weekend somehow, and isn’t that always a really good thing for everyone involved?

I know I’m pleased.

LSU is playing Texas tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!), and I am interested to see how they play against a top-level opponent after last week’s thorough thrashing of Georgia Southern. One thing about last week’s game–LSU has always underperformed against teams they should beat easily, like Georgia Southern, so it was wild to see them score 42 points in the first half against an overmatched team. In the past, it would always be stressfully close until they simply wore the other team down in the second half. But again, the big score doesn’t mean anything because it was a lower-tier opponent. I am certain I’ll be extremely nervous and stressed out during the entire game.

I also decided yesterday to change my work schedule permanently to the afternoon 1-5 shift rather than the 9-1; that really worked well yesterday, and I was able to not only get a lot done in the morning before I went into the office, I got things done there and was also able to stop at the grocery store on the way home. So yes, getting some sleep and waking up without an alarm continues to be a recipe for success for me; you’d think by now I’d learn. I mean, going in early and getting it over with was lovely, as I got my weekend to start early–but if yesterday is any indication, sleeping in a little longer and working in the afternoon makes it possible for me to get even more done; and that’s what is most important.

So, my book comes out in three days officially. So, what can I talk about today to give you some insight, that will make you order or buy it today?

In Baton Rouge Bingo, I introduced a new character to Scotty’s world; Frank’s nephew, Taylor Rutledge. I had a number of reasons for introducing Taylor. First, I wanted to make Scotty suddenly aware of his own age, much the same as I suddenly realized one day that internally I always think of myself as still being thirty-five…but seeing my thirty year old niece kind of blew that to shit. People who have children, or have nieces and nephews and regular access to the next generation in their families deal with their own aging because they can see the next generation growing up. Scotty doesn’t really have that–I really messed up, long ago, by not giving Rain or Storm kids, but I never thought about it. Secondly, I had realized by this time that while we know all about Scotty’s family (the mother’s side, we don’t know much about the Bradley side, which I explored a little in Who Dat Whodunnit) and while I briefly touched on Colin’s past in Jackson Square Jazz (and we still don’t know if any of what Colin told him was actually true), we knew nothing about Frank’s family. Granted, Scotty and everyone could know and it was just never mentioned on the pages of the books, but that felt like a cheat to me…and I realized that making Frank estranged from his family because of his sexuality, and then having to deal with his homophobic sister again because his teenaged nephew has come out, would take care of that–and of course, Scotty and his family would be more than happy to take in a nephew into the family. Taylor was in  Garden District Gothic, but not as much…but he is integral to the plot of Royal Street Reveillon, and what happens to him and his personal story will continue to resonate in the series as it moves forward.

I’ve even considered giving Taylor his own spin-off; I thought (still kind of half-heartedly think) that it would be fun to see a college student’s thoughts on the weird situation he finds himself in with his uncles and in New Orleans; and it might be fun to see him solve a mystery on his own with a little help from his uncles–although it might be fun to send him on a trip somewhere that he comes into contact with a crime or something.

And now the story’s coming to me, goddamnit.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Wishing on a Star

I prefer not to speak in anger, and always try not to do so. I am not always successful, to my great shame, and I am still tortured by memories of times when I let my anger get the best of me and yelled at a stranger. I will never have the opportunity to apologize to those people, and I know I ruined their day for them; they may also remember being made to feel anger of their own, or shame, or whatever bad emotion my anger caused them. I don’t like it when I lose my temper with Paul, or with friends, or with co-workers. Nothing positive ever comes of it, and I always, always feel bad afterwards; even if it was satisfying at the time.

But anger is also different from outrage, and I will speak out when I am outraged. Outrage and anger are similar but not the same; I will say things in anger I would never say when I am not angry, and will often try to contain those angry sentences to my brain. Outrage comes from a different place, a place that doesn’t burn hot, but is icy; the freezing coldness that comes from utter moral contempt. What I call my Julia Sugarbaker moments come from a place as cold as outer space; my words may be strong, my voice might even quiver with emotion, but make no mistake about it: there is no heat in my outrage.

Injustice outrages me more than anything else; the notion that fairness and decency should only be allowed to the select and denied the rest is one of my many triggers. Over the course of my life I’ve been cold in outrage far more times than I would like, far more times than I wish were necessary, far more times that I ever wanted. There were many points in my life that I thought, ah, this is it. This is the place where fairness and decency is going to kick in, and going forward things are going to be better.

Instead…on and on and on it goes, world without end, amen.

I’m tired from fighting. It seems like I’ve been fighting my entire life. I’ve made mistakes, I’ve paid for them, I’ve done stupid things and embarrassing things and things I wish I hadn’t.

But I never regret being wrong. I don’t like being wrong, but I never regret it completely.  You learn from being wrong. You grow and you change and you see life, the world, people, in a different way when you realize you’re wrong. I’ve grown and changed, I continue to grow and change, and I hope I never stop growing and changing.

But you have to want to grow and change, and one of the sadder things I’ve seen and had to grow accustomed to is seeing how many people have no desire to grow, to learn, to change. I don’t understand it. I try to wrap my mind around it but I can’t. I can’t imagine not questioning, not wondering, not researching, not learning.

I don’t ever want to stop growing and evolving. I can’t imagine wanting to stop, and resisting it stubbornly.

As a writer I tell stories. To tell stories I have to have characters, setting, place and plot  and dialogue. To write about them honestly I have to understand them, and writing sometimes is my way to try to come to understanding. I sometimes funnel my outrage and my anger into my writing as ways of divesting myself of that energy; writing is always where I go when I want to make sense of an insensible situation, a problem, something I can’t quite understand. In my stories I know my characters intimately, who they are and what they like and what they don’t like and whether they are ticklish or not and whether they know how to swim or not and why and if they can cook and if they have a clean house and do they enjoy grocery shopping. You can never know another human being as completely as you know the characters you write about.

I have always thought that my Chanse series was the darker toned one and more political by nature. I’ve tackled hate crimes and murder and homophobia and self-loathing and politics in the Chanse series. I’ve always thought of the Scotty series as fluffy and fun and entertaining; the books enjoyable entertainments for an afternoon or two at the beach and nothing more. But as I address some issues in this current Scotty manuscript, I found myself wondering is this more of a Chanse book than a Scotty? Scotty books aren’t supposed to be dark and heavy.

And then…I start remembering the previous Scotty books. The neo-Nazis allied with the far right politician in Bourbon Street Blues, and what their plan for the Southern Decadence weekend in the French Quarter was. The difficulty of being a world class athlete who has to stay in the closet and having a homophobic mother in Jackson Square Jazz. The inhumanity of the Russian mob in Mardi Gras Mambo. Religious fanaticism and the corruption of the Vietnam War in Vieux Carre Voodoo. The homophobic hysteria of the religious right over same-sex marriage in Who Dat Whodunnit. The corruption of Louisiana state politics in Baton Rouge Bingo. The horror of being tried in the court of public opinion in Garden District Gothic.

I’ve been doing it all along.

Even now, I laugh at my naivete. The Scotty series is about a gay male ex-stripper in the French Quarter whose parents are far-left progressives and is in a three way relationship with a former FBI agent and an international gun-for-hire. They took in the ex-Fed’s gay college-aged nephew after he came out to his parents and they disowned him in Baton Rouge Bingo.

When you write gay characters, tell gay stories, focus on gay themes and ideas, when you show the world what it looks like through the prism of the gay gaze, it absolutely is an act of politics, of defiance, of seeing the society mainstream heterosexual has been building since Romulus and Remus founded Rome from an outside glance.

This makes the work political. It’s very existence is political.

My existence is political. People who don’t know me hate me for simply existing, for not fitting into the world the way they want it to be. My existence challenges core beliefs for some people: those who think we should all be drones living a cookie-cutter existence in the suburbs with 2.5 children, a dog, and a white picket fence.

But got some bad news for you folks: I ain’t going back in the closet. I’m not done fighting. I may be old and tired now, but I’m not finished.

I’ll still be fighting as they shove my body into the crematorium.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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