Walking on Broken Glass

Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.

This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.

Representation absolutely matters.

And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.

As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”

As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.

And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.

Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.

The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.

Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.

“Yes?” Ike said.

My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).

So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.

For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.

That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)

The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*

Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.

This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?

Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.

I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.

Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.

It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?

*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”

How Will I Know

Monday morning and another week of work staring me in the face.

Yesterday was rather pleasant, as Sundays generally tend to be more so than any other day of the week. I slept in, as I have been doing a lot lately on the weekends (thank you medication!) and then I spent about two hours with Razorblade Tears, S. A. Cosby’s thought-provoking and interesting thriller–a very worthy follow-up to last year’s terrific Blacktop Wasteland. After that, I started moving computer files around in an attempt to get better organized, which was a rather dreadful and tedious chore, but listening to the Per Shop Boys’ Pop Art (aka their greatest hits) made it somewhat more bearable, quite frankly. I also went to the gym and had a terrific workout that felt great; I am always amazed at how much better my Sunday workouts are compared to those on days that have work-responsibilities, and I felt and looked so pumped when I left the gym–something I never feel on the weeknight workouts. I also had a great stretching session (I also stretched at home on Saturday; I think I am going to start going on Saturdays to do some cardio…we’ll see. Football season is also looming…), and felt really good when I got home. I also registered for New England Crime Bake in November, which means a visit to Boston and (hopefully) New York as well. YAY!

I’m also trying something new this morning–no cappuccinos, just regular coffee. This could very easily turn out to be a huge mistake–huge–but it’s something I wanted to try. I slept okay last night–woke up a few times, but was able to fall back asleep–and I am pretty sure I can function with a lot less caffeine than I usually have on these early mornings. I guess I am about to find out one way or the other, right? I’m also going to make a to-do list for this week once I get a little bit more awake this morning; and I am going to try to actually follow it. It’s very easy for me to get off track–shiny object! Look!–but it is definitely something I need to try to get back into the habit of working on. I want to get several more chapters of Chlorine written, and I also want to get some things revised/reworked this week–I want to get a few more stories out for submission by the end of July; you can’t sell anything if it’s just sitting in your computer–and getting organized is crucial for me getting things done, period.

I’ve been feeling fairly decently about my writing lately; not sure what’s changed (the chemicals in my body? Thank you, medication) but I’ve been feeling pretty confident. Maybe it’s because I’ve done so much work in this last month? Maybe it’s because the work has gone really well? Maybe, maybe, maybe. Who knows?

I am enjoying watching the Olympics, but it feels weird not watching the way we have in the past. NBC’s coverage is, as always, horrible and cheesy (really makes me miss the days when ABC did the Olympics and treated sports reporting like, you know, actual journalism), but it’s always fun seeing the athletes competing and being emotional and so forth, and there are always lovely Olympic stories. I was also very delighted to wake up to see that our swim team once again won the gold in the mens’ 4 x 100 swim relay–I also loved when they show the one from Beijing with the amazing finish when Jason Lezak pulled out that amazing final leg and stunned France at the wall; that was one of the most exciting moments in Olympic history that Paul and I can recall–I know we both leaped up and were screaming and jumping up and down (also because we wanted to see Michael Phelps break the record for most gold medals at a single Olympics, and this race was crucial for that)–and even rewatching it is almost as exciting as witnessing it as it happened.

This is why I love sports, you know? I am still floating from the 2019 LSU season, to be honest.

And on that note, I should probably head into the spice mines and get my act together for today.

Groove is in the Heart

I had a marvelous workout yesterday afternoon. I finished reading PJ Vernon’s delightful Bath Haus, and then went to the gym. There was no one there when I arrived around two–delightful in and of itself–and so I started working out, trying to maintain a good pace to keep my heart rate up to get a cardiovascular benefit (I’ve always hated cardio, so have always relied on pacing during weights to get in a cardio workout, with varied success throughout my life). I added weights, worked hard, and then strolled back to the Lost Apartment with a slight detour to take more pictures for Instagram, and then came home, made a protein shake, and wrote a blog entry talking about PJ’s book. And then I just kind of kicked back and goofed off. I was a bit tired from the gym, and still feeling a bit lethargic from the amazing night’s sleep from Saturday night, so I just kind of played around with Youtube video wormholes and did a load of laundry and made dinner and just kind of let myself have a night off, to relax and recharge. I am having to navigate the spice mines again this week, and facing the week with a lot of things to do nd get done relaxed, recharged and rested wasn’t necessarily the worst idea, after all… so yes, thus I rationalized not writing this next chapter of the book, or rereading the works in progress, or even thinking about everything I need to get done this week, and I am nothing if not an OIympic caliber rationalizer.

And so it went.

AND I AM NOT SORRY!

I also managed to somehow not get phô this weekend. Perhaps tomorrow after work it might work out. We shall have to see, one supposes. Phô has become my great white whale, hasn’t it?

I slept very well again last night–in fact didn’t really want to get out of bed this morning, quite frankly–but as the caffeine begins flowing through my veins and my mind begins to clear and focus, I do feel very rested, which was my goal heading into this week, if not completely awake yet. But I do feel prepared to face the work week, which I don’t always on Monday mornings, and that’s quite lovely. Tonight after work I’ll be swinging by to pick up my library book–about pirates and sodomy–and hopefully, I’ll have some time this evening to start reading Razorblade Tears, the new S. A. Cosby novel, which is getting rave reviews everywhere. I am curious to read it for two reasons–one, Shawn is one of our better writers publishing today, and two, the subject matter of the book intrigues me, and i am curious to see what I will think about it once I am reading about it. Essentially, it’s the story of two ex-con fathers who are looking for the killer of their gay sons–and having to deal with their own guilt over their own homophobia in the wake of their sons’ murders. This is kind of a new approach, and not one I can really recall having been tackled before in crime fiction; which in and of itself is a rarity. Shawn is also a terrific writer–his Blacktop Wasteland being one of my favorite books of last year–and am very interested to see how he handles this subject matter.

I Think about You

Friday finally, and so much to do, as always.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. I was working at home and so not paying nearly as much attention as I would ordinarily–just checking in here and there when I was bleary-eyed from working, plus tired from the insomnia the night before–and was more than a little amused to see some weird stuff going on around that short story for The New Yorker that went viral a while back–“Cat Person”, which didn’t impress me much–but apparently the author had based the story on her own experience with some guy, after which someone had told her about another woman’s experience with the same guy so she based the female main character on THAT woman, and THAT woman wrote an essay about having her life appropriated for someone else’s fiction?

It’s been my experience that people will see themselves in characters you create that they like and identify with, even if there’s nothing further from that truth. People I know have always seen themselves in characters that I’ve written about–and I can only think of one instance where I actually DID base someone on a friend–Scotty’s best friend David, who disappeared from the series after the first three books (mainly because I could never figure out a way to bring him into the stories; although I do think about bringing him back every now and then because I really liked the character). David was based on my friend and workout partner Mark, who always wanted to be killed off in a really brutal fashion. I never obliged, of course, but as I said, when I picked up the series again after several years away from it, I could never figure out a way to involve him in the story so he kind of became an absent character.

Now that I’ve said that, I am determined to involve him in the next Scotty book. It might be kind of fun, actually.

I slept better last night than I did the night before, so I am better rested today. Yesterday I was so tired I actually felt unwell, which of course had me thinking about COVID variants and so forth, and made me also think I should be more diligent about wearing masks everywhere. I did make groceries last night after work, despite being tired, and i did wear a mask, and I think that’s going to be my standard practice going forward. Why risk getting sick, and I sure as hell don’t care what people I don’t know think about me. (I have gone into a few places unmasked over the past few weeks; like a very bad Gregalicious.) I also had a nightmare last night that when I got up and came downstairs this morning, there would be another pile of forms for me to enter into the CDC database–which was a most unpleasant dream, frankly.

I also got my copy of S. A. Cosby’s new book, Razorblade Tears, in the mail yesterday. I will move on to it once I finish reading Bath Haus, which should be this weekend. I’m very excited to read Shaun’s new book–I’ve heard such wonderful things about it already, and frankly, I am a huge fan. Blacktop Wasteland was one of my favorite books of last year. I am also excited that the next part of the Fear Street trilogy is dropping on Netflix today.

I also haven’t written in several days, which is not good–but the tired thing is for real. Since I am feeling rested today, I am hoping to tear through the next part of “Never Kiss a Stranger,” with an end goal of finishing the first draft this weekend. I am going to also start writing the next chapter of Chlorine this weekend, provided I stay rested and motivated. My phô restaurant is reopening today as well, so I am going to be able to get some phô at some point this weekend as well. Maybe tomorrow? And I will be going to the gym later today as well. On the walk home from the gym today I intend to swing by another street into the Garden District–First–and will be taking pictures of Anne Rice’s former home, which was the house she made the longtime home of the Mayfair witches, beginning with The Witching Hour, which is one of my favorite New Orleans novels. Despite the heat and the gallons of sweat these picture taking walks home creates, I am enjoying them because I feel like I am reconnecting with the city in some ways. I certainly don’t feel as disconnected as I have over the past year or so.

And on that note, it’s time to go make condom packs. Have a glorious Friday, COnstant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

I Love a Rainy Night

There’s really nothing like rain for a good night’s sleep, is there? There’s just so comforting about being under the covers, warm and snug and dry, while everything outside is getting drenched. I’m not sure why that is, but rain always helps me sleep–and I never want to get out of bed if it is still raining. I also love curling up under a blanket in my easy chair with a good book when it’s raining outside. There’s something about that constant pattering of drops against the house and the sound of the wind, the occasional brightening of the gloom with lightning, followed by the rolling thunder…one of the things I love the most about living in New Orleans is our wonderful rain, the marvelous raging thunderstorms–but I will admit, I am not thrilled about the streets filling with water and the potential risks of water damage from flooding to my car. (I got caught once in a downpour/flash flood with my old red Chevrolet Cavalier back in the say–it cost about $600 to get it running again, as well as to get the smell out of it. I can’t imagine how much it would cost now, or if the car would be totaled if the computer systems got wet…)

It’s rained off and on ever since Wednesday night, and it’s kind of gloomy outside my windows again this morning. I’ve been sleeping fairly well for over a week now–last night was the first night I woke up a few times and had some incredibly odd and vivid dreams. The house is still a mess–after my appointments and errands and so forth, I was very tired when I got home and just spent the rest of the day relaxing–at least, what was left of it. We got caught up on Hacks, which is so marvelous, finished the first season of The Sinner (it’s so weird that we watched it backwards, but it really doesn’t matter what order you watch in; as I said, the personal story of detective Harry Ambrose isn’t the point of the show, and its kind of interesting to see it unfold backwards), and then watched another episode of a Hulu show (like The Sinner, executive produced by Jessica Biel, and good for her) called The Sister, starring Russell Tovey. It’s an original crime series (not based on a book or anything) and what drew me to it was star Russell Tovey, whom I’ve enjoyed since his days as the werewolf on the original British Being Human, and he’s also an out gay actor. He’s great and the show is interesting with a clever premise, but the pace is a bit slow and the bad guy/villain is so over the top and creepy that he’s hard to watch (I keep thinking for fuck’s sake just kill him and make it look like an accident already); but we’ll probably keep watching it around other shows we are more interested in.

The rest of this morning is going to be spent organizing and cleaning and straightening up this kitchen/office, which is a disaster area, and then making my long overdue to-do list. I need to record a video somehow to promote a panel I’ m doing this month for the San Francisco Public Library on queer mysteries (moderated and arranged by Michael Nava, and including Dharma Kelleher, Cheryl Head, and PJ Vernon, whose Bath Haus I really need to get my hands on); I also have to make arrangements to record my panel for More Than Malice this month (another stellar line-up), and I am also doing something this coming Thursday for Tubby and Coo’s Bookshop here in New Orleans.

I also kind of need to get back to my writing, and to the gym–but the gym is now open at its pre-pandemic schedule, so I can go much later in the day than I had to before.

I also want to finish reading The Zimmermann Telegram by Barbara Tuchman, and Robyn Gigl’s impressive debut novel, By Way of Sorrow, and next up is either Mia Manansala’s debut Arsenic and Adobo or S. A. Crosby’s Razorblade Tears–his Blacktop Wasteland was one of my best reads last year, and has been winning all of the awards for last year’s books. I’ve also realized one of the reasons my TBR pile always seems so mountainous and ever-growing is because there are so many excellent choices to read that I become paralyzed with the inability to choose and as such, never progress and wind up choosing a movie instead, or history videos on Youtube.

And of course, I really need to start writing again, and deciding what I want to work on over the course of this weekend. I think I want to rewrite the first chapter of Chlorine–which is all that is done–and maybe chapter two; an I also want to get back into the short stories and novellas I’ve been working on; you can imagine my horror when I opened the file for “Never Kiss a Stranger” and realized most of what I thought I had written was actually just written in my head…oy–and the same goes for “A Holler Full of Kudzu.” I hate when my imagination is so vivid that I actually think I wrote things when I merely wrote them in my head…

And on that note–hello spice mines! I am heading in there now.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

Rock the Shack

Wednesday, and the day my income tax refund is due to hit the bank. It’s too early to check; the bank doesn’t update accounts until 8 am–which is actually pretty annoying, particularly since this is a new development since my bank was bought out by another. Well, hello and surprise–it was actually there! Huzzah!

We had an amazing thunderstorm last night–it’s still pretty nasty outside this morning–and yes, I was awake through the storm because yet again I passed another sleepless night. That’s three nights of insomnia in a row. Heavy sigh. Maybe tonight I will be able to sleep. I had hoped to make it to the gym tonight, but I can’t imagine not being tired after I get off work this afternoon. Looks like we are also in a flash flood warning for most of the day–not really feeling like I’d want to walk to the gym in torrential rain, either. But…if i do go, perhaps that would wear me out so I could sleep tonight? One can dream, I suppose.

We only have one episode left of The Innocent, and we really have enjoyed the hell out of this show. I’m going to terribly sorry to see it end tonight–and I am sure there are some twists and turns left to play out in this story.

Not sure what we are going to watch next, but there’s a Spanish language show on Netflix called Who Killed Sara? that looks interesting.

I am still trying to decide what to read next–I have such a plethora of riches on hand to go through as it is already, and some of my favorite writers (Alison Gaylin, Megan Abbott, and Laura Lippman) are releasing new books later this year, and S. A. Cosby’s follow-up to Blacktop Wasteland drops in July. Can’t wait to get my grubby paws on all of those, believe you me.

I’ve been too tired to write or do much focusing of any kind this week–three days of insomnia and counting will do that to you–but I’ve been thinking about a couple of my short stories lately and wanting to get to work on those at some point. Maybe tonight I will get some sleep so I can both read AND write tomorrow night, which would be lovely.

And, tired as I may be, it’s time to drag my tired ass into the spice mines. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Paper Rings

Well, Constant Reader, we certainly survived Monday, did we not? At any rate, I’m typing this for you to read later, so hopefully we survived Monday; I did, at any rate.

This has been such a weird shit-show of a year already that I’ve completely forgotten that my fifty-ninth birthday is creeping up on me. Yes sir, next week is the big 5-9 (I’ve been saying I was fifty-nine for the entire year so far already) and I don’t know if any celebration is called for; I don’t really make a to-do of my birthday, never have (they weren’t really made much of when I was a kid, and so I still to this day don’t think my birthday is a big deal) and am always kind of amazed when people actually DO make a big deal of theirs. But some years I do things on my Facebook page to indicate another year of my life has passed me by in the wink of an eye; one year I kept changing my profile picture to old pictures of me from my past. Another year I started posting my books covers to count it down. For this year, I think I am actually going to take a long weekend–my birthday falls on a Thursday, so I may take Thursday and Friday as vacation days, and take a lovely long weekend to indulge myself in reading and organizing and working on the book (yes, for me that always feels like an indulgence). I think I’m going to go ahead and start reading Lovecraft Country–I kind of feel the need to read something in the horror vein, after the stunning brilliance of Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland–and perhaps once I’ve finished that, I’ll read Babylon Berlin.

I also need to get back into the Short Story Project.

I was very tired yesterday; I didn’t sleep well Sunday night for whatever reason there was for me to not sleep well–(whatever it was, it was annoying) so when I got home from work yesterday I was really too tired, mentally and physically, to do much of anything other than wait for Paul to come home so we could watch Babylon Berlin. There are only two episodes left, which is sad, but we’ve really been gulping them down very quickly. It’s really well done, the writing is astonishing, and there are so many characters and subplots, brilliantly interwoven within each other, that it’s quite masterful; and seriously hard to keep track of–the recaps at the beginning of each episode are enormously helpful. It’s also very dark; bad things seem to happen to all of the characters, and there never seems to be any way out of their predicaments. It’s also a remarkable depiction of Weimar Germany and the Berlin of that period; a period that really isn’t particularly well known. The world-wide economic crash is coming–the one that began in the United States with the collapse of the stock market–and so the times are about to get even darker. Season 4 is going to be quite intense, I suspect.

I slept very well last night, so hopefully today I will have the energy to deal with things that need to be dealt with. I have to admit I have been in a bit of a funk the last week or so, partly due, no doubt, to medical appointments and things of that nature, and loss of sleep due to that incumbent stress, and hopefully today will be more of a normal Greg day. I like normal Greg days; in fact, I much prefer them, to be honest. I really dislike this entire switch, dependent on so many exterior factors, in what kind of day I am going to have; it’s truly unpleasant and awful. But, as I said, I feel more awake and rested this morning than I did yesterday, so here’s hoping today is a better day.

And on that note, ’tis time for me to get back into the spice mines.

Mirrorball

And here we find ourselves, yet again, on the dawning of a new work week; the oft-despised and maligned Monday.

I’m feeling tired this morning–it’s not groggy; just kind of dragging, if that’s a thing. More like I should have slept for at least another hour kind of thing. But it’s a “to-the-office” morning, and we have a full schedule both today and tomorrow, which is great, actually–I really enjoy working with clients–and just wish I was a little more awake this morning.

Paul and I blasted through eight (!!!) episodes of Season 3 of Babylon Berlin last night; the third season is just as high quality as the previous two, and I am now thinking I might want to move the book higher in the TBR pile. I had planned on reading Lovecraft Country next, preparatory to the show airing on HBO this month–it’s nice to mix a different genre in every once in a while–and I do love horror, when it’s well done. This one explores racism and Jim Crow through a reimagining of the notorious racist H. P. Lovecraft’s horror, (Lovecraft has been the subject of a raging battle in the horror genre for the last decade or so; he was an enormous influence on the genre and is still quite widely read to this day–but was also a horrific racist. I’ve actually never read Lovecraft–I tried when I was a teenager and it didn’t hold my interest–so I cannot comment on his influence, other than what others say about it) and the trailers for the show look terrific.

I also have some anthologies and short story collections to start digging into; I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection and Lawrence Block’s The Darkling Halls of Ivy sitting on my end table. (I would love to have a story in one of Block’s anthologies; they are inevitably terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them I’ve read thoroughly.) I’ve kind of been diverted away from the Short Story Project during these dark times; and since they can be gulped down relatively easily and quickly, I may be taking the Block with me to work today for reading during my lunch break; the lovely thing about short stories are they are short and can be finished in a short period of time, without the sadness that comes with having to set aside a truly fabulous novel one is reading.

I’ve read some very good books thus far this year; as I said in my entry about S. A. Cosby’s quite marvelous Blacktop Wasteland, these are terrific times to be a fan of crime fiction because so much wonderful stuff is being published these days. I honestly think the move towards greater diversity and publishing more diverse voices is pumping new blood and new life into our genre; this needs to happen every so often, I think–and with no offense intended towards anyone, there’s a tendency for creative fiction to stagnate, to continue upholding the status quo–and new voices are vital for our genre to survive.

I spent a good portion of yesterday going over the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and yes, I was correct; a lot of work needs to be done on them still. But I made some good progress, and if I can get these first ten whipped into shape the second ten, and the final five, will be much easier to work on and correct and fix. It took me about five hours to get through everything, as well as realize what all needs to be done to pull this all together; I am hoping to find the time to do it all during this week so I can spend the weekend working on the next ten, hopefully getting them all finished so I can have the entire book ready to be turned in by the first of September.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

On the Road Again

Yesterday was another awful, low energy day. I got something lovely in the mail–thank you again, Penni Jones, that was so incredibly kind and thoughtful of you–and I got caught out running errands in a wonderful thunderstorm; I eventually had to make a mad dash through the pouring rain to the apartment with bags of groceries and the mail. After getting into the house I was very tired and cranky and out of sorts, and looking at Bury Me in Shadows just made my stomach clench and my nerves fray. I wasted some time writing an entry about writing about vampires, which I will post at some point this morning (if I haven’t already) and looked through some of that writing. I was also enormously pleased, despite the frayed nerves and the stomach clenched in knots, to see that the writing of said vampire fiction was actually quite good, which was nice; I have such a tendency to avoid looking at my old work (for any number of reasons, none of which speak well to my self-confidence) that it was kind of a pleasant surprise to read it and think, hey, this was from really early in my career and this isn’t bad at all, well done, earlier-in-his-career Greg!

So, tired and with low energy, I decided to retire to my recliner with Blacktop Wasteland, figuring that finishing that book was one of my goals for the weekend, and that was probably the easiest goal to reach.

Nor do I regret one second of the time I spent with the book.

Beauregard thought the night sky looked like a painting

Laughter filled the air only to be drowned out by a cacophony of revving engines as the moon slid from behind the clouds. The bass from the sound system in a nearby Chevelle was hitting him in his chest so hard, it felt like someone was performing CPR on him. There were about a dozen other late-model cars parked haphazardly in front of the old convenience store. In addition to the Chevelle, there was a Maverick, two Impalas, a few Camaros and five or six more examples of the heyday of American muscle. Yhe air was cool and filled with the scent of gas and oil. The rich, acrid smell of exhaust fumes and burnt rubber. A choir of crickets and whippoorwills tried in vain to be heard. Beauregard closed his eyes and strained his ears. He could hear them but just barely. They were screaming for love. He thought a lot of people spent a large part of their life doing the same thing.

The wind caught the sign hanging above his head from the arm of a pole that extended twenty feet into the air. It creaked as the breeze moved it back and forth.

Laura Lippman describes noir as “dreamers become schemers,” and that’s always the closest description of what noir actually is that I’ve ever heard. Like all definitions of noir, it’s not quite everything, but nothing else anyone has written or said about noir comes as close to it, in my mind, as that. For me, noir is like pornography; I maybe can’t tell you what it is, but I know it when I see it. I personally love noir; it’s probably one of my favorite things to read (or styles of film to watch). I try to bring a noir sensibility to almost everything I write, no matter what label it’s given as an important keyword on Amazon. (I still believe that Timothy is the most noir thing I’ve written to date; but I am looking forward to delving more deeply into it with future work.)

Blacktop Wasteland is called a ‘heist’ novel by people who know the genre probably better than I do; and they are not incorrect; it is a heist novel. But it’s also so much more that I feel calling it that is, in some ways, a disservice to it–and I don’t mean to imply by that statement that there is anything wrong with heist novels. I haven’t read many of them, and I haven’t seen many heist films. Rob Byrnes writes truly clever, intricately plotted ones with a wide variety of distinct and well-developed characters that are also witty and funny as well as smart. But Blacktop Wasteland is also noir of the purest sort, the kind that Cain and Thompson and the other greats wrote; about working class people who can’t quite catch the break they need to be upwardly mobile, who believe that in a society and culture where everything is stacked against them, the only answer is criminality–and knowing when to walk away from that life. It’s about wanting more for your kids and your family than you had; it’s about grabbing for the American Dream and the brass ring. It’s also about family, and the damage done by wrong decisions and believing mythology you’ve invented rather than facing harsh and painful truths.

The main character of Cosby’s novel, Beauregard Montage (more commonly known as Bug) has tried, throughout his adult life, to build a better life for his wife and kids, and the child he rarely sees he fathered when he was a young teenager with a white girl whose family keeps her away from him. He’s opened his own business–a garage doing car repair and oil changes, etc–but the opening of a franchise oil change place has eaten into his business and has put him in danger of losing it all. A complication with his mother’s Medicare has resulted in a vast amount of money due to the retirement home where she makes everyone’s life miserable. That oldest daughter needs money for college and is dating a guy who might not be good for her. The bills are all overdue and the mortgage on the garage is so overdue it could lead to foreclosure.

Is there anything more American or relatable in these troubled times than financial distress?

But what Bug is best at is driving; he was in the Life before he decided to walk away from it for the sake of a straight life for his wife and kids. His own father walked away from his family when Bug was a teenager–for their sake, since he couldn’t escape his own criminal past. And the carefully constructed life Bug has put together for his family is slowly coming apart at the seams; and he needs money, and fast. So when a driving job in the life comes available, he grits his teeth and agrees to it. But nothing is ever as easy as it seems, and this job leads to other bills that have to be paid–with blood and bone.

The story alone is riveting, but what makes this novel so strong and powerful is the voice and the development of Bug as a character. The struggle within him between the desire for a normal family life and to do right by his children versus the thrill he gets from being in the life; from getting to flex and use his driving skills to skirt the law and get away with it is what takes this book to another level–and then the realization, the coming to terms with his feelings for his own father and that abandonment, as well as coming to terms with his complicated relationship with his mother, as he tries to do the right thing by his own family was breathtaking in its complexity and how agonizingly real it all seemed.

And those actions scenes are masterfully crafted, and keep you on the edge of your seat the entire time. Even had I wanted to put the book down, to take my time with it and read it more slowly, to draw the pleasure out, I couldn’t have once the kicked into high gear.

The writing is also deceptively simple yet honed to a sharpness and beauty worthy of compare to the grand masters of crime writing.

And while it was an accident of my TBR pile, I am very glad I read Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths and S. A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland back to back, as both are surely writing some of the best contemporary rural noir of our time; they should be paired, really, and read back to back, much the same as how Megan Abbott’s Dare Me and Michael Koryta’s The Prophet should be paired together.

What a terrific time to be living in for a fan of crime fiction this is!