Lake Thirteen

Ah, Lake Thirteen.

Lake Thirteen is one of my personal favorites of all my books.

Are authors not supposed to have favorites of their own books, like parents aren’t supposed to have favorites amongst their children (untrue in my experience, for the record; I’ve certainly observed enough to note which children are favored by their “impartial” parents)? Oh, well, too bad so sad. Every book I’ve written means something to me in some way, and sometimes I do remember others more fondly.

I love Lake Thirteen primarily because I love what it reminds me of–and it was also one of the easiest books I’ve ever written. It literally just flowed out of me, almost from the very beginning (although the opening of the book was very different in my original version than what saw print; I got some excellent advice from my editor about where the proper place to start the book was, and she was 100% correct in her assessment, thereby earning my eternal gratitude and respect) and so, simply for the ease of writing it would be a fond memory…but I was inspired to write this book by a trip I took, which just goes to show how sometimes books can organically create themselves in your mind. The trip was one of the most fun times I’ve ever had, and it was also a time when I got waaaaaaay out of my comfort zone…which just goes to show sometimes it pays to get outside your comfort zone.

How I eventually wound up writing for Bold Strokes Books is a story for another time, but suffice it to say that one of the things I found most interesting, once I’d moved there, was how the business tried to foster a sense of camaraderie between the staff as well as amongst the authors. It was the kind of mentality you don’t usually find in publishing–one that focused on we’re all in this together so let’s be supportive of each other, which I found to be highly refreshing for a change. They also hosted group events all over the country to which we were all invited and welcomed to attend; being reticent and shy and one who never does well when he is in an environment where he doesn’t know anyone, I always said no to these things. But eventually I felt guilty about always saying no, and said yes to a week-long retreat in the Adirondack mountains of upstate New York, nearly two hours’ drive north of Albany, at the Garnet Hill Lodge.

I committed, agreed to go, and bought my plane ticket…and then started having the second thoughts and doubts that are trademarks of my life. I don’t know anyone very well…I’m going to be the only male there…

But once I got to the airport, I relaxed. Ali Vali was on both of my flights, and once we reached Albany, we retrieved our rental cars and headed north in a convoy. As I made my turn onto the road that would lead me to the camp and up the side of the mountain, I noted that the road was THIRTEENTH LAKE ROAD. Well, I thought to myself, that would make a great book title, Lake Thirteen.

“Are you listening to me, Scotty?

My mom’s voice was so loud, I almost dropped my cell phone. I looked up. She was smiling at me in the space between the two front seats of the rental Subaru Forester, but her eyes meant business.

“Seriously,” she went on, her smile never wavering, “if you’re going to spend the whole week staring at your phone or fiddling with it, I’ll just take it away from you now.” She held out her right hand, palm up. “I’m not joking.”

I looked at the screen of my phone and sighed before slipping it into my shorts pocket. I smiled back at her. “There, happy?”

“It’s only a week,” she said before turning back around. “You’ll live, trust me.”

Easy for you to say, I thought, turning to look out the window. It was still raining. It was raining when our flight from Chicago landed in Albany and hadn’t let up for even a minute as we headed north. I pressed my forehead against the rain-spattered glass as the GPS gave my dad another direction and he headed up an off-ramp.

“It’s only about another half hour,” my dad said as he came to a stop at the top of the ramp, turning on his left-turn signal. He looked at me in the rearview mirror. “You’re not still nervous, are you?”

I bit my lower lip and didn’t respond.

“I think you’re worrying for nothing,” Mom said. “Nancy and Jerry and Lynda and David raised their kids right, just like we did with you.”

Easy for you to say, I thought, looking out the back window at the two other rental cars following us. You’re not gay, and you didn’t just come out to them all in an e-mail.

We’d been taking these joint family vacations my entire life—I couldn’t remember a summer when our three families hadn’t taken one of these trips together. When we were kids, we’d shared a cousin-like camaraderie and looked forward to seeing each other every summer. But now that we were teens, we were like five strangers with a shared past. The last few years, it seemed to take a few days before everyone stopped sulking about having to come and decided to make the best of the situation. By the end of the week, the old bonds would be strongly and firmly in place again, and there would be sad good-byes at the airport. For about a week or so after, there would be a lot of texting and e-mailing. Once we settled back into our real lives and routines again, the contact became rarer.  Within a month it died down again to an occasional comment on Facebook.

 I was an only child, so it always seemed like I looked forward to the reunion more than the other four.

This year was different, though. This year, I’d dreaded coming, hadn’t wanted to leave our nice suburb of Chicago and spend a week with four almost-strangers my own age.

All I knew about their lives was gleaned from Facebook, which was hardly the best source for personal information.

One would never know from looking at my Facebook page, for example, that I was gay.

That first night at the Lodge, we all went down to North River, the nearest town, for a wonderful meal…and then came the big thrill of the evening: ghost hunting in a very old cemetery–one of the turn off roads was named CEMETERY ROAD, so we felt pretty confident there was a cemetery, and we were right. Maybe it was just us and we’d hyped ourselves up too much, but the cemetery was really spooky–there was also a low fog close to the ground that helped the atmosphere–and I felt myself drawn to a particular tombstone: ALBERT LINCOLN, who’d died at sixteen. “How sad, he was only sixteen. I wonder how he died?” I said out loud–and while I have never believed in the paranormal completely (too many questions that will never be answered) the strangest thing happened as soon as I finished speaking. I felt this overwhelming sense of sadness and melancholy, almost like my entire subconscious let out a sigh of incredible sadness. All the hair on my arms stood up, I got a cold chill–it was a muggy night–and I made sure to show this to some of my fellow ghost hunters to witness.

It was so weird, and I felt pretty confident that night I would have nightmares.

I couldn’t stop thinking about poor Albert, dead at sixteen (if he had died a decade later, I would have assumed is was the Spanish flu epidemic, but his tombstone read 1908 not 1918)…after we were finished and went back to the lodge, we watched Rosemary’s Baby on the DVD player in the lounge…and then I had to walk back to my cabin, a short walk down the road through the woods by myself. It was pitch black, and of course I could hear all kinds of weird noises coming from the woods as I walked, absolutely terrified, until I finally saw the light on the door where my room was. I happily escaped inside, and went around closing all the blinds and curtains because it was ink-black outside and if I ever looked over and saw someone or something in the window, I would have dropped dead on the spot.

I opened my laptop and wrote It seemed like a good idea at the time, and then started writing, doing an entire chapter about five teenagers staying at a rustic lodge in the Adirondacks who go ghost-hunting in a cemetery on the mountain only to stir up ghostly forces from a long-ago tragedy.

And I knew I was going to write that book someday, and it was going to be called Lake Thirteen.

I’ve always loved ghost stories; they are my favorites (if pressed to name a favorite novel, it would probably be The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson); I’ve always been drawn to stories about past tragedies and souls being tethered by the violent emotions felt before dying–and the quest for the truth to be known so that they can finally rest in peace. This was the driving force behind Lake Thirteen, with my main character Scotty’s (how many books have I written where I named the main character Scotty? I really need to stop doing that) visit to the cemetery leading him to a connection with a tombstone similar to the one I felt. The rest of the week, as we explored the area and the woods, I took tons of pictures everywhere to use to help with setting and place. It really was a marvelous week–I think all I did all week long was laugh and laugh and laugh more–and I was sorry to see it end.

And eventually, I did write the book. I did open it with It seemed like a good idea at the time with the teens all sitting around in the lodge bored–three families take a trip together every year, Scotty has recently come out and he doesn’t know what his friends from the other family will say or how they will react. My editor wrote back and said, This isn’t where you should start the story. Remember how the directions we were all given were bad and everyone was getting lost on the mountain trying to find the lodge? Open with them on their way, and that way you can get all the backstory in.

It was an easy fix, and it made the book a gazillion times better. It remains a personal favorite of my own stuff, and I even named the characters after some of my ghost-hunting buddies.

A few years later, at another similar event in Palm Springs, we went to visit the not-quite ghost town of Bombay Beach on the Salton Sea–I still haven’t written that book yet.

Sleeping Angel

I originally started writing Sleeping Angel in 1994.

That seems like such a long time ago, too. I hadn’t met Paul yet, was still working for that wretched airline at the airport, was broke broke broke and often ran out of money long before payday, and any kind of decent life for me seemed impossible. It was the next year I decided to snap out of the constant feeling sorry for myself, and instead of waiting for the world to come knocking on my door to make my dreams come true, that the only person who could make my dreams a reality was me, and that I needed to make the changes necessary to my life if I were going to become a writer for real–like stop dreaming about it and writing now and then, and start taking it seriously and writing all the fucking time, and trying to make it happen–which meant sending things out to try to get them published.

It’s weird how you forget things about books you’ve written until something out of left field reminds you of something. Julie Hennrikus, during our Sisters in Crime podcast interview, asked me about writing young adult fiction, and how I came to do that. The story is very simple, really; after discovering Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine and other young adult authors who wrote young adult novels that were either crime or horror or a cross of the two, I decided to take the book I was writing at the time–Sara–and write it as a young adult novel instead of as one for adults. It really didn’t take a lot, to be honest–I removed the framing device that firmly set the book back in the 1970’s–and turned it into a modern day story about teenagers (which it always was). After I finished Sara, I wrote another called Sorceress–and when I finished it, I began writing Sleeping Angel. I still didn’t have a strong grasp of how writing actually worked (which is kind of embarrassing when I remember how naive and stupid I actually was back then, but what did I know. seriously? Very little.) and so I never rewrote anything; I just printed them (I had bought a very inexpensive word processor that I loved, and wrote on) out and saved the originals. I was about half-way through Sleeping Angel when I discovered there was such a thing as queer crime novels…so I abandoned writing young adult fiction and started thinking more in terms of writing a gay private eye series…which eventually became the Chanse MacLeod series and Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Flash forward another decade or so, and in the spring of 2005 I attended BEA and the Lambda Awards in New York. I lost twice that year (Best Gay Mystery for Jackson Square Jazz and Best Scifi/Fantasy/Horror for Shadows of the Night) and then on Saturday night I attended a cocktail party for the Publishing Triangle. (It was at this party that I met both Tab Hunter and Joyce Dewitt.) I also met a very nice man who was familiar with my work, and asked me if I had ever considered writing young adult fiction with gay characters and themes? I laughed and replied that I had two completed first drafts and a partial for another in a drawer back home; he then gave me a business card and told me he would love to take a look at them with an eye to publishing. I lost the card years ago, probably in the Katrina aftermath, but he was an editor for Simon and Schuster Teen, which was very exciting. I told him I would revise one and send it to him as soon as I finished Mardi Gras Mambo, which was at that point over a year overdue (I didn’t mention that part). This was exciting for me, as one can imagine; another opportunity gained by simply being in the right place at the right time, which has been the story of my career pretty much every step of its way. Once I finished Mardi Gras Mambo that August, I started revising Sara.

And then came Hurricane Katrina, and everything went insane for a few years, and I abandoned the attempt to rewrite Sara. There was just too much going on, I was displaced and finding it hard to get back into writing, and I just wasn’t in the right place emotionally to revise or rewrite a book. I’ve always regretted that last opportunity.

Flash forward another year or so and I casually mentioned to a friend this missed opportunity. What I didn’t know when I mentioned it (bemoaned it, really; I still regret this lost chance) was that she had been working for another publisher as an acquiring editor for young adult/children’s work. “Would you rewrite one of these for me? I’d love to pitch this to the company.” So….rather than Sara, I went with a rewrite of Sorceress, which had a teenaged girl lead character and I didn’t see any place to add queer content (I’d been adding that to the revision of Sara ) and sent it to her. Alas, before she had the opportunity to pitch it the line she acquired for was closed down and that was the end of that….until a few years later when she decided to start her own small press for juvenile/young adult fiction, and wanted Sorceress. I sent it to her, we signed a contract…and then I realized I needed to let Bold Strokes Books know I was doing this. I emailed them, and they replied, “You know we do young adult?”

Well.

I wrote back and mentioned I had two others collecting dust, and so I contracted both Sara and Sleeping Angel with them. I decided to do Sleeping Angel first–which is odd, as I didn’t even have a completed first draft; I don’t remember why I decided to do this, frankly–and so I started writing and revising.

The really funny thing–just looking at the cover for the book–is that the character name “Eric Matthews” was one I came up with when I was in college; I had an idea for a book set in my fraternity, and came up with three names for characters that were pledge brothers and friends: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. I used Eric and Chris for Sleeping Angel (completely forgetting that I had already used those names in Every Frat Boy Wants It a few years earlier), so yes, even though the fraternity books I used were by “Todd Gregory”, I accidentally re-used the character names.

Whoops.

The original intent with my young adult fiction was to connect it all together, the way R. L. Stine did with Fear Street, and sort of how all of Stephen King’s work is as well. The three books I started with–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–were connected, and were the springboard from which the others would come–or were supposed to come, from. Sara was set in rural Kansas. The main character of Sorceress moved from rural Kansas to a small town in the mountains in California, Woodbridge, which was also where Sleeping Angel was set. The main character of Sara moved to Kansas from the Chicago suburb where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from, and so on. (Likewise, the main character from Dark Tide was also from the same county in Alabama where Bury Me in Shadows took place, and #shedeservedit was set in the town that was the county seat for that rural Kansas area where Sara was set.) I’d consciously forgotten that, but fortunately my subconscious still holds on to things the forefront of my brain doesn’t.

When I originally envisioned Sleeping Angel back in 1993 (or 1994, I don’t remember which), the concept I wanted to explore was something, a concept, that Dean Koontz had used in his book Hideaway–that someone was in a car accident and died, only to be resuscitated by the EMT’s. But when he came back to life, he brought back something with him from the other side that gave him a psychic connection with a serial killer. It was an interesting idea–I wasn’t using the serial killer thing–but I loved the entire concept of someone being brought back with something extra (which, now that I think about it, is also the entire conceit Stephen King built The Dead Zone around). I decided to keep the car accident to open the book in the new version, but the opening I originally wrote had to be tossed. I also came up with an entirely new concept for the book: what if you were in a bad car accident, but there was a dead body in the car who was NOT killed in the accident but had been shot and was already dead when the car crashed? And if the main character has amnesia….who killed the kid in the back seat?

And away we went.

He was driving too fast, and knew he should ease his foot off the gas pedal, bringing the car down to a safer, more manageable speed.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Hang in there, buddy,” he muttered grimly under his breath, taking his eyes off the road for just a moment to glance in the rearview mirror into the backseat. What he saw wasn’t encouraging. Sean’s eyes were closed, and he couldn’t tell if Sean was still breathing.

The blood–there was so much of it, and it was everywhere.

He swallowed and took a deep breath, trying to hold down the panic. He had to stay calm. He couldn’t let the fear take over, he just couldn’t. He had to hold himself together. He had to get to town, to get Sean to the hospital before it was too late–if it wasn’t already too late.

Not a bad beginning, right? Pulls you right into the story.

I don’t remember what–if anything–I was expecting when Sleeping Angel was finally released (it actually wound up coming out before Sorceress, ironically); it had not even been six years since the right-wing homophobes had come for me for daring to accept an invitation to speak to high school students in a Gay-Straight Alliance. And now I’d actually dared to write a book about teenagers, for teenagers. The horror! But the book come out and there wasn’t even the slightest whisper of controversy about the “gay pornographer” writing a y/a book. It got really good reviews for the most part, people really seemed to enjoy it, and it eventually won a gold medal for Outstanding Young Adult Mystery/Horror from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, which I’d never heard of but was kind of a big deal, or so I’m told. The gold medal was nice, too–very pretty (but it’s not the rock from the Shirley Jackson Awards–the smooth polished stone I got for being a finalist may be my favorite thing I ever received as recognition for my writing).

I’m still pretty proud of Sleeping Angel.

Come See About Me

Tuesday morning and all is well in the Lost Apartment, if a little tired/tiring.

Georgia won the national championship last night! I had to go to bed at the start of the fourth quarter, when the score was 13-12 (Alabama had first and goal inside the five, and had to kick a field goal to pull within one) and I thought to myself, Georgia might actually win this–something I hadn’t really given a lot of thought to, quite frankly–Alabama being, well, Alabama–but I can only imagine how wonderful it felt last night for the Dawg fans to finally beat Alabama and win a title–of any kind (and yes, I can completely relate–I still savor memories of LSU’s win over the Tide in 2019 for the first time in eight long years). This is the third time in the last decade an SEC team has won the national title without winning the conference (Alabama has done it twice already); the third straight year a different SEC team has won the national championship (LSU, Alabama, Georgia); and the first time a team from the SEC East has won a national title since 2008 (Florida)–as well as Georgia’s first since 1980 (!). FIVE SEC teams have won national titles since the turn of the century (LSU, Florida, Alabama, Auburn, and now Georgia)–which should definitely bring the SEC haters out of the woodwork for sure.

And for the record, haters, only Alabama has won more national titles this century than LSU.

I was tired last night by the time the game actually started–I had the time wrong, and tuned in at the end of the first quarter, just before Georgia tied it 3-3–because I’d been doing the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon promotional reading with four other writers with new books out this month, which was a lot of fun…but coming as it did after an hour-and-a-half television interview that came on top of rushing home from work to get there in time for the call…yeah, by the time I settled into the easy chair and opened up Hulu I was worn out. I managed to revise/edit a short story yesterday during my lunch break and while the other authors were reading–I am nothing if not a multi-tasker–and also finished another blog post for the Bold Strokes website. I also managed to get most of my email answered yesterday; there’s no telling what’s in there this morning as I haven’t really had the heart to look, to be frank. (I just did–nothing really other than spam, huzzah! At least for now.) It’s also only 41 degrees this morning–small wonder I didn’t want to get out of bed, really–so that means a sweatshirt under my T-shirt for work this morning and a lot of bitterness on my part. But at least I am on vacation starting tomorrow (this would have been my travel day to New York) which means I don’t have to get up tomorrow and I can dive into the final revision of the book. It’s technically due on Saturday and Monday is a holiday, so I’ll be checking with them to make sure it’s okay if I send it in on Monday (probably really late that night), but I am assuming it will be since most publishers don’t work on weekends or holidays).

Fingers crossed!

I am kind of looking forward to this staycation, despite the enormous disappointment in not going to New York. I have a lot to do–as long as I stay focused–and I am hopeful I will be able to get most of it taken care of since I have been so productive lately. Last night’s interview went well, as did the ZOOM reading, even if that much extroversion exhausted me. I want to get back to reading again–I stalled out on the last book I was reading, and have decided to alas cast it aside and choose another; returning that one to the TBR pile for another shot later…sometimes a book just doesn’t click with me when i try to read it, so I always try to give said book a second chance later. If it doesn’t take on the second try…that’s when it goes into the donate pile. I probably shouldn’t give books a second chance–given the status of the tottering stacks of books in the living room–but there have been any number of books that really grabbed me the second time I tried (The Stand is actually one of these, and there was another one in the pandemic times that I picked up and tried again with the end result that I absolutely LOVED it; I wish I could remember which one it was…) and so I am hesitant to deny myself even the possibility of missing out on a chance to read something fantastic.

But I also need to do something about the books. I also need to stop buying more until and unless I actually get rid of some that I have on hand–or at least until I can clear out some space in the storage attic to move some of these to…but that again shows the hoarder mentality–I will never go digging through boxes in the attic to find a book that’s stored up there; I would just buy another copy. So…maybe just clear them out and if I want to read them at some point in the future just suck it up and buy another copy, or get it from the library?

I don’t know.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and congratulations again, Georgia fans!

I’m In Love Again

Monday.

I was supposed to leave for New York on Wednesday, but thanks to anti-vaxxers and maskless wonders, our in-person board orientation for Mystery Writers of America was cancelled for the second consecutive year, which is annoying. I could cancel my vacation requests, but…am kind of hoping that I can use the time to get caught up on everything and my book is due soon, so….extra time certainly can come in handy about right now. So I only have two days in the office this week, and since next Monday is a holiday, I have essentially a week off from work, which is lovely.

I worked on the book yesterday–huzzah!–and now have only one chapter left to do and the revisions. The revisions aren’t going to be easy–but at least with the New York trip cancelled I’ll be home on vacation starting Wednesday, which should give me some breathing and working space in the meantime. Huzzah? Huzzah. At least the cancellation of the trip has a good side effect in one manner. Tonight after work I have to rush home to do a phone interview and after that, the January Bookathon for Bold Strokes Books; so it’s going to be a rather long day for me. I need to try to edit my short story and try to finish/edit the article I have due today between clients–which won’t be easy–so overall, it could very easily be a rather stressful day for me; long at any rate, and will undoubtedly be very tired when it’s finally comes to an end this evening, about an hour or so before I have to go to bed so I can get up early tomorrow morning…but then I have Wednesday off, so we’ll see how it all goes. Wednesday I definitely am going to have to spend writing and revising my butt off….Thursday and Friday as well. Sigh. But I like the book and think it is going to turn out okay, which is always pleasing for me–the crippling self-doubt will inevitably come later. It’s been a fun challenge working on this book; I am relatively certain by the time Monday rolls around I’ll be quite over it by then, in all honesty. but it’s a fun little book and I hope that the revision process develops it into the nice little read it has always intended to be (my brain is feverishly working on how it all turns out and how to get to that place in the story).

We got caught up on Yellowjackets last night, and have come to the sorry conclusion that this is merely season one and not a self-contained mini-series last night; I see no conceivable way they can wrap this all up and all the mysteries with a single hour episode–and I also suspect we are probably not going to get the answers we want and need, either. Which is fine; we certainly have been enjoying the ride thus far, and the writing and acting are pretty pinpoint sharp, too. We also started watching the new Harlan Coben Netflix show, Stay Close, which is also quite fun if a bit confusing. I still don’t understand how all the disparate storylines all come together or what is going on, but as always, it’s just fun to sit back and enjoy the ride with Harlan’s shows.

I also need to get back to reading once I finish this book; I’ve not been able to focus on doing any reading lately because I’ve been focusing what little energy I have on writing the book. I was on quite a roll there for a while, and it would be very nice to get back to reading again. The TBR pile continues to grow, and it’s past time for me to do another living room book purge. I’d intended to get another box down from the attic this weekend but…book and cleaning focus prevented that; I may be able to get to this whilst I am on vacation this week. (I suspect I am planning to be overly ambitious again this week with my time off, and of course a gazillion other things will pop up in the meantime that will distract me from getting everything finished that needs to be finished–as always–but hope will always spring eternal.)

Seriously, just looking at my inbox gives me the hives.

But recoiling away from it isn’t going to solve the problem, so it’s best for me to grit my teeth, put on my helmet, and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

A Different Point of View

Several nasty storm systems passed through last evening–loud and long claps of thunder, high winds, and a downpour. It was lovely–as was the drop in temperature–and there’s few things I love more than being safe and cozy inside while there’s a downpour outside.  It’s still kind of gray and hazy outside this morning, which is nice, and I am sure the weather helped me sleep better last night. I didn’t sleep well on Friday, and wound up sleeping later than I’d wanted (the same thing happened this morning as well but I slept better last night) and the day wound up a wash. I was tired and suffering from burn out, I think, and having to go deal with the grocery store was a bit much. The grocery store is an odious chore under the best of circumstances, and under quarantine it’s even worse. For one thing, I feel guilty for being out in a public space, and for another, I feel so bad for the underpaid staff who are out there risking their lives and their health so that we can buy groceries. I try to be as helpful and as polite as I possibly can, but I don’t blame them in the least for resenting their customers. My job is also deemed essential, so outside of the shifts in how everything from grocery shopping and so forth have been altered, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I still get up every day and go to work. I may not be able to go to the gym anymore (for the duration), and I may go to the grocery store less…but my life has only changed in the times I work, more than anything else, and what I do at work. I don’t resent our clients–but I would imagine, if I were a grocery store employee, I’d resent the hell out of the customers.

Yesterday was, as I said, a wash. I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts, with very low energy, and making groceries is even more draining and exhausting than it usually is. I had very little creative energy yesterday morning, and after making groceries, I did some cleaning and retired to my easy chair. Paul got us lunch from the Please U Cafe–shrimp po’boys and homemade onion rings–as a treat, and of course, I couldn’t finish the onion rings and was stuffed, not needing dinner. I was going to do some reading, but Paul and I wound up watching the rest of the first season of My Life is Murder, which I greatly enjoyed, and then we moved on to the Netflix continuation of Tales of the City, which is very well done; much better than the originals, to be honest. We only have two episodes left, and we stayed up later than we should have watching. I’m hoping to start rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin today, if I have time. Since I took yesterday off to recharge my batteries, I have to get a lot done today. I need to get that first draft of the Sherlock story finished; I need to get another story edited; and I am doing a live ZOOM panel discussion tonight for Bold Strokes Books weekend book-a-thon, which is going to be interesting. I’m not really a fan of the whole ZOOM thing, to be honest–I hate seeing myself on screen, and I really hate the sound of my own voice–so these things are like Kryptonite for me. But in this brave  new world, I need to start doing these things…which also kind of terrify me. I’m always afraid, like book signings, that no one will click to watch or no one will show up if I do a live reading on-line or anything like that. And I am so highly critical of myself…yeah, I’m not sure I want to open that door or not.

But how does one sell books in the time of quarantine? Post-quarantine? Who knows?

I am going to make chili in the slow cooker today; it’s been awhile and it will help clear my head to get writing this afternoon–there’s nothing like doing something that doesn’t require full concentration (like chopping peppers and rinsing beans and dicing up a chicken) that opens the floodgates to my creativity. I just have to make sure that I channel that creativity properly; the last thing in the world I need to do is come up with ideas for new stories–because I’ll never write all the ideas I already have as there will never be enough time in my life for me to write everything I want to write. So, once I finish this I am going to try to get the kitchen organized and cleaned up while I get the chili started, and then I’m going to get cleaned up before sitting down to do some serious writing this afternoon, and then hopefully I’ll have some time to read before it’s time for the panel.

I’m also very conscious of the way time is slipping through my fingers. I had hoped to write several books this year, and here it is past mid-April already without a single novel manuscript finished. A lot of it has to do with my usual procrastination and laziness, plus the emotional unbalance triggered by a global pandemic, creative ADHD, and the occasional bout with PTSD. I honestly don’t want to think about how many short stories I’ve started writing since the year (and haven’t finished); that goes along with the other story fragments I have started over the last two years or so. Some of them are great ideas, and I think could really turn into something; others I am not so sure about. But my goal for the rest of April is to get these stories due by the end of the month finished, and then try to get some of the others done as well by May 1st. I intend to spend May whipping Bury Me in Shadows into place so i can get it turned in; spend June doing the same to the Kansas book, and then spend July writing the first draft of Chlorine, before moving on to the next Scotty book. This is, needless to say, a very ambitious writing schedule; one that I most likely will be unable to keep. But it’s always good to plan ahead, and be more ambitious than you think you’ll be able to go with (although I am very well aware that an overly ambitious schedule presents the potentiality of setting one’s self up to fail, which can trigger another downward spiral in addition to awakening that horrible voice in my head) because even if you can’t keep up with it, you should still be able to get a lot finished. And there are other distractions along the way–can never forget that I’m the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, and that inevitably cuts into my writing time as well.

But on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines and start getting some things done around here–and to that end, I am going to do my stretching, and get cleaned up.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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Georgia on My Mind

Huzzah! We made it to Wednesday, and what a lovely thing that is to behold. It’s cold this morning in the Lost Apartment–it’s in the forties outside this morning–so my space heater is on and I am basking in the warmth. Last night was a good night of make-up sleep–I feel amazingly rested and refreshed this morning—and my coffee? Why, it’s delicious and wonderful, thank you for asking!

I was terribly exhausted last night when I got home from work; barely enough energy to fold the towels in the dryer (after a refluff cycle) and literally, just sat in my easy chair and just wasted away the evening rewatching the first half of the LSU-Oklahoma game on the DVR. I still, all this time later, cannot wrap my mind around that game. As I watched, and thought about the upcoming national title game with Clemson, I realized that if LSU loses that game, it will be disappointing; but it won’t really take away the magic of this past season. It was stressful at times, but almost always a joy to watch LSU play this year; to not lose games they shouldn’t and to raise up to the level of the opponent they were playing. There were, to be sure, some sloppy games where the defense gave up far more points than they should have (Vanderbilt and Mississippi come to mind), but it was still an amazing, amazing ride for LSU fans.

Today is pay day, so once I finish this and plow through my emails this morning I have to pay some bills and update the checkbook. I know, I know; I am old-fashioned that way; I like to keep a register of what I spend and on what–it helps at the end of the year with tax prep, which I should start working on soon–and I just can’t, even though I rarely, if ever, write checks anymore, not keep a handwritten register of my spending through the checking account. It’s interesting that no one really writes checks anymore, yet they are still called checking accounts–perhaps someday in the future they’ll be rebranded as debit accounts, to differentiate from credit accounts.

I also came to the conclusion last night that I really need to stop beating myself up for not getting as much done on Mondays and Tuesdays as I would like. I work twelve hour days on both; I get up at six in the morning and get home from work just after eight in the evening. Mondays are generally busier than Tuesdays, but both are busy enough regularly to wear me out. Monday nights I usually am not as worn down as I am on Tuesdays; but it’s still exhausting, and I am usually too tired to even read when I get home from work on those nights. I think it’s not just the length of the workdays but the getting up so ridiculously early as well; and I generally don’t sleep as well on those nights when I have to get up while it’s still dark outside. But the good news is I’ve finally recognized that it’s probably insane to criticize myself for not getting as much done on those two days as I want to; and of course today I feel rested, so if anything today is the day I should beat myself up for not getting anything done–if I don’t get anything done, that is, today.

I’ve not yet ventured onto Twitter to see if RWA is still aflame, a la the firebombing of Dresden during World War II; but those fires were still being fed pretty well yesterday all day. It still staggers me that this enormous rift has formed in one of the largest writers’ organizations in the world, frankly; I believe they have somewhere between nine and ten thousand members, and over 150 chapters. That boggles my mind. Granted, they aren’t all published authors–there’s aspiring authors, and industry professionals, and so forth. I had considered joining RWA at one point–my Todd Gregory novels could be seen as erotic romances, even if it was, in my mind, a bit of a stretch. I talked to a lesbian friend who was a member, and was stunned to discover that if I did join, I couldn’t be a part of forums and so forth that were for authors because I had worked for a publisher so I was therefore suspect and couldn’t participate in forums where authors might talk about publishers because my presence could inhibit their discussions. It was absurd on its face, I felt; when Harrington Park Press was sold and the fiction lines discontinued, I continued to work as an editor–but strictly on a contract basis; Bold Strokes Books would offer me manuscripts to edit and I would say yes or no. I didn’t have the power or control to offer contracts or negotiate them; I was sometimes sent a manuscript for evaluation and if I thought it was something that held promise I would say yes I’d like to work on this one and they’d offer a contract to the author. But that was enough, in the eyes of RWA, to make me a “publisher” and not an “author.” I didn’t think that could be right, of course, so I wrote to the main office of RWA asking–and was told, yes, even simply editing on a contract/for hire basis was enough to make me a publisher rather than an author in their eyes.

So, I didn’t join. At the time I wondered if this was all because I was gay and wrote gay books–the ever-present shadow of homophobia always lingers in the back of my mind, making me question any and everything–but eventually simply shrugged my shoulders and figured, well, if they don’t want my money they don’t want my money.

Now, I really wonder. For one thing, publishers aren’t permitted to file ethics complaints about authors–and yet the complaints against Courtney Milan that led to this entire mess were filed by what RWA would classify–or did when I considered joining–as publishers. But the complainants were nice white ladies (NWL’s), so one can’t help but think that yes, they wouldn’t let me join as an author because I was a gay man; exceptions are made for NWL’s and no one else. But, as I said, I’m glad I didn’t join–even if their decision about how I’d be classified as a member was rooted in systemic and personal homophobia, because I am very happy to know I never gave money to such an organization so riddled with bigotry and nastiness.

I was always wary of joining writers’ organizations, because as a gay author I could never be certain me and my work would be welcomed into the group. I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime a bit warily, but as I slowly became more and more involved with both groups, I found them not only welcoming but encouraging. (To be sure, there are undoubtedly members who are homophobic, but I’ve not had the displeasure of experiencing any of that, and I am very grateful to both groups for that.) I also belonged to Authors Inc for a while, and I also belong to the Thriller Writers. I was never terribly involved with either group, so I don’t know what those groups are like–but when I belonged to Authors Inc I was asked to contribute to their anthologies, which is where my stories “A Streetcar Named Death” and “An Arrow for Sebastian” first appeared (you can get them now in my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, available through the Bold Strokes website or any on-line book retailer), which I always took as a good sign. I always wanted to go to their annual convention, but it was just out of my financial reach each and every year. Same with the Thriller Writers yearly event in New York–too expensive.

And of course today is merely a half-day for me, so I can leave the office early and come home, get some things done, perhaps even make dinner–madness, right?

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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C’est la Vie

Wednesday morning and I’ve made it thru the long days of my week. Today is a short day; I am free after three thirty, and then it’s back home to the spice mines and getting the house cleaned, organized and so forth, all around me not only writing at my desk but preparing a new taste treat for dinner–shrimp and baked potatoes–which is the same as my shrimp-and-grits, only substituting a baked potato for the grits. I saw this somewhere on social media recently, looked at the recipe, and realized it simply meant making baked potatoes instead of the grits…and realized that with a baked potato, timing the meal isn’t quite as important as it is when you’re making grits at the same time as the shrimp.

I managed another good night’s sleep last night, which was incredibly lovely; it’s amazing what a difference that makes to your quality of life–and productivity. I’m still behind on everything this morning, just as I was last night when I went to bed, but this morning I feel like I can do anything and everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we?

But as I face my computer with my first cup of coffee this morning, I do feel almost as though I can do anything and everything.  I had a slight minor panic attack last night about everything I need to get done this week, but it passed quickly, as I remembered my favorite mantra: sometimes, it just is what it is. Simple, but helpful and rather wise; there’s only so much one can do, there’s only so many people one can please, and sometimes you just have to let the worry go–because it just is what it is.

I sat down with Royal Street Reveillon last night, and opened the book up. When Paul got home he told me that someone whose opinion I deeply value had told him to  let me know she’d read and loved the book, and invited me to be on her radio show. Yes, it was Susan Larson, the long-time books editor of what was once the Times-Picayune and now has her own show on WGNO, “My Reading Life.” This naturally made my day, if not the week or month; Susan has read practically everything and everyone, has been a Pulitzer Prize judge (!!!!!), and is one of the most respected reviewers in the country. Her opinion means, obviously, a lot to me. As I sat in my chair last night holding a copy of the book–and it’s a beautiful looking book, probably my favorite cover of all time–I thought about how it never gets easier, no matter how many books you write; at least for me, it’s like the first one every single time. Will people like it? Will people hate it? Is it any good? Writing the books never gets easier over time, either. If anything, the only thing that’s changed with the actual writing is efficiency; I am more efficient in the use of time when I write now. But the self-doubt, the insecurity, the imposter syndrome–all of that still plagues me, even after all this time and all these books and all these short stories.

So, I opened the book and started skimming through it. My goal when I wrote it was to make it the best Scotty book thus far; I don’t know if I achieved that goal, but I am pretty pleased with the book. I think it turned out well. I also realized, as I was reading through it last night, that the reason I don’t like to reread my work–why I never go back once its published and look at it again, isn’t because I always wind up dissatisfied and disappointed with it (although that’s some of it), but primarily because I only reread my work to correct, edit and fix it. So, I am so trained from revising and editing my work that when actually reading it in a print format my mind automatically switches into editorial mode and I want to fix things and oh this sentence could have been better or look at this, you used the same word twice in the same paragraph and so on and so forth; it’s impossible for me to read it as a reader coming to it for the first time. And with Royal Street Reveillon, I don’t feel like I rushed the ending the way I inevitably feel about most of my books–which is a direct result of deadlines. So, I’m kind of glad I don’t write on deadline anymore; it’s relieved that bit of stress from my life, thank the Lord.

I also got out a copy of Bourbon Street Blues last night, because one of my co-workers wants to read it. She was reading the latest Janet Evanovich, and we got into a bit of a discussion about Evanovich, mystery novels, and so forth. SHe eventually said, “I really need to read one of your books”, and me being me, I said, “I’ll bring you a copy” and then realized, hey, I can give her a copy of Bourbon Street Blues,  my first Scotty!

So, I actually looked through it as well. I remember so little of the story now; I barely remember writing the book now. It was all so long ago; I turned the book in to Kensington on May 15th, 2002. Christ, we were so broke then, cobbling together an income from Paul working part time and teaching aerobics, me writing, doing some part time work for a friend as their assistant, and eventually getting a part time job at the LGBT Community Center to supplement the writing income, as well as doing some freelance editorial work. I was mostly working for Bella Books then–yes, I got my start as an editor working for a lesbian publisher–before moving on to Harrington Park Press and then Bold Strokes Books. Bourbon Street Blues is, of course, the Southern Decadence book I’d been wanting to write ever since I first came to Decadence as a tourist back in the early 90’s. I was also writing the book, ironically, on 9/11–I didn’t actually work on it that day, but I always associate 9/11 with Bourbon Street Blues because I can remember being glued to the television in horror all day, and glancing over at the pile of pages on my desk and wondering if I could distract myself by working on the book. I never tried…I didn’t get back to working on the book for a few days. As I looked through Bourbon Street Blues last night, thinking about how Southern Decadence had just passed and how much the world, the event, the city, everything had changed since the days when I was writing this book.

My career as a published writer of fiction dates back to 2000, with the publication of two short stories in the month of August, one in an anthology and the other in a magazine. It’ll turn twenty the month I turn fifty-nine; but I of course started getting paid to write (journalism) in 1996. I moved in with Paul and within a month had published my first column in a local queer newspaper in Minneapolis; as I used to say, Paul was my lucky charm for my writing career; it truly started when we moved in together.

So yes, he never has to worry about me going anywhere, since I do emotionally consider him entirely responsible for my career–and all of it tied up in a nice New Orleans bow. New Orleans inspired me, and I knew I would become a writer if I moved to New Orleans. I met Paul here, and while I was already writing before we moved here, New Orleans made it possible for me to meet the love of my life and create the career I’ve always dreamed of and wanted.

And you know what? As I paged through Bourbon Street Blues, reacquainting myself with the original story I came up with for Scotty all those years ago, I thought, this is a pretty decent book, really. There’s never really been a character like Scotty in crime fiction–and certainly not one like him in gay crime fiction. I also never dreamed that people would connect with him the way they did–I may not sell books in Harlan Coben or Stephen King numbers, but the people who read the Scotty books love him, and that means I did my job well.

I also realized, looking through both books last night, that the occasional charges of “political agenda” I get on Goodreads and/or Amazon are accurate. I never really think of the Scotty books as having an agenda or being political, but I forget that any book centering a queer character is still radical and political; let alone a book centering a queer character who is perfectly happy and loves his life and has some terrific adventures, finding love to go along with the wonderful loving family he already has. This is still, sadly, for some a radical concept; as is the idea of having Scotty never change the core of who he is,  no matter what happens or how awful a situation he’s in might become. The Scotty books were never intended to be, nor ever will be, torture porn. Bourbon Street Blues was all about homophobia and the religious right. Jackson Square Jazz, long before Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon, looked at homophobia in figure skating and Olympic sports…and on and on it goes. Royal Street Reveillon actually goes into several things–familial homophobia, for one, and date rape/sexual assault for another–and ultimately, I am pretty pleased with it.

And yes, for those of you worried I may never write another Scotty book–there will be at least one more. Hollywood South Hustle is already taking shape in my head; I have several disparate threads of plot to weave together for it, but never fear, they are most definitely there. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it–I have several books to write before I can even think about starting work on it officially, and yes, that includes a new Chanse–and so it goes, on and on forever and ever without end, amen.

And now I should perhaps return to the spice mines. This shit ain’t gonna do itself.

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Get Up and Boogie

Blerg. I don’t feel good today.

It’s sinus-related, of course, and this horrible weather we’ve been having over the past few days has not been much of a help in either case. I did sleep extremely well last night, so that’s not it, but man oh man,  I feel like utter shit today. Hopefully I can power through the day at work, and reassess tomorrow when the alarm goes off.

I did manage to get some work done on the WIP yesterday so this week is off to a better start than last week was, and I also managed to get some more reconfiguring of the Lost Apartment’s kitchen done this weekend as well. I think it’s kind of ironic that I was starting to feel reconnected to everything in my life only to start to get sick. Fuckin’ A, man, nothing ever works the way it’s supposed to, does it? But hopefully I can get that next chapter revised and keep chugging through this revision, which will also hopefully get me back into the character’s headspace so I can power through and get the first draft finished this month, which would be very lovely.

Very lovely.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s Follow Her Home last night and am enjoying it thus far. I didn’t, alas, get very far into it because when sleep comes for me I’ve learned not to put it off–and I got drowsy fairly early last evening. NOT BECAUSE OF HER BOOK. I was already drowsy when I decided I would read for a bit before going to bed.

Also, Royal Street Reveillon is already up for preorder at Amazon; the link is here. 

Still no sign of it at other sites, and the ebook is not available there for preorder, either, which is odd, but it is what it is. I will share those other links once they become available; the paperback  isn’t even up for preorder on the Bold Strokes site yet!

And now back to the spice mines.

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I Wanna Be Your Lover

So, Facebook was apparently wonky yesterday, and so was Instagram. I rarely go to Instagram–I’m not really sure what the point of it is, and I mostly follow male fitness models because I like to look at pictures of pretty men, feel free to judge me for this–but I did have some things I wanted to post on Facebook yesterday which kept failing on me. But the wonkiness kept me off of there for most of the day, and I have to say it was kind of lovely.

I am loving Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister, as I knew I would. This weekend I am going to have to spend most of my free time reading, because I still have two more books to read to prepare for my panel and time is running out.

Yesterday the box o’books for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories arrived, and it looks fantastic. I can’t tell you, Constant Reader, how pleased I am with what Bold Strokes has been doing with the packaging of my books. Great covers, the interior with Janson (my favorite font); they look terrific, and I couldn’t be more pleased. It’s been a while since I got a box o’books; the last Todd Gregory novel came out in January of 2018, and this is the first fiction I’ve published since then (I don’t count anthologies, even though my name is on the spine). Yeah, I know that’s just over a year, but for me that’s a long time.

And no, the feeling of opening up a box o’books with my name on the cover still hasn’t gotten old.

I am really looking forward to getting the box o’books for Royal Street Reveillon.

I had hoped to have the first draft of the WIP finished by the end of this month, but I don’t really see how I can do that while getting the reading done that I need to do for my panel…which means, I suppose, that I’ll have to rejuggle my calendar for the year. Ha ha ha, like I actually have taken the time to make a to-do calendar for the year. I’ve not even been making to-do lists. Maybe this is why I’ve felt so at-sea this year; I should get back on that and get back to normal.

I started watching The Order on Netflix last night, per the recommendation of some of my co-workers, and I kind of enjoyed the first episode. It is a paranormal show of some sort, but it, like True Blood (and the grandmother of all these shows, Dark Shadows), doesn’t take itself seriously and there are some seriously funny moments on the show. I also watched the first episode of Gregg Araki’s new show on Starz, Now Apocalypse, and also am intrigued enough to watch more. American Gods is also apparently back for its second season, which is something else I can watch during these last few weeks pre-Festival while Paul is working around the clock.

My new computer was delivered yesterday–I did wind up ordering a new MacBook Air on-line on Monday (not that there’s anything wrong with the HP Stream; there’s not, but it’s a long story I won’t bore you with and it doesn’t hurt to use it as a back-up in case of other issues AND this way when we travel we won’t have to share a laptop which is always aggravating), and it did arrive and I am picking it up this morning on my way to the office. Today and tomorrow are, of course, my half-days, which is lovely, and so I can come home tonight and get things started on cleaning around here as well as reading, and then tomorrow I can make groceries on the way home and be in for the weekend. This weekend is St. Patrick’s Day, which means parades and day-drunks roaming around the neighborhood, so not leaving the house is optimal.

And on that note, I should return to the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader,

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