Of Thee I Sing

This is a weird 4th of July for me.

It’s always been a strange holiday for me, having grown up as an outsider drenched in Americana and taught American mythology rather than US history. (The more I use the word American to describe things that really only involve the US the less comfortable I am with it, particularly as I grow older. It’s simply a shorthand, obviously, for the much more awkward “US citizens,” but its use erases the fact that Canadians, Mexicans, and those from Central and South America are also Americans, and others them to US citizens. USAmericans also is an awkward construction. And can people of non-indigenous descent have a right to call themselves Americans in the first place? Once you start parsing, it’s a bottomless well.) It isn’t really our nation’s birthday, either–it’s Independence Day; the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Our actual national birthday is the date the Constitution was ratified and we actually became the United States from the thirteen colonies–and after the British defeat at Yorktown and the Peace of Paris, we actually were thirteen independent states in a loose alliance with each other for self-protection, and it was entirely possible those states might not have ever unified into a single nation. That was the real miracle of our nation’s founding–that, and the fact that thirteen disunited colonies who agreed on very little somehow took on the largest and most powerful global empire the world have ever seen and managed to defeat them–without checking I cannot be entirely sure, but it might be the only war the British Empire lost before it’s post-World War II collapse.

So, this year’s celebration is a bit muted. We are losing our freedoms and our rights–losing them to a bizarre political coalition that claims they are the real Americans, what they believe is the only way to believe and/or think about politics and the country, who scream and whine and protest about their freedoms and their liberties as cover for the fact they want to steal the freedoms and liberties–and citizenship–of people who do not agree with them. We have a “supreme court” that uses the Constitution, and almost 250 years of precedent and decided law, to wipe their asses with because it doesn’t really fit their vision of a theocratic nation ruled by a minority that forces the majority to put up with their bullshit because they have gerrymandered, legislated, and ruled in such a way as to entrench their power. This has happened before, of course–it always has happened before (which is why our lack of interest and education about our short national history is so deliberately encouraged; so we won’t learn from the mistakes of the past)–and I feel like we are living in a situation very similar to that in which the country was in between 1850 and 1861: an extremely loud and belligerent minority had been controlling and running the country since almost the beginning, in defense of a completely indefensible belief that it was okay for white Americans to either own people with differently hued skin, or to kill them with impunity. The slavery supporters had packed the Supreme Court with their supporters, and the compromises over the admissions of MIssouri and Kansas to the union were fraught because the slave states saw they were in danger of being outnumbered and thus losing their hold on the government.

And now this illegitimate body currently sitting on our highest court–deciding law for a majority even though most of them were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote–has started legislating from the bench under the guiding conservative principle that “it’s for each state to decide”–abortion rights, same sex marriage, racial equality, etc.

Because that worked so well with slavery?

The entire point of a federal, centralized government is to have the final say on law and rights; the Constitution also makes it very clear that the laws of one state should be honored by the others. But the framers of the Constitution also knew that there would be times when one state’s laws would come into conflict with another’s, and the federal government would have to decide which law was Constitutional–as they both might or might not be; but the idea was the law that restricted or prohibited rights more would be the one thrown out. This balancing act, naturally, was already in trouble because of slavery; a free state could not be forced to recognize the property rights laws of a slave state, and a slave state would never recognize the laws of a free state that outlawed slavery outright. The conflict and battle between states’ rights and the Federal government was baked into the document from the beginning, because the Southern states refused to give up their right to own people in a nation that was predicated on freedom and equality of all men.

The notion that a state like Texas could criminalize abortion (or anything) to the extent they have, and that they expect pro-choice states to not only comply with their laws but turn over documents and accused violators of said law is just the Fugitive Slave Act all over again: conservative states are all about federalism when it comes to enforcing their own laws…but will scream “States’ rights!” to protect their own.

The cognitive dissonance it must require to be a conservative astounds me sometimes.

I’ve spent most of my life with my sex life making me a criminal in almost every state in which I lived. Lawrence v. Texas guaranteed that the government had no right to tell me who I could sleep with and what I could do in my bedroom with that consenting adult. I remember the day that decision came down; it was something I never thought I would see in my own lifetime. One of the things I was trying to recapture (am trying to recapture, really) in “Never Kiss a Stranger” is that sense of criminality; of how it felt to be a sexual outlaw; how every time you went into a gay bar you knew there was a chance the place would be raided by the police–or that every time you left a gay bar you were in danger from the police until you made it safely home. It wasn’t something conscious you’d think about back in those days, but it was always there in the back of your mind. Gay bars inevitably (with the exception of the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Castro on San Francisco, West Hollywood, and the village, among others) were in a sketchy part of town, and often they were own by the Mob for money-laundering purposes. The marriage between the gay bars and the Mob was an uneasy one, of course–a marriage of convenience. The Mob needed to launder their money, bars are an excellent way to do so, and the Mob could also pay off the cops to prevent raids–a corruption-go-round, if you will. (Gay bar raids inevitably wound up being extortion for corrupt cops to get more bribe money from the mob…this weird marriage between criminals–gay men and the Mob–is something I want to explore in fiction more. And the police, for the record, have never been friends or allies to my community; quite the obverse, in fact.)

I should make a note to reread this next year on the 4th of July. Will things be better or worse? My money’s on worse.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiér would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Love Vigilantes

Friday! Friday! Gotta get down it’s Friday! Although I kept thinking yesterday was Friday, actually. It occurs to me that I actually keep this blog so religiously primarily because it helps me keep track of what day of the week it actually is, if not the actual date so much. I am of course working at home today–lots of data entry to do once I got this posted, and of course, it’s laundry day for the bed linens. Yesterday I spent the day making condom packs and then went to the gym, afterwards coming home and feeling completely brain-dead and unable to make any progress on the book–which I will have to correct tonight; I need to be revised through Chapter 10 by this weekend was the goal, which means I need to get four chapters revised tonight or tomorrow, so Sunday I can spend the day copy-editing and coming up with some plans for the second half of the book. If I have some spare moments that I wish to use not being a vegetable, I may work some more on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” which I am actually enjoying writing.

Shocking, right? And at some point I need to get back to Jess Lourey’s marvelous Edgar finalist, Unspeakable Things.

I also went into a bit of a wormhole last night about Louisiana’s “cancer alley,” and have long thought, in idle moments, that I need to address Cancer Alley in a Scotty book; I can think of nothing local that would drive his parents into full-on protest mode than that. (For those of you who don’t live in Louisiana,”Cancer Alley” is what Louisianans call the strip of petrochemical plants along a stretch of the Mississippi River between New Orleans and Baton Rouge. The plants are generally located in relatively poor parishes and areas,; there is also a very high prevalence of cancer in those communities, hence “Cancer Alley.” Since the petrochemical companies have deep pockets and Louisiana politicians have always gone relatively cheap, nothing is ever done about it….Louisiana is slowly being destroyed from within because our state legislature, many of our state politicians–including those we send to Washington–are owned these companies in tandem with the oil companies, who are responsible for our gradually eroding coastline and increased vulnerability to hurricanes) Cancer Alley has been back in the local news (it never makes the national news) again because people are protesting again–this happens periodically–but this could be an enormous departure for a Scotty book, which is why I’ve never done Cancer Alley Canard (yes, I came up with the title for it yesterday), but it also doesn’t make any logical sense for Scotty’s parents to never ever talk about, or protest, Cancer Alley…and of course, it would have to begin with a protest (perhaps Scotty and Storm bailing their parents out from yet another arrest) and then an activist would have to be murdered–maybe even a journalist, I don’t know. But corporate evil is something I have always wanted to write about, and perhaps it’s getting closer to the time I do that with Scotty. (For those who are paying attention, that means I have ideas for at least four more Scotty books–this one, Twelfth Knight Knavery, French Quarter Flambeaux, and Quarter Quarantine Quadrille, with Hollywood South Hustle also in the mix.)

But I have to write Chlorine next. That’s the most important thing once I have this one sent off to my publisher.

As Constant Reader is aware, one of the things I do to entertain myself while making condom packs is to continue improving on my vastly inferior education in film. I decided to take a bit of a break from the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, and am again saving horror films for this coming October season. I had wanted to do a study of teen films and how they changed and evolved from the 70’s to the 80’s; but yesterday as I scrolled through those options I really didn’t feel like any of them were particularly appealing, given my mood. But as I scrolled, I came across A Room with a View, an 80’s classic from Merchant-Ivory, and I recognized that I had, in fact, never seen a Merchant-Ivory film. I’ve never been a particular fan of E. M. Forster, and while I do recognize the appeal in fictions set during the high noon of the British Empire (likewise, I felt much the same about the Regency period, but found myself thoroughly enjoying Bridgerton and have thus had to alter my thinking about that period, so why not?) at the same time, I have also recognized that the appeal of most of those fictions lies in there being about the privileged–those with country homes and scores of servants, and the ability to travel abroad. The Imperial English were also horrific racists and nationalists as well as classists, so while I was relatively certain Merchant-Ivory films were well made and well done, my attitude towards viewing them was more of a “meh” than anything else. Yet…I had never seen one; this film was one of Helena Bonham Carter’s first big roles; and you really can never go wrong with a cast filled with English actors. So, I queued it up and began watching.

Imagine my delight when within minutes of the film opening I discovered the cast included one of my all-time favorite actresses–the magnificent Maggie Smith–and Judi Dench! And of course, the first section of the film is set in my beloved Florence and Tuscany! I settled in, starting stuffing condom packs with a very delighted sigh, and began watching. The film seemed a bit slow at first–I felt the build-up into the love story between Lucy and George (gorgeous young Julian Sands) perhaps took a little too long, and then the whole matter of the “scandalous” secret that he kissed her in a poppy field during a rainstorm a bit silly (fully acknowledging that in their class, this was the kind of thing that could ruin a young woman’s reputation; one of my frustrations with older periods is how atrociously stifled women were), but once they were all back in England and Daniel Day-Lewis appeared on the scene as a fiancé for her, it got really going. (Might I add how marvelous it was seeing Day-Lewis, who would go on to win three Best Actor Oscars, in an early role as the pompous and very straight-laced Mr. Vyse? He was marvelous in the part, and of course, watching him I couldn’t help but marvel that the man inhabiting this role so perfectly would go on to My Beautiful Laundrette, My Left Foot, The Last of the Mohicans, There Will Be Blood, Gangs of New York, and Lincoln–yes, what an exceptional talent indeed) And of course, Rupert Graves is so astonishingly beautiful as a young man. Visually the story is sumptuous; the writing witty and clever; and of course, the acting is top notch. I shall indeed have to watch more Merchant-Ivory films…and it also occurred to me, as I watched, that I have also never seen A Passage to India, and really should correct that oversight.

And perhaps should give Forster another try.

After completing my daily tasks and chores and the gym, I came home to clean and reorganize a bit. As I was putting books away, I came across my copy of Sanctuary, which I had taken down recently thinking about rereading it. I did reread the first chapter, but then I got caught up in Alyssa Cole’s amazing When No One Is Watching and digressed away from it. One of the reasons I was thinking about Faulkner again was, naturally, because I had been working on Bury Me in Shadows, and the whole world I’d created in that book– as well as a couple of published short stories, and numerous others unfinished–was rather inspired, not only by the region my family is from, but by Faulkner; I wanted to write about Alabama much the way Faulkner did about his jawbreaker of a county in Mississippi (Yoknapatawpha?) and writing various books and stories that were all set there and loosely connected; I also wanted to revisit Faulkner a bit because I wanted to remember the way he wrote; the dreamy texture and atmosphere of his prose, and how he presented his world as honestly and realistically as he could. (I know there are those who consider Faulkner’s works to be racist, and yes, of course they are; the use of the n-word is prevalent, of course, as well as depictions of racial inequities and racist white people; but he also doesn’t excuse them or try to present them as heroic or being right–he leaves that to the reader. Usage of the worst racial slur will never cease to make me recoil or flinch, which makes rereading his work more challenging than it did when I was younger, I am sad to confess.) I had originally read Sanctuary when I was in high school, and really do need to revisit it as an adult and as a published writer, so I can grasp it better and I am also curious to see how I will react to it. I began reading other Faulkner works after I had a very encouraging creative writer teacher in California (as opposed to the monstrous troll in Kansas); he recommended As I Lay Dying to me, and I not only devoured it, but then moved on to The Sound and the Fury, which remains to this day one of my absolute favorite novels. “A Rose for Emily” is also one of my all time favorite short stories as well–and I think it was this story that actually pushed me along the path to coming up with ideas for a fictional county in rural northwest/central Alabama; that story is so beautifully Southern Gothic…and so many small Southern towns have those kinds of eccentrics that it seemed like writing about those eccentrics was the proper way for me to go with my own writing.

My writing career has truly had so many stops and starts over the years…

And on that note, tis time to. head into the spice mines for today. It’s gray outside my windows this morning, and today is a day when I most likely won’t be leaving the house at all, which is also kind of lovely. I am going to be doing data entry until I finish it all; if there’s time left in my work day I shall then go back to my easy chair and condom packing….and seeing if I can find Maurice on a streaming service for free, or A Passage to India.

Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader!