If Not For You

One of the most fun, for me, things about being a writer is being able to pay homage to books and writers I’ve enjoyed or felt a connection to in some way. I do this in at least every book I write–sometimes it’s as little a thing as having one of my characters reading a book I greatly enjoyed–and sometimes it’s a little more sly and tongue in cheek. For one example, I wondered occasionally while writing Bury Me in Shadows if anyone would notice that the name of the plantation house that burned during the Civil Was was Blackwood Hall–I only called it that once or twice; I usually referred to it as “the ruins”–and that it was a ghost story…hence The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which had always been one of my favorite Nancy Drew mysteries when I was a kid (my favorite books in any series were ones that dealt with ghosts, hauntings, or the supernatural–it never was anything supernatural–in them; even as a kid I had, apparently, this morbid fascination with death and the afterlife that has continued into my adulthood). Vieux Carré Voodoo was also inspired, in some ways, by The Mystery of the Fiery Eye, one of my favorite Three Investigators mysteries–a jewel stolen from an idol that cultists will kill to get back is at the heart of both stories, and I also took inspiration somewhat from Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone, which I had also read and loved as a child.

I’ve not picked up a Nancy Drew mystery in years to read through, until recently. I remember the series fondly–it wasn’t my favorite, nor was the Hardy Boys; but those books were more easily accessible and easier to find in stores and libraries than the other kids’ series, and with the kind of obsessive behavior I’ve always had–which hasn’t tempered much with the passage of time–once I started reading a series I wanted to read (and own) the complete set. This odd childhood obsession has never abated, even as I am now past sixty; I don’t have room to have all my series books out displayed on bookshelves (they are some of the boxes in the attic and the storage unit) and I think I am missing a few volumes from each series I do collect–but without being able to put them out, it’s hard for me to know which ones I am missing, so I’ve kind of held back on collecting them over the last decade or so. Discovering eBay in the wake of Hurricane Katrina was a big impetus in getting me to start collecting (trying to finish collecting) again, but the lack of space for storage–let alone putting them out on display in bookcases–inhibited me and I began to wonder about the advisability and the point of collecting children’s book series if I was simply going to put them in boxes and store them. It seemed kind of dumb, in all honesty, and so I stopped.

But the kids’ series had an enormous impact on me growing up and as a developing writer. I honestly think that The Haunted Showboat, number 35 in the Nancy Drew series, was my first actual encounter with New Orleans and Mardi Gras; it was either the fourth or fifth Nancy Drew mystery I had actually read (I started with The Secret of Red Gate Farm, The Mystery at Lilac Inn, and The Hidden Staircase; I think the next I read was The Haunted Showboat or Password to Larkspur Lane) and I do believe it was Nancy Drew who introduced me to New Orleans (outside of US History; I knew the Battle of New Orleans and the Louisiana Purchase and all of that, but this was my first non-historical introduction to the city).

I used to be able to list the books in order as well as give some background on the story; my memory isn’t quite as reliable on that score as it used to be. I joined some fan groups on Facebook, primarily to see if there were other alternatives than eBay and scouring second hand stores for the copies of the series books I am missing (and that’s a whole other story; there’s definitely a murder mystery novel that can be built around adult fans of kids’ series, seriously), and have been taken aback by the toxicity that can show up in these groups: hatred of anything new or daring or different to do with the characters (they have gone to TOWN on the new television series for both Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys–hating changes and updates with the fiery white hot passion of a dozen burning suns–and it inevitably comes down to ‘political correctness’ and ‘being woke’–despite knowing that all the earlier series books were revised in the 1950s thru the early 1970s to get rid of dated stereotypes and racism), but that is a subject for a different time (I’ve not watched Nancy Drew–literally forgot about it–but I’ve liked The Hardy Boys).

Anyway, as I am writing a new Scotty book, I decided to do some research into Nancy Drew and New Orleans–mainly deciding to reread both books that were set, at least in part, here.

So, I went on line (much easier than going through the boxes in storage–which is yet another example of how stupid it is for me to keep storing books) and ordered copies of both The Haunted Showboat and The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, which, according to a synopsis I read on a Nancy Drew website, had Nancy, Bess and George come to New Orleans–which I didn’t remember. I remembered that the book was about Mrs. Putney being swindled out of her jewelry, and it had something to do with spiritualism, which eventually led Nancy and her friends to the abandoned, haunted Blackwood Hall–but I did not remember them coming to New Orleans. This struck me as strange–I certainly vividly remembered other parts of the story, particularly a scene when Ned and Nancy stumbled into quicksand (which, according to everything I read and saw on television and/or movies as a child, I thought would be more of a danger to me at every point of my life).

Both books arrived on the same day, but since I do remember The Haunted Showboat more than I remembered anything New Orleans with The Ghost of Blackwood Hall, I decided to look through the latter and read the New Orleans section again.

Yeesh.

Despite my obsession with collecting and reading the entire series, as I mentioned earlier, Nancy Drew was never my favorite of the kids’ series; I liked The Three Investigators and Ken Holt most of all, and I always thought both Trixie Belden (the original six) and Judy Bolton were better written and more interesting than Nancy (Judy was also a goody two-shoes, but she was more rounded and developed, as were her friends), and looking through The Ghost of Blackwood Hall made me remember why she was never a favorite; the books aren’t very well written. (The original texts were much better than the revised ones, but it was a very low bar to hurdle, seriously.) And yet I had to have all the books and read them all; I watched the 70s television series with pre-Dynasty Pamela Sue Martin; and I still sort of have a soft spot for good ole Nancy; but man, these revised texts are simply terrible–and the later, newer books steadily declined in quality–I remember one where Nancy and her friends, being chased by a bad guy, duck into a room and–this is so stupid, it was even shown as an illustration–hide by sitting in chairs and holding up picture frames because of course the bad guy would look at them sitting still and believe they were a photograph or a painting.

Even as a kid, I knew that was fucking stupid.

Anyway, so Nancy is hired by a jeweler to help out his client Mrs. Putney–who clearly isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed–who is a widow and received a message from “beyond the grave” from her husband that she needed to bury her most valuable jewelry in the woods for safekeeping. (She’s also told to tell “no man or woman” about this; which is why the jeweler brings her to Nancy because she’s a “girl”–but the jeweler is a man…I guess in her mind he doesn’t count because he’s the one who spots that her jewelry is all fake, once she’s reconsidered her stupidity and dug the jewels back up.) There’s a lot of gullibility and superstition in this book, for the record, that doesn’t really make any logical sense. In a weird sequence of events, Nancy winds up with the name of a man from New Orleans who was an accomplished jewelry designer and “capable of making fakes that look real”–so she decides to follow the clue to New Orleans to look for information on the man. Because of course. Anyway, despite the fact that Mrs. Putney isn’t paying for this trip and in fact warns her not to go–Carson Drew, Nancy’s father, decides to foot the bill for her, Bess and George to fly down to New Orleans and follow this laughable clue that could only be a valuable one in a Nancy Drew mystery. (As I was reading this part again, I started thinking about how expensive this would be back then–the revised text was written in 1967, the original in the late 1940’s–and how amazing it was that all three eighteen year old girls had nothing else to do and could hop on a flight to New Orleans just like that; I am sure even back then it was more expensive to buy a ticket at the last minute.)

None of this mattered, of course, to young Greg when he was reading it the first time…and yes, I am being harsh about a kids’ series book which I am clearly too old for, but c’mon. And I knew when I was a kid that the books weren’t well written. (One thing that always annoyed me about this series and the Hardy Boys was they never really deduced anything or solved an actual mystery; really, the books were usually about catching a criminal whose identity was known almost from the start through a series of contrivances.)

But…

Once they are in New Orleans–after Bess tells a strange woman on their flight where they are staying in city: Nancy, seated in front of them, was sorry their hotel had been named. She had wanted to keep their visit to New Orleans as secret as possible. Um, you’re on a flight to New Orleans. So, since it’s too late to call on the suspect’s former boss, they go sight-seeing–but Nancy ducks into every jewelry and/or pawn shop they come upon.

The trip proved to be pleasurable, if not profitable. Their inquiries led them into many sections of New Orleans. The French Quarter, where the buildings were charming in their elegance of a bygone day, interested them most. Beautiful ironwork, delicately tinted plaster walls, old courtyards, once the center of fashionable Creole family life, fascinated the girls.

On a balcony, a brightly-colored parrot chattered at them in friendly fashion. A smiling woman, bearing a basket of flowers, stopped to sell a flower to each girl. On all sides, the visitors saw interesting characters, and heard the soft-spoken dialect which was a blend of French, Cajun, and Gumbo.

GUMBO IS NOT A LANGUAGE.

And since Cajun is a derivative of French…sigh. And by 1967 New Orleans wasn’t really bilingual anymore. It had begun to die out around the turn of the twentieth century, and it’s definitely a rarity here now to find anyone native who speaks both English and French, or speaks French as their first language.

The next day they visit their suspect’s former employer, who knows nothing, and then do some site-seeing before lunch “in a quaint restaurant.”

“New Orleans is wonderful!” Bess exclaimed. Counting on her fingers, she added, “We’ve seen the banana wharf, the market, the garden district, and that old cemetery where all the dead are buried in tombs above the ground.”

“That’s because this place is below sea level,” said George. “Say, do you suppose that guide that we believed the story about the tomb which is supposed to glow at night with an unearthly light?”

“He said spirits come out and weave back and forth like wisps of fog,” said Bess.

“That’s just what they are–fog,” George declared practically.

“Oh, I don’t for a minute believe in ghosts,” Bess replied quickly.

“I wish we had time to go to Grand Isle, the haunt of Lafitte and his men,” said Nancy.

“Who is he?” Bess asked.

“He was a famous pirate,” Nancy replied. “According to tradition, when burying treasure, he always murdered one of his band and left his ghost to guard the hidden loot!”

I guess Bess never studied about the Battle of New Orleans–and no one at either the Stratemeyer Syndicate or Grosset & Dunlap knew that you capitalize “Garden District.” Then comes a really weird section where the girls visit a spiritualist photographer on whose works sometimes “spirit writing” appears. Naturally, Nancy’s image has a warning to stop sleuthing, and then the lights go out and when they come back on, the photographer is unconscious, along with Nancy, are gone! This for me is a particularly weird section. Nancy is the point of view character, even if at a distance. Why would you then switch to Bess and George frantically searching for Nancy rather than showing her capture and abduction and eventual escape? WHY HAVE THE ACTION TAKE PLACE OFF THE PAGE?

Oh, and when Nancy regained consciousness, she was tied up and trapped in a basement near the Quarter.

A basement. Near the French Quarter. In New Orleans, which we’ve already learned is below sea level and therefore bodies can’t be buried in the ground. So of course we have basements.

But Nancy leads the cops back to the house, where all evidence of her being tied up and so forth have disappeared:

To their surprise the policeman remarked soberly, “This isn’t the first time queer things have happened in this section of the city.”

Ah, so it must be the Faubourg Marigny. Lots of queers lived there and in the lower Quarter back then. But I guess the girls should consider themselves lucky that they found an English-speaking cop–who would never say “this section of the city.” He’d name the neighborhood–“this isn’t the first time queer things have happened in the Marigny.” So anyway, the girls decide to go home, and fortunately, there’s a flight from New Orleans to River Heights within an hour. They pack and head for the airport just in time to catch their flight home–when Bess mentions something else mysterious that is going on that she knows about and just hasn’t mentioned before for some reason, and of course, as always, this side story subplot is connected to the main one.

And that’s where I stopped, since that was the end of Nancy’s adventures in New Orleans.

Sigh.

The Haunted Showboat, on the other hand, opens with an immediate eye-roller for New Orleanians:

“Would a trip to the Mardi Gras interest you, Nancy, and also a mystery to solve?” Bess Marvin asked.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, so basically Bess just asked her if she would interested in a trip to “the Fat Tuesday.” Yes, I am well aware that outside of New Orleans it’s all lazily considered Mardi Gras, but it’s really Carnival. Mardi Gras is quite literally Fat Tuesday, the final day of Carnival, and while I’ve grudgingly come to accept that there’s no way that people will ever not refer to the entire event as “Mardi Gras”–even I have a tendency to get lazy and say”Mardi Gras” when I mean Carnival–it will never not bother me. Of course, Bess isn’t from Louisiana and she can be forgiven for getting this wrong, and even using “the” as unnecessary definitive article can be forgiven. But–and this is something that always annoyed me about both Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys–never is it mentioned in this book that Nancy and her friends have been to New Orleans before, and never was it mentioned on that previous trip in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall that Bess and George have New Orleans relatives.

Wouldn’t you think that would have come up in The Ghost of Blackwood Hall? Of course it didn’t, because when book 25 was written they had no idea that Book 35 would return Nancy and friends to New Orleans and Louisiana. (This kind of continuity thing used to drive me nuts; Nancy and the Hardys were ‘well known’ as amateur detectives, and every book opens with a reference to their first series book as well as the most recent, and closed with a teaser for the next, despite the fact that really, every mystery they solved was a stand alone with no connections to the past or the future. A couple of other continuity errors that always bugged me with Nancy is that Ned is mentioned as her boyfriend in the revised text of Number 5, The Secret at Shadow Ranch even though she meets him for the first time in Number 7, The Clue in the Diary; she finds her dog Togo as a stray at the opening of The Whispering Statue’s original text; but she already has Togo in the revised text of earlier volumes and yes, I am aware that I have spent way too much time in my life obsessing about Nancy Drew and continuity errors in the series–and there are a lot.)

Anyway.

If anything, The Haunted Showboat is actually worse than The Ghost of Blackwood Hall in so many ways, and not just in the aforementioned minor ways. First of all, the cousin of Bess and George’s, who invited them down, is named Donna Mae, because back in the day you could always make your audience know “hey this is set in the South” by giving a female character two first names–and always something Mae. (Ellie Mae Clampett is another example; for the record, out of dozen and dozens of southern women relatives there is exactly one whose name was “Something Mae”.) It takes a while for them to get to Louisiana–Nancy’s car is stolen once, and the replacement is sabotaged–because of course the criminals down in Louisiana will stop at nothing to keep this teenager from the midwest to interfere with their plans!–but there’s one part of their trip that is absolutely hilarious: they drive through Mobile on their way to New Orleans, but somehow get to the Mississippi River before they get to New Orleans or the plantation outside of town they are visiting:

Soon the girls reached the broad Mississippi and gazed at the peaceful, somewhat muddy river.

SOMEWHAT MUDDY?

Nancy then follows the River Road and turns inland. This geography makes literally no sense at all. But..it’s Nancy Drew, and the worst is yet to come.

You see, the Havers–who live at Sunnymead–have two black servants: Mammy Matilda and Pappy Cole. And oh yes, it’s just as racist and horrible as you can imagine–especially when you add in the “voodoo drums” they hear when canoeing through the swamp to get to the wrecked and haunted showboat, the River Princess. Anyway, yes, you can just imagine how dated and awful these depictions are. And everyone calls it “the Mardi Gras,” which no one does in the real world, either. The Quarter is referred to (correctly) as the “Vieux Carré”, but an aside says “or the old city”–it means “old square”, not old city–and of course they have lunch at Antoine’s.

There’s also an Uncle Rufus, who lives in the swamp in a tiny cabin and does voodoo spells.

There’s also a swamp episode and a wrecked, haunted showboat in an episode of Scooby Doo Where Are You?, which I’ve always wondered whether it was inspired (or stolen) from this edition.

So, neither book has aged particularly well–I’m still trying to wrap my mind around Gumbo as a language–and I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised by the racist depictions of Black characters in The Haunted Showboat, but the book is still in print and kids are still reading it. Everyone knows that the original texts of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series were updated in the 1950’s and through the 1960’s to get rid of problematic depictions of non-white characters; it might not be a bad idea for them to do it again now. No one should be reading The Haunted Showboat as it stands today, really.

But it was an interesting time travel to revisit the books again. At some point I’d love to talk about all the kids’ series I read when I was a child, but…time.

Annabel Lee

Saturday in the Lost Apartment and all seems to be well. I slept late as I had planned–maybe a bit too late, but I also stayed up late to finish doing the laundry (it’s such an exciting and always oh-so-glamorous life I live here in the Lost Apartment. I have to run some errands a little later on–mail, make groceries, prescriptions, library–and some things to do around here to touch up and clean a bit. I want to do some writing and reading today as well as just relax and enjoy the day a bit. We finished watching The Sandman this week, which was incredible–I think everyone can enjoy it, frankly, and it’s so creative and smart and visually breathtaking; a sweep of technical Emmys would be incredibly well-deserved; but it’s also a fantasy show built upon a mythology that originated in the DC Comics super-hero world, so it probably won’t be taken as seriously by the Emmy voters as it should…but then again they were also all about Watchmen (which was, frankly, superb), so you never know. Game of Thrones didn’t do too badly with the Emmys, either. Regardless, The Sandman is brilliant and I highly recommend it.

We also started watching the new show on Apple+ by Dennis Lehane, Black Bird, starring Taron Edgerton, which is also really good and Edgerton really is enjoying the role he plays. (Paul and I decided that he and Tom Holland need to make a movie together where they play brothers; Edgerton is what Holland would look like were he not so baby-faced boyish looking…or they could easily pass for brothers.) Edgerton, who is very handsome and has an amazing body, also looks like he’s been buffing up his body, too. (I think we first noticed him in Kingsman…I also think he’d make a terrific Nightwing if they ever make a Nightwing movie, which they really need to–I was distressed to see the latest HBO MAX news that Titans will probably be cancelled, which means DIck and Kori need to get together this final season soon to be airing.) We blew through the first three episodes quickly; I am also thinking we need to watch Five Days At Memorial–it’s getting to be Katrina anniversary time, woo-hoo–which will undoubtedly be difficult to watch (that period is a very dark time, obviously, and reliving it, even through the guise of entertainment, is always difficult) but probably necessary.

Since watching It’s a Sin last year (or whenever it was it was released) opened a floodgate of sorts in my mind. I know I’ve mentioned here before that I had always, since about age thirty-three, chosen to focus on the present and the future and never look back. It always seemed counter-productive, and I had finally come around to the acceptance point of realizing that everything that has happened in my life–whether macro or micro–inevitably set me on the path that led me to where I am today, and as long as I am happy, did the past really matter? What was the point to having regrets, to wishing I had something differently? Doing anything differently would have changed my path, and direction, with absolutely no guarantee that I would either be happy–or have survived this long. I am sure there are many many alternative timelines for me that had me dying in the 1980’s or 1990’s, which is always a sobering reflection and one I always have to keep in mind. I am alive because of every decision I’ve made and every heartbreak and crisis and problem and bad thing that has ever happened to me, and I kind of like my life and who I am. I am aware of my flaws (probably not as aware as I could be) and I know what my strengths and weaknesses are as a general rule; my biggest worry is that I delude myself periodically about anything or everything or something, and I really don’t like the possibility that I have blinders on when it comes to anything to do with me, my life or my career, while knowing it’s a strong one. I also know sometimes I probably take on blame for wrong that isn’t my fault (another reason Charlie in Heartstopper resonated so strongly with me was him constantly thinking everything was his fault and always saying “sorry”; I could absolutely relate to that as I’ve done the same most of my life and it is generally always my default on everything).

But as I have said, watching It’s a Sin, and being reminded so viscerally and realistically of what that period of my life was like–oh, they were so heartbreakingly young–did make me start looking back, remembering and reevaluating and, while perhaps not actually having regret, actually mourning everyone and the world and the life perhaps we all could have had if the homophobes hadn’t been in charge of everything back then. By not looking back I don’t think I ever allowed myself to heal, even though so much time has passed it’s all scar tissue now. But scar tissue is generally tighter than the skin it repairs; one is never quite as flexible as one used to be before the wounds became scabs and finally scars. Writing, as always, has been an enormously helpful tool for me to process experiences and feelings without tearing the webbing of the scar tissue again. That’s why I think writing “Never Kiss a Stranger” is important to me, and why the story haunts me so. Both Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit both were enormously helpful to me, forcing me to deconstruct and evaluate and look at harsh bitter truths I’ve tried to avoid most of my life. So I think it may be helpful to watch Five Days at Memorial, because perhaps enough time has passed for me to look back without the full range of painful emotion the memories brought before.

Hilariously, after all that bitching yesterday morning about the health fair, it turned out much differently than I was expecting. For one thing, their scale clearly was wrong; it clocked me at 196 pounds. If that was accurate, then I have lost sixteen pounds since I last visited my doctor–two weeks ago (I weighed 212 at his office). As that is most likely not possible–especially since I’d moaned in disbelief when putting on my pants yesterday morning only to find them snugger than they were the last time I’d put them, so the notion I’ve lost that much weight in such a short period of time without trying is utterly ludicrous on its face, preposterous. But it did kind of make me smile a little bit and shake my head.

And on that note, I think I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and hope it’s everything you hoped it will be.

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.

Somebody Stand By Me

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment and all seems to be well so far–yet it is still early, nevertheless. Yesterday was an interesting day. I had to go to a training, if you will recall, in the morning–it was okay, as far as trainings go–and then of course I had a shortened day in the office afterwards (I can only do six hours on Fridays because I work extra long on clinic days), after which I headed home for the Lost Apartment. I almost have the Bouchercon anthology completed; and now I have my page proofing for Streetcar to get through this weekend. I also have a short story deadline tomorrow; but I am not really sure if I am going to bother submitting this story to it. I’m not entirely comfortable with it and what it’s about; it may be in questionable taste, and that of course concerns me deeply. If the story is problematic I don’t even want the editors to read it, you know? And I have this feeling–that nagging voice, which is so quick to point out every flaw in my life and writing and so forth, is really having a good time with this right now–that if you’re worried about the story being problematic, then it probably is.

On the other hand, I thought Bury Me in Shadows might be problematic, and it wasn’t. So maybe this story isn’t as bad as I think it might be, who knows? I am often not the best judge of my own work, after all–the lack of confidence in my own writing really is not good for me at all–and who knows if I will ever get the chance to publish it again anywhere other than a collection of my own (where I can count on my publisher saving me from myself if it is problematic?), so maybe–just maybe–after I finish the proofs for Streetcar this weekend, I can give the story another once over, and give it a shot.

I slept really well last night. When I got home from work last night I laundered all the bed linens, did another load of dishes, and then just kind of chilled for the rest of the evening as I was a bit mentally tired. I managed to get all the copy edits back to everyone for the Bouchercon anthology; I’m still waiting to get a few of them back and I can turn the manuscript in. I have a self-care appointment this morning at ten; then I am going to come back home and work on the page proofs and maybe carve out some time to read some more of In the Dark We Forget, which I am really enjoying and would love to finish reading this weekend. I need to make myself read for an hour every night; if I read for an hour every day I will gradually work my way through the TBR pile. I think the next book I am going to read is going to be Curtis Ippolito’s Burying the Newspaper Man, although the new Donna Andrews is probably going to be delivered sometime soon, as well as Gabino Iglesias’ new one. I also want to get some filing and cleaning done today–Paul has to go to the office to meet his tech person because his computer is messed up–and I think I am also going to get a box down from the attic to sort through as well as go through some drawers to throw shirts and shorts and things I never wear out. I also plan on getting through all the emails in my inbox at some point this weekend as well; I am tired of all those goddamned emails being in there, you know what I mean?

It also occurred to me yesterday that I should send the Word file of Jackson Square Jazz to my iPad so I can reread and copy edit it on there. Progress can only be made when you set yourself up to succeed, which sounds like one of those horrible motivational posters that were such a thing sometime in my past–they were in office spaces everywhere and always made me want to roll my eyes whenever I saw one. But I slept really well last night, which was incredibly lovely, and I am looking forward to getting quite a bit done this weekend. I already feel rested, which is really nice, and the Lost Apartment isn’t the usual disaster area it always appears to me when Saturday rolls around again. Sure, there’s stuff I need to clean up and organize and there’s always filing to do–not to mention the computer files that need clearing and cleaning up–but after my self-care and my errands, I should be able to come on home and dig into my work that needs to be done.

And on that note, I can actually get started on that before I get ready to leave for my appointment, so have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow, or perhaps even later again today.

Rose Garden

Ye Gods, why am I awake this early? A six AM alarm is enough of a hate crime, but one at five should be prohibited by the Geneva Protocols. And yes, I know people get up this early every day for work, if not earlier–but I am not one of those people. I was talking about this with a co-worker yesterday–how that even on the days when I don’t have to come in so early now I wake up at six, and if I don’t stay in bed and just get up, I am not as tired as I am on the mornings when the alarm goes off at six (and on those mornings when I have to come in early, I actually start waking up around five. I stay in bed until the alarm goes off). I think it’s Pavlovian response, in all honesty, and has more to do with the alarm more than the getting up.

I really do miss the days when the earliest I had to be at work was eleven.

The trip was actually uneventful, honestly (I have since arrived; I didn’t have time to finish this before it was time to head to the airport this morning); I couldn’t have asked for a smoother trip. Getting to the airport was easy, I parked, got to the terminal, checked my bag, and then made it to Security without any issue or hassle or aggravation. The flight was on time, and was smooth and incredibly pleasant–I also got one of those exit row seats without a seat in front of it so I could stree-e-e-e-e-etch my legs all the way out. I got my bag without any incident, and then a friend picked me up and whisked me off to the Yacht Club for lunch, which was also lovely (yet I also can’t help but feel that yachts are incredible waste of money. I guess it’s a status thing for the ridiculously rich who, you know, don’t want to feed the hungry or educate the poor or heal the sick or anything). I also used technology to my advantage; I checked in early yesterday on the Hilton Honors app, my room was ready by one, and I can use my phone as my key, which is incredibly cool (although it will definitely increase my stress about making sure my phone is charged all the time). I’m going to head down in a moment to check into the conference (woo-hoo, Sleuthfest!) and get a Coke before coming back up here, finishing this, and rehearsing for my reading before tonight.

All right, I am all registered. I am starting to get cooled off here in my room–it’s quite lovely–and at some point I am going to have to rehearse for tonight’s Noir at the Bar reading (a rather impressive line-up of talent; not sure what I am doing in there but in these situations I have found that it is often best to never ask questions and just roll with it–I will no doubt geek out at some point about being in a reading with Jeffrey Deaver–closeted gay teenager in Kansas with big dreams has come a long way, has he not, from the little ranch house in a small town with a population of less than a thousand? It still trips me out from time to time when it kind of hits me.

I have decided to read tonight from the first chapter of Chlorine. Yes, just another example of how bad I am at this–I should read from Bury Me in Shadows or #shedeservedit, since I should be trying to sell more copies of them, but why should I start doing the smart thing twenty years into my career? And why not test run something new that I am working on?

I should write a piece called “Flop Sweat” to use for readings.

All right, I am going to lie down for a moment before it’s time to get ready. Have a lovely evening, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

I Can’t Wait

Sunday morning and I slept late again, and again, it felt marvelous. I feel much more rested than I did yesterday morning–and I also don’t have to make an errands run today, either; lugging groceries from the car to the Lost Apartment on top of dealing with a grocery store on a Saturday of a holiday weekend wasn’t exactly an energy-enhancing experience either (my God, it was so humid yesterday; little wonder it rained off and on all day). But I did get things done–sort of. I finished reading The Savage Kind by John Copenhaver, which I really enjoyed from start to finish (more on that later); I got some chores done around the Lost Apartment, and I worked on getting better organized (always an in-process on-going thing). We binged a show on Amazon Prime last night–The Lake–which we both really enjoyed (and stayed up too late to finish watching) before retiring to bed for the evening, and now here I am this morning with a cup of coffee and slightly bleary, unfocused eyes as I write this. It’s a little cloudy and dim outside–not the blinding brightness of a cloudless morning, for sure. I don’t have to go outside for anything the next few days other than taking out the trash and using the grill–I’m probably going to cook out burgers either today or tomorrow, I can’t decide which–and then I am going to write and edit for most of the day, always a pleasure and joy. The next thing I am going to read isn’t something I can talk about, as it’s a manuscript in progress for a friend (who is also a really great writer), but I think the next book I read is indeed going to be Rob Osler’s The Devil’s Chewtoy, which is a great title and I’ve heard any number of good things about the author, who earlier this year won the Robert Fish Award from Mystery Writers of America for best debut short story–an impressive achievement, to be sure.

The Lake has an interesting premise, and it was much funnier than I thought it would be. Sixteen years ago, the main character–a gay male, Justin–had sex with his best friend (Teesa) on prom night (they were both drunk, and the only time he’s ever slept with a woman) and she became pregnant. They gave the child up for adoption–one of those “open” adoptions, so the child always knows who their adoptive and birth parents are, and has a relationship with their birth parents–which caused an even deeper rift between the main character and his father (already there because of his sexuality). After the adoption, Justin left Canada with his partner for Australia. That relationship has ended (the partner was “fucking half of Bondi Beach”), and he has returned to Canada. He brings his daughter Billie to the lake where he spent all of his summers as a child, and8 his family used to have a cottage to try to develop a relationship with her; only to discover that their old lake house was never sold–instead, his father left it to his stepsister and nemesis, Maisy, played brilliantly by Julia Stiles in an epic villain turn. The rest of the series details his schemes for getting back his lake house and feuding with Maisy; while developing a relationship with a local handyman named Riley, while his daughter ironically finds herself falling for Maisy’s son. Justin is played by Jordan Gavaris, who is terrific in the part; Constant Reader may remember Gavaris for his star turn in Orphan Black as Felix, the openly gay artist who is a foster brother to Sarah and her grounding point–seeing him in this reminded me of how terrific he was in Orphan Black, and how disappointing it is that he hasn’t broken out into a bigger star. But The Lake is terrific and funny and surprisingly twisted; I highly recommend it, and can we please have more good parts for Jordan Gavaris, please?

I still haven’t figured out what I am going to read on Thursday, either. Heavy heaving sigh. I seriously need to put some thought into that either today or tomorrow or both; I go back and forth during those brief moments when I do think about it. Should I read from Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit, or one of my short stories? It would probably make more sense to read from something that might intrigue listeners to go buy the book, and even more sense to read a novel than a story, since I won’t earn anything from a sale of a copy of the anthology, really, if my reading was to move people into parting with hard-earned money to buy something of mine. Yes, the more I think about it, the more likely I am to read from #shedeservedit…or maybe “This Town.” I’ve always wanted to read that story aloud…hmmm. I just wish I had started thinking about this sooner–this is why I always end up doing things at the last minute, which always makes me feel like I’ve not prepared adequately.

But I do feel very good this morning, which is always lovely. I get paid on Wednesday this week, so I can go ahead and get the bills paid before I leave for the weekend (I cannot believe I have to get up at five a.m. for my flight; what the actual fuck was I thinking? Clearly I wasn’t. Of course, it was the only non-stop, which is what I actually was thinking. But…I’ll be tired. Very tired that evening. And probably hungry and crabby and tired and…oy. No sense freaking out about any of that right now. I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

And on that note, I am going to shave my head and jump in the shower and get my day’s work started. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader–I will check in with you again later.

One More Big Time Rock and Roll Star

And now it’s Friday, Three Day Weekend Eve.

It rained again yesterday, so it wasn’t terribly awful while running my errands after work last night. I came home, put away dishes and did some laundry, provided a lap for Scooter–who stayed there all night, and even when I would get up he would just jump back into my chair and go back to sleep (Paul didn’t get home from work until after I’d gone to bed, so he was feeling abandoned the way he always does when there’s only one of us at home), and did some more brainstorming and plotting for the stuff I am working on. I feel good and rested again this morning (I did get a bit tired yesterday afternoon), and hope springs eternal for another productive long weekend at home. The theme for the weekend is clearly editing, since i have copy edits for two manuscripts to start working through, and two short stories to edit–I also need to go through my “call for submissions” folder and see what is possible and what is not ( as well as tossing the ones that have already passed).

It seems weird to be celebrating Independence Day this year, since the radical, highly politicized “supreme” court continues to demolish every right and protection anyone non-white and not male have fought for and earned since the second World War–even going back as far as JOHN FUCKING MARSHALL to overturn decisions–as they work to establish a Fascist state once and for all. I was thinking about this last night while watching Real Housewives Ultimate Girls’ Trip 2 and remembering why I didn’t miss seeing Jill Zarin on my television, and I was also thinking about memoirs and memories and writing about my life. One of the primary reasons I’ve always backed away from it (and yes, I am aware that I am talking about being reluctant to write personal essays about my past and life in MY FUCKING BLOG) is not only because I know my memory to be faulty, but also because I know that–like most other people–I also have a tendency to rewrite my memories to make me look better or to justify bad behavior on my own part, and that isn’t fair to the other people in said memories who don’t have a platform (no matter how small) to tell their side of the story (which has also been undoubtedly rewritten in their own minds to make themselves look better). No two people ever see the same situation exactly the same; our interpretations and reactions to things are often predicated and formed by our life experience, our education, our opinions, and our beliefs and values that have also developed over a lifetime. An event that may have seemed completely throwaway and inconsequential to one person can be life-changing to another.

I’ve also begun recognizing and finding holes in my memory. For some reason I had always believed we’d moved, for example, from the south side of Chicago to the suburbs in the winter of 1969. That was firmly cemented in my brain as fact…until a year or so ago when I realized I was ten when we moved to the suburbs, which means we didn’t move out there until the winter of 1971. That’s a significant difference, which has skewed the order of memories in my head.

Some friends have been encouraging me to write personal essays, but I’m not really sure I should or not. For a long time I shut the door on my past as much as I could; it was painful to remember and it was simply easier for me to shove everything into a corner of my brain and lock the door behind them. When I started rebooting my life at age thirty-three, I still looked back a lot with sadness and heartbreak and bitterness–but I also began trying to put it all behind me at the same time because it was sad and heartbreaking and I didn’t want to be trapped into that quagmire of negativity. After Paul and I had met and we’d moved to New Orleans and my new life was beginning to take shape–the life I’d always wanted and had dreamed of for years; those dreams sustaining me through even the darkest of times–I decided to put it all behind me once and for all, deciding that I loved my life and was very happy with it, which meant that everything that had happened–no matter how terrible–was necessary to put my feet firmly on the path that led to my happiness and so therefore I should have no regrets about anything. It was helpful to distance myself from my past and never look back, so I tried never to do so. But now that I’ve reached sixty–I’ve started reflecting about the past a lot more over these past few years, plus writing my last two books (Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit, respectively) required me to start digging around in those inner rings of the giant redwood of my life, as did watching It’s a Sin, which, despite being set in London, took me back to the 1980’s and brought a lot of painful memories back. It made me realize that while that coping mechanism of “no regret, not looking back” was necessary for my growth into who I am now, and for me to build a writing career, it wasn’t long-term healthy because a lot of unprocessed pain, anger and grief (and joy and laugher, as well) had never been recognized, processed, dealt with, and moved on from. I think part of the reason I decided to finish those two in-progress-for-years books was precisely so i could start processing and dealing with my past…and sometimes that means revisiting painful memories. It’s also part of the reason I moved “Never Kiss a Stranger” up on the lengthy list of things I want to write and finish and get out there; I want to remember the mentality of what it was like to be a gay man in New Orleans in 1994, just really coming to terms with your sexuality after being closeted at least most of the time for most of your life, and beginning to explore what it means to be gay while the specter of AIDS hung over your head like a death sentence just waiting to be pronounced. As prevention and treatment options continue to lower the risk of infection as well as the threat of death over the last decade or so, people are slowly beginning to forget what it was like back then–and the literature of the period is going out of print and disappearing. I now have clients who don’t remember what it was like because they weren’t alive then, and while it is so wonderful and lovely that they didn’t come out and experience life with that shadow hanging over their heads, periodically I feel a bit of pang remembering all those wonderful bright lights that were extinguished so cruelly, and the old embers of white-hot anger at the societal and governmental neglect, often deliberate and intentionally cruel, that allowed them all to die returns.

Which is why unveiling a commemorative stamp honoring Grendel’s mother, aka Nancy Reagan, during Pride Month was tone-deaf as well as a slap in the face to those of us who survived in spite of that miserable bitch and the raw sewage she married.

I also think this most recent pandemic and the memories it stirred up, timed with watching It’s a Sin and some other things, is why I am so exhausted all the time (well, that plus being sixty); it’s a sign of depression from all of the unprocessed emotions and feelings from locking away my past and turning away from it. It may have been necessary in 1995 to move forward, but it wasn’t healthy, and the longer I kept those memories locked away without dealing with them the worse it became. So I am going to set a goal of trying to write an essay every two weeks about something from my past, unlocking a memory and trying to find the meaning in it, how it impacted and affected my life–and not with regret, but with the cold, unflinching eye of the non-fiction writer. I also feel like something snapped inside my head this past week–I know how weird that sounds–but Wednesday I was really down. Memories flashing through my head, triggered by the reversal of Roe (I remember a pre-Roe United States, and also remember when the decision came down) and what that meant for other decisions revolving around personal privacy/freedom and government overreach. The four or five days following the Dobbs decision were dark ones for me (I cannot imagine what they were like for women), and yet, somehow, in writing something Wednesday afternoon something snapped in my head and I got past it all–and I realized I’d been dealing with a lot more anxiety and depression than I thought I was (and I thought I was dealing with a lot as it was). I have felt much better since getting over that hump on Wednesday, but I am also not foolish enough to think I am past it all, either–it will come back.

If I learned anything from Hurricane Katrina, it’s that trauma and depression come in waves. There will be good days, and there will be bad days. I usually deal with darkness by writing–not writing makes the darkness even darker–which is something I also need to remember: writing always makes things better for me.

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

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Thursday and my last day in the office this week. Huzzah! Which means I do not have to get up at six tomorrow morning, which is lovely, and next week my work at home day is Monday, so I don’t have to be back in the office until Tuesday, which is kind of nice. I need to do a couple of errands tomorrow–brake tag and wash the car–but I am also kind of hoping against hope that I can make it to the gym tomorrow in the early evening as well. I hate that the first thing to go out the window whenever I am overwhelmed with work are the two things I enjoy most in life and are, really, things that are just for me: working out and writing.

I entered #shedeservedit for the Thriller Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult this week; I am not sure if there’s any point, really, but you cannot complain about queer books not making award shortlists if you don’t enter your own and encourage every other queer writer to do so as well. I am also entering it for the Edgars. Dream big, Gregalicious.

I have to admit I’ve not really been promoting #shedeservedit the way I should be, and I am not entirely sure why that is. Every step of the way of writing that book I was worried about whether I was the right person to tell that story or not…something I would have never even thought about ten years ago. I still don’t think I would have been the right person to tell the story had the main pov character been a girl; making it a guy, seeing everything that was going on in Liberty Center from a male teenager who is also on the football team, for me, made it more palatable–and it’s not just the story of the toxic masculinity and the rape culture permeating the town of Liberty Center: there’s a whole lot of just plain wrong going on in that town, and my main character, Alex, was affected and damaged by all of it, even as (sometimes) merely a witness to the shenanigans. Everything has a ripple effect, after all. But at the same time, the book has a content warning–which, I am ashamed to admit, never crossed my mind that it would need when I was writing it. How would a young woman who has experienced this, or knows someone who has, react to reading this story? That thought also kind of made me pull back a bit from the promotional stuff. Even with a content warning, is what happens in the book–even though it’s all already happened, and is seen only through flashbacks–going to be too difficult for a young woman (or a young man, for that matter) who has experienced something similar to read? The book has been out in the world now for over five months, it has a four and a half star rating on Amazon (I will not look at Goodreads, and no one can make me go to that barren hellscape for authors)…but at the same time there hasn’t been any pushback thus far on the book–which also doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen, either.

But this week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (I honestly don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I have fun joking around with my friends there, and I’ve seen posts about books that I went on to read and enjoy, but for far too large a percentage of the time I have to step away from it in revulsion when I see how truly terrible so many people are willing to be behind the anonymity of a computer screen, a cartoon avatar, and a fake name…and how many more are unashamed to reveal their monstrous true selves with their actual names and images proudly on display for everyone to see) and I came across a piece from The Cut, which is a part of New York magazine and Vulture and I am not sure what all other websites and so forth are involved in that tangled mess of on-line and print publications. It purported to be about a high school teenager who “made a mistake” and “got canceled by his school.”

Ah, another story about the evils of cancel culture, I thought to myself, should I bother?

Reader, I bothered. And dear God in heaven, I am so sorry I did. If you want to read the nauseating swill for yourself, if it is still up, it can be found here: https://www.thecut.com/article/cancel-culture-high-school-teens.html. If you have high blood pressure, I would advise against it.

What makes the entire thing worse, in my opinion, is of course they assigned this piece to a woman. There’s a reason why men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault will inevitably hire a female defense attorney–it subliminally communicates to the jury would a woman defend this person if he were a rapist? No woman would take on such a case! But when I was doing my research for #shedeservedit, one of the things I noted was how many women didn’t believe the girls, how many of their peers didn’t believe the girls, and that the nastiest and most vicious critics of the victims were other women/girls. I remember reading about Brock Turner’s mother, weeping and sobbing about how her son’s life was being ruined (implied: by that drunk slut!); the former girlfriend who wrote a character reference letter for him to the judge, and on and on. (I always wonder–as I did with Brock Turner–does he have any sisters or female first cousins? What do they think about this?)

Anyway, the author of this piece–whose sympathies are entirely with this boy whose only regret for sharing nude pictures of his girlfriend with his friends (when he was “drunk,” because I guess that makes it okay) is that he was shunned by his entire high school–misses the lede in this article so many times. She is so desperate to make us all feel bad for this kid for being made to feel the absolute least amount of consequence possible for his actions that she misses that the girls at this school felt so betrayed and dismissed by the system–which is supposed to protect them–that they took action on their own. That is the story here–what the students had to step up to do because THE ADULTS and the SCHOOL SYSTEM failed them.

But no, we get another “oh this poor boy”. (Who went to four proms and is leaving for college in the fall, where none of this will follow him.) By a woman writer who, per Wikipedia, has teenaged daughters of their own. How must THEY feel when reading their mother’s latest work?

Not even ten years ago the victims in Steubenville and Marysville were the ones shunned; not the guys who got them wasted and took advantage of them. (At least the Steubenville victim got some justice, as two of the boys were convicted; the poor girl in Marysville got nothing but slut-shamed and eventually she committed suicide.)

My original inspiration for writing this book honestly came back in the early 1990’s. Remember the Spur Posse at Lakewood High School? (No less an august literary figure than Joan Didion herself wrote about the Spur Posse, in her New Yorker piece “Trouble in Lakewood.”) I thought I had read about the Spur Posse in Rolling Stone–which, let’s face it, I was more likely to read at the time than the New Yorker–and was completely appalled…I sat down and started writing an idea for a book based on it, where the girls of the school, getting nowhere with the police and the school administration and so forth, become ‘avenging angels’ to publicly shame and embarrass the boys…and then they start dying. I wrote a couple of chapters, created some characters, and titled it When Stallions Die (stallions, obviously, a stand-in for Spur Posse); I always meant to swing back around to it at some point because it was an interesting idea (if you agree, you should read Lisa Lutz’ brilliant The Swallows from a few years’ back) and I still might–one never knows. But it was the Spur Posse situation that made me start thinking–long and hard–about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and the weird need that some women have to protect men at any cost: “boys will be boys,” “any red-blooded American boy”…”locker room talk.”

And since I had been wanting to write a Kansas book, and had been playing around with a story for a small city in Kansas, its teens, and its high school football team, #shedeservedit kind of evolved from there.

I don’t know why I am so reluctant and/or nervous to promote the book. It was a deeply personal book for me to write (as was Bury Me in Shadows), and yes, I put a lot of my teenaged self into that book–not the surface Greg everyone saw and knew, but the interior Greg, the one who was so deeply miserable and unhappy and alone on the inside.

Wow, this rambled on for a lot longer than I expected it to! That article clearly pissed me off, did it not?

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

Don’t Knock My Love

I turned the edits in yesterday and let out a huge sigh of relief. I think I fixed everything that needed fixing, and I think the book is much better now than it was when I actually turned it in (editors are so worth their weight in gold; good ones, anyway).

I feel more confident now about my writing than I have in a long time, to be honest. I feel more confident about life in general, for that matter. I’m not sure what happened, or what caused the change…but I know once I got over being tired from the Kentucky trip, I’ve felt better on every level–emotionally, physically, and mentally. And I hope it lasts.

I also didn’t realize how much stress that turning that revised manuscript in would release from my shoulders. Deadlines are stressful, especially when you have a horrible habit of missing them, and the last couple of months haven’t been the easiest for me on multiple fronts. But when I started working on the edits more deeply this past weekend, I became much calmer than I’ve been in a long time, relaxed, even, which really felt strange. The weekend overall was a pretty good one, to be honest. I didn’t sleep as well last night as I would have liked, either, but this morning feel rested, at the very least. It also feels like I’ve not been into the office in a very long time, which is strange–I mean, I was just there on Friday–but it’s still weird. But even so, this past week was a lot less stressful and tense than I’ve felt in a long time. I am not sure what that’s all about, but I am going to take it as a win.

We watched more of The Boys and Obi-wan Kenobi last night, and are now all caught up on both shows. (I didn’t know Amazon Prime was doing the same, release one episode per week, streaming thing; I don’t remember having to watch The Boys by the week in previous seasons, but my mind has literally become a sieve these days and it’s entirely possible. The ability to binge has seriously affected my memory and how I watch television; it seems completely alien now to have to wait a week to watch another episode of something…let alone having to watch everything that way. How on earth did we used to do that all the time? It’s amazing how easy it is to retrain your mind after a lifetime of doing things one way.) I am really enjoying both shows. I like that The Boys will go places Marvel and DC won’t with their take on super-heroes, and I am really loving Obi-wan Kenobi. I don’t know what the whiners on social media are complaining and/or bitching about, other than it being the usual misogyny and racism. “Oh, no, we have a Sith who is a black female!” Get over your fucking self. Sorry you can accept alien creatures without qualm but get your tiny little nut-sack in a froth over a black woman. The horror of it all! You must have really hated the adaptation of Foundation.

I also wrote nearly three thousand new words of “Never Kiss a Stranger” last night; I decided working on it would be a nice palate-cleanse between finishing the last book and starting the new Scotty. I’m still not sure I am writing it the correct way–novellas are a whole new thing for me, and the structuring is also a new concept for me. But I like what I am doing with it thus far, and while it doesn’t have to be anything, it could just as easily be something I just tinker with from time to time when I feel like it, I am also enjoying it a lot. It’s set in the summer of 1994, and my main character has just retired from the military after twenty years and moved to New Orleans. He’s a gay man who has spent twenty years hiding who he is, and now he has the ability to live his life the way he pleases–so writing about unshackling oneself from the enforced bondage of the military closet is, in some ways, like just coming out of the closet. He doesn’t regret his time in the army, not in the least; he would have stayed in had he not learned he was on a purge list before “don’t ask don’t tell” goes into effect. But I like the idea of exploring how experiencing that freedom for the first time in his life, at almost forty, feels…because in many ways his socialization as a gay man is somewhat stunted; it had to be, because of the military. It’s nice to bring up these things–as well as HIV/AIDS–in a historical piece (sad that 1994 was almost thirty years ago at this point and counts as a historical. This is also my sly way of working some politics into the story, as well. When Peter interviewed me for the Three Rooms Press website as the “featured author of the month,” one of the things he asked about was politics…the truth is my existence is political through no choice of my own, as I told Peter, and I would like nothing more than to just be left alone so I can focus on my writing. I’ve not been active politically for a while–I still vote, and make the occasional donation to a candidate I believe in–but as a gay man in the United States in 2022, the right wing likes to use me and my community to whip up their base of Christofascists, and this year it is particularly ugly.

I also think my work kind of stands as political statements on their own. Let’s look at my last two books, shall we? Bury Me in Shadows examined the generational damage caused by institutionalized racism and homophobia; #shedeservedit was an examination of how toxic masculinity and systemic misogyny damages our young people. Yes, they were crime stories, and yes, I like to think they were entertaining reads–but each had a point that I was trying to make through the story and the characters and what they were facing. I started doing an entry this weekend about the Scotty series, from beginning to its most recent (since I am about to embark on writing a new one)–mainly because there was a song on the list I am using for post titles called “Watching Scotty Grow” and really, was there ever a better title for a post looking back through the years at the Scotty series, its ups and downs and journey from an idea I had one afternoon to getting a contract to write it and going from one publisher to another…and yet Scotty continues to endure.

Well, that’s enough for a Tuesday morning. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader, and I am heading into the spice mines.

Groove Me

And now it’s Sunday in the Lost Apartment, and I didn’t even go outside yesterday. Seriously, and it was lovely. I spent yesterday morning doing some organizing and planning and chores, and then dove into my edits. I emerged from the edits, bleary-eyed and more than a little bit tired, about five or six hours later and adjourned to my easy chair for some “be Scooter’s nap lap for a while” time and watched some videos on European royalty and some who were royalty-adjacent (Ivan VI of Russia, Diane de Poitiers, Elisabeth-Charlotte d’Orleans, duchess of Lorraine, and so forth) until Paul came home, and we streamed for the rest of the evening, which was nice and relaxing. Today I am going to finish the edits so it can be polished tomorrow before turning it in once and for all–huzzah!–and then the rest of the week I will undoubtedly have the “just finished a book for good” hangover and won’t get much else done. But I am already starting to feel that release of having a book finished; and my stress/anxiety levels have gone down significantly. I slept very well last night, which was also very nice and lovely, and I hope to do so again tonight–it’s been really nice getting all this sleep lately.

We watched Fire Island last night on Hulu, and I wasn’t horribly disappointed by it. I’ve seen few gay films–written, directed, produced and starring gay men– that weren’t disappointments; even the ones that come from traditional Hollywood inevitably I don’t care for very much. I never made it through Call Me by Your Name, for one example, and do not get me started on Philadelphia, In and Out, and To Wong Foo. But I enjoyed Fire Island, despite thinking I wouldn’t. I’ve actually never been to Fire Island–although I was invited to go for my birthday one year; their big Morning Party was actually on my birthday–but I was timid and shy and didn’t know how to get there from Tampa, because it involved trains and ferries and things, and I was also always broke in those days, and so I ended up not going. I’ve regretted it ever since…especially when I was writing Wicked Frat Boy Ways, which had a segment actually set on Fire Island. Anyway, I am digressing. I went into Fire Island kind of expecting it to be the same old gay story about Fire Island–I’ve read enough gay literary fiction either written or set in the 1970’s to have formed a strong impression about Fire Island–but the movie wasn’t what I was expecting. I was kind of expecting…I don’t know, another movie about beautiful and rich gay men with ripped bodies that didn’t go very deep, even if it was billed as a rom-com (I mean, a rom-com set on Fire Island?). But it was a lot more than what I was expecting; the characters the movie followed (a group of friends who all bonded and became kind of a family when they all worked at a horrible restaurant in Manhattan with “bottomless Mimosas”–that flashback scene might only be hilarious to former waiters, but it made both Paul and I laugh knowingly) were not rich for sure; the only reason they can afford to be there is they have a friend–a lesbian who won a lawsuit and got a shit ton of money and bought a house on the island, played by Margaret Cho–and there’s definitely some class issues played out in the movie, as well as issues of race. It was also nice to see some frankness about gay male sexuality. I won’t spoil the movie, but it wound up being deeply satisfying, had some really funny moments, and Bowen Yang is the emotional center of the movie–and he kills it. Fire Island may not be for everyone, but Paul and I really enjoyed it a lot more than we thought we would, and the island itself looks beautiful. I am far too old now to “do” Fire Island…but you can’t always do everything you want.

My, how philosophical I am after one cup of coffee this morning.

We also started watching a Spanish language show called Merli: Sapere Audi (Dare to Know), which is a sequel to a show called Merli about a philosophy teacher and ran for three seasons. This show focuses on one of the teacher’s best students, Pol, who is now studying at the University of Barcelona and is played by a really beautiful young actor named Carlos Cuervas, Pol is still in a relationship with Bruno, the son of his old teacher, and is still struggling to come to terms with his bisexuality (or homosexuality; I am not sure which it is), while developing a new relationship with his philosophy professor, who is played by Maria Pujalte, whom we have seen in numerous other shows; she is always great. It’s entertaining enough, and we’ll probably go ahead and finish it tonight. (I laughed because the opening shot of the show has Pol in the shower, with that shot being a close-up of his lovely ass. “Spain understands the gay market,” I laughed as we watched.) I’m not sure what we’ll watch when we finish this, but there are five more episodes so that will be a question for later this week, no doubt…I think the new, New Orleans based and filmed Queer as Folk will be dropping soon on HBO MAX, and we’ll probably watch that and Obi-wan Kenobi on Disney.

And we still haven’t watched all those Marvel shows, either.

I’ve been thinking–always a dangerous thing–lately about trying my hand at writing a gay romance. I’ve always avoided the genre because of it’s commitment to heteronormativity (which actually came up during Fire Island, which was kind of a knowing wink at the audience), but even before watching Heartstopper (I actually think Patrick/Ivan on Elité was when I first started thinking about it.). I even (of course) have a title for it, and was thinking it might be kind of fun to bring Jake from Bury Me in Shadows back and toss him a romance sequel. (I think my next Alabama may focus on his boyfriend Beau from Bury Me in Shadows….if I write another Alabama book. One never really knows.) But writing another book about Jake, or one about Beau would be kind of lazy since I already created them….but I also couldn’t write another book set in Corinth County and not acknowledge Beau…who was a cousin of the main character from Dark Tide, which did get mentioned. I don’t know. But as I put the finishing edits on my cozy mystery, I am thinking it might be fun and interesting to try something–a romance novel–that is completely outside of my wheelhouse. Sure I have to write Mississippi River Mischief, Chlorine and another project first; there’s all those novellas I have to finish as well as all those short stories; and of course, the essays.

Christ.

No wonder I am so tired all the time…

My goal has been to write a first draft of Chlorine in May, and then a first draft of another project (Muscles) in June, spend July writing the short stories and novellas, and then move on to Mississippi River Mischief in August. I’m now thinking–inspired by these edits–that what I really need to do is spend the rest of this month working on the short stories and novellas as well as getting MRM started; it would be great to have a first draft of MRM completed by August 1, and then spend the next two months writing first drafts of the other projects before returning to MRM to finish by December 1. I think that’s not only workable but doable, but I also have to stay focused on the goal and not allow myself to either get lazy or distracted. I really also want to get back down to 200 pounds before Bouchercon; that may not be entirely realistic, but I can at least change the way the weight is distributed on my body somewhat by then–although back in the day, I generally started working on my Decadence body (ah, the days when it mattered so much to me to be in shape for certain weekends of the year!) around June…but my body has aged and changed since those days, and the metabolism has completely slowed down. But my body also craves exercise and stretching–I may do some stretching when I finish writing this, and before I start putting stuff away and cleaning prior to diving into the edits–and it certainly cannot hurt for me to start trying to make it to the gym three times per week again.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.