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.

Lonely Days

The first “Gothic” novel I read was Victoria Holt’s The Secret Woman (technically, it was Mary Stewart’s The Ivy Tree, but I don’t really think of Stewart as a Gothic writer–which is a subject for another time), and I fell in love with them. These were the books, usually from Fawcett Crest in mass market paperback, that became famous for the “young woman running away from a spooky house with a light in the window while wearing a long nightgown and having really long hair” covers. Sometimes those covers didn’t belong on the books that had them (Charlotte Armstrong didn’t write Gothics, for one example), but inevitably, you really couldn’t go wrong picking up a book with that kind of cover. My favorites were of course Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt; I devoured their books, and also enjoyed Susan Howatch, Dorothy Eden, and any number of others. I miss those books, even if sometimes the heroines were incredibly passive to the point where I wanted to shake some self-esteem into them…and have often bemoaned their disappearance from the paperback shelves.

But there are modern Gothics being published–Carol Goodman is a QUEEN of the modern Gothic–and I’ve turned my hand to them from time to time myself (Timothy, The Orion Mask, Bury Me in Shadows) and would like to do more.

So, you can imagine how delighted I was to read (listen) to The Death of Mrs. Westaway.

The girl leaned, rather than walked, into the wind, clutching the damp package of fish and chips grimly under one arm even as the gale plucked at the paper, trying to unravel the parcel and send the contents skittering away down the seafront for the seagulls to claim.

As she crossed the road her hand closed over the crumpled note in her pocket, and she glanced over her shoulder, checking the long dark stretch of pavement behind her for a shadowy figure, but there was no one there. No one she could see, anyway.

It was rare for the seafront to be completely deserted. The bars and clubs were open long into the night, spilling drunk locals and tourists onto the pebbled beach right through until dawn. But tonight, even the most hardened partygoers had decided against venturing out, and now, at 9:55 p.m. on a wet Tuesday, Hal had the promenade to herself, the flashing lights of the pier the only sign of life, apart from the gulls wheeling and crying over the dark restless waters of the channel.

I had heard somewhere that this book had echoes of potentially being a Rebecca homage (hello, Timothy!) so of course I was interested. Ware first exploded on the mystery scene with her The Woman in Cabin 10, which I haven’t read (it’s buried in the TBR pile somewhere) and I had acquired some of her others titles in the years since her debut with In a Dark, Dark Wood (which I also have on hand) and I decided, when picking out audiobooks to listen to on the drive, thought, “Hey, isn’t it about time you checked out Ruth Ware? Overdue, in fact? So I downloaded The Death of Mrs. Westaway and started listening once I pulled away from the curb last Thursday.

Wow.

The main character is Harriet Westaway, who goes by Hal. Hal is poor–very poor. She makes a subsistence-level living by reading tarot cards in a booth on the pier in a seaside resort, and it’s the off-season, where her living is even lower. The book opens with her walking home from a night’s work, trying to figure out how she is going to pay her bills–and which ones can wait, which need immediate attention–and she also owes money to a loanshark, who is getting more threatening with every passing day. Out of the blue she receives a letter from an attorney letting her know she was named in her grandmother’s will, and an invitation to the funeral. Confused–Hal knows that wasn’t her grandmother’s name, and verifies the information by checking her mother’s birth certificate (her mother was killed in a hit-and-run accident when she was a senior in high school–the British equivalent, at any rate–and as such never finished school); it’s a mistake, but…maybe she can fake her way into a bit of an inheritance. She is desperate, after all, and what can it hurt to get away for a little while? And so Hal sets out for the Cornish estate Trepassen–the Westaway fortune has dwindled over the years, and the house is in ill repair, but Hal is very startled after the funeral to discover that her “grandmother” has left everything to her, which now has her on the horns of a dilemma. She knows a mistake has been made about her identity, but doesn’t know how to get out of the pickle she’s now in.

Trepassen reminded me in ways of Manderly, and the Rebecca parallels are there, but this is not a simple homage. Mrs. Warren, the housekeeper, was devoted to the late Mrs. Westaway (whose children despised her) and is perfectly awful to poor Hal. The Westaway family welcomes Hal as the long-last daughter of their long-lost sister Maud, which only adds to her guilt about the deception she is pulling on them. Hal is mousy, like the second Mrs. deWinter, and there were times I wanted to shake her into standing up for herself a bit more…but on the other hand, it kind of fits into the situation she’s in–how do you stand up for yourself when you are literally lying to everyone? There are a lot of family mysteries to explore and unravel. Hal’s arrival at Trepassen starts those threads unraveling, and like any true Gothic heroine, soon her life is in danger…

I enjoyed this book tremendously. It reminded me strongly of Victoria Holt and Phyllis Whitney, and I will certainly be reading more of Ruth Ware going forward.

Stick-Up

Working at home on this ruby Tuesday, so I didn’t need to get up super-early or have to deal with anything like, you know, having to gulp down steaming hot coffee so I could prise my eyelids apart this morning in order to write this blog entry. Do I have high hopes for the day? Sure I do. Will I inevitably be disappointed? Most definitely. I slept really well last night–the bed was still incredibly comfortable this morning–and I feel revitalized in some ways, refreshed in others, and snapped out of whatever I was feeling recently; good sleep and not waking up to an alarm certainly does make a difference, I think, in almost every conceivable way. I was, indeed, tired when I got home from work yesterday–as I suspected I might be yesterday morning when I got up–and so spent the evening relaxing and watching television (Gaslit, The Baby, Tokyo Vice) until I went to bed relatively early. My brain is still not completely awake this morning, but it’s getting there. I have an errand to run this morning–or at some point during the day–but other than that I will be here doing my data entry and then working on my book after my day’s work for the day job is completed and my hours done. I should probably try to get packed today for the trip–get that out of the way, since the plan is to get up early Thursday and be on the road as soon as possible–as well as try to get everything wrapped up that I can before I go away for four days.

I’m not dreading the drive as much as one might think, to be honest. Now that I’ve discovered the magic of audiobooks (it’s funny how I always resist something because I’ve made up my mind I won’t like it, and then end up liking it a lot; to be fair, I was worried about listening to books in the car from a fear that I would get so absorbed in listening I wouldn’t pay attention to driving–that did not turn out to be the case) for long drives, the drives are a lot more enjoyable. I actually do not mind highway driving as much as one might think, given my utter antipathy for driving and my fears of the ignorance of 90% of the other drivers on the road, but if it’s a nice day–one thing you can definitely say about the South, it’s beautiful to drive through. The mountains in Tennessee and Kentucky make me a bit nervous when I drive through there once night has fallen, but the sun sets far later now than it does when I drive up in November so it should actually still be light out when I get to my parents’ Thursday evening. The lengthy drives for me now are about recovery, because they wear me out a lot more than they ever did before, which is undoubtedly part of being older (the thing that truly sucks about getting older is you’re never sure about things–“is this something I should get checked out, or am I just older?” It doesn’t help when you bring things up to your doctor and he says, “you’re getting older.”) but I am also not going to worry about “making time” and getting there as quickly as I can. If I have to stop, I have to stop.

Getting there isn’t a race or a contest. There’s no prize for getting there fifteen minutes earlier than planned. I really need to learn to be more patient. Why am I always in such a hurry? Can an old dog learn a new trick?

Anything is possible.

My mind does wander sometimes as I listen to the audiobooks–it often does on long drives–and hopefully this drive will help me get some new ideas for current and future projects the way it usually does–although it can be frustrating not being able to write ideas down immediately, as sometimes they get forgotten. But I like to believe that even if I have an idea that I forget, just having thought about it at that time means it will pop up again at some point. Over the past ten to fifteen years, driving through Alabama–either going north or coming south–helped me structure the story and create the characters for Bury Me in Shadows, for example–so maybe, just maybe, this drive will help me pull together some ideas for any one of the insane amounts of projects I have on-going at the moment. One can certainly hope, at any rate. I am not kidding when I say that Bury Me in Shadows was in my head since sometime in the mid to late 1980’s; I don’t remember when I wrote the original short story that eventually grew and developed into the book, but it was during that time period.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone, and I will chat at you again tomorrow morning.

She’s Not Just Another Woman

Well, yesterday was actually quite lovely. I slept extremely well Thursday night and of course, the Anthony Award nominations turned my week around when the news broke that night (I still can’t believe Bury Me in Shadows is nominated TWICE), and I did spend a lot of yesterday trying to thank everyone for their congratulatory tweets, posts, comments and emails–I can’t think of anything lovelier than having to say thank you to people for their kindness–AND then Netflix renewed Heartstopper for an additional two seasons, which warmed the cockles of my cold, dark little heart. I wasn’t able to get as much done as I would have liked–but I did get some important thinking done, and today I am really going to start working on my edits. When I got home from work yesterday I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in order to get it out of the way before the weekend, precisely so I could focus on my edits. We spent the evening, once I’d made dinner (Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, if you were wondering) watching this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven and then one of the two new episodes of Hacks before we turned in early for the evening. I slept marvelously again last night, and feel very rested and a-rarin’ to go this morning. I do have some errands to run–nothing major that will take me away for long; I need to get the mail and put gas in the car–and then I can settle in for a day of editing and writing, which I am strangely looking forward to doing.

It was a rollercoaster of a week, ending withe incredibly pleasant high of having two Anthony Award nominations for the same book–still having trouble wrapping my mind around this, to be honest; I don’t know if it’s ever happened before–but I am not the only person with more than one nomination. Tracy Clark is nominated for Best Novel for Runner and for Best Short Story; S. A. Cosby is nominated for Best Novel (Razorblade Tears), Best Short Story, and Best Anthology for Under the Thumb. I feel confident no one’s ever been nominated for three Anthonys in the same year, as well; Shawn just keeps breaking down barriers with his extraordinary work. The nominations list is also one of the most diverse I’ve seen in all my years in this business, which certainly also bears remarking on.

As always, I still have a ridiculous amount of work to get done; but now that I am all rested this morning and feeling great about things, I am not so worried or stressed about it as I was yesterday or earlier in the week (being tired is so unpleasant, and just opens to the door to stress and anxiety and depression); we will see, of course, how long that will last very shortly, won’t we? I have hopes–although I know going out into the blisteringly hot and humid day to run errands will suck the energy right out of me, sending me quite literally to my easy chair; but I can work in the easy chair–if I make myself do it, which I feel like I can do today. I don’t think I am going to make the deadline for that short story–its fine, really; I was thinking about it last night and realized working on it has been a way of pushing off getting the edits on my book finished because I just can’t face working on it again, but I am over it already. I still don’t know the middle of the story, and I can always finish it some other time and get it done and try to sell it somewhere. It’s a pretty good story–I just need to figure out the middle of it.

Sigh. I hate the middle.

But looking around the desk this morning, there’s things I need to put away and filing that needs to be done; I also got down my Scotty books (with the pages marked with sticky notes for each character’s history and background; this was the initial step to creating a Scotty Bible to make continuity easier for me) and have them stacked neatly on the right corner of the desk underneath some others I’ll be using for Chlorine research (should I ever get around to that, I am beginning to sense the slippage of time through my hot little fingers). This is always the first step of writing a Scotty book; gathering the copies of the old for references. I have the prologue-opening spoof of a more famous book’s opening selected and even written somewhat (A START!) and I am doing some research–I am going to pay homage with the book to two Nancy Drew mysteries (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) in this plot/story, so I actually had to sit down and reread both books (another blog post there, but you’ll have to be patient, Constant Reader) this past week–more of a skim, really; just to get some feel for them again since I didn’t really remember as much of them as I would have liked–and yes, I have thoughts (hence the blog post which I’ve already started).

But as I said, I have edits to dig into today, and some filing to do before I run the errands, so it’s perhaps best that I bring this to a close this morning and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

I Just Want to Celebrate

…because it’s finally fucking Friday!

Yesterday was…not a great day, really. I was physically tired, but not mentally tired, if that makes sense? The problem is that the physical tired makes it hard for the not-tired brain to focus on anything, and I get kind of punchy, which isn’t really the face I like to show to the world. But my day was okay for the most part. I think the tired primarily came about because of the early return of summer weather to New Orleans. Yes, I know to those of you who do not live here New Orleans always seems brutally hot all of the time, but there are degrees to New Orleans heat, and yes, it usually starts getting hotter in May and yes, the humidity usually is back in May. But it was ninety-five degrees on Wednesday; and even at the hottest part of the dog days of August it rarely gets to that. Usually it hovers somewhere between 88 and 93, but it’s the humidity that makes it so awful. Also, I’ve been more active this week than usual. I did Ellen’s book launch on Sunday evening, I had that ZOOM meeting on Wednesday night, and I had drinks with a friend in from out of town before the ZOOM meeting. So, that was a lot more of social interaction than I am accustomed to, and instead of going home from work Wednesday night (the way I usually do) and collapsing into my chair while going into a Youtube wormhole of some sort, I didn’t get to relax until after nine pm.

That is not my norm.

I stopped on the way home last night to get some things at the grocery store, and then spent some time doing some kitchen chores (since I had drinks with a friend before the ZOOM meeting, I had to move everything off the kitchen counters, shove it all in the laundry room, and then closed the doors so no one could see it; and the dishes in the sink had to be organized so nothing could be seen from the camera on the computer; I never realized having my work station in the kitchen would turn out to be so problematic, but I couldn’t have foreseen ZOOM in the summer of 2005 when we moved into the Lost Apartment, either) before collapsing into my easy chair to wait for Paul to get home.

So, there I was, minding my own business, watching first Superman and Lois before The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills (I have tuned back in for this season, I have thoughts) and occasionally checking social media and my emails when…I got a notification on Twitter. I clicked to see this tweet from Katrina Niidas Holm:

GREG HERREN!!! You wrote a book so damn good, it got nominated twice! Congratulations, @scottynola! Hope you’ll remember us Pogues when…

(‘Pogues’ being an Outer Banks reference, a show she and her husband Chris–buy his Child Zero, available now and amazing–convinced me to watch with the result Paul and I fell in love with the show, too)

I literally had no idea what she was talking about and gave my usual intelligent response of wait what? at which point she linked to this year’s Anthony Award nominees. Bury Me in Shadows was nominated not only for Best Paperback/Ebook/Audio Original, but also for Best Children’s/Young Adult.

TWO NOMINATIONS FOR THE SAME BOOK IN DIFFERENT CATEGORIES.

I am still in shock this morning–a delighted shock, to be sure, but it’s still shock. It still hasn’t completely sunken in yet, either. It’s going to take me a hot minute to thank everyone who has tweeted or posted on Facebook their congratulations, as well as to congratulate the ridiculously amazing amount of friends that are also nominated in one of the categories–it really is, overall, a remarkable list with a lot of books nominated that I read and loved loved loved–but what a lovely chore to have, you know? And talk about turning your mood and your day around! So, this morning–needless to say I slept very well last night–I am sipping my coffee and riding the high a bit still. At some point I’ll need to make sure I thank everyone and congratulate everyone else nominated and get through my social media, but right now I am just sitting here at my desk feeling very proud and happy and content while I sip my coffee. Wow. I mean, wow.

I’ve not been in a very good place about my career lately, honestly–any number of things; the problems with getting myself to actually write, not feeling great about what I write when I do write, all the little doubts and insecurities that have built up over a lifetime of wanting to be a writer but getting little to no encouragement from anyone, really. It all kinds of builds up sometimes, and anything–no matter how small or inconsequential–will trigger it and send me spiraling down into the Pit of Despair. As I struggle with my schedule and all the things I need and want to get done, with a to-do list that seems to grow like the Hydra, with two new things to do replacing every single task that gets scratched off the list, this was precisely the right time to get this kind of reassurance from my community, my wonderful crime fiction world, and I’ll always be grateful for this. Bury Me in Shadows was a very hard book for me to write, emotionally; but digging deep into the issues I dealt with in the book–and that emotional difficulty–made it a better book, I think.

Wow. I mean, wow.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a wonderful Friday, Constant Reader.

Love Is Here and Now You’re Gone

I finished the book and emailed it off to my editor yesterday. ENORMOUS SIGH OF RELIEF. It still needs some work–there’s a few things that need to be changed, methinks, and of course there’s probably lots of my usual sloppy errors (changing character names but not catching them all; repetitive writing; clunky sentences, etc.) but it’s not nearly as bad as I thought it was two days ago–my moods swing back and forth; one day I think it’s really good, two hours later I think it’s the worst piece of shit I’ve ever written–and I think letting it sit for a few weeks while my editor comes up with her thoughts and advice is going to be very good for it. Now I just have to get this pesky short story written and I can breathe a little bit.

For a very little bit, of course. It never ends around here, you know.

I am in that weird lull period of uncertainty; creatively and emotionally drained a bit from the big push to get the manuscript finished–along with the bipolarity of is it good or not writerly insecurity–and with my batteries drained so much, I didn’t have the energy to actually focus on reading anything, so I went onto Youtube and fell into a wormhole about the bubonic plague for a bit before I got rather fed up with myself and made myself do things. I emptied the dishwasher and did another load of dishes, did a load of laundry, and then sat down at my computer and started organizing the horror that is my back-up hard drive. I made some very good progress, but it was barely a scratch on the surface. I will never understand why I am so careless and/or lazy about computer files and their storage, really; would it kill me to take some time and carefully name files, check for duplicates, and file them away properly so they are easy to find again? The file search function on Macs has a lot to do with this; oh I can just do a file search later to find it–but the problem is really my memory; I will completely forget about something once it’s lost in the horror of the back-up hard drive. Last night, for example, I found a lovely word file with a single sentence in it that was so beautifully written and evocative I was certain I couldn’t have thought it up myself and written it…so I tried to do a google search to see where I’d originally found it–and if I couldn’t find anything, well, maybe I can use it. I didn’t find anything, but I am still not convinced; it sounds like something one of the great Southern writers–Faulkner, Welty, O’Connor–would have written.

More research is clearly needed, but DAMN I hope I thought that sentence up.

I’ve also been asked to write a story–or submit a story–to a market I’d never heard of before; it was an unsolicited email (I get those from time to time) and the offer of payment is actually pretty substantial (it’s not a guaranteed publication, but they’d like to see something from me and it’s not like I don’t have a gazillion stories and fragments of stories and ideas for stories lying around, right?), so I think I might actually take some time and dig through the files (now that I think of it, this was how the clean-up of the back-up hard drive began last night; me looking through the files and realizing that finding anything without doing the afore-mentioned search–if you aren’t looking for anything SPECIFIC–is well-nigh impossible, hence the start of the cleanse…) and see if I can find something. I have an idea for a weird story–I’ve had the idea for quite some time–and while I was thinking about this last night while I was going through the files, moving and rearranging and sometimes deleting, a great sentence came to me that could easily be the opening of this weird story I want to write. I opened a Word document and wrote it down, but unlike the gorgeous sentence I was talking about earlier, THIS time I gave the file the name of the story and added “sentence” to the title and saved it to the proper file for the story.

I do learn, eventually.

Tonight I want to do some more clean-up. I also have to pack, since I am driving up to Alabama tomorrow for the weekend–I may take the back-up hard drive with me so I can continue working on the clean-up, or I might not; it’s been a while since I have had a weekend of just listening to writers talk about craft and writing and books they love and authors who inspire them; why not simply bask in that environment and find inspiration from others who are passionate about writing? I am going to listen to Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger in the car (if you’ve not read her The Swallows, get on it and thank me later), and I am going to take something to read with me, too–not quite sure what; maybe Brat Farrar by Josephine Tey–to help me fall asleep every night (not that the book will put me to sleep, just that reading before sleeping helps me to relax). The weather is going to be frightful on the drive–thunderstorms the entire way–but the lovely thing about the drive is there is rarely traffic on I-59 between New Orleans and Birmingham other than when the highway passes through a city, and the majority of the cities I will be passing through (if not all of them) are all significantly smaller than New Orleans or Birmingham and the highway pretty much seems abandoned once you reach the Mississippi state line. (See: Jake driving to his grandmother’s in Bury Me in Shadows)

God, I have so much organizing to do! Maybe next weekend, when I am at home without a book deadline looming.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Thursday, Constant Reader.

Going Down for the Third Time

Wednesday and your biweekly Pay-the-Bills Day for one Gregalicious.

It doesn’t feel like Wednesday to me, though; I’m still all messed up with my days of the week with the change in my work schedule. (I had to keep reminding myself last night that it was, indeed, Tuesday and not Monday.) I have to pay the bills today, finish revising the last chapter of the book, do some final tweaks on it, and turn it in. (Naturally, last night I was already breaking it down and figuring out how to fix it and make it better–slow down, Sparky, see what your editor says first….although it never hurts to prepare yourself and do your own critique.)

We finished Archive 81 last night, and it was interesting. The season ended on a cliffhanger, from which they can hang season 2, but I really enjoyed the show from beginning to end. I appreciated particularly the filming esthetic–you never realize how used you are to background soundtracks until you watch something that doesn’t have one, and it’s so odd it makes the show seem off-kilter, which was the exact right touch for this show. I think we’re going to move on to the second season of one of our Spanish language shows from Mexico next; the second season of Dark Desire drops today, and it stars our favorite Spanish-language hunk, Alejandro Speitzer (trust me, gorgeous)–although it’s been so long since we watched the first season (and have watched so many other shows in the meantime) that I don’t really remember a whole lot about the show, except it’s a well done crime show with all kinds of wild twists and turns along the way. I also remember the first season ended with a big surprise twist at the end, which was incredibly fun because it changed everything that had come before–always effective if you can pull it off, and far too ambitious for me to ever try.

Well, never say never.

It’s miserable in New Orleans today–wet and gray and drizzly, and yet warm at the same time (rainy weather always changes the temperature; if it’s already warm the rain makes it cold; if it’s cold the rain warms things up. It doesn’t make sense to me but I am also not a meteorologist). I’m going to make groceries–not much, really, just a few things–on the way home from the office tonight, and I was kind of lazy last night so tonight I have to do some clean-up around the apartment. My sense of days and time is completely fouled up; my default keeps telling me this is Tuesday and not Wednesday, which means I have to leave for Alabama in two days not three–which I think is why I messed up last night and didn’t clean the kitchen like I should have. I may go ahead and pack tonight as well to get it over with; one less thing to worry about tomorrow night after work, or Friday morning before I leave town (the drive to Birmingham is actually the same drive Jake makes in Bury Me in Shadows, which will make for some interesting thinking in the car). I’ve also downloaded Lisa Lutz’ The Passenger to listen to in the car; I may also make some phone calls while I am on the road. Stranger things have happened, and probably will again.

But I am very pleased that I am gradually making progress on the to-do list and everything that needs to get done. The list seems to endlessly refresh, alas, but I suppose that will always be the case until I am in an oxygen tent in the ICU waiting for the Angel of Death. (Note to self: update the to-do list.) But I still am having trouble wrapping my mind around the fact that not only is today Wednesday but that doesn’t mean I do not have to come into the office tomorrow. Change is hard!

And on that note, methinks it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

(You’re Gone But) Always in My Heart

The late Joan Didion famously said we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I’ve parsed the statement any number of times–it’s most commonly taken to mean that it’s important we tell stories of the human experience (the good, the bad, the mediocre and all the varieties in between) to better understand ourselves, our society and culture. I had never read Didion myself until several years ago; of course I knew who she was and what she had written–although if asked before reading her work, I would have only been able to name Play It as It Lays, which I still haven’t read. One of my co-workers had a library copy of her Miami in his officer a few years ago, and I idly picked it up when I was in his office. He recommended very strongly that I read Didion, and so it was with Miami I started; the opening line (Havana dreams come to dust in Miami) sold me on the book. I enjoyed it, and went on to read other works of hers: A Book of Common Prayer, Slouching Toward Bethlehem, and After Henry, among others. I loved the way she wrote; that the complexity of her work came from her poetic use of language and words rather than on complicated sentences. It was reading Didion’s essays (and Laura Lippman’s) that made me start thinking about writing essays myself; I started one trying to use a similar style to Didion–which was interesting–but think it’s rather more important to stick to my own voice, for better or for worse; there was only one Didion, and there should only be the one.

As I was being interviewed the other night I was talking about my re-education; about having to unlearn and relearn things from when I was a kid. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately; part of it was turning sixty this past year, part of it was writing two books back-to-back that are sort of based in my own personal history–so remembering what Alabama and Kansas were like for me meant exploring a lot of my past, reliving and rehashing it with the perspective of time having passed and with a coldly sober, unemotional eye. I remembered, as I was talking about the Lost Cause and other American mythology we are taught as children (Washington and the cherry tree; Honest Abe the rail-splitter; and so many other Americans of the past we have deified) , the Didion quote and found a new meaning in it. When I was a child, I remember that in the South, for some reason, my cousins and their friends and the adults never would refer to someone as a liar; etiquette, perhaps, or politeness being behind this oddity. What they said instead of saying you were lying was “Oh, you’re telling stories.” If someone was a liar, you’d say “he tells stories.”

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.

Given this weird rural Southern thing about “telling stories”, this can be reinterpreted as we tell ourselves lies in order to live–and it all falls into place, because we do tell lies to ourselves in order to live with ourselves, within this culture, within this society. Never has this been more evident than is this strange battle the right has started about Critical Race Theory–which wasn’t being taught in any American public school below the collegiate level. If there’s nothing in American history that we should be ashamed of, why is there so much opposition to the truth? Why are we taught lies in order that we may live?

The war cry of the white Southerners who want to keep their monuments to white supremacy and treason has been “Heritage not hate!” But the heritage is hate, which was the entire point of Bury Me in Shadows. You cannot have it both ways: you cannot celebrate a history of treason against the United States, while claiming to be “more patriotic” that other Americans who do not celebrate the killing of American soldiers (ask Jane Fonda about how posing on an enemy gun goes over). The bare facts of the matter are that some (not all) of the states where it was legal to enslave people were afraid they would lose their right to enslave people, and as such they decided they were better off starting their own country. They wanted a war they couldn’t possibly win, and the fact that it didn’t end quickly has more to do with the incompetence of the Union generals and their political ambitions (there are reasons there are no statues of George McLellan anywhere to be found) than the righteousness of the Confederate cause and the brilliant leadership of Robert E. Lee. They abhor Sherman as a war criminal (“he waged war on civilians!” Um, we also firebombed Dresden during the second world war, and what were Nagasaki and Hiroshima if not the obliteration with atomic weapons of civilian populations? Sherman said “war is hell”–you cannot start a war and then complain about how the other side chooses to fight it.). They claim it had nothing to do with slavery and everything to do with “states’ rights”…when the reality is the only state right they were concerned about was the right to enslave people–they certainly wanted the federal government to enforce the Fugitive Slave Act against the wills of the free states, didn’t they? Their end game in Congress and the courts was to force the federal government to permit enslavement in every state of the union and every territory; this was the crux of the Dred Scott Decision of the Supreme Court, which more than anything else set the stage for the war.

If there’s nothing terrible about the actual history, why so much fear around the truth?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

If the truth is too terrible to be faced, then it absolutely needs to be.

There’s nothing quite so romantic as a lost cause, is there? Whether it’s the Jacobites in England with their toasts to “the King across the water”; the emigres from the French Revolution; or the Confederacy, losing sides inevitably always romanticize their defeat and the loss of a better world their victory would have created. An entire industry has developed in this country around the mythology of the Lost Cause; how could it not when one of the most successful American films of all time portrays the Lost Cause so sympathetically? The opening epigram of Gone with the Wind reads “There once was a land of Cavaliers and cotton fields known as the Old South…” And yet the movie depicts an incredibly classist society, predicated on the enslavement of Africans; the entire idea behind the founding of this country was the elimination of class distinctions–the equality of all.

But even Margaret Mitchell, when asked if the Tara in the movie was how she pictured it as she wrote about it, scoffed and said, “Tara was a farm.”

And not everyone in the old South was rich or owned a plantation. Not everyone was an enslaver, and not everyone was on board with the Lost Cause. But we rarely hear about the Southerners who fought on the Union side in the war; we never hear about Southerners who were abolitionists; and we never hear about the atrocities inflicted on those loyalist Southerners by the rebels, either.

And speaking of war crimes, what about Andersonville?

We tell ourselves lies in order to live.

We cannot celebrate our achievements without acknowledging our failures. It is far worse to not learn from a mistake than making the mistake in the first place. It is not unpatriotic to look at our history, culture, and society critically, to examine and evaluate how we are failing to live up to the ideals upon which our country was founded. The Founding Fathers were not mythical gods of infallibility; they were all too human, with all the concomitant jealousies, pettiness, arrogance and ego that comes with it. They were, for one thing, mostly unable to conceive of a society where women and non-white people were deserving of equality under the law. But they also knew they were not perfect, which was why they created a system that could adapt to the changing tides of history.

George Santayana’s famous quote, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it” is something I think about every day. I also love the George Bernard Shaw quote, “What we learn from history is that we learn nothing from history.

We need to stop telling ourselves lies. The truth might seem to be too much to be faced; it might be ugly and hideous and shameful…but it will also set us free.