Blood on the Moon

Quite a number of years passed between the time when I wrote my first vampire novella, The Nightwatchers, and the time I was asked to write another.

I also hadn’t intended to use Todd Gregory, but that was the name I was publishing under with Kensington at the time, and so they wanted me to use it for the novella–and you know me: they were paying me well so I didn’t care. The fraternity books I was writing for them under that name were doing well, and so they wanted some kind of tie into the fraternity stuff. I didn’t want to write a vampire story set in fictional Polk, California; I wanted to write about New Orleans–I’m sorry, I know it’s a cliche, but vampires and New Orleans just go together in my head. What I actually wanted to do was go back to the mythology I’d created for The Nightwatchers, and at first worried that using my “other” name precluded me doing just that…but then I reminded myself you’re both the same person, dumbass and so that’s precisely what I did. For the fraternity connection, I decided to bring four college students from the University of Mississippi to visit New Orleans for Carnival (one of them was from New Orleans), and have them all be brothers from the same fictitious fraternity I used for the fraternity stories: Beta Kappa. (I first used Beta Kappa in Murder in the Rue Dauphine; it’s the same fraternity Chanse belonged to at LSU, so whenever I need a fraternity that’s my go-to; I even used it in my story “This Town” for the anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s), and of course, one of the boys gets turned over the course of the weekend.

After all, shouldn’t everyone be afraid of coming to big, bad, dangerous New Orleans?

“Happy Mardi Gras!”

The woman was obviously drunk as she threw her arms around Cord Logan and pulled him close and tight to her soft breasts. She pressed her mouth on his before he had time to react and push her away. His entire body stiffened and he winced. Her mouth had the nauseating taste of sour rum and stale cigarettes. He pushed her arms away from him.  Repulsed, he pulled his head backward and took a step back, almost bumping into a weaving guy in an LSU sweatshirt carrying a huge cup of beer. She stood there in the middle of Bourbon Street, grinning at him. She looked to be in her mid-thirties, and heavy strands of beads hung around her neck dipping down into her cleavage. Her lipstick was smeared, making her look kind of like a drunken clown.  Her hair was bleached blonde with about three inches of dark roots growing out of her scalp, and was disheveled and messy—her hairspray had given up on it hours ago. Her bloodshot eyes were half-shut, and she tilted her head to one side as she looked at him, her sloppy smile fading. She was wearing a low-rise denim mini-skirt over stout legs and teetering heels. Her red half-shirt with Throw me something mister written on it in gold glitter revealed a roll of flab around her middle, and a fading sunburst tattoo around her pierced navel. She tried to grab his head and kiss him again, but he deflected her arms.

She narrowed her eyes, going from ‘happy drunk’ to ‘mean bitch’ in a quarter second. “What’s a matter? Don’t you like girls?” she jeered at him, weaving a bit on her heels. She put one hand on her hip, replacing the smile with a sneer.

What? He stared at her, and froze for a moment as horror filled him.

For that instant, everything seemed to stand still. The dull roar of marching bands in the distance, the rock music blaring out into the street from the bars lining Bourbon Street, the shouting and yelling of the revelers, all faded away as he stood staring at her squinting eyes.

Don’t be stupid, Cord, no one can tell just by looking at you.

The spell was broken when a strand of purple bands flew between them, hitting the pavement with a clatter. Cord involuntarily took another step back. The woman squealed with excitement and bent over, her T-shirt falling open  at the neck to reveal a cavernous blue-veined cleavage. She stood up clutching the beads in her fist, a look of triumph on her face. She turned around, Cord forgotten, and lifted her shirt, showing her bare breasts to the crowd of men holding beads on the balcony. She shook her shoulders, making the large breasts sway from side to side, and she started yelling up at the men on the balcony. They all began whistling and cat-calling. The beads began to fly—Cord grabbed a strand of gold ones just before they hit him in the face. He slipped them over his head and moved on down the street before she remembered him and tried to kiss him again.

Something like this actually happened to me at my first ever Carnival, when I flew in from Tampa for it in 1995. I was walking with a friend up Bourbon Street to the gay bars (“running the straight gauntlet” is what we used to call it) when this woman stepped directly in front of me and went through this entire song-and-dance that I later adapted into the opening of Blood on the Moon.

I don’t remember if I’d ever written about a young gay man slowly beginning to take baby steps out of the closet before, or i Cord was the first–I think he may not have been the first; Jeff in Every Frat Boy Wants It I think was probably the first–but I really liked the idea of him coming to New Orleans for Carnival with some of his fraternity brothers, and that his best friend in the fraternity is the only other person who knows about his true sexuality–and suggests, in fact, that Cord lose the group during a parade and head to the gay end of the Quarter to explore and be free. Unfortunately for Cord, he runs into Jean-Paul, an incredibly hot older man and his group of really hot older gay men…but the next morning, Cord has some issues with the sun and other things. That evening Cord heads back down to the Quarter to see if he can find Jean-Paul, and instead runs into a Creole named Sebastian; and Sebastian is a male witch with an ulterior motive: he wants to drink from Cord’s blood–Cord is infected, but hasn’t completely succumbed to transitioning into a vampire yet, and Sebastian thinks vampiric-infected blood will make his own witchcraft powers even stronger.

I liked the character of Cord a lot, and I liked that he didn’t really transition into becoming a young gay vampire by any choice–Jean-Paul selected him as a plaything for the night, that’s all, and had no intentions of turning him, until Sebastian got involved–and while this story ended with a definite resolution–I also saw not only how the story could continue, but how I could also weave The Nightwatchers and the mythology I created for that novella into this new story. I eventually wrote another short story about Cord–“Bloodletting”, which was in Blood Sacraments, and when my editor asked me to write an actual vampire novel, I made “Bloodletting” the first chapter and continued it from there…and that became the novel Need–which is a tale for another time.

Save Me

Sunday morning and I guess there’s probably a Saints game today? I am a terrible fan this year–I can’t seem to remember ever to check on the schedule to see when the games are, so maybe it’s my fault they’re having a really terrible year? (Yes, Greg, because that’s exactly how professional sports work…)

The sun is bright this morning–it was gloomy, overcast and humid yesterday; I also got rained on while running my errands. I am having my morning cappuccino, which is marvelous, and feel like I again slept extremely well again last night. Ironically, despite the same feeling yesterday morning, I succumbed to fatigue much earlier than I thought I would yesterday, which didn’t bode well for getting things done the way I had hoped and/or wanted to. So, no, I wound up not getting nearly as much done yesterday as I had originally hoped I would; but I am also still at the point where I think any progress is better than no progress so I am taking the day as a win. I did have the football games on in the background while I tried to get things done around here, and they kind of turned out the way I figured they would: Mississippi taking down Texas A&M; Tennessee embarrassing Kentucky; and Georgia made a fool out of Florida. Missouri surprised South Carolina, and Arkansas embarrassed Auburn at home. The big surprise of the day was the way Kansas State embarrassed top ten ranked Oklahoma State–no one, I think, saw that coming. But this weekend did a good job of setting up next weekend: the winner of LSU-Alabama takes control of the West, while whoever wins Georgia-Tennessee will do the same in the East. I try not to get involved in the whole “conspiracy theory” aspect of fandom, in which some controlling elite wants certain outcomes to drive their ratings, but I can’t help but think everyone at ESPN and all the college football reporters are hoping for an Alabama win, to make the Alabama-Mississippi game matter in two weeks as a “winner takes all” battle for supremacy in the West. I don’t expect LSU to win, honestly; that’s almost too much to hope for (although I do hope it happens), and all I am really hoping for is another great game, not a blow out.

I think the weather had something to do with the doldrums I was suffering from yesterday. I don’t have that same feeling this morning, but at the same time I think maybe not waking up three mornings in a row to an alarm helps make me feel more rested for some reason. It doesn’t make sense (little does, really, when it comes to my mind and my theories about my life and so forth), but I am hoping that once I get this done and the kitchen repaired a bit (the sink has dishes, things need to be put away) I can dive into working on the writing and some other things I want to get done. I’m going to take a break momentarily after finishing this to read a short story by Paul Tremblay, after which I’ll get cleaned up and get a move on with everything.

Or so I hope, at any rate.

I watched an episode of American Horror Stories before I went to bed last night–the one called “The Lake”–and it was much better than the earlier episodes I’d seen. Alicia Silverstone, Teddy Sears, and pretty young Bobby Hogan were an appealing cast, and while the story was terribly derivative (the curse of towns flooded by dams is an old trope; there’s a great German show with a similar premise–but it’s also a trope I’ve always wanted to use as well), the acting was fine and the ending–while a little like The Fog, it worked within the construct of the story and was really the only way for it to actually come to an end. It reminded me, in some ways, of another idea I had for a story a long time ago–about college kids camping out in ghost town in the Sierra mountains in California that I’ve always wanted to write–but who knows if I will ever get around to that or not? It was entertaining, though, and now of course it’s Sunday–several of the shows we watch drop episodes on Sundays, but I can’t watch any of them until Paul gets home. Heavy sigh. Although I think tonight I’ll rewatch Halloween–the original. It is, after all, the seminal slasher movie and the one that kicked off the slasher craze of the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (along with Friday the 13th).

On the other hand, one can never go wrong with Scream, for that matter.

Well, I can figure out what I am going to watch later, right? It’s not like it is of the utmost importance to figure this out right now, either.

Or maybe I’ll watch a horror movie I’ve never seen before–there were so many in their heyday that I’ve not seen them all, like Terror Train or Prom Night–then again, on the other hand, there are so many it’s entirely possible I’ve seen some of them and forgotten that I have, as well. My memory is no longer trustworthy, after all–as I am finding out while writing this book–which makes me wish I’d written more things down over the years or been more faithful to keeping a journal; I’ve never been as faithful to a journal as I have been to this blog, for example. Yet another reason why I don’t write a memoir or many personal essays; I don’t trust my memory, and I know I have most likely revised my own personal history to make myself more of the hero of the story than I should be–it’s something we all do, really; it’s also how we perceive things, through our own lenses with all of our foibles and miscues and flaws helping to interpret and record things in that great back-up hard drive inside our skulls. We are all the heroes of our own story, even if we are the villain in someone else’s.

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.

Sisters of the Moon

Thursday morning and the last day I have to get up this early this week. Huzzah! I slept well again last night–after the weird sleep of the previous night–and feel rested this morning. Not sure how that will play out through the rest of the day, but we’ll see, I guess. I know I have a full schedule at work today, so I am hoping to have the energy this evening after work to get home and do some writing. I started doing the dishes last night but didn’t finish; Paul was home early last night so I spent the evening hanging with him and Scooter and watching television. We started watching this new high school show on Netflix–Heartbreak High–but it was just okay (no Elite or Sex Education, that’s for sure); we’ll probably give it another episode or so before abandoning it, since shows sometimes need an episode or two to hit their grove and become more fun to watch.

Ugh.

I really don’t want to look at the news about the hurricane; as someone with some firsthand experience to hurricane aftermaths, I also know that no matter how bad it looks on television or on the newspaper, the reality is about a thousand times worse because pictures and video–no matter how well done–can never quite capture the scope of disaster in a way your brain can process the same way bearing eyewitness can. I saw a lot of awful posts on social media–people seeking help for family and/or friends trapped; trapped people looking for help–and I had to put my phone down because at some point it feels like it almost becomes a kind of macabre fascination, like you’re not doing out of empathy but out of some far darker, almost primordial need to see destruction you can enjoy because it doesn’t affect you. Human misery always bothers me on a very deep level, at the core of my being; there are very few people whose misery I can actually revel in (looking at you, Putin!).

But a hurricane threatening the Tampa Bay area has sent me down a rabbit hole into my own history, and memories of living in that area–which is when I worked for Continental Airlines–and my word, how my life has changed since I lived there. I was still pretty immature and under-developed socially and emotionally; I was originally transferred there from Houston in 1991, after I’d been with the company for about a year or so; I think my hire date was April 1990? (You can tell it’s been a long time; your hire date/seniority is everything when you work at an airline.) I’d originally moved to Houston after blowing up my life in California–lost my job, drug problem, drinking too much–but that was also probably the self-destruction brought on by the horror that was my life in the 1980’s, and after living there for two years was ready to start over again somewhere new; Houston was a nice way station but I’d never intended to stay there for very long–I do like Houston but I really don’t want to live in a place where you literally have to get on at least one highway every day and it seemed kind of exciting to start over in Florida.

Tampa turned out to be another transitional location for me; it was where I was able to come into myself, work on myself, and figure out who I am, what I wanted from life–and how to make a plan to get what I wanted from life. I was hardly perfect (still am quite a distance from being the ideal Greg I would like to be), but I was on well on my way to becoming the Greg I wanted to be when I loaded up my car with everything that could fit and left for Minneapolis shortly before Christmas of 1995. When I moved to Tampa I didn’t really have any idea of what I wanted or who I was or the life I wanted to lead; when I left I had those answers figured out and was well on my way to becoming who I wanted to be as a person. Obviously, I am still a work in progress, and while my memories of Tampa may not all be terrific ones, I am very happy I made the decision to transfer there–because I probably would have never become an active participant in my life rather than a passive one to whom things happened; I wanted to make things happen.

Obviously, you only can ever have so much control over your life; a lot depends on other people, of course, and things that are beyond your control (hello, natural disasters!), but it really feels good to have a purpose; I had always wanted to be a writer but it was while I was living in Tampa that I finally realized I needed to get past my fears of failure and really put the effort into making it happen, and it eventually did…who knows how my life would have turned out had I never made the decision to transfer to Tampa and reboot my life once more?

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

Gold Dust Woman

Rock on, gold dust woman, take your silver spoon and dig your grave…

It’s FRIDAY, FRIDAY, got to get down it’s Friday! I love getting to sleep a bit later–I still wake up originally at the usual ungodly hour, but it’s nice to feel comfortable and then relax some more into the bed and the blankets. It looks like tropical depression nine is on its way to becoming Hermine, and has Florida in its path. I hate the feeling of relief that comes when you see the storm track models don’t come near Louisiana because you’re essentially wishing disaster, misery and grief on other people–nothing like hurricane season to realize how selfish you really are–but horrible as it is, it’s also understandable.

I really do need to address that in a book at some point. I know I’ve done hurricane novels and stories before (it amuses me to no end that, as per my entry the other morning, my first Katrina writing was a porn story, “Disaster Relief,” in which the main character has sex with his FEMA inspector), but I still want to do one that takes place in town after everyone has evacuated and the city is practically empty. I’ve had that idea for a long time (it was going to be the fourth Scotty, shelved after Katrina for obvious reasons) and I think that eerie sense of waiting and calm with the city practically empty would make or an interesting setting and backdrop for a crime novel. I could be wrong, but I definitely want to try it sometime.

We watched some more of Dahmer last night, and the show is probably the most disturbing thing I’ve ever seen. I appreciate the lack of romanticization of our lead character the monstrous cannibal serial killer, and it almost feels like a documentary. Evan Peters is absolutely stunning in the lead role (I see another Emmy in his future) and it’s compulsively watchable even as it is difficult to watch. The actor playing his father is also fantastic. I cannot imagine what it would be like to be raised in the environment Dahmer was raised in, with his mentally unbalanced mother and the fraught marriage between them, as well as how cold, self-absorbed, and monstrous his mother was. It’s no wonder he turned out the way he did–and clearly, not everyone is cut out to be a good parent (something that is always left out of the pro-life arguments, I might add; they gloss over the truth that so many people aren’t fit to be parents and just how many children are warped, abused and even murdered by parents who shouldn’t be parents).

I also started rereading some of my erotica last night, the Todd Gregory novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, and was highly amused to discover/remember how well I did my assignment in the writing of my first erotic novel: it’s pretty graphic and sexual right down to the very opening of the book. The book opens with the main character, Jeff Morgan, having a very intense and explicit sexual daydream about his high school crush…only to find out he was in a summer school class in college. He then meets a classmate, Blair Blanchard, who belongs to the fraternity and they become friends. Blair is also gay (Jeff is still kind of closeted) and gets Jeff to join the same fraternity. It’s a sexual coming of age story, set in a fraternity house at the fictional California State University-Polk (Polk being my stand-in for Fresno) and Blair shows Jeff the ropes of being gay–and since Blair’s parents are movie stars, he can provide entrée for Jeff into the glittering worlds of West Hollywood and Palm Springs and the entertainment industry. There’s a lot of sex in the book–a lot–but I only got about a third of the way into it before setting it aside for the moment as my brain tired out a bit (yesterday wasn’t a tiring day, but it was also one where I felt like my rest of the night before only recharged the batteries to the amount they’d been used the day before, so I wasn’t tired but also wasn’t motivated much) and dove into some Youtube videos about history and war.

I’m hoping today to get back to work on the book. Chapter Three is a hideous mess, which makes the first two chapters also questionable, so I am going to spend some time today trying to repair the mess as well as try to restructure the first three chapters so they flow better. I’d like to get a couple more chapters written this weekend, but it’s also going to depend heavily on whether I can get this chapter pulled back together–along with the earlier chapters–to flow the way a Scotty book should flow. I am also going to try to reread Who Dat Whodunnit this weekend as I work my way back through the series (it is enormously helpful) and I may even try to get started on writing that Scotty lexicon (which isn’t the word I want, but it’s the only one I can think of right now) but it has, even if I don’t get that done or started, been very educational rereading the series, of recapturing that mentality of anything goes/anything can happen and Scotty will always remain unflappable in the face of whatever insane story I throw him into the middle of, which makes him so much fun to write. I also want to get back to reading my Donna Andrews novel, so I may spend some time after work today in Caerphilly and then will most likely spend some time there the next two mornings over my coffee; there really is nothing like reading something over your morning coffee–which reminds me, I also need to reread My Cousin Rachel this weekend too. So, kind of a busy weekend for one Gregalicious as always–and of course, I need to run errands and so forth as well. Woo-hoo!

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Friday be as lovely as you are, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again either later today or tomorrow morning.

The Ledge

And here it is, Tuesday morning and dark outside my windows as I have my morning coffee preparatory to getting ready for work. It’s getting to be that time of year where I drive to and from work in the dark, which is always a bit debilitating; you feel like you’ve spent the entire day at work when you don’t get to spend any time outside–even if just going to and from work–in the sunshine. The weather has cooled here a bit over the last week, which has been lovely (and early in the season for coolness). My back is much better–there’s still some tightness and slight pain involved–but I think i can actually head to work today and not be in the kind of pain I was in last week, which is kind of nice. It’s still there, but I am learning how to not trigger it–the irony of which is that I am having to use good posture at all times so as not to inflame the pain, which means had I been using good posture most of my life I might not have this problem right now.

But it’s something I can live with today; something I wasn’t so sure about as recently as Sunday. So taking the days of rest, with the alternating hot and cold, was probably a very smart thing to do. I will be taking the generic Ben-Gay with me to work today, too–just in case. But I can sit comfortably without it, which is something I can honestly say was not the case as recently as Sunday. And now of course I have to start digging myself out from under–which is a lot of catching up I need to get done. I also have to do some digging around and figure out what is missing from some projects that I need to get finished, and I also need to get back to writing. There’s an anthology deadline next month–more like three weeks from now–that I wanted to submit something to, but I seriously doubt I am going to be able to have the time or the energy to revise anything the way I want it to be revised to submit to this anthology, so I am probably going to have to let it go once and for all.

We watched Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders last night, a documentary series about the In Cold Blood murders and of course Truman Capote’s famous book that was written about the case (which remains, to this day, one of my favorites) as well as the film made from the book (which I’ve never seen, but Paul’s friend the actress Brenda Curran was in, playing Nancy Clutter). I’ve been to both Holcomb and Garden City, back when I lived in Kansas and when I also had no idea Holcomb was where the crimes happened (I didn’t read In Cold Blood until I lived in California). One of the things I’ve always found interesting about these old rural crimes is how they always talk about how the “community changed” after it happened and how people never used to lock their doors…and everyone could just knock and enter other people’s homes. I wasn’t raised that way; my mother was very obsessive about always making sure everything was locked up–cars, homes, wherever–and used to get mad at me when, as a lazy not really paying much attention teenager used to sometimes leave the car unlocked. Paul is much the same as my mom; sometimes I forget to lock the car, and when I am home by myself I forget sometimes to lock the front door–someone would have to scale the fence, which isn’t easy, to get back to our apartment door–but that’s also a part and parcel of the false sense of security we all have about being safe in our homes. Once I am inside I am safe.

Which really isn’t true.

I spent some more time with Donna Andrews’ delightful new Meg Langslow novel last night while I waited for Paul to finish working so I could make dinner, and it’s delightful. I don’t know how she manages to do this with a series that has lasted as long as hers has; I think there may be more than twenty volumes in the series now? But each one is a delight. I love the town of Caerphilly, I love her family, and most of all I really enjoy Meg. I love highly accomplished, confident, efficient women like her; she’s yet another drily humorous main character in the vein of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (I really am overdue for reading another book in that series) and while my own poor Valerie is hardly in the same vein as these remarkable women characters, I’d kind of like to keep developing her into a series because, well, I kind of grew attached to Valerie and her friends while writing A Streetcar Named Murder, and I’d kind of like to revisit them again in another book. I have a title and an idea for the next book in the series, should Crooked Lane want another, and while I felt fairly confident they’d hate the title, I just this weekend came up with a potentially better title for it…and now that I am writing this, i cannot for the life of me remember what that title was, nor do I think I made a note of it (which is why you should always make a note of it).

Ah, well, perhaps it will come back to me at some point.

I also woke up to proofs of an anthology I contributed a story to that has been in the works for many years now, which means the book is finally going to be released which is great news. My story is called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” and I really don’t remember much, if anything, about the story because it’s frankly been so long. But I will need to proof it–check for typos and missing words and such–which will be a nice way to get reacquainted with the story, at the very least. I vaguely have some idea about the story–I know it’s a private eye story, with a gay detective who has just tested HIV positive and it’s set in the early 1990’s, so it’s a death sentence as far as he knows–and is hired by someone to find someone else? I don’t remember–it really has been a long time since I wrote this story.

But I am also completely overwhelmed with work and being behind on everything and I really need to start making a to-do list so I can sort all this shit out and get things done that need to be done. I know I need to go back to work on Scotty and my other project; there’s any number of other things I need to get done, and I also need to start figuring out promo for A Streetcar Named Murder else no one will buy it and that will be the end of that.

The great joy of being a writer.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday everyone (except Buccaneer fans)!

I’m So Afraid

Sunday morning and there’s an LSU game tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!). There’s no way of knowing how good LSU is going to be this year, so I guess tonight’s the night we find out. I watched some of the games yesterday–Georgia certainly looked impressive, and good for Florida and Ohio State winning their big games yesterday, but again, it’s also too early to know anything for sure. Were the two top-ranked teams from the PAC-12 (Oregon and Utah) overrated, or will they rebound (although that shellacking the Ducks got from Georgia had to sting) to make a play-off run after all? The only thing you can ever be sure of in college football is Alabama will be a contender.

Yesterday was a very good day. We had a downpour and flash flood warning for most of the afternoon, but fortunately I had already run the errand I had to run; this morning I have an errand to run as well, and then i am going to come home and order Costco for delivery (just a few things we need) and I intend to spend the day writing. I spent the day organizing and cleaning (which is always an incredibly pleasant way for me to spend the day) and cleaned out kitchen cabinets in order to throw away a lot of items that I had purchased for single, one-time use and had never used again. My cake carrier, for example; I bought that to carry birthday cakes I’d made to work. I used to make our nurse a red velvet cheesecake for his birthday every year–but he’s left the agency and it is highly unlikely I’ll ever make another cake that needs to be transported; if I do, I guess I can just get another one. I also was throwing away things I don’t use but take up space in the kitchen–the big metal salad mixing bowl, the big plastic salad container, muffin tins, etc.–and then reorganized the shelves and made more room for things. I also cleaned things off the tops of the cabinets. It now looks a lot less cluttered in the kitchen and when I open the cabinets.

There’s still some work to be done on the cabinets, but I feel very good about the progress made yesterday. I also did the floors.

I also spent some time revisiting Bourbon Street Blues yesterday. I didn’t give it a thorough read, more of a skim, but it had been a hot minute since I last read the book and…Constant Reader, it wasn’t bad. The book came out nineteen years ago, and I of course wrote it twenty years ago. It’s had to believe it’s been that long, isn’t it? I wrote it when we lived in the apartment on Sophie Wright Place after we moved back to New Orleans in 2001; it’s the only book I wrote there, because I wrote the next two after we moved onto this property and were living in the carriage house. I also realized that the reason I am so hard on myself when I read my own work is primarily because I have trained my mind over the years to read my stuff critically and editorially, with an eye to revision–and that doesn’t change once the book is actually in print. Bourbon Street Blues is not a bad book at all–there’s even some really clever lines in it. Someone had actually responded to one of my blog posts about the stand alone books that they’d like to see me do the same for the series book; I feel like I may have done that already, but it’s not a bad idea. I need to revisit the Scotty series anyway in order to write the new one (which was part of the reason I picked up Bourbon Street Blues yesterday) and since I have trouble focusing enough to read other people’s work at the moment, why not reread the entire series from start to finish? It certainly can’t hurt.

I have been bemoaning how bad the writing is for this new Scotty book I am writing and yesterday, as I cleaned and organized and reread Bourbon Street Blues, I began to see why precisely the work I’ve already done isn’t good and what precisely was/is wrong with what I’ve already done. The bones are there, of course, and it can be saved, which is what I am going to do today. I know precisely know how to make this book work, how to structure it, how to introduce the new characters and the plots for the book, and it’s a marvelous feeling. After I finish this–and then write my entry on Bourbon Street Blues–I am going to go run that errand, come home and get cleaned up, place the Costco order for delivery, and then dig into redoing the initial three chapters of the book and maybe even dive into another. I also am going to spend some time today with Jackson Square Jazz; I may bring the iPad with me so I can keep reading the Scotty series during Bouchercon–but then again, I have other things I am taking with me to read, too. But those are for the airport and the flights primarily; I can lug my iPad around in my backpack and then between panels or when I am sitting alone in the lobby I can pull it out and scan through another Scotty book quickly. It’s also not a bad idea for me to start working on (at last) pulling together the Scotty Bible I’ve always said I needed to pull together. (I also kind of need to pull together all the information on the Gregiverse; the world in which all of my books are actually set, from Alabama to New Orleans to California to Kansas to Chicago’s suburbs…)

I also have a short story submission I need to look over before sending it in for the blind read–next year’s Bouchercon anthology is the market–but I am not sure I’ll have the time or if I know precisely how to fix it.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I’d like to have another productive day today, so…lots to do before the LSU game tonight.

And one last time, GEAUX TIGERS!!!

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

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.

I Want a Guy

Wednesday morning and I am having no small bit of trouble shaking off the shackles of Morpheus this morning. First I didn’t want to get out of bed (even considered hitting snooze a third time) and now as I sit here with the dark pressing against my windows and my first cup of coffee not really doing it for me the way I would have hoped, I do worry about waking up and getting out of the house and on my way to the office this morning. Traffic has been light to non-existent this week (last week as well; the holidays thing, without a doubt), so my blood pressure hasn’t gone up at all on the drives into the office recently. I know I should probably do some Blatant Self-Promotion this morning but it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow, methinks; I am not sure if my mind is clear and unfogged enough to talk about rape and/or sexual assault this morning, let alone toxic masculinity–about which I have oh so many thoughts. Instead, I will freeform this morning’s entry while I keep swilling my coffee, hoping the cobwebs will clear and I can get a clear and present grasp of my reality this morning.

We’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

We are finally on the final season of Gossip Girl–I’ll have to go back and check to see when precisely we embarked on this binge journey, but it feels like it’s been most of the month of December, if not longer; probably longer, because we got started watching the sequel series and only turned on the original when it took a break and we had to wait for new episodes; and I think that was back in November, if I am not mistaken. (And yes, a quick search of my Facebook page shows that we were, indeed, already watching the OG Gossip Girl before Thanksgiving, so we’ve been watching for well over a month, which is wonderful. I miss the days when television shows had over twenty episodes per season.) The show is winding down–the final season is only ten episodes (!)–but I also think this final season’s entire purpose was to wrap everything up and end the show. I’ll miss it when it’s finished, but it’s also time to get back into watching everything else we were watching–we still need to finish The Sinner–and I suspect we will be done with Gossip Girl this weekend so we will need to find new things to watch, as well as remembering the things we’d started but not finished in the meantime.

Such an exciting post today, am I right?

It rained overnight–it actually started raining shortly after Paul left the house for the gym–and so this morning it’s cool and humid, which is weird and causes condensation and the fogging up of car windows. I’ve been working pretty consistently on the book every day–it’s a mess, but it’s getting done, which means the clean-up work before it’s turned in is going to be mind-numbing, stressful and exhausting, if exhilarating at the same time. I do enjoy writing every day–I don’t know why it, like going to the gym, is always viewed as an odious chore that I have to force myself to do every day; it really makes little to no sense. It does make one tend to wonder–I love going to the gym, I love writing; they are two of my favorite things to do (reading and sleeping being the other two) and yet I always have to make myself do it. I don’t know why I resist doing things that give me pleasure–lately, I’ve also been having to make myself read, which I never thought would happen.

Go figure.

But work on the book is proceeding apace–editing and revising is going to be an incredibly stressful nightmare, but I can worry about that later–and I am pleased, very pleased. I am being highly productive, which is nice to know that I can still do, and i just wish I could remember that if I was this productive every step of the way, I could get a lot more done. But then the lazies set in and all bets are off.

So, what can I say that would be blatant self-promotion? Not really sure, to be honest. This is probably one of the darkest books I’ve ever written, although I am sure there are parts in it that are funny that I didn’t plan (I rarely intend to be funny; it’s always unintentional, but at least I am laughed with for the most part rather than laughed at) that way.

Liberty Center is, as I have often mentioned, based geographically on Emporia, the county seat of Lyon County, Kansas, which is where we lived from 1976-1981. We didn’t actually live in Emporia; we lived seven miles northwest of Emporia–I don’t remember what the road was that led to our little town was officially called, but I know we called it the Americus Road and the road was where the old Katy Railroad line used to run; that may also be incorrect but that was what I was told. Americus was one of the larger towns in Lyon County (Emporia had over twenty-five thousand, I believe; Americus was 952), and I used to catch the school bus at the Americus Grade School (which had previously served as the high school until it was closed and folded into consolidated high school sixteen miles northeast, Northern Heights High School) and it seemed to always take forever to get to school every morning. This was a significant cultural shock for me, as we had lived in a rather populous suburb of Chicago the previous four years and before that, in the city itself on the south side, near Lawndale. We also went from having three networks and several locals on the television to only having CBS from the Kansas City affiliate (we were able to get cable within the first year we lived there; so we went back to having access to the networks and other cable channels–CNN, ESPN, etc. in their early days–while everyone else I went to school with still only had access to that CBS station….this was the period when my mom watched the CBS soaps; once the cable came on she switched to ABC in the mid-to-late 70’s heydays of General Hospital/All My Children (which were the soaps I watched when on break from school in Illinois). It was weird and uncomfortable switching high schools between my sophomore and junior years, but at the same time I saw it as getting a new start, where no one knew that I had been bullied, belittled, and mocked for the last four years for being (choose one) queer fairy faggot homo queen girly-boy femme etc. (This did eventually happen at my small high school but not really in any significant way until the second semester of my senior year.)

And it was actually a good experience for me, in all honesty. I did much better in school there, got started writing actual fiction, had my mind opened to a lot of new authors and genres in my English classes, and learned a lot–my suburban high school was simply not structured to work well for a student like me, with my attention deficit disorders and so forth. There’s really not been anywhere I lived that didn’t benefit me in some way–there was good and bad everywhere–but when the time and opportunity to move away came, it was past time. I needed to get out of Kansas, I needed to get away from there…and while the next chapter of my life was to become dramatically changed and reshaped into something other than what I was expecting when we moved, there was no way of knowing that was going to happen. In February 1981 when I boarded a night train to California, I had no access to the New York Times or anywhere I could get anything remotely considered news of interest for not straight people, and so I didn’t see the small pieces about the “strange cancer” that was only affecting gay men in New York…but it would be on my radar soon enough.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

Don’t Say Your Love Is Killing Me

Ah, Kansas.

Moving between your sophomore and junior years in high school isn’t easy on any teenager. I wasn’t quite as nervous about this move as I had been when we moved from Chicago out to the suburbs–which was a major shift in everything I was used to, moved me away from friends I’d been going to school with since first grade, and made me that thing no one wants to be: the new kid–primarily because I’d already experienced being the new kid once already, and had never really gotten over it. Suburban life wasn’t good for me, really–I got picked on and bullied alot, called gay slurs pretty regularly, kids didn’t want to be my friend because they’d open themselves up to the same bullying I was experiencing. So, while I was going to miss the people I did consider to be my friends–which was yet another eye-opening experience in and of itself, but more on that later–but I wasn’t going to miss the bullying, the being targeted, the snickers after I walked past people in the halls, and worrying about having a place to sit in the cafeteria every day (my sophomore year I joined Choir to get out of the lunch break–we were always dismissed fifteen minutes early so we could eat, so I would grab something quickly and eat it as fast as I could; I still eat fast to this day).

I even thought it could be a fresh start for me, and all of that could stay in the past.

While I sometimes will joke about how glad I was to get out of Kansas five years later, I appreciated my time there. My high school was actually–given its size–a much better school than the enormous one I attended in the suburbs; I actually learned there and participated in class. I was, of course, horribly lonely; it’s never been easy for me to talk to people I don’t know (painful shyness, to the point of anxiety), and as always, when nervous and uncomfortable I resort to humor and jokes and being a clown. I never felt like I fit in there, but it was so much better than my old school experience–and the slurs didn’t start there until the second semester of my senior year. That was fine; I just had to make it through a few more weeks by then and at that point I was ready to get out of there and move on with my life.

Kansas wasn’t a particularly welcoming place for a gay teenager in the mid-1970’s, but then most places weren’t at the time. I remember thinking I was the only gay kid in Kansas, the only one at either school I attended, and there was absolutely no one I could trust to talk to about it. I missed having real friends, ones like I read about in books or saw in movies and television shows; it wasn’t until much later in life that I realized I never had real friends because I never trusted anyone enough to actually be honest with them, tell them the truth about me–and the real basis of friendship is mutual trust. I obviously have always had serious trust issues–the whole no one can find out hell of my first few decades of life–but I never felt close to people because I didn’t trust them enough to not turn on me, walk out of my life, and/or mock me if I told them the truth.

So, for a long time I rather held it against Kansas and the area where we lived for not being more open and welcoming, and it was unfair. Would rural Alabama have been better? New Orleans? Nebraska or Texas or California? Even in the cities with a big queer population at the time–New York, Chicago, San Francisco–I wouldn’t say the life of queer kids going through the hell of being closeted in public school was better there. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t; I don’t know. But when you live in Kansas and are a queer kid in the 1970’s…I felt like I was marooned on a distant planet.

Oddly enough, the little book store in the county seat, the News Depot–they had a massive newspaper/magazine section, and also carried comic books; it was there I started reading them again–that I found the books that were my foundational queer reading: Gordon Merrick’s The Quirk, Patricia Nell Warren’s The Front Runner, and Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Catch Trap (and yes, I am aware of the allegations against her as well as her husband–and his, I believe, actual crimes; but I cannot deny the book was foundational reading for me, either). The clerk didn’t even give me a second glance whenever I bought one of these books; I also had to bury them in my room in stacks of other books so my mom wouldn’t find them (my biggest fear was always one day my mom would get bored, wander into my room to find something to read, and wonder, ‘The Quirk? What’s that about?”). There were sex scenes in them, too–sex scenes I read over and over again, memorizing the page numbers so I wouldn’t have to use a bookmark or turn down a page, which was far too risky. I already had a vague idea of what gay sex was like, gathered from insults and comments in other books; but these were pretty graphic and left no doubt in my mind whatsoever about what was involved.

And boy, I wanted to find out how it actually felt.

(I never actually found a gay bookstore until I moved to Tampa in 1990. But I would spend hours in bookstores in the years prior looking for anything that might even be remotely gay or gay-friendly; and occasionally I would find something like Dancer from the Dance or The Swimming-Pool Library but what I really wanted was something fun to read with positive gay characters. characters who weren’t stereotypes or to be pitied or felt sorry for; gays who lived their lives openly and proudly, and maybe solved crimes, fell in and out of love, experienced life that wasn’t all solemn and dreary and sad. Don’t get me wrong–I am not dogging either of those books; they are wonderful novels and beautifully written, but…I am a genre guy, not a litfic guy, and I wanted to read some gay crime or horror or romance or something entertaining. Once I discovered the wealth of books and authors that actually existed in the genres? There was no turning back.)

I had always felt like I didn’t belong anywhere–my earliest childhood memories are of me being aware I wasn’t like the other kids, in many ways, and how odd and different I felt. That feeling never changed growing up–hell, there are still times when I feel like I am from another planet–and the moving around didn’t help, either…I do remember thinking, every time I moved to a new city and state as an adult, ah, here we go again–no friends, no life, and no idea how to find anyone who is like me–if there are any people like me.

It was often discouraging. I felt like I was going to always be alone.

By the time I was twenty it was time to go, to leave Kansas and never go back. I felt so stunted, and so unhappy, like my potential hadn’t been tapped and never would if I remained there. I knew if I stayed in Kansas I would wind up probably very unhappily married, with kids and a whole life I didn’t want, had never wanted, but was expected of me. I knew I would never be happy there, completely happy–and so when the chance presented itself to move to California (California! You can imagine how exciting that sounded to me), I took it and never looked back.

With the passing of time and more perspective, a lot of the bitterness I used to feel about my experience there has changed. I don’t know that the experience there now would be any different than it was in the 1970’s, but I suspect that even had we stayed in the suburbs of Chicago those last few years of high school and first years of college would have been equally scarring and stifling; that’s pretty much how it was for queer kids everywhere back then. Some of the kids I was friends with, or knew, from my old high school in Kansas have friended me on Facebook, and me being a big ole queer must not bother them too much; it’s not like I hide it anymore (those days are forever gone) and they don’t unfriend or block me (although my feed could be hidden from their walls; I’ve certainly done that). I’ve revisited Kansas some in my work already–some short stories, a novel here and there–but this latest visit there in the world I created for #shedeservedit might be a bit unfair; but in a town where toxic masculinity has been allowed to run unchecked, I can’t imagine it would be a comfortable place for a gay teen.

And that’s enough for today. Hope you have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.