Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Perfect Way

I submitted a story to Cemetery Dance yesterday, and felt very accomplished after having done so. As I have said before, getting a story published in Cemetery Dance is a bucket list item for me, and I am reasonably proud of the story; we’ll see what happens. But I’m glad I did it; glad I spent the morning and early afternoon revising and polishing it. And hopefully,  if they don’t use the story I’ll get a chance to submit to them again at some point.

To celebrate, I went to the gym and did cardio, continuing my iPad screening of Troy: Fall of a City–which is starting to, sadly get a little boring. I’ll keep watching, though–I want to see how they play the story out, plus it’s helping me with my pronunciation of all their names; most of which I’ve been saying wrong my entire life, since I was a kid and read The Windy Walls of Troy.

I also spent some time last night with my journals; basically going through them and marking the pages where I wrote notes on the Scotty book, which should make the next revision much easier. Huzzah! I am also glad that I did this because not only did I find some ideas for short stories I’d forgotten, as well as how some of the short stories I have written since the first of the year were born, but I also discovered that I had roughly sketched out a couple of scenes for Bury Me in Satin, which I typed up last night–remember, I’d started writing the opening on the 4th, but was incredibly pleased to see that I’d actually handwritten not only the opening but some other scenes from the first and second chapter that needed to be transcribed. So, I am pretty far ahead on this one already, which is kind of awesome. I’m having lunch today with a friend, which will be lovely, and then I am going to run a couple of errands before coming home and doing some more writing.

I may even (gasp) return to the gym for the third consecutive day: madness.

I also spent part of the day reading about the Dreyfus Affair in Barbara Tuchman’s book The Proud Tower, which takes a look at life and the issues confronting the great powers from 1895-1914; basically, the set-up for World War I. I’d heard of the Dreyfus Affair, of course, and Emile Zola’s participation; but I didn’t know the entire story, and, well, you really can’t go wrong with reading Barbara Tuchman on a subject you want to know about.  I love reading history, and I always make a point of trying to read some around the 4th of July (I also took down Catherine Drinker Bowen’s history of the Constitutional Convention Miracle at Philadelphia, which should be required reading for all Americans); Tuchman is the kind of historian I would have liked to have been, writing the kinds of things I would have liked to have written had my career path gone in that direction (I still toy with The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a history of the sixteenth century, built around all the women who held power–more women held power in that century than any before or since). The Dreyfus Affair was really something, and even more horrific, in many ways that time in France is reflected in modern day American society as well.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Porn King and I”:

He is beautiful.

He is everything I want in a lover.

Thick curly black hair.

Blue eyes.

Muscles rippling under tan skin.

A hard, round, beautiful ass.

The cock of Apollo.

I first saw him in a poster in the adult book store on Decatur Street. The poster was black with just a picture of him, hands on hips, wearing a jock strap. His face was smiling, a warm, inviting smile that would melt anyone’s heart and stir their groin. His tanned skin gleamed. At the bottom of the poster in red capital letters it said: CODY DALLAS IN THE SEX SENSE. I stood, staring for a few moments, my glance going from that pretty face down the neck to the beautifully shaped chest, smooth and silky, down the abs that looked carved out of stone, to the top of the jock. His hard-on was unmistakable beneath the white cloth. I walked over to the counter. “Do you have that film?” I pointed back over my shoulder with my thumb.

The counter boy was just that; a boy. He didn’t look old enough to be working in a sex shop. Hell, he didn’t look old enough to have hair on his balls. Bleached blonde hair standing up spikily over black roots. A straggle of hair on his chin that was supposed to be a goatee. He weighed maybe 130 pounds. His baggy jeans hung off his hips. A black Marilyn Manson t-shirt. Pierced nose and eyebrow. Tattoos on both arms. He grinned at me. Braces.

“Yeah. Only $59.95 or did you want to rent?”

“I’ll buy.”

I walked home to my apartment on Chartres Street. Opened the door. Switched on the television with the remote. Opened the box and popped the video in. Hit play as I pull off my shirt, kick off shoes, strip naked. Reach underneath the couch for the fresh bottle of poppers and the lube. Fast forward through the opening credits. First scene.

It’s him. He is wearing Daisy Dukes and work boots. No shirt. The sun glistens on the muscles in his back. He is trimming a bush with garden clippers. Every movement he makes causes muscles to ripple. Someone is watching from the house. Behind the curtains a face appears. Cut away to from behind the curtains. He looks beautiful, oh so beautiful. Camera pulls back. The man at the window is naked. Thinner. Not as muscled as Cody. Lean wiry muscle.

Cody looks up at the window and smiles. The man in the window beckons. Cody puts the clippers down and walks to the door. It opens.

I open the bottle of poppers. My eyes are glued to the screen. I lift it up to my right nostril. I close off the left and start inhaling. Deeply. The scent fills my nose, my sinuses, my lungs. I shift it to the other nostril. Inhale.

“The Porn King and I” was, ironically, inspired by something that actually happened; I was walking into the Quarter on a warm early summer evening. I walked past a house right on the sidewalk with its enormous windows open–anyone could have climbed into the house; something that has always amazed me about the Quarter and those that live there–and on the wall was a framed and mounted poster of a porn star (I do not recall, all these years later, precisely which porn star it was; I am thinking Kris Lord but that might be wrong). It inspired a story about a lonely man who talks to the poster, like it’s real, and eventually there’s a scene where a young man catches him talking to the poster, climbs in through the window, and they have nasty hot passionate sex. When I was asked to write this story for one of the Best Gay Erotica volumes, I stripped out the poster and the guy walking by on the street, leaving the main character’s obsession with a porn star, and renting the video from Tower Videos on Decatur Street (which is, sadly, no longer there); the sex scene thus became three-sided: there’s the main character watching the video and masturbating; what he’s imagining in his head as he masturbates; and, of course, what is actually happening on the television screen. I thought it was a clever take.

And the stuff I stripped out? I eventually used in a story about a lonely guy who lives in the Quarter and how a gorgeous young man talks to him through the window, and what transpires then. The story was called “Mr. Lonely” and was published in the original Saints and Sinners anthology.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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What Have You Done For Me Lately

I managed to tear through Chapter 18 Thursday, so now I am on Chapter 19. I cannot reiterate enough times how sloppy and messy this manuscript is, but I am getting a first draft done and I don’t care how bad it looks now; revisions and rewrites will clean that the fuck up.

I also decided it was time to get my agent-search organized; which meant creating a spreadsheet and entering all the names of agents, their agencies, etc. that I’ve been collecting on scraps of paper or scribbling down in my journal into it. This weekend I am going to go over and revise the first four chapters of the WIP–this time for cohesion and to copy edit, revise, make the language prettier–and see where that’s at. I also retitled “The Feast of St. Expedite”–it is now called “A Whisper from the Graveyard”–and worked on it a little bit before bed. But the one I really need to focus on is “Children of the Stone Circle,” which is the story I am hoping to edit and revise and have ready to submit to Cemetery Dance. It’s a longshot–they are probably going to get thousands of stories–but it’s also a bucket-list item, so I am going to go for it.

I have a lot of errands to do today–pick up prescriptions, post office, make groceries–and I’ve promised to make a co-worker a red velvet cheesecake for his birthday (today, but I’ll bring it into the office on Tuesday); I’ll probably make the cheesecake tomorrow but still need to get all the things for it today. I most likely won’t get much written today–all that running around in the obnoxious New Orleans heat and humidity will wear me out, as it always does–and so the rest of today will most likely be spent cleaning and organizing and getting ready to do some writing tomorrow; although I will most likely continue to work on the Bourbon Street Blues copy edit.

I started reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which is the book Love Simon was based on. I’m very curious about it–having not seen the movie, which we’ll probably rent sometime–and since I write gay y/a, I kind of feel like I need to see what all the fuss is about (I also want to work on the WIP this weekend; we’ll see. I am well aware that time is limited and I am trying to cram too much into a single weekend. I also am taking a long weekend around the 4th of July; another mental health break, which I think I need to do every couple of months or so just to maintain my sanity, stay on top of things in the apartment, and get back in touch with my writing.

And on that note, I have to make a grocery list as well as figure out what else needs to get done this weekend, so perhaps it’s best if I return to the spice mines.

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Danger Zone

The good news: I not only revised the afterward, I also managed to finish the first draft of Chapter 16 of the new Scotty. It’s a transition chapter, which I hate to write–have always hated them, always hate writing them, wish I never had to do another–but it will do for now, and I can always fix the shitty mess it currently is later. It’s better, far far better, to write a short, shitty draft of a transition chapter rather than put off writing it for, oh, I don’t know, over a week–which I what I actually did.

Sigh.

But it’s progress, and I am all about the progress these days. If I can bang out Chapter 17 today–and there’s absolutely no reason why I shouldn’t be able to–and possibly Chapter 18 tomorrow–well, a chapter a day will finish the damned book. And I need to get these other two stories written at some point; I’ve about two-and-a-half weeks to do so. I think I can do it, you know?

Confidence.

I slept really well last night, and it was lovely to sleep in a bit. I have to run an errand today, and I have another errand to run tomorrow morning as well before work. But this was a short week, so I really can’t complain about having to do errands or having to do anything, really. Next week is, of course, going to seem brutally long. But the 4th of July is coming up, and I am taking a very long weekend around that holiday. So I just need to hang in there for a while.

But I am confident that if I stay focused I can get everything done that I need to get done.

I’ve also not forgotten about the Short Story Project; it just got derailed there for a little while.

Next up is “Black Water Rising” by Danny Rhodes, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar.

Monday

When I walked through the park on that first evening there was nothing unusual about it. I remember the benches by the boating lake being empty because in the summer there was never a bench to sit on. They were always occupied by couples enjoying a bit of time together. The surface of the lake shimmered in the sunlight. Alison said the water’s surface reflected an alternate world. I remember smiling at that. Back then, I was ready to agree with just about anything she suggested.

Now, in November, the lake swallowed by darkness, it was hard to see a reflection in the surface at all. In some selfish way, that made me feel better.

It’s a creepy story, about the rising water of the lake and the mental torment the main character is undergoing; one is never quite sure if the main character is imagining the whole thing, or if the lake is actually rising and causing the malaise that the people who live along its shores are experiencing; a powerlessness in the inevitable face of death.

I really liked this story.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Dancing on the Ceiling

So, yesterday I managed to finish the afterward to the short story collection; worked on “Never Kiss a Stranger” a little bit (also figured out the rest of the story, crucial!); decided on the story I am going to revise/rewrite to submit to Cemetery Dance; did some thinking about the Scotty book and where to go with it next; and continued the copy editing of Bourbon Street Blues.  I am about a quarter of the way through with this; hoping to have it finished by the end of the month so I can get the ebook/print-on-demand up before the end of summer. The book has been too long out of print, and by the way, I fucking love the new cover I got for it and the new one for Jackson Square Jazz.

I’m having some seriously terrific luck with covers this year, methinks.

So, I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked this weekend but again, progress, which is everything. As long as I am moving forward, I celebrate the win because staying in place is a loss.

Last night, I started watching the new Ryan Murphy series, Pose, and was most impressed with it. I still have not watched the Versace season of American Crime Story, but that’s on my ‘to-watch’ list. The thing with Murphy is that his series are so frequently hit-and-miss. Often they start out fantastic (Glee, Nip/Tuck) and then go south; the uneven quality of pretty much every season of American Horror Story is legendary. So, I am not holding out much hope that Pose won’t derail; but at the moment it’s high-quality, riveting television; taking us back to those awful days of the late 1980’s and shining a spotlight on queers of color, which doesn’t happen very often–and especially, the transwomen and drag queens, who rarely get to see themselves on television or in the movies. Having the show set during the height of the HIV/AIDS crisis was also a brilliant move; there was, I think, a tendency in the late 90’s and ever since, for queer publishing to shy away from HIV/AIDS; it enveloped so much of queer writing for so long…and I’m thinking that it might be time for us to start addressing it again.

HIV/AIDS plays a part in “Never Kiss a Stranger” and in “The Feast of St. Expedite” (the story I started writing last week); both are set in New Orleans in 1994 and you simply can’t write about gay men and the gay male community in that time and not have it be a part of the story in some way. The question of whether I am handling it properly or not remains to be seen…but I’ve been spending a lot of time in the past lately, and it’s been kind of fun.

I had gotten tired of most of my iTunes playlists last week and then remembered, duh, the new car has an actual CD player in it; you can listen to some of your CD’s. This thought led me to browsing through our CD tower–yes, we still have one, and yes, it’s covered in dust–and discovering a lot of great music that I don’t have in digital form and haven’t listened to in a long time. I found a lot of dance music mix CD’s, including Deborah Cox: The Remixes and so every time I get in my car I’ve been listening to old gay dance music. I even was playing some of them while I was cleaning the house on Sunday (the only CD players in the house are in the computers), and yes, I’d forgotten how much easier dance music makes cleaning (note to self: always play dance CD’s in the computer when cleaning).

In the car this morning I was listening to a Pride 2001 CD, and a song come on called “Movin’ Up” (I think) and without even realizing it I was singing along with it and this lyric popped up: I take my problems to the dance floor. and I was flooded with memories. I remember someone in the bars back then had a T-shirt that said this, and although I don’t remember his name, he was around a lot back in those days and he always had a great time on the dance floor; and I enjoyed watching the joy and sheer abandon with which he danced.

I do kind of miss dancing.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Live to Tell

Well, yesterday was a complete wash as far writing is concerned. I did write about 200 words on the Scotty book, but it was one of those things where once I started trying I could tell I wasn’t going to get very far with it. I was not feeling it, as some might say, and there’s simply no point to forcing it on those days unless I particularly want to feel incredibly frustrated.

And I didn’t want to feel that way.  So, I didn’t try to force it.  Sometimes I can force it and, as Stephen King so aptly put it in Misery, the page will open and I will fall into it. Other days, not so much. Yesterday was definitely one of those days.

Not being able to, apparently, write yesterday led me to trying to be productive in some manner, so I started going through old stories and partial drafts of work-in-progress to see if there was anything that could provide a base for this short story I want to write for a market on my bucket-list (I don’t know why I’m being coy; it’s Cemetery Dance). I always forget that I hand-wrote and then manually typed about twenty or thirty short stories (or fragments of short stories) in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s; I paid someone to type them up as Word documents about ten years ago in case any of them might be usable, reworkable, etc. (They are all terrible…there’s nothing quite so humbling as going back and reading things you wrote years before you knew how to really write.) I printed out about five or six that had potential–based on my memory of them–and I intend to read them over this weekend and see if, indeed, there is anything worth salvaging in them.

I do need to say that one of these longer stories became my novel Sorceress, and some of the others were salvaged and turned into something else, so this is not without precedent….hell, I wrote three chapters of a horror novel back then called The Enchantress that eventually became the foundation of my novel Dark Tide. (In fact, I had turned one of those chapters into a short story, which is one of those I printed out last night.) I don’t think the short story adaptation works, but just remembering the story again made me remember that failed attempt at a novel, and also it was actually a pretty good idea, maybe now you should revisit it?

And this is how, Constant Reader, my creative ADD gets out of control. Last night I was watching documentaries–one was for curiosity; but it triggered a reminder of a book I wanted to write, so the entire time I was sitting there watching it I was also scribbling notes for the book idea. When that documentary finished, I started watching another one, and again, this documentary–I only got about twenty minutes into it–solved an issue with another book idea I had, and made that particular book idea–one I hope to write later this year–even better than it was originally.

This is, of course, kind of exciting…if you don’t take into consideration the fact that I am already writing two novels and have the next one planned as well.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I also want to finish reading this damned Roth novel. There are so many other things I want to read, but I am stubbornly determined to finish reading this damned book.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Jump (For My Love)

As Constant Reader is aware, I find short stories to be particularly difficult to write. I’m not sure why that is–and it’s entirely possible it’s post-traumatic stress disorder from college writing classes (kidding)–but it’s a fact. Constant Reader also is aware I am a horror fan, but writing horror short stories is even more difficult than writing crime stories for me–or any other kind of short story, to be honest.

So, several years ago, when Vince Liaguno asked me to submit a story to his Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire anthology, I was very enthusiastic about saying yes; but at the same time, more than a little nervous and not certain I’d be able to pull it off…but I decided to do something particularly Louisiana: a rougarou story.

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The old woman was babbling excitedly, her toothless gums moving up and down as she gesticulated wildly with her arms. Spittle flew from her wrinkled lips, wisps of her thin gray hair floating around her head as it moved back and forth and side to side. Old is an understatement, Special Agent Tom Washburn thought, unable to understand a word she was saying. She looks ancient, like one of those unwrapped Egyptian mummies on that show I watched last night.

 It was a struggle to keep his revulsion from showing on his face.

Despite the oppressive heat, she had a white shawl wrapped around her bony shoulders as she rocked in her worn, wooden rocking chair. Her feet were bare and dirty, her toenails long and yellowed. Blue veins spider-webbed over the tops of her feet, making them look like complicated road maps. She was wearing a shapeless white cotton dress with yellow stains in the armpits. The brown, wrinkled flesh hung from her bony arms. Her fingernails were long, grown out so far they’d started curving back in on themselves. They were painted a bright red, contrasting with the brown skin and the dark liver spots on her hands. Her face was more wrinkled than he’d thought it possible for any human to be—her entire face seemed to be nothing more than folds of hanging, sun-browned skin. An enormous mole on her pointed chin had a few white hairs sprouting out of it. Her eyes were a startling blue, but seemed filmy and unfocused. A wooden cane with a brass alligator head leaned against her rocking chair, and on the table next to her a glass ashtray was overflowing with gray ash and cigarette butts.

She’s like something out of a really bad nightmare, he thought.

Tom couldn’t understand a word she was saying—she might as well have been speaking a foreign language as far as he was concerned. Every once in a while he caught an identifiable English word in her sing-song Cajun dialect that almost sounded like chanting. He closed his eyes and wished again he was anywhere but this rotting houseboat on the edge of a swamp. This is, he thought angrily, without a doubt the stupidest call I’ve ever gone out on. If I’d known how this day was going to turn out I’d have called in sick this morning.

He wiped sweat from his forehead with his already damp sleeve. It was stiflingly hot in the houseboat, which stank of collard greens, stale sweat and cigarette smoke. The ceiling fan was turning but all it seemed to  do was push the heavy damp air around. The living room—if you could call the tiny space that—was crammed full of strange objects arranged with no apparent rhyme or reason. He picked up a snow globe with the Empire State Building inside and shook it. He set it back down where it had been—next to a shellacked baby alligator head, some polished sea shells, a small rusting Matchbox car, and what appeared to be a copper head of John F. Kennedy. There was a thin coat of dust on everything. Cobwebs danced from the ceiling. He slapped at a mosquito and stepped closer to one of the windows, hoping for a breeze. He glanced back over at his partner.

When I was a kid, I used to love the Movie of the Week on ABC. They did a lot of mysteries and horror–the argument could be made that these television films were the best place to find horror in the 1970’s, and broadened the audience somewhat–but there was one in particular that always stuck out in my mind; it was set in rural Louisiana, and Barbara Rush played the lead female role. It was either called Moon of the Wolf or Cry of the Wolf,and it was the first time I’d heard a werewolf called by it’s French name: loup-garou.

Loup-garou. Doesn’t that sound awesome? I’ve always had that tucked away in the back of my head, and of course, I’ve always been interested in werewolves, who’ve never really gotten their due in the horror genre, particularly if compared to vampires.

Living in Louisiana, you cannot escape Cajun culture, and Louisiana, for whatever reason, is a place where the supernatural is far more easy to believe in than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. There’s something about the air here; the way Spanish moss hangs from ancient trees, the heaviness of the damp air, the way the past is so much a part of the present  here. In Acadiana, the term loup-garou was Cajunized to rougarou, which to me was even cooler sounding than the original. And in Cajun culture, a rougarou didn’t necessarily have to a wolf; the creature could also be, of course, an alligator.

A gatorman? I was all in.

I had also just finished writing my Todd Gregory novel about vampires, Need, which hadn’t quite turned out the way I’d intended it to–it was a set-up novel; the sequel, Desire, was really going to get the story, and the world I was creating, going–so I was in the mindset of writing supernatural tales. I had also, years ago, kind of toyed with an idea of doing a series that would be my own version of Dark Shadows, only set in Acadiana around a small town called Bayou Shadows, loosely based on Breaux Bridge. So, with a rougarou in mind, I started writing my story.

Imagine my thrill to see, not only a great review of the collection, but one that singled out my story, on the Cemetery Dance website this past week!

Here it is, reviewed by Blu Gilliand.

While desire drives the plot of the above stories, other authors manage to embrace the theme without making it the central point. In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.

How lovely! It’s also lovely to be in an anthology with such amazing horror writers as Lisa Morton, Laird Barron, Gemma Files, Stephen Graham Jones, Lee Thomas, and Norman Prentiss, among the other glittering names on the table of contents.

You can order the book here.

And now, back to the spice mines. Must get groceries, hit the gym, clean, write  and edit. Heavy heaving sigh.

 

The Reflex

Thursday! Today we are off to Nicholls State in Thibodeaux to do testing, and then I am testing at the office for a rather long day, but that’s okay. I also have to work this Saturday, but that’s also fine. I slept really well last night, and we also watched the finale  of American Horror Story: Cult, and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The season, which seemed to be an incoherent mess and a complete waste of Sarah Paulson’s talent, really came together brilliantly and, for once, made sense. I also read some more of The Blinds, which is so clever that it’s kind of blowing me away. I also worked some more on the Scotty Bible–the only character left from Bourbon Street Blues to do is Scotty himself, and then it’s time to move on to Jackson Square Jazz, although I might edit what I’ve copied down to its bare essences. I also caught some errors in going through Bourbon Street Blues that will need to be corrected for the ebook version. Paul is going to be going away to visit his mother for a week, and I should be able to use that free time constructively to get a lot done around here.

I also woke up this morning to a lovely review of Vince Liaguno’s anthology Unspeakable Horror 2: Abominations of Desire on the Cemetery Dance website. The review was a rave, which is always lovely, but they had this to say about my story:

“In Greg Herren’s “Rougaroo” (my personal favorite of the anthology), we follow a couple of special agents on a mission deep in bayou country. Rumor has it that a rougaroo—a man who morphs into a gator/human hybrid during the full moon—is stalking a small community. It’s a great little monster story; one in which desire plays a small but integral role.”

As Constant Reader is aware, I have very low self-esteem when it comes to my short stories, so to get a lovely mention like that from one of the top horror magazines/websites for a HORROR short story was absolutely lovely this morning, and it has absolutely made my day. Maybe, just maybe…I’m not as bad at short stories as I think.

One never knows, really.

And so back to the spice mines. Here’s a Throwback Thursday hunk for you.

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