It’s Impossible

FRIDAY!

I always like Fridays mainly because I can sleep a little later than I am used to–after three completely hideous mornings of getting up at six; it really is relative, isn’t it? I mean, I just get up an hour later than I do on those mornings, and yet it feels like I slept for twenty years or something. Just can me Greg Van Winkle–although I think falling asleep in 2022 for twenty years would be terrifying when you woke up; imagine the leap from 2002 to now.

But for whatever reason I feel good this morning, whether it’s the sleep or whatever, and that’s a very good feeling. I feel rested and relaxed, which is always a lovely feeling, and I am looking forward to a three day weekend. I am going to read and write and do all kinds of things–as always, I have an ambitious plan for the weekend–but tomorrow I am doing some self-care (which is always lovely) before I run my errands, and I am going to try to get that all out of the way tomorrow, so I don’t really have to leave the house much the rest of the weekend, other than going to the gym (oh, yes, that’s on the list for this weekend) and an errand I have to run Monday. I am hoping to start and finish John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind this weekend, and while I have an enormous TBR pile, I really should just read queer books this month. I think I’ll start revisiting Joseph Hanson, and I’ve also got The Devil’s Chewtoy in the pile as well. And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done this weekend as well. I didn’t work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday; instead I worked on another project that a publisher has shown interest in, but I need to get it figured out and a draft written. I’d originally planned to get that draft written this month–I am so far off schedule this year that it isn’t funny–but it does interest me and I played around with it a while last night before we finished watching The Victim, which is really well done. We also watched the new episode of Obi-wan Kenobi, and I don’t understand what the on-line bitching by the male virgins in the basement is all about. Why is it so difficult for people to grasp that there would be non-white humans in space in the future as well as a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away?

Although I suppose their preference would be an all-white universe.

Sad.

I was thinking last night–while I was waiting for Paul to come downstairs and watch television with me; as pop culture list videos autoplayed on Youtube while I doom-scrolled on my iPad–about writerly ticks; things I always seem to wind up writing about a lot more than I should; like of course I am reading something Greg wrote, because here is the part where there’s a thunderstorm or ah, there it is–the car accident Scotty gets into in every book (and sometimes Chanse, too) or ah, this must be New Orleans as written by Greg because its all about hot and humid. One of the reasons I do love living in New Orlenas is because I love rain. One of the things I miss the most about my office on Frenchmen Street (besides the awesome street name) is that the building directly behind my actual office had a tin roof, so every time it rained I’d open the window so I could hear the rain drumming on the tin roof. It always made me think of my childhood; my grandfather’s house had a tin roof when I was very young–the barn’s was never replaced–so I can remember listening to the rain while I was lying in bed, all snug and warm and dry; to this day I find a weird emotional comfort when it’s raining outside and I am snug and dry and under a blanket inside the Lost Apartment. I can even remember a scene from a Trixie Belden book–The Mystery of Cobbett’s Island–where Miss Trask was driving Trixie and the other Bob-Whites to Cobbett’s Island for a vacation, and it started raining on them; I was reading it in the car on the way to Alabama from Chicago and ironically, it was raining on the car as I read. I even started writing one of my many attempts to write a juvenile series a la Nancy Drew/the Hardy Boys/Trixie Belden with the characters getting caught in a thunderstorm while driving en route somewhere–I don’t remember anything else, but I remember writing about them riding in the rain….and ever since then, it seems like I write alot about thunderstorms. There’s even a thunderstorm scene in A Streetcar Named Murder, because of course there is.

I always write about rain–and I don’t think i could ever live in a desert climate again because I would miss rain too much.

So, note to self: no rain and no car crash in the next Scotty. We’ll see if I can stick to that.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Wild World

In a little while I’ll be loading up the car and heading north. Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway Is cued up on my phone to start streaming as soon as I start the car and head out on the highway. It’s around twelve hours, give or take, to get up there, and of course I lose an hour to time zones when I cross the state line from Alabama to Georgia. I’m not taking a lot–I am only going to be there for two days–but here’s hoping I’ll be able to sleep while I am there and get some rest. I am going to hopefully finish reading James Kestrel’s Five Decembers while I am there, which will be lovely, and I do have some things that I’ll need to work on while I am there as always–I never can go anywhere without having things to do while I am gone–but hopefully leaving this early will help me avoid traffic in Chattanooga, which is always a nightmare at rush hour (I’ve never driven through Chattanooga when traffic wasn’t a nightmare, frankly, but here’s hoping). I think I will be passing through Knoxville during rush hour, and that could be ugly as well. If I am making some decent time I want to stop and take pictures in the Smoky Mountains–a rest stop or a lookout or something–because that could help with my story “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop”–but we’ll have to see how that all goes.

It’s rained all night here–I woke up to a thunderstorm and a downpour–which will, of course, make loading up the car and driving out of New Orleans amazingly fun this morning, but that’s okay. I love rain–another reason I love living here is the amazing rain and thunderstorms we get here (the flash floods, on the other hand, are not nearly as lovable)–and I actually don’t mind driving in it as long as it isn’t a monsoon; there’s something oddly comforting about being inside the car, snug and dry and warm, while it rains outside. (Similar to being in bed during such a storm.) I didn’t sleep all that great last night, to be honest; I kept waking up every hour or so before falling back asleep again only to wake up again about an hour later. Quite strange, actually, particularly since I feel rather well rested this morning now that I am awake and swilling coffee before hitting the road. I packed last night–there’s a few things left that need to go into the suitcase before I leave–and I think I have everything I need already organized and packed, except for a few things. It’s also getting light outside now, which is also a plus. I am leaving behind a messy kitchen–I’d thought about doing the last load of dishes in the sink before leaving, but it doesn’t look like I’ll have the time after all; I’ll probably just fill the stock pot with water and leave everything in it to soak while I am gone.

It’s so weird, yesterday I got contacted by a local news station (WWL, to be exact) about appearing on their Great Day Louisiana segment. If you will recall, I had to step in to teach an erotica writing workshop at Saints and Sinners this year. It went well, I think (despite my paralyzing stage fright), and one of the attendees was the programs manager at East Jefferson Parish Library, out in Metairie just off Clearview Parkway. He said to me afterwards, “I need to have you do this at the library,” and of course I said “sure.” It’s been scheduled now for June, but when the library newsletter went out, WWL contacted him to see if I would come on their show, and of course–despite the fact that I hate the sound of my voice and I don’t like seeing myself on film–I said yes. So yesterday I had to fill out an insane amount of paperwork, but I am, indeed, going to be filming that appearance on the Tuesday morning after Memorial Day.

Yay?

Kind of cool, though. I have to say it’s been weird feeling like I am in demand lately. Weird, and cool at the same time. Certainly not something I am really used to, but when I was doing the interview the other day for Three Rooms Press’ website, it did occur to me–which it does sometimes, always catching me off guard–that I’ve been publishing fiction for twenty-two years now. Twenty-two years. My first book came out twenty years ago; the second nineteen. So Chanse is twenty and Scotty is nineteen. How wild and weird is that? Obviously, when I started I certainly hoped I’d still be doing this all these years later, but it’s so fucking weird when I actually think about it–and cool, let’s not forget that it’s also pretty cool–that it’s sometimes hard for me to wrap my mind around it, you know?

I guess I am an elder in the queer crime community now? YIKES.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am going to get ready and hit the road. I may not post for the next few days, but don’t worry–at the very least I shall return for Memorial Day. Have a lovely day!

When You’re Hot You’re Hot

And when you’re not, you’re not.

I am deep in the weeds of my edits/revision (make no mistake: editors and copy editors are worth their weight in gold and are treasures, seriously) and I think it’s going well; it’s hard to say when you are not the best judge of your own work. I slept really well last night–I did wake up a few times because I have so much to do and feel a bit overwhelmed from time to time–but I do feel rested, which bodes well for the rest of my day (we’ll see how I feel this afternoon) and I am awake this morning, so that’s a good thing. Tomorrow is my work-at-home day (I switched days with a co-worker) and so I don’t have to get up as early then; I suspect I will, though–that always seems to be the case these days. I woke up early yesterday rather than allowing myself to sleep in with the end result that I got a lot done. I would like to keep the ball rolling today; we’ll see how it goes and how I feel when I get home tonight.

There’s really nothing to bring you down to earth after the high of getting an award nomination (or two) like diving into your edits. Yikes. But I do think it was smart to give up on getting that short story turned in for tomorrow; the story doesn’t even have a completed first draft and so it probably would have been rushed had I tried to get it finished in time, and then in a few months, after the rejection and so forth I would have reread the story and been mortified that I turned it in at that stage of its development. This happens a lot more frequently than I would like to admit, frankly; it happens with the MWA anthologies all the fucking time. (This, of course, explains why I never get accepted into one of the MWA anthologies…)

Heavy heaving sigh.

I leave for Kentucky on Thursday; which means I have a rather lot to get done before I leave. I’d like to get these edits finished by then and turned in (which might be overly ambitious, let’s be honest) so I don’t have to worry about any of it while I am away–I would much rather be able to just rest and relax and read while I am up there, which would be lovely. I started reading James Kestrel’s Best Novel Edgar winning Five Decembers yesterday, and it’s quite good thus far. I like the setting in Hawaii just before the attack on Pearl Harbor (I’ve always wanted to write a murder mystery set in Honolulu and opening on December 8th, 1941, while the battleships are still smoking in Pearl Harbor), and I am curious to see how it’s going to go as I get deeper into the book. It did the Edgar, so I have to assume that it’s really well done and a good story–I’ve yet to read a Best Novel winner than disappointed, frankly–and of course, there’s some marvelous audiobooks loaded into my phone to listen to in the car that I am really excited about. I cleared out some more books yesterday–an on-going, never-ending process, apparently–but I won’t be able to drop anything off at the library sale for at least another week (since I will be gone this weekend), so I have the chance to clear out even more books. I am trying to resist sentimentality–and of course, if I have acquired the ebook edition I don’t need the hardcover anymore–and have been doing quite well with that, I think–there are some I have not succeeded in untying myself from, but think the desire for no clutter will eventually overrule everything else.

One would hope, at any rate–although it doesn’t seem to have done much good up to this point in my life.

I am trying very hard this morning to keep and maintain low stress levels; just keeping my head down and moving forward slowly but surely, ticking things off the to-do list one by one. It’s not easy when things are pressing in on every side–sometimes I really feel like I am in one of those episodes of Scooby Doo where the bad guys have them trapped in a room and the walls start moving in to crush them–but I just need to remember to stay relaxed, not get irritated (DO NOT LOSE YOUR TEMPER NO MATTER HOW FRUSTRATING SOMEONE MIGHT BE), and keep calm. Nothing is worth getting upset or angry over; the priorities have to be set and stuck to, and everyone else just needs to wait their turn. If people get pissed off at me, it isn’t my problem. No one, after all, ever seems to take my needs and concerns and feelings into consideration.

I really do need a vacation, and not one that involves going to a conference or visiting my parents. I need to go someplace where I can just unplug, not worry about emails or anything else, and just relax and be by myself (or with Paul) and rest and get my head together and unplug from all the stressors and irritations of my every day life. A beach someplace would be absolutely lovely; I remember the lovely balcony of the condo we rented in Acapulco, where we could hear the waves coming into shore and there was that lovely cool salty breeze regularly blowing in off the bay. I’d settle for Dauphin Island, really; or any place along the Gulf Coast as long as there’s a breeze and waves and all the associated noises that go with being by the sea. I need to recharge, and my weekends off are just not enough. And given this weekend is going to involve twenty-four hours of driving, this is probably not going to be it, either.

After working yesterday, I spent some more time with Five Decembers and also reread the last two books of Heartstopper again, since the show has been renewed for another two seasons, I wanted to refresh my memory about what goes on the last two books to prepare mentally for when the show drops. The books do take a dark turn–I can’t lie about that, they do–and it was one that I didn’t see coming, but at the same time that dark turn is kind of important because it’s handled so remarkably well? It’s just difficult, because through watching the show and reading the books I’ve become rather attached to Charlie and Nick and don’t want anything bad to ever happen to them–which isn’t realistic, and I especially know that as an author myself; how many horrible things have I had happen to Scotty and the boys in that series? And in all fairness, I was far worse to Chanse than I ever have been to Scotty and the boys….Chanse seriously went through some shit, and part of the reason I stopped writing about him was because I was tired of torturing him…just let him live happily ever after already and be done with it. (I’ve had a couple of ideas about bringing him back–I have some story ideas he would be perfect for–but then I think, maybe I should just leave him be and create someone new for those stories–using a character you’ve already established and know very well is kind of lazy writing, isn’t it?)

Heavy sigh.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader. I am going to sure as hell try myself.

He’s My Sunny Boy

Friday and working at home. I don’t have to return to the office until Wednesday. I don’t know if I am going to attend any of the parades tonight, but I will most definitely attend Iris tomorrow, and Orpheus on Monday. Sunday is a madhouse out on the corner, with four parades running and the last two (Thoth and Bacchus), so Paul and I will sometimes go out for the earlier ones–but it’s so crowded by the time Thoth comes down the avenue we can’t stand it so we come inside. It’s weird. I intellectually know that it’s probably not a good idea to go out there–no one masked, everyone drinking and in close proximity to each other–and if I get sick I have no one to blame but myself. I still go back and forth on it–there’s a pandemic! But it’s Carnival!–so I may end up not attending rather then severely curtailing my parade attendance (I certainly don’t ever want to get Bad Carnival Karma); we’ll see how it goes.

I did spend some time last night filing, cleaning and organizing so I don’t have to do any of that this weekend. I have a short story to finish by Tuesday, a thousand emails to answer, another thousand tp generate (you think I’m kidding; I quite literally am not) and I’d like to get the floors done. I also have to run some errands at some point today–mail and make groceries (not much, just to get through the rest of the weekend)–and I also don’t have to go back into the office until Ash Wednesday (thank you, Fat Tuesday paid holiday), so I am hoping to get caught up on all kinds of things that will help ease off the pressure I feel like I am constantly under. One of today’s chores is to make that updated to-do list I’ve been meaning to get written all week, and to try to gather all my scribbled notes and idea scattered over various notebooks and legal pads compiled into one place. Once I get this short story finished, I am going to start working on Chlorine again–the goal is to have a workable first draft by the end of March, fingers crossed–but it’s going to be a shorter book, fast-paced with machine-gun like word rhythms. I am also becoming more and more fond of my main character–a not particularly talented but incredibly hot and sexy closeted film actor, cynical about using his face and body to get ahead because he is really only out for himself…understandable, given the climate of the times and his backstory–and creating him is probably the most fun I’ve had creating a character since, well, Scotty.

But he ain’t nothing like my Scotty. At all.

I also need to start pulling together the various threads of Mississippi River Mischief together; figuring out the various subplots to gel around the main story of the book, and I also have to map out Redemption Parish a bit more than the amorphous bounds I’ve already given it. I think it first appeared in Murder in the Arts District–no, not entirely correct; it was where my story “Rougarou” was set, and I think that was my first time writing about Redemption Parish and the town of Bayou Shadows–and I know The Orion Mask was also set there. I should probably go through everything and make notes for the sake of continuity–ha ha ha, just checking to see if you’re asleep–but yes, I think I originally envisioned Redemption Parish as being further upriver than where I want it to be for this book; I’ll definitely have to recheck Arts District and The Orion Mask to get a better idea of what I wrote and where I placed it so I can figure out how to finagle moving it and how to justify it…but….this is a different series than Arts District, and Orion was a stand alone, so…I definitely can get away with moving the parish if I need to. (As much as I want my books to all be connected together in some amorphous way–a la Stephen King’s Maine–I can also look at Scotty and Chanse and every other New Orleans thing I’ve written as different universes, like a multi-verse; so I can use characters from across all the books as well as places, but it’s a different world.

I also tend to worry about things no one else notices in my work, so there’s that.

But it wouldn’t hurt me to start a reread of the Scotty series. I am having trouble focusing on reading these days–it comes and goes–and so why not reread the Scotty books? Why not spend some time putting together the ultimate Scotty Bible, so I have an easy reference to check things? This actually sounds like a good idea, and it’s been so damned long since I wrote the first books I probably wouldn’t even remember who the killer was…so it would almost be like reading something new? And it could help put me back into the Scotty mindset. (Also, for the record, Mississippi River Mischief is set in the spring after the Christmas of Royal Street Reveillon, which will make it spring 2019. The next Scotty will be Twelfth Night Knavery, set just after Christmas 2019–January 2020–followed by French Quarter Flambeaux (Mardi Gras 2020) and finally Quarter Quarantine Quadrille, April 2020. So, the plan is for there to be at least four more books in the series, if I live that long. But I also reserve the right to change my mind and discard any of these books along the way–but this is what I am currently thinking.

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

Reflections

Tuesday morning and feeling slightly a little bit off–I am unused as of yet to this entire shift in my work week, which now sees me heading into the office on Tuesdays thru Thursdays. I feel very well rested this morning; I had a lot to get done over the weekend and for the most part, I was finished with everything I needed to get done last night when it was time to repair to my chair for Archive 81, which is hypnotically addicting (more on that later). I slept very well last night–no doubt due to my emotional, physical and mental exhaustion after getting so much work done over the weekend–and feel very rested and awake and slightly a-rarin’ to go this morning. I still have come clean up work to do on A Streetcar Named Murder, and I suspect there will be voluminous editorial notes on it once it goes in, but that’s okay and fine. I am just mostly relieved that I will be able to get it turned in tomorrow the way I am supposed to–two weeks extended deadline–and I am quite sure the release of that particular pressure had a lot to do with the release of the stress valve in my brain last night and why I slept better than I have in weeks last night.

It’s always a stress relief when you finish a book, regardless of what condition it is when you turn it in (#shedeservedit was a total bloody mess; my editor on that one saved me from myself like you wouldn’t believe). And while it’s not finished–there’s still some clean-up on Aisle 10 that is required before I finally attach it to an email and send it off once and for all–it’s going to be, and knowing that I will be able to get it in tomorrow probably also has something to do with my mood this morning. I feel weirdly, oddly satisfied this morning; there’s really no other way to describe it, really. I also feel light, like a weight has been lifted from me. Of course, that doesn’t mean the entire world won’t blow up in my face between now and when I leave for Alabama on Friday; but for now I am just going to relax and enjoy the feeling for as long as it lasts (which probably won’t be that long, in all honesty). I also took some time and thought about my future over the weekend–what’s left of it, at any rate–and made some decisions about what, exactly, I want to do over the next few years. I need to come up with a five-year plan that will carry me through my retirement from the day job; I need to be in a position by then to have that loss of income replaced–Social Security sure as hell isn’t going to cut it, let’s be honest–and of course, Medicare will only do so much so the insurance issue also has to be resolved in five years as well. It’s a daunting through, and more than a little scary–but being afraid of it isn’t going to solve it or make the problem go away.

Although I suppose if I am not working forty hours a week and volunteering the way I have always done, I will have more than enough time to do a lot of writing.

Which of course means I would have to make myself do it–never an easy chore!

Of course, I still have a short story–“The Rosary of Broken Promises”–due on Monday, but I think I should be able to get that finished on time, now that the book is out of the way, and the only other writing commitment that I can think of is “Solace in a Dying Hour,” which I think is due in April, if I am not mistaken. I want to take February to do some finishing touches on things–some of the novellas, other short stories–and then I want to jump into Chlorine in March. If I stay focused I should be able to have a first draft finished by the end of that month, and then I can jump in the next Scotty in April. By June, the plan should be to have all the novellas finished as well as those first drafts; I’d like to spend the summer pulling together the next short story collection, and once that’s done, I want to start revising the manuscripts I finished in the early part of the year, and that should easily carry me into the next year. For 2023, I’d like to maybe write Voices in an Empty Room and possibly start a new series with a gay main character; my gay true crime writer from New Orleans–whom I’ve already introduced into the Scotty series–but the problem is ensuring he isn’t Chanse or Scotty; I tend to get very lazy with things like that. I have some other stand alone ideas, too.

It never really ends, does it?

It’s going to take some getting used to the idea that today is Tuesday and not Monday; it still is bitch slapping me and probably will continue to do so for the rest of the day. Ah, well, there is nothing to be done about that other than trying to get used to it, I suppose.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday, everyone!

You Can’t Hurry Love

No, you’ll just have to wait.

Friday morning and working at home. My new in-office schedule, if you haven’t been paying attention, has been shifted to Tuesdays thru Thursdays, so now I work at home on the bookends of the weekend, Fridays and Mondays. I have data to enter and condoms to pack, ZOOM work meetings (no offense, day job, but ZOOM is the bane of my existence and has been since March 2020)–technically it’s Microsoft Teams, which is kind of the same thing, and then later, chapters to write and clothes to launder and filing to do. It’s non-stop glamour around here at the Lost Apartment, right?

I had a doctor’s appointment yesterday–just routine maintenance to get my prescriptions refilled–and then came home to work on the book. I am very pleased with how it’s shaping up so far (of course, as always, I go back and forth constantly between this isn’t terrible and this is going to ruin my career, which is essentially what I do with every manuscript, so everything is normal. Realizing that I am going through my usual emotional journey with this one eased my mind significantly). We watched the first episode of the new season of Resident Alien last night, which was rather fun, and then the new Peacemaker, which I am glad we stuck with. The first episode was okay, but we weren’t sold completely on the show; I love John Cena, so obviously we were going to keep going but I didn’t have high hopes; the show seems to be hitting its stride and this week’s episode was probably one of the best. I went to bed early and then slept deeply and beautifully; so whatever it was that was bothering me earlier in the week and keeping me from sleeping apparently eased off yesterday, which is always a plus.

I also got a copy of Lisa Lutz’ The Apprentice this week; I can’t wait to dig into it. One of the primary reasons I am looking forward to finishing this manuscript is because, as always when I am going into the final stretch, I am too nervous to read another writer’s work, particularly Lutz’, because I will inevitably feel like why do I bother when there are authors like this putting work out into the world? How can I possibly compete with these incredibly smart and literate writers? Then I have to stop feeling sorry for myself and sulking to get back into the right mindset for writing my new book; which is a process and I can’t spare the time for that right now, so the books continue to pile up (this is exactly what happened when I took a break for “just an hour” to indulge myself in Alafair Burke’s Find Me and then couldn’t put the book down until next thing I knew the book was done, and I’d (I can’t say wasted; reading Alafair is never a waste of time) lost an entire day of work. I know the new Lutz will have the same effect on me; so I need to not give into temptation and even crack the book open. (I may allow myself a Laura Lippman short story later on today, as a reward after the writing is done and before I crack open the wine.)

I also have a lot of other work to do over the course of the weekend; I have emails to answer as well as some writing to do for my friend’s website, which should be a lovely distraction from all of the other things I am (always) doing. I can’t wait for you all to see the cover for A Streetcar Named Murder; it’s absolutely gorgeous (I may have to get it made into a poster). It looks like I will be doing a “cover reveal” with a book blogger, which is a new thing for me. But this is actually a mainstream book (which is an offensive term on its face; but more on that later); my main character is a straight woman who lives in the Irish Channel, is widowed, and her twin sons have just gone away to college (LSU, of course) and suddenly finds herself (and the twins) as the beneficiary of a bequest from a relative of her husband’s that she didn’t know existed; and this is the heart of a mystery she (Valerie) finds herself in the middle of trying to figure out…and of course, it eventually leads to murder. I am doing something different here–I don’t think I’ve ever done something that could be called a cozy before; although in some ways the Scotty series is precisely that (but that can be a topic for another time)–and so am not sure if I am following the established rules for the sub-genre; but I also have to tell the story that I want to tell within that framework. It was a challenge to me as a writer; and one of the things I had been feeling as a writer over the last few years was that I was getting stale; that my work was in a state of stasis and I wasn’t growing within my work. In 2015 I felt that way, too, and so I took some time away from the writing and the grindstone I’d been pushing my nose against steadily for the preceding five or six years. This was when I wrote the first draft of #shedeservedit; this was when I decided to start taking more risks with the Scotty series, and when I decided to not continue the Chanse series. I am kind of looking at 2022 through that same lens; I decided to write this novel (possible first in a series) as a challenge to push myself to do something different, take a chance, and force myself to stretch my abilities and skills.

I think Chlorine is another step forward for me as a writer; writing a historical novel set in the recent past (although I suppose the 1950’s isn’t that recent past, really–which really makes me feel horrifically old) is going to push my talents and ability as a writer, and will require a lot more focus and research (which, while I love really history and reading it, the problem is that I can never really focus my interests in solely reading and researching what I actually need to look into for what I am working on–that ADHD problem) as well as writing in a different style than what I usually do; that rat-a-tat-tat pacing and use of language that keeps the story moving and says something about the times, the culture, and the characters themselves and how systemic homophobia can affect the lives of those with same-sex attractions; in addition to the toxic culture of sexual harassment and assault that was so prevalent in old Hollywood; the 1950’s were a transitional period for Hollywood as the old studio system began to crumble in the face of a new, changed society and the challenge of television.

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

In My Arms

Thursday and working at home today. Data to enter and condoms to pack; but at least I don’t have to go out in public today, which is a blessing both for me and the public when it happens. I decided to stop and make groceries on the way home from work last night, to make this possible, and it’s an absolutely lovely thing to contemplate that I was smart enough to think ahead so I can just work from home and not go anywhere today, other than to the gym later on. My body isn’t happy that I’ve not been to the gym in weeks, and it is most definitely letting me know of its deep disapproval of this conduct. I may not even lift weights–but stretching is definitely on the agenda. I need to really stretch every day, to keep my muscles from tightening and knotting, and all the knots and tightness and tension I am feeling this morning is yet another example of why self-care, particularly in trying times, is so absolutely necessary.

I also really need to get back to writing more regularly. I always feel better when I’m working, writing, than when I am not. You’d think after over twenty years of writing, this would be firmly imprinted on my brain: writing and creating are imprinted into your DNA and when you aren’t doing it, you’re making yourself miserable. I’ve always believed the the so-called trope of “writer’s block” is actually a symptom of depression; there’s something else going on in your brain that is preventing you from creating. (I cannot, as always, speak for writers other than myself; this is my belief and my experience. I’ve also come to recognize that I don’t want to do it mentality when it comes to writing for me is my own personal version of writer’s block–the depression and the imposter syndrome insidiously doing its work on my brain: why do something you love to do when you can not do it and feel bad about yourself and question your ability to do it?) There have been a lot of distractions lately–really, since The Power Went Out–and I need to stop allowing shit to take me out of the mindset that the most important thing to do in my free time from now until January is to write the fucking book.

The book is the most important thing right now.

I did spend some time revising the first chapter last night, despite having the usual “third day in a row up at six” tiredness last night. It felt good, as I knew it would, and spending some doing something I truly love really gave me a rush of sorts; I was able to sleep deeply and well last night, I feel very even and stress-free this morning, and some of the knots in my shoulders, neck and back seem to have relaxed this morning, and I feel rested, more rested than I have felt in quite some time. Untangling the thorny knots of problems in a manuscript–while forcing me to think and use logic and reason while being creative–is perhaps the best cure for anything I have going on at the time. Escaping into writing has always been my solace, going back to the days when I was that lone queer kid in Kansas, and it still works to this day.

It’s actually an interesting challenge for me–writing a book set in New Orleans that doesn’t center a gay man or any gay issues. (There will be queer characters–I can’t write anything without including some; sue me.) The book is also centered in a neighborhood with which I have some familiarity, but I obviously don’t know it as well as the Lower Garden District (where Chanse lives, and where Paul and I have always lived) or the Quarter (where Scotty lives); it’s the same neighborhood where my main character in Never Kiss a Stranger also lives, so I need to get more familiar with how it is NOW…I tend to always think of neighborhoods as they were not as they currently are; which means I need to go walk around and take some pictures and get a sense/feel for who lives there, what it’s like now, etc. This neighborhood used to be considered sketchy when I first started coming here/when we first moved here; the price ranges for rentals and properties now (well, every-fucking-where in New Orleans now) are hard for me to wrap my mind around. (When I was writing my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, I made a reference to “million dollar homes in the Garden District; this was in the late 1990’s. My first reader–beta reader, they’d call it now–highlighted the sentence with the note there are no million dollar homes in New Orleans. The Internet then was not what it is now, of course, so I was surprised to look in the real estate listings in the Times-Picayune to see she was correct. Now, homes in neighborhoods that used to be considered ‘dangerous’ go for over $400k; I just looked at “houses for sale” on Zillow in the neighborhood I am using and was not in the least bit surprised to see that a house like the one my character lives in is listed for 1.15 million…which is actually a plot point I am going to use in the book. And while verifying this just now didn’t surprise me, per se, it did make me shake my head and wonder, who is paying this for a house in New Orleans?)

I don’t see how any working class people can actually afford to live here anymore, really. Sure, there are still neighborhoods that “affordable” when compared to the neighborhoods adjacent to the levees, but the fact that our original apartment, that we paid $495 per month for, now goes for $2100. And that’s something I think I should address in an upcoming book–whether in this new series, or in a Scotty.

I’ve also found myself going down wormholes about Louisiana and New Orleans history a lot lately; I’ve never been conversant in either other than the basics–Bienville arrived and set up camp; why English Turn is called English Turn; Spain takes over from France, and so on. Both city and state have a deep, rich and sometimes horrifying history; it’s little wonder the city is so haunted. So much ugliness, so much violence, so much criminal activity! (Which kind of thematically what I was exploring in Bury Me in Shadows–how the history of violence and ugliness in a particular area can poison it) It’s why I am always amused that the white-supremacists-who-don’t-want-people-to-think-they-are will always cry and whine about crime in New Orleans–when they haven’t lived here in decades and were part of the white flight when the schools were desegregated–they left because of crime, not because they didn’t want their kids to go to school with black kids, oh no! It was the crime! (But if you give them enough rope, they will always bring race into it eventually). New Orleans has always had a dark past, has always had high crime rates, has always had corrupt politicians…but the crime here is why they left…even though the white politicians were also always criminals, and there has always been a lot of violent crime here.

Anyway, I went into a wormhole the other day about the possible murder of Louisiana’s first Black lieutenant governor, Oscar Dunn–who may or may not have been murdered in 1871. What a great historical true crime book that would make, wouldn’t it? Post war, the racial tensions in the city, Reconstruction going on…and on the other hand, it could also make a great historical mystery novel as well! Yet another idea, yet another folder, yet another possibility for the future.

It never ends.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Always

Wednesday, and somehow Pay the Bills Day kind of snuck up on me unawares. That’s probably not a bad thing; it certainly means I am not living paycheck-to-paycheck (at least for the moment), which means a lot less stress (there are few things more stressful than money problems) for the time being.

And yes, I am thoroughly enjoying being free of that stress for the time being. I am sure at some point it will return with a vengeance, hence my embrace of the current status.

I’ve recently been immersed in #shedeservedit this past week or so; the final round of edits came in from my editor, and no sooner had I gone over them, rereading the entire thing yet again, then the page proofs dropped into my inbox. I actually have more time than usual to get these done–which is quite lovely and marvelous–and this of course is only checking for typos and mistakes and missing words, etc. But it’s been weird spending so much time in Kansas again in my head lately.

Immersing myself into that world has also been an interesting experience; particularly when you take into consideration how much different the story is now than where it was at when I first wrote it. It was, sadly, inspired by the viral rape cases in Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri; much as I hate to admit this, the sexual assault of teenaged girls by their classmates etc. wasn’t really on my radar until those stories went viral–and of course, the Stanford swimmer rapist. All three cases horrified me to the very core of my being; and given that the only recourse I had to effect change was to write about it, I decided to start writing what I obliquely referred to as “the Kansas book” for a very long time (despite the fact that I had always titled it #shedeservedit).

Ah, Kansas.

We moved to Kansas when I was fourteen (I turned fifteen later that summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school). To say it was a bit of a culture shock is putting it mildly. The entire state of Kansas is less populous than Chicago, and the biggest town (small city) in the county was smaller than the suburb where we had lived. I don’t know how many students my suburban high school had, but the building itself was enormous and we basically had a campus; the town library was on the property and we had a field house by the football field, with locker rooms for the home and away teams. My high school in Kansas had 180 students, and my class, the largest in school history, had 48 kids. The school was simply a lobby, a single hallway for the classrooms, and a gym, which had a stage for plays at one end of the basketball court. Our hall lockers didn’t even have locks–which was unimaginable at my former school. We actually lived in a very small town (population 942) about eight miles north of the county seat; that town was the second largest one in the county. My high school was consolidated; five small towns and all the farms in the community sent their kids there–it was sixteen miles from where we lived.

Kansas, and my high school there, had a profound influence on me in many ways. I had taken a creative writing class at my former school–got an A, and some praise from the teacher, but nothing overwhelming–but it was in Kansas where I really started writing. My English class required us to write papers my junior year; my teacher very generously allowed me to write fiction, and so I did. Everyone in my class loved the stories I wrote, and my teacher, the hallowed Mrs. Anderson, encouraged me to pursue writing as a vocation–which was the first time I ever had any kind of encouragement of any kind from anyone other than my grandmother to do so–and that was when I actually began to believe it was something that could happen for me; that I had the ability to tell stories and write and even possibly, at some point, get paid to do so and maybe even make a living doing it. (It only took more than twenty years after graduation, but I did eventually start getting paid to write; it was even my primary source of income for a very long time.)

The town in the book–Liberty Center (a nod to Philip Roth’s When She Was Good)–is obviously based very slightly on the county seat; mostly the geography more than anything else, as well as it also has a small college, a park on the way out of town just before a waterfall; and another park on the other side of town rumored to be a gay cruising spot. I’ve written about this town, and this county, a lot over the years, but the name of that town has changed numerous times–everything from Greenfield to Kahola to Carterville and finally, Liberty Center. (Sara, the first young adult novel I wrote chronologically, is also set in that same area; however the county seat in that book had a different name; Kahola, I think) I’ve not set foot in Kansas since we left for California in February 1981; so this is all from my memory, with an occasional glance at Google Earth or Google Maps. Obviously, everything there has changed dramatically in the forty years (!) since we got on Amtrak and headed west at two in the morning; I tended to stick to my actual memories than the reality of what has changed.

So, when these notorious sexual assault cases involving kids (sorry, I still, and will always, think of college students as kids too, YMMV) became so viral and so ever-present everywhere, I knew I finally had the story for the book I wanted to write in this fictional town–I’d made any number of false starts over the years; some of which may eventually became the seeds for other books–but I have always, always, wanted to write a book set there, and writing a toxic masculinity/rape culture book set there just seemed like the right way to go. I had everything in place that I wanted or needed to write the book; the only thing I didn’t know how to do was end it. So, as I mentioned the other day, I finished the last book I had under contract sometime in the spring of 2015, and took the month of July to write this first draft–96,000 words, nineteen chapters, and missing the concluding one. I didn’t get the story right in the first draft, but set it aside to do other things for awhile before coming back to it. I worked on it around other projects over the years since, and finally, last year, finally recognized the truth I’d been avoiding–it will never be finished unless you sign a contract for it with a deadline. And so I did, and now it will be released in January of this year.

And yes, the deadline was precisely the panicking terrified motivation I needed to make the changes to the story that made it gel and possible for me to write an ending.

And of course, as always, I have been plagued with doubts every step of the way while writing this: am I the right person to write this book? Is a white male the right person to do a book built around toxic masculinity and rape culture? Am I taking a spot in publishing away from someone who might be better qualified and better experienced to write such a novel?

But writing is about taking risks, and trying to push yourself. One of the reasons I started doing the stand-alone books all those years ago was because I worried about getting stale and bored writing my two series; originally, switching back and forth between them helped keep them fresh and new to me…but around 2009 I was starting to feel like those books were becoming repetitive (how many car accidents has Scotty been in?) and stale; that I didn’t have anything new or interesting to say about them. (I kind of am feeling that way with Scotty right now–Chanse has ended, although I may do some novellas with him; but am hopeful once I get everything done that I am working on currently that I can sit down and gather my thoughts on the next Scotty book into something interesting and cohesive and frankly, worthy of the character) I use the stand-alone books to push myself further as a writer, into exploring other things and voices and tenses, which I hope makes the series books better.

I guess we’ll have to see how that goes, won’t we?

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

Together We’re Better

Yesterday actually turned out to be quite lovely.

I was a little bleary when I got up yesterday morning (my Fitbit advises me I only slept deeply for 3 hours, 48 minutes; the rest was “light sleep” and I woke up three times), but for whatever reason, I decided to start getting to work on things. I started answering emails (I am very careful with email. I refuse to let it control my life, which it easily can; so I answer emails over the weekends and in the mornings, save my responses as drafts, and send them all after lunch. I do not send emails after five pm CST; I do not read them, either. Email at one point took over my life, which made getting anything done impossible and raised my stress levels to unbelievable heights. I realized anyone who absolutely, positively needs to reach me has my cell phone number…and if I don’t trust you with my cell phone number…you don’t really need an answer right away. And guess what? The world didn’t end, I didn’t miss out on anything, and nothing became harder) while reading coverage of the LSU debacle from Saturday night (one thing I did mean to mention and didn’t yesterday; I try not to be overly critical of college athletes because they are basically kids. It’s easy to forget that when you’re watching on television, but when you see them on the sidelines with their helmets off, or while walking down Victory Hill to the stadium in their suits and ties…you see a bunch of teenagers and young men in their early twenties. They are kids—and those baby faces on those big muscular bodies is a very strange juxtaposition sometimes). I decided on the way home from Baton Rouge that while I do, indeed, love football, I really shouldn’t give up my weekends to it all fall. Now that LSU is definitely out of the running for anything, I’ll probably not watch as much football as I would if they were still in contention for anything. I’ll still watch LSU, and occasionally I may spend an afternoon watching a big game—the SEC title game, the play-offs—I am not going to spend every Saturday pretty much glued to the television all day, flipping between games all day. And I also rarely enjoy watching the Saints—I love them, they’re my guys, my team, my heart—but their games are so damned stressful it’s hard to enjoy them, and when the games is over I am always, win or lose, emotionally and physically and mentally exhausted. So, I decided it made more sense to get things done, check in on the score periodically, and not sweat it too much. (Good thing. Like LSU, the Saints led the entire game, folded like a newspaper in the fourth quarter and wound up losing.) I made groceries, filled the car’s gas tank, and before going, I started weeding shit out of my iCloud and saving it all to my back-up hard drive.  I wound up freeing up over four hundred and seven gigabytes in my flash storage, and suddenly my computer was running very quickly again.

And yes, it’s my fault.* I have a gazillion pictures files, going back to digital camera days. I used to back up my hard drive and my flash drives regularly to the cloud—and those folders are enormous. I don’t probably need all of it—I was weeding through bits here and there as I moved the files over to the back-up hard drive (eventually planning on copying them up to Dropbox), and started finding all kinds of interesting things. Story fragments I’d forgotten, book ideas and anthology ideas and essays I’d started; some of these things are in very rough, first draft form—and got left behind as my addled, AHDH-like brain moved on to the next thirty or forty ideas for all of the above. I also was kind of amused to see how I often I plagiarize myself; I had a completely different idea for the book I wanted to call A Streetcar Named Murder fifteen years ago—which I can still use at some point, just have to come up with a new title. I’d forgotten that all the way through the process Need was called A Vampire’s Heart; my editor suggested changing it after I turned the book it. It was a wise choice; my title was very romance sounding and Need was hardly that. It was also interesting seeing, over the years, how many different ideas I’ve had for a gay noir set in the world of ballet (damn you, Megan Abbott!). I discovered that Murder in the Garden District actually began as Murder on the Avenue (a title I can repurpose for an idea I had last week); I found the original files for Hollywood South Hustle, the Scotty book that turned into a Chanse MacLeod, Murder in the Rue Ursulines; I found the files for the Colin book that tells us what he was doing and where he was between Mardi Gras Mambo and Vieux Carré Voodoo; I found the original Paige novel I started writing in 2004, in which an Ann Coulter-like pundit from New Orleans is murdered; I found the first three chapters of the Scotty Katrina book, Hurricane Party High,  in which they don’t evacuate during a fictional hurricane, and the chapters where I rewrote it, had the, evacuate to Frank’s sister’s in rural Alabama (and we meet Frank’s nephew Taylor for the first time—and I also remembered that they belonged to some weird kind of religious cult and that Taylor was going to come to New Orleans in the future to visit during their version of rumspringa, but eventually abandoned the idea completely and never did a Scotty/Katrina book; was reminded that Dark Tide began as Mermaid Inn; that I wrote the first chapter of Timothy during the summer of 2003; and if I even tried to list all the iterations that wound up being #shedeservedit, we would be here all day (Sins of Omission, I think, was my favorite earlier title; again, a completely different book with some slight similarities…I may have to take a longer look at some of those iterations because being reminded of them all, I also remembered that I really liked all the versions).

I also found many, many nonfiction pieces I’ve written over the years—many of which I’d long since forgotten about—so maybe that essay collection won’t take quite as long to pull together as I had originally thought. Huzzah!

And I also discovered something else that I knew but had slipped out of my consciousness: that Bury Me in Shadows was called, for the first and second drafts, Bury Me in Satin—which gives off an entirely different vibe, doesn’t it? I wrote a very early version of it as a short story while in college, called it “Ruins,” but never wrote a second draft because I knew it wasn’t a short story; it needed to be a book, and one day I would write it. I was never completely comfortable with the story, to be honest; I wasn’t sure how I could write a modern novel built around a Civil War legend in rural Alabama. I absolutely didn’t want to write a fucking Lost Cause narrative—which is what this easily could have become, and people might come to it thinking it is, and are going to be very angry when they find out it is not that—but I really wasn’t sure how to tell the story…and in my mind, I thought of it as Ruins—which I freely admit is not a great title, and has been over-used.

As luck would have it, I was watching some awards show—I can’t begin to try to remember what year—and one of the nominated groups performed. I’d never heard of The Band Perry before; and the song they performed, “If I Die Young,” absolutely blew me away. (I just remembered, I kind of used the title as guidance when writing Need—always trying to remember he became undead very young) The first two lines of the chorus are this:

If I die young,

Bury me in satin

And I thought to myself, Bury Me in Satin is a perfect title for the Civil War ghost story! Melancholy and sort of romantic; I’ve always thought of hauntings as more about loss than being terrifying (you do not have to go full out jump scare, use gore or blood or violence to scare the reader, and if you doubt me, read Barbara Michaels’ Ammie Come Home), which is why I’ve always loved the Barbara Michaels novels that were ghost stories. That was the feeling I wanted to convey, that sad creepiness, and longing—I wanted a Gothic feel to the book, and I felt that line captured what I wanted perfectly. But as I wrote it, it didn’t quite feel as right as it did in that moment (I still love the song—and the video is interesting and kind of Gothic, doing a Tennyson Lady of Shalott thing), and then one day it hit me: changed ‘satin’ to ‘shadows’, and there’s your perfect title.

And so it was.

Oh dear, look at the time. Till tomorrow, Constant Reader! I am off to the spice mines! Have a lovely Monday!

*I will add the caveat to this that anything stored in the Cloud should not affect the flash storage in the actual computer and its operating system, and yes, I am prepared and more than willing to die on that hill.

My My My

Thursday and just got home from the hideous experience of having bloodwork done. I am not exactly sure when precisely I turned into such a delicate goddamned flower, but every time now I have blood drawn I get a gnarly-looking bruise on the spot where the needle went into my arm. Back in the day when my veins used to roll and they had to dig to get the needle in (always a most unpleasant experience) it made sense that afterwards I looked like I’d been hooked up to a dialysis machine. Now the needle goes straight in, without any pain, and yet I still develop a particularly nasty bruise.

Sigh. The bruise from last week’s blood draw just finally went away, and now I am going to have a new one. Heavy heaving sigh.

Ah, well, and so it goes.

But at least NOW I can have coffee. I had to fast for this, especially since my quarterly bloodwork (for my PrEP prescription) had shown high glucose levels (I always have them done after I’ve had lunch as fasting is not required SURPRISE–blood glucose is high after I eat. IMAGINE THAT) so I definitely need to have a diabetes test run (better safe than sorry, right)… and I have to confess rather shame-facedly that the last time I had fasting bloodwork done I had coffee before having it done. Yes, Bad Greg, bad Greg, bad Greg indeed.

Today is yet another exciting day of condom packing and doing some quality assurance reviews of paperwork from work. I will naturally get caught up on Superman and Lois today as well as the two franchises of Real Housewives I am still watching (New York and Beverly Hills, although it’s more of a habit to watch these than anything else, really) and maybe–just maybe–there will be time for a movie as well. Not sure what that might be, but there are so many options anymore! I am also hopeful that there will be time for me to work on Chlorine and get some time in with Razorblade Tears. Paul is going to bring home dinner with him tonight–anniversary meal, from Hoshun (I’ve been wanting lo mein lately)–and then I guess we’ll either figure out what we’re going to watch next (note to self: find out if he wants to keep watching Loki, because if not, I can watch it alone) or he’ll do some work. I also need to bag up some more beads to drop off for ARC (honestly, we literally have beads every fucking where) and I’d like to get some more books culled so I can take them to the library sale on Saturday.

I wrote about 1500 words on Chapter Two of Chlorine yesterday; it wasn’t easy and rather like pulling teeth, actually, so I kind of would like to revisit (not reread; I can just page through it at random to get a feel for tone and voice) James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, which is one of my favorite books of all time; I feel like in this chapter I am being too wordy, which is always a problem for me with my writing–I over-explain, I tend to have long long sentences connected by and, I often fuck up the rhythm of the words, which greatly affects and impacts the voice and tone of the story. The problem with Chlorine is there’s a lot of backstory–and since it’s Hollywood during the dying days of the studio system–what is artifice? What is real? What is rumor? I also have the ability to mention actual stars of the period–even if they aren’t in the book itself, but can be mentioned in passing, which is a lot of fun–I wrote something yesterday about a female star claiming she was “up there with Hepburn, Crawford, Davis, Garbo; you can say Karla and everyone knows who you mean.” (And yes, I just realized that the Garbo-based character in The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann was also named Karla; although it did not even subconsciously affect my naming of this character–Karla Weiss the half-American, half-German Jewish actress who emigrated to the US to become a star immediately was someone I created way back in 1996, inspired entirely by a black-and-white photograph of a friend; I looked at the picture and invented Karla Weiss and her backstory and it’s been in the back of my mind for the last twenty-five years; she fits in here–and while I originally had her winding up in New Orleans and becoming a recluse for a Chanse or Scotty story, it could still work, I suppose; but she would be WAY too old unless I went back and set that case years ago in the past, which could also work….see how these wormholes form for me?)

Then again, who knows? I could open up the document and next thing you know words are flowing from my fingers like water from a spigot.

This, by the way, is why writers drink.

That said, I did pick up some mixers at the grocery store on the way home–grapefruit juice and margarita mix, as well as a salt thing for the rim of the glass–and am really looking forward to getting some Patrón on the next Costco run. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to continue trying to perfect the dirty vodka martini–but the last one turned out so terribly that I am quite literally afraid to try again. Perhaps I should get some gin as well? Hmmmm. Oh, Costco and your inexpensive liquor.

And on that note, it’s about time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow!

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