Blow

Good morning, Sunday, how are YOU doing?

I overslept (for me) again this morning; which felt nice; I’ll take oversleeping over insomnia any day of the week, frankly, and this morning I am going to swill coffee, read some more of S. A. Cosby marvelous Razorblade Tears, and then will write for a while before going to the gym later on in the early afternoon. I still haven’t gotten phô yet–maybe next weekend I can make to the Lilly Cafe and finally get some.

Yesterday saw me relaxing and organizing and cleaning for most of the day, at an incredibly casual pace–so casual, of course, that I didn’t get everything finished that I wanted to get finished (natch); but progress was made and I will always take some progress over not making any. I finished writing Chapter 2 of Chlorine yesterday, also setting up Chapter 3 to be written for today (after some reviewing of Chapters 1 and 2 before getting started on that today). I like that I am starting to feel connected to this manuscript; it’s finally taken root in my head and all the other considerations about it no longer matter to me other than the two most important: that I finish writing it, and that i write the best book I possibly can.

The whole Chlorine thing is remarkably improbable about how it came to be in the first place. I’ve always wanted to write about 1950’s Hollywood and the gay closet/underground that existed there; it was an incredibly turbulent time, with television stealing film audiences, HUAC investigating Communists, and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI going after gay men and lesbians. It was also during this time that the biggest closeted movie star perhaps in Hollywood history, Rock Hudson, came to success–and there were plenty of other closet cases on the headlining pictures with their names above the title: Montgomery Clift and Tab Hunter–and plenty who may have been bisexual but definitely had experiences with men, like Marlon Brando, Anthony Perkins, James Dean, and so on. I idly wrote about this notion I had for a noir set during that time, with the main character a hustler with no talent but a lot of good looks and charm, that opens with another closeted actor’s nude, dead body being found in the morning on Santa Monica beach–only the drowning victim also had chlorine in his lungs, so he clearly drowned in a swimming pool and his body was moved. I riffed on this concept here on the blog for a little bit, and then thought nothing of it.

Yet Chlorine landed with my peers in the crime writing community for some reason–I got a lot of tweets and DM’s about what a great idea it was, and that I needed to write it. Some people continued pestering me about it, enough time and enough people, for me to go ahead and slot it into my writing schedule….but even then I kept putting it off and not taking it or myself seriously; was I the right person to write such a book? Is this interest in such a book even something that could turn into sales or whatever? You know, the usual self-doubt that plagues me on a daily basis. I sat down and wrote a very rough first chapter several years ago, just to see if I could get the tone right, and the voice properly done; I was rather pleasantly surprised with how it turned out, and so I put aside any thought of imposter syndrome and figured, okay, I CAN do this.

But the syndrome came again when the calendar time to write the book rolled around; I spent the last month or so writing anything but this manuscript…and finally sat down to revise and reshape that first chapter so that it set up the second even better, and I also had an idea of how to do the second as I worked on the first. It took me a few days, but I now have a very nice 3700 word second chapter written; and today I am going to work on writing the third. I wanted to wait until August and spend that entire month writing it, but finally decided that I was being decidedly un-confident, so while I still want to have the first draft finished by the end of August, I decided to go ahead and get started on it in the meantime. I still want to work on Scotty for the rest of the year, from September on, but there’s also a lot of other things I need to get done, so I need to stop being lazy and get my ass into my chair and writing.

We watched the Olympics some yesterday–I am amazed at the sports I couldn’t care less about most of the time but will watch avidly during an Olympics–but it again seems weird that there’s no audience or crowd…and this whole weird vibe these Olympics are giving off–no you smoked weed so you’re banned; you’re a serial sexual assaulter so we’ll make accommodations for you–has kind of tarnished the whole thing for me in some ways. There has always been cheating and stupidity at the Olympics (another example of how media has brainwashed us all into the mythology of the Olympics), but for some reason this year it seems more intolerable than usual. But I love watching the US swimmers–it’s weird without Michael Phelps in the pool–and I will undoubtedly watch more, especially the gymnastics.

But…..still.

I also figured out last night how to change a story I started writing at some point during the last decade and make it actually work–“The Brady Kid”–and while the new idea I have for it may not work after all, it’s an interesting idea for a story and something I definitely want to try writing.

And on that note, Razorblade Tears is calling me, and so it’s off to the spice mines for a bit to read, swill coffee, and prepare to start writing.

Touched by the Hand of God

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee and eating coffee cake and trying to wake up. I slept very well again last night, and am starting to feel more…normal, whatever that means for me, since I am anything but normal. I have things to get done today, but the apartment is starting to feel like home again for the first time in a while (since everything went haywire week before last). The laundry room is mostly reassembled, and the book shelves in there look neat and tidy and organized, which rather pleases me. The living room is….well, the living room. I am always going to have too many books in my house (even typing that a voice inside my head was shrieking you can never have too many books what are you talking about?); but I am developing a certain heartlessness as I continue to fill boxes with books for the library sale. At some point, I am going to have to start going through the boxes of books on top of the kitchen cabinets and the ones in the storage attic, and my goal is to have cleaned out not only the attic but the storage unit I’ve rented for far too long.

We finished the first season of Very Scary People on HBO last night, concluding with the two-parter on Jim Jones (we skipped Gacy–have seen enough of him lately already–and Aileen Wuornos, because we watched one on her already recently) and will be moving on to season two probably this evening. I am way behind on Superman and Lois–mainly because it’s something I started watching without Paul and so, rather than trying to get him caught up, I am just going to continue watching without him (I always, inevitably, have to fill him in on super-hero backstory and so forth anyway in most cases, though I think he knows enough Superman lore–doesn’t everyone, really–that he wouldn’t need explanations in this case).

I’ve started–sort of–working on Chlorine this weekend, mostly free hand and mostly in my journal, mapping out backstory and so forth for the main character, and I’ve also started working on the backstory for the body in the surf, and the plot–which was kind of amorphously planned in my head, but yesterday I started nailing down specifics in the plot. It’s going to be kind of fun to write, I think–I always think that going into a manuscript; ever the optimist–and while it’s very tempting to use real people as characters, I think I will make the ones who actually are on the page and participating in the story fictional, but mention others–Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, etc.–in passing. I know the studio is going to be fictional–tempted as I am to use Fox or MGM–and I also know I need to sprinkle in some of the conservatism that reigned then, as everyone was afraid of Communists and having to testify in front of HUAC in Washington; it was the time of ‘the lavender scare” (also the title of a terrific history of the period and this very thing, by David Johnson; I highly recommend it) and so homosexuality was also driven even further underground because we were seen as security risks, particularly if we worked in government since it put us at risk for blackmail by Communists (I touched on this briefly in my story “The Weight of a Feather”, collected in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories).

I also worked on getting organized yesterday. I did a lot of filing, and took a lot of books off my desk and replaced them with ones I’ll be using for research and background for this book. I kind of feel like I already know my main character (even though I couldn’t remember his name yesterday as I wrote notes in my journal); he grew up in Kansas, was caught by his father in a “compromising position” with his high school basketball coach in the tiny little town he grew up in and was forced to enter the military at age 17–going into the Navy and serving in the South Pacific, where he found other men like himself, and thus became familiar with the underground gay community within the military, as well as in Honolulu and Los Angeles (on leaves). After mustering out in 1946 he comes to LA to become a movie star, is discovered by a Henry Willson type agent, and at the start of the story his seven year control with Pacific Pictures is coming to an end, they aren’t going to renew his contract, and he is in fact being sacrificed to a tabloid in order to protect another client, a rising star the tabloid was going to out–loosely based on how Henry Willson sold out Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter to Confidential to save Rock Hudson; but unlike them, my character’s agent has a plan for him: a long-term contract to work with an Italian film company making sword-and-sandal epics.

It’s a great set-up, and one that I hope to not let down…right now I am feeling confident that I can write this and it will be amazing; of course, once I start the doubts and imposter syndrome will start creeping in and I will spend most of my time wondering what the hell I was thinking to try to write such a thing in the first place.

I couldn’t have picked a better career path for a neurotic, could I?

I also lined up all the potential short story calls I am interested in submitting to, matched them up with an in-progress story that fits their call (or at least what does in my mind; I am really not that great a judge of these things, in all honesty) and need to plan out when to reread and when to rewrite. It’s very strange; now that I am coming out of the exhaustion from the writing of the two books back to back I am amazed at how light I feel; I don’t feel that oppressive burden nor the stress that comes from carrying it. I know both manuscripts need work and I need to revise and rework and edit one last time with each, and there’s a deadline for the first for sure–but I am going to put that off until next weekend, when I have the time to sit and go through Bury Me in Shadows from beginning to end, making notes, making corrections, and so on and so forth to get it polished into a diamond…or as close to one as I can get one of my books.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning swilling coffee and trying to finish reading The Russia House. I love LeCarré; he is such a terrific writer I can get lost in his sentences and paragraphs forever–but I find myself not loving the plot or the characters in this one, which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this one, I think. He also does an excellent job of taking me back into that 1980’s world/mentality of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union–that halcyon time when the fear of nuclear annihilation began to fade somewhat but at the same time the worry of what would fill the vacuum created by that collapse was almost nearly as intense (it didn’t take long for conservatives to replace Communists with Muslims as the scary other from another part of the world determined to destroy us); not to mention the wondering if glasnost and perestroika weren’t real or sincerely meant; LeCarré does an absolutely amazing job with that cold intelligence paranoia.

And then, for something similar yet completely different, I am going to reread Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

I also would like to get back to the gym today; it looks absolutely lovely outside, and the walk will be lovely.

Until tomorrow, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree

And suddenly, it’s Christmas Eve Eve Eve. Huzzah? Huzzah.

Yesterday was quite a day. A roller-coaster, as it were; up and down and then loop-de-loop and up and down again. It wore me the fuck out, let me tell you–it was deeply unpleasant at times, and then at others, it was quite marvelous. But the ultimate end of the day was overwhelmingly positive, and that’s always a good thing. The low light of the day was thinking I’d lost the revision of Chapter 18 I did over the weekend–I thought I’d renamed the file (I include the date finished in the file name) and it was nowhere to be found. At one point I was close to tears, thinking about the work I was going to have to completely redo and I almost had one of those patented writer emotional breakdowns we all experience periodically. They are always unpleasant–make no mistake about that–but they are also incredibly cathartic. Deadlines are incredibly stressful, after all, and sometimes that emotional release–like a steam valve that lets off pressure periodically–and weirdly enough, it actually calms me down and centers me.

I have never claimed to be emotionally stable.

I went to the gym after work yesterday, which was nice–I didn’t even have to make myself go, which was even nicer–and then I came home, emotionally and physically exhausted. Paul was working and since I had to go to bed early, we didn’t watch the season finale of The Hardy Boys; hopefully that will be tonight. Instead, I sat in my easy chair and read some more of The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I have to say, it’s so well written and involving you can’t help but get absorbed into the tale. We’ve now reached the 1950’s, McCarthyism, and the red/lavender scares of the 1950’s (I did not know that pinko, which was used against suspected Communist sympathizers, originated as now just a Communist slur, but a gay Communist slur; it makes sense, of course….and now I want to write a book called Pinko). I really do want to write my four book historical noir series–not just because the stories themselves are so appealing, but because it will force me to do research into gay history of the twentieth century, and I will learn ever so much more about what it was like to be gay before, during, and after Stonewall in the US.

Paul and I have decided we will spend Christmas watching movies–naturally, Wonder Woman 1984 on HBO MAX is the main feature of the day we are looking forward to seeing–and that will be kind of nice. After my half-day tomorrow I am on vacation until New Year’s Eve, and even then I am working that day at home–more of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, no doubt–so after I come home from work tomorrow (and must go to the gym as well) I don’t have to go back to the office until January 4th, which is a lovely break and should be enough time for me to have a few goof off days (like Christmas) and writing days and cleaning days as well. I may spend Christmas Eve doing just that–moving the rugs, moving the tables and bookcases and so forth–and getting a nice deep clean on the Lost Apartment. There’s also going to be a Costco day in there somewhere as well–Paul has really fallen in love with Costco, and I’ve sort of created a monster in taking him there; but he also pays for everything when we go, so definitely MY KIND OF MONSTER–and I am thinking I may make a Genius Bar appointment so I can figure out what the hell is the problem with this fucking Air and its storage issues….or I may see if I can do it on-line with an Apple tech first.

I mean, why leave the house and go to Metairie if I don’t have to?

I may even see if I can get the old desktop to work again. We shall see how that goes; I think there are things I can delete off its hard drive to free up space. I really hate working on the Air, to be honest, and am seriously thinking I need to get another desktop computer…obviously, I am very reluctant to spend the money on another Mac if it’s going to be rendered completely useless by a future OS update. But a new computer is another tax write-off, and that’s nothing to be sneezed at, I suppose.

And the Dark Lord continues to come around. Paul says he has started hanging out with Tiger next door, but when he hears us coming he comes springing down the sidewalk and bounces behind us all the way to the door. He will only eat from one spot–I’ve tried a dish, I’ve put the food in other places, but no, if it’s not in front of the bottom step he won’t notice or touch it. He also scampers away whenever I try to get close–right under the house, which is rather conveniently close for an easy escape–but Paul said he let Paul touch him and pet his head yesterday, so there’s progress. Paul is the Cat Whisperer….if anyone can get the Dark Lord to bond, it’s Paul.

And on that note it is back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Christmas Eve Eve Eve, everyone, and I’ll check in with you all again tomorrow morning.

The Samurai in Autumn

Autumn seems but a distant dream these hot New Orleans August days.

I slept really well last night–dream-free, for the first time in awhile–and have lots to do today. I have, of all things, a mammogram scheduled for today. I have a lump–two actually–one in my right pectoral, close to the center of my chest, and another one directly below it. They’ve been there for awhile, and my doctor believes they are merely fatty cysts and not a problem of any kind, but also thinks its perhaps better to be safe rather than sorry. I knew that “breast cancer” was a possibility for men, even if on the low side, and again, I am not terribly concerned about it–but having a mammogram, something women do (or should do) all the time, is going to be an interesting experience.

I was very tired when I got home from work yesterday; too tired to write, too tired to read, too tired to do much of anything, so I just collapsed into my easy chair and read some more of the section in Barbara Tuchman’s The March of Folly titled “The Renaissance Popes Trigger the Protestant Secession.” It’s a book I’ve reread many times over the years–it has four sections; the first about the Trojan War, the second about the Popes, the third about Britain forcing the American colonies into revolution, and the fourth is “America Loses Herself in Vietnam.” I’ve never actually read the fourth section; my knowledge of the Vietnam conflict is very limited, actually, and I should eventually read up on it more–but what I do know of it hasn’t really encouraged me to read any more about it, frankly. It was a mistake from beginning to end, and it also triggered an enormous societal divide in our country that endures to this day; much of our social unrest, and the partisan divide, was initially started because of Vietnam, and then politicians used that divide in a very short-sighted and, as Tuchman would call it, have engaged into a march of folly for short-term political power that has ultimately further divided the country and undermined our democracy.

I’m going to eventually read that section, of course, and at some point i really need to learn more facts about the war than simply things I’ve heard and the movies I’ve seen; fictions based on the reality are still fictions, of course. I have an idea for a story or book that comes from the war–but also am not sure I am the right person to write it. The “#ownvoices” movement is an important one, and while nuanced, is one i have very strong opinions about. The problem is one cannot make general statements, because there are examples of people writing from other experiences that have been done exceptionally well; Barbara Hambly’s Benjamin January series, about a free man of color in pre-Civil War New Orleans, springs to mind. But there also egregious examples in the other direction–and plenty more of them to choose from to use when arguing about the need for #ownvoices–but you know how cisgender straight white people get when their privilege is even slightly, politely questioned (American Dirt, anyone?). But writing a noir novel from the point of view of a young man of Vietnamese descent–while born and raised in the United States–makes me a little squeamish; I certainly don’t want to take a publishing slot from an #ownvoices Vietnamese-American writer, and who knows if I’d even do a good job writing from that perspective? I’ve also always wanted to write a book (or some short stories) from the perspective of Venus Casanova, my African-American police detective from both the Scotty and Chanse series; I have an idea for two books with Venus as the main character, and have actually started writing two short stories centering Venus: “A Little More Jazz for the Axeman” and “Falling Bullets”, but have, over the last few months, began to question whether I should be telling those stories as well as potentially taking publishing slots away from actual African-American writers who can easily write authentically from their own experience. And yes, I know I could write the stories and then ask someone of color to be a “sensitivity reader” for them; but at the same time that always sort of reeks of the standard defense of white people who’ve said or done something racist: I have a black friend so I can’t be racist!

Um, yes, you can have friends of color and still say or do racist things.

We also watched two more episodes of Babylon Berlin last night–Paul commented at one point, “they really have an enormous budget, don’t they?”–and it’s quite enthralling, and quite an interesting lesson in history. As I said yesterday, not many Americans know much about the Weimar Republic phase of German history, other than it collapsed under the rise of Hitler. While exploring the case the main character, Gereon (I think that’s his name), is investigating, it actually stretches tentacles out in several other directions, and as one of the episodes last night showed a riot of Communists and the brutal suppression of the protest by the police, it occurred to me that what the show is doing is putting a face on the turmoil in the capital city of a collapsing republic, showing, in terms of humanity and human suffering, how someone like Hitler could rise to power. In our modern era, it’s very easy to forget how very real the threat (and fear) of Communism was in the west, and to Germans in particular. It’s very brilliantly written and very well-produced and filmed beautifully; the acting is stellar, and it’s providing insights into the situation in Germany in that period that we, as Americans, rarely see…and it brought to mind last night the line in Cabaret, “The Nazis will take care of the Communists and then we’ll deal with the Nazis.”

I also found my copy of the book, and have move it to the top of the TBR pile.

I do highly recommend the show.

And now back to the spice mines.