Together Again

Oh, wow, it’s pay the bills day and I didn’t even see it coming! How weird is that?

I managed to write 1500 words or so on a short story yesterday–AND I went to the gym. I slept well again last night, which was also pretty marvelous. It’s lovely to feel rested, as well as to feel awake when I leave the house, rather than walking and driving in a fog I don’t remember later. As such, my moods have been better and I haven’t been on edge, either. While this is all quite marvelous, at the same time I find myself reluctant to deal with odious chores or tasks–simply because I worry about opening Pandora’s box and releasing the demons of stress, irritation, and insomnia into my little world again.

The short story I am working on is called “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and it was one I had thought up in order to submit to the Minneapolis Bouchercon anthology I am co-editing with the marvelous Terri Bischoff. But I have also been thinking lately that I probably shouldn’t submit anything to the blind read; I did for the other two I edited, and my stories were chosen. No one ever said anything, but after the books were released I always felt a little uncomfortable because it could be seen as improper (the New Orleans story was nominated for a Macavity Award and the St. Petersburg for an Anthony, so that helped alleviate that somewhat), but I am thinking this time around that it’s better to not mess with it at all. I like the idea behind the story, and I might try to actually go the submit it to a magazine route, but we’ll see. Right now I am just regurgitating stuff up on the page that I’ll have to whittle down later to make it work, but I love the title and I am interested in the story, so will keep going with it and see how it turns out. I am thinking this weekend I am going to edit stories–I have one that was rejected by the last MWA submissions call that needs a bit of work, and of course, the novella; hopefully I’ll have a first draft of this one finished to edit this weekend. I also would like to do some reading this weekend–but this is all dependent on how things go with the tooth extraction. If I am still on painkillers this weekend, well, it’s not very likely I’ll be writing or editing or doing much reading–if my memory of painkillers is accurate–but I am not going to worry about any of that now, and am just going to proceed with making my plans. It won’t be the first time life interfered with the plans of mice and Greg.

I am enjoying writing again, frankly, and it feels very good, to be honest. I am enjoying going to the gym again. I feel like in some weird way that I am more of myself now than I have been in a long time, and I am not really sure what that is all about, to be completely honest; like I’ve just been going through the motions for a very long time and somehow in a dark cloud that turns everything into an odious chore, one more thing I need to check off the list, one more task to accomplish on the slow descent into the grave or something. Plotting out the Scotty is also turning out to be something a lot more fun than I had thought it would be; I am enjoying thinking and plotting and creating, and also thinking of other ways to challenge myself and stimulate myself into taking bigger chances with the writing and pushing myself harder. I’ve been thinking a lot about one of Michael Nava’s questions for us all on the San Francisco Public Library panel on queer crime writing–how do you keep your series fresh? It also came up during Laura Lippman’s interview on CBS This Morning that I watched the other day; and it’s a valid question. One of the reasons I stopped writing the Chanse series was a sense that I had fallen into a repeating pattern with the stories–and now that I am thinking back on the Scotty series, I am also seeing patterns developing in the last few books. I’ve already mentioned here about someone asking how many car accidents HAS Scotty been in?–which is actually valid; I think he’s been in one at least four times out of eight books–and last night I was thinking, you know, the last two Scotty books opened at parties–or rather, with him GOING to a big party, which then set up the story for the rest of the book…

Not good, Gregalicious. But this new one–working title Mississippi River Bottom, although Mississippi River Mayhem fits the alliteration pattern of the previous books in the series better–will NOT open at a party, and there will be some changes for the boys as well–no, I am not moving them out of the Quarter, no worries on that score–but some significant changes nonetheless. For one thing, and I’d hinted at this in Royal Street Reveillon–Scotty has bought the building from Millie and Velma, who have retired to the Florida Gulf Coast (which will give me a chance to the send the boys to the panhandle at some point to solve a mystery). But I’ve also got a sticky note on my computer reading NO CAR CRASHES THIS TIME.

I also worry about repeating myself with short stories and the novellas, frankly. I was thinking about my 1994 New Orleans novella, “Never Kiss a Stranger”–and realized that the scene I originally envisioned for my main character meeting the younger man he becomes involved with I had lifted and used in another story, “A Streetcar Named Death.” I mean, there’s clearly no reason why my character can’t first see the young man on the streetcar in the early hour of the morning–it happens, and it’s definitely a way for people to meet in New Orleans, for sure–but there’s always that nagging worry about have I done this already? Is this story pattern the one I default to following all the time?

Sigh. It’s never easy being a Gregalicious,

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

Young Offender

As I said yesterday, I had been wanting to reread Summer of ’42 for quite some time now, and finally decided to bite the bullet and start it yesterday.

He always intended to come back, to see the island again. But the oppertunity had never quite presented itself. This time, however, with a break in his schedule and with events moving remrkably in his favor, he had driven far up the New England coast to see if the magic still prevailed. Aboard the old ferry his Mercedes convertible earned the icy nonchalance of a half dozen craggy islanders, for very few new cars ever make that crossing. Cars that came to Packett Island are usually well into the varicose stage of their lives, and as such, they are by time and temperament unconcerned with a return trip to the mainland. “Cars come to this fuckin’ island to die.” Oscy had said that. Oscy, the big deal philosopher. And it was as true in 1970 as it had been in 1942.

He studied the faces around him, each turned to the wind, taking the breeze full face. It was apparent that none aboard remembered him. But then, he was barely fifteen that last time he forked over the twenty-five-cent fare. And in the intervening years nmuch had changed, including the twenty-five cents, which was now a dollar, and himself, which was now forty-two. How, then, could anyone remember him? The nerve.

The Mercedes moved with disinterest along what purported to be the Packett Island Coastway, for the speed limit was thirty, hardly a challenge for an exhumed LaSalle, let alone a hot Mercedes-Benz. To his left were the familiar dunes, sulking in the grass, incongruously scattered with the uncatalogued refuse and bleached timber that the sea could toss so casually across the road whenever it felt so disposed. And to his right, the sea itself, choppy and gray-green. And large. Very large indeed. One of the largest in the world.

I first read Summer of ’42 when I was either eleven or twelve; I don’t remember which; I just know that we had already moved out to the suburbs and I bought a copy off the wire racks where the Zayre’s stocked paperbacks, cover out and about four books deep. I’m not really sure why I picked it, of the scores of paperbacks from Dell and Fawcett Crest and Pocketbooks; there had to be a reason but nearly fifty years later I cannot remember. The movie was out at the time, and the cover art was from the movie, with Jennifer O’Neill standing in the sand looking out to see, and Gary Grimes seated in the sand behind her looking at her longingly; her little beach cottage was in the background along with the dunes and sea grasses. Was it because the cover depicted a beach scene, and we were beginning to spend our summer vacations including the Gulf Coast of the Florida panhandle in our annual jaunts to Alabama to visit family? The answer is lost in the mists of time, alas, but I did buy it, I did read it, and never really forgot it. It’s a lovely little book, nostalgic and sweet with a little tinge of sadness running through it; I think I also identified very strongly with Hermie, the main character (obviously, standing in for Herman Raucher; the book is supposedly semi-autobiographical). Hermie was a dreamer whose family didn’t really understand him, he had an older sister who is barely a presence at all in the book, and his fantasy life/world was just as strong as mine. He often went off into daydreams the same way I did, and he didn’t really fit with his friends, whom he enjoyed and was annoyed by in equal measure. At just fifteen, he is just starting to experience his own sexuality, and that summer of 1942 he becomes obsessed with a beautiful young woman who stays in a cottage just outside the small town on the beach. He sees her with her husband–also stunningly handsome, and they are so clearly in love, and begins to sort of watch them whenever he gets the chance. The husband goes off to the war, leaving her alone, and he contrives a way to meet her, offering to help her carry packages home when she is overburdened. He is also clumsy and awkward; saying and doing things that embarrass him, and they begin to develop a kind of weird and different little friendship. She just thinks he’s a sweet boy, but he is crazy about her, and she becomes his sexual fantasy; speeding along his awakening awareness of sex and sexuality.

The book is entirely from his point of view; so deep inside that we really don’t get to know any of the other characters in the book other than from his perspective and how he perceives them. There are parts that are actually quite funny–the scene where he buys condoms is hilarious–and the bittersweet feeling that she was his first love that he can never quite forget is the motor that drives the engine of the story forward. It’s melancholy, and Raucher was a really good writer; he captures that awkwardness of being insecure in your own skin at fifteen beautifully, and the entire tone of the book–that bittersweet melancholy for a lost love and a lost time and really, lost youth–is rendered exquisitely.

And yet…

He doesn’t know this woman at all, other than she’s quite beautiful and in their little exchanges, very kind to him, if a bit confused by his behavior. He doesn’t even know her name until the book is almost finished. (SPOILER) And when she does have sex with him in the end–after getting the shattering telegram that her beloved husband has been killed in the war and she’s been drinking, in the throes of a powerful grief–it never really made sense to me. Why would she do this? She’s in her early twenties and he’s fifteen. And despite her vulnerability in that moment, she’s the adult here…when I first read the book and saw the movie, that power differential wasn’t anything I noticed (as I said, I wrote my own story inspired by this one without a second thought about statutory rape and so forth), but now…it’s weird. And he of course has never forgotten the first woman he had sex with (they say you never forget the first) but it also doesn’t go into any of those directions, and why now has he decided to go back and see the place? There’s a lot left out, and I actually was thinking, as i read it this last time, how much I would have liked to have seen the story from her point of view.

It’s a short book and, as I said, the writing is well executed and it flows nicely. It made me start thinking about my own story and how I could possibly rewrite it now. I was able to read over the course of the afternoon (like I said, it was really short) and I did enjoy the reread…but this time it raised a lot more questions than it did to my much younger self.

But like Hermie, I also never forgot the story, so that’s something, right?

You Need To Calm Down

So, I went to the gym for the first time in nearly five months yesterday morning.

Apparently there’s another tropical storm out there with New Orleans in its Cone of Uncertainty; Wednesday night seems to be when it’s projected to come ashore; they’re saying Category One is about as big as Zeta will get, given conditions in the Gulf and so forth, and while that’s not nearly as scary as the bigger storm, it’s still a cause for concern amongst New Orleanians. We’ve been incredibly lucky this year in this insane season of storms, but every time someone else gets it instead you can’t help but feel that your odds for a direct hit are exponentially increasing every time that happens. And it’s always stressful when there’s a storm coming your way–that whole losing power thing is the least of it, of course, but at least it’s not the dog days of summer right now and losing power doesn’t mean melting into a puddle inside the Lost Apartment.

THANK GOD.

I know I loathe cold weather, but I am also all about the air conditioning.

The track has starting shifting to the east–sorry, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida panhandle–and local meteorologists are saying the longer it stays stationary and slow-moving where it is, the more likely it is that it will continue to shift east. But I’d still rather not have that in the back of my head for the next three days, you know what I mean?

So I went to my new gym yesterday morning–it was quite chilly out for a Sunday morning in October in New Orleans–and did my first workout since May. It was marvelous. I was smart and only did one set of 15 reps with low weight and exercised every body part; I stretched for a good while before going to the weight machines, and did 100 crunches to conclude before walking back home. As always, one must start slow–one set this first week, two sets the next, then three in the third week and then add weight in the fourth–in order to get your body used to exercising again. In about two months of this (full body workout three times per week) I’ll change the workout to different body parts per workout–chest and back one day, shoulders and arms the second, and legs the third–and make the workouts more intense and difficult, in order to begin pushing myself and getting my heart rate up and making my muscles grow so they can burn fat more efficiently. My goal is to get my weight down to 200 by March, and then reassess my goals and where I want to be physically by Memorial Day.

I used to always balance out my workout goals based on gay holidays when I would go out in public with the inevitable goal of removing my shirt at some point. I always wanted to peak at Southern Decadence. hen it was just maintenance through Halloween and Carnival, bulking until Memorial Day and then lean down for Decadence for peak lean muscularity.

Ah, my shallow youth.

I do wonder, though, if having those goals made the workouts easier to focus on and stick to; not using those times as an endgame to work towards might have had something to do with the loss of intensity and interest in regular workouts, along with not caring as much about a healthier diet. Points to ponder.

We started watching the new Nicole Kidman HBO series The Undoing last night, and were quite taken in by it. Kidman is always a fine actress, and the rest of the cast, which includes Hugh Grant and Lily Rabe, is also quite good. We also are continuing with the very strange M. Night Shyamalan series Servant on Apple Plus, which continues to be very strange and remarkably disturbing. It’s quite good, creepy, and rather intense. I’m still not entirely certain I know what’s going on in that house, to be honest, and I’m also not really sure who I am supposed to be rooting for. The episode we watched last night, which primarily focused on Rupert Grint’s character, was rather confusing. But…it’s also M. Night Shyamalan, which means it’s probably intended to be confusing.

I slept very well last night, and I’m not sore this morning, which is, of course, always a plus. My muscles feel tired, in that good way from working them, rather than tight and tired from non-use. Today will be a day off from the gym–I still need to buy a lock to take with me–and then after work tomorrow I’ll walk over there and get in a workout. I’m thinking Saturdays will be the day when I go and use the aerobics studio for my own cardio workout–if, of course, I can still remember my routines from my classes all those years ago–and do weights on Sunday. It means rearranging and rescheduling my weekends so I can make sure I can still get things done and stay on top of things, but adding some structure to my weekends cannot be a bad thing. Structure is always important for me–as well as routine–and I feel like that is what has been missing in my life since the pandemic began–having some sort of structure and routine to keep up with.

The Saints managed to win yesterday–and it wasn’t a guarantee, either, until the final drive–and so we had a good Louisiana football weekend. I am quite pleased with how both LSU and the Saints played this weekend; although one can never be sure if the LSU win actually meant anything, to be honest. Sure, South Carolina managed to knock off Auburn the week before–but in this crazy college football season no teams (besides Clemson and Alabama) seem to have any kind of identity; they are all playing all over the map, and outside those two top teams, it seems like everyone else are all about the same–anyone can win over anyone on any given weekend. Should make the play-offs race interesting, and regardless, whoever winds up winning it all this year should have an asterisk next to their name because the season is shortened, weird, and staggered.

And the pandemic seems to be kicking into high gear yet again, just like the Spanish flu pandemic did all those years ago.

But I am trying something new: optimism. That was why I enjoyed Ted Lasso so much–the show was about kindness, understanding, and optimism–and while all of those things have been in short supply for this horrific year (partly why the show resonated so much; it served as a reminder of what we can be if we choose to be), I am going to try to keep all of those things in mind going forward…knowing full well there are going to be times when it’s not going to be easy to keep any of those mentalities and life philosophies in the forward part of my life and mind…but also understanding and trying to remember that it can be a choice.

And on that note, it is off to the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader–I certainly intend to.

Make It Happen

Friday! Huzzah! Huzzah!

Yesterday I did something I’ve not done in a long time: posted a Throwback Thursday picture. I have a folder of pictures I got from my family and scanned from my childhood, and I picked one from there.

This one, to be more precise:

Scan 18

As you can see, it was developed in February of 1974, which means it was taken on my sister’s little Kodak pocket camera in the summer of 1973. I also know that beach–Panama City Beach, Florida, where my aunt and uncle had a cabin about three blocks or so from the water they rented out and we often stayed at when we went south in the summertime.

As I posted the picture, I smiled fondly; I’ve never really written an awful lot about the Gulf Coast of Florida–there’s a couple of short stories I’ve never published, and ideas for more–but the most amazing thing about this picture, to me, is how empty the beach is for a July afternoon. I can’t even imagine that being possible today. Back then, there were no resorts, hotels, or luxury condos built on the beach side of the shore road; and there were no high rise buildings in Panama City Beach, either. Just little beach houses, very few year round residents in the area. The shore road wasn’t exactly lined with chain restaurants and fast food, either; mostly little mom-and-pop souvenir shops that also sold gasoline and cold soda and beer. Scattered along the shore road were family-owned seafood diners–I remember some amazing meals at these places. On the beach side of the road I remember there were these enormous ditches, with worn, weather-beaten wooden footbridges leading over them to the dunes–covered with sea grass and sea oats–and then on the other side you could climb down some weather-beaten gray wooden stairs to the actual sugar powder white sand. It was so beautiful there…the beautiful panhandle beaches spoiled me for all beaches I’ve been to ever since; setting a standard that is hard to beat. We used to go to Miracle Strip Amusement Park; the adults would sometimes go to the dog races at Ebro. The cabin had a big screen porch with a tin roof where all the kids would sleep in front; with just one of those little hooks to keep the screen door closed.

I can’t imagine parents letting their children sleep in such an unsecured location now; it seems like a recipe for children disappearing, doesn’t it?

Someday I suppose I will write about the panhandle of Florida back in the 1970’s; the only thing I’ve done thus far is an unpublished horror short story that is kind of cliche and will probably never be published anywhere (I am not a horror writer, but I keep trying. Or maybe I’m just not a good short story writer in general; or some combination of the two, I don’t know).

And now, back to the spice mines.

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