Goodbye Baby

Tuesday morning and all is quiet at this ungodly hour.

I’m up earlier than usual because I made the decision, whilst I was out of town, that the smart thing to do was get up when I actually wake up, rather than just continuing to lie in the bed awake. It’s comfortable, to be sure, and getting out from under my pile of blankets is never an easy thing to do….but it’s also wasteful of time and staying in bed doesn’t make getting up with the alarm any easier, nor does it make me less tired later in the day. All in all, it’s not going to kill me to get up earlier, so today is my first day trying it (not really, I woke up an hour earlier than necessary yesterday and just went ahead and got up then, so this is my second day of trying this to see how it all works for me). I had errands to run after work last night and I had to write a promotional piece for another blog for A Streetcar Named Murder–there really is no worse timing than having a book coming out as you are trying to meet the deadline on another.

It’s also weird because at the same time I have to try to remember things from Streetcar, which was finished months ago, and of course I’ve moved on to something new that I need to focus on. Heavy sigh. But I think the post I wrote last night is fun and interesting, and hopefully will spark some interest in the book. I’ve also been asked to sign at an event here in New Orleans in January–I want to say ALA, but I could be wrong–and I’ve also agreed to return to the dual Murder event weekend in Alabama yet again. I think this is the fourth time I’ve been invited? I love Margaret and Tammy, and I always have a lovely time at the event.

WE started watching that Hulu series about Chippendales last night, Welcome to Chippendales, starring Kumail Nanjiani as Steve Batterjee. I’ve watched a couple of documentaries about Chippendales and the resultant murder of one of the partners, but I’d forgotten about Dorothy Stratten’s connection to the club before she was murdered (someone really needs to do another series or movie about her life and death; Star 80 was good but…). It’s entertaining enough, and Chippendales also has something to do with the societal change in the sexualization and objectification of the male body that began in the 1970’s (along with the explosion of gay porn and Playgirl, followed by Calvin Klein ads in the 1980s), as well as the beauty standard for men. I recently (it may have been longer ago than what counts as recent, but time has lost all meaning to me now) commented to one of my younger gay male co-workers that “you used to be able to tell if someone was gay or not by how well built they were; if they clearly spent time on their bodies at the gym and ate right to improve the way they looked, they were gay because straight men didn’t give a shit.” Tribal tattoos also used to be a tell that a hot guy was gay. NOT ANYMORE. And the guys today–whatever their sexual orientation–have even more amazing bodies than we used to have back in the day; the definition and the focus on ab development and the absence of any body fat is far more pronounced amongst hot young men these days than it used to be. And they are everywhere. My Instagram and Twitter feeds are often filled with beautiful shots of incredibly handsome young men with unbelievable bodies; some of which I’ve sometimes shared here on the blog. I’ve also been seriously considering going to something else with the blog images, to be honest–I know some people would miss the sexy men images, but it also might be keeping other people away at the same time. I don’t know. But I started using pictures of hot men years ago because when the blog cross-posted to social media it would always show up as with a pale blue square box with a pencil in it, which I hated. When I talked about books, the book cover would come over, so I decided to use images of very hot men that essentially pop up somewhere on the Internet throughout the course of the day and it kind of became an ingrained habit, a default if you will, perhaps even a brand–I hate thinking of myself or anything I do as a writer as a ‘brand,’ and yes, I do recognize that my writing is a product for sale, but it’s not a pack of T-shirts or underwear or a pair of pants hanging on a sales rack. So, do I really want my ‘brand’ for my blog to be sexy shirtless men?

Probably a little late to worry about that now.

The Chippendales calendar–how many years did I buy that? I can remember being deathly afraid to take it to the cash register at the bookstore…but now that I am thinking about it, I don’t remember which bookstores I used to patronize in Fresno. Perhaps a Barnes and Noble at the mall? A Waldenbooks, maybe? But yes, I used to feel my face burning with embarrassment as I tried to nonchalantly buy a Chippendales calendar, all the while thinking the cashier knows I am gay because why else would I be buying this calendar? Now I laugh at the memory of the shame I used to feel. The cashier couldn’t have given two shits about what I was buying, and even if they did, who cares? I had always been attracted more to athletes than any other type of male; I always had a thing for muscles and worked out bodies. Why, I don’t know; whether I was simply wired that way for physical attraction, or if it’s because the first naked bodies of men that I saw were those of athletes in school. Junior high was the first time I ever had to change into gym clothes, shower and be around other naked boys, and I was never comfortable doing so. The locker room before and after gym in junior high was a nightmare, but once I was in high school and on sports teams…the boys I was attracted to were usually athletes. That never really changed over the years as I got older and grew more comfortable with my sexuality–what changed were the bodies. Whereas only athletes and dancers, gay men, and narcissistic straight men used to regularly go to the gym and work out their bodies to build muscle, gradually it became a thing for all men across the board, regardless of orientation. On the rare occasions when I go to the gym now, I see incredibly well-built and well-muscled young men all the time–and while thirty years ago I would have assumed they were gay or bisexual, now I can’t assume anything. I just marvel at the shift in societal attitudes towards men no longer in school who continue to exercise and work out–whether to be healthier or for something to show off and attract women, who knows?

But aesthetically, I appreciate them.

So, the quandary remains. Do I try to rebrand the blog by using other types of pictures, and if so, what kind should I start using? Would people miss the hot guys? Would more people be drawn to the blog rather than closing the browser window as soon as the hot guy loads?

Or do I just not worry about it–as I have never worried about people coming here to read the entries–and keep on as I have been? Decisions, decisions.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you again tomorrow.

Not That Funny

I do not recall which was my first story under the name Todd Gregory, and I am far too lazy to wade through everything to try to find out. I used the name the first time sometime between the release of Bourbon Street Blues and Mardi Gras Mambo, so we’re looking at sometime between 2003 and 2006, and I think it was either “The Sea Where It’s Shallow” or “The Sound of a Soul Crying”; I could also be mistaken in my memory. I’m not really sure of much anymore, and when I try to pin down a specific moment in the timeline of my life I am inevitably proven to be incorrect.

Although maybe my CV may hold the answer–hang on, let me check. Okay, per my CV I started using the name in 2004, and it was actually a story called “Wrought Iron Lace,” which was published in an anthology called A View to a Thrill, with the connecting theme voyeurism (the other two stories, to be fair, came out the same year). Ah, “Wrought Iron Lace,” my gay erotica version of Rear Window, in which a gay man in a wheelchair with two broken legs watches someone move in from his balcony across the courtyard, and his balcony also affords him a view into his new young neighbor’s bedroom, with the inevitable of course happening. (The courtyard set up was one I had wanted to use for quite some time; I loosely touched on it in Murder in the Rue Dauphine but I had wanted to do a kind of Tales of the City kind of thing about gay men living around a courtyard in the Quarter and kind of forming a little family group, a la the Maupin novel as well as Valley of the Dolls and call the novel The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. I returned to the courtyard set-up for another story, written and published as Greg Herren called “Touch Me in the Morning,” where I also used two of the characters I thought up for that novel. Another scene I originally imagined for that novel became the short story “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which appeared as a Todd Gregory story in the anthology Dirty Diner.)

But one of the things that had interested me, the more time I was out and around gay people, was how many gay men I knew had been in college fraternities–myself included. Almost every gay man I knew who’d been in a fraternity also had lots of prurient tales of illicit sexual experiences with their fraternity brothers–something that never once happened to me (I never once had sex with any of my fraternity brothers; to the best of my knowledge I am the only gay man to pass through the doors of my chapter), and that eventually led to me doing my final erotica anthology under my own name: FRATSEX.

FRATSEX was a good anthology, but I was not prepared for it to become a phenomenon. It earned out, thanks to preorders and subsidiary rights sales, before it was published, something that has never happened to me since; I got a royalty check for the book a month before it was released–and it continued selling for years. I got substantial checks for FRATSEX every six months until Alyson decided it no longer need to honor its contracts and pay its authors and editors the contractually obligated royalties twice a year it had agreed to, before it finally went belly-up after years of bad management and even worse business decisions. (I should point out that usually erotic anthologies had a very short shelf life; they usually never sold out their initial run, never did additional print runs, and certainly were gone within a year of release. FRATSEX was most definitely not that.)

But when Kensington decided to pass on the next Scotty book, they came back to me with another offer for something else: a gay erotic fraternity novel intended to follow the same sales path as FRATSEX. I had no idea what to call the book–but the money was too good to pass up, and so I signed the contract for a book whose working title was Fraternity Row. (I had suggested A Brother’s Touch or My Brother’s Keeper for titles; both of which icked out Marketing.) I think it was my editor who struck gold with Every Frat Boy Wants it.

As I walk into the locker room of my high school to get my backpack, I’m aware of the sound of the shower running. Even before I walk around the corner that will reveal the rows of black lockers and the communal shower area just beyond, I can smell that pungent smell; of sweat, dirty clothes and sour jocks. I would never admit it to anyone, but I love that smell. Especially when it’s warm outside—the smell seems riper, more vital, more alive. For me, it is the smell of athletic boys, the smell of their faded and dirty jockstraps. At night, when I lie in my bed alone jacking off in the dark quiet, I close my eyes and I try to remember it. I imagine myself in that locker room after practice, the room alive with the sound of laughter and snapping towels, of boys running around in their jocks and giving each other bullshit as they brag about what girls they’ve fucked and how big their dicks are. I try to remember, as I lie there in my bed, the exact shape of their hard white asses, whose jock strap is twisted just above the start of the curve, and below the muscled tan of their backs. It’s the locker room where I first saw another boy naked, after all—the only place where it’s acceptable to see other boys in various states of undress. The locker room always haunts my fantasies and my dreams.

And now,  as I reach the corner, I hesitate. Who could still be showering at this time? Everyone else has left; baseball practice is long over, and I’d be in my car heading home myself if I hadn’t forgotten my bag and I didn’t have that damned History test tomorrow. Could it be Coach Wilson? I shudder as I have the thought. I certainly hoped it wasn’t him. He was a nice man, but Coach Wilson was about a hundred years old and had a big old belly that made him look like he’d swallowed every single basketball in the equipment room. I take a deep breath and walk around the corner.

Maybe it was—um, no, that was too much to hope for. Just get your bag and go.

The locker room is filled with steam from the hot water in the shower. Wisps dance around the overhead lights, and it was so thick I could barely see the floor and make out the row of black painted metal lockers. Yet, through the steam, I can barely see a tanned form with his back turned to me, his head under the water spigot, hot water pouring down over his muscled back and over the perfectly round, hard whiteness of a mouth-wateringly beautiful ass. I catch my breath as I stare, knowing that I shouldn’t be—the right thing to do is call out a ‘hello’, pretend not to look, get what I need and get the hell out of there. But I am utterly transfixed by the sheer beauty of what I am seeing. I bite down on my lower lip, aware that my dick is getting hard in my pants as I watch. I can’t tear myself away—I don’t want to turn and go or stop staring, the body is too perfect. And with the wetness cascading down over it, the glistening flow of the water emphasizing every defined muscle in the lovely male form that has haunted my dreams and my fantasies ever since I transferred here my junior year and started going to this small rural high school.  Go, hurry, before he turns around and catches you watching—what are you going to say? Um, sorry I was staring at your ass?

But still I keep standing there, continuing to run the risk he’ll catch me, every second passing making it more likely. How long can he stand there like that without moving?

We-ell, that certainly starts off with a literal bang, doesn’t it?

I had no idea how to write this book, or what it was even going to be about when I signed the contract (I always say yes to money and try to figure it all out later). I’d had an idea, years before, for a book about a fraternity while I was actually living in one, and came up with three main characters: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. The three were all friends, all pledge brothers, and all different. Eric came from an upper middle-class family, Chris was strictly middle-class and had a job, and Blair was the son of two movie stars, an aspiring actor himself, and was always intended to be gay gay gay. I had originally wanted to write a Lords of Discipline sort of novel about a fraternity and a secret society within the fraternity–still might; I think it’s a good idea–and so I thought, well, you belonged to a fraternity, and you created a fictionalized version of it for this book idea, so start there.

I fictionalized both Fresno and Fresno State into Polk and CSU-Polk, and my fictional fraternity’s physical house was based on the actual fraternity house, as well as the way its parking lot adjoined a sorority’s at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the fraternities’ parking lots on one side of the little road and the sorority ones on the other side, just like at Fresno State. My fictional fraternity house had a two story dormitory wing attached to the chapter room and meeting/party space/cafeteria, and so on. I created an entirely new character, closeted eighteen year old Jeff Morgan, who had just moved to Polk right after high school graduation (his family was transferred) and enrolls in summer school. In the opening sequence, Jeff is actually in his Economics class and bored, having a very vivid and erotic daydream about a boy he’d had a crush on in high school. Jeff is so involved and vested in the daydream he doesn’t even notice that the class was dismissed until a handsome classmate snaps him out of the daydream…that classmate is Blair Blanchard, who befriends Jeff and invites him to come hang out at his fraternity. It’s also soon apparent that Blair is not only openly gay but has no issue with it; he doesn’t really talk about it around the house, but everyone knows. Blair is the first openly gay person Jeff has ever known–Jeff is from Kansas and hopelessly naïve–and thinks he’s falling in love with Blair; but he isn’t sure how Blair feels about him.

Every Frat Boy Wants It is really Jeff’s story, and about how Jeff slowly comes into himself as a person; accepting his own sexuality and embracing who he is–while having a strange relationship with Blair that he doesn’t quite understand. It’s his first relationship of any kind, and he doesn’t understand why Blair keeps pushing him away–leads him on, turns him off, and so forth, on and on and on–and is told really in a series of vignettes, essentially sex scenes with both elaborate set-ups and follow-ups that have lasting impacts on him, with the story of his unrequited love for Blair running through them all. He even winds up shooting a porn film while on vacation with Blair in Palm Springs at Blair’s movie star father’s place. Eric and Chris turn out to be pledge brothers of Jeff’s–he eventually has a three way with them; they don’t identify as gay but “play around with each other”–until, of course, the very end when Blair and Jeff finally get past all their misunderstandings and disagreements and jealousies and commit, once and for all to each other.

The book did very well–that scorching hot cover also didn’t hurt–and they asked me for a sequel.

That sequel became Games Frat Boys Play, and was adapted from another novel idea I’d had lying around for quite some time (never throw anything away!).

My favorite memory of this book, though, is that I had to go to a conference in Atlanta for the weekend for a queer specfic event. (I still don’t know why I was invited; at that point I had edited one horror anthology and that was it, really) and the book was due. I was in Atlanta for four days; I did my panels and spent the rest of the time holed up in my room, writing madly in a desperate attempt to get this damned book finished and venturing across the street for Arbys whenever I got hungry. I set a writing record for myself that weekend–21000 words in three days–and the book was finished before I drove back to New Orleans. So whenever I talked about writing over twenty thousand words in a weekend? This is the book I am talking about.

Gold Dust Woman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a beautiful day to die.

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

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

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

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

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

It might not be much, but it was something.

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

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

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

If only I could reach the phone!

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

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

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

She was safe until the sun went down.

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

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

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

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe someday.

My Sweet Lord

Saturday, fucking finally.

This has been a not-good, no good week and here’s hoping it was an aberration and everything is going to reset right now and become something more resembling what passes for normality around here lately. Everything has been out of sync and/or messed up all week, and frankly it’s also kept me from getting anything done or making progress on any number of things I need to be making progress on, which as you can imagine is incredibly fucking annoying.

Jesus.

Today I am going to make a run to the mailbox and to drop off some books for the library sale, as well as do some other clean-up around here. I’ve decided the next book I am going to read is Bayou Book Thief by Ellen Byron (I am interviewing her next month for the book release at Blue Cypress Books in Riverbend) and I may as well get a jump on that, maybe come up with some questions for her ahead of time so I am not just winging it the night of–she definitely deserves to have a prepared interviewer, not the usual “I’ll make it up as I go” bullshit I always, inevitably fall back on whenever I have to do something of this sort. (Yes, that’s me: a thorough publishing professional.)

I slept deeply and well last night–I allowed myself to stay in bed until nearly eight o’clock–and as such I feel pretty rested and good this morning. I actually feel like I may even be able to get things accomplished this morning, which is a lovely change. I have to admit I’ve been concerned and worried about the depths and extent of my exhaustion lately, but this morning I feel good for the first time in a long while. Good thing, since the house is a disaster area; I am going to definitely be spending time on the Lost Apartment and the office area today cleaning and organizing and getting everything back under control around here. I am going to try to get that story written today, and some other odds and ends. With luck, I’ll be able to get it all out of the way and handled today before I run out of gas or the lazies set in; which is of course inevitable. But really, this mess is untenable, and I am more than a little annoyed I’ve allowed things to get to this point YET AGAIN. Yet I cannot deny that I was tired and worn out all week; it felt like I was sleeping well but obviously I must not have been, given how little I was able to get done all week.

C’est la vie, I suppose.

We finished watching Captive Audience on Hulu last night, about the tragedies of the Staynor family–perhaps best known as the I Know My First Name is Stephen story. We moved to the San Joaquin Valley (Fresno, to be exact) when I was only nineteen; the story was still news even then, and I became fascinated by the story–a fascination that never went away and was only made more intense by Stephen’s tragic death at a very young age and even more intense by the fact his older brother became a serial killer, responsible for the Yosemite Murders. I had already moved away from the valley by then, but I’ve never stopped being fascinated by the story of the Stayner family and have always wanted to write about it–that horrific family dynamic of having one of your children stolen for seven years, and then having him return as an older, complete stranger. How does that affect the family dynamic? (Obviously, in this case, it turned one of them into a serial killer somehow.) How does the victim deal with returning to the family that isn’t what he remembers anymore, either? What’s it like to be the mom, the dad, the sisters, the neighbors? I recommend the docu-series–it’s in three parts–and it’s even more fascinating than I could have imagined; they also interviewed Stephen’s children. His daughter remembers him vaguely, his son not at all…and that’s an even greater tragedy. What is it like to lose your father when you are so young–traumatizing in and of itself–and then find out what he had been through? To find out an uncle you barely knew was responsible for the monstrous Yosemite Murders? There’s so much material there for fiction…I think about what Megan Abbott or Carol Goodman or Laura Lippman or any of our modern day great women writers could do with any bit of that story and can’t help but wonder about what might be. Maybe I’ll use it as the foundation for a book someday…but it’s one of those stories I always end up circling back to periodically, which makes me think it’s more likely to happen than any one of the great ideas that holds my attention for a day or two, write down or make a folder for, and then completely forget about.

Ah, being a creative. Always challenging.

I also want to, at some point this weekend, finish my blog post I’ve been writing about season 5 of Elité, and I also have another book review to write for here. Always, forever, so much to do at all times. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday however you choose to spend it, Constant Reader.

Stomp!

Friday, Friday, got to get down it’s Friday!

Another lovely night’s sleep was enjoyed by one Gregalicious, and my mood is pleasant as a result. It really is insane how much better I feel when I’m getting regular sleep that is good; hopefully today I’ll be able to get a lot accomplished–despite the horror of knowing that we are in an excessive heat warning, with the heat index potentially climbing up to 115 this afternoon and staying there for most of the rest of the day. Yikes! I do have to go to the gym today–which would be on foot, which will send me out into the madness of the heat–but I shall survive. New Orleans and heat kind of go hand-in-hand, after all, and while this summer seems a bit more extreme than past ones, at least we have a working a/c system in the house now (which has also made a remarkably marked difference from the last two summers around here).

I need to make a to-do list, and I have a shit ton of emails to answer. Heavy sigh. It never ends.

I also need to type up my notes from my meeting with my editor yesterday, so that I am prepared to fix what’s wrong with #shedeservedit, so I can get it finished by the end of the month, which is when it’s due. I also have to finish going over the edits for Bury Me in Shadows, so I can get that finished as well–just to ensure that everything with it that she did (this is the line/copy edit) I’m okay with; fortunately I trust her but there are a few things she wants me to check. And while I do hate putting Chlorine aside for a little while, if I can get the Bury Me in Shadows things finished on time I can go back to working on it for Sunday. I don’t know, we’ll see how the weekend goes, I suppose.

Gregalicious plans, and the gods laugh.

But this morning my coffee is wonderful, and I am basking in the glow of feeling good about a lot of things. I’ve not felt good for a while; my memory is such a joke these days that it seems as though I haven’t felt good in a while about myself and my life and my writing in general for a long time. Not sure how true that is, or if it’s really just another side effect of a nasty pandemic (on-going!); but I definitely am hopeful this lasts for a while.

I watched the Olympics yet again last night; it was terrific to see Sunisa Lee become the first Asian-American all around gymnastics gold medalist, and I think possibly the first Olympic medalist of any kind of Hmong descent. The Hmongs are an ethnic minority of southeastern Asia, spread out over Vietnam, Cambodia and China; and they were recruited and used by the American military during the Vietnam War to fight the illegal war in Laos–and then of course, once we pulled out, we pretty much left them out to dry (see also: Iraqi Kurds after the First Gulf War. Sensing a theme?), and they were finally welcomed and recognized as political refugees and allowed entry to the US (big of us, right?) in the early 1980’s. I first became aware of the Hmong people and culture when I lived in Fresno–a large number of them settled there–and my parents also lived next door to a Hmong family in Houston (my mother became rather fond of the family matriarch over their years of being neighbors). I’m not sure if there are any Hmong-Americans in New Orleans; I do know there’s a large Vietnamese community here in the East (that French colonial tie between New Orleans and Vietnam–banh mih is like the Vietnamese version of a po’boy, although I think banh mih might have, probably, existed first).

Then again, there are a lot of other cultures in New Orleans that rarely get written about–Greeks, Vietnamese, the Isleños from the Canary Islands, the Haitians and Dominicans–which is yet another indication of how I could be writing about the city for the rest of my life and never scratch the surface of all the different cultures and ethnicities and influences here.

I also watched 54: The Director’s Cut again–I rented it a few years ago on Prime, I think–and while I remembered it as a much better movie than the theatrical release (which was really sappy and terrible and borderline homophobic), I’d forgotten how completely queer the director’s cut is. I was actually thinking last night about writing an essay about Studio 54-despite never having been there–but knowing that it existed was one of the first times in my young gay life that I became aware that it was possible for people like me to live differently than what I had been raised to believe was my life path and what was the cultural norm (“Looking for Studio 54” is the title I jotted down in my journal), and watching this (much better) version of the film while I made my condom packs yesterday was interesting (I also thought about doing a compare/contrast between the two different versions of the film, “A Tale of Two Studio 54’s”, but I can probably write that into my “Looking for Studio 54” essay); I think the first time I watched the director’s cut I was still completely in the headspace that Shane, the main character (a dazzlingly beautiful Ryan Philippe in all of his youthful glory) was straight but willing to do what he needed to do to get ahead; on second watch, it’s even more clear that Shane’s sexuality is incredibly fluid and while it was possible that he might be gay and just coming to realize it, it’s also not impossible that he could be bisexual. This film is a lot more sexual than the theatrical release, and has no problem exploring the gory details of the hedonism–the drugs and sex–that were the hallmark of that period and of the club itself. There are also some parallels between this movie and Saturday Night Fever–the good looking kid going nowhere who loses himself in the joys of a disco, the only really joy in his life–and there’s also the sense of Shane, rejected by his father for being a disappointment (how many gay men can relate to that experience?) and finding and making his own family; while Shane’s sexuality definitely is fluid in the film, and it never really answers the questions it raises, so much of Shane’s journey parallels the journey of so many young men in the 1970’s drawn to the glittering lights of New York away from their drab lives wherever they were originally from…yes, there’s definitely an essay there, and one that requires watching the film again and probably the theatrical release as well.

And on that note–hello spice mines! Good to see you–and Constant Reader, I will see you tomorrow.

Waiting for Tonight

I don’t remember his name. All I now for sure is it started with a K.

Kevin, maybe? Keith? Kerry? Kenny? Maybe Kelly; for some reason the name Kelly-for-a-boy has always been stuck in my head, to the point that sometimes, frequently, when I need a name for a male character Kelly always pops into my head. So maybe that’s it. I never recorded his name anywhere–mainly for fear someone would find it in my journals or diaries (I’ve always kept some sort of written record of my life and my various emotional breakdowns over the years)–and I was also certain I would never forget it. And yet I have; the first openly gay man I ever knew, and also the first casualty to HIV/AIDS that I knew personally–that was more than just another name in the paper.

I’ve never really dissected my past as thoroughly as I probably should have; as I’ve said before, when I turned thirty-three I decided to never look back, stop having regrets, and not let the past continue to influence my present and my future. There was never anything but pain back there, so why revisit that? Now as I hurtle towards sixty at an ever increasing speed (less than two months now!), I do find myself, for some reason–maybe the sixty milestone? Being equally distant from twenty as one hundred?–allowing my mind to drift back to the past. I think it also has something to do with the two most recent books I’ve written (Bury Me in Shadows is dealing, in some ways, with my past by forcing me to remember stories my grandmother told me as a child and the legacy of being from rural Alabama; #shedeservedit takes me back to my teens in Kansas–and basing the main character in that book so deeply into my own psyche forced me to relive things and emotions and feelings I experienced as a teen in Kansas, even if the book is set in the recent present), as well as watching It’s a Sin earlier this year, and seeing the story of HIV/AIDS told from the perspective of young people who were my age when it all began. I’m not sure, really; but whatever the reason, my mind has been going through the file cabinet where I have locked all my memories from before 1994.

Kelly (I decided to call him Kelly, didn’t I?) was the first openly gay guy I ever met. I’d met guys who were attracted to men before; and I am sure guys I knew from my high school in Chicago were, even if they weren’t out (I did remember one’s name recently; I knew him only slightly but was certain back then he was like me; I looked him up recently on-line and sure enough, he’s out and proud and–thank God–alive). I wasn’t sure when I first met Kelly if he was or he wasn’t–he was effeminate and queeny, though; the stereotype–and we worked together at a fast food place on Blackstone Avenue in Fresno. He was already working there when I was hired; we both worked the closing shift on Fridays and Saturdays and our manager was a really hot muscular straight guy with a porn-stache that I stole glances at whenever I could; managers wore the same polyester pants the rest of us had to wear, but got to wear T-shirts with the company name and logo on the front–his were extremely tight, and so were his pants, for that matter–but he was also juggling three women at the same time (no surprise, really) and was clearly straight. I did notice Kelly also was stealing glances at him from time to time. Kelly was flamboyant, funny and friendly; I would have liked him even if I didn’t suspect he was also gay. He was certainly not as deeply closeted as I was, and certainly not as determined to keep it hidden. He was taller than me, and slender. He wasn’t what I was physically attracted to at the time–when I was younger I was a lot more narrow in my definition of what I thought was attractive, and what I was attracted to–but he did have a nice ass.

I don’t remember how or when he told me he was gay, but he did. He was also the first person to take me to an actual gay bar; there were two in Fresno at the time. It was the Express, and it was also on Blackstone Avenue, near Olive, I think; I don’t remember exactly where it was, to be honest, but I know there was an off-ramp for a highway right there as well (I recently tried to locate it on Google Maps, but Fresno has changed a lot since I left over thirty years ago, and it no longer exists). I don’t remember how he talked me into going–you can imagine how reluctant I was (what if someone I know sees me going in? What if someone sees my car parked there? What if what if what if what if…what if someone I KNOW is there–this last is hilarious, of course; obviously, if they were there…) but I remember walking in that first time and realizing, everyone here is into men. There were no women, the music was loud and there were some incredibly hot guys there. Kelly got us both a drink–vodka and cranberry; I drink I have ever since always regarded as a ‘gay’ one–and then he dragged me out onto the dance floor because he loved the song–it was the first time I’d ever heard “It’s Raining Men”, and it’s always been special for me since then; the first song I ever danced to in a gay bar–and I, who’s always loved to dance but always got made fun of for enjoying it at school dances and in straight clubs–felt free for the first time in my life.

As Madonna sang in “Into the Groove”: only when I’m dancing can I feel this free…

It became a weekly thing: every Friday and Saturday night after work we’d go over to his apartment, sponge off sweat and grease from work, change, and go dancing. There were so many hot guys–but I would never approach anyone; that social anxiety thing and fear of rejection has always hung over my life–and Kelly’s roommate was also really beautiful. Kelly had a lot of friends I was attracted to, but no one ever showed any interest in me–at the bar or at any of the after-parties we went to.

And yes, eventually, we did go to bed together. I wasn’t in love with him, nor he with me; he was the first time I became aware of the “friends-with-benefits” thing. I wasn’t his type, either–and I’ll never forget him saying, “just because we aren’t each other’s types and we’re not interested in being boyfriends doesn’t mean we can’t help each out, you know? It doesn’t always have to mean something. Stop thinking that way! It’s very Christian of you.”

I was slowly starting to come into myself when he got fired, for allegedly stealing money. I didn’t think it was true–it may have been, I could have been wrong about him and his character (it wouldn’t have been the first or last time I misjudged someone’s character) but I always suspected it was because he told me once that he’d given the hot straight manager a blowjob in the office a couple of times. I didn’t believe him, but I also don’t think I was the only person who worked there he’d said that to, and well, that just wouldn’t fly, you know. But he told me, through tears, that he was leaving Fresno and moving to San Francisco because “Fresno was really just Topeka in the valley, when you think about it.”

I’ve used that description numerous times since then.

He gave me a big hug, and told me to trust myself, and stop being afraid to be myself.

I didn’t see him again for years. It was a few years later when I ran into his roommate at the mall. I was high, had gone there with friends to waste time and get an Orange Julius, and was sitting on a bench just enjoying my drink and being high at the all and watching people when someone said my name. I didn’t recognize his roommate–whose name is also lost to time–because he didn’t look the same. He’d lost a lot of weight–he’d been lean but muscular, but was now barely more than skin and bones. He had to tell me who he was, and how I knew him, and I’ve never had much of a poker face–still don’t, actually. He smiled at the look on my face, and told me he had AIDS. Not only did he have it, but Kelly did as well, he was back in Fresno, and he was actually dying. “You should go see him,” he said, “I think it would mean a lot to him. He doesn’t get a lot of visitors. Anyway, it’s nice seeing you.”

I was, at the time, trying really hard to be straight again–still having furtive encounters with other guys, of course–and terrified that I was going to get infected myself. I didn’t have a car at the time, and the last thing in the world I was going to do was ask one of my straight friends to take me to see someone dying of AIDS in a hospital. I had met other gay men since Kelly, and considered them friends…but it was something we were all afraid of; made gallows humor jokes about; and I didn’t want to involve any of them in this, either. (All the gay men I knew at the time didn’t know my straight friends–and any gay man I met through a straight friend I kept at a distance because I still wasn’t ready for those separate lives to have crossover.)

I took a city bus to the hospital. I remember they put me in a hospital gown, gave me a mask and rubber gloves to wear before I could go see him. I remember how bad he looked, how labored his breathing was; and I don’t think he knew who I was; I don’t think he ever did know who I was or why I was there. I sat with him for a while and held his hand, and we didn’t talk much. It didn’t seem important then to try to get him to remember me. I remember being afraid, and to this day i wonder if I would have held his hand if I didn’t have the gloves, and even having that doubt fills me with shame; and no matter how much I remind myself I am far better educated now than I was then–even then there was so much misinformation and unknowns I couldn’t have been as educated as I am now–I still feel a bit ashamed. There were several people on that ward; guys i recognized from those nights at the bar, guys I’d been attracted to but never acted on, guys I met after after-parties, whose names I don’t remember now. I went back as often as I could, as often as I thought I could get away with, sitting not just with Kelly but those other guys, too. Kelly’s old roommate eventually ended up there, too, and I sat with him sometimes. Every time I went back I was never sure who’d be alive, who would still be on the ward, or if someone else i recognized or had known would be there this time. I don’t remember how many times I visited before Kelly died; I just remember I came back and his bed had someone else in it. I know I went to some memorial services and I know I went to some funerals, and I know I kept going back there periodically; I wasn’t worried about getting infected and dying because I had begun to believe it was inevitable. I know I went numb at some point during that period, and I also know it was when my college career went off the rails for the last time and I began losing myself in drugs and alcohol to stop feeling anything. I knew I couldn’t make myself straight because I would be miserably unhappy if I tried; I was miserable trying. I also believed I couldn’t be myself because I would lose everything and end up dying all by myself in that ward–also knowing that when the inevitable day came when I wound up in that ward, I’d die alone.

There were times I wish it would happen so I could get it over with–the horrible death–because my life was so miserable I often didn’t want to go on living.

And yet, no matter how many times I wished I were dead, no matter how many times I wanted to die, I never could end my own life. I couldn’t do that, for some reason.

So on I lived, somehow getting through my days, letting life happen to me rather than making my life happen, until I shook myself off and decided to take control–death is inevitable for everyone, after all, so why not live until then?

Here I am, on the cusp of sixty, still alive when everyone gay I knew from back then, from my first baby steps into living my life as myself, died. I wasn’t there for all of them. I wasn’t there when many of them died, and I felt guilty about that, guilty about not getting sick, guilty about living, guilty about somehow still being here when so many of them have gone. I feel guilty about not remembering their names.

I fought a long hard battle with myself and who I am, and somehow came out on the other side of it slightly wiser, definitely wounded, and still struggling from time to time.

This is how I remember it, through the fog of time and the prism of my own narcissistic self-absorption. I have things wrong, I’m sure–it’s been over thirty years–and I’ve never tried to remember before. I’ve certainly never talked about it before to anyone and I certainly have never written about it before. My memory, once so sharp and perfect, has become fogged and befuddled the older I get and the more time passes. Watching It’s a Sin, frankly, made me start to remember–so much of it brought back memories–and I also realized I never mourned, never really dealt with any of it. Was that the right coping mechanism? I don’t know. I just know I went numb and decided never to talk about it; when I left California I closed the door on that part of my life and knew I had to change my life. It took another four years before I was able to also change my mentality and got a new attitude towards life and love and well, everything; not only closing that door into my past again but sealing it hermetically and walling those memories off in my brain, never to remember, never to relive, never to examine.

And I realize now that while I never stopped mourning them, I also never allowed myself to experience the grief…and in order to finally heal, I need to finally grieve.

Baby steps, always.

Brutal

Yesterday wasn’t bad, really. It was kind of nice and relaxing, and I spent some time cleaning, which is always calming and therapeutic, not to mention fantastic to see when you are finished. I also did a lot of filing and organizing, and while I didn’t completely finish everything yesterday, there are some odds and ends to find a place for and so forth, but in all honesty, this is the best the workspace has looked in a long time. I even got a start on cleaning the disgusting ceiling fans; it’s going to probably require some work every weekend before they don’t look revolting. I just wish I didn’t have a phobia of ladders and the constant fear that I am going to fall off said ladder and kill myself–I get very anxious when I am up on the ladder and still have to stretch to reach the blades–which is partly why they are in such bad shape. I don’t trust aluminum ladders–far too shaky for someone who, as a child, fell off one and was lucky not to be seriously injured–and so I bought a wooden ladder, but stupidly, even though it is sturdy enough for me to not worry because it doesn’t shake with every step up I take, I bought a five foot ladder when I need a six foot ladder at least. Heavy heaving sigh. As it is, I don’t have a place where I can store this one, so it’s not like I can go back out and buy another.

I also need to look into getting another tool for cleaning the blades. The one I have isn’t easy to use; it’s angled, so it also doesn’t go right onto the blades–and since the fans hand a minimum of three feet down from the ceiling (the joys of high ceilings in New Orleans) I am also always paranoid I am going to somehow knock it out of the ceiling–there’s always that moment of catching my breath as I try to get the whatever-you-call-it onto the blades and it starts swinging. Yikes!

But I cleaned out cabinets, cleaned out garbage cans, wiped down walls–New Orleans is the dustiest place I’ve ever lived, and I lived in Kansas, as well as the desert climate of Fresno, California–and even did some baseboards. I was thinking about starting to prune the books, too–but I also need to talk to the library about how to drop off donated books before I go crazy with getting rid of books, so I decided it should wait. (I also started looking to see what could go and found myself reverting back into hoarder mode…which wasn’t a good sign.)

My package from Target, order placed on February 13 for two day delivery, finally arrived yesterday–a full two weeks after the order was placed. I know the mail is fucked up, but they also didn’t prepare my order for delivery for a full two days before it was packaged up, then it took another several days for it to be handed over to UPS, and then it sat, first in Birmingham and then in Mississippi (I want to say Jackson), for a very long time. It finally was handed over to the USPS for delivery in New Orleans on Friday, and it came yesterday. Good thing it wasn’t medication or.a gift I needed right away.

When Paul got home last night we got caught up on last week’s episodes of Servant (which gets increasingly strange and disturbing with every episode) and Resident Alien, which we are really enjoying. I think Paul will also be going into the office today and at some point it’s a gym day for me–but it already looks gorgeous outside. The weather, since that cold spell, has been exceptionally beautiful here in New Orleans–even hot; I usually think of the seventies as being cooler weather, but it has felt hot to me ever since the weather changed; an after-effect of that brutal cold, I think.

Today’s plan is to try to finish putting things away and get last night’s dinner dishes washed and put into the dishwasher, got to the gym, make some progress on cleaning out my email inboxes, and try to have, over all, a relaxing day.

And on that note, those dishes won’t wash themselves. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

You’re My Best Friend

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been told that I’m a terrible friend, I wouldn’t need a day job.

If I had a ten dollar bill for every time I’ve been told I am a terrible person, I would be debt-free.

Friendship has always been a tricky thing for me to negotiate. It’s something I’ve never really quite understood the rules for–like so many other aspects of life; it really needs, at least for me, a rulebook or a guide of some kind. I was a very sheltered child, and have–this always makes people laugh when I say this, but it’s true–a horrible degree of painful shyness. I never know how to start a conversation with someone I have just met, and social occasions where I don’t know anyone are excruciating, as I can never introduce myself to anyone and just start talking. Social events where I only know one person in attendance is excruciating for the person I know, as I literally glom onto them like a life preserver and refuse to let them out of my presence–and if they do manage to escape, I will find them like I’ve chipped them, tracking them down like an escaped pet.

I always feel bad about it later–wondering, as is my wont, if the poor person I glommed on to even likes me or enjoys my company in the first place. I also wonder if I should apologize.

I don’t understand the rules, you see.

So, as with everything, I have always taken my cues from books, television shows, and movies. Ah, those marvelous friendships that exist in fiction! Trixie Belden and the Bob-Whites; Nancy with Bess and George; Frank and Joe with Chet, and so on and so forth. I always wanted friends like the ones fictional characters had, wanted to be a friend like fictional characters actually were. But, as I grew older and life continuously proved to be much more difficult, as well as vastly different, from the fictional worlds I loved to escape into, I began to learn that I not only didn’t understand what friendships were like in the real world, but that there were rules I didn’t know about, and those rules were different with every person.

One of the maxims I began to swear by when I burned my life to the ground at thirty-three and started to building a life that was more in keeping to what I had wanted and dreamed of since I was a child was the common denominator in all of your problems is you. Neat, simple, and to the point; it’s also true. But there are, as I learned over the year, also corollaries to the theorems; other truths to be considered, proofs and postulates. At thirty-three, I very willingly took ownership that all the issues I had previously, either with friends or in romantic-type relationships, were mine and mine only–any blame for dysfunction or ruptures or bad behavior could only be laid at my own door. I was never able, for example, to understand or figure out where a relationship went wrong, turned sour, when knowing me and interacting with me became so problematic and difficult that it was easier for someone to just walk away rather than try to work it out (which I always believed was something that friends did; one of those rules that were never explained to me). I tried, believe me–so many hours and journal entries wasted on trying to understand what I did wrong, where I went wrong, what was wrong with me, why did this continue to happen?

I thought back to all the times I’d been ghosted by someone, or a friend had informed me that I was a terrible person and a bad friend; in retrospect, it was something that happened so regularly that there had to be some truth in it. I’d always thought, and taken pride in, being a good friend; for always being there with kind words and a shoulder to be cried upon whenever it was needed…and yet–

And yet.

And yet, as I noted on my birthday blog, I found that I was also frequently disappointed by people. Whether it was my birthday, or being included in things, or whenever I needed someone to talk to when I was personally going through something difficult…inevitably, what I made myself available for with others wasn’t being made available to me. When I tried to talk to someone about problems, it was often dismissed–or I was told, “Jesus, you’re such a downer.” I have had friends tell me, through intermediaries, that “so-and-so doesn’t really want to talk to you anymore because they just can’t deal with you anymore.”

I learned this lesson: when you expect things from people you will inevitably be disappointed.

I’m not sure how old I was, or when I discovered an all-too-important corollary to my common-denominator theorem, but it was incredibly freeing. That corollary was certain personality types attract emotional predators, and that isn’t the fault of the person who attracts them.

Narcissists, for example, seek the personality types that will feed their self-obsession–and they aren’t interested in anyone else’s self-obsession unless it correlates with their own; in other words, if listening to your problems and offering comfort will soothe their own self-satisfaction; i.e. see what a good friend I am? I am such a wonderful person.

I know that I have narcissistic tendencies and that I have an ego; I don’t really think it’s possible for someone to become a creative artist without the odd mixture of complicated and complex and contradictory personality traits that inevitably drive so many of us to drink, drugs, and/or despair; the introversion and self-obsession and ego that drives us to create and believe that others will be interested in our creations, while at the same time being harshly self-critical, self-defeating, and utterly insecure about everything.

And while I’ve also come to realize that while friendship isn’t, and shouldn’t be, something where one needs to be constantly keeping score, a lot of people do that very thing.

I also learned to be suspicious of people doing nice things for me–because in the past, that nice thing inevitably would be used to bludgeon me as an example of how much better a friend that person was than I, and therefore I didn’t deserve to have friends.

When you’re told you’re terrible in some way, especially if it comes from more than one person, it becomes easy to believe that it’ s true. I’ve also been ghosted a lot; one day I would be close friends with someone and the next day the same person didn’t want to speak to me, say hello, or even acknowledge my existence. The first time that happened to me was in seventh grade, in junior high school (junior high was a horrible experience for me, but that’s not the point of this entry), and ever since then, I’ve had difficulty in trusting people completely; whenever I met someone new, befriended someone, there’s always been a wariness inside my mind, a little voice saying remember–you can’t trust people to not turn on you and that, coupled with my innate shyness and social awkwardness, has always made it difficult for me to ever get really close to people. It was in junior high, after all, that I learned there were names for what and who I was–unpleasant, insulting names, always said in a sneering, contemptuous manner–and so I kept my true self hidden from people.

Faggot. Sissy. Fag. Cocksucker.

Even before I was completely sure I knew what the words meant, I knew they were bad–they weren’t complimentary–and whatever they meant, it wasn’t anything I wanted to be.

God knows I’ve been told enough times by people that I’m a terrible friend and a terrible person; it used to always slash me to the quick and hurt my feelings. I was ghosted in junior high school by an entire group of friends who suddenly all stopped speaking to me or acknowledging my existence–to this day I don’t know why–and that early experience, combined with innate shyness, has always made it difficult for me to trust people. And as I’ve gotten older, my trust has gotten harder to earn.

But as I said, I wish there was a manual of some kind; instructions or something. I never know what is appropriate and what isn’t; I’ve also certainly been known to misjudge politeness for friendship before. Am I supposed to reach out to someone when they’re going through a rough time, or do I give them their space? Is it more annoying to have to answer emails and messages from friends who mean well when you’re going through something, or is it better to be left alone? I also have a tendency to withdraw into myself whenever things aren’t going so well; I don’t reach out to other people for support when I am going through something, and while I do appreciate well wishes and things like that…I don’t understand the rules.

I know lots of people at this point in my life; social media has made keeping up with people from my past much easier than it ever was before. I do notice there are gaps, though; I have reacquainted myself with people I went to high school with in Kansas, but no one from before that; after high school graduation the next big gap is people I met and knew from 1978-1985. There are people I know from when we first moved to New Orleans, and various writers and authors and editors and actors and actresses with whom I have crossed paths at one time or another, and people I’ve worked with. My friends’ list on Facebook is a curious mixture of people from all over the country with me as the primary common denominator.

But one thing I have definitely learned over the years is when someone abuses you–emotionally, mentally, verbally–they will do it again, and no matter how much you care about them , or how much time or energy you’ve put into the relationship, it will happen again. I’ve gotten much better about recognizing the difference between a disagreement and an abusive friendship, and my go-to has become If I won’t let my mother talk to me like this, well, youre not my mother.

But I still wish there was a guidebook, you know? It would make things so much easier.

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Sexy Northerner

So, who had “this revision won’t be as easy as Greg thought it would be” on their Gregalicious trials-and-travails bingo card?

Well, congratulations, you were correct. This reminds me of the time when I thought, oh I’ll just turn this Scotty manuscript into a Chanse, it’ll be easy and no, it really wasn’t. It was actually a nightmare, but eventually, after much anguish, stress, and aggravation, I did get it done and I was pretty pleased with the final outcome. I got up early yesterday morning and wrote an entirely new first chapter of Bury Me in Shadows, and one that was much better than any of the original attempts, so there’s that. Chapter Two was more of a slog, since I was trying to save more material so I wouldn’t have to write new material, but it’s going to need some going over again to make sure the transition from the old original story to the new is seamless. On the plus side–there’s always a plus side, even if I have to really dig deep down for it–the new material I am writing is good, and I like this iteration of the character much better than I did in the previous drafts; and his backstory is much better than it was originally. I also love the new opening. And making these changes actually eliminates a big hole in the story–something I could never really quite figure out–it was one of those things that had to happen for the story to happen, but it only made sense in THAT context, and that was driving me completely insane.

You can’t do that. It’s called “contrivance,” and there’s nothing that makes me more irritated or annoyed with a writer (or a movie or a TV show) where something happens only because it’s necessary for the story and only makes sense in that particular context. (I mean, obviously you can, and plenty of writers do, but it’s fucking lazy, and you shouldn’t, and if you do, and your editor doesn’t stop you…yeah, well.)

I also spent some time with Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths, which I am really enjoying. I just wish I had more time to read, you know? I am so fucking far behind on my reading.

We also started watching HBO’s I’ll Be Gone in the Dark, which is very well done and very creepy. One of the things that terrifies me–which therefore also interests and fascinates me–is the concept of not being safe in your own home; that we all have this incredible illusion of security and safety in our homes–and neighborhoods, for that matter–and so we often are caught off-guard or by surprise by violence, or, as the theorists would say, the introduction of a Dionysian element into our safe, secure worlds. “The Carriage House” is that kind of story; so is “Neighborhood Alert” to a degree, as is the one I just sold, “Night Follows Night,” which is about not being safe in a supermarket because that was something I thought was interesting; you never think you aren’t safe in a bright public place full of employees and other shoppers until you actually aren’t. This is something Stephen King does very well; the introduction of something Dionysian into an ordinary, sedate, everyday kind of environment, and how normal everyday people react in those kinds of situations; some rise to the challenge, others do not.

Anyway, I’ll Be Gone in the Dark is just that–a true crime documentary based on the book by the late Michelle McNamara about her investigation into the Golden State Killer, and how that all came about. When you listen to the stories of the victims, and remember what it was like in in the 1970’s for women who were raped (not that things have gotten much better since then, but at least as bad as it is now it’s not as bad as it was then–not a laurel we as a society should be resting on any time soon, frankly), but how the rapes and murders happened in these quiet middle class suburban type enclaves where no one ever expected anything bad to ever happen (I’ve always wanted to write a book based on a murder that happened in the suburb of Chicago I lived in during my early teens; the killer and one of the accomplices were students at my high school; I knew the accomplice’s two younger sisters quite well); and I also lived in Fresno during the later part of the Golden State Killer’s run–but he had moved on to Southern California by then. I was stuck by the old footage of these neighborhoods in Sacramento, and how like our neighborhood in Fresno (Clovis, actually; a suburb of Fresno) and how closed off the houses were from their neighbors and the street–with small front yards and an enormous garage in the very front of the houses, which were in U shapes. My bedroom was the other side of the U from the garage and there were bars on the windows so no one could ever come in. My curtains were always closed so I could never see out onto the street or no one could see in; every once in a while on nights when I couldn’t sleep I would scare myself by thinking if I opened the curtains someone would be there–because it was very easy to get to, even if the bars precluded anyone from getting inside. Sliding glass doors were also very popular in houses back then, if not the most secure thing to have in your house, really.

And naturally, I started writing a short story in my head while I watched, about a bickering couple who come home early from a party because they got into a fight and are still fighting as they pull into their driveway and arguing still as they go into the house where they find their fifteen year old daughter bound and gagged in the living room with the sliding glass door to the backyard and pool area open, the curtains blowing in the night breeze. I don’t know the whole story, or how it ends, or even where it goes from there–which is why I have so many unfinished short stories in my files.

Heavy sigh.

There’s a tornado watch in Terrebonne and Lafourche parishes this morning, which probably means rain for most (or part) of the day here as well. It seems kind of gloomy and overcast out there, but brighter than it has been the last three mornings–when it rained a lot–so we’ll see how this day goes.

But it’s Monday, the start of a new week, and here’s hoping that I’ll be able to find time to not only read this week but time to work on the manuscript. Perchance to dream, I suppose.

Have a lovely week, Constant Reader!