Too Late for Goodbyes

Well, we made it to Friday, didn’t we? I do feel sometimes as though wishing for the weekend, or counting the days until payday, is kind of wishing my life away. (My mother used to tell me that when I was younger, and it’s one of those things I’ve never forgotten. Whether or not that’s a good thing, I’m not sure. Most of my mother’s sayings are like that; my favorite being always expect the worst and you’ll never be disappointed. I’m never sure if that means lower your expectations to avoid disappointment, or if it means the opposite–if you always think the worst is going to happen you’ll make it happen? So confusing. But most of these came from her incredibly pragmatic mother, so I tend to think the former rather than the latter in this case.)

I wrote close to three thousand words yesterday; and yet felt disappointed with my output. Two thirds of them were my short story “Burning Crosses,” which I am enjoying but again am struggling to write and the rest were on the next chapter of the Scotty book, which I actually enjoyed writing. I am hoping to get both this story and maybe two chapters of the Scotty finished this weekend; I want to do some cleaning as well (quelle surprise) and I want to finish reading my Bryan Camp novel so I can blog about it before the release next week. It’s really good, and you NEED to preorder it. Seriously.

I’ve gone back to streaming The Shannara Chronicles, and have seriously gotten sucked into the show. I’ve now watched the first episode of Season Two, and am liking the direction it’s taking. I don’t remember the books; I only read the first two–The Sword of Shannara and The Elfstones of Shannara–and I think the show was culled from the second book on. Paul’s back home now, so it’s going to be tricky watching shows he’s not watching; the Festivals are over and he won’t be home late anymore or working on the weekends.

For the Short Story Project, I offer the following two stories:

First up is “Orange is for Anguish, Blue for Insanity” by David Morrell,  from Lawrence Block’s Alive in Shape and Color.

Van Dorn’s work was controversial, of course. The scandal his paintings caused among Parisian artists in the late 1800s provided the stuff of legend. Disdaining conventions, thrusting beyond accepted theories, Van Dorn seized upon the essentials of his craft to which he’d devoted his soul. Color, design, and texture. With those principles in mind, he created portraits and landscapes so different, so innovative, that their subjects seemed merely an excuse for Van Dorn to put paint upon canvas. His brilliant colors, applied in passionate splotches and swirls, often so thick that they projected an eighth of an inch from the canvas in the manner of a bas-relief, so dominated the viewer’s perception that the person or scene depicted seemed secondary to technique.

Impressionism, the prevailing avant-garde theory of the late 1800s, imitated the eye’s tendency to perceive the edges of peripheral objects as blurs. Van Dorn went one step further and so emphasized the lack of distinction among objects that they seemed to melt together, to merge into an interconnected, pantheistic universe of color. The branches of a Van Dorn tree became ectoplasmic tentacles, thrusting toward the sky and the grass, just as tentacles from the sky and the grass thrust toward the tree, all melding together in a radiant swirl. He seemed to address himself not to the illusions of light but to  reality itself, or at least his theory of it. The tree is the sky, his technique asserted. The grass is the tree, and the sky is grass. All is one.

David Morrell is a long time best selling author, and I’ve met him several times; he’s an incredibly nice man. He’ll always be known as the author of First Blood–he calls himself “Rambo’s Father,” but he’s enjoyed a lot of success throughout his career. This story is one of my favorites from this collection, and perhaps one of the top five new stories I’ve read for the Short Story Project. It’s fan-fucking-tastic; a story about art and obsession and madness and genius; I could devote an entire entry to simply unpacking and deconstructing the themes and symbols and metaphors in this fucking brilliant story. Alive in Shape and Color is a fantastic collection, frankly, that if you like short stories you should definitely read; but this story is so good I would tell you this book is worth the cover price in order to read this story alone. I fricking loved it. LOVED it.

Next up was “The Preacher Collects,” By Gail Levin, from Lawrence Block’s In Sunlight and In Shadow:

They call me “Reverend Sanborn.” I was born Arthayet R. Sanborn, Jr., in Manchester, New Hampshire, sone of Arthayer and Annie Quimby Sanborn. I graduated from Gordon College, a good Christian school in Wenham, Massachusetts, and in Woonsocket, Rhode Island, before I went to Nyack, New York, where I led the First Baptist Church, located on North Broadway. My job came with the security of a home, just next to the church, where I lived with my wife, Ruth, and our four children.

Before long I met at church our neighbor and long-time parishioner, Marion Louise Hopper. An aging spinster, she lived alone in her family’s old house next door to the church. She liked to boast that her younger brother, and only sibling, was a famous artist, named Edward. Edward Hopper, however, appeared to want as little as possible to do with Nyack and his sister.

I didn’t care for this story as much as some others, but it’s well written. It’s about a minister who basically robs Edward Hopper’s work from his sister, who still lives in the family home, but we never really get a sense of why he does this, his justifications for it, and it just moves from this to that to there to this to that to there; it was kind of emotionally flat for me. Of course, I also read this right after the Morrell story in the other collection, and it may very well be that affected my perception of this story. I’ll give it another go at some point, which would be only fair.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Raspberry Beret

I am afraid that the last two short stories I am writing, “Once a Tiger” and “Don’t Look Down,” have stalled for the moment. “Once a Tiger” I just need to step away from for a moment; I am definitely having some issues with that story, and it’s just getting harder. I did start it over yesterday, and do think the changes I made to the beginning make the story stronger, but…yeah, not really sure how to not only end it, but how to get it there. So, I am going to let it sit for a while before getting back to it.

Likewise, “Don’t Look Down”, previously known as the Italy story, isn’t so much that I don’t know how to end it; I do. I really need to go back to the beginning of it and start it over; I didn’t know the ending when I started writing and now that I actually do, I need to go back to the start and weave that story into it. But I opened the file yesterday, looked at it for a hot minute, and then went, not feeling this right now, and closed it again. So, rather than writing anything new, I decided to start editing and rewriting other stories. I also did something that a friend of mine does; I read them out loud to make sure the sentences spoke properly. I do not do that nearly enough, and I found a lot of mistakes in the wording, and I also found a lot of mistakes in the stories that needed correcting. One still needs some more work, but the others are close to being ready for submission. Whether there’s an audience for them or not remains to be seen…because, you see, two of the stories have gay characters.

One of the major problems one faces as a gay author is how limiting writing about gay characters, plots, and themes can be. Yes, we need to tell our stories, but when they are short stories–there’s not really a market for them anywhere. And when you send them to mainstream markets…you’re never sure if they are simply going to be rejected because, you know, gay characters, or if the rejection is because the story’s just not up to snuff. I fucking hate that. Part of the bipolarity of being a gay writer is just that; is my work not good, or is it the gay thing?

But as I was editing the stories and reading them out loud last night, I actually started thinking, you know, you’re actually pretty good at this writing thing. Last year was kind of a bad year for me; it started off with my confidence in my abilities as a writer being shaken to their very core–and let’s be honest, that confidence level has never been particularly high. My parents raised me to always be humble, to never accept compliments without being self-deprecating, to never talk about being good at anything: “if you are, let other people point this out.” As such, the promotional part of being a writer, of having a writing career, has always been difficult for me. Teaching classes about writing has always made me feel like an impostor, always waiting for someone in the back of the room to stand up and scream fraud!

But part of the goals for this year are to stop doubting myself, to stop doubting my abilities, and to believe in myself more. I always tell other writers that rejections don’t necessarily mean you suck, all it means is for whatever reason your work wasn’t right for that editor–as a former editor and an anthologist, I am very well aware that can mean any number of different things, none of which are you suck.

I don’t know why, but reading those stories out loud did something for me, made me recognize that I can, in fact, do this.

And I think the smart thing to do from now on is read my work out loud while editing it.

Thank you, Laura Lippman, for that brilliant advice.

As for the Short Story Project, first up today is  “After Georgia O’Keeffe’s Flower,” by Gail Levin, from Alive in Shape and Color,   Lawrence Block’s anthology I am absolutely loving.

I am so excited that Georgia O’Keeffe has finally agreed to meet with me! Getting her to come around wasn’t easy. At first she wouldn’t even reply to my letters. I kept at it. You know, persisted. Finally I reached her secretary on the phone. When I did get word from O’Keeffe, she complained there had been too many interviewers over the years. When I asked, she admitted that most of them were male journalists.

This story kind of threw me for a loop; it’s really not a crime story at all. It’s about a young feminist art historian meeting one of her idols, and finding that the idol isn’t what she imagined her to be. It’s a poignant story, and one I can certainly relate to: is there anything worse than meeting someone whose work you adore and then discovering that person is nothing like you imagined? That somehow disappoints you, and then you can never enjoy or view their work in the same way again? A really good, thought-provoking story.

Next up is “The Day After Victory,” by Brendan DuBois, from Manhattan Mayhem, edited by Mary Higgins Clark.

It was seven a.m. in Times Square, New York, on Wednesday, August 15, when Leon Foss slowly maneuvered the trash cart–with its huge wheels and two brooms–along the sidewalk near the intersection of Seventh Avenue and West Forty-sixth Street, shaking his head at the sheer amount of trash that was facing him, and the other street sweepers from the Department of Sanitation. He had on the usual “white angel” uniform of white slacks, jacket, and cap–which was stiff and felt new–and never had he seen so much trash. It was almost up to his knees.

Brendan DuBois is one of our genre’s top short-story writers, and his novels are pretty damned good as well. This story, set the day after V-J Day in 1945, is incredibly clever. DuBois gets the period right; I actually felt like I was there on the street with his protagonist that day, and the character is so beautifully drawn that everything he does makes complete and utter sense. He tackles something that I’ve not seen much in WW2 fiction, frankly; how were people who got out of serving viewed? Great, great story; and I would love to see it paired with Joe R. Lansdale’s “Charlie the Barber,” which I talked about earlier this week.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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