That’s All For Everyone

Yesterday I made a to-do list, and this odd sense of calm came down over all of my neuroses. Sure there’s a lot to be done and not much time to do it, but at least yesterday I felt like I could get it all done…now that I had made a list. I have a lot of writing to do, a lot of promotion to plan, and endless endless emails to send and reply to–and of course it’s football season and the heat is beginning to break a bit. I do like the fall, even though I don’t like it getting dark earlier.

I had to proof the galleys of an anthology I am in (just my story, fortunately) and it was quite an odd experience. I barely remembered anything about the story itself; I know how it came to be and how much money they offered me (seriously, y’all, I am very easy. Make me an offer) and I had a vague sense of what it was about, but I’d forgotten most of it, and I don’t really remember much of writing it, either. I know the anthology took a long time to come out, but the cover is lovely and they’ve done a really nice job of art on the interior of the book as well. It was interesting rereading the story, and weird–it’s very weird to not remember something you’ve written, but I guess I have finally reached that point in my life where I can’t remember everything I’ve written or said or done, for that matter–but it’s not bad. It was supposed to be a pulpy sort of story with a horror bent to it, and “A Whisper from the Graveyard” is what I came up with. They also had instructed us to “write something only a gay man can,” so I went back to 1994 or 1995 and had my big gay private eye hired to find a dead man the same day he finds out he is HIV positive. I’ve never written anything like that before; I’ve never written about HIV/AIDS, which is probably another one of those “I should write an essay about this so I can sort out all of my unresolved and long-buried traumas and fears and potential PTSD from those years” things–especially since I’ve worked as a sexual health counselor for the last fourteen years (my first four years I worked on research projects for NO/AIDS before becoming a counselor). I am also trying to address this in my novella “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which I hope to finish in the next year sometime.

I wasn’t terribly tired when I got home last night, and so I did the dishes and cooked dinner (so I would have something for lunch the rest of this week) before Paul and I settled in to watch Dahmer on Netflix (Paul came home all excited because “the new Star Wars show dropped!” and became even more excited when I replied, “And Dahmer dropped on Netflix”–Paul has long been fascinated by serial killers), which was really good and horribly disturbing; Evan Peters is fantastic as Dahmer, and Niecy Nash is golden in anything she does, but yeah–bleak and disturbing, and of course addicting. (When I get home tonight it’s this week’s Real Housewives of Beverly Hills before Paul gets home.) I slept well again last night, and since I had a productive day yesterday (finished pulling on some loose ends, even started working on the book again–Chapter Three is a mess, and I need to fix it before I can move on to Chapter Four and the rest of the story) and made some progress on my to-do list as well. Tonight I can come straight home from the office, and tomorrow of course is “I don’t have to get up at six Friday”, which is marvelous; one good thing about these “get-up-at-six” mornings is that it makes getting up at seven or eight seem almost vacation-like.

Yesterday’s post about erotica writing and my “sordid” past as a gay porn writer also set me to thinking about a lot of things about my past and my career and the direction it has gone. There’s probably a lot more to be said about it, definitely more to unpack, but I also really need to think some more about it and also, reread some of my earlier erotica writing. Revisiting my past works, as I have done a bit over the past few months, has been much more reassuring than worrisome; I had been concerned that the writing wouldn’t hold up or I would be appalled by its amateurishness or something, I don’t know (I don’t need a logical reason to be concerned about my work, really, especially when it’s old, published long ago work) but was pleasantly surprised to see it’s nowhere near as bad as I had convinced myself it was (it’s really a twisted and strange place here inside my head) and there’s always the possibility that I may have written something that could be seen as problematic by today’s standards…and, for the record, I do not think that is a bad thing; it simply means that culture and society continue to evolve to a place where past prejudices and bigotries are being overcome, albeit slowly, and hopefully we’ll gradually get to a place where no one is ever made to feel less than or that they are not welcomed or embraced in society. If that means periodic corrections, and acknowledging mistakes made in the not-so-distant past so be it. We are all learning more and more every day, and I certainly hope that neither my heart nor my compassion will ever become ossified and stop learning, growing and trying to be better.

So, on this glorious and unusual Thursday morning (because I am not walking around in a coma this morning waiting for the coffee to kick in, and I can also tell it’s humid outside this morning, yay), I am looking at the positives and looking forward to getting things stricken from that to-do list I made yesterday afternoon. I am looking forward to getting some writing done this evening, and some reading this weekend–I need to reread My Cousin Rachel so I don’t sound like a fricking moron on that podcast recording on Sunday morning–and maybe, just maybe, I can get my email inbox down to something that doesn’t make my heart sink and my soul diminish just by looking at it.

Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again probably tomorrow morning.

The Long Run

Not only do I write two private eye series, erotica, and the occasional stand alone,  I also, sometimes, write what’s classified as young adult fiction. I have not published anything that could remotely be considered y/a in quite a while, and therein lies a tale (I think the last book I published that could be considered “young adult” was Dark Tide; I could be wrong. I no longer remember when and in what order my non-series books came out).

To be clear, the fact that I even call those books “y/a” even though I don’t really think of them as young adult fiction is a marketing thing, really; in my mind, they’re simply novels I wrote about teenagers. I started writing about teenagers when I actually was one; the stories I wrote in high school weren’t bad, for a teenager, and were the first indication–from my fellow classmates, and my English teacher–that I could seriously become a published writer if I chose to try to do so; the utter lack of seriousness my writing aspirations received from my family was kind of soul-crushing. But I always wanted to write about teenagers, from the very beginnings; I wanted to do my own Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys style series, and then progressed to other stories.

I progressed as a reader pretty quickly when I was growing up; I went from the series books, like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and the Scholastic Book Club mysteries, to Agatha Christie, Charlotte Armstrong, and Ellery Queen when I was around eleven or twelve, if not younger; I know I read both Gone with the Wind and Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots when I was ten. The few books I read that were considered “children’s books” (there was no such thing as young adult fiction then) were books like The Outsiders and The Cat Ate My Gymsuit and I did enjoy them; I just didn’t think of them as either being particularly authentic or realistic. Nor did they have any bearing on my life, or the lives of my friends–I viewed them like youth-oriented television shows like The Brady Bunch, existing in some bizarre alternate universe that has no basis in actual reality or what those of us who were that age were actually experiencing. I always thought there was something missing–complicated and authentic books about the lives of real teenagers and the real issues they faced everyday, without getting into the insanity of the preachy-teachy “issue” books that usually wound up as ABC After-school Specials, which I loathed. 

Not all “issue books” were bad, in all fairness; some, like Lisa Bright and Dark, about a girl struggling with mental illness whose parents refused to face their daughter’s reality, so her friends tried to help her by serving as amateur psychologists, and  I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, about a teenaged girl in a mental hospital dealing with her illness were actually quite good. But I loved books like The Cheerleader, about a poor girl in a small New England town with ambitions and dreams that far exceeded those of most of her friends…dealing with issues of popularity, sex, and first love.  David Marlow’s Yearbook was also a favorite, and while not marketed to kids, was about high school, but had some themes and plot-lines considered far too heavy for teens to digest in the 1970’s. You can also see it in the pap that was considered movies for teenagers; G-rated bubble-gum like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, and inevitably came from Disney and starred Kurt Russell. (These movies are an interesting time capsule; I did try to watch one of them recently on Disney Plus and didn’t last three minutes in that squeaky clean, sex-free college environment.)

(Also, I would like to point out at this time there were terrific books being published in the 1970’s for teens that dealt with major issues and were groundbreaking; Sandra Scoppetone was writing about queer teens back then, and there were some others doing terrific work at the time–I just wasn’t aware of those books until much later.)

My first three young adult novels–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara–were written as first drafts in the early 1990’s, put in a drawer, and forgotten about for nearly twenty years. Sorceress  had no queer content in it at all; it was my version of the truly popular trope of romantic/domestic suspense where an orphaned girl goes to live in a spooky mansion far away from her old life (Jane Eyre, Rebecca, almost everything written by Victoria Holt), and slowly becomes aware that everything in the house isn’t as it seems. It was a lot of fun to write–I loved those books and I loved putting a modern spin on them. Sleeping Angel’s first draft was never completed, and the published version is vastly different than what the original first draft contained; there are still some vestiges of the original plot there in the book that are never truly explained, and by the time I realized, after many drafts, that I hadn’t removed those vestiges from the book it was too late to do anything about it other than hope no one noticed. The book did well, won an award or two, and is still a favorite of my readers, according to what I see on social media. One of the things I added to the story was a queer subplot about bullying, which is what I think readers truly responded to, and I also feel like adding that to the story in addition to the other changes I made to it made it a stronger book. Sara was always intended to have gay characters and a gay plot; I originally started writing it as a novel for adults and realized, over the course of writing it, that actually the teenage story was the most interesting part and I could deal with some issues there if I switched the focus of the book to the teenagers. One thing that changed from the 1991 first draft to the draft that was published is that the character I originally had being bullied for being gay, even though he wasn’t (another character, one of the biggest bullies, actually was), was actually not only gay but had come out, and so the book also talked about the reverberations of a popular football coming out, and what impact that had on the school social structure and hierarchy.

Sara, incidentally, is one of my lowest selling titles–which also kind of breaks my heart a little bit.

Since those three, there have been others I’ve written–Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide–and I’ve also dabbled in what is called “new adult fiction”–books about college-age or just out of college-age characters–this is where The Orion Mask and Timothy and the current one I’m working on, Bury Me in Shadows, fall on the marketing spectrum.

One of the questions I had to deal with in writing young adult novels with queer content was the question of sex. I had already been through being banned in Virginia because I had written gay erotica (a really long story that I revisited recently with Brad Shreve on his podcast; I really do need to write in depth about the entire experience); what would happen if ‘notorious gay porn writer’ Greg Herren began writing fiction specifically aimed at teenagers? But the truly interesting thing about being used as a political pawn by the right-wing fanatics in the power games they play is that once they’ve made use of you, they forget about you and move on. My young adult fiction was released without a single complaint, protest, or any of the sturm und drang that my speaking at a high school to a group of queer and queer-supportive youth created scant years earlier.

Interesting, isn’t it?

And yet…there is no sex in any of those books. None. I don’t  remember my gay teens even getting a chaste kiss, let alone a sex life, or fantasies, or a boyfriend.

And what about desire?

A couple of years ago someone tagged me on Facebook on an article about just that very subject; that was when I started writing this post (three yeara ago, looks like) but I never finished writing this until this morning.

Go ahead and read it. I’ll wait.

Okay, welcome back. Some interesting points, no?

Now, check out this one. 

I know, it’s a lot of information to process, but it’s something we should all be thinking about, particularly as the calls for diversity in publishing and popular culture continue. Sex is, quite obviously, a touchy subject when it comes to young adult fiction, but when it comes to questions of sexuality and being a sexual minority, what is too much and what is not enough? Even depictions of straight sexuality is frowned on and controversial when it comes to young adult fiction. (For the record, that is also considered the case for crime fiction–no explicit sex scenes–or at least so I was told when I was first getting started; doubly ironic that my mystery series were what the right-wing Virginian fanatics considered porn–I really do need to write about that.)

I also have noticed the elitism evident in hashtags like #ownvoices and #weneeddiversevoices that have come and gone and return periodically on Twitter; those actively involved in promoting those tags, when it comes to queer books, make it abundantly clear they only care about those published by the Big Five in New York–which is a good target, I agree, and they do need to be doing better when it comes to diversity and “own voices” work–but this focus also ignores the small presses, particularly the queer ones, who have been doing this work all along and making sure queer books were still being published for all ages and getting out there and made available to those who want and need them. I am absolutely delighted to see queer books by queers being published by the Big 5, and young adult work in particular…and yet…there are some serious issues still with the Big 5–and with what is called ” young adult Twitter”.

I do find it interesting to see who they decide are the “cool kids” and who they banish to the outer tables with the freaks and geeks.

It’s part of the reason I don’t engage with young adult twitter, to be honest. I really have no desire to return to the high school cafeteria at this point in my life.

And I’ll write about teenagers whenever there’s a story I want to tell involving teenagers–which currently is the Kansas book; I turned my protagonist in Bury Me in Shadows into a college student because it actually works better.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. (And huzzah for finally finishing this post!)

Breaking Us in Two

Sunday. It’s one degree warmer than yesterday morning–wow, right? But you will undoubtedly be thrilled to know that I get everything on my list done yesterday other than go to the gym; and after spending two hours in the storage unit moving boxes of books around, I was pretty damned exhausted physically, and then braved Costco on a Saturday afternoon (it wasn’t bad at all, other than stupid people, which is every day). I also came across some books in the storage that I thought hey, these need to be reread and so I took them out. One of them was Richard Matheson’s Hell House, which seemed, at least to me, to be the proper reread after The Haunting of Hill House, in that they’re very similar; one could even go so far as to say Matheson basically took Jackson’s story structure and turned the dial up a notch. I am enjoying the reread very much; although I’m not very far into it thus far. I also found my copy of Michael Rowe’s groundbreaking anthology Queer Fear, which I reviewed in the Lambda Book Report many years ago when I worked there, and was to be my first encounter with Mr. Rowe; I remember he came up to me at the Lambda Awards the next year, introduced himself, and thanked me for the lovely review. We’ve crossed paths a few times since, and have become friends over the years. I do remember loving Queer Fear, and look forward to delving into it and rereading its short stories again.

I also found my high school scrapbook and my diaries from the 1990’s. I used to buy blank books and carry them around with me everywhere, so I could jot down story and/or book ideas, or write diary entries whenever I wanted to. I am always hesitant to reread my old diaries; I often wince from my immaturity and my over-dramatization of events in my life. Yet at the same time, the diaries also served as a very vital source of self-reflection and self-examination; I suppose this blog has served that purpose since I started it on Livejournal back in 2004 (the idea that I have been consistently blogging for thirteen years rather staggers the mind, doesn’t it? But I’ve been writing in a diary of some sort, off and on, since I was a teenager; this seems to be a natural continuation of that process).

I also found the three ring binder where I kept everything from the Virginia situation of 2005 and 2006; including the ACLU letter to the school board. I’d always intended to write a non-fiction book about it all, called Gay Porn Writer, in which I examined what happened to me in the context, not only of the times but extrapolating it out further into what was going on in publishing and the culture. My memory lies to me now, of course, so I am not certain that I’ll ever write such a book–I don’t know that I would remember things correctly, and even then, what is colored by my perceptions of things. I’ve since moved on, of course–I mentioned the incident in passing on my panel at Bouchercon and had to explain it a little, which was kind of crazy. It was so long ago, and I used to get invited to speak about it all the time. The memories are now hazy and unclear, but I am definitely going to keep all this information.

You never know.

I think I am probably just going to scan everything in the scrapbook, in order to preserve it electronically, and then throw it away. I don’t really need to keep programs from my high school football games, or from choir concerts, and scanning them will better preserve them anyway.

I have one errand to run today, and I also want to go to the gym for a little bit, start dipping my feet back into the water of working out regularly, and despite the cold, I am going to give that a try.

And hopefully, I’ll get some writing done, or at least something done that will move all projects forward.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you:

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