Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)

Tuesday morning, and my windows are covered in condensation. Nothing new there, of course, but at least I can see blue sky and sunshine through the beads of water. Perhaps today will be our first day this summer without rain? Stranger things have, of course, happened.

I got quite a bit done on the line edit yesterday; at some point I am going to have to input all of this work into the e-document, and I will be very curious to see how much I wind up cutting. As I go through the manuscript, line by line, I am amazed at how often I repeat myself, or how often an entire paragraph is simply a series of sentences saying the same thing only in different words. A very strong push this week, and I might actually have the entire line edit finished by the end of the weekend. It’s not very likely to happen, but there’s always a possibility. My friend Lisa will be in town later this week, and I am going to try to see her for at least a drink and perhaps dinner. I don’t see her enough as it is.

I also got some work done on the Scotty book yesterday as well. The story is starting to take shape in my mind, and I need to get a strong first chapter together before I can get going on the rest. I am trying to take what I can from the several different versions of a first chapter I’ve already started; I think I can make the whole thing come together–at any rate, that’s my goal for today. I hope to get at least two more chapters finished this week, if not more. I also want to revise a short story. It will, I suppose, depend on how much energy and how much time I have.

I am still processing Sunday’s episode of Game of Thrones, “The Spoils of War,” and I also can’t stop thinking about Owen Matthews’ The Fixes. There’s an essay I’d like to write, about straight people writing gay characters that reading this book put into my mind, but it’s not really taking form and I am not really sure if it will–the curse of a creative imagination; too many ideas. But The Fixes is so incredibly well written and well done you’d never know that Owen Matthews himself isn’t gay; but really, if you have any experience whatsoever with alienation, you should be able to write believable gay characters; alienation is the key, now that I think about more deeply, and I wish I had thought of that before I taught my character building workshop at SinC Into Good Writing last September here in New Orleans.

Alienation, in fact, is a constant theme in Harlan Ellison’s oh-so-brilliant work.

Paul and I are thinking about going to see Dunkirk this weekend; whether we actually do or not remains to be seen. I have to work on Saturday, and as such my weekend shall be Sunday and Monday; having a Monday off will actually be rather lovely.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines before I head into the office.

Here’s a Tuesday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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Take a Chance on Me

And it’s done. I turned the manuscript of The Book That Would Never Be Finished last night in to my editor, and now all I have to do is write an essay due by the end of the month whilst I wait on edits on three, count ’em, three, manuscripts. Huzzah! I cannot even begin to express to you, Constant Reader, how absolutely delightful it is to be finished with that. I am torn as to whether it is any good or not–like I am whenever I turn in a manuscript–maybe someday that sense of being an absolute phony who’s managed to fool people into thinking I am a writer will go away…and yet, over thirty books in print later, not so much.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Someday. I keep telling myself that someday I will be more confident about my writing.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I did finish reading Harlan Ellison’s “Grail” last night, and enjoyed it. It’s a very good story; I don’t think it has the emotional impact of his best stories–then again, maybe if I’d had the time to read it all the way through in one sitting, it might have–but it’s quite enjoyable.

Years later, when he was well into young adulthood, Christopher Caperton write about it in the journal he had begun to keep when he turned twenty-one. The entry had everything to do with the incident, though he had totally forgotten it.

What he wrote was this: The great tragedy of my life is that in my search for the Holy Grail everyone calls True Love, I see myself as Zorro, a romantic and mysterious highwayman–and the women I desire see me as Porky Pig.

The incident lost to memory that informed his observation had taken place fourteen years earlier, in 1953 when he was thirteen years old.

During a Halloween party from which chaperoning adults had been banished, it was suggested that the boys and girls play a kissing game called “flashlight.” All the lights were turned off, everyone paired up, and one couple held a flashlight. If you were caught kissing when the flashlight was turned on you, then it became your turn to hold and flash while others had free rein to neck and fondle in the dark.

Aside: does anyone still say ‘neck/necking’ in reference to making out?

“Grail” is just that; Christopher spends the rest of his life looking for the holiest of Holy Grails, True Love–which isn’t, as one might think, about finding the right person, but is actually a thing, an object; he traces it and spends his entire life on the quest for it. It’s an allegory of sorts, but as always, Ellison’s writing and characterization is superb. I do recommend this story; it’s in his collection Stalking the Nightmare.

I also realized last night, in my excited frenzy about finishing the book, that I actually have Laura Lippman’s short story collection, Hardly Knew Her, and even better, I have not read it (although I’ve read some of the stories already, in other collections), and I literally rubbed my hands together in glee. I will be reading one of those stories today, to discuss tomorrow.

Life is good.

And in honor of the quest for True Love depicted in “Grail”, here’s a sexy Cupid for you.

If I Were You

So, I bought a car yesterday.

It probably might seem strange to you that I bought my first new car ever at the age of fifty-five; every other car I’ve ever had was used, and most often bought from my parents after having been in service for a minimum of ten years. It was in 2008 that I bought my first used car from someone other than my parents; a few months later I had to buy another. Yet this is my first ever brand new, from the dealer, new-car-smell-and-all new car, complete with financing and everything.

Who knew car insurance for a financed car was so much? YIKES.

I am not going to post a picture of the car, though, because I am superstitious. When I got rid of the Flying Couch and bought the Honda from Jean, I was very excited about it and posted pictures of it on here, Facebook, and everywhere. Less than two months later the car was totaled, so no, not doing THAT again–especially since the new car is ALSO a Honda. It’s a CR-V, and I love it. Do I love being that far in debt? No…but I hope to have the car completely paid off in a year or so. I have a plan.

It’s kind of strange, frankly, having a brand new car and ridding myself of the ‘oh, I hate to drive’ mentality. I’m not a fan of driving, no matter what I am actually driving, but now…now having a car that I don’t have to worry about breaking down while I’m on the road, and has power steering and a quality sound system and…well, now driving over to the beach won’t be a big deal, or heading up to Lafayette, or even driving over to Houston to visit la Becks and see the new Compound and spend money at Murder by the Book, or even just driving to the West Bank or to the burbs to shop, or go visit the Chalmette battlefield…the possibilities are endless.

I’m behind on my short story reading–I’m reading an Ellison story called “Grail,” which I hope to finish today, but the bizarre combination of buying a new car and then working late and everything has left me discombobulated.

I’m currently making dinner–shrimp and grits–and have a lot to get done tonight, so I am going to close this out with a shot of a hot guy with a car.

The Nightmare

Halfway through the week! It’s all downhill to the THREE DAY WEEKEND now.

Huzzah!

Tomorrow I have to work late again–woo-hoo, bar testing!–and I have some errands to run during the day before I head in to the office. I didn’t sleep very well last night, so am hoping–with my long day tomorrow–that I will get some good sleep tonight. I think I will. I also have to stop at the Rouses on my way home from work tonight to get some things and pick up Paul–his office being a block from the grocery store has certainly worked out to his advantage–and then hopefully can relax a bit this evening before going to bed. I am kind of tired today and really just want to curl up into a ball and go to sleep…but that’s just not going to happen. Heavy heaving sigh. It’s also raining, which also makes me drowsy.

Heavy sigh.

I did manage to read another Harlan Ellison story, “Cold Friend,” last night.

Because I had died of cancer of the lymph glands, I was the only one saved when the world disappeared. The name for it was “spontaneous remission,” and as I understand it, it is not uncommon in the world of medicine. There is no explanation for it that any two physicians will agree upon, but it happens every so often. Your first question will be: why are you writing this if everyone else in the world is gone? And my answer is: should I disappear, and should things change, there should be some small record available to whomever or whatever comes along.

“Cold Friend” is an odd little story; and I’m still digesting it, to be honest. I probably will have to reread it, because usually I know what Ellison is doing in the story–and I am not really sure what he is doing with this story.

Eugene, our main character, is still alive; but the only thing left of the world is a three block section of Hanover, New Hampshire, and he spends some time explaining what is left of the world, discovering some odd things about it–like the food in the supermarket never spoils, the power and water is still on, but the phones don’t work, and there are no people anywhere. The world just vanishes at the edge of his little section that has somehow survived, and at first, he has to fight off attacks from individual enemies like a Viking, a Hun, and a Goth. Eventually, a woman shows up and joins him, and they become friends…but Eugene isn’t used to women and has never done well with them, so it’s a bit rocky.

Curious and unsettling, very well written as everything by Ellison is, I wouldn’t call this one of my favorites of his stories, but I did enjoy it.

And now back to the spice mines.

Since Eugene was dying of cancer in a hospital, here’s a sexy doctor.

One More Try

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away…I used to post my opinions about hot-button topics, both here and on social media. In some ways, this blog began for two reasons, thirteen years ago (!): first, to get me writing again and second, so I could talk, here, about things no one else would let me, or pay me, to write about. It was the midst of the Bush administration, and the 2004 election, in which homophobia and fear of the gays was used to get people out to vote–and to vote against the queer community’s rights and realities and humanity, if you want to boil it down to its ugliest truth–and having just lived through the brutality of a hate crime, I needed a place to vent. And vent I did, for many years. I did realize that there was a bit of the “preaching to the choir” element to this; no one who would actually learn anything from something I posted was likely to read it, and I finally realized a few years ago that arguing with someone on social media rarely, if ever, did anything besides raise my blood pressure and ruin my day. And my time is so precious that I hated wasted it in any way when I could be productive with that time instead. I also realized that I am a gay man and an author; if you know those two things about me you pretty much should be able to figure out what my positions are on social and political issues. (I still love the one-star review I got on Amazon for one of my Chanse books, where the complaint was about how I “used my book to promote my liberal agenda.” Because of course a novel by a gay man with a gay main character is your usual go-to for a conservative point of view?)

Occasionally, I will post when something is so egregious it cannot be ignored; the Trayvon Martin murder was one of those. But I am digressing. The point of today’s entry in Short Story Month is to talk about freedom of speech; which is also apparently a hot button topic. I personally have grown incredibly weary of people arguing about censorship and freedom of speech when they don’t know what the hell they are talking about; in the United States, yes, we do have freedom of speech, but that only pertains to the government. To wit, here is the actual language of the First Amendment to the Constitution:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

In other words, the government is prohibited from censoring speech, or abridging free speech in any way. There have been rulings by the Supreme Court that have inhibited free speech in some way; but please note that nowhere does that amendment guarantee anyone a platform, or freedom from the consequences of their free speech; only that the government itself cannot stop someone from having a platform, nor punish anyone for using their right to free speech.

It is astonishing how people will bleat about their right to free speech, or scream censorship, while trying to tamp down on someone else’s right to free speech. If I say something homophobic or sexist or racist, there are consequences from the free market I would have to face as an author; boycotts, attacks on social media, and so forth–and I would never try to stop anyone from doing so; as long as the government is not involved everyone has that right to protest me for things I’ve said or done, or boycott me, or whatever as long as they don’t threaten to harm me or my loved ones physically. (And for the record, this HAS happened to me.)

Do I find Ann Coulter and Milo whatever his name is reprehensible? Yes, they are vile people, and the things they write and the things they say in the public forum revolt me. Do I think they should be banned? No, I don’t. But cutting off Milo or whatever his name is’ Twitter account for violating their terms of service is NOT censorship or inhibiting his freedom of speech. Twitter is not a public utility, and he agreed to those terms of service when he signed up for a Twitter account. He violated those terms, and thus was banned from the site.

Which brings me to today’s story, “Knox”, by Harlan Ellison, which I read in his collection Approaching Oblivion.

“Knox” is…well, it’s Ellison at his most provocative, his most thought-provoking, and his most subversive. The story was originally published in Crawdaddy magazine in 1974 (is Crawdaddy still around?), and while that was definitely a different time, the language used in the story is kind of raw in the present day–and yet it is precisely the kind of story that people need to read.

I am not going to quote from the story because the language is so raw and racist and prejudiced and bigoted; yet the story itself is powerful because of the language Ellison uses. He uses every word that has ever been used as a pejorative for any racial or ethic minority, including the n word (IN THE FIRST SENTENCE). It’s a bit jarring, because I can’t even use the word as a quote; but they are all here in the story. Knox, the title character, works in a factory under a Fascist type government but also is part of a ‘neighborhood watch’, whose focus is to ferret out anti-government sentiment, treason, and those who aren’t basically of white European descent. Knox at the beginning of the story is a part of the watch, hoping to become a member of the “Party” so he can advance at work…and over the course of the story, as Knox becomes more and more a member of the party and a tool of the government, no longer thinking, loyalty to the party more important than friends and family…well, it’s very chilling.

And sadly, I don’t think such a story–because of the language–would get published today.

But that’s a part of why I love Ellison so much; even as he writes about inhumanity, there is so much humanity there. Knox becomes a horrible, horrible person…but you also see it happening and you also understand how it happens…and that makes it even more powerful, and awful. This, you see, is how normal, every day lovely German people became Nazis.

And now, back to the spice mines. Here’s a hunk:

Not That Funny

I am awake but groggy. I slept late, am guzzling coffee, and am thinking that I may put off going to Costco until tomorrow. Today might be a stay at home, laze around, get some stuff done when and if I feel like it day. I have a bit of the ‘just turned in the book’ malaise, that bizarre funk where I just feel a bit dazed for a couple of days. Which is fine, of course, although I need to really get to work on the next. I see reading A Head Full of Ghosts in my future. I also have a Christmas party to attend this evening.

Yesterday I managed to find that Twilight Zone episode I was talking about, “Paladin of the Lost Hour,” based on the Harlan Ellison short story that is definitely one of my favorites of all time. It’s on Youtube, and if you have about thirty-two minutes to spare, it’s definitely worth watching.

Click here.

Sure, watching it now you can tell it was filmed in the 1980’s–the little bit of special effects used were especially cheesy–but the greatness of the story still comes through; it’s speculative fiction, sure, but the real strength and greatness of the story is in its human elements. And Danny Kaye is fantastic.

I found it because I was googling the story to find out which collection it’s in–it’s not in The Essential Ellison, sadly–and I wanted to read it again, only to discover you can actually read it on-line as a pdf here.

And yes, the story as written is so much more powerful than the actual teleplay–which I believe was also written by Ellison.

The story opens with two men in a small cemetery; one is quite old and visiting the grave of his beloved wife, lost to him for twenty years. He is set upon by a couple of young hoodlums determined to rob him; they are fought off and driven away by another man in the cemetery who sees it happening and comes to the old man’s rescue. The two men develop a bond, although the rescuer is a little stand-offish and the older man has to earn his trust. The old man’s name is Gaspar, and he is quite charming and a bit opinionated. The younger man, Billy, who is haunted still by something that happened to him in Vietnam.

THIS WAS AN OLD MAN. Not an incredibly old man; obsolete, spavined; not as worn as the sway-backed stone steps ascending the Pyramid of the Sun to an ancient temple; not yet a relic. But even so, a very old man, this old man perched on an antique shooting stick, its handles open to form a seat, its spike thrust at an angle into the soft ground and trimmed grass of the cemetery. Gray, thin rain misted down at almost the same, angle as that at which the spike pierced the ground. The winter-barren trees lay flat and black against an aluminum sky, unmoving in the chill wind. An old man sitting at the foot of a grave mound whose headstone had tilted slightly when the earth had settled; sitting in the rain and speaking to someone below.

“They tore it down, Minna.

“I tell you, they must have bought off a councilman.

“Came in with bulldozers at six o’clock in the morning, and you know that’s not legal. There’s a Municipal Code. Supposed to hold off till at least seven on weekdays, eight on the weekend; but there they were at six, even before six, barely light for godsakes. Thought they’d sneak in and do it before the neighborhood got wind of it and call the landmarks committee. Sneaks: they come on holidays, can you imagine!

“But I was out there waiting for them, and I told them, ‘You can’t do it, that’s Code number 91.03002, subsection E,’ and they lied and said they had special permission, so I said to the big muckymuck in charge, ‘Let’s see your waiver permit,’and he said the Code didn’t apply in this case because it was supposed to be only for grading, and since they were demolishing and not grading, they could start whenever they felt like it. So I told him I’d call the police, then, because it came under the heading of Disturbing the Peace, and he said . . . well, I know you hate that kind of language, old girl, so I won’t tell you what he said, but you can imagine.

“So I called the police, and gave them my name, and of course they didn’t get there till almost quarter after seven (which is what makes me think they bought off a councilman), and by then those ‘dozers had leveled most of it. Doesn’t take long, you know that.

“And I don’t suppose it’s as great a loss as, maybe, say, the Great Library of Alexandria, but it was the last of the authentic Deco design drive-ins, and the carhops still served you on roller skates, and it was a landmark, and just about the only place left in the city where you could still get a decent grilled cheese sandwich pressed very flat on the grill by one of those weights they used to use, made with real cheese and not that rancid plastic they cut into squares and call it ‘cheese food.’

“Gone, old dear, gone and mourned. And I understand they plan to put up another one of those mini-malls on the site, just ten blocks away from one that’s already there, and you know what’s going to happen: this new one will drain off the traffic from the older one, and then that one will fall the way they all do when the next one gets built, you’d think they’d see some history in it; but no, they never learn, And you should have seen the crowd by seven-thirty. All ages, even some of those kids painted like aborigines, with torn leather clothing. Even they came to protest. Terrible language, but at least they were concerned. And nothing could stop it. They just whammed it, and down it went.

“I do so miss you today, Minna. No more good grilled cheese.” Said the very old man to the ground. And now he was crying softly, and now the wind rose, and the mist rain stippled his overcoat.

Nearby, yet at a distance, Billy Kinetta stared down at another grave. He could see the old man over there off to his left, but he took no further notice. The wind whipped the vent of his trenchcoat. His collar was up but rain trickled down his neck. This was a younger man, not yet thirty-five. Unlike the old man, Billy Kinetta neither cried nor spoke to memories of someone who had once listened. He might have been a geomancer, so silently did he stand, eyes toward the ground.

One of these men was black; the other was white.

THAT is great writing. The story, which I read again last night, moved me to tears again; just as the cheesy 1980’s production of the beautifully written teleplay did as I watched it again. All of Ellison’s stories are engaging, superbly written; he writes about enormous themes and yet his characters, his situations, are incredibly real and relatable. He writes about the human condition, and humanity; and often he writes of humanity’s loss of humanity, if that makes sense. Ellison was the person who introduced the all-encompassing term speculative fiction as the tent that contains science fiction, fantasy, and horror; he is a master of all of them.

I’m really looking forward to rereading the stories I’ve already read; and I am also looking forward to reading stories of his I’ve not read. I encourage you, if you’re not read Ellison but are a fan of great writing, to click on the previous link and read “Paladin of the Lost Hour”; I would be very surprised if you didn’t want to read more. His website is at Ellison Webderland; you can find information there about the project (and possibly donate) to digitize all of his writing so it won’t be lost.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

Here’s another French farmer.

That’s All For Everyone

Good morning. I finished Wicked Frat Boy Ways yesterday and turned it in. I am now in that weird afterglow of it’s done! it’s done! and oh my God it’s probably the worst piece of crap ever turned in to an editor.

Such is life as a writer.

I have decided that January is going to be yet another attempt at Short Story Month for me, in which I try to read, and blog about, a short story every day. I have tried this before, and have failed, but yesterday’s mail brought copies of Harlan Ellison’s The Beast That Shouted Love at the Heart of the World, Strange Wine, Stalking the Nighmare, and Approaching Oblivion, so there is THAT, and I have lots of anthologies and single author collections haunting my shelves and my iPad.

I am also looking forward to reacquainting myself with some of Ellison’s short stories, and discovering new ones.

I am going to spend this weekend getting ready to dive headlong into finishing the next book, due on January 1, getting caught up and varied sundries that have fallen through the cracks, perhaps outlining the new book I started writing this past week, writing an essay that’s due soon, and maybe crafting/editing some other short stories that have been lying around unfinished or in need of a second go-round. My plans for the weekend are obviously rather ambitious, and I won’t get everything done I need to, but I also don’t think it’s a bad idea to have lots of plans; even if I feel like a complete and utter loser when I don’t accomplish everything I set out to. I also want to finish reading A Head Full of Ghosts as well as start reading something new; and there’s lots of organizing and cleaning in the kitchen/office that definitely needs to be taken care of.

It truly never ends.

The weather here has also finally turned; it’s chilly and I have to wear sleeves and head covering–probably what most people would call fall or autumn; what we consider the start our brief winter. It’s kind of gray out there today; but it is Friday which is lovely.

All right, I need to get my day started.

Here’s a hunk from the French Farmers calendar.