Rhythm is Gonna Get You

Thanksgiving Eve is here, and I am about to make my famous mac’n’cheese for the office potluck. Yes, I am going into the office on one of my vacation days, but there are worse things I could do. I have some errands to run today anyway, so after I leave the office I shall run them. It’s also payday, so I get to spend a moment or two or three paying the bills this morning. Yay? I guess I should just be grateful I can pay the bills, right? I have a book to pick up at the library and the mail, and I should also stop and get some groceries while I am out; not a major shopping expedition–perhaps enough to get us through until Saturday, as I am not going anywhere near any place to shop on Friday.

That would be madness.

And while that will make a dent in my day, it’s fine. I’ll just do some cleaning and organizing–my electronic files, particularly in the cloud, where I just throw things with a flippant I’ll worry about organizing them later mentality on an almost daily basis, with the end result that the files are a complete and utter mess. I also want to get some more work done on reimagining the current book. I’m now torn as to whether the first chapter is necessary or not; or if I should simply start the book with his arrival at Birmingham airport. There’s something a bit cliche about starting a book with your main character arriving at an airport, and that also would mean a shit ton of back story to shoehorn in, so that it all makes sense–so there, I’ve just worked that out in real time, see how a writer works? I struggled with revising the first chapter yesterday, so naturally my mind went to, this is hard maybe I can just cut the chapter. 

Always, always, always looking for the easiest, laziest way to do something. Shameful, really.

I also managed to waste some time yesterday trying to track down George Washington Cable’s stories about Madame LaLaurie. A post by the Preservation Resource Center here about the LaLaurie house on Facebook yesterday led me down into that wormhole; I shared the post along with the comment I am going to write about the LaLaurie house of horrors someday (see: Monsters of New Orleans) and someone commented that Cable had written short stories about Madame LaLaurie (who is probably most famous outside of New Orleans due to her being a character on American Horror Story: Coven, played by Kathy Bates), and so then I went for a deep dive, trying to see if I could find copies of the stories on-line. I got sidetracked into Project Gutenberg for a while, where I found his novella Madame Delphine, which was NOT about Delphine LaLaurie. I did eventually find the stories I was looking for, and will read them at some point.

Cable is not the only writer from the past to write about New Orleans and Louisiana history that I’ve not read; I’ve also not read much of Arnett Kane or Robert Tallant or Lafcadio Hearn or Lyle Saxon; some, but not much. I’m not entirely sure they are completely trustworthy as sources, but I am going to read them for ideas at the very least. I also need to spend some time at the Williams Research Center and the Historic New Orleans Collection, as well as the Louisiana Research Center at Tulane. I’m greatly enjoying these little journeys into New Orleans’ past that I’ve been taking over the last year; I am still reading Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which is giving me a definite feel for colonial New Orleans, which is going to be enormously helpful.

Especially for this Sherlock Holmes in New Orleans short story I’ve agreed to write; which will also entail reading some Holmes stories, to get a feel for the vibe and the tone and the voice. I’m enormously fortunate that I have two dear friends who are Sherlockians, and have agreed to read my story before I turn it in for pointers and notes and so forth.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time for me to head into the spice mines. I have a lot of cheese to grate for the mac’n’cheese….have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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50 Ways to Leave Your Lover

Saturday morning and I am swilling coffee in the Tennessee Williams Suite at the Monteleone Hotel. I slept much better than I would have thought last night–the bed is ridiculously comfortable here–but that also may have had to do with the dirty vodka martini I had last night with dinner. I have to, once I finish writing this, get a bit cleaned up, swill more coffee, and start trying to work on my moderating duties for my panel this afternoon–a mystery panel at the Muriel’s location, with Alafair Burke, Samantha Downing, and Kirstien Hemmerichts. I’ve read their most recent books (Samantha’s is her debut, My Lovely Wife) and while I’ve not yet met Samantha, I did meet Kirstien at the opening reception at the Historic New Orleans Collection last night. I’m hoping to ask some interesting questions and have a terrific discussion about women in crime fiction–both as characters and as writers. I have been a long time advocate, as Constant Reader should know, of women writers, particularly in the crime genre. So, we shall see how this goes. Tomorrow I have another panel (for Saints and Sinners) and a reading to do (I am going to read “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which I know is probably not the self-promotional thing to do; I should read from Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, since it’s my new release–again begging the question how do I have a career?)

I also had a lovely dinner at G. W. Fins last night with the amazing Alafair Burke and the equally amazing Sarah Weinman (you really need to read her The Real Lolita); what can I say other than #ilovemylife? The dinner was superb, the service exceptional, and the conversation? The kind of thing I used to dream about when I was a teenager, late at night, before I fell asleep and dreamed my big dreams.

And hopefully, tomorrow after everything is over I’ll be able to head home and start putting the house back together after TERMITE ARMAGEDDON. I’m going to have to do a lot of laundry and a lot of loads for the dishwasher, so the sooner I can get a jump on doing that the better, obviously, since I have to return to work on Tuesday morning. It’s not like I wanted to spend my day Monday cleaning the house thoroughly and doing all that laundry and those loads of dishes, but it has to be done and I don’t really have a choice; supposedly the gas dissipates on its own but doesn’t it get in the fabrics and so forth, and better safe than sorry? Plus, it gives me an excuse to clean out the cabinets and the drawers…so yes, part of my evening tomorrow will be figuring out a more efficient way to use the cabinets and the drawers….because it’s always an ongoing thing, you know? (My spice rack actually might be something I throw away; I don’t use the stuff in it very much and it takes up counter space and collects dust.)

I do have some writing to do–website stuff–that is due on Monday, so I’ll probably get to work on that after my panel this afternoon.

Okay, and on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me!

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New Year’s Day

Ah, the annual setting of goals.

1. Getting in better shape. Self-care is important, and there are fewer, easier ways to take care of one’s self than taking regular exercise. But self-care isn’t just the physical; it’s also the mental. So, I need to focus on taking care of myself mentally and emotionally as well as physically. I want to try to get a massage at least every other month, to help with that; and I also think I’m going to start practicing meditation and yoga. I’ve always liked doing yoga, and I need to stretch more regularly. The yoga-toes have already helped with my feet and leg-joint issues, and I need to use techniques to keep myself from feeling pressured. One of the reasons I stopped signing book contracts without having written the book already is because of the pressure deadlines put me under; I still don’t deal with those too well and I simply need to work on my own patience.

2. Finding an agent. This is still incredibly important; I cannot move to the next level of being a professional writer without an agent negotiating for me. I should have done this long ago, and I need to take this all very seriously going forward. I’ve been collecting names of agents and agencies over the last couple of years, but I still don’t have anything to show them. I sent the first fifty pages of the Kansas book out to some agents last year, and got no interest. Which is fine, it was more of a if you don’t ever start doing this you never will thing. But now that I’ve taken the Kansas book back to the drawing board, I think it’s time to accept that trying to make the Kansas book work is like trying to make fetch happen; it’s probably not going to ever be a thing. Which, while sad, is okay. I can always reuse what I’ve done for something else. But it’s also kind of freeing to let it go and think, okay, what else have I got up my sleeve? It’s only failure if I choose to view it that way, and I’m choosing not to; I did some good work on that manuscript and it may work out in some other way.

3. The Diversity Project. I had a lot of success with the Short Story Project, so I’ve decided to add a new reading project to my 2019: reading diverse books by diverse writers. First off, it’s a shame that I am having to make this a project in the first place; I should already be reading diverse authors. I’ve been buying books by minority writers for quite some time now and adding them to the TBR pile…and yet somehow those books never seem to manage to make it up to the top of the pile. What is that about, I wonder? But it’s definitely a thing, and I need to do something about it. I live for the day when I don’t even have to think about my choices because diversity has become commonplace; but I can’t talk the talk if I don’t walk the walk. How can I expect non-gay people to read my gay books if I don’t make an effort to make diverse reading choices myself? And I have a lot of these books on hand already. So why buy more books (always the question) when I have so many to read, so many to choose from? I will blog about these books as well, and I am going to do my part to try to diversify the crime genre and my own reading.

4. The Short Story Project. Let’s face it, I wouldn’t have read nearly as many short stories in 2018 had I not made a point out of doing so, and I have not come anywhere near reading all the anthologies and single-author collections I have on hand, so I am going to renew this project for 2019. I think it’s made me a better short story writer, and I’ve certainly enjoyed all the stories I read (with a few exceptions, of course; there are always exceptions, aren’t there?). I am, however, going to try to loosen the pressure on myself and limit myself to reading at least three per month as a goal, which would be thirty-six stories for the year. I think that’s do-able without creating any added pressure for me….because everything creates pressure for me, even things I start out doing as fun, if I’m not careful.

5. Writing more short stories. This is part of the Short Story Project, of course, but it also (without adding more pressure) was part of the point of the entire project in the first place; reading more short stories was meant to be a master class in short story writing, and therefore teaching me how to be better about writing them. I’ve come to the conclusion that part of my issue with revisions and rewriting and editing my own short stories has everything to do with my own stubbornness and my own refusal to admit a story isn’t working while still trying to force it to work. I have several of those; great concepts that I simply can’t pull off the way they currently sit, and I need to figure out some way to make them work as stories. My goal is to finish two collections within the next two years (Once a Tiger and Other Stories and Monsters of New Orleans),  as well as continue trying to get stories published as the year pass. I am very excited for the release of Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories this coming April 1. I definitely also want to get “Never Kiss a Stranger” finished and up as a Kindle single sometime this year.

6. Writing more personal essays. Yes, yes, I know the blog sort of counts as writing personal essays on a daily basis, but I’d like to start seeing them published in other places, and there are some blog entries that are more abstracts of what could be more in-depth, more introspective, and much longer. The goal is to ultimately come up with a collection of said essays called Gay Porn Writer: The Fictions of My Life, and again, this is a long-term goal; I’d like to have this collection ready in about three years.

7. More research on New Orleans history. This is also necessary for, of course, the writing of Monsters of New Orleans, which is a terrific project I am terribly excited about, plus I am kind of excited about reading up on New Orleans history, lore and legends, which will only make my writing about the city stronger and better. I am also looking forward on teaching myself how to do research, and making use of all the amazing local resources, such as the Historic New Orleans Collection, the Tennessee Williams Research Center, the public library resources, and of course, the Louisiana Historic Research Collection at Tulane University. (The Tulane library alone!) I am still reading Herbert Asbury’s The French Quarter whenever I get a minute, and there are so many others to read–currently in my research pile on my desk I have that and three Robert Tallant books (Voodoo in New Orleans, Ready to Hang, and The Voodoo Queen) along with Alecia Long’s The Great Southern Babylon and the ever classic Gumbo Ya-Ya.

8. Clearing out the TBR pile. I wasn’t able to read as much for pleasure this past year as I have in other years; primarily because I was judging a book award again (I think this will be the last time I actively participate in judging a book award; it’s just too time-consuming, not to mention all the books piling up in the house), and of course, all the research. I’ve also decided that books I want to keep to reread no longer need to be kept; if I need to read again or use it for research for another project (I still want to write about the romantic suspense writers who dominated the bestseller lists from mid-century through the 1980’s) I can always simply get an ebook version of it, which I can access and make notes easily on with the iPad. I also want to declutter the Lost Apartment, and let’s face it, the books are the primary problem.

9. Keeping a positive attitude. This is the hardest of all goals; because my mind is already trained to default to the negative. But negativity derails everything; and keeping belief in myself, no matter whatever career disappointments might lie around the corner for me, is necessary in order for me to do the work I need to do, not only on my writing but on myself, to be the best Gregalicious I can be. And ultimately, that’s the bottom line of all the goals, isn’t it? To be the best me I can be?

And now, back to the spice mines. I am taking a self-imposed exile from the Internet for the rest of the day, to get things done around the house, to write some more, to do some reading, and just get ready for the return to work this week. Happy New Year, one and all!

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Hazard

Thursday morning and I am still feeling unwell.

And winter has arrived in New Orleans; a cold front that of course would be considered spring or fall most everywhere else north of I-10 arrived overnight. It is amusing that our local weather people are talking about a cold front when it is seventy-four degrees outside. But that’s at least a ten degree difference from yesterday, and it is getting close to mid-October, so the colder weather is fairly overdue.

Colder, not cold.

I’m hoping that today is the last day of this lingering whatever-the-hell-it-is; that one more day of soup and vitamin C and juice and DayQuil will not only make today bearable but will also cure whatever it is that ails me. I really loathe being sick–not, of course, that anyone else really likes being sick. Although I suppose there are some who do.

Yesterday as I spent the day covered in blankets in my easy chair I finished reading Circe by Madeline Miller (already wrote about it, but buy it–it’s fantastic), and then fell into some New Orleans history worm-holes on the Internet on my iPad. The history of New Orleans is so rich and vibrant; bloody and filled with not only death but defiance. It started with me seeing a post from the Historic New Orleans Collection of an article about Prohibition in New Orleans–which was pretty much ignored and not really enforced as much as it should or could have been, perhaps–and I thought to myself, self, there’s probably a really good novel that could be set in this time period dealing with Prohibition and everything else going on in the city at the time. Was it James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series that was set in the past? Which reminds me, I need to revisit that series anyway.

I am kind of amazed, really, how little of New Orleans history I actually do know. I mean, I know who founded the city and when, when it became Spanish rather than French, when it was sold to the United States, the Battle of New Orleans…but there are a lot of gaps in my knowledge. I do know some about the uglier parts of the city’s history–the homophobia and racism, Delphine LaLaurie, how I-10 was deliberately routed to destroy prospering African-American neighborhoods and of course, the hideousness of the Upstairs Lounge fire and aftermath–but there are so many gaps, as I said before. I know about the murder of the police commissioner that led to the mob violence against the Italian immigrants, and the horror of the battle of Monument Place; I know about the Axeman murders and Storyville and Bellocq and his photos of Storyville prostitutes.

But there’s so much more, and so much I don’t know. This is why I always laugh when people call me a “New Orleans expert.” I am far from that. I know neighborhoods and streets, houses and the Quarter. But there are entire populations of the city I don’t know much about; the Greeks and the Islenos, the Vietnamese in New Orleans East, and the growing Latin/Hispanic populations. There are neighborhoods I don’t know, and the West Bank is, for the most part, completely unknown to me.

In other words, I need to explore. I need to read more New Orleans history, and I need to get out in my car on weekends and drive around, exploring and visiting and sight-seeing. I do feel that my next series will most likely be set in New Orleans’ past; it’s just that I don’t know when or where or what it will be. I’ve experimented with the past in short story form; “The Weight of a Feather” (included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories) may not be set in New Orleans, but the main character is from here. “The Blues Before Dawn”, an in-progress story, is also set in the past…and I think it’s an interesting time/subject to take up. (I don’t know how to end the story or even what the middle is, if I am to be completely honest; but it has a terrific opening and I am sure the story will come to me someday.)

I think one of the primary problems I’ve had over the past few years, that sense of feeling disconnected from the city that I’ve mentioned before, comes from, in all honesty, not reading the newspapers here. When the Times-Picayune became the Sometimes Picayune I stopped reading it; I will only visit their website to read write-ups on the Saints and LSU games. The New Orleans Advocate is doing a great job of picking up the slack, but I never think to pick it up and read it. I need to be better about that; I need to be better informed on what is going on in the city. There’s currently a scandal brewing–or it’s already brewed–about the Archdiocese and one of the Catholic boys’ schools in town; it’s what you would expect–sexual abuse and a cover-up; which has happened so many times now in other cities as to be almost a cliche. There’s a novel there as well, even though when I had the idea a long time ago–years before this scandal brewed up and made it onto the public radar–I was told it wasn’t an interesting topic and no one would want to read it.

I disagreed then, and I disagree now. I think it’s not only timely, but people would read it. It would have to not be a cliche, and it would have to be cleverly done, but I think it would work quite well.

And now, I feel the fever returning and I need to go lie down again for a moment.

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Life is a Highway

Good Lord, it’s almost Southern Decadence, and college football is back this weekend! GEAUX TIGERS!

The US Open is also going on, which means I won’t be watching the series finale of Sharp Objects for a while as well as getting behind on Castle Rock. Ah, well, that’s fine, on this day next week we’ll be arriving in lovely St. Petersburg for this year’s edition of Bouchercon. I am going to be a very busy Gregalicious in St. Petersburg this year. I am doing the Coat of Many Colors event on Thursday morning; the anthology signing later that same day; and then three panels on Friday: the nooner sex panel at noon; moderating the Best Paperback Original Anthony panel at 3, and then appearing on the rainbow (?) panel at 4.

I really need to prepare. But I am still reading James Ziskin’s delightful Cast the First Stone, and am hoping to get that finished so I have time to read Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie before next week.

Also, instead of working on the things I should be working on, I started writing a new short story last night, “The Blues before Dawn”:

A saxophone player lived across the street from me, on the third floor of a fading and dilapidated building painted a fading coral. Every night, without fail, after the band he played with was finished, he’d come home and crack open a cold beer. He’d take his brightly colored silk shirt off and climb out onto his rusty, sagging balcony. Wearing just his trousers and white suspenders stretched over his muscular torso, he’d straddle a chair and play his sax as he wound down for the evening. I usually got home around the time he launched into the second tune of his late-night concert, something low and sensual and sexy that made me think of warm skin, teeth nibbling on my earlobe, and the caress of firm muscle pressed close against my own body. I would get a beer from my own refrigerator and strip naked in the sticky heat of the early morning, the ceiling fan blades whistling as they spun over my head, listening to the mournful notes coming from his broken-hearted saxophone. I sat in my window on the fourth floor across the street with the lights off, sweat shining on my skin as I watched and listened, as the sinewy muscle in his shoulders and arms and chest clenching and relaxing as he played in the fading darkness of the night, the sun still an hour from rising but the light of the moon dying as a new day struggled to be born. I fell asleep many a sunrise lulled to sleep despite the heat and humidity by the purity of the notes he played.

So I got about a thousand words into this before coming to a halt. It turns out, as I wrote, to be about a gay prostitute in the 1920’s in Storyville; I don’t even know if that was such a thing, so should probably do some research on that, don’t you think? But I do find myself turning to New Orleans history more and more; I suspect a visit to the Historic New Orleans Collection will be in order at some point in my near future.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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