My My My

Thursday and just got home from the hideous experience of having bloodwork done. I am not exactly sure when precisely I turned into such a delicate goddamned flower, but every time now I have blood drawn I get a gnarly-looking bruise on the spot where the needle went into my arm. Back in the day when my veins used to roll and they had to dig to get the needle in (always a most unpleasant experience) it made sense that afterwards I looked like I’d been hooked up to a dialysis machine. Now the needle goes straight in, without any pain, and yet I still develop a particularly nasty bruise.

Sigh. The bruise from last week’s blood draw just finally went away, and now I am going to have a new one. Heavy heaving sigh.

Ah, well, and so it goes.

But at least NOW I can have coffee. I had to fast for this, especially since my quarterly bloodwork (for my PrEP prescription) had shown high glucose levels (I always have them done after I’ve had lunch as fasting is not required SURPRISE–blood glucose is high after I eat. IMAGINE THAT) so I definitely need to have a diabetes test run (better safe than sorry, right)… and I have to confess rather shame-facedly that the last time I had fasting bloodwork done I had coffee before having it done. Yes, Bad Greg, bad Greg, bad Greg indeed.

Today is yet another exciting day of condom packing and doing some quality assurance reviews of paperwork from work. I will naturally get caught up on Superman and Lois today as well as the two franchises of Real Housewives I am still watching (New York and Beverly Hills, although it’s more of a habit to watch these than anything else, really) and maybe–just maybe–there will be time for a movie as well. Not sure what that might be, but there are so many options anymore! I am also hopeful that there will be time for me to work on Chlorine and get some time in with Razorblade Tears. Paul is going to bring home dinner with him tonight–anniversary meal, from Hoshun (I’ve been wanting lo mein lately)–and then I guess we’ll either figure out what we’re going to watch next (note to self: find out if he wants to keep watching Loki, because if not, I can watch it alone) or he’ll do some work. I also need to bag up some more beads to drop off for ARC (honestly, we literally have beads every fucking where) and I’d like to get some more books culled so I can take them to the library sale on Saturday.

I wrote about 1500 words on Chapter Two of Chlorine yesterday; it wasn’t easy and rather like pulling teeth, actually, so I kind of would like to revisit (not reread; I can just page through it at random to get a feel for tone and voice) James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity, which is one of my favorite books of all time; I feel like in this chapter I am being too wordy, which is always a problem for me with my writing–I over-explain, I tend to have long long sentences connected by and, I often fuck up the rhythm of the words, which greatly affects and impacts the voice and tone of the story. The problem with Chlorine is there’s a lot of backstory–and since it’s Hollywood during the dying days of the studio system–what is artifice? What is real? What is rumor? I also have the ability to mention actual stars of the period–even if they aren’t in the book itself, but can be mentioned in passing, which is a lot of fun–I wrote something yesterday about a female star claiming she was “up there with Hepburn, Crawford, Davis, Garbo; you can say Karla and everyone knows who you mean.” (And yes, I just realized that the Garbo-based character in The Love Machine by Jacqueline Susann was also named Karla; although it did not even subconsciously affect my naming of this character–Karla Weiss the half-American, half-German Jewish actress who emigrated to the US to become a star immediately was someone I created way back in 1996, inspired entirely by a black-and-white photograph of a friend; I looked at the picture and invented Karla Weiss and her backstory and it’s been in the back of my mind for the last twenty-five years; she fits in here–and while I originally had her winding up in New Orleans and becoming a recluse for a Chanse or Scotty story, it could still work, I suppose; but she would be WAY too old unless I went back and set that case years ago in the past, which could also work….see how these wormholes form for me?)

Then again, who knows? I could open up the document and next thing you know words are flowing from my fingers like water from a spigot.

This, by the way, is why writers drink.

That said, I did pick up some mixers at the grocery store on the way home–grapefruit juice and margarita mix, as well as a salt thing for the rim of the glass–and am really looking forward to getting some Patrón on the next Costco run. Don’t get me wrong, I am going to continue trying to perfect the dirty vodka martini–but the last one turned out so terribly that I am quite literally afraid to try again. Perhaps I should get some gin as well? Hmmmm. Oh, Costco and your inexpensive liquor.

And on that note, it’s about time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll chat with you again tomorrow!

a

Touched by the Hand of God

Sunday morning, and I am swilling coffee and eating coffee cake and trying to wake up. I slept very well again last night, and am starting to feel more…normal, whatever that means for me, since I am anything but normal. I have things to get done today, but the apartment is starting to feel like home again for the first time in a while (since everything went haywire week before last). The laundry room is mostly reassembled, and the book shelves in there look neat and tidy and organized, which rather pleases me. The living room is….well, the living room. I am always going to have too many books in my house (even typing that a voice inside my head was shrieking you can never have too many books what are you talking about?); but I am developing a certain heartlessness as I continue to fill boxes with books for the library sale. At some point, I am going to have to start going through the boxes of books on top of the kitchen cabinets and the ones in the storage attic, and my goal is to have cleaned out not only the attic but the storage unit I’ve rented for far too long.

We finished the first season of Very Scary People on HBO last night, concluding with the two-parter on Jim Jones (we skipped Gacy–have seen enough of him lately already–and Aileen Wuornos, because we watched one on her already recently) and will be moving on to season two probably this evening. I am way behind on Superman and Lois–mainly because it’s something I started watching without Paul and so, rather than trying to get him caught up, I am just going to continue watching without him (I always, inevitably, have to fill him in on super-hero backstory and so forth anyway in most cases, though I think he knows enough Superman lore–doesn’t everyone, really–that he wouldn’t need explanations in this case).

I’ve started–sort of–working on Chlorine this weekend, mostly free hand and mostly in my journal, mapping out backstory and so forth for the main character, and I’ve also started working on the backstory for the body in the surf, and the plot–which was kind of amorphously planned in my head, but yesterday I started nailing down specifics in the plot. It’s going to be kind of fun to write, I think–I always think that going into a manuscript; ever the optimist–and while it’s very tempting to use real people as characters, I think I will make the ones who actually are on the page and participating in the story fictional, but mention others–Joan Crawford, Bette Davis, Errol Flynn, etc.–in passing. I know the studio is going to be fictional–tempted as I am to use Fox or MGM–and I also know I need to sprinkle in some of the conservatism that reigned then, as everyone was afraid of Communists and having to testify in front of HUAC in Washington; it was the time of ‘the lavender scare” (also the title of a terrific history of the period and this very thing, by David Johnson; I highly recommend it) and so homosexuality was also driven even further underground because we were seen as security risks, particularly if we worked in government since it put us at risk for blackmail by Communists (I touched on this briefly in my story “The Weight of a Feather”, collected in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories).

I also worked on getting organized yesterday. I did a lot of filing, and took a lot of books off my desk and replaced them with ones I’ll be using for research and background for this book. I kind of feel like I already know my main character (even though I couldn’t remember his name yesterday as I wrote notes in my journal); he grew up in Kansas, was caught by his father in a “compromising position” with his high school basketball coach in the tiny little town he grew up in and was forced to enter the military at age 17–going into the Navy and serving in the South Pacific, where he found other men like himself, and thus became familiar with the underground gay community within the military, as well as in Honolulu and Los Angeles (on leaves). After mustering out in 1946 he comes to LA to become a movie star, is discovered by a Henry Willson type agent, and at the start of the story his seven year control with Pacific Pictures is coming to an end, they aren’t going to renew his contract, and he is in fact being sacrificed to a tabloid in order to protect another client, a rising star the tabloid was going to out–loosely based on how Henry Willson sold out Rory Calhoun and Tab Hunter to Confidential to save Rock Hudson; but unlike them, my character’s agent has a plan for him: a long-term contract to work with an Italian film company making sword-and-sandal epics.

It’s a great set-up, and one that I hope to not let down…right now I am feeling confident that I can write this and it will be amazing; of course, once I start the doubts and imposter syndrome will start creeping in and I will spend most of my time wondering what the hell I was thinking to try to write such a thing in the first place.

I couldn’t have picked a better career path for a neurotic, could I?

I also lined up all the potential short story calls I am interested in submitting to, matched them up with an in-progress story that fits their call (or at least what does in my mind; I am really not that great a judge of these things, in all honesty) and need to plan out when to reread and when to rewrite. It’s very strange; now that I am coming out of the exhaustion from the writing of the two books back to back I am amazed at how light I feel; I don’t feel that oppressive burden nor the stress that comes from carrying it. I know both manuscripts need work and I need to revise and rework and edit one last time with each, and there’s a deadline for the first for sure–but I am going to put that off until next weekend, when I have the time to sit and go through Bury Me in Shadows from beginning to end, making notes, making corrections, and so on and so forth to get it polished into a diamond…or as close to one as I can get one of my books.

So, I am going to spend the rest of this morning swilling coffee and trying to finish reading The Russia House. I love LeCarré; he is such a terrific writer I can get lost in his sentences and paragraphs forever–but I find myself not loving the plot or the characters in this one, which is why it’s taking me so long to get through this one, I think. He also does an excellent job of taking me back into that 1980’s world/mentality of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union–that halcyon time when the fear of nuclear annihilation began to fade somewhat but at the same time the worry of what would fill the vacuum created by that collapse was almost nearly as intense (it didn’t take long for conservatives to replace Communists with Muslims as the scary other from another part of the world determined to destroy us); not to mention the wondering if glasnost and perestroika weren’t real or sincerely meant; LeCarré does an absolutely amazing job with that cold intelligence paranoia.

And then, for something similar yet completely different, I am going to reread Dorothy Gilman’s The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax.

I also would like to get back to the gym today; it looks absolutely lovely outside, and the walk will be lovely.

Until tomorrow, Constant Reader. Have a lovely Sunday!

Christmas Tree Farm

And now it’s Christmas. I woke up this chilly morning to a barrage of well wishes in my inbox; thanks, companies who have my email address; I appreciate your concerns about my holiday and how it is going to go. It’s cold this morning, but the sky is blue and the sun is shining and there are no clouds to be seen anywhere in the sky; it was also cold yesterday but much more dreary outside. This morning appears to be one of those mornings where it feels colder inside than it does outside.

I was a slug yesterday, admittedly so. I just didn’t have the energy or the inspiration or the drive to do a whole lot of anything all day–i feared this would be the case, and was proven, rather early on, to be correct. I spent the morning finishing reading The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and yes, this was magnificent research for Chlorine, but at the same time is was a fascinating journey into what it was like to be gay in the entertainment industry in the post-war period, and needless to say, it was a fascinating read. And while it was completely impossible to feel deep sympathy for Henry Willson–he did terrible things, and used his power to force beautiful young men with Hollywood aspirations and dreams into having sex with him, among many other terrible things; and although it was also the era when beautiful young women also had to have sex with producers, directors and studio executives to get ahead, that doesn’t lessen, or in any way mitigate, what he was doing to those young men. Willson was gay but was also homophobic, and serves as an interesting case study into the mentality that drives and draws gay men into sociopolitical conservatism–and the cognitive dissonance that must exist in order to embrace a self-loathing world view. Willson was a friend of Roy Cohn, probably the most horrible gay man to ever exist in this country, but that friendship really came as no surprise. Reading the book was a fascinating, if horrifying, reminder that it wasn’t all that long ago that the closet was the only option and going to a club or being involved with another man or even going to a private party, was putting everything in your life–career, family, whatever–in jeopardy.

And needless to say, I have a lot of great ideas now to work into Chlorine; I’d say this book was probably the single most important resource I’ve come across in my research for the book–more so than even Tab Hunter’s memoir or the biographies of Rock Hudson and Montgomery Clift; yesterday afternoon as I digested what I’d read, plot twists and story kept coming to me–scenes, character development–and I am, as always, looking forward to that day in the now not so distant future when I’ll be able to write this book…although I am also thinking reading a biography of Anthony Perkins also might not be such a bad idea.

We finished watching Tiny Pretty Things yesterday, and I have to say it was quite delightful fun–but the dialogue! OMG, the dialogue was sometimes so jarringly bad it took me right out of the show. I don’t blame the cast at all–some of the dialogue was so fucking bad not even Streep or Lange or DeNiro or Pacino could have made it work–but everything else about the show was marvelous. It was well plotted and planned very well; apparently there are two novels set in that ballet school, and the first season ended with an amazing cliff-hanger as well to set up the second season, even if the crime from the first was still unresolved–at least, thus far. I’ve always thought ballet was the perfect setting for noir–the sacrifices it requires, the commitment necessary, and the willingness and desire to push your body through incredible pain to achieve great beauty…it’s amazing to me. Do I wish I had some ballet training? Kind of, although I don’t think as a child I would have had the drive to push myself through the pain…but you also never know. I’ve always been able to commit fully to things I’m interested in or enjoy; the question would be whether or not I would have enjoyed it enough to commit to it. Hard to say, really.

I do know if and when I start writing about ballet, I’ll need to immerse myself in it. I do think the young men who commit so fully to dance–particular in our culture and society, which still sees such things as “unmanly” and “gay”–are fascinating, and most books about ballet–shows, etc–inevitably default to the female point of view and perspective; no one has, to the best of my knowledge, ever really delved into the world of ballet from that masculine perspective.

We also watched the second episode of The Stand, which isn’t really generating a lot of buzz as it airs; which is kind of curious to me. Someone mentioned it on Twitter last night, something along the lines of “How bad must this version of The Stand be if there’s no on-line discussion of how hot Alexander Skarsgard is in it?” I hadn’t really thought about it–I’m kind of enjoying the non-linear story-telling technique they are using, even if it does kind of lesson the impact of the apocalyptic end of the world from the flu story King told in the first part of the book–which is one of my favorite parts of the book, honestly. (I do love the book, even if it’s been years since I reread it–it used to be one of my comfort reads) There were some responses to the tweet about how bad the show is, and I don’t know that I would go that far–I’m enjoying it thus far, even if the non-linear story-telling is kind of jarring–but the lack of conversation about the show is pretty telling, I guess.

I didn’t do any physical writing or editing yesterday, but I did spend some time thinking about it, and i hadn’t planned on doing any writing or anything today, either, what with it being holidays and all (remember, I suspected this would happen yesterday morning), but that’s okay, really–not going to beat myself up over it too terribly; it is what it is–and today I will most likely try to get some of this mess cleaned up; my office area is a disgrace as always, and I have paper and folders and books stacked everywhere. And we are definitely watching Wonder Woman 1984 today.

And that, Constant Reader, is as good a segue as any into my return to the spice mines. Have a lovely holiday, everyone/

…Ready for It

And here we are, the last day of my vacation. As much as I hate to see the time off come to a bitter end, I am also kind of ready to get back to the office and get back to work.

It’s rained off and on all weekend, which has wreaked havoc with my sinuses, and it’s rather dreary outside my windows this morning. I slept fairly decently last night–waking up every now and then–but overall, it was a good sleep. I feel a bit sore and tired this morning–I got a blister on my left heel walking to the gym Friday, which is really and truly annoying, particularly since I’ve had the shoes I was wearing for several months and have worn them every day without incident; so why all of a sudden did the damned shoe rub a blister onto my foot? I really don’t need more irritation, and now I am worried about whether walking to the gym today will exacerbate the problem. My back is also sore and my legs feel tired, but skipping today would mean having to go after work tomorrow and Wednesday, and really, neither of those is a really likely option. I prefer my Sunday-Wednesday-Friday schedule, thank you very much. Maybe if I bandage it up well….

The LSU game was terrible, just terrible, on both sides of the ball. Texas A&M didn’t look much better than LSU, frankly, and the announcers kept talking about how A&M could get into the play-offs…and I was all, really? The game just seemed like a lot of offensive ineptitude from both sides. And while both freshman quarterbacks got into the game, neither really accomplished much–and that’s on the offensive line. Nobody was blocking anyone, and when you don’t block anyone, your quarterback ends up getting sacked. The play calling was also a little suspect to me; this has been such a weird football season thus far–the Denver Broncos are coming to play the Saints today without any quarterbacks–the more I think it should have just been cancelled and all players given an extra year of eligibility. I really don’t see how they can legitimately have a play-off and crown a champion when some schools haven’t even played all the limited schedule games they had scheduled. Ah, well. The Saints game should be interesting today, at any rate.

I worked on the book some yesterday and feel a lot better about the whole thing overall. If I can get through this draft relatively quickly–one or two chapters per day–I can then let it sit for a week or so and then go back in with my red pencil and build up the subplot threads running through it as well as come up with the perfect ending to the book; it came to me last night, and I think it is the right ending. We shall see, I suppose.

I also finished reading Dolls! Dolls! Dolls! by Stephen Rebello last night, which is the behind-the-scenes, gossipy look at how the movie version of Valley of the Dolls came to be. I love both book and movie, so I’ll have a separate entry about that book. I read some more of Night of Camp David as well, which is an interesting animal as far as political thrillers are concerned. (Granted, I’ve not read many political thrillers.) I’m over halfway finished with it, which will then lead to the dilemma of what to read next. Heavy heaving sigh.

I fell into an Internet wormhole last night on my iPad during the Iron Bowl (which was just as disappointing than the LSU game; I watch the Iron Bowl because it usually is a good–if bizarre–game full of crazy plays, freakish scores, and the feeling that anything can happen at any time; a trouncing by Alabama isn’t particularly interesting to watch, frankly), and it started with someone posting a picture of a really hot guy on one of the Facebook “hot guy” groups I belong to–I did a little bit of research into the guy, and it turned out he was an actor, did some porn in the 1970’s, and then became a private investigator in Hollywood–someone else had already claimed the title “private eye to the stars” but this is basically what this guy also does. Yes, you can hear the wheels turning in my head, can’t you? As I daydreamed and explored this concept in my head–the games, as I have previously mentioned, weren’t really holding much of my attention–I couldn’t make up my mind as to whether this would be a better series to write about in the 1970’s or in the present. But I really love the concept of the porn-star-turned-private-eye, and even came up with a title for the first story: Slow Burn.

It’s kind of fun feeling creative again, I have to say, and to have finally picked back up the reins of the book at last. I think it’s a good book, too; the story is involving and evolving as I revise this most recent draft. (I’m also amazed and more than a little saddened, at how bad some of the writing is; but that’s what drafts are for, aren’t they?)

As my vacation slowly winds down, I am surprisingly not disappointed by how little I have gotten done over this week. I got some things done; started two new short stories, got the book back in progress, did some absolutely necessary tidying of kitchen cabinets and so forth, and I did get some reading done. I think I can face the office tomorrow without an issue, either–other than getting up early, which is going to take some serious readjusting again–and over all, feel pretty good about everything.

And now back the spice mines.

This Is Me Trying

And so here we are, sliding into Wednesday like we’re stealing third base.

I just realized yesterday morning that this coming Monday is Labor Day. A three day weekend! Huzzah! And one that I completely forgot about until Facebook memories reminded me about past Southern Decadence weekends, which are always Labor Day weekend–except for this year, of course.

Maybe, at some point this weekend, I’ll curl up with Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith’s definitive history of the event, Southern Decadence in New Orleans. You should really consider getting a copy–and while you’re at it, you could get the e-book of Bourbon Street Blues, which is set during Southern Decadence. It’s so weird not having Decadence this year–this year has really sucked for everyone. I feel bad for the few people who are having a good year in some way, because the massive suckage has ruined everything–which really makes celebrating those successes all the more important for the rest of us, to claim a small victory over this shitty year whenever we can.

In my sad, almost desperate attempt to find something good in this year, I realized that, failing everything else, I’ve read some amazing books this year; have watched some excellent television shows; and the pandemic work-at-home-making-condom-packs has also enabled me to watch a lot of films I’ve never seen, which has also been not only educational but interesting. The Cynical 70’s Film Festival, for example, has been pretty awesome, and has reminded me a lot of what it was like growing up in that decade of earth tones and mood rings and disco balls and bell bottoms–just yesterday at the office between clients some of the kids and I–I wasn’t the one who brought it up either–started talking about the Bermuda Triangle, which was a thing in in the 1970’s (this was triggered by the storm system heading up the Atlantic coast, which startled both of my co-workers, who’d always thought Bermuda was in the Caribbean–I laughed and said, yes, I’d always thought the same until I read The Deep and this led into an entire discussion of Bermuda’s geographic location which led, as free form conversations tend to do, a lot of jumping around on the topic of Bermuda, which led to the Bermuda Triangle). It wasn’t a real thing, after all; just another one of the many weird conspiracies and so forth that existed and proliferated in that crazy decade–although Area 54 and UFO’s seem to be turning out to be an actual thing (both of which were very popular topics of discussion and wonder in the 1970’s–hence Close Encounters of the Third Kind).

Maybe I should look into the Bermuda Triangle. Hmmmm.

Last night the Insomnia Curse was broken and I slept like the dead. I woke up at five, looked at my alarm, and rolled over and went back to sleep. My alarm–which I hadn’t set–went off  at seven this morning (maybe I dreamed it; it was set for six from the last two mornings) and so I was able to shut it off and sleep a bit more. I feel marvelously rested and awake this morning (despite the Internet outage; I am freeloading off the Cox Wi-fi–which I don’t understand; I have access to this as a Cox customer, but my home wireless is out; how can one work without the other? I don’t know and I don’t want to hurt my brain by trying to figure it out). Anyway, according to the Cox website our home wireless should be back up by around 1:30, so I am okay with using this until such time as ours comes back up. It’s okay; there’s any amount of on-line work stuff I can do until the wireless comes back up and I can stream movies whilst making condom packs again–today’s choices range from Bonnie and Clyde (technically a late 1960’s movie, but it was one of the films that signaled the change in Hollywood film), All the President’s Men, and Klute–but I am always amazed at how helpless we’ve become without the Internet or access to it, you know?

I was extremely tired last evening when I got home from the office; I was tired a lot during the day, but kept having these weird spurts of energy, and even had one after i got home from work. I sat down in the easy chair after doing the dishes and unpacking my backpack and rewatched this week’s episode of The Vow, which I kept dozing off while trying to watch on Monday night. It’s a very interesting show–cults have always been of interest to me (the 1970’s, by the way, was a big time for them) and I have always kind of wanted to write about one. When we were living in Kansas, there was actually a local one; the Way. There had used to be two colleges in Emporia, the county seat: Kansas State Teachers College (which evolved into Emporia Kansas State College and finally to what it is now, Emporia State University) and the College of Emporia. C of E was a religious school; Presbyterian, to be exact, but it had gone bankrupt and closed down in or around 1973, after which the campus was purchased by the Way International–which was a cult. When we first moved to Lyon County, since my sister and I were both teenagers, everyone warned us about the Way College of Emporia and to be careful. The members were easy to identify, really; for one thing, they always traveled in pairs, wore Polo-style shirts with name tags identifying them as members of the Way International, and they also wore khaki style pants. They also were always smiling and had a glazed look to their eyes. There were also all kinds of rumors about what went on at the campus; armed guards–and I remember seeing them–patrolled the grounds and the boundaries, keeping the curious away; and of course there were always stories about weird bonfires and ceremonies being seen from a distance, and “this guy I know is friends with a cop and they always get calls from the people who live around the campus about dogs disappearing and hearing screams from the campus and…” you know the type of thing; the story that has grown exponentially from what was originally said so you aren’t really sure what the kernel of truth in the story actually was; I actually have a file folder labeled The Cult in my file cabinet with some research I did about the Way International over the years, with an eye to writing a novel about it some day. (Obviously, The Cult is too obvious a title to actually use for such a book)

Who knew Kansas in the 1970’s was such a gold mine of material for a writer?

I’ve also been researching Chlorine while being too tired to focus on either reading or writing anything–I am definitely itching to get back to Little Fires Everywhere, and when I finish working today I am going to get Chapter Seven of Bury Me in Shadows whipped into shape for sure–and there’s such a glorious wealth of material about the closeted stars and closeted Hollywood of the time; I am kind of surprised no one has done a noir about underground gay Hollywood of the time already. (Of course, now that I’ve said that, there will probably be eighty-five million of them before I get this damned thing done) It was such an interesting period–obviously, there are biographies of the gay stars of the time (Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, Anthony Perkins, etc.) and there’s even a biography of Henry Willson, the gay agent played by Jim Parsons in Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood, who represented all the beefcakes male stars of the time–but I am also interested in the ones who never quite made it as movie stars, either, and the clients of Willson who were beefcakes but not gay–like Guy Madison, who was certainly gorgeous and hunky and eventually had a hit TV show. I bet their stories are just as interesting as Rock Hudson’s and the other big closeted stars.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Wednesday, everyone.

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And just like that, the weekend is over and a new work week has begun; what fresh hells and wonders will this week bring? One thing is for certain–the monotony of every day work life is a thing of the seemingly distant past now. Whatever one wants to say or think or feel about a new work week, it’s not the way it was before. Each work week brings some new change, some new shift in the current reality–which was unthinkable as recently as early February; who could have foreseen a lockdown as big and as extensive as this? Our naïveté at being so delighted to see the hell of 2019 come to an end, and people thinking 2020 has got to be better–yeah, I’ve made that precise fucking mistake before, and never again; we had no idea how good we actually had it in 2019, did we?

Seriously.

I’m not missing the twelve hour days on Mondays and Tuesdays, quite frankly, and I believe those are going to be relegated to the scrap heap of history once this has passed–whenever that will be; I’m thinking November, seriously, and at that am being optimistic–and working five eight hours days is actually much more palatable than it ever seemed before, quite frankly. I like getting home every day shortly after five–closer to six if I have to stop somewhere, like the grocery or to get gas–and I like having my evenings free, to make dinner, write, read, and watch television, and it’s actually nice not being completely exhausted once five pm on Friday rolls around, as well. I need to remember this going forward, and adjust my future work schedule appropriately.

I continue reading Mysterious Skin in dribs and drabs; I’d love to steal more time away from everything else to spend on it, as it is absolutely wonderful, and even better than I’d remembered; and reading it as a crime novel was definitely a smart choice. It’s also reminding me about poetry in language choices, and how sometimes stark simplicity says so very much; something James M. Cain knew, and Megan Abbott knows, intimately; how the correct choice of a single word in a very short sentence can speak volumes, provoke insight, and a sense of wonder in the reader at the art and intelligence at work. I’m in the final third of the book now, and should have it finished by the end of the week.

I also managed to revise two more short stories, which are going to be sent off to submission queues this morning; “Night Follows Night” and “This Thing of Darkness”, and here’s hoping they will find a very happy home somewhere. This pleases me to no end; this flurry of work–even if it’s not actual writing, but revising and polishing counts–and get it out there is a good feeling. I feel like I’m actively chasing this crazy dream again. I doubt all five stories will get taken–they might all be rejected, who knows?–but at least I’m getting my work out there again. Now, to select two more stories for the big ones–Alfred Hitchcock and Ellery Queen. I may actually have to finish writing two stories–I’m not sure what else I have on hand that’s just in need of revision–but hey, you never know.

We started watching the HBO show Run–not sure about it yet, but love Merritt Weaver, and started Defending Jacob on Apple Plus last night, with Chris Evans and Michelle Dockery, and it’s really good; very well done. We also caught the new episode of City of Angels, which led me to comment, “we’re watching a lot of period pieces lately, what with this and The Plot Against America and Hollywood.” But I am also really enjoying City of Angels; the styling and way it’s filmed reminds me somewhat of Chinatown.

And now, tis back to the spice mines for me. When I get home tonight, I hope to get some more writing accomplished. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Footsteps

I wound up deciding to take yesterday off from the world–computer, social media, you name it–because for whatever reason my desktop was acting wonky yesterday morning and eventually I grew so irritated I decided to run my errands. When I got home from that further irritation–nothing like people not only not wearing masks in public but not maintaining social distance as well–and I just wanted to scream at everyone: “do you want us to be on lockdown through September? What the fuck is wrong with you?”

But then I remember–this is New Orleans and nobody follows rules here; or at least, they ignore them when they’re inconvenient. It’s sadly part of the charm here, and now that it’s something important…I see how dangerous that can be. But it was nevertheless more fuel for my irritation, and by the time I got home my computer was still wonky so I decided to say fuck it and take the day away from the computer and social media. It was kind of nice–I fell into a Youtube hole of history videos (I am really glad to be studying history again; as I’ve said before, I kind of wish I’d majored in History in college–but would have never been able to narrow down a field of majority interest). I spent most of the afternoon moving and rearranging books and filing and cleaning while this Youtube videos played on continually; I learned some more about the Byzantine empire, the plague, and the Hapsburgs–who are so fascinating to me. Let other wars, you, happy Austria, marry.  Someday I’d still like to do a book about the powerful women of the sixteenth century; and many of those important women were Hapsburgs.

One of the things I’ve found interesting is how writers are engaging with their lockdown situation and their social media. Lists are popping up everywhere; and as I daydreamed yesterday while doing my chores and so forth, I started thinking about my own lists–rather than ten albums or books or movies that shaped me, I wanted to come up with more specifics: My Ten Favorite Agatha Christie novels, my favorite romantic suspense novels, my favorite crime novels by women, and so on. The reboot of Perry Mason, coming this summer from HBO (it looks worth a look, frankly; although I imagine there are any number of Mason purists who will naturally hate it; there always are), might be worth taking a look at some Perry Mason novels–I feel the books don’t get nearly as much attention as the TV series based on them; and the books don’t get talked about nearly enough, either. Talk about puzzles–Erle Stanley Gardner was a master of crime plotting, and red herrings, and confusing the reader; I don’t think I ever correctly solved a Perry Mason case until Perry revealed their identity, dramatically, in the court room (which is, of course, where that trope originated); and I do have a couple of them lying around on the shelves in the laundry room–The Case of the Calendar Girl and The Case of the Crying Swallow–so perhaps, as part of the Reread Project, I should revisit them both.

I also spent some time thinking about The Plot Against America–which is directly related to our finishing Ryan Murphy’s Hollywood last night on Netflix. Both are alternate histories, but one of the things about Hollywood is that it was an alternate history that was actually appealing; usually, alternate histories inevitably paint an uglier reality than the one that actually happened (although it’s hard to imagine a more dystopian alternate history for the present day than the actuality); Hollywood didn’t do that. Instead, it showed how horribly racist, homophobic, and misogynist the country was, and how Hollywood reflected that…and then gave us a lovely alternate history where a Hollywood studio saw its duty to change those things and open up society in the late 1940’s. It’s quite marvelous, actually; I kept waiting for reality to break over them, but it never did. It’s very well done, and it’s shot in the style of Hollywood films of the time, right up to the obligatory happy Hollywood ending. And of course, the boys were beautiful. The Plot Against America, on the other hand, was completely horrifying because it was so easy to imagine that we as a country could have gone that way. I don’t know how the novel ends–I never finished it; I have said before that I am not a fan of Roth and I never got past the first chapter of this one–but I thought the way the show ended was perfect, even if it was terrifying at the same time; it was more of an indictment of the United States (as I said to Paul, “this show is terrifying because it could so easily have gone this way here”) and humanity than anything else.  Hollywood also could be seen as an indictment of the way things used to be–its message seemed to be this could have all changed so much earlier if anyone in Hollywood had the courage to make these changes–and that is just as damning as The Plot Against America.

Today I am going to write and edit and revise and get things done. I think I am always teetering on the edge on Saturdays anyway; still leftover tired and so forth from the week, and then having to deal with the general public on top of that is always draining and rough on my moods. Computer issues on top only heightens the aggravation, and being already on the razor’s edge doesn’t make it any easier. I kind of have a mess here in the kitchen that needs to be handled–I deliberately avoided my desk yesterday, so there’s sorting and filing that needs to be done around here as well–but this morning, after I finish this, I am going to abjure to my easy chair and read for a bit. I want to get further into Mysterious Skin, and then I am most likely going to move on to another Mary Stewart reread, either Thunder on the Right (which I don’t remember at all) or Madam Will You Talk?, which I have some memory of; and there are also short stories I’d like to sink my teeth into. I haven’t touched the most recent Lawrence Block anthology, which looks terrific and has some amazing contributors. I want to get my story “Night Follows Night” revised today and possibly submitted somewhere; I’d also love to get some revisions done on “This Thing of Darkness” and “Never Kiss a Stranger.”

And of course, the Secret Project. I really need to get back to work on the Secret Project.

So, yes, I have my work cut out for me today. I also should spend some time drafting the replies to the massive amounts of emails I’ve accumulated over the last day or so. And then I feel like I can face Monday with a clear conscience.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader. I plan to.

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Forever in Love

Saturday.

I do love the weekends, even the ones when I have over a gazillion things to do.

So, I submitted a story to McSweeney’s. They did an open call for queer stories, and I am a queer writer of queer stories, and I just happened to have a dark little story that just needed to be polished a little bit, which I did yesterday morning and I sent it in. That’s three short stories I have out on spec right now, and my fingers are crossed. All three are kind of long shots, in a way, but nothing ventured, nothing gained, right? I’m hoping to work on the Secret Project this weekend and get it under control, tweak another story to send out on Monday morning, and maybe–just maybe–finish one of these stories of which I don’t have a first draft available to tweak/edit/revise. Which one, I’m not quite sure, but it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve worked on any of the novellas in progress…perhaps this weekend I should give a look to either “Festival of the Redeemer” or “Never Kiss a Stranger.” I kind of want to finish “Condos, for Sale or Rent”; it’s a pandemic story, after all, and it would be interesting to get one of  those written and sent out somewhere….although it could very quickly become dated.

Hell, I started writing it three weeks ago (I think) and it’s probably already dated.

We started watching the new Ryan Murphy Netflix show Hollywood last night, which is essentially about the film industry’s (and by extension, society’s) treatment of minorities and gays during the post-war period when television was rising and the studio system was collapsing. This is the same period I will be writing about in Chlorine, so naturally the show was of interest to me: the fabled Sunday pool parties at George Cukor’s with the gorgeous young men who wanted to be movie stars and if it meant the casting couch so be it; Scotty and the fabled gas station of prostitution; fictional characters mixed in with real ones; Henry Willson and his abusive and predatory agenting methods towards beautiful young men (and Rock Hudson, who is a character in this and very well cast); and the horrors of the LAPD vice squad and how a career could be ruined by an ill-timed arrest or visit to the nelly house (gay bar); and how relationships, actual relationships between men that were more than just sex, weren’t seen as possible (Billy Haines to the contrary). It’s the perfect background for a noir novel, quite frankly, and I also, while watching the first three episodes, came up with the one missing component to my plot for Chlorine–the stakes for my main character, which means now the book is completely possible. The show itself is very well done, the acting superb, and the period setting perfectly done (interesting that the last show we watched, The Plot Against America, was also a period piece and also very well done). I do recommend it; the cast is incredibly pretty, both men and women, and it’s very fun seeing Jim Parsons playing monstrous Henry Willson.

I slept very well last night–the weather was stunningly beautiful yesterday, a gorgeous and incredibly unseasonal cool day, without humidity–and got home from work not only not feeling tired, but fairly energetic. I spent some time once I got home in my easy chair with a purring kitty in my lap, rereading stories that I want to work on and some of the partials that need to become complete, before we tuned into Hollywood. Today, I need to make a brief grocery run, stop and pick up the mail, and run by the bank to deposit a royalty check–always a pleasant feeling, quite frankly–and then I am coming home to probably spend most of the day alternating between cleaning, reading Mysterious Skin (it’s not only haunting but compulsively readable), and doing some writing, as well as some organizing. As I said yesterday, I’d like to get more stories out for submission–it always comes in waves like this–but there are four more markets out there I don’t have something submitted to, and I spent a little time on Submittable looking for markets and found a few more with deadlines later this month that I ‘m going to consider looking at. I also need to finish the Secret Project this week as well; always so much to do.

And that’s not even looking at the emails that are piled up in my inbox. Heavy heaving sigh. But I can spend some time, here and there, today and tomorrow answering emails and saving the drafts to send on Monday morning; I refuse to send emails (except in emergency cases) on the weekends because that simply breeds more emails. And since I’m feeling energized this morning, I kind of want to take on things that need to be taken on, if you know what I mean.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. You have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I might check back in on you later today–stranger things have happened–or else I will just talk to you tomorrow.

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Blue

So, Saints & Sinners and the Tennessee Williams Festival were a Jeopardy clue on Friday night; how fricking cool is that? I didn’t see it myself–I was cleaning–but any number of people tagged me on Facebook or on Twitter, so I got to see it, which is cool. The Tennessee Williams Festival has been a clue before, but I think this is the first time Saints & Sinners was–and it’s a queer/LGBTQ festival, so even more cool. Way to go, Jeopardy! There’s a reason why you’ve always been my favorite game show!

Hold up your hand if you didn’t think I’d get everything done yesterday that I’d planned. But it was still a good day, and I wrote some new stuff for the first time in a while. I have these horrible stagnant times, when I don’t get any writing done–and as we’ve already established, I always have to force myself to do it (despite loving doing it) and then when I’ve got my writing for the day finished, I wonder why I have to make myself do something I love–and those stagnant times always make me worry that I’ve lost the spark, the desire, to do it; that this time is the time I won’t be able to get back into it and do it. I worked on the Secret Project for a while yesterday, basically completely rewrote everything I wrote to begin with, and moved onto from the first scene to the next scene, which was also quite lovely.

I did get some organizing done–there’s more to be done today; my iCloud drive is so ridiculously disorganized that it’s almost impossible to use, and I probably should back everything up yet again–and some of the filing; I should be able to get more done this morning before I dive back into the Secret Project. I am also planning on heading to the gym for the first time in a very long time (I prefer not to think about just how long that time has been, frankly), which is my first move in my attempt to live a healthier, better organized, better life. I already am thinking of excuses to get out of going, frankly–which is par for the course, as always–but as long as I don’t tie myself to any particular time table, I should be good. I guess the Super Bowl is also tonight, but I don’t really care about either team–the 49ers or the Chiefs–though I suppose if I had to pick one I’d pick the Chiefs, and that’s mainly because they haven’t won a Super Bowl in forever and I think Kansas City could use the boost. We’ll probably spend the evening getting caught up on shows we watch. We still haven’t finished watching Messiah, are way behind on Dare Me, haven’t started the last season of Schitt’s Creek, and so on.

We haven’t even started HBO’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Outsider, which is getting rave reviews. Who would have ever guessed The Hogan Family’s Jason Bateman would become one of our finest actors/directors/writers for television? I really can’t wait for Ozark to come back.

I also finally finished and published my blog post about Victoria Holt’s Kirkland Revels, part of my Reread Project; I still need to do The Talented Mr. Ripley–it’s started, but I need to finish it.

I am resisting the urge to read Dorothy B. Hughes’ The So Blue Marble next; I need to start reading Tracy Clark’s canon so I can interview her for Sisters; but I also have to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for the panel I’m moderating this year at the Jeopardy clue Tennessee Williams Festival late next month. Decisions, decisions. Probably the smart thing to do is read Tracy Clark’s first book next, then Lori’s, and then back to Tracy again for her second book.

I’ve also reached the final section of Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street, which I am looking forward to finally finishing this month. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the book, which is interesting, well-written, and incredibly informative; it’s going to remain on my desk as an important reference guide for any future New Orleans writing I do–which reminds me, I’ve got to start that Sherlock Holmes story–and probably when I finish the Campanella I’ll probably move on to Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams: A History of New Orleans at Age 300. 

The plan is to get this work on the Secret Project finished this week, get started on the Sherlock story, and then get back to Bury Me in Shadows. I’d like to get Shadows turned in by the end of March, get back to the Kansas book–maybe with some serious focus I can get that finished and turned in by the end of May, and then I can get to work on Chlorine. I’d like to have the first draft of Chlorine finished by the end of summer.

Must stay organized, and must stay focused.

I also finished reading Dorothy B. Hughes’ Dread Journey yesterday.

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“I’m afraid.”

She had spoken aloud. She hadn’t meant to; she hadn’t wanted those words to come up from her throat to her lips. She hadn’t meant to think them, much less speak them. She didn’t want Gratia to have heard them.

But across the room the girl lifted her eyes from her book.

“What did you say?” she queried.

Dorothy B. Hughes is one of the more unjustly forgotten women writers of the mid to later twentieth century; fortunately Sarah Weinman worked–and has continued to work–tirelessly to bring this women back into the public eye. She wrote the introduction to Dread Journey, and in it she names Hughes as her favorite crime writer of all time. She’s not wrong, frankly; Sarah and my friend Margery are both huge fans of Hughes, and if not for them–and Megan Abbott–I may not have ever started reading Hughes, and for that I shall always be grateful to them. In a Lonely Place and The Expendable Man are both extraordinary; I think, frankly, The Expendable Man should be taught; it’s on my list for the Reread Project, for later in the year. Dread Journey is yet another masterwork by Hughes; I cannot wait to dig my teeth into more of her work.

Dread Journey takes place entirely on a train; the Chief, making its regular run from Los Angeles to Chicago–and you know, at some point, someone really needs to do a book or lengthy essay about crime novels and trains; not only did Hughes write one, but Christie wrote two (the very well known Murder on the Orient Express and the lesser known The Mystery of the Blue Train; as well as others that revolved around trains, like 4:50 from Paddington–called What Mrs. McGillicudy Saw! in the US) and of course, Graham Greene’s wonderful Orient Express comes to mind as well. Trains were part and parcel of the American experience. Trains made travel and connecting the massive distances across this continent much easier in the time before air travel became more commonplace and everyone wasn’t convinced they needed a car; there’s a certain nostalgic romantic element to train travel now, probably a result of these novels. I know that year we lived in Washington, we loved taking the train to Philadelphia and New York, even on to Boston; I’ve always, as I said the other day, wanted to write a book or a story called Murder on the Acela Express, and perhaps someday I will–even though the Acela is more of a commuter train without compartments. One of these days I want to take the City of New Orleans on its twenty-four hour ride to Chicago; it just seems like a lovely thing to do and the reading time! Oh, the reading time.

Anyway, the premise behind Dread Journey revolves around the dysfunctional and borderline abusive relationship between Viv Spender, a self-made Hollywood producer and studio head, and Kitten Agnew, a woman he discovered, became obsessed with, and groomed into a major star–America’s sweetheart, the girl next door. There is a huge difference between Kitten’s public image and who she is–a hard as nails fighter who won’t let go of her stardom in the face of Gratia Shawn, his new obsession, and whom he has decided will replace Kitten as the star of his dream project in the role of Clavdia Chauchat. But Kitten has a contract and isn’t giving up without a fight–and they, along with Viv’s longtime secretary Mike Dana, and several other characters–a journalist returning from the Far East, who drowns his memories of the atrocities and horrors he saw there in alcohol; a snippy, gossipy bandleader; a failed screenwriter returning to New York embittered by his failure; and of course, the car attendant, a man of color named James Cobbett–a decent working man who witnesses almost everything that happens on the car. Will Viv go so far as to kill Kitten to get out of the contract he has signed with her? She’s threatening to sue if she doesn’t play Clavdia; and the tension mounts as the cat-and-mouse game between the two of them slowly draws everyone else in the railroad car in.

It’s a very short read, and a good one. I highly recommend it, and of course, Sarah Weinman’s opening essay is worth the cover price alone.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Your Mama Don’t Dance

Well, Monday has rolled around again after a lovely, restful weekend, and I am hopeful that this week–the tail end of July and the beginning of August–will be lovely and productive.

Yesterday I managed to have the hole in the page open and finished off Chapter Nineteen–which, once I started, was much easier than I’d thought it would be, and I was also able to get Chapter Twenty set up at the end of that chapter. I’m also, as I go into the final act, aware of things that I need to set up earlier in the manuscript; which is lovely, even though this is wrong way around; I should have known all this when I was writing it, which is my usual way of doing things. (Although, if I am being completely honest, the Kansas book wasn’t written this way, and I only figured out how to end Royal Street Reveillon while I was writing it; this is a trend I don’t like and needs to end now. Perhaps when I start writing Chlorine, things will follow the more traditional Greg writing path.)

Speaking of Chlorine, I did manage to find my copy of Tab Hunter’s memoir, Tab Hunter Confidential: The Making of a Movie Star. I met Tab Hunter years ago, at a Publishing Triangle party in New York (he was with Joyce Dewitt–yes, the one from Three’s Company, and she was absolutely charming), and he was still incredibly handsome and a very nice man. He eventually came to the Tennessee Williams Festival (yes, I played Good Husband and asked him if he would do it, got his manager’s card, and passed that along to Paul), and was again, just as handsome and charming as ever. We have a signed copy of the book, but I’ve never read it–it’s been in the TBR pile for over a decade–and I am delighted now to have a work-related excuse to read it, along with any number of other Hollywood histories and books about show business and celebrities from the 1950’s. (Must find biographies of Rock Hudson, Montgomery Clift, and Anthony Perkins…and George Cukor, for that matter.) It’s going to be ever so much fun to submerge myself in post-war Hollywood and Los Angeles.

Steph Cha’s novel Your House Will Pay also continues to fascinate, entertain, and enthrall. It’s quite excellent, and I am savoring the pages, the chapters, the development of the parallel stories of the two families tied together by a trauma in the past. It’s also incredibly immersive; the characters are so very terribly real, as is the world they inhabit. It’s turning out to be so much more than I thought it was going to be–and I was excited for what I thought it would be–so it’s even more of a gift than I originally thought it was going to be.

We are also getting drawn in more to the Prime series The Boys, which is also, like the Cha novel, turning out to be so much more than I’d anticipated. It’s darker, for one thing, and kind of exceptional in showing how powerful a single, average human being actually can be, without the assistance of extra-special powers of some kind. It’s also a much more complex examination of how extraordinarily gifted humans would be monetized, branded, and image controlled–very similar to the Hollywood period I am going to be immersing myself in shortly. Yay! It’s a fascinating period, and definitely one I want to know a lot more about.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines.

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