Promises in the Dark

I grew up loving both horror and crime stories–those wonderful old black and white Universal monster movies used to scare me to death, not to mention all the marvelous ghost stories and mysteries that got filmed back in the day. I also watched a lot of the 1950’s paranoia horror monster movies–Godzilla and its ilk–and those also used to give me horrible nightmares. I also liked how twisted horror comic books like The Witching Hour, House of Mystery and House of Secrets were. I’ve always wanted to write those kinds of stories, but if you think I have zero confidence in my abilities as a crime/mystery writer, there’s even less when it comes to my writing of horror. I never feel like I ever get it right, you know, and my stuff is macabre and peculiar and slightly twisted, but it’s not really scary. But like I did with the mystery novels and movies I watched as a child, I was always looking for myself in those tales and not finding myself. Oh, every once in a while there would be some homoeroticism in some horror I would be reading (Peter Straub’s If You Could See Me Now comes to mind), but for the most part, there wasn’t much. Thomas Tryon’s The Other resonated with me–it wasn’t until decades later that I learned Tryon was gay, and that sensibility infused all of his work, hence my connection with it–but usually when gays showed up in horror they inevitably were effeminate and soon to become victims. (Kill your gays has always been a thing, clearly.)

When I was going through my “I want to be the gay Stephen King” phase in the 1980’s, I didn’t put gay characters or themes in any of my stories–although rereading my attempts at horror from then now, I can see the sensibility was always there–but the horror novel I started writing in about 1986 or 1987, The Enchantress, had a gay point of view character, even though I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was always afraid, you see, to include gay characters in anything I hoped to get published because I was so busy keeping my two lives completely separated that I feared writing sympathetic gay characters would out me. (During my many writings about my high school students from Kansas, one of them was actually gay and was probably the most realistic and honest character in all of those writings) Trying to salvage those stories now, decades later, I sometimes will revise one and make the point of view character gay–which inevitably makes the story work better, incidentally–and they see publication eventually; “Crazy in the Night” was one of those stories, and another morphed into Bury Me in Shadows, actually. Just this morning I was thinking about some more of those old stories and how to make a couple of them work–partly because I spent the last two mornings reading Other Terrors: An Inclusive Anthology from the Horror Writers Association, edited by my friends Vince Liaguno and Rena Mason. The point of the anthology was to focus and highlight horror stories from marginalized writers–where they are marginalized by race or religion or sexual orientation or gender identity, and it includes stories from some of the top names in horror publishing today.

As with any anthology, some stories stick with the reader more than others; this isn’t a dis on any of the contributors to the anthology–every story was incredibly well-written–it’s just that everything is subjective and some stories stick with the reader longer than others. For me, the standouts were Jennifer McMahon (“Idiot Girls”); Alma Katsu (“Waste Note”); Gabino Iglesias (“There’s Always Something in the Woods”); Hailey Piper (“The Turning”); Larissa Glasser (“Kalkriese”), Michael Thomas Ford (“When The Lovelight Gleams”); M. E. Bronstein (“The Voices of Nightingales”); and S. A. Cosby (“What Blood Hath Wrought”). These were the ones that really resonated me, with the connections of strong writing, three dimensional characters, and completeness of the story. For many of the contributors, this is my first experience with their work, and I will definitely look out for more of their work. These were the ones that made me start thinking about ideas and stories and characters; stories that not only were enjoyable and immersive to read but also kick-started my own creativity and inspiration.

And what more can you ask from a reading experience, as a fellow writer?

Now I want to write more horror.

Definitely check the book out, Constant Reader, I think you’ll enjoy it.

Save Me a Place

Oddly enough, as I sat in my easy chair the other day watching college football games and letting my body and mind and creativity rest, I had an idea for either a stand alone book or a new series, one way or the other, and it’s something I find interesting enough that I might even consider it. It would be a difficult proposition, to be sure–given the decline in retail sales and everything going to an on-line and electronic model–but I was looking at a map of New Orleans on my iPad because it occurred to me that I didn’t know where Tulane’s not-so-new-anymore on-campus football stadium was; so I pulled up a map to look because I was thinking that was a great line for a Scotty book–I always forget there’s a football stadium in Uptown-so of course I had to go looking for it. The map also brought up businesses in the area and lo and behold, there’s a comic book shop uptown on the lake side of Claiborne and it hit me: no one has ever done a cozy series about a comic book shop and that opened up an entire world of possibilities for me: the main character is an aspiring comic book artist who works in the shop, and of course, you can get into the whole thing about who actually is into comics and the history of comic books and it would give me an excuse to actually learn more about comics and their history and…

You see how this ends up going, don’t you?

I know any number of comics geeks–Alex Segura Jr, author of this year’s brilliant Secret Identity, about the business side of producing comics, is one–and one of my best friends from college owns a comic book shop in central California, or did at some point–and of course my neighbor Michael is also heavily into comics, having gone to Comic Con in San Diego, even. And of course I’d get to make up shit, which is always a huge plus for me. I love making up shit! And of course, it would be fun to write from the point of view of a struggling artist.

I mean, it’s not like I wouldn’t know anything about that…

The Saints played terribly yesterday and logged another “L” in the record book (how bad are the Falcons?) yesterday; I didn’t watch but rather followed on Twitter while I did things around the house. The Saints games sometimes cause me too much stress and then I am emotionally exhausted afterwards–too drained to be of much use, so sometimes I just follow it on Twitter or it’ll be on in the living room while I work in the kitchen. I did get the Costco delivery yesterday, and should probably run some errands at some point today, but it is Work-at-Home Monday and I have work I have to get done. I am behind still from the Bouchercon trip and the ensuing back injury, but am hopeful I will start getting caught up somewhat soon. Emails beget emails, though, and therefore that is a sisyphean task indeed.

We watched the new Star Wars show Andor last night, and I am so happy Deigo Luna’s character is getting an origin story. So far, the only show they’ve done I didn’t buy into completely was The Book of Boba Fett, and am thinking maybe we should give that another try at some point. After those three episodes we moved on to The Serpent Queen and American Gigolo, which I think we’re going to give up on. I love Jon Bernthal, but I’m just not buying this story for the character. It’s an interesting idea–and full props to them for turning it into a sequel series in which Julian actually goes to jail for the murder he was accused of committing in the film, but I’m just not really getting vested into the show, either, no matter how much I want to. The Serpent Queen remains fantastic, and gets better with each episode as Catherine explains to her new maid her philosophy of survival, illustrated with scenes from her past. Samantha Morton is fantastic as the older queen and the actress who plays her as a young woman is also equally good. But it’s a period of history I particularly love, and of course, Catherine de Medici is one of the most fascinatingly complex women to hold power in history. The reality of her life was dramatic enough to drive a series, and they’ve done a pretty decent job of following the actual history, with some adjustments here and there.

Also keeping an eye out for Hurricane Ian, which seems to have Florida’s Gulf Coast clearly in its sights. We are just outside the Cone of Uncertainty, which doesn’t mean we’re safe–there could always be another westward shift to the potential path–but I do concern myself with Florida and friends there. I don’t remember the last time Tampa took a direct hit; I don’t think they have in quite some time, and I can imagine a storm surge into the bay and into the rivers that drain into it would be enormously problematic for the city–as well as for Clearwater and St. Petersburg on the peninsula on the other side of the bay. Stay safe, people.

My podcast interview about Daphne du Maurier, with a particular emphasis on My Cousin Rachel, went really well. It was for my friend Ricky Grove, whom I know from my days in the Horror Writers Association and when I put on World Horror Con back in the day here in New Orleans (he is the author Lisa Morton’s partner–have you read Lisa? You should read Lisa). I can talk about du Maurier all day, and we did continue talking for at least another hour after we stopped recording; I do love to talk books and writing, after all, with the end result that I felt horribly drained when it was over. Ah, yes, the age-old problem of the introvert having to be an extrovert on a day when he usually doesn’t have to do anything of the kind. I retired to my easy chair, but found the draining of my energy to have been far too effective for me to focus clearly on anything. I did do another blog entry about my work–this time my Todd Gregory erotic novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, while starting others about Baton Rouge Bingo and the second Todd Gregory book (Games Frat Boys Play)–but when I tried to work on the book or anything else (including trying to read) I couldn’t get anything done so finally gave up and made myself useful around the house. Hopefully after an eyes-crossing day of data entry and quality assurance on testing logs, I’ll be able to dive back into the Scotty book. I know I am procrastinating with Chapter Three and should probably just stop worrying about it and move on, but that’s just not how my creativity works. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay, the stress of being behind will come in handy as December 1 draws ever more near.

Or so I tell myself.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Hope you have a marvelous and lovely Monday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow.

World Turning

It’s interesting how stories come to fruition; everything I write has an origin story, and my story in Chesapeake Crimes: Magic is Murder is no exception.

Ironically, “The Snow Globe” began as a Halloween story, believe it or not, rather than the Christmas story it actually turned out to be. The inspiration came to me on a Halloween night–actual Halloween, not gay Halloween–I think in either 2003 or 2004. I was out in the French Quarter by myself for some reason–that reason is lost in the mists of time, but it must have been 2004; Paul wasn’t quite comfortable yet being out and about in crowds just yet, so I wound up spending Decadence and Halloween and pretty much any time I went out back then by myself, meeting up with friends (the real life inspiration for Scotty’s friend David, for you Scotty readers out there). Anyway, this particular Halloween I wore a wrestler’s singlet that I’d borrowed from my friend Not-David. He was smaller than me but back then I was also pretty small; I weighed somewhere between 170 and 180 and wore 30 waist pants; everything I wore was a small (my shirts were mediums) but I’d forgotten how tight singlets actually are; a small male singlet fit me like second skin, and of course, I wasn’t wearing anything underneath (I got a lot of attention that night in the bars). Anyway, I was waiting for my friends and was standing on the balcony of the Pub/Parade, nursing a bottle of Bud Lite and watching the street–seriously, actual Halloween is primarily for locals, everyone wears a costume, and it’s a lot of fun–when someone walked out the door of Oz, across the street, wearing a devil costume.

He had on a mask, had the horns and tail–but all he was wearing was a skimpy red bikini and a lot of red body paints. He was wearing stiletto boots that looked like hooves (except for the stiletto part) and his body was amazing, and I literally thought, Satan has a great six-pack. This made me laugh, and I thought, that’s a great opening for a Halloween story.

I did make a note of the line in a journal, and never forgot it.

Flash forward a decade or so and HWA was doing a Halloween-themed horror anthology, and I thought my Satan has a great six-pack story would work perfectly for it. I worked on it–was also writing a book at the same time–and sadly, never finished it. Flash forward another two years and there was a hilarious thread on Facebook–I do not recall what it was about or how it started, but it eventually devolved into someone suggesting an anthology called War on Christmas in which every story took a kind of Hallmark Christmas movie trope and tweaked into something dark. Someone mentioned a magical snow globe in one of the films, I replied “Oh I want to do the story about Satan’s snow globe!”

And I realized that just changing one letter in Satan turned it into Santa, and I could use that opening sentence yet again. I love when that happens.

Santa, Dylan thought, certainly has a great six-pack.

He smiled as he leaned against the bar, watching the so-called Santa with a slight smile. He definitely wasn’t your average department store Santa, that was for sure.

The guy’s body was thickly–almost impossibly– muscled and perfectly proportioned. His biceps and shoulders were thick, every muscle cord and fiber etched and carved beneath his smooth, tanned skin. The cleavage between his big chest was deep, his nipples like purplish quarters. It didn’t seem possible for his waist to be so small, and the crevices between his abdominal muscles were deep enough for a finger to fit between up to the first knuckle.  His legs were powerful and strong, ropy bulging veins pushing against the silky skin.

Like a traditional Santa his face was hidden behind the obligatory long white wig and the thick white beard and mustache—but that was his only bow to tradition. Rather than a red suit with white trim and a big black belt, he simply wore a very small bikini of crushed red velvet with glittery red sequins trimmed around the waist and legs with green faux fur.  Large brass rings exposing pale skin connected the front to the back. His red boots sparkled with red sequins and glitter, trimmed at the top with green velvet. Slung over his right shoulder was a red velvet bag, also trimmed with green faux fur.  Every movement he made as he talked to a group of young twinks with poufy hair and obscenely slim hips caused muscles to bulge and flex somewhere.

He knew he was staring but didn’t care.

Dylan wasn’t drunk. Well, maybe just a wee bit tipsy.  He was nursing his third beer since getting to the party a little after eight, but  about an hour ago the bartenders had poured free shots of some sort of tequila about an hour earlier. It had burned and made his eyes water—definitely not the best tequila.

The idea of a cursed snow globe really appealed to me, and since I’d only gotten about two paragraphs into the Halloween story, changing it to Christmas was easy; it actually even made more sense as a Christmas story as opposed to a Halloween story (and, truth be told, I had always hated the title I was using for it as a Halloween story; “The Snow Globe” is a much better title). The War on Christmas anthology chose to not use the story, but the editor gave me incredible feedback–primarily, I had played down the magic/voodoo aspects of the story, which were actually it’s strongest and most interesting point–in all honesty, I was hesitant to use voodoo as a dark force in the story; it’s clichéd, at the very least, and the last thing I wanted to do was add to the confusion of what voodoo actually is–but the ‘curse’ in the story is about vengeance, and every religion has both a light or “good” side and a dark or “bad” side.

Plus, I had always wanted to write about Baron Samedi, and here was a chance.

So, when I got the call for submissions for Magic is Murder, I thought, hey, here’s a place you send “The Snow Globe” too after you revise it per the editor’s notes! Needless to say, I was enormously flattered and pleased when the story was chosen.

I do like the story a lot; it’s always fun to write about snow in New Orleans (yes, it starts snowing in the story) and it was also kind of fun to write about an older gay man for a change; a single guy in his fifties who has started feeling his age and is. well, lonely.

And really, can you ever go wrong with a stripper Santa?

You can order the book here if you like, or you can order it from your local independent (always your best choice, really).