Take Me Home

Tuesday morning and it’s dark out there this morning. I really hated the world this morning when the alarm went off; I’ve gotten rather used to sleeping until past eight these last five mornings. But…at least this week it’s just today and tomorrow; next week it’s only Monday and Tuesday, and I believe it’s only two days a week until after the Labor Day holiday, which will be quite lovely.

And sixty inches ever closer, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. I’m really leaning in on turning sixty; in many ways it’s kind of cool to be getting to this landmark birthday. Mostly, it means I’m a survivor, I suppose; somehow I muddled through everything and made it this far–no small feat for a gay man of my generation; we lost quite a few of us back in the day, after all. In some ways, I think, part of my mentality about getting to this age has a lot to do with all the losses; I should celebrate this milestone birthday for all those like me who will never get to, who never made it to thirty or forty or even fifty. Of course, heavy thoughts for this morning, but I’ve been having a lot of heavy thoughts lately.

I didn’t get everything done yesterday that I wanted to get done; partly because I was doing a ZOOM event last night for the Anne Arundel County Library; a Sisters in Crime Chessie Chapter panel on diversity in crime fiction, with Paula Mays, Kristopher Zgorski, Sherry Harris, Cheryl Head, and moderated by Cathy Wiley. It was very fun and interesting–these types of panels always are–but, as always, I was drained and exhausted when we were finished; ZOOM or in person, it doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot as far as that goes…the anxiety over the event built up pretty much all day. I also babbled a lot; I tend to unspool once I start talking, partly because my mouth never can keep up with my head, but I don’t think I was horrible this time–at least, not completely. I did get my errands finished, though, and made a lot more progress on organization–always welcome–and I got those boxes out from under my desk, which was really quite lovely. So….progress was made, if not enough.

Yesterday also brought a bit of pleasant news that caught me completely off-guard; a reviewer tweeted a recommendation that people buy and read Bury Me in Shadows!

This is the tweet:

In what should be a surprise to no one, @scottynola‘s BURY ME IN SHADOWS is *fantastic.* Fans of Southern gothic, pre-order you some twisty, atmospheric goodness! AND included a buy link! How fucking fantastic was that? Pretty fucking fantastic.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t worried about how this book will be received, or the one after, #shedeservedit. Both are me taking on social problems through the lens of a crime story and a young gay protagonist; and it is very easy for someone like me–white male–to make a huge mistake and be unintentionally offensive. These concerns go much further than my usual ones, which are inevitably related to my ongoing Imposter Syndrome issues–the last thing I ever want to do is offend people are already marginalized in society (I never care if racist homophobic misogynists are offended by my work; I hope it not only offends them but forces them to take a long hard look at themselves–but they generally aren’t intelligent enough to be self-aware enough to self-reflect in the first place; as Kathy Griffin once said, they are aggressively stupid). I also am always worried (this is part of the Imposter Syndrome, in case you needed to be made aware of the differences) that I am not a good enough writer to tackle difficult subjects, and that I will end up coming across as preachy and ABC After-school Special-like…which is tedious and boring and horrible to read, frankly. (Even as a wet-behind-the-ears callow child I despised being preached to in such a heavy-handed manner.)

Sigh. It really never ends–the self-doubt–at least for me, anyway.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.

No One Else on Earth

Wednesday!

So, I guess Tropical Storm Fred is out there, taking aim at the Gulf Coast again…the Cone of Uncertainty looks good for us at the moment, but there’s also no telling if it will shift or what a hurricane/tropical system will do or where it will go; which is quite naturally a bit anxiety-inducing. Nothing to do but keep a wary eye peeled for the action in the Gulf, along with the guilt-inducing hopes it will go somewhere else–which always makes me feel like a shitty person, frankly–but is anyone so selfless they’d think hope it comes here and spares everyone else?

I rather doubt it. In fact, I’d be highly suspicious of said person’s mental stability, in all honesty. Who wishes disaster on themselves?

Although I would imagine, as with anything, there are some.

However, checking just now for this morning’s updates, it’s looking quite unpleasant for Florida now–the threat to us is diminished a bit from yesterday, but still is there.

I also will have some news eventually; sorry to be vague, but I tend to not like to think about or talk about things until they are for certain–been burnt too many times–but I am kind of excited and thrilled and it’s always lovely when a new challenge comes along and presents itself to me. (The thrill of a new challenge, incidentally, inevitably wears off when I am in the weeds working on the challenge) I also got invited to do an author’s event, which is kind of fun and exciting (I was thinking about going anyway, because friends are guests of honor) but until said invitation is confirmed, I probably shouldn’t come right out and say anything about it, either. VAGUE VAGUE VAGUE.

Paul has been watching videos–while he can’t sleep (it’s different for him than me; I just don’t fall completely asleep. He has trouble falling asleep but eventually does–it just takes him a very long time to do so)–about how to improve your ability to sleep well AND to fall asleep. Before I went to bed last night he was telling me about these videos and the various techniques they recommend. “Apparently, the optimal temperature for sleep–both falling asleep and staying asleep–is sixty eight degrees,” he said as I got under the covers.

“So,” I replied, trying and failing not to sound smug, “all these years I’ve been saying we need to turn the thermostat down to sixty-eight at night for sleep, there’s actually science saying I was right about that?” (I had noticed that I slept better when it’s sixty-eight degrees in the bedroom–years and years ago, to obvious resistance.)

This is, of course, the long way of saying that he turned the thermostat down to sixty-eight and it was one of the best night’s sleep I’ve had in a long time–to the point where I didn’t want to get out of the bed this morning (I never do, but it was a literal struggle this morning). So, clearly there’s something to it. I can’t wait till Friday when I can sleep as late as I want to–it’s going to be my day to do nothing without guilt this week–and feel amazing when I get up.

I worked on “The Sound of Snow Falling” last evening; the opening really needed some work (mainly because I didn’t know what direction the story was going to go when I started writing it, other than the main character was going to kill the other character–but I needed what Daphne du Maurier called “the breaking point” to be better set up, and the flood of resentments and grudges and anger that follows in the wake of that breaking point. The opening was fine, it just no longer fit the rest of the story–although, with my complete and utter lack of confidence in my writing, especially of short stories–I can’t help but wonder if I am wreaking havoc with the story with these revisions. You’d think after all this time in this business–writing everything you can imagine, really–I’d eventually gather some confidence in what I am doing; you’d be wrong to think that, of course. Don’t get me wrong–I do have some confidence in my ability to write stories; I couldn’t do this if I didn’t. But the primary issue is that every new story, every new book, every thing I start writing–begins with excitement and confidence, only to die off eventually as I am plagued with doubt and my confidence wanes and yes, I begin to wonder if I’ve lost my ability to write anything half-way decent, let alone readable.

Sigh. It never ends. I’ll go to my grave thinking I could have written this better….

But I am looking forward to this weekend, frankly. I’m really looking forward to a day where I literally have nothing to do but lounge around the house, reading and being a slacker and doing things for myself and myself only. It should be lovely–although yes, I am quite aware that I will inevitably clean or wind up doing some things around the house; I am not the type to just spend an entire day doing nothing.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines–have a most lovely and edifying Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Blow

Good morning, Sunday, how are YOU doing?

I overslept (for me) again this morning; which felt nice; I’ll take oversleeping over insomnia any day of the week, frankly, and this morning I am going to swill coffee, read some more of S. A. Cosby marvelous Razorblade Tears, and then will write for a while before going to the gym later on in the early afternoon. I still haven’t gotten phô yet–maybe next weekend I can make to the Lilly Cafe and finally get some.

Yesterday saw me relaxing and organizing and cleaning for most of the day, at an incredibly casual pace–so casual, of course, that I didn’t get everything finished that I wanted to get finished (natch); but progress was made and I will always take some progress over not making any. I finished writing Chapter 2 of Chlorine yesterday, also setting up Chapter 3 to be written for today (after some reviewing of Chapters 1 and 2 before getting started on that today). I like that I am starting to feel connected to this manuscript; it’s finally taken root in my head and all the other considerations about it no longer matter to me other than the two most important: that I finish writing it, and that i write the best book I possibly can.

The whole Chlorine thing is remarkably improbable about how it came to be in the first place. I’ve always wanted to write about 1950’s Hollywood and the gay closet/underground that existed there; it was an incredibly turbulent time, with television stealing film audiences, HUAC investigating Communists, and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI going after gay men and lesbians. It was also during this time that the biggest closeted movie star perhaps in Hollywood history, Rock Hudson, came to success–and there were plenty of other closet cases on the headlining pictures with their names above the title: Montgomery Clift and Tab Hunter–and plenty who may have been bisexual but definitely had experiences with men, like Marlon Brando, Anthony Perkins, James Dean, and so on. I idly wrote about this notion I had for a noir set during that time, with the main character a hustler with no talent but a lot of good looks and charm, that opens with another closeted actor’s nude, dead body being found in the morning on Santa Monica beach–only the drowning victim also had chlorine in his lungs, so he clearly drowned in a swimming pool and his body was moved. I riffed on this concept here on the blog for a little bit, and then thought nothing of it.

Yet Chlorine landed with my peers in the crime writing community for some reason–I got a lot of tweets and DM’s about what a great idea it was, and that I needed to write it. Some people continued pestering me about it, enough time and enough people, for me to go ahead and slot it into my writing schedule….but even then I kept putting it off and not taking it or myself seriously; was I the right person to write such a book? Is this interest in such a book even something that could turn into sales or whatever? You know, the usual self-doubt that plagues me on a daily basis. I sat down and wrote a very rough first chapter several years ago, just to see if I could get the tone right, and the voice properly done; I was rather pleasantly surprised with how it turned out, and so I put aside any thought of imposter syndrome and figured, okay, I CAN do this.

But the syndrome came again when the calendar time to write the book rolled around; I spent the last month or so writing anything but this manuscript…and finally sat down to revise and reshape that first chapter so that it set up the second even better, and I also had an idea of how to do the second as I worked on the first. It took me a few days, but I now have a very nice 3700 word second chapter written; and today I am going to work on writing the third. I wanted to wait until August and spend that entire month writing it, but finally decided that I was being decidedly un-confident, so while I still want to have the first draft finished by the end of August, I decided to go ahead and get started on it in the meantime. I still want to work on Scotty for the rest of the year, from September on, but there’s also a lot of other things I need to get done, so I need to stop being lazy and get my ass into my chair and writing.

We watched the Olympics some yesterday–I am amazed at the sports I couldn’t care less about most of the time but will watch avidly during an Olympics–but it again seems weird that there’s no audience or crowd…and this whole weird vibe these Olympics are giving off–no you smoked weed so you’re banned; you’re a serial sexual assaulter so we’ll make accommodations for you–has kind of tarnished the whole thing for me in some ways. There has always been cheating and stupidity at the Olympics (another example of how media has brainwashed us all into the mythology of the Olympics), but for some reason this year it seems more intolerable than usual. But I love watching the US swimmers–it’s weird without Michael Phelps in the pool–and I will undoubtedly watch more, especially the gymnastics.

But…..still.

I also figured out last night how to change a story I started writing at some point during the last decade and make it actually work–“The Brady Kid”–and while the new idea I have for it may not work after all, it’s an interesting idea for a story and something I definitely want to try writing.

And on that note, Razorblade Tears is calling me, and so it’s off to the spice mines for a bit to read, swill coffee, and prepare to start writing.

History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiér would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Unlearn This Hatred

Tuesday morning and it seems quiet outside; rain is still in our forecast (every day for two weeks, with the exception of this Saturday) with thunderstorms predicted to roll in around this very time that I sit here writing this–but as I said, at the moment there’s nothing but stillness and quiet outside my windows. How long that will continue to hold remains to be seen, however; although the old adage about our weather forecasts from May thru October certainly holds true all too often: every day’s forecast is hot , humid, chance of rain.

I slept pretty decently again last night, which is remarkable and lovely; I was very tired last evening and as such, was fairly confident that a good night’s sleep could be had, and I was correct. I forgot to set the alarm last night, but woke up five minutes before it would have gone off had I turned it on, so rather than risking it, just went ahead and got out of the bed. Yesterday was a fairly good day, all things considered; I got my inbox under control (thanks primarily to all the work I did on it Sunday afternoon; now it’s a matter of keeping up with it so it doesn’t get so out of control again) but I can also look at it now and not feel defeated before I even get started with it this morning, which is an enormous plus. I do have some things to take care of today; the kind of odious chore I inevitably always put off–I have to make phone calls. Yesterday I made two of the odious calls I hate making; scheduling an appointment to take my desktop computer into the Apple store to see if they can install an OS into it (scheduled for this Friday morning) and I also scheduled an eye appointment in Metairie that same morning (the Apple Store is actually in Metairie, at Lakeside Mall); today I have to schedule the dentist and I have to call my doctor’s office regarding prescriptions. I am not certain why I hate doing these sorts of things and put them off always; they inevitably are never painful to experience and yet somehow…I just can’t make myself do them, ever; I just don’t like doing things that other people describe as adulting.

I suppose it has something to do with my innate refusal to accept the fact that I am, in fact, not only an adult but an older one, at that.

We watched some more episodes of Jupiter’s Legacy last night, which is entertaining in and of itself, but there are some issues with it–we really don’t like the character of Chloe, and they seem determined to shove her down our throats all the time–although I imagine had we read the graphic novels the show is based on (as were Watchmen and The Boys) that might have made a difference in our perceptions. I would go so far as to say of the three shows about alternative superheros (non-DC and non-Marvel, which have become cultural touchstones for us all), this is probably the weakest entry; it clearly didn’t have the money behind it that the other two shows did, and sometimes the cost-cutting measures are fairly obvious. It’s also incredibly difficult to structure a limited series with two different timelines (I frankly admire the attempt to do so), one which is set in a distant past and intended to show how the original superheroes on the show got their powers in the first place, as well as a modern timeline in which the question of adapting the heroes’ code of honor and behavior must needs be changed and adapted to fit threats which are becoming more and more dangerous and lethal; with some heroes dying as a result. That, to me, is the heart of the show’s present-day story, and much more interesting than the one set in the past; if the story of how they originally got their powers doesn’t somehow tie in conclusively to the current time story, then the origin story (not really explored in either Watchmen or The Boys) will seem as though it was merely filler, padding the show out to more episodes than perhaps necessary.

On the other hand, maybe I should just kick back and enjoy the show for what it is and not think about it too hard: sometimes a show is, in fact, merely intended as an entertainment with no deeper meaning.

Although sometimes I wonder if that is part of the problem with my writing; I never think about a “bigger picture” when I come up with an idea for a book or a short story; I just want to tell the story I am thinking about, rather than trying to place it into the context of our modern day world or culture and just try to tell it. It’s definitely harder when you do try to make a bigger point, and incredibly disappointing when people consistently don’t see it–which is, of course, the writer’s issue, not the reader’s; which also leads to the beginning of the spiral into Imposter Syndrome, which I usually don’t need any help to reach–but I do remember that I used to take those things–themes, points, underlying messages–into consideration when I used to write my books. Of course, it’s entirely possible that I have continued to do so, and simply don’t remember anymore; it is truly terrifying how bad my memory has become over the years.

Ah, there’s the thunder–which means today’s storm is arriving just in time for me to leave for the office! Hurray. Can the flash flood watch be far behind? I think not.

And on that note, best to head into the shower so I can go to work. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!

I’ve Got a Feeling

And now it’s Wednesday again, and believe it or not, it’s also Pay the Bills Day again. I could have sworn this just happened, but here we are again. At least I got a very wonderful night’s sleep last night, which was quite marvelous. Scooter woke me up around five, by lying down on me while in full purr mode, but that was fine–I was even able to doze off a little bit more for another hour before the wretched alarm tore me from the arms of Morpheus–but again, it’s fine; I slept so well and feel so rested and ready to go this morning that it didn’t matter to me in the least.

I actually made it to the gym last night after work–it was so strange; I slept better Monday night than I did Sunday, yet was more tired when I got off work yesterday than when I did on Monday–despite the near-death experience I had on the way there. I always walk down to Coliseum Square, then cut through the park to Camp Place before walking down Camp Street to Josephine before cutting over to Magazine. I am extremely careful about crossing streets on foot–going back to the olden days when there were no stop signs on the French Quarter streets that ran parallel to the river, so people would drive through the Quarter at about ninety miles per hour, and woe to the pedestrian not paying attention–and Coliseum Street is a one-way, so really, I only have to look one direction before crossing the street. I had my headphones on, listening quite happily to Fearless–Taylor’s Version, and started across to the park. I was about half-way across when I either noticed something out of the corner of my eye or heard it, but I turned my head and saw there was a speeding pick-up truck–doing at least forty in a residential area, if not more–heading right for me and not slowing–and was maybe a car-length away from me. I started running to get to the other side and he steered towards me, forcing me to leap for the curb. It was very close. Had I not noticed or heard him coming, I would have been hit and sent flying, possibly killed, definitely severely injured. My heart thumping in my ears, I took some deep breaths and started crossing the park. I looked back and the guy had his window down–trucker cap, beard, gun rack in the back window–and he was calling out to me “Sorry dude”. I just rolled my eyes and kept walking, resisting the urge to yell back, “Sorry you missed me? Because you sure as fuck were trying to hit me.” In fairness, he was probably not paying attention–typical in New Orleans–and reacted badly when he finally saw me and most likely tried to steer around me without hitting me, not realizing I would run for the curb, but still.

As I very carefully crossed Race Street at the light, I thought to myself, well, at least my heart rate is already up.

The gym was crowded, so I abbreviated my workout a bit; skipping biceps/triceps–the easiest to skip, since most upper body exercises of every kind will inevitably work your bis and tris anyway–and skedaddled home, where I emptied the dishwasher, did another load of dishes, queued up my Taylor playlist (Paul calls me “A Swiftie at Sixty”), and started working through the book again. I am so glad I am past the Imposter Syndrome (for now, at least), so am able to work clearly and concisely on the manuscript, detaching all personal emotion from it–when I edit my own work, I try to get into the mindspace that it’s someone else’s manuscript I am being paid to edit, which makes it ever so much easier–although there are times it is simply not possible. After Paul got home, we watched yet another episode of Line of Duty, which is incredible–the plotting and writing and acting are topnotch; seriously, if you have Acorn you need to be watching this show–and am looking forward to getting home tonight and watching some more.

It’s been a week already, let me tell you! MWA’s How to Write a Mystery dropped yesterday; the Edgars are tomorrow; and the Sherlock anthology I have a story in, The Only One in the World, edited by the marvelous Narrelle Harris, also was released in Australia this week. This is the one that includes my wonderfully titled story “The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy”; my first and thus far only entry into the Sherlock Holmes canon–which indirectly led me to get started reading Laurie R. King’s amazing Mary Russell series, for which I shall be eternally grateful–and I am still a bit torn. I would love to do some more Sherlock stories, maybe even a book–I have a great title and premise, The Mother of Harlots, about the murder of a Storyville madam, and there’s even a famous murder case I can purloin details from; but then the Imposter Syndrome kicks in and I slink back to more contemporary ideas.

Heavy sigh.

But I am going to head back into the spice mines for now–have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow!

In a Lonely Place

Okay, progress has been made.

I managed to finish reading Laurie R. King’s SUPERB A Monstrous Regiment of Women–I was right, once I got into the story I wasn’t able to stop–yet I did indeed manage to get through my own manuscript yesterday as well. Man, there is some seriously shitty writing in that manuscript, but I have until next Saturday to work my way through it and correct things, clean up language, make things stronger, and make the sentences and paragraphs more cohesive and prettier. I also caught some discrepancies in the story, contradictions, and repetitions. Heavy heaving sigh. But I think I should be able to get this entire thing fixed by next Saturday.

One would hope, at any rate.

It’s hard to believe that this coming weekend sees the end of April and the start of May. I’m not quite sure where the first third of this year has gone, but it has gone, and I’m not really sure what happened to it. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with me finishing writing a different book, and I should be terribly grateful that this year didn’t have the usual first-part-of-the-year distractions, like Carnival, to throw me off and wear me out. This morning, I’m going to write this, clean the kitchen and do some organizing, and then head to the gym. I am hoping when I get home from the gym that I won’t be worn out and sleepy, like last Sunday; I’m also trying to decide what to read as a follow-up to the magnificent Laurie King novel I just finished. There are too many options, I think; which is a lovely position to be in, really–and that doesn’t even take into consideration all the ebooks I have on my iPad to choose from. Inevitably I find myself unable to choose, and then I wind up wasting the day going down Youtube wormholes.

But all the news about the manuscript wasn’t itself bad. I did a decent job creating my main character, Jake Chapman, and the setting is very good. There were some mistakes with the pacing and the timing and there are some superfluous words–quite a few–but that’s fine; it came in long, well over ninety thousand words, so I can easily slash and burn my way through them; eighty thousand words is probably ideal for a book like this, and I also need to revise and redo the final chapter. Ideally, I’ll get through most of the stuff this week so I can spend all day Saturday polishing and revising that final chapter to make it sing. I’m actually kind of pleased with this story, despite all the remaining problems and all the issues I had writing and working on it; it was one of the more unusual experiences I’ve had in my career thus far because of all the indecision and self-doubt I experienced writing it (much the same with #shedeservedit) and I’m not really sure what that was all about; much more so than I’ve ever experienced in my career before writing anything. I mean, there’s always indecision, insecurity and massive amounts of self-doubt involved whenever I am writing anything, really; but for some reason working on these two books over this last year or so those usual issues were exacerbated and much more intense than I remember experiencing with other books I’ve written over the years.

I always wonder what it’s like to sit down and start writing without all those issues, frankly. I suppose I will actually never know, but I cannot imagine those things going away at this point in my life. I am guessing that every neurosis will go with me to the grave; God knows if I haven’t worked my way through them by the time I am nearly sixty, what are the odds I’ll ever get past them? Not bloody likely, right? I had always hoped that the insecurities and self-doubts that plagued my youth would be something I would eventually get over as I got older, and, in the spirit of complete frankness, in some instances aging has eliminated some of them; I no longer worry about not being in the best possible physical condition, or how I look, anymore–which was an insecurity/fear I was more than happy to shed once and for all. (I was thinking about this yesterday for some reason or another; I don’t precisely remember why.)

I think part of the reason I do so much thinking about manuscripts before I actually sit down to write them as a way around the self-doubt and imposter syndrome; if I don’t stop to think about my self-doubt and insecurity about my abilities surrounding my work I can move forward with it; and it’s not until later–the editing process, the galleys, the finished book–that all of the insecurities come flooding back. I thought Bury Me in Shadows, for example, was in pretty good shape when I turned it in; rereading it now I am aghast that I could have ever thought such a thing. This is when my passion for reading undermines me; I know I shouldn’t compare my own work to that of others, but I am sure that my horror at rereading and making corrections and notes for corrections yesterday was not helped in the least by having just finished reading something by Laurie R. King, for example; her mastery of voice and language and character and story, while quite extraordinary and exceptional, is one of those bars that I cannot hope to clear. And of course I am well aware that I shouldn’t compare my work–of which I am not the best judge, ever, and about which I am much too hard on myself–to a New York Times bestselling author whose work I admire and respect and of which I am an enormous fan.

However, reading great writers makes me aspire to do better with my own work, so there’s that.

And on that note, I am going to head back into the spice mines–have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader! It’s certainly beautiful here in New Orleans.

World in Motion

Ah, Sunday.

Last night I kept waking up, even though it felt like I was getting good rest, if that makes any sense. I finally got tired of trying to get some more sleep and went ahead and got up before eight–around quarter till, to be precise–because I have work to do and the deadline is ticking. I made some excellent progress yesterday, and have a lot more to do today. I am hoping to get the final chapters of the book completely refinished and rewritten today; so I can do mop up the rest of the week–and there will be lots of mopping up to do. This is maybe the ninth draft of the book since I wrote the first draft in 2015–but in complete fairness, all those revisions were of the first half of the book rather than the second; this is the third draft of the second half–I was struggling to find the right voice, to find the correct tense, and really, trying to figure out who my main character is or was. Most of this work has been, since I first wrote the first draft six years ago, scattered and disorganized and, in retrospect, primarily a case of me not trusting myself or my abilities and be intimidated by what I was writing about–with the occasional dose of imposter syndrome thrown in for good measure.

We watched the ice dancing final last night, and remain completely mystified by the results. Perhaps we’re partisan, but we simply failed to see the same magic in the routine by the Canadian team that resulted in them placing second in the free dance, and capturing the bronze medal somehow. But ice dance has always been controversial, and the judging has never made much sense. The Russian team that won was clearly the best in the competition; no question about that–but I also felt the second place Russian team, that finished fifth, was also better, more athletic, and more artistic, than the Canadians. But yesterday afternoon I also took some time to watch the men’s final, and it was delightful to see Nathan Chen make a comeback from a fall in the short program to win it all, his third world title in a row–the first American to do so since Scott Hamilton–and if he wins the Olympics and a fourth world title next year, he’ll be in even more elite company. The women also managed to earn the US three Olympic spots, which I wasn’t expecting to happen, so at least we’ll have as full a team as possible; I think Nathan winning automatically earns us three men for the team–but the rules may have changed, and I must confess I don’t pay nearly as much attention to figure skating as I used to. I hate this new points system; always have since it was implemented, and I don’t believe it forestalls arrangements between judges the way the old system did–not to mention the guarantee of anonymity so no one knows how any judge scored any competitor; I fail to see how this will stop collusion, but I am not the ISU.

The humidity has been ruinous on my sinuses lately; it’s so weird for it to be so hot and humid already this year. My windows are covered in condensation this morning, which is unusual for this time of year–that new HVAC system clearly works extremely well–an I am going to head to the gym later this morning for my weekend workout. The rain kept me from going earlier in the week, so for the last two weeks I’ve only had two workouts per week; not goo, but better than one and much better than not going at all. I need to get some new workout clothes, though; I haven’t bought workout shorts in well over ten years and thus they not only don’t fit properly but are also a little on the worn out side, and the more hot and humid it gets the less likely I am to want to wear sweat pants to the gym. I found some T-shirts in my T-shirt drawer back from the days when I could squeeze into a medium (I now wear extra large) and so I disposed of them as well. I really would like to get this book finished and turned in on Thursday the 1st (this week!) so I can spend my three day Easter weekend cleaning out books and going through my clothes.

I’d also like to spend some time finishing The Russia House. I read another chapter yesterday and greatly enjoyed it; I am really looking forward to spending more time with LeCarré. I also want to start reading more of these books that I keep buying and adding to my TBR pile, which is mostly out of control these days–I also need to recognize that many essays I have wanted to write about books and authors I enjoyed won’t ever happen because I will never have the time to write them, nor will I ever have the time to go back and reread the books; there simply isn’t enough time for all the reading I want to do, and I have to be more realistic. Some are simply too long–much as I loved Anya Seton’s Green Darkness, Arthur Hailey’s Airport, and Herman Wouk’s Youngblood Hawke, there’s simply no way I can (or will) ever find the time to reread those books; let alone anything by Michener (I’ve been wanting to reread my favorite Michener, Centennial, for quite some time, but probably will never happen).

And once I have this book finished and turned in, I have to do some revisions of Bury Me in Shadows by May 1; I don’t think it’s anything major, really; a much more thorough copy edit, an additional clarifying sentence here and there, and then it will be finished, and then comes the first draft of Chlorine….at long last. There are also some submission calls I want to write for as well; we’ll see how that turns out, won’t we? But I think my stories “Death and the Handmaidens”, “The Blues Before Dawn”, and “Le Feu Follet” might actually have homes I can try to get them into; and there’s another call for a humorous mystery I’d like to take a shot at as well; my stories always seem to turn out to be darkly comic anyway.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you tomorrow.

Style

And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.

Call It What You Want

Sunday sliding in like a surprise guest at your birthday party.

Hope all is well with everyone out there this morning. I stayed up later than I intended last night; Paul and I finished The Alienist: Angel of Darkness and greatly enjoyed it, then moved on to Never Have I Ever on Netflix, which is both funny and sweet at the same time. It’s a Mindy Kaling show, so I knew it would be both, and I’m looking forward to more of it.

I also started reading Lovecraft Country yesterday, and am enjoying it thus far. I’m not going to lie, I wince and recoil from its undoubtedly accurate depictions of how horrific 1950s racism was (not that any racism is ever non-horrific, regardless of time period) but while I would have probably stopped reading it ten years ago precisely because of that discomfort, now I keep reading because that’s the purpose of it; to make white people uncomfortable and we need to be made to feel that way from time to time. And I can handle a little discomfort during my reading–it’s nothing compared to the discomfort non-white people feel living their lives every damned day. And since a lot of the first part of the book has to do with dealing with racism while moving around the country–yup, there’s another privilege I never even was aware of that I enjoy for the most part; not having to fear moving around the country because I might drive through a place where not being white would get me killed. (I do have some fears about being gay while driving through the rural South; but on some levels I can pass for straight, whatever that means…maybe I can’t and just think I do, but that fear is always there in the back of my mind, and the more rural the area where I stop the bigger the fear) Oddly enough, the author of the book appears to be white–and the descriptions of his other works in the back of the book sound intriguing. There’s one called The Mirage, which apparently is an alternative-history type thing that reverses the United States and the Middle East, so that 9/11 happened to Baghdad and not New York…so the author often tackles difficult subjects in his books.

I did get some work done on Bury Me in Shadows yesterday; I managed to redo the first chapter. One down, nine to go to hit my goal for the weekend. YIKES. But I also spent some time cleaning and organizing yesterday–a scattered, disorganized workspace makes me feel scattered and disorganized, which makes writing even harder–and I feel as though today I will be able to get much further along in the story than I did yesterday. The living room is still a complete mess, but the chores yesterday as well as some time spent reading in my easy chair have me feeling relaxed and rested this morning–which bodes well for the writing today. I may even get to do some organizing of the books and cleaning of the living room. IMAGINE THAT.

This coming week holds my birthday, and I am leaning towards taking a four day weekend–my birthday is Thursday–which will enable me to get a lot of rest, do some reading, and get further caught up on my writing. I’ve not decided completely as to whether I should take both days off as of yet, but am leaning towards it. I always take my birthday off–I can think of no less pleasant way to spend one’s birthday than at work–but even though I can simply work from home and save my vacation time, I think I’d rather just have the days off, if I am going to be completely honest with myself.

I’ve also, truth be told, having some doubts and imposter syndrome about the book I’m currently writing. It’s not that I don’t think I can write it–I know I can, for fuck’s sake I have a completed sloppy first draft–but some of the issues I wanted to address in it I pretty much left out of the entire first draft. I know I can get them into this next draft, but one of my biggest issues about writing about important issues is not wanting to come across as preachy, or ABC Afterschool Special-ish. I do like the changes I’ve made to it so far, and I think I’ve slid some messaging into this first chapter the proper way…but who knows? I’m not sure why I am having so much doubt–so much more doubt–with this book than I have had with others. But I really really want to get this right, and I’m worried about it, which I guess is a good thing.

I suspect if I ever felt good about something I was writing and working on, I’d be even more worried.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Sorry if I’ve bored you this morning, but sometimes that’s just the way it goes.