Say You Love Me

Good morning, Monday, and a happy start of the work week to you, Constant Reader. I am awake this morning and not groggy; not sure how that bodes for the rest of the day thus far; that remains to be seen. But I survived another weekend, managed to get some writing done, and feel better than I seem to recall feeling on a Monday morning. We’ll see how this all plays out in the end, won’t we?

I do feel better about the WIP this morning; I suspect all the Imposter Syndrome feelings of the weekend had to do with how much trouble I seem to be having getting going on it and working on it every day. Which, to be fair to myself, isn’t really all that surprising–anytime something is more difficult than it should be, one tends to question one’s self–but I am not sure if I have gotten to the root of the entire problem; why is it so difficult for me to get to work on this book? Why is it taking me so long to get it written? Does that mean I shouldn’t be writing it, and should be working on something else? Mayhap, but that also doesn’t help in any way. I don’t feel like I should abandon this book until at least I have a first draft finished, and I was planning on abandoning it for a while after getting the first draft done in the first place, in order to do a final draft of another manuscript that has been languishing in a drawer for several years now (there’s another, even older, one in the same drawer). But if I devote May to getting this finished, then I can spend June and July working on the other and hopefully–hopefully–will get to start my next one before I have to take two months off for another project.

There are also some other things I am working on; half-heartedly and when I have the time and am not in the mood to do anything else–which means they aren’t getting done.

C’est la vie, and all of that.

I’ve got to stop procrastinating, and using my long days at work every week as an excuse to not do anything at all. Everyone is tired, everyone works, everyone has an excuse not to do anything, and not doing my writing isn’t helping make things better, you know? I have goals that I set that I want to accomplish this year, and not doing anything isn’t getting me any closer to achieving those goals. I may not be as driven as I was when I had more energy, but that doesn’t mean I want to just keep spinning my wheels. Taking the time away from writing was lovely, as is not having that horrible pressure of deadlines. But deadlines also kind of drive me, and setting personal ones doesn’t seem to be doing the trick…not sure, I guess I am going to need to see where the rest of this year goes to see if the experiment in pressure-release has actually worked or is actually working.

As for Game of Thrones last night…I am reserving judgment on this season until it’s over. I’ve been disappointed by the show before only to be proven wrong before, but yeah, last night’s episode…it’s hard to continue rooting for people who behave so stupidly, over and over again. At one point, as Dany and Jon were professing their (incestuous) love for each other and she was pleading with him to keep his true identity a secret…it was all very General Hospital, frankly, and when the scene was over Paul and I looked at each other, rolled our eyes, and said at the same time, “Team Cersei.”

They have two episodes left now, in which they have to bring what has been an incredibly thrilling ride to a close. The inevitability of disappointment with the ending has been with us since the very beginning, of course, and people are bound to be disappointed. But I was also disappointed with “The Long Night” episode slightly, until I rewatched it again on Friday night. Maybe this last episode will work better on a rewatch; I don’t know.

And on that note, I have to get ready for work.

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Welcome Back

I managed fourteen hundred words today, and then came up blank. I hate when that happens, but I just can’t force the creativity, you know? And those fourteen hundred words were hard to do, frankly. But I printed out the next chapter (Chapter Seven, to be exact) and will reread that at some point before getting to work on it, perhaps later, before Game of Thrones airs. I am planning on making this weird combination Swedish meatball/beef stroganoff dish for dinner (I’ve made both, and then one time when I was making Swedish meatballs later I realized I’d used the stroganoff recipe, but you know what? I also liked it. A lot. And I’ve made it that way ever since) later, and the kitchen is relatively clean already (and my goal is to leave it clean when I finish cooking; the worst thing is to go into my two long days at work with a messy kitchen, knowing it will most likely stay that way, getting worse, until Thursday–unless I somehow have more energy during the week than I usually do). I’ve filed stuff, cleaned the floors, paid the bills, made groceries, mailed things that needed to be mailed, and I wrote fourteen hundred words on the WIP today before running out of steam. Perhaps someday I’ll work my way back up to those halcyon days of three thousand or more I used to do routinely, but having a nice, relaxing weekend where I am actually able to get started writing and get caught up on things and have a clean home is a lovely way to start, don’t you think?

I certainly do.

I’m going to miss Game of Thrones when it ends, and I doubt very seriously I will ever go back and watch the entire series again. It’s a tempting thought, to be honest, to devote several months to rewatching it in full, from episode one to its conclusion, in one massive binge and think about what I am watching, in terms of what I know is going to happen and watching for possible foreshadowing. I’ve always loved history, and that’s part of why I love Game of Thrones so much; it’s kind of like history where you don’t know how it all ends. When I was a kid I used to redraw maps of Europe and create countries and change the way wars ended and try to create my own Eurocentric history of the world; who knew that what I was actually doing wasn’t simply a waste of time but rather an incredibly creative experiment in world building via alternative history. Every so often, when I’ve been caught up in a science fiction or fantasy epic series, I wonder at the world building/universe building creativity of the author and think I could never do that. I’ve always wanted to, but never have; but perhaps that was simply a failing of my own. Of course I could do it, but whether I could do it well would be an entirely different thing.

I don’t read as much science fiction and fantasy as I would like–I’ve always geared more towards crime and horror–but I’ve certainly read and enjoyed the Dune series, The Lord of the Rings, The Belgariad, The Shannara Chronicles, and Azimov’s science fiction novels about the robots and the empire and the Foundation, which wound up in the end all being one great big long series. There are writers out there now that I am looking forward to reading–I am not only diversifying the types of stories I read by race, gender, gender identity, ethnicity, and sexuality, but I am also trying to read more broadly across genres. Reading science fiction, fantasy, romance, even what is condescendingly called “chick lit”, and even some literary fiction will influence me and help make me a better writer in the long run. I read primarily for enjoyment, yes, but I also want to be a better writer, and reading different stories and different perspectives can only serve to make me a better writer.

I guess in reality when the show ends I won’t be saying goodbye completely to Game of Thrones; I still have the books to finish reading, and there will undoubtedly be spin-off shows–but seriously, is anyone at HBO listening? Your next big series should be Anne McCaffrey’s The Dragonriders of Pern. Her dragon books would be fantastic television, and for that matter so would Naomi Norvik’s (which I need to read; I started reading one a long time ago and was completely enthralled; something came up and I never finished and I never got back to it, and I’ve always regretted that).

I am also, in case you haven’t noticed, not only in that stage of writing where I never want to do it, have to force myself to do it, but when I finally do I am not happy with what I have done. I am completely convinced this book isn’t going to be what I want it to be, what I envisioned it to be, and its entirely due to my own various shortcomings as an author. It’s all part and parcel of the same neurosis, really; the endless cycle of Imposter Syndome, where you think you’ve somehow managed to con people for years that you can write but eventually the gig will be up and the marks you’ve been conning all along will finally wise up. This all too frequently translates I need to work today into what’s the point of writing? This book is shit, anyway, and no one is going to want to read it which very easily becomes let me get watch Youtube videos of Game of Thrones fan theories and listicles or highlights of exciting LSU football games or really hot well built muscular professional wrestlers or old music videos or clips from old episodes of All My Children–yes, those downward Youtube spirals can be quite frightening sometimes.

But I did make myself get those fourteen hundred words done today, even though I didn’t want to do it, even though I thought I should do three thousand, even though I currently think the words I wrote are crap and the chapter is crap and the character is two dimensional and I don’t know what I am doing, I FUCKING WROTE THOSE GODDAMNED WORDS TODAY.

And that’s fourteen hundred more words than I did yesterday, or Friday, or Thursday.

And I bet tomorrow I can do more than fourteen hundred.

Watch closely now.

What do I say to the God of Imposter Syndrome? NOT TODAY, MOTHERFUCKER, NOT TODAY.

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Moonlight Feels Right

And just like that, it’s now Tuesday.

Yesterday, rather than my long day, I only had to put in seven hours rather than eleven. (I work half-days on Friday, but it was a holiday so got paid for eight, which meant four hours had to go from somewhere; Monday was the easiest choice for the testing schedule) I worked on the WIP and faced up to the fact that the reason I didn’t work on it Sunday was because the next chapter to revise (Chapter Four, to be exact) really needs to begin with a nightmare and the main character being woken up from it by a thunderstorm in the middle of the night. Heavy sigh. I was resistant to writing the nightmare scene  because it felt lazy to me; I’ve done the woken-from-a-nightmare-by-a-thunderstorm in several books now, and it’s kind of become a trope in my works that have a touch of the paranormal to them–I think I even did this in The Orion Mask, which didn’t have anything of the paranormal to it.

I hate being aware of tropes in my own work…my own personal tropes?

I am sure this has something to do with getting a D on a story for that wretched writing instructor (the one who told me I’d never be published) that included a dream; take that, asshole professor who has never published anything; another novel by me in print with a dream sequence.

But in this case, the nightmare is necessary foreshadowing, not just lazy writing (or so I am convincing myself, at any rate). I need to create a mood in the book, and the nightmare plays into this feeling that something just isn’t right at my main character’s grandmother’s house. I’ve also worried that the story is too similar to Lake Thirteen, that I might be repeating myself, but I think that is also part of writing another ghost story. I’ve already written one, and so there’s always going to be the fear that I am just retelling the same story again. It isn’t quite the same story, but there are enough similarities that I delayed writing this book for a very long time because I simply assumed they were too much alike. But that’s also the challenge of writing this one, and why I decided to go ahead and write it: for the challenge of writing another ghost story without repeating the same story and scenes.

I suppose once I finish writing this draft I should probably reread Lake Thirteen just to be on the safe side. It’s been years since I wrote and published that particular book and so it’s entirely possible my creative mind could be taking shortcuts. But this is a more complicated and complex book than Lake Thirteen; it’s also a lot more ambitious. I am trying something with the voice I’ve never done before–first person present tense–and that is, in and of itself, hard to keep track of and it’s very easy to slip into past tense, which is my usual go-to. Again, trying to challenge myself with this voice and character and tense; we shall see how it works out, I suppose.

Thirty-odd books and a ridiculous amount of short stories later, and it never gets any easier. Oh, the self-doubt and constant evaluation of my abilities as a writer…it never goes away, and it’s something I’m trying really hard to work around and ignore. I think part of the reason I am so bad about self-promotion is tied not only into the entire concept of modesty that I was raised to believe in but the self-doubt and self-deprecation that comes along with who I am as a person.

It’s a wonder I’m not in a strait-jacket.

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

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Don’t Go Breaking My Heart

Last night when I got home from work I was so tired I literally repaired to the easy chair almost immediately, while a purring cat in my lap. I kept dozing off while I waited for Paul to get home, and finally, once he did make it through the front door, I gave up any pretense of being awake still and went directly to bed. I didn’t want to get up this morning (no different than any morning, really, other than it’s dark and rudely early), and would be more than happy to go straight back to bed for another few hours.

I did manage to revise the first chapter of the WIP yesterday; first chapters are always the hardest to do, quite frankly, and so I always end up spending the most time on them. The trick is to introduce your main character without a lot of explanation and back story–the temptation to write an entire chapter of back story is always, always present, and must be resisted; there’s no easier way to lose a reader than explaining back story….but there has to be enough for the chapter to make logical sense to the reader as well. It’s a balancing act; one that I’m not quite sure I’ve managed, but at least today I get to move on to Chapter Two.

Tonight I have to not only pack for the weekend but also continue to move perishable things over to the carriage house. I think the last thing I’m going to do is move things to the back of the car–the cat food, etc.–and since I’m not taking the car to the Quarter for the weekend (the cost of parking down there is absolutely insane) that should work. It’s also going to be a struggle getting Scooter into his travel kennel to take him to the Kitty Spa Friday morning; it’s usually a two-person job, and since he’s a Daddy’s kitty, not having Daddy to help me is going to make it a battle royale, I fear. I also have a doctor’s appointment Friday afternoon that I couldn’t reschedule before July (!), so it looks like the most likely progression here will be drop off the cat, drive back over here, and call a Lyft to take me to the Quarter, then grab another Lyft to the doctor, and take the streetcar back from there.

Madness; a weekend’s worth of utter and complete madness.

But I am feeling better about things; the lovely comments from people about my story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s plus getting some good revision done yesterday has me feeling better about my career and my ability to write again; it’s been a hot minute since I felt good about anything having to do with my writing, so it’s kind of lovely to have some confidence again. Or rather, restore the low confidence I’ve had most of my career. Writing is insane in that way; maybe the big names like Harlan Coben and Jeff Abbott and Lisa Scottoline and Karin Slaughter don’t ever suffer from Imposter Syndrome, but it’s really an integral part of my personality. I’ve had it about everything–not just writing. I constantly question, and have my entire life, whether I am good at my job (whatever it may have been at the time) or whether I am a hard worker or how clean my house is or whether I actually can write or if I am just somehow managing to cost by somehow, being read by non-discerning readers who can’t tell that I’m not a good writer.

And around and around and around it goes.

I started reading Samantha Downing’s wonderful My Lovely Wife yesterday on my lunch break, and it’s really really good. I am looking forward to moderating our “whodunit” panel this Saturday; hope to see you there.

And now back to the spice mines–because if I know anything, it’s that spice won’t mine itself.

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Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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