The Ledge

And here it is, Tuesday morning and dark outside my windows as I have my morning coffee preparatory to getting ready for work. It’s getting to be that time of year where I drive to and from work in the dark, which is always a bit debilitating; you feel like you’ve spent the entire day at work when you don’t get to spend any time outside–even if just going to and from work–in the sunshine. The weather has cooled here a bit over the last week, which has been lovely (and early in the season for coolness). My back is much better–there’s still some tightness and slight pain involved–but I think i can actually head to work today and not be in the kind of pain I was in last week, which is kind of nice. It’s still there, but I am learning how to not trigger it–the irony of which is that I am having to use good posture at all times so as not to inflame the pain, which means had I been using good posture most of my life I might not have this problem right now.

But it’s something I can live with today; something I wasn’t so sure about as recently as Sunday. So taking the days of rest, with the alternating hot and cold, was probably a very smart thing to do. I will be taking the generic Ben-Gay with me to work today, too–just in case. But I can sit comfortably without it, which is something I can honestly say was not the case as recently as Sunday. And now of course I have to start digging myself out from under–which is a lot of catching up I need to get done. I also have to do some digging around and figure out what is missing from some projects that I need to get finished, and I also need to get back to writing. There’s an anthology deadline next month–more like three weeks from now–that I wanted to submit something to, but I seriously doubt I am going to be able to have the time or the energy to revise anything the way I want it to be revised to submit to this anthology, so I am probably going to have to let it go once and for all.

We watched Cold Blooded: The Clutter Family Murders last night, a documentary series about the In Cold Blood murders and of course Truman Capote’s famous book that was written about the case (which remains, to this day, one of my favorites) as well as the film made from the book (which I’ve never seen, but Paul’s friend the actress Brenda Curran was in, playing Nancy Clutter). I’ve been to both Holcomb and Garden City, back when I lived in Kansas and when I also had no idea Holcomb was where the crimes happened (I didn’t read In Cold Blood until I lived in California). One of the things I’ve always found interesting about these old rural crimes is how they always talk about how the “community changed” after it happened and how people never used to lock their doors…and everyone could just knock and enter other people’s homes. I wasn’t raised that way; my mother was very obsessive about always making sure everything was locked up–cars, homes, wherever–and used to get mad at me when, as a lazy not really paying much attention teenager used to sometimes leave the car unlocked. Paul is much the same as my mom; sometimes I forget to lock the car, and when I am home by myself I forget sometimes to lock the front door–someone would have to scale the fence, which isn’t easy, to get back to our apartment door–but that’s also a part and parcel of the false sense of security we all have about being safe in our homes. Once I am inside I am safe.

Which really isn’t true.

I spent some more time with Donna Andrews’ delightful new Meg Langslow novel last night while I waited for Paul to finish working so I could make dinner, and it’s delightful. I don’t know how she manages to do this with a series that has lasted as long as hers has; I think there may be more than twenty volumes in the series now? But each one is a delight. I love the town of Caerphilly, I love her family, and most of all I really enjoy Meg. I love highly accomplished, confident, efficient women like her; she’s yet another drily humorous main character in the vein of Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody and Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell (I really am overdue for reading another book in that series) and while my own poor Valerie is hardly in the same vein as these remarkable women characters, I’d kind of like to keep developing her into a series because, well, I kind of grew attached to Valerie and her friends while writing A Streetcar Named Murder, and I’d kind of like to revisit them again in another book. I have a title and an idea for the next book in the series, should Crooked Lane want another, and while I felt fairly confident they’d hate the title, I just this weekend came up with a potentially better title for it…and now that I am writing this, i cannot for the life of me remember what that title was, nor do I think I made a note of it (which is why you should always make a note of it).

Ah, well, perhaps it will come back to me at some point.

I also woke up to proofs of an anthology I contributed a story to that has been in the works for many years now, which means the book is finally going to be released which is great news. My story is called “A Whisper from the Graveyard” and I really don’t remember much, if anything, about the story because it’s frankly been so long. But I will need to proof it–check for typos and missing words and such–which will be a nice way to get reacquainted with the story, at the very least. I vaguely have some idea about the story–I know it’s a private eye story, with a gay detective who has just tested HIV positive and it’s set in the early 1990’s, so it’s a death sentence as far as he knows–and is hired by someone to find someone else? I don’t remember–it really has been a long time since I wrote this story.

But I am also completely overwhelmed with work and being behind on everything and I really need to start making a to-do list so I can sort all this shit out and get things done that need to be done. I know I need to go back to work on Scotty and my other project; there’s any number of other things I need to get done, and I also need to start figuring out promo for A Streetcar Named Murder else no one will buy it and that will be the end of that.

The great joy of being a writer.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Happy Tuesday everyone (except Buccaneer fans)!

Shake It Off

Believe it or not, we have finally reached the last Monday of 2020.

As always, I have a lot of work to do, but I slept exceptionally well for a change and the bed was comfortable and felt so lovely I stayed in bed for another hour after I woke up initially; sue me. I have a gazillion things to do today, including going to the bank and making groceries as well as going to the gym at some point; I also have to work on the book today. The work went very well yesterday and I was enormously pleased with what I managed to get done yesterday. I have a mere five chapters left to revise and a final chapter yet to be written; all of which needs to be done by Friday, and I do feel like it can be done–especially since I don’t even need to leave the house on either Tuesday or Thursday. I am not certain if the gym is going to be open on Friday–I guess I can ask when I go there today; I do find it strange that they don’t post their holiday hours anywhere around the front desk or on the front door, but it’s also not “my” gym, so I guess they can run it however they please. I also have a gazillion emails to answer, which doesn’t sound in the least bit fun or interesting, but it has to be done.

I did, as I mentioned earlier, manage to get a lot done yesterday–and not just on the book. More cleaning and organizing was required–still have some more to do today at some point–as well as making new folders, both physical and virtual, and of course, this meant more filing. While it was busywork, it needed to be done, and I actually did the floors in the kitchen–well, the rugs anyway–which always makes the kitchen look ever-so-much better. I am going to do the rugs in the living room today at some point, and then over the rest of the week do the actual floors themselves–and yes, I am going to do the windows as well.

I intended to start reading the new Alison Gaylin–I am lucky to have a very advance copy of The Colleciive, available from your local independents and on-line this coming summer of 2021–but I got caught up in Czity of Nets, which is, of course, Chlorine research, and after reading through it (I went ahead and bought the ebook; I do believe I must have donated the hardcover after I finished reading it, as Chlorine had yet to occur to me at the time I read it) I thought about it some more and was like, dude, you’re going to be writing the Kansas book next–maybe you should do some more background on it…because truth be told, most of it is being written based on almost forty year old memories of Kansas, and that really won’t do, will it? So, I went into a Kansas internet wormhole for quite some time and actually got pretty far afield from what I was originally looking up–you know how one thing inevitably leads to another on-line–and soon I was looking up rivers and lakes and the small rural towns scattered around the nucleus of Emporia, which was the county seat of where I lived as a teenager–towns with names like Admire and Allen, Bushong and Cottonwood Falls, Council Grove and Neosho Rapids, Olpe and Hamilton and Reading and Hartford. I’ll probably also take another read of In Cold Blood while I work on this revision as well; few writers have captured Kansas quite the way Capote did in that book. I also started looking at history as well–the history of Bleeding Kansas and the Kansas-Nebraska Act, both of which were preludes to the Civil War. And as much as I am basing my fictional city of “Liberty Center” (shout out to Philip Roth and his When She Was Good) on Emporia, I also have to remember–just as how Bury Me in Shadows is a fictionalized version of the part of Alabama I come from–that I am fictionalizing the town; so I can make changes as needed and the fictionalization doesn’t have to be exact.

It’s so wild that the Kansas book is going to finally be finished and published–and all the different iterations it’s gone through over the course of my life. I actually started writing this book originally in high school–which is when I came up with the character names and places–and it was actually the very first manuscript I completed, by hand, in 1983 after writing it for about four years, continuing the stories I started writing about these characters in high school. This book will bear very little resemblance to any of those earlier iterations; over the years I’ve used the character names in other works, primarily my only other Kansas book, Sara–which I really need to reread to make sure I don’t re-use names I’ve already used. I think the ones I’ve used since high school were used in Sara, which I thought would be my one book about Kansas, so I threw all the character names and place names into it. I had wanted to connect this book in a way to Sara as well; since they are about the same part of Kansas, and I try to connect all of my work in some way, but I’ve never ever liked the name I came up with for the county seat, and now I’ve settled on Liberty Center….but I also tell myself that the two differently named counties can actually be next door neighbors, Liberty County can be right next to Kahola County, and thus Kahola High can be Liberty Center’s arch rival.

Looking into those small towns, some of them considered to be ghost towns now, also piqued my interest. I have several ideas about writing about Kansas–the Bloody Benders, of course, and I have a great title for a prairie noir called Kansas Lonesome I really want to write–and as I said, this book has been through many iterations. The great irony of finally publishing this–and finishing it, let’s be honest–still doesn’t mean I am writing the Kansas book I’ve always wanted to write; this book does focus on the murder of a high school football player, as the Kansas book I’ve been wanting to write since around 2002 did; but this is a vastly different story from what I originally wanted to write–and I still may write that book, centered around Kahola rather than Liberty Center; I’m not sure–and there’s also the cult college thing–the Way International and their Way College of Emporia, which isn’t there anymore; they closed the campus and sold the property to Emporia State University–and the Way has declined over the decades since they were large and wealthy enough to buy a bankrupt Presbyterian college in a small city in Kansas–but that’s a whole other story. There’s also the megachurch story I want to write about Kansas….which is also sort of tied into my original story of the quarterback’s murder. Who knew Kansas could be so inspirational?

But you see how I wind up wasting days….

And on that note, tis time to return to the spice mines. Those emails will not answer themselves, after all, and I’ve got a lot to get done today before the sun sets. Have a happy final Monday of 2020, Constant Reader!

Haunted

It’s gray outside this morning, and right now the trees and the crepe myrtles are swaying in a strong wind. It must have rained at some point during the night because the sidewalk looks wet, but I’m not sure. We’re supposed to experience tropical storm conditions, and it looks as though that won’t be until later this evening; we’ll see how that turns out though. Our syringe program may be short-staffed today so I am probably going to go into the office to help out–the storm may not reach us until around five thirty and I should be able to get home by then (am I crazy? The jury, as always, remains out on that one).

I’ve been sleeping really well lately–stress reduction has occurred on many different levels over the past week. My back and shoulders feel relaxed and not knotted anymore–I hadn’t noticed how much of my stress was being carried there until it wasn’t there anymore–and maybe I am going to be able to start focusing with laser intensity again. I miss that, frankly; the ability to focus all my brain and creativity and intelligence (such as it is) on one particular thing and get it finished; I think I may even go back to being able to keep all the plates spinning again–stop that crazy talk, Greg!–so we shall see. As I said, some things that have been weighing heavily on my mind–and knotting my shoulders–have wrapped up now and if i can finally manage to get myself organized, look out world.

Do keep Lake Charles and western Louisiana/eastern Texas in your thoughts, Constant Reader, as they are going to get hammered again tonight.

Yesterday as I made condom packs I queued up Terence Malick’s debut film as part of the Cynical 70’s Film Festival, Badlands,which starred a very young Martin Sheen and an even younger Sissy Spacek playing a version of Charles Starkweather and his girlfriend Caril (in the movie they are Kit and Holly); as they embark on their killing spree–although in the movie it’s South Dakota and Montana, as opposed to the Nebraska and Wyoming in reality. It is set in the 1950’s, which is also when Starkweather went on his spree (makes you think about how everyone remembers the 1950’s as this idyllic time; what I call Leave it to Beaver Syndrome), and the performances are stellar. The movie is narrated by Spacek’s Holly, in an almost unemotional monotone that captures the spirit of the movie itself. The movie doesn’t explain why Kit decided to start killing people, or why Holly chose to go with him, other than they fell in love and her father–the first victim–disapproved. (It’s also very weird seeing President Bartlet on a shooting spree, really.) Both are terrific in their roles, and the movie is visually stunning, really hammering home the isolation of the countryside in those rural states and their vast emptiness–and literally, how on the great plains or in the badlands there is no one to hear you scream. It made me think also of In Cold Blood; and of course, gave me some story ideas.

I decided to make it a Sissy Spacek double feature and queued up Carrie next–it was also a cynical 70’s movie, after all; and while it can hardly be termed a teen movie, it was about high school, after all, and the only adults in the film are supporting characters–Miss Collins the gym teacher; the principal; and of course, the piece de resistance, Margaret White–and everyone else is theoretically a teenager/high school student. I’ve not rewatched Carrie in years, and I’d forgotten what a great film it is; it’s one of the best (if not the best) Stephen King adaptations ever made–I might even go so far as to say it may be one of those rare instances when the film is better than the book. (And as a big King fan, I am quite aware of what blasphemy I just uttered.) Both book and film might be the first time bullying was addressed so strongly, and an argument can even be made that Carrie is one of two Stephen King novels that could be classified as young adult novels (Christine is the other one). Reading Carrie was a revelation to me as a teenager; it was the first time I’d ever read anything in fiction that depicted high school as I knew it that closely; most books and films at the time that did so were completely unrealistic. I had found junior and senior high school to be jungles of cruelty and viciousness with a rigid caste system; it was the first time I’d ever read anything centering the poor kid whom nobody likes, everyone picks on or mocks, and did it with sympathy. It was the first time I saw high school girls depicted as “mean girls”–it later became a trope–and the book was also the first time I ever saw in fiction anyone try to explain the weird, visceral group reaction to a figure who is more to be pitied than hated. (The book was also the first time I realized that we all love an underdog story–is there anything more popular in American popular culture than rooting for the underdog–while in real life the majority of us all will kick the underdog in the ribs or stand by and do or say nothing when they are being abused; King got that, as well as the shame decent people feel about doing nothing later) The movie is incredibly well done; there’s more gratuitous female nudity than perhaps necessary but it doesn’t feel exploitative; the locker room scene that opens the book features female nudity but it would be unrealistic to not show some–and later, we see Spacek’s nude body when she bathes and washes the blood off herself. It’s also very well-cast: Betty Buckley is terrific as the gym teacher who goes from irritated with poor Carrie until she realizes the girl has no idea what her period is; Amy Irving as Sue Snell, the decent girl who participates in the taunting but later feels remorse–a difficult role to be believable in, but she manages it; Nancy Allen is perfectly cast as spoiled hateful bitch Chris Hargensen; and of course John Travolta, playing against type as Chris’ low-life drop-out boyfriend and co-conspirator, which was really a brave move on his part–he was a star already and a teen idol from Welcome Back Kotter, and making his screen debut as a dirtbag thug was a risk (and his next film was Saturday Night Fever); but the movie truly belongs to Sissy Spacek, who is perfect as Carrie, and Piper Laurie as her mother, Jesus-freak Margaret White. Watching them again, I can’t help but feel that each deserved to win Oscars (they lost to Faye Dunaway and Beatrice Straight, both in Network). The use of music in the movie is perfect, and the whole movie seems to be shot with this weird, slightly blurry, out of focus dreamlike style, like the camera was coated in vaseline or covered in gauze. And the clothes and hairstyles! The prom tuxedos with the ruffled shirts and in bizarre color choices! The feathered hair and the gym shorts pulled up so high they barely covered the girls’ asses! William Katt as Tommy Ross, the nice guy who takes Carrie to the prom! Even a young Edie McClurg as one of the teenaged girls, I think the character name was Frieda? As I rewatched the movie, I couldn’t help but think how King subverted the trope of the underdog story by making Carrie so sympathetic to the viewer, and then of course she blossoms at the prom with her make-up and her hair out of her face, in the beautiful dress she made herself, escorted by the most popular boy in the school, and elected Prom Queen–only to have it all come crashing down around her.

The movie differed from the book in several important ways, too–in the book, they do all laugh when Carrie is coated with the pig’s blood; the election for King and Queen isn’t rigged in the book; and in the book Carrie wreaks havoc and destroys the entire town on her walk home. The book also–a stylistic choice I may have questioned as an editor–made it very clear almost from the very beginning that Carrie’s story has a terrible ending, by intercutting the chapters with clips from news reports, books, etc. talking about the Black Prom–the reader just doesn’t know what happens at it, and whatever we may have been expecting, it certainly wasn’t the extreme it turned out to be–and my sympathies were entirely with Carrie, all the way to the very end.

I may need to reread Carrie.

It’s been such a fucked-up year that I forgot that I usually spend October reading horror novels, to celebrate the Halloween season. So maybe tonight, after I get home and the storm rages around us, maybe I’ll take Carrie down from the shelf and give it a reread.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines. Stay safe, everyone, and I will catch you later.

The Archer

It’s always something, isn’t it? If could go back in time and tell my younger self anything in the way of advice or assistance in dealing with life, that’s the lesson I would try to get through: it never stops, there’s always something, and sometimes you just can’t get away from things–but you also can’t get away from dealing with these things. Sometimes, if you’re lucky, they will be minor and small annoyances; but they will inevitably include things that are an enormous pain in the ass, and if other people are involved….well, inevitably they will make things worse rather than better.

You rarely will go wrong underestimating the intelligence of others. Sometimes, rarely, they will surprise you–but those moments are both lovely and rare.

This has been a week, of ups and downs and emotions all over the place and irritations and trying to fix things that shouldn’t need to be fixed in the first place; another thing you can never go wrong with is assuming that no one will ever take responsibility for their mistakes, their incompetence, or their stupidity. I am very glad to have reached Friday with the shreds of what’s left of my sanity somewhat intact; I intend to spend this weekend cleaning and writing. I had, in a conversation with a writer friend yesterday, one of those marvelous epiphanies about why my writing has stalled or is taking me so long to get this manuscript finished; which is that I am trying to make it perfect–and while there’s certainly nothing wrong with striving to write a book that is perfect, there’s also no such thing as the perfect book; it’s an impossible standard to reach, and what I really need to be doing is focusing on writing the best book that I can.

The weather yesterday was beautiful; there wasn’t a lot of humidity, so it felt lovely and cool–even though according to the weather when I got home from work, it was 83 degrees outside and “felt like 90.” It really did not; I wasn’t even mildly hot or sweaty carrying things out to the car in the morning on my way to work or out to the car on my way home from work (condom packing supplies; and condom packs on the way in), and it didn’t feel either hot or stuffy in the house once I got inside–which it always does, when it’s miserably hot and humid out.

I also looked at the forecast, and we are getting low 80’s/mid-to-high 70’s next week; it looks like fall has arrived in New Orleans and the heat may have broken. MAYBE. Possibly. Could be. Maybe. It’s gray and hazy outside the windows this morning; thunderstorms in the forecast for the day, and a tropical system of some sort out in the Gulf off the coast of Mexico trying to form and become something. With any luck today I won’t have to even go outside, and if I do, it won’t be for very long. I do have condoms to pack today–not sure what today’s film will be, either; I may break with the Cynical 70’s Film Festival and may start another–the Problematic 80’s Teen Movie Festival; Fast Times at Ridgemont High is available on one of the ridiculous amount of streaming services we subscribe to, and since it was really one of the first teen movies of its type, it seems like the perfect place to start. Has anyone ever written a book about the development of the teen movie, from its origins in the Andy Hardy films up through the sex comedies of the 80’s and to what we see today? That would be interesting.–especially in deconstructing the underlying messages imbedded in those 80’s movies we all grew up with and loved.

Which reminds me, I had an interesting point about Grease I’d intended to make when talking about American Graffiti, and never made; and of course, now I can’t really remember what it was–something along the lines of how American Graffiti, while nostalgic, was also dark; and Grease was the other extreme–nostalgia taken to the point where everything was presented as harmless…but if you look past the gloss, Grease itself is a pretty dark film as well. My point is in there somewhere, I suppose.

This week wasn’t a good one for reading; I didn’t read anything outside of the occasional email or website. I think Babylon Berlin might be a little too densely written for me to get into right now, so I am going to put it aside and read some short stories–the Short Story Project has, in fact, been idle for far too long, and I have all kinds of gems lined up to get into. I also may reread one of my long-time favorite comfort reads, either Rebecca or In Cold Blood, something like that, or perhaps a Mary Stewart ebook already loaded into my Kindle app. I definitely need to spend some more time reading and writing; I think the absence of both from my life this past week has been part of the emotional downturn i’ve been dealing with.

We’re still enjoying House of Flowers, but are now into the second season, and the changes between seasons is quite startling and may take some getting used to. We’re going to go another episode or so before giving it up; but that first season is absolutely golden, and again, there on a Mexican show is inclusion of bisexuality and transgender representation, which is quite marvelous.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader.

My Tears Ricochet

Ah, memory lane.

It’s a place I don’t go very often, frankly–or at least, try not to go to very often–because while memories can be lovely, there’s always that incredible danger of remembering things through the rose-colored glasses; the development of the sense that things were better in the past than they are in the present. Nostalgia is both intoxicating and addictive, and frequently, incorrect, which is why I try not to visit there more than once in a great while. We tend to not remember things correctly, and we also tend to remember things in ways that make us look and feel better in that same way, which isn’t terrible but can be dangerous.

As Constant Reader is aware, I was recently reminded me of that post-Katrina period, when I wasn’t sure about the future of either series I was writing and frankly, wasn’t sure about being a writer anymore. I had, after all, already accomplished my dream: I’d published fiction with my name on the spine, and had even published short stories. It seems funny now to remember a time when I thought I was finished with writing–particularly since that was over thirty novels and I don’t even know how many short stories ago–but those were pretty dark times. I do wish my memories of that time weren’t quite as hazy as they are; it’s almost like I am trying to look back (when I do try) through gauze or even darkness. But my blog entries from those days still exist; I can, should I want, go back and reread them whenever I would like to–which, I think, is part of the reason I continue to keep this blog almost sixteen full years after it began, even though I’ve moved it here to WordPress from Livejournal. I do miss Livejournal though, and I miss how easy it was to connect with other people there. Blogs are, so I’ve been told countless times, a relic of the past and my stubborn refusal to let mine go is seen as quaint. People don’t read them anymore and they don’t have the reach that they once did, but that was never why I blogged in the first place.

I have some errands to run today–which I am delaying doing–and it’s gray outside already. We’re scheduled to be hit by another tropical storm in the next few days, most likely on Tuesday, and the rain is supposed to start coming in later today–it looks like the clouds are already here, and really, would it be a Saturday of Greg running errands if it didn’t rain? I need to take my library book–the Rock Hudson bio–back, and I also need to really get going with the cleaning and the writing today, especially now that the vacuum cleaner is working decently again. I need to take the rugs outside and shake them out, and do the kitchen floor before I put the rugs back. I suspect while the kitchen floor dries will be either the time to start reading Babylon Berlin or dive into some short story reading; I am very behind on that, and anthologies and single-author collections continue to pile up in the section of the living room where I keep them in order to have easier access to them when I am ready to read a short story. I also got the hard copy of the issue of Mystery Tribune with my story “The Carriage House” in it; I’d like to read some of the other stories in that issue as well. I don’t feel exhausted today–then again, I haven’t run my errands either, which always drains me–so I am hopeful that it will be a good day of cleaning and reading and writing around here today.

We watched the new episode of Ted Lasso last night, and I have to again beseech you to start watching this show; it’s really quite charming and lovely and funny and moving in all the ways Schitt’s Creek hit all those same sweet spots. We also thought we were watching the final episode of We Hunt Together, but apparently there’s another episode that hasn’t aired yet on Showtime so there’s yet another one to go. It didn’t really engage me very much, to be honest; it’s entertaining enough, but I also found myself checking social media on my iPad and even playing Bubble Pop at times while watching–which really isn’t a good sign, is it?–and with all the great and terrific crime shows that are currently airing, or have aired recently (Killing Eve, Broadchurch, even the earlier seasons of How to Get Away with Murder), the bar is set pretty high and this one just doesn’t click for me on all of its cylinders, which is a shame; the potential was definitely there. There are also two new episodes of Raised by Wolves that dropped this week, Archer is returning this coming week (huzzah!), and we also are curious to watch The Babysitter: Killer Queen–we watched the original last week and found it amusing and entertaining, and let’s face it, you can never go wrong with Robbie Amell in tight jeans and no shirt.

The new version of Rebecca also has me meandering down Memory Lane a little as well. Timothy is of course my Rebecca pastiche/homage; and is one of my personal favorites of my own books. Rebecca has long been one of my favorite novels of all time–Daphne du Maurier really was a mad genius–and it, along with several other favorites (In Cold Blood, Blood and Money, The Haunting of Hill House) are long overdue for rereads.

It also occurred to me yesterday, as I was going through the list of submission calls I am considering writing (or rewriting) stories for, that I am getting close again to have enough stories for another single-author collection, which is both interesting and scary at the same time. I had originally intended to call my next collection Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but have also come to realize that the title story, “Once a Tiger,” is more of a novella than a short story, which is why I can’t figure out how to end it as a short story, and since I have several other novellas also in progress (“Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies”, and “Festival of the Redeemer”) that I should just do them all as one collection. I think the next short story collection will be either This Town and Other Stories, or Moist Money and Other Stories, but I think the former works better than the latter. I also have to wait for some of the stories that have been already sold to come out in print first before I can put together another short story collection, which is rather exciting….which is also why it’s so damned important that I get this current book finished.

Because I want to get these other things finished, too, and I really want to start working on Chlorine.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines for now. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

Always

Kansas.

We moved to Kansas the summer I turned fifteen. It was a bit of culture shock; we’d been living a middle-to-upper middle class suburb of Chicago for about four years then, after spending eight or nine years in a working-class, very blue-collar neighborhood in Chicago, populated primarily with eastern European immigrants, or second, maybe third, generation Americans from central to eastern Europe. All I really knew about Kansas, before moving there, was that it had been a part of the Dust Bowl during the depression; I’d read about “bleeding Kansas” in history books; and of course, tornadoes and The Wizard of Oz (which is a movie I’ve never cared for; I watched it once as a kid and never again). Neither Nancy Drew nor the Hardy Boys ever had an adventure there; nor had any of the other kids’ series or Scholastic Book Club mysteries I’d read. But it was in Kansas that I actually started writing seriously, and began to think about being a writer when I grew up. (It was also in Kansas that I had the bad creative writing professor, and other bad history professors; I actually cannot think of a single decent teacher I had at the university level in Kansas–but then again, I was incredibly miserable when I lived in Kansas and it’s entirely possible that misery bled over into every other aspect of my life.)

I also don’t want to make it seem as though the five or so years I spent there were completely miserable. I did have fun–I was always desperately trying to have fun to distract me from the terror that arose from my sexuality, which was a secret that must be guarded from everyone at all times; it’s laughable to think about it now, but that terror was very real to me then.

It was in Kansas I started writing about teenagers, and while none of that stuff I’d written was publishable–I still have the handwritten novel I started writing there somewhere; the thought of rereading it turns my stomach as I can only imagine how incredibly bad, trite, and cliched it all was–but those characters have lived on and appeared in my actual published work as an adult; primarily I kept the character names and the basis of who they were, fleshing them out and (hopefully) making them three dimensional. Sara is, to date, the only book I’ve published that is set in Kansas; Laura, the main character in Sorceress, is also from Kansas–but the book is set in California. And of course I’ve been playing with the Kansas book now for something like fifteen years–hopefully, that will be finished and done this year.

I love to read about Kansas, and two of my favorite crime writers–Lori Roy and Sara Paretsky–are also from Kansas; Lori’s first novel, Bent Road (it’s brilliant, as is everything she writes) is set in Kansas; Sara, of course, primarily writes about Chicago but wrote a stand alone several years ago called Bleeding Kansas I’ve always wanted to get around to. Nancy Pickard also wrote two stunningly brilliant novels set in Kansas–The Virgin of Small Plains and The Scent of Rain and Lightning; I cannot recommend them enough. One cannot talk about Kansas books, either, without mentioning Truman Capote’s “true crime novel” In Cold Blood, which I like to reread every now and then.

There’s just something noir about Kansas; I don’t know how to describe it, or why it feels that way to me; but there’s just something about the wide open spaces and the wind, that Peyton Place-like feel to the small cities…Emporia (the county seat; we lived about eight miles out of town in an even smaller town called Americus) even had its own full blown scandal where a minister and the church secretary had an affair and murdered their spouses; it was even made into a two-part mini-series filmed on location in Emporia starring Jobeth Williams as the femme fatale. Those small towns, scattered all over the northern part of Lyon County, once thriving and bustling but now barely hand on when I lived there…the abandoned schools, still standing (they’d all been consolidated into one high school in the 1950’s) in the emptying little towns…our consolidated high school, out in the middle of the country with the football field backing up to a pasture; and the explosive boredom for teenagers. I always turn back to Kansas somehow, whenever I am thinking creatively or wanting to write a new short story–so much material, really. Emporia even had a cult; the old Presbyterian College of Emporia had gone bankrupt sometime in the early 1970’s and The Way International had bought the campus, turning it into The Way College of Emporia and I have to tell you, those kids from The Way College were terrifying–and there were lots of stories and urban legends about what went on there on that campus; how much was true I’ll probably never know, but I do know they used to have armed security guards patrolling the edge of campus, and every teenager knew not to ever get cornered anywhere with no possible escape by two or more of those kids….they always traveled in groups, never less than two and rarely more than six, but always in multiples of two. They always looked very clean cut, but you knew them by the nametags they were required to wear, their empty glassy eyes, and the big smiles on their faces.

There’s also the story of the bloody Benders, serial killers who operated an inn and murdered their guests in the nineteenth century before disappearing; I’m sure every nook and cranny of Kansas has some kind of horrible tale of murder hidden away.

And about three or four miles from our high school–you had to turn right when you reached the state road from Americus to get there; if you turned left towards Council Grove you’d pass this place: an abandoned nuclear missile base, that is still there. We used to go there sometimes for kicks–opening the door and listening to the strange sounds from deep inside and water dripping. I had plenty of nightmares about that missile base.

But the only other gay novelist I know from Kansas is Scott Heim (or at least the only one I know of who sometimes writes about Kansas). I read his debut novel Mysterious Skin sometime in the mid to late 1990’s, and was blown away by it (the film is also quite good). Mysterious Skin is set in Kansas, of course, and while it is a literary novel, and a quite good one, for me there were some elements of noir to the story; I have moved it to the The Reread Project pile and hope to get to it again relatively soon, so i can discuss it with more credibility and authority. I’ve not had the opportunity to read his other two novels, In Awe and We Disappear, but I’m adding them to the “need to get a copy” list.

Over this past weekend I read a short story Scott wrote for Amazon; part of something called The Disorder Collection, along with stories from several other authors. You can buy “Loam” here; it’s well worth the ninety-nine cents.

We agreed to share the driving. The early-morning flights had left us feeling run-down, but my sisters said my eyes looked the least bleary, so I should drive first. The clouds had gone gray; it had started to rain. But we could take our time. The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood.

At the rental counter, a cheery, silver-haired clerk had offered us a white sedan, but Louise had disapproved. “A simple compact is fine,” she said, “and no extra options. Just make sure it’s as black as possible. Is ‘funeral black’ a color?” She’d glanced across the desk to Miriam and me, urging us to smile. No one had smiled since we’d met in the arrival lobby with hesitant hugs.

The clerk didn’t seem to grasp Louise’s reference, but when she collected our licenses, she was attentive enough to catch our dates of birth. She turned and yelled, “Girls, come look–triplets!”

It had been years since we’d been subjected to this kind of foolishness. We watched as her pair of coworkers stood from their desks and approached the counter. I could guess what was coming next: we didn’t look anything alike; we had varying shades of brown and blond hair; even our bodies and the ways we dressed, so different. Louise stopped their small talk before it could start, outstretching her hand to silence the room. “Look, our father just died, okay? Let’s sign what we need to sign and get this over with.”

One of the things I love about Heim’s work–and having only read one novel over twenty years ago and now this short story–is that he often writes about the aftereffects, and the aftermath, of traumas and how the victims deal and cope. This is something that interests me; I often think and wonder about how people who’ve dealt with something–my husband is a serial sex offender; my father murdered my mother, my grandfather was a serial killer–they had no control over cope and go on with their lives; I’m actually writing a story dealing with that sort of thing right now (one of the many stories I have in some sort of progress right now; it’s called “He Didn’t Kill Her”), and also those who were directly victimized–how do they deal? How do they cope? How do they go on with their lives after something so traumatic happens to them?

This is why this century’s reboots and sequels to Halloween interest me, because they show how Laurie Strode, years later, was psychologically damaged and who she became; one of the things I loved about the Scream films is they showed how everything that has happened to her has turned Sydney into a different person from who she imagined she’d be before the murders started.

Heim doesn’t write about the peripherally damaged; he writes about those who actually were damaged first-hand. In “Loam”, his triplets are clearly damaged by something that happened to them when they were children; they are returning to bury their father and clearly have not been back to Kansas in years. It isn’t clear what happened to them–it may have just been bad parenting in the beginning–and it isn’t until they stop at a second-hand store (what we used to call “junk shops” when I was a kid) and find some strange and mysterious pictures of their first grade classmates on a table that the memories of the past–and what they went through–begin to come to the fore.

I do wish Scott Heim would write more. This story, sad and dark and mysterious, is everything I love to read.

This: The afternoon we’d been dreading lay before us in hot, wet highways flanked by sorghum and corn and glistening shocks of wheat. It was late summer, already harvest season, and the fields shuddered in the wind, the grains full and heavy as though fed with blood–I wish I’d written that.

Buy it or borrow it if you have Amazon Prime. It’s very well worth the time.

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I’m So Excited

Since earning a thirty day ban from Facebook yesterday because of the horror of posting pictures of sexy men in their underwear, I’ve decided to make lemons from this lemonade and start exploring other options of social media. Obviously, Facebook is one of the bigger ones; but I also am on Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr; so why NOT explore those options and expand my following on those sites? So, thank you, fascist homophobic sexist Nazis at Facebook; you’re making me do something I wouldn’t ordinarily do, and at the same time, you might even be rendering yourself obsolete in the world of one Gregalicious.

Well done there, Facebook. Seriously.

Although these other social media platforms are…a little confusing.

Anyway, you can find me on Tumblr here, follow me on Twitter @scottynola, and my Instagram is here. Find me, follow me, and I’ll promise to be better about posting in those places!

As I said, my great experience over the weekend doing panels at Comic Con has kind of invigorated me; I am getting back down to serious writing again, and my creativity is raging out of control. I think that  part of it has to do with keeping a physical journal again; I can’t believe how much of a difference it is making having it with me at all times, and I certainly can’t believe I stopped carrying one with me at all times. I don’t even remember when it was that I did stop carrying one, to be honest. I was talking to another writer this weekend–Bryan Camp, whose debut novel The City of Lost Fortunes will be out this April, and I read an early draft, which was fantastic; I can only imagine how good it is now–and was talking about how much the business had changed, and how quickly it happened. I sort of knew what I was doing the first few years, and then came the Time of Troubles, which derailed me for several years…and when I really got my head back in the game, everything about the business had changed. There were ebooks and bookstores and newspapers were disappearing; magazines that used to review were gone or on their way out the door, Insightoutbooks was phasing out…it seemed like every time I was trying to adapt to something new something else changed, or the new thing was no longer a thing, and social media had become to go-to for marketing; although now it was being called branding. I’m still not completely comfortable with that term; I don’t like thinking of my books as product or of myself as something akin to Tide and Coca-Cola and Folger’s. But I suppose it does make sense from a business perspective; publishing is a business, and the idea is to move units, just like liters of milk and loaves of bread and cans of creamed corn.

But that doesn’t mean I have to like it, does it? Sigh.

Yesterday I read a short story by Truman Capote, from Breakfast at Tiffany’s and Four Other Stories. It was called “A Diamond Guitar.”

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The nearest town to the prison farm is twenty miles away. Many forests of pine trees stand between the farm and the town, and it is in these forests that the convicts work; they tap for turpentine. The prison itself is in a forest. You will find it there at the end of a red rutted road, barbed wire sprawling like a vine over its walls. Inside, there live one hundred and nine white men, ninety-seven Negroes, and one Chinese. There are two sleep houses–great green wooden buildings with tarpaper roofs. The white men occupy one, the Negroes and the Chinese the other. In each sleep house there is one large pot-bellied stove, but the winters are cold here, and at night with the pines waving frostily and a freezing light falling from the moon the men, stretched on their iron cots, lie awake with the fire colors of the stove playing in their eyes.

Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood is one of my favorite books, and it’s partly because he is so poetic, so charming, a writer in his word choices and the way he describes things. It always cracks me up when people tell me they love Breakfast At Tiffany’s because it’s clear they’re talking about the movie and not the Capote novella it was loosely based on; the novella is actually really dark and sad, as most of Capote’s work is; even if he didn’t always write about the south, he was very much of the Southern Gothic school of writers. In the novella Holly is basically an escort who’s looking for a sugar daddy–and so is her neighbor, the guy telling the story; he’s not George Peppard and he doesn’t fall in love with her because he’s gay, escorting and also looking for a sugar daddy; they bond in friendship over that similarity.

This story, “A Diamond Guitar,” is short and very poetically written; many Southern prisons are referred to as ‘farms’ and the prisoners work with the money from the sweat of their labor going to the prison (and usually siphoned off by someone). The story is about a convicted murderer, known in the story only as Mr. Schaeffer, and it tells the story of the only friend Mr. Schaeffer ever had in the prison, a beautiful young Cuban boy named Tico Feo. Tico brings the diamond studded guitar into the prison with him; the two men become friends–but not lovers; Capote is very clear that they are close as lovers but there is nothing physical between them; and finally Tico decides he wants to escape and he wants his friend to come with him. Tico does manage to escape, but Schaeffer does not; he trips and breaks his ankle and is left behind–it’s never clear whether this accident was actually deliberate or not, but it’s clear Schaeffer doesn’t really want to escape. But without hid only friend, Schaeffer closes himself off from everyone else in the prison, and under his cot he keeps the diamond guitar. The diamonds, of course, are just glass; just like Tico, everything about the guitar is phony.

It’s a really lovely little story.

And now, back to the spice mines.