Outside of the “getting up to an alarm” thing that is always a trial for me every morning, I think I feel rested and alert today–as opposed to yesterday’s Greggy Grogginess. This I hope is a good sign for today’s workday and the work to come tonight. I didn’t get as much work on the book done as I would have liked yesterday–I’m really going to have to dig deep today and try to get back on schedule–but the work I did get done last night was good work, and therefore I will take it. It was most pleasing to our eyes.
After I finished working on the book, I spent some more time with The Russia House, which is actually quite marvelous, and watched a documentary on the history of gay porn which was terribly interesting. I’ve talked quite a bit about Chlorine, and how I kind of want it to anchor a short quartet of gay noir historicals–the others being Obscenity, Indecency, and Muscles–that all sort of touch on the history of gay rights and the evolution of public opinion about queer people, by looking at the kind of crimes that had to be committed in order to be gay–whether publicly or secretly–back in the day. Muscles doesn’t really fit completely with the others–which deal with Hollywood, porn films, and public nudity, while Muscles is a bit different in that it doesn’t take on a big issue other than the former connection (and who knows how former it is?) between gay bars and the Mafia. I’ll watch the documentary again–I kind of found it by going down a wormhole the started with the discovery of the entire film of Songof the Loon on Youtube, and that’s a whole other story in and of itself.
Paul was home last night so I also got to make dinner, which was lovely; we’ve had so few opportunities to have dinner together over the last few months I’d forgotten how nice it is to have him be at home. He was working on a grant, so he spent most of the evening upstairs, but I suspect my boring evenings of going own Youtube wormholes after writing are going to be over for a while yet, and I do welcome this change. It’s also so weird that it’s almost April already. Last year seemed endless; this year is flying by already. That could also be because there were no deadlines really last year until the fall when I signed the contracts for the most recent two books–deadlines always make time seem to fly past. Tonight I am hoping to get to the gym after work, and then home to write for a while before piling into bed yet again and trying to get one more good sleep on the last night before having to wake up early for the week. They told us yesterday that we are gradually working our way to being back to fully operational again; it’s going to seem weird once we are, to be honest–I’ve gotten so used to there being no other people around for most of the time it’s going to be weird to have a building full of people again, not to mention a steady flow of clients into and out of the building. But there are worse problems to have, certainly! It just means I need to be flexible and adjust yet again.
I am so tired of having to adjust at this point, though…but what really is life but a rather lengthy series of readjustments to changing situations?
Whereas last week I was terribly stressed out by the impending deadline and everything else I had to do, this week I am eerily calm. I”m not sure if that means I think I have everything under control or my brain just snapped and I no longer care about the stress; whatever the root cause of the calm is I’ll happily take it over the stress and being on edge, ready to snap at any moment. I hate that stress, because it also comes with a couple of sides: imposter syndrome (which try to again rear its ugly head last night before being batted back down) and depression. It amazes me that despite being so deep into my career now that the day my fortieth novel is published is coming up–I think I’ll probably hit that milestone at some point in the next few years, but then again would have to sit down and actually count the books, and I always, invariably, forget some when I do that–but I probably should figure that out someday. And update my long out of date CV….but then again, why do I even need a CV at this point?
Heavy sigh. This is why nothing ever gets done around here.
And on that note, I am going to ride this energy wave and get some things done before I head to the office. Happy Tuesday, Constant Reader!
One question that always exasperates authors is the old standard, where do you get your ideas from?
I get why it annoys writers to be asked this; who wants to be psycho-analyzed on a panel or at a reading? It’s a process, of course, and one that cannot be distilled into a quick, witty, quotable sound bite–and the ultimate truth is, it’s almost always different in every case–whether it’s a novel, an essay or a short story; I certainly have not gotten inspiration the same way every time. A lot of the Alabama fiction, for example, that I have written/am writing/have thought about writing, comes from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child about the past–mostly her family’s past, and certainly those stories were self-aggrandizing and self-serving, and still others were apocryphal: the ancestress, for example, who killed a Yankee soldier come to rob her during the Civil War? Yeah, that one was almost certainly lifted from Gone with the Wind–but I have since come to find out that Mitchell probably took the story from legends as well–that story seems to exist everywhere in local legend throughout the former Confederacy (I mention this in passing in Bury Me in Shadows, which also originated in one of my grandmother’s stories).
A while back, I started thinking about doing period novels centering gay male characters and telling their stories about the times when prim-and-proper society swept all things gay under the rug and homophobia was king (or Queen, I suppose). I had already come up with a great idea for a gay noir centered around a health club that operated as a money-laundering front for the local mob in a city in Florida called Muscles, which I hope to write at some point…I cannot recall exactly how or why Muscles led into thinking about other one-word titled gay noir novels set in different periods of the twentieth century; but there you have it. I think Muscles led me to think about setting one in a gay bar in the early 1990’s, built around the time gay porn star Joey Stefano was arrested while performing at a Tampa gay bar for public indecency; Indecency was such a great title that I couldn’t forget it–and I also figured I could link the two books, the way I always link my books together in an Easter eggy kind of way that the majority of people don’t notice but pleases me immensely. Right round that same time a gay man who was very active as a fundraiser and a donor for political causes died; he had started out owning a company that published gay-interest magazines with nude models and had been arrested, and served time, for using the mail to deliver pornography; I wanted to write about him and the rise of gay porn films in Southern California and call it Obscenity. So there it was: a trilogy of loosely connected gay noirs I hoped to write someday…and then one day, as I was blogging–I think maybe two years ago? I don’t recall–my mind was wandering (as it is wont to do) and I started riffing about an idea that was forming in my head as I wrote the entry for a book set in 1950’s Hollywood, dealing with the underground gay community, McCarthyism, and scandal-mongering that would open with a gay movie star’s body being found naked in the surf at the beach…only the autopsy found that the water in his lungs actually contained chlorine…so he hadn’t drowned, he’d been murdered and the body moved. I called it Chlorine; and that was, for me, kind of the end of it–I wrote the idea down, created a folder for it, and posted the entry.
So, I am sure you can imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter a few hours later and had a ridiculously high amount of–what do they call them? Mentions? Anyway, I had no idea what had triggered this–I rarely get much interaction there–and so when I went to check…some people had read my blog and were all about Chlorine–and the more they tweeted about it, the more people had gotten drawn into this conversation. I was thrilled, to say the least, to see so much attention on-line for something that was really just an amorphous idea…and then a great first line occurred to me: The earthquake woke me up at nine in the morning. So I opened a new Word document, typed in that line, and next thing you know, I had an over 3000 word first chapter written, and the entire plot was forming in my mind already. I took voluminous notes, and decided that, once I got finished with everything I was in the midst of writing already, I would give Chlorine a shot.
And in the meantime, I could start reading up on the period, gay Hollywood, and root myself firmly in the period.
Which is how I came across Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.
On November 29, 1954, The Hollywood Reporter’s gossip columnist Mike Connolly wrote about the proud, happiest day of Rock Hudson’s life. The movie star had just been cast in George Stevens’ cattle-and-oil epic Giant, and Connolly’s one-line blurb commemorating Rock’s celebration party was as cryptic as it was pumped with news ready to break: “Saturday Mo-somes: Phyllis Gates & Rock Hudson, Margaret Truman & Henry Willson.”
In one of his rare acts of discretion, newshound Connolly dispensed with the ampersand that should have wedded the names Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Fifty years into the future, “Mo-somes” could be read as slang for the two men’s sexual orientation. But not in 1954. Back then, “Mo” meant something far less provocative but nearly as colorful
“Mo” was short for the Mocambo, the Mount Olympus of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Pure tinseltown fantasy, the Mocambo was an over-heated study in contrasts where oversized tin flowers and humongous velvet balls with fringe festooned flaming candy-cane columns that framed a dance floor designed to induce claustrophobia when more than two couples got up to fox-trot. The tables were equally miniscule, making it possible for the establishment to charge lots of money for not much food, which nobody could see. Overhead, rococo candelabras gave off so little illumination that revelers kept bumping into each other by mistake, and sometimes now, as they tried to check themselves out in the flecked mirrors that recast everybody’s reflection in tones of warm, flattering, fake gold.
I had a vague idea of who Henry Willson was before I read this book–he appeared in the Rock Hudson bio I read a few months ago as well as in Tab Hunter’s memoirs–and of course, Jim Parsons played him in the Ryan Murphy alternate-history Hollywood. I was also vaguely aware–my memory is a lot dimmer than it used to be–of the gay Hollywood underground; the Sunday afternoon pool parties at George Cukor’s, for example–and I had read some gay Hollywood histories (the ones by William J. Mann are particularly good), but I knew my main character in Chlorine needed a Henry Willson-like agent, and so I needed to research Henry Willson. Willson was, of course, notorious in his time and the passage of time since his heyday has done nothing to soften that image. He was the definitive “casting couch” agent–and per this book, which is very well written and very entertaining–men who wanted to be movie stars (whether gay, straight or bi) were more than willing to service Henry if it meant a leg up in the business. And Henry did work very hard for his clients, polishing rough material into diamonds for the camera. He taught them how to speak, how to walk, the proper silverware, how to behave in public; manners and etiquette. Henry believed that talent wasn’t as important to being a movie star as having star quality–the indescribable something that all major stars have, that is impossible to describe–and he knew what he was doing. He also frequently renamed them–hence the proliferation of the one syllable first names with the two or three syllable last names: Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Guy Madison, etc.
This book provided a wealth of information as well as inspiration for me, as did the Rock Hudson biography I read several months ago. This period of Hollywood history is fascinating, and I love that writing this book–or rather, planning and researching, since I haven’t really started writing it–is giving me an amazing excuse to study gay Hollywood history and the post-war film industry.
Make no mistake about it–Henry Willson was good at what he did, but he was also a terrible person; trying to make it in a homophobic culture, society and industry at the time in which he lived would definitely twist a person. He was an arch-conservative; a Log Cabin Republican of his time, friends with the horrific Roy Cohn. Was it camouflage to help protect him and his clients from the Red Scare days of McCarthyism, when being queer was also just as suspect? Or was he really that terrible of a person? The author makes no judgments; rather leaving it to the reader to. make up their own minds about who Henry was as a person. As terrible as he was–and some of the things he did, like the casting couch, were pretty unforgivable–I did feel sorry for him in some ways, and in basing a character on him I kind of have to find the humanity in the monster. He was not attractive in a business that revolved around beauty; while the straight male pigs who ran the business used their power to force women to sleep with them, Henry used and abused his own power to get beautiful men to sleep with him.
My own main character–a second-tier movie star who slept his way into parts and a career–is also not entirely likable; but I think I’ve gotten deep enough inside of his head to at least make him identifiable and relatable to the reader…but I guess we will just have to wait and see.
I do recommend this book, if you’re interested in Hollywood history in general or gay Hollywood history specifically.
As Constant Reader may or may not know, the Lost Apartment–hell, the entire house–is a haven for stray cats. We feed them and take care of them, so does our landlady, and so does our neighbor on the first floor on the other side of the house—and Jeremy in the carriage house does too. I think the largest the herd has ever been is five cats, but I could be wrong. We’ve been down to two–Simba and Tiger (who has the most seniority)–for quite a while now, and there’s a tuxedo cat that pokes around sometimes, but runs whenever you try to get close to her, but this past week a new cat has shown up, and has taken up residence beneath the house: a a tiny black kitten we’ve not really named yet, but have taken to calling the Dark Lord, because he’s completely invisible once the sun goes down. He doesn’t let us get close–he’ll come out to look at us, but scampers away whenever we try to pet him or get him to come near. We’ve started feeding him, as we feed the others, and Paul will eventually make sure that he becomes friendly, so we can catch him and get him to the vet. I don’t think he’s old enough to be fixed now, anyway. He can’t be more than a month or two old.
I always wonder where these strays come from, you know? Tiger was clearly always feral, but Simba is much too friendly to not have been someone’s cat. And a kitten? Where did the kitten come from?
Ah, the mysteries of being the Crazy Cat Couple of the Lower Garden District.
LSU defeated Mississippi yesterday 53-48 in what wound up being a completely insane game in Tiger Stadium; one in which they managed to go up early in the third quarter 37-21, only to fall behind 48-40 with about eight minutes left in the game. True freshman quarterback Max Johnson (who is 2-0 as a starter) managed to connect up with true freshman Kayshon Boutte (you cannot get a more Louisiana name than that, seriously) on two impressive scoring drives, sandwiched around an impressive defensive stand, to pull ahead with less than two minutes left in the game to go up 53-48; the defense held again, forcing a fumble to end the game with less than a minute to go to escape having the first losing season since 1999 and give Tiger fans–so beleaguered this season–a lot of hope for the future. That team that finished strong after the pasting by Alabama was mostly freshmen and sophomores….and in these last two games there were guys playing I’d never heard of before. Our back-ups pulled off an upset of Florida (which gave Alabama all they could handle in the SEC title game) and then Mississippi (the LSU-Mississippi games are always exciting; for some reason Ole Miss–it is an old rivalry game–always seems to play their best against LSU and the Tigers inevitably have to rally to win the game in the end. Paul’s and my first game ever in Tiger Stadium was the Mississippi game in 2010, which the Tigers needed a last minute score in to win); so pardon us for thinking perhaps next year will be a good one and the year after that a great one–which is the LSU way, really. It was very exciting, and I’ll be honest, I thought we were done for when the Rebels went up 48-40 and our defense looked very tired–very very tired–but in a downpour the Tigers pulled it off and thus made my day.
I also managed to unlock the puzzle of Chapter Eighteen and got it finished, and by doing so I realized I perfectly set up the final act of the book–which will make these other chapters more challenging, but that’s okay because I still have plenty of time to get this all finished and ready to go on schedule, which is very exciting.
I also read very far into The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I have to say, gay Hollywood history is very interesting, and that particular period, post-war into the 1950’s, is also extremely interesting. I actually kind of wish I was more knowledgeable about the period, or had studied it in greater detail. I’ve already written a short story based in that dangerous era for gay men, “The Weight of a Feather”, which is included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and of course, Chlorine is set in that time period. I actually have several historical gay noirs planned–Obscenity, Indecency, and Muscles–that will take place during different periods of twentieth century gay history–the 1970’s, the 1990’s, and the early aughts–which will reflect the changing moods and dangers of being gay during various decades, and how different life was for gay men in each decade. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hope readers will embrace.
Plus, the research will be endlessly fascinating.
The Saints play the Chiefs today, and apparently Drew Brees will be playing again. This presents a dilemma for me, clearly; I love the Saints, but the Chiefs have several of my favorite former LSU players on their roster (Tyrann Mathieu and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, to name two) and it’s hard for me not to want to see them do well. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to not watch at all. I don’t know. I have to write Chapter Nineteen today, and am trying to decide if I should go to the gym today, or wait until tomorrow. I overslept this morning–an hour, didn’t get up till nine–and I also only have to get through the next three days at the office before the holidays AND my brief between Christmas and New Year’s vacation–I hope to not only get this book finished by then but have the time to work on my MWA anthology submission and reread and plan the final version of #shedeservedit.
Then again, I’ll also probably be horrifically lazy a lot during that time–it happens.
And on that note, more coffee for me before the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.