Borderline

Saturday morning. I have a lot of writing to do this weekend, and a lot of cleaning, My kitchen is a mess, but I made progress on the living room last night while reading Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, and am now reading How the Finch Stole Christmas by Donna Andrews. It’s a lovely comfort read; I love Andrews’ series, the characters, the lovely life of the small town of Caerphilly, where everyone cares about everyone else and has no problem stepping up when needed. It’s an idealized world that I wish were real…and Andrews’ Christmas novels are splendid; this is her fourth. It somehow seems apt to be reading an Andrews Christmas novel during the season,

It’s chilly in the Lost Apartment this morning, and I am washing all the towels (it’s a long, OCD related story, don’t ask) while I wake up and warm up with coffee. I am going to a Christmas party this evening; the first of the season, and one of my personal favorites: my friends Pat and Michael’s, with a splendiferous view of downtown New Orleans and Audubon Park. (I always try to take pictures from their balcony with my phone, but they don’t always turn out so well.) I need to finish that short story today, which reminds me of something really funny. The other day I said I hadn’t written a story for the second Lambert-Cochrane anthology, Foolish Hearts, and then yesterday when I was cleaning and reorganizing books…I saw two copies of Foolish Hearts sitting on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep my copies of  my books and anthologies I’ve been in. I literally did a double take; what on Earth? What story did I write for that anthology? I took one of them down, flipped it open to the table of contents, and there it was: Touch Me in the Morning by Greg Herren.

Two days ago, I would have bet anyone a thousand dollars that I never finished the story “Touch Me in the Morning” nor contributed anything to Foolish Hearts.

Kind of makes me wonder what else I’ve forgotten.

I woke up alone.

It wasn’t the first time, and it most likely wouldn’t be the last, either.

I could count on one hand the number of times a guy had spent the night with me—genus gay pick-up always seemed to slip out in the middle of the night, desperate to avoid that awkward conversation in the morning, with the exchange of phone numbers that would never be dialed.

Yet somehow, against all odds, I’d hoped this time somehow would be different.

I lie there in my empty bed, eyes still closed, with daylight bleeding through the blinds. I chided myself for having hoped, for even taking the moment to wonder if maybe he was in the kitchen making coffee, or in the bathroom. When will you learn? I thought, softly pounding the mattress with a fist, life isn’t a Disney movie—your prince may not come—stop being such a hopeless romantic.

But was it so sentimental, too much to ask, to want to wake up with his body spooned against mine?

I was time to face reality. I couldn’t hide in bed all day, so I pried my eyes open. My lashes were gummy, and my head felt like it was hosting a heavy metal battle of the bands. I sat up in bed and fought a wave of nausea as I lit a cigarette, not yet having the energy to go to the bathroom and brush my teeth and splash water in my face first. My stomach lurched against the combination of the taste of the smoke, the fur that had grown on my teeth, my swollen tongue, and the aftermath of too much alcohol and tobacco from the night before.

God, I’d been drunk.

Maybe that was the best way to play it. Too much alcohol added to smoking too many joints plus the depression from being dumped for the umpteenth time this year—wouldn’t that justify just about anything short of committing murder?

I closed my eyes and groaned, wishing I’d had the sense to die in my sleep.

How could I face Dennis this morning?

I looked at the clock. It was ten thirty. I closed my eyes and thought about it. He always taught an early morning aerobics class at six on Mondays, and then trained clients until about eleven. He’d be free after that until the late afternoon, and always came home, usually taking a nap to rest up for the next round of classes and clients. Maybe that’s why he left, I rationalized. Of course—he had to go to work, and I had been sleeping the sleep of the damned, the drunk, and over-indulged. Maybe he’d tried to wake me up to say goodbye before he left, but I was too unconscious to wake up.

There might be a note in the kitchen.

I remember when I wrote this story to begin with; I have absolutely no recollection of finishing it or revising it or anything, seriously. It was part of a series of interconnected short stories I was writing about a group of gay guys who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter–the courtyard I actually used in Murder in the Rue Dauphine and my story “Wrought Iron Lace”–which I basically was hoping to turn into a book called The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. That book, obviously, never happened.

And now, back to the spice mines as I wonder what else I’ve written and published and forgotten.

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She Bop

Well, the brake light thing was nothing serious; merely an internal computer malfunction of some sort, so the internal computer had to be reset, which took longer than I would have liked, but I love my dealership and I love my car, and sitting there gave me the opportunity to finish reading the amazing Ivy Pochoda novel, Wonder Valley.

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He is almost beautiful–running with the San Gabriels over one shoulder, the rise of the Hollywood Freeway over the other. He is shirtless, the hint of swimmer’s muscle rippling below his tanned skin, his arms pumping in a one-two rhythm in sync with the beat of his feet. There is a chance you envy him.

Seven a.m. and traffic is already jammed through downtown, ground to a standstill as cars attempt to cross five lanes, moving in increments so small their progress is nearly invisible. They merge in jerks and starts from the Pasadena Freeway onto the Hollywood or the Santa Ana. But he is flowing freely, reverse commuting through the stalled vehicles.

The drivers watch from behind their steering wheels, distracted from toggling between radio stations, fixing their makeup in the rearview, talking to friends back east for whom the day is fully formed. They left home early, hoping to avoid the bumper to bumper, the inevitable slowdown of their mornings. They’ve mastered their mathematical calculations–the distance x rate x time of the trip to work. Yet they are stuck. In this city of drivers, he is a rebuke.

When I was watching the Joan Didion documentary, I was stuck by something that was said about Ms. Didion’s work; that she wrote beautiful sentences about terrible things. It was a terrific quote, and as I was currently savoring Ms. Pochoda’s stunningly brilliant novel, particularly apt: because that is what Wonder Valley is;  beautiful writing about terrible things.

The prose is spare, like James M. Cain’s and Megan Abbott’s; each word chosen with care for its evocative power with an economy of writing that it so much more difficult to do than being overly florid. The novel is complexly structured as well; bouncing around in time between something awful that happened in 2006 and how the ripples from that event are affecting 2010, the current day. She juggles timelines and points of view effortlessly, and changes the rhythm of her words accordingly so that each point of view has a distinctive voice and view point; you can tell by tone and sentence structure what point of view you are seeing the story from without having to know the character.

That is some seriously mad skill.

There were parts of this novel that reminded me of my favorite James M, Cain novel (Serenade); and having been to Palm Springs and that area, she captures the bleak beauty of the desolation of that sun-blasted arid area. Her characters are fully formed, damaged, lost, trying to cope with issues of guilt and damage with varying degrees of success and failure, yet these deeply flawed people are heroic in their simplicity, their desire to move on and affect change in their lives they are somehow powerless to achieve; the shadows of guilt are too long and have consequence. They are so brilliantly drawn and developed that you want them to succeed; whether it’s Britt’s struggle with her own self-destruction; Ren’s attempts to move past a crime he committed when he was twelve; James’ being trapped in a life not of his own design because of a mistake; Blake’s dark desire for vengeance. Their lives cross and intersect on a Los Angeles traffic jam. This is a difficult style of story to pull off; dating back to The Bridge of San Luis Rey by Thornton Wilder; which was a Pulitzer Prize award winning novel about a group of people who died in a bridge collapse, and how their interrelated lives all brought them together on the bridge that fateful day. The lazy way to do this kind of story is, of course, the Arthur Hailey formula (Airport, Hotel), but the way Pochoda has done it is worthy of Wilder, maybe even surpasses his own novel which created the trope. She also explores class in how each of the characters have dealt with their own guilt–and only Ren was actually punished by the system, of course; people of color are always punished by our system, while the wealthy white lawyer, the daughter of privilege, even the white son of the cult leader live in prisons of their own mind and guilt–and even those mental prisons are colored by their own levels of privilege.

It’s not an easy read, but it is a book to be read and savored and cherished.

I’d not read her first novel, Visitation Street, but it’s definitely moved closed to the top of the pile. I would be very surprised if Wonder Valley doesn’t make Best of lists and award shortlists. It’s simply extraordinary writing and story-telling.

I Guess That’s Why They Call It The Blues

My brake light came on in my car yesterday, so I have to take today off to take it in to the dealer for an inspection at eleven this morning. Hardly thrilling, and not how I wanted to spend my day–but Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley will make the trip with me, so there’s that. The book continues to enthrall me; it really is quite remarkable, and I don’t think I’ve read anything quite like it before, either.

That is quite an accomplishment.

Writing/working on that short story the other day seems to have shaken me out of the glumness about writing/career that I’ve been experiencing lately; there will obviously continue to be peaks and valleys, but I am thinking more about being pushed, and pushing myself to do better work. I watched the Joan Didion documentary last night, The Center Will Not Hold, and that, too, was inspirational. Writing should always be about your quest to find the truth, whether it’s about a situation or your characters or your work or your life; a way of learning,  not only about the world but primarily about yourself. I am going to finish that story today–after the car dealership–and then I am going to work on some other things. I am also going to clean the Lost Apartment a bit, possibly run to the gym for a light workout–something I’ve been putting off for quite a while–and get organized, with a plan to get me through the rest of the year.

I am most likely going to read Donna Andrews’ latest, How the Finch Stole Christmas, when I finish reading Ivy’s wonderful book, but I may read Joan Didion’s Miami soon as well; I’ve never read any Didion. I’m aware of her, and her body of work, but I could have sworn I had a copy of Play It as It Lays around her somewhere, but I looked for it last night and couldn’t find it. It also required me to look in a vastly neglected bookcase, the one nestled in the corner where the staircase makes its first ninety degree turn on its way upstairs, and I noticed a lot of books that I’ve not only been meaning to read but others that I’ve forgotten that I owned. It’s always fun, for me, to look at a book and try to remember it’s provenance, how it founds its way into my collection: oh, yes, I met him at a conference and he was lovely; oh, someone mentioned this book on a panel I was on and I was intrigued by it; oh, I was wondering what happened to this book, I remember going to the signing and enjoying the talk immensely; and so on The only Didion I can lay my hands on right now is Miami, which seems like a perfect time for me to read since I am getting ready to start working on the Florida Bouchercon anthology. Didion may just be my muse; I’ve been thinking about writing a sort of memoir lately (because that is what the world needs; another memoir from a writer), but it’s something I’ve unknowingly been gathering material on for many years, and rediscovering my journals will be an immense help in that regard as well. We shall see.

And on that note, it is perhaps time to return to the spice mines; I have many emails to answer and generate before I depart for the dealership on the West Bank this morning.

Here’s a Calvin Klein underwear ad:

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I Can Dream About You

Hello, Monday! How are you?

I’m in a remarkably good mood this morning, which is unusual for a Monday, and even more unusual for a Monday during which I intend to tackle my storage unit. (There are copies of Mardi Gras Mambo in there, I know there are, there has to be.) Granted, my mood will undoubtedly be completely different once I’ve finished that slog, but it must be done. I will not rest until I have found that case of books.

In other news, I am continuing to enjoy the hell out of Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, and have all kinds of thoughts about it that I can’t wait to share with you, Constant Reader–but they shall simply have to wait until the book is finished. It’s also making me think some more about an idea I had (what? I told you before, great books inspire me and give me ideas for my own stories! This is nothing new! Keep up, you there in the back) a while ago on our expedition to Bombay Beach and the Salton Sea. Seriously, if there’s ever a place that needs to be the setting for a short story/noir novel, it’s that town. The fact that hundreds of thousands of fish die there in the summer, gasping for air and making the surface look like its boiling, and that the shoreline is literally littered with fish corpses–that alone is a great opening scene, don’t you think? And that the stink of the rotting, dead fish can be smelled in Los Angeles when the wind is from the east?

There’s some serious metaphor just waiting to be written, don’t you think?

I am hoping that when I am finished in the storage unit I won’t be too worn out to come home and write. I just remembered yet another short story I promised, haven’t started, but at least I already had the idea for it. I need to work a mystery into it somehow, which I am not certain I can do, but maybe I’ll just write the story, see what happens, and then get input from the editor. (I also tend to think of mysteries as always involving murder, and that’s not necessarily the case.) We shall see.

Okay, I am going to finish straightening up the kitchen and drinking my coffee before heading off to the spice mines/storage unit.

Here’s another Calvin Klein ad.

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Somebody’s Watching Me

I actually finished the first draft of a short story yesterday. It’s very rough, but it’s still a draft, and it’s finished. I’ll take it, thank you very much, and it was only 1200 words or so when I started working on it and it’s now about 3700, so I’ll gladly take a 2500 word tally for the day. Huzzah! I also started writing another one that’s at about 500 words right now, and I sort of have an idea where it’s going to go and how I’m going to finish it, so I take that as a win. I also have to write another one this weekend, and do some Scotty work and some other things, but am very excited to be writing again.

I’m still afraid I’m not able to do it on a daily basis, and everything I am writing is garbage, but hey, what can I say? Even producing work makes me feel insecure.

Paul and I have been watching the Hulu original series, Future Man, and Constant Reader, it’s hilarious, especially if you catch all the 1980’s references. But no worries, it’s just as enjoyable if you don’t. It’s a science fiction/time travel mess, borrowing tropes openly from other scifi–everything from The Last Starfighter to The Terminator to The Abyss–but it’s done reverentially, and it is very much aware. It does start a bit slow, but once it gets going it is hilarious. We’ll probably finish watching it tonight after the LSU-Texas A&M game.

The best character in the show is Wolf, played absolutely straight by Derek Wilson, who is absolutely pitch-perfect in the role. The show’s premise–a combination of both The Last Starfighter and The Terminator–is that in a dystopic future, the ‘Resistance’ sent a video game designed to find someone who would be their ultimate savior back in time, so that they can come back and kill the person who is, in this time, ultimately responsible for the dystopian future they live in. That person turns out to be Josh Futturman, who works as a janitor at Kronish Labs and lives with his parents. Played perfectly by Josh Hutcherson from The Hunger Games, Josh is just an ordinary guy, a bit of a loser with no girlfriend and no future–until the characters from his favorite video game, Tiger (Eliza Coupe) and Wolf (Derek Wilson) suddenly show up in his bedroom and change everything, Eliza Coupe is also terrific as Tiger–but the show doesn’t really hit its stride until they start traveling through time to save humanity from its ultimate destruction in their future. And my God, is it ever funny. Derek Wilson steals the show right out from under the rest of the cast, though–and if he doesn’t at least get an Emmy nom for Best Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series, there needs to be investigation into Emmy voting.

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Here’s Derek Wilson as Wolf:

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And now, back to the spice mines. I want to finish that short story this morning before it’s time for the Iron Bowl.

And by the way, Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley continues to enthrall.

 

Hold Me Now

Happy Thanksgiving! We have our deep dish pizza in the refrigerator, which we will be heating up later when our friend Lisa comes over to watch some movies; which is what we do every year for Thanksgiving. (Lisa is the one who introduced us to each other.) Today I am going to take a day off from writing and stressing; no news, no worries. Paul is going in to the office tomorrow, so I’ll have tomorrow to do some writing and editing and so forth and I also have Monday off as well. He’s departing to visit his mom for a week one week from today as well. So, yes, today is the day where I am not going to be stressed about anything and just relax and enjoy the day. I’ll probably spend Saturday doing copy edits and working on the Scotty Bible (which means, going through the books with post-it notes to mark pages with references to regular characters so I can check for continuity).

I finished reading Adam Sternbergh’s The Blinds last night, and it is definitely one of the best books I’ve read this year; it’s a remarkable concept, and Sternbergh delivers on it completely. It’s just exceptional. I’m going to review it here, but I am going to let my thoughts on it brew for another couple of days or so. I also started reading Ivy Pochoda’s Wonder Valley last night, and while I am only a few chapters in, it’s already blowing me away. This is some extraordinary writing and character development, people. I have Ivy’s earlier books in my enormous TBR pile, but I wanted to read this one and review it since it’s more current; her books will be moving up in the TBR pile now. I’ve now read some amazing books back to back; If I Die Tonight by Alison Gaylin, Sunburn by Laura Lippman, The Wife by Alafair Burke, and now The Blinds, and as I said, the Pochoda is also exceptional; I’ll be reviewing the others here closer to their release dates.

Glad I am not judging any awards this year or next. Whoa.

After abandoning the other short story I started working on another one. I wrote its first draft about thirty years ago, and of course, it’s terrible, but I liked the main character and I liked the setting, which are about the only things I am keeping for the story. I have, over the years, realized that the story is actually a great noir set up, so I am revising it accordingly, and while the story was originally about unrequited gay desire…I am changing it to something darker. The gay desire will still be there, but it’s just going to be a lot darker. This draft is just to get the story down; after which I will do another draft to deepen the characters, and then another to make the story itself stronger and more horrific/shocking, and then once more for language. This was the problem with the other story; I couldn’t get the story down and it was taking forever. (Although I am now itching to take another run at it, if you can believe that. Lord.)

And on that note I am going back to the spice mines. I need to get this place looking more ship-shape before Lisa arrives, and I have a shit ton of filing and organizing to do.

Here’s something I have always been thankful for: Calvin Klein underwear ads.

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All Night Long (All Night)

Well, it’s Sunday. I made it through another week and it’s grim and gray out there again this morning, with a grocery run staring me down and some serious cleaning, organizing, writing and editing to do ahead of me for the rest of the day. Heavy heaving sigh. But that’s okay; I have a lot on my plate. Some exciting things dropped into my lap recently–pretty much all in the second half of last week–which means I have a lot of things to work on but very little time in which to do them. This also, of course, means all the damned procrastinating I’ve been doing pretty much this entire year needs to come to an end, and I’m already regretting the whatever it was that was allowing me to be lazy all year.

Bad Gregalicious! Bad Gregalicious!

I had wanted to get some more reading done this weekend–Alafair Burke’s The Wife is truly extraordinary and it’s killing me having to read it in bits and pieces–but it doesn’t seem likely. I’ll probably get to finish it this week, as I am doing a lot of testing events this week and can read between clients. We also finished watching Mindhunter last night, which was absolutely amazing, and started watching American Vandal, which is a clever idea…we’ll give it another episode because we’re a bit on the fence about it. Watching Mindhunter also put us behind on our other shows that are currently airing, so we’ll need to get caught up on those tonight.

I do feel extremely motivated today; I slept really well last night so am feeling all I can conquer the world today, which is an absolutely lovely feeling. It’s certainly been awhile since I’ve felt that way, and I really do love the feeling. I have to work late nights tomorrow and Tuesday; the rest of the week is normal, and of course next week is Thanksgiving! Where oh where did this year go?

And I have SUCH a plethora of riches in my TBR pile; the new Donna Andrews, the new Ivy Pochoda, the new Adam Sternburgh…not to mention everything else that’s in my pile and has been for YEARS.

And speaking of which, I need to get back to the spice mines or nothing’s going to get done.

Here’s a Sunday hunk for you, Constant Reader:

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