You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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You Sexy Thing

I feel human this morning, which means I can go to work today! Hurray! Thank you, antibiotics and Claritin-D! Huzzah! Hurray!

It’s so lovely to feel normal (or at least what passes for it around here) again. The horrible thing about being sick is you can–or at least I do–often forget what it feels like to be healthy, and then wonder if you’re ever going to feel good again. My throat is still a little bit sore and my lungs still ache a bit from coughing so much, but other than that I am pretty damned good. So I can go to work today, do my half-day tomorrow, and then slide into the weekend. Ordinarily I’d take one more day off just to make sure I don’t relapse or something, but with the weekend so close…I think it’s okay to take the risk and go back to the office.

I just need to make sure I bring my Claritin with me–just in case.

But I also lost two days of productivity, and my mind was too foggy to even be able to focus on the book I am reading, Steph Cha’s wonderful Follow Her Home, which I hope to finish this weekend. I think next I am going to read my ARC of Alison Gaylin’s Never Look Back, and after that, possibly Kellye Garrett’s Hollywood Homicide.

There’s so much good reading in my future!

I am also appearing at the East Jefferson Parish library, talking about creating characters, with J. M. Redmann; the event is free and open to the public, and here’s the schedule:

Fifth Annual JPL               

Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival

METAIRIE – Five local authors will make presentations at the Fifth Annual Mystery Readers / Writers Literary Festival at 9:30 a.m., Saturday, April 13, at the East Bank Regional Library, 4747 W. Napoleon Ave., Metairie.

The festival is intended not just for mystery writers but for readers as well. This event is free of charge and open to the public. There is no registration.

9:30 to 10:45 a.m.

Farrah Rochon: “Using Psychology to Create Memorable Characters”

Farrah Rochon gives an interactive deep dive into creating characters using various methods rooted in psychology, including characterization with the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator and Keirsey-Temperament Sorter, and how to apply them to fiction writing.

USA Today Bestselling author Farrah Rochon hails from a small town just west of New Orleans. She has garnered much acclaim for her Holmes Brothers, New York Sabers, Bayou Dreams and Moments in Maplesville series. The two-time RITA Award finalist has also been nominated for an Romance Times BookReviews Reviewers Choice Award, and in 2015 received the Emma Award for Author of the Year.

11 a.m. to 12:15 p.m.

Jean Redmann and Greg Herren:

 The central character in a mystery oftentimes will be a detective who eventually solves the mystery by logical deduction from facts presented to the reader. Through the years, Redmann and Herren have created dozens of characters in their mysteries, and they explain how to create logical, believable, complex characters that readers will love.

J.M. Redmann writes two mystery series, one featuring New Orleans PI Micky Knight, and as R. Jean Reid, the Nell McGraw series, about a Gulf Coast town newspaper editor. Her books have won First Place Awards in the ForeWord mystery category, as well as several Lambda Literary awards.The Intersection of Law and Desire was an Editor’s Choice of the San Francisco Chronicle and a recommended book by Maureen Corrigan of NPR’s Fresh Air. Redmann is an at-large board member for Mystery Writers of America.

Greg Herren is the author of more than 30 novels and has edited more than 20 anthologies. He has won numerous awards, including the Anthony and Lambda Literary Award (twice). His short story collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was released on April 1, and his next novel Royal Street Reveillon will be released this September.

12:30 to 1:45 p.m.

O’Neil De Noux: “The Femme Fatale”

The evolution of this female siren, the femme fatale, in detective literature has a distinct development from the early days of the victim in Poe to the deadly archetype seen in the Chandler and Hammett novels and film noir. O’Neil De Noux explains the femme fatale architype and how it is used today.

O’Neil De Noux is a New Orleans writer with 40 books published, 400 short story sales and a screenplay produced. He writes crime fiction, historical fiction, children’s fiction, mainstream fiction, science-fiction, suspense, fantasy, horror, western, literary, young adult, religious, romance, humor and erotica. His fiction has received several awards, including the Shamus Award for Best Short Story, the Derringer Award for Best Novelette and the2011 Police Book of the Year. Two of his stories have appeared in the Best American Mystery Stories anthology (2013 and 2007). He is a past vice president of the Private Eye Writers of America.

2 to 3:30 p.m.

Writing Seminar with Adrian van Young

Van Young will focus on a number of items: (a) basic methods of characterization in fiction, briefly; (b) building unlikeable, as well as likeable characters (crucial to mystery fiction and crime); and (c) how to establish narrative unreliability, which he says is important in mystery writing, and goes hand-in-hand with the likeable/unlikeable dichotomy. To demonstrate these principles, he will focus on a combination of writing exercises and excerpts from published works.

Adrian Van Young is the author of The Man Who Noticed Everything, a collection of stories, and Shadows in Summerland, a novel. His fiction and nonfiction have appeared in publications such as Lumina, The Collagist, Black Warrior Review, Conjunctions, Electric Literature’s Recommended Reading, Slate, VICE, The Believer, and The New Yorker online. He received a Henfield Foundation Prize and has twice been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. He teaches creative writing at Tulane, St. Martin’s Episcopal School and The New Orleans Writers Workshop.

For more information regarding this presentation, contact Chris Smith, Manager of Adult Programming for the library, at 504-889-8143 orwcsmith@jefferson.lib.la.us.

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

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