Are You Ready for This?

Tuesday and back to the day job for a shortened week of work, in which I will only have to get up at six twice, praise be to the baby Jesus.

I am still basking a bit in the afterglow of reading Laurie R. King’s remarkable The Beekeeper’s Apprentice (and there are VOLUMES of Mary Russell cases! VOLUMES!). Wow, what an achievement that was, and one that I certainly envy. It’s very daunting, too–as a writer, I am never more aware of my failings as when I am reading the words of a far more gifted author–and am still feeling a little daunted as I move deeper into the prep work for the final draft of the Kansas book and its ultimate completion. But I got a lot of rest over the long weekend, football is over so my weekends are completely free going forward, and I have a lot of writing that I want to get done this year–hell, I want to get a lot of things done this year, and full steam ahead, I say. As the dark presses up against my windows and I sip my cappuccino, I don’t feel worried or stressed or upset about anything; my mantra it is what it is should help keep me moving forward. I need to stop stressing and worrying about finding the time to do things because the reality is all the stressing and worrying does is kill time and prevent me from doing things, so I need to just try to let go of worry and strife and hunker down and get shit done.

I always feel like I can conquer the world when I am properly rested, don’t I?

But the restful weekend was nice, and nourishing, and lovely. Last week–well, every moment since our nation’s Capitol came under attack–has been insanity, utter insanity, and I was doing the old doom-scroll and watching the news at every opportunity lately as well (it’s been years since I turned on either MSNBC or CNN) and while I am still deeply concerned about the country, the inauguration, and our imminent near-future, I get all tensed up inside and stressed again, so I am, for my own mental health and creativity, going to have to. back away from it and just check in randomly and periodically and resist the urge to keep scrolling or watching. American politics and history–always of such interest to me–have become so toxic that even observing history occurring sends my blood pressure sky-rocketing and twists my stomach into knots.

But it does seem as though the majority of people not lost to Q-Anon conspiracy has finally awakened to what I’ve been screaming about for about thirty years–the depth of these people’s hatred for anyone who disagrees with them on anything. They do not and have not seen as Americans; they do not see us as equals. They only see us as an enemy who must be destroyed at all costs, and woe be to they who do not goose-step in line with their authoritarian values and beliefs. Maybe it was easier to see for me because as a gay man I have been in their rifle-sights for as long as I can remember, I don’t know–but I can remember being dismissed in 2008 and 2009 when I said that they weren’t interested in working together or bridging the divide; they just wanted to obstruct and undermine and paralyze. The Q-Anon traitorous mob that sacked the Capitol on January 6 had its roots in the Tea Party and their racist hatred of Barack Obama, and this was their inevitable path–just as their seditious ancestors refused to compromise on any level about slavery to the point they were willing to destroy the country. Their descendants are no different–and believe you me, part of the Lost Cause mythology holds that the Confederacy was the true American democracy, and those who believe in the Lost Cause still believe it today.

The cognitive dissonance inside their brains must be staggering, absolutely staggering.

We watched two more episodes of Bridgerton last night, which is strangely addicting–but one can always expect that from a Shondaland show, can’t one? Who would have ever thought the highly restrictive societal expectations of the upper, privileged class when it came to marriage for women would make for such riveting television? Part of the American fascination with the aristocracy, I suppose–the same mentality that made Dallas and Dynasty ratings champions back in the day and drove the careers of Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jacqueline Susann, and Jackie Collins into the bestselling stratosphere: we like to see rich people suffering. But Bridgerton is an absolute delight, from its writing to its excellent diverse casting choices to every bit of its high production values, from costumes to sets. (There’s an absolutely lovely scene in which Daphne and her brother–the fourth episode, perhaps, or the third?–decide to not wake the servants to make them warm milk in the middle of the night, realize they don’t know how to work the stove, and end up drinking it cold, which tells us all about the class divide–imagine not being able to work a stove! But I daresay there are wealthy people in the country today who wouldn’t know how to light a pilot light or how to work their kitchen appliances)

Tonight, after work, I have to dive headfirst into the revision of the book, which, while daunting, needs to be done. February is a short month which means I don’t have as many days before March 1 to get the book finished; there is the Fat Tuesday holiday coming up as well–I may take off Lundi Gras for a longer weekend–so I can focus on the book writing during that time as well, which should help dramatically. I am not as stressed about this book as I perhaps might (or should) be; I am also relatively certain that can be chalked up to pure denial. I am also trying to decide what to read next–I am still all aflutter from the brilliance of the Laurie R. King novel I read over the weekend; and I have so many options to choose from (the advantage and curse of a deep TBR pile, I suppose) that it’s going to be a difficult decision. I may resort to short stories for the week and wait until the weekend, when I have more time, to get involved in a wondrous read, whatever that may prove to be.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader! I certainly intend to do so.

London

I’ve always wanted to go to London, and hopefully, one day before I die I’ll be in that former capitol of world empire; visit the Egyptian exhibit at the British Museum; see the jewels in the Tower of London and the spot where Anne Boleyn died; stand at the side of the Thames and acknowledge all the history that sailed from its banks. I do love me some history, after all, and after I’d become incredibly familiar with American history I moved on to English, and eventually European (primarily French, to be honest); it was the time that PBS was airing first The Six Wives of Henry VIII, with Keith Michell, and later Elizabeth R with Glenda Jackson (who is whom I always picture when I think about Elizabeth I, with due apologies to both Bette Davis and Cate Blanchett); plus, the establishment of the Atlantic coastal colonies was directly, obviously, tied to English history. I read about the Wars of the Roses and the family split that led to them in Thomas B. Costain’s The Last Plantagenets, bought at a flea market for a dime; I eventually read his entire “Pageant of England” series: The Conquering Family, The Magnificent Century, and The Three Edwards; The Last Plantagenets was the final volume of that series (Costain also wrote terrific historical fiction, which I ate up with a spoon), and thus, Costain is responsible for my fascination with two of the most interesting women in English history–Eleanor of Aquitaine (total badass) and Isabella, aka the She-wolf of France; she who overthrew and murdered her husband Edward II, with the help of her lover…only to eventually have her lover murdered by her son’s adherents and wind up banished to Castle Rising for the rest of her life.

Someday, London. I know you’re waiting for me over there to come.

Yesterday was a good day as far as work was concerned; I managed to write almost three thousand words on the Secret Project (maybe even more, since i also revised the first chapter) and I’m feeling a lot more confident about it. I knew I would, once I dove back into work on it, but just wish I hadn’t pushed it off for so long; I could be done with it by now if I’d not wasted so much time, which is highly annoying, but also kind of par for the course, really.

But…there it is, you know? Why waste time with regrets?

White Lines continues to entertain us highly; I swear, people, if you’re not watching shows from Netflix Spain, you are missing out on some seriously bonkers drama. First Toy Boy, now this? A crime drama set on Ibiza, with feuding club families, cocaine and Ecstasy everywhere, and murder? I’m telling you, it’s like Jackie Collins and Sidney Sheldon got together and created a show–and it’s oddly compelling, for all of that (as was Toy Boy).

Tuesday and a short week staring us all down. I already feel off; as though my hard-won equilibrium has been stripped away somehow and I’m not even remotely sure where I am at and what I need to do.

Ah, well, back to the spice mines with me.

I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Head over Heels

There was an article somewhere recently that described a new trend in literary fiction, inspired by Elena Ferrante: writing about women’s friendships. I literally did a double-take when I saw it; because there have been books, across all genres, about female friendships for many, many years–for example, the examination of women’s friendships and relationships with other women were at the root of every Rona Jaffe novel; the primary strengths of both Peyton Place and Valley of the Dolls lie in the friendships between the women; going back to Jane Eyre, there are always friendships between women at the heart of novels (hello, Jane Austen?). The point is this is nothing new, so to describe this as a ‘new trend’ is short-sighted to say the least, lazy writing at the worst.

Rebecca Chance novels kind of defy description, to be honest. They are called ‘bonkbusters’ in her native England (where they are runaway bestsellers); some call them ‘glamorous thrillers.’ She writes about what used to be called ‘the jet set’, or ‘the beautiful people’, or the ‘rich and beautiful’; territory that used to be mined by Jackie Collins, Judith Krantz, Sidney Sheldon, Harold Robbins, and Jacqueline Susann. And while I don’t mean to demean her predecessors in the field, who were quite good at what they did and wrote yarns you simply could not put down, Chance’s novels are different; in that they combine sharp social commentary, wit (at times, they are laugh out loud funny), and characters that you can’t help but like and identify with.

Her latest, Killer Affair, is no exception.

killer affair

It was an ocean liner come to rest in the heart of London, its glittering, prow-shaped facade jutting towards the Thames. From its terraces and balconies, the view was unparalleled: the beautiful curve of the Playhouse Theatre with its glowing lights, the flow of boats along the wide river, the sprawl of the South Bank beyond, London’s bounty spread like a fabulous offering of endless possibilities to the gilded, privileged guests who occupied the penthouse suites.

However, the young woman who was climbing out of the black cab outside the hotel entrance in Whitehall was in no mood for relaxing on a private balcony with a glass of champagne, resting her arms on the rail, gazing down over the glittering city as she made plans for that evening. Her jaw was set determinedly, her eyes hard. The liveried doorman, reaching into the can for her two suitcases, asked if she was a guest at the hotel, to which she responded curtly that no, she had a booking at the spa and needed to check her luggage.

If the doorman thought it was strange for a day spa visitor to arrive with a pair of large, battered suitcases, there was not a hint of that reaction on his face; his demeanour remained entirely polite and neutral as he carried them inside.

And so begins the latest Rebecca Chance novel–who is this woman, and what is she doing at the spa? The prologue ends with her discovering her target–another woman with whom she is angry–and dumping ice all over her recumbent figure as she spits out angrily, “You bitch! You’ve ruined my life!” (With hints of Shirley Conran’s brilliant, memorable opening to her novel, Lace: “Which one of you bitches is my mother?”)

The book then flashes back to the beginning of the story; how the two women met and became involved with each other’s lives. One of them is Lexy O’Brien, a reality television superstar in the UK who quite literally and ruthlessly climbed to the top of the pile of reality stars by carefully planning her every move, maximizing every bit of publicity she could gather, and is now quite happily married to a sexy former footballer who now is a TV commentator. The two live with their two children and various staff in a beautiful mansion in Sandbank, one of the most expensive places to buy property in the world, and Lexy is planning her next assault on the tabloids/entertainment journalism: writing a memoir. Of course, Lexy isn’t going to write it herself but needs a ghostwriter, which is where young, chubby Caroline comes in. Caroline works writing press releases and also writes a blog, shares a flat with four other broke young people, and dreams of becoming a successful novelist. She is quite dazzled at first by Lexy and her life; Lexy, while immensely narcissistic and self-absorbed (two vitally necessary personality traits for any reality star) is not a bad person–she just sees everyone around her as tools for her stardom and vehicles for publicity. She is actually quite generous with the bedazzled Caroline, and the young woman is grateful at first…but the more she writes, the less dazzled by Lexy she is…and the little nickname Lexy gives her at first–“Ghost Mouse”–begins to rankle…especially as Caroline, by being quiet, listening, and paying attention, learns a lot more than Lexy could ever imagine. And soon, she begins to not just envy Lexy her life, but to believe Lexy doesn’t deserve it.

To tell anymore would spoil the twisty, clever and wickedly funny plot (although it has strong elements of All About Eve), and despite all appearances to the contrary, neither Lexy nor Caroline is a villain. Chance, as always, has created three dimensional characters, strong women with good and bad sides, whose behavioral motivations make complete sense–and her keen insights into reality television, writing and publishing, and how intricate and delicate relationships between friends, family, and lovers can be, make the book completely un-put-down-able. I deeply resented having to put the book aside to work on my own writing, or go to work, or to go to bed. Yesterday I sat down in my easy chair to read for an hour before doing my own writing–and seven hours later put the book down with an enormously satisfied sigh.

Americans, you can either order the book from Amazon.co.uk; the Book Depository; or from Murder by the Book in Houston. It’s soooooo worth it, believe me.