Wham Bam

So, I burned my upper lip over the weekend (my lower lip also, but not as bad as the upper) and this is something I’ve never done before, so am not really sure how to deal with it. My lips hurt, of course, and it’s not like you can bandage your lip. I just kept putting Blistex on them the last few days whenever it felt like they were cracking (yes, that’s a thing) but I ate pizza for dinner last night and must have burned the upper lip even more because this morning I woke up with it covered in dried blood and kind of scabby. I carefully washed it, clearing off the dried blood, and then of course it started bleeding again. It has since stopped, thanks to regular blotting with tissue, but nonetheless, it was a rather traumatic way to start the day, but there we are.

I set my alarm to get up at seven, allowing myself an extra hour’s sleep than Monday and Tuesday, but naturally hit snooze and wound up getting up at eight thirty. Not disgraceful, mind you, but not pleasing in my eyes.

I wound up not working on the book yesterday, after all; a review of Chapter Eleven showed me that writing it disjointedly the way I had meant that there are things in the first part of the chapter that I repeat in the second half, which means I need to revise it before moving on. This was actually fine with me; I used the day to start rewriting “The Snow Globe” based on the lovely notes I’d received from the editor who’d rejected it (thank you again and a big shout out to Sandra Kasturi!) and the story is better and more cohesive now; it actually makes sense, and again, returning to a story months after the last time I’d looked at it–yeah, clunky sentences and paragraphs that don’t flow into each other, etc., to the point that I was actually embarrassed I’d let Sandra read it in the first place as she is an editor I admire. Oh, well, I’m sure it was neither the first nor the last time an editor read something of mine and thought, how in the hell did he get published, and how the hell did he win those awards?

Sigh.

I decided to take Friday off so I have a four-day weekend to look forward to, which is, naturally, quite lovely. I hope to get a lot done–don’t I always–but if I don’t, I am fine with just getting rested and doing some writing and some cleaning. I will, of course, come up with an enormously lengthy list of the things I want to get done, but we’ll see how it goes. I made a to-do list for the week yesterday, which is a lovely and nice change–I really need to get back into the habit of doing that–and I also made an eye appointment so I can get new glasses/contact lenses. Look at me, getting things done!

We also watched the most recent episode of Fosse/Verdon last night. The show is amazing on every level, and not just for the stunning performances of Sam Rockwell and Michelle Williams in the leads. Williams deserves an Emmy, but the Actress in a Limited Series or Movie category is going to be a tough one, I suspect, this coming year. But as I watched the original production of Chicago coming together, and Gwen baring her teeth–especially when she had to have surgery on her vocal chords and walk away from the show for six weeks, being replaced by Liza Minelli, who then turned the show into a huge hit–I couldn’t help thinking of Valley of the Dolls and Helen Lawson, which then led me down a primrose path in my head of imagine if this story was being told by Jacqueline Susann, a thought that’s still, obviously, lingering in my head this morning.

The other interesting thing I am taking away from watching the show is astonishment at realizing just how HUGE a star on Broadway Gwen Verdon actually was; I’d heard of her before, of course–who doesn’t know Damn Yankees, and we actually did it in high school–and Sweet Charity, but I’d literally no idea precisely how big a star she actually was. She was considered the best singer/dancer on Broadway in the 50’s/60’s–and you have to remember who the other women appearing on Broadway during that time were to realize how important she must have been: Ethel Merman, Carol Channing, Mary Martin, Barbra Streisand, Julie Andrews, and Chita Rivera, to name a few–and she won four Tonys. FOUR.

Damn it, now I am going to have to read the book the series is based on, Fosse.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Happy Wednesday, Constant Reader!

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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.

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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.