Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

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Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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