Joy To The World

The day after Christmas is always a bit on the weird side.

I decided to take yesterday off from the world, not looking at emails or social media or even trying to work. I mean, it was Christmas, and yes, I am behind on everything but sometimes recharging is necessary and needed and shouldn’t be questioned. Paul got me some lovely gifts, which was nice, and I made pulled turkey breast for dinner. We spent a lovely day basically hanging out together and enjoying each other’s company, which is all anyone can really ask for Christmas. Of course, that means I need to make up for yesterday today with the writing and the spice mines and I have to go back to work tomorrow (another short week, though, which is kind of nice); heavy heaving sigh. But the year is winding down and before you know it, it will be 2022; one week from today will be the second of the new year. Very weird, very weird indeed.

But while i may not have been typing words to put on paper, I was thinking about the book some more, and I have a very good idea of the proper direction to take it, so today when I get cracking (after getting properly caffeinated, of course) I should be able to bang out some work on it. I also was thinking about some other things–whenever I let my mind wander creatively, it’s never just about the current project; I just let it go in the directions it wants to go rather than where I want it to go, which is probably why I have so many folders filled with ideas and partials and incomplete things–but I also find that trying to rein in my creativity and focus it when it’s free-styling is inevitably a mistake because it just doesn’t work that way, alas; any attempt to control it inevitably means shutting it down completely. So while it can be tiring as my mind pinballs from bumper to bumper and flipper to flipper, sometimes it comes up with some serious gold, and therefore it’s all worthwhile.

Or at least so I think. I can never be completely sure, you know. I am rarely, if ever, the best judge of my own ideas and work.

But I am looking forward to diving back into the book this morning, and cleaning up the mess I left behind in my kitchen while preparing dinner last night. I am probably going to make sautéed shrimp tonight to serve over baked potatoes–a highly fattening dish I save for rare occasions (the recipe calls for bacon grease, butter, and heavy cream, in case you were wondering) and post-Christmas sort of sounds like the right night for that to be happening. Not sure what I will do for New Year’s next weekend–although I strongly suspect we will be finished OG Gossip Girl at long last by the end of that weekend. We are well onto season five now, with only season six’s half-season left when we finish out this one–and then we’ll have to go looking for something new to binge-watch. (We also have some shows to finish watching–The Sinner, for one, and of course there are some new shows that dropped while we were indulging ourselves in Gossip Girl) I also want to finish reading Vivien Chien’s book–I’m enjoying it a lot, but for whatever reason right now I am not in a reading phase, which is bitterly disappointing, but I am sure it also has to do with home-stretching the new manuscript–and I also found some more I need to put back in the TBR pile as I cleaned out a box of books from the storage space (I am still looking for those old journals, by the way; I want them for “Never Kiss a Stranger” research because those journals include the time period when I first began visiting New Orleans, and I’d like to remember things I’ve probably lost to the mists of time and old age that stand out from that time period; like trying to remember songs that played in the gay bars at that time since my character works in one).

It really does bother me that I have literally no idea where I stored those journals. I remember finding them, and I cannot believe I just put them back into a box and away again.

Which wasn’t really very smart of me. I know I didn’t want to go through them at the time–I really rarely enjoy revisiting old diaries and so forth because it’s more than a little embarrassing to read how immature I was, or how easily my feelings were hurt–in other words, what a drama fucking queen I used to be back in the day; but I wrote all those things down, at the very least, to try to process the feelings and why I felt the way I did without ever admitting things that I didn’t want to admit to myself were true; self-deception used to be a major factor in life, and essentially seeing how I deluded myself into thinking things isn’t exactly highly appealing to me at this time (or any time, for that matter)…but it would also be interesting to take a look at ideas I had for stories and books from back then; music I was liking and listening to; and of course my dreams that were expressed on those pages; even the books I was reading at the time.

And isn’t that always the way, really?

I also started, the other day, going through my old blog entries from earlier this year to remember what I was reading and what I was watching. I don’t really see much point in making a list of favorite reads and watches from the year; I would inevitably forget something that I really enjoyed, and it was a year of truly terrific reading for me. I read a lot of great books this past year, and we watched a lot of great television shows as well. It’s also an interesting journey is seeing what books I wanted to write this past year and never got around to doing; I never finished writing Chlorine’s first draft, or Where the Boys Die, or a new Scotty (the idea for which switched around an awful lot during the year, I might add; going from Twelfth Night Knavery to French Quarter Flambeaux to Mississippi River Mischief over the course of the second year of a pandemic) and so many short stories thought up and begun yet never finished…this, you see, is why I scoff when people say I’m prolific; there are so many pieces I’ve started writing but have never finished.

And on that note, I should probably head back into the spice mines for the day. Have a lovely Boxing Day or day after Christmas or Sunday or whatever meaning you might have assigned to this day.

The Night Before Christmas

It is now Christmas Eve–how lovely for everyone–and I do hope that everyone has the kind of holiday experience they want to have; whether it’s with actual family, chosen family, or just all alone and by yourself, may you have yourself the kind of day that will make you happy and relaxed and chilled out completely. I have to write again today–the joys of impending deadline–but that’s actually okay; I enjoy writing, so what better way for me to spend Christmas Eve? I’ll probably treat myself to a celebratory cocktail of some sort this evening; martini or margarita or Bloody Mary. I think Paul is going into the office for a few hours this afternoon anyway, so I can spend that time organizing and writing and cleaning and all of that fun stuff I get to do when Paul’s not home but I am. I was very creative last night, too–writing all kinds of notes about potential future projects and just letting my mind run a little wild; but that’s what happens when I allow my mind free rein to free-associate and start thinking of ideas. I even came up with a first last night; an idea for a gay romance called A Better Man, which might actually be fun to write. I also came up with a crime story about obsession (Missing White Woman, title gacked from Kellye Garrett on Twitter), and The Ones Who Walked Away, which is a title that could go in several different directions as far as length (short story, novel, novella) as well as what it’s about.

It’s actually kind of fun when I have the time to sit and think and come up with ideas and thoughts and so forth. The manuscript-in-progress is going to be a lot more fun now that I’ve taken some time to put some serious thought into it.

I am also taking a break from Blatant Self-Promotion because of the holiday. No one–well, certainly not me at any rate–wants Blatant Self-Promotion on Christmas Eve; hence a break from me, a respite as a holiday gift from me to you, Constant Reader (although making that decision has immediately caused that wretched little voice in my head to whisper this is why you don’t have a bigger career).

Well, to be fair it’s also a respite for me, since I hate doing it unless I can find a way to make it interesting.

And as the year winds down, I generally start looking back over the past year and thinking about the things I enjoyed, the things I didn’t, the progress made and the progress thwarted. But the pandemic years all seem to have run together somehow in my fevered brain; I don’t remember when I read a particular book or watched a particular movie or television show from the last two years. I also read so many damned good books and watched so much great entertainment (series and films) on my television that my picking some as highlights for the year would be incredibly, incredibly difficult–AND I would undoubtedly miss some. It’s also difficult for me to pick out a favorite (except Ted Lasso) of anything; I enjoyed so many different things for so many different reasons.

Although it would be interesting to go back and reread my blog entries from this same time last year. I know I was trying to get Bury Me in Shadows ready for submission at this time last year–one accomplishment of this past year was getting two books finished and turned in for publication, which was a big step past the previous year; my last book, Royal Street Reveillon, was released in the fall of 2019, so there was literally nothing from me in 2020 other than short stories here and there–and I cannot remember which ones, where and when, for that matter, either; I keep thinking, for example, that “The Dreadful Scott Decision” came out in The Faking of the President earlier this year, but it was actually last year. I think my Sherlock Holmes story and some others came out this past year, but it’s not something I’d be willing to testify about under oath, either. I do hate when that happens.

I’ve also been obsessively trying to locate two things (it’s actually more, but I am grouping many into one): several years back, while going through boxes, I found my old journals from back in the day, which actually inspired me to buy another one and start carrying one with me again (which has been wonderful), but I also don’t remember what I did with them so I’ve been trying to find them again. The other thing I am trying to find is a copy of an essay I wrote on the train from Florence to Venice (or vice versa). It was one of those “letters to myself at age sixteen”, and the other day I was trying to get a better handle on all the essays I’ve written over the years so I can compile them all into one (or more) collections; the fitness columns and essays on writing alone could probably be their own collections. Anyway, I remember having to write it on my laptop on the train–either to or from Venice, I honestly don’t remember, but I do think it was on the way–and it got a lot of engagement on social media, I do remember that but I can’t find a copy of the essay itself anywhere. It’s entirely possible it is one of those things that got lost over the years, and I also don’t remember what I called the file; but I am sure I saved it somewhere….only now I can’t find it and have been obsessively searching for it and realizing at the same time how messy and sloppy my computer files and all the back-ups actually are. I mean, neither thing (journals or essay) are particularly imperative that I put my hands on them immediately, but at the same time it’s really annoying and frustrating and I feel the obsessive side of my personality trying to come out.

So, I will probably spend some time looking for both at some point today–most likely when I am stuck on the book while writing.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Christmas Eve, Constant Reader, whatever you are celebrating or not celebrating, and I will speak with you tomorrow.

Stop!

It’s Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment and slept relatively well again, if a bit late; my body clock is now all messed up and tomorrow morning’s waking up at the crack of dawn is going to be harder than usual.

Not that it’s ever easy, frankly.

LSU played terribly yesterday and lost, as expected, to Mississippi 31-17 (first loss to them after five straight wins) but I managed to finish reading Not All Diamonds and Rosé while it was on, and also read some more in Disappearance at Devil’s Rock, which is, as all books by Paul Tremblay, very well done–but I am not deep enough into it to have an idea of what’s going on. It focuses on the disappearance of a thirteen-year-old from a state park outside of Boston; it opens with his family–along with everyone else in the community–finding out he is missing and dealing with the emotions and fears that come along with a kid gone missing; but something out of the ordinary has already happened (no spoilers, sorry) which means there’s more to this than just your average child gone missing story.

Which, given it’s written by Paul Tremblay, was always going to be the case in the first place.

After the LSU game, we spent the rest of the evening watching Skate America; we used to be (still are) big figure skating fans, but the Internet and so forth has kind of ruined figure skating, really–when you know what the results are before the competition airs, it’s not nearly as exciting or suspenseful; so the only way to recapture the way it used to feel to watch something pre-recorded is now to watch live, which Peacock (NBC’s streaming service) does now provide. (I also think the new scoring system has a lot to do with it as well. Sure, the old 6.0 system had serious flaws and corruption in its judging, but I am not convinced that corruption still isn’t there and now the scoring system is so mysterious and complicated that it’s almost impossible to tell anymore if anything untoward is going on. The great irony is the scoring change, claiming to be more fair and to rule out bias, simply made it harder for viewers to see it for themselves.) There’s also tension brewing in the ISU this year as well, as a Russian judge and coach has made horrifically homophobic comments about French ice dancer Guillaume Cizeron (who came out last year) and his partner Gabrielle Papadakis. They have a silver Olympic medal (it would have been gold had Papadakis not suffered a costume malfunction in the original dance) and are three time world champions. It was an obvious attempt to smear them in an Olympic year and potentially influence future judging pools at upcoming events, only making it all the more disgusting….particularly since Russia couldn’t even officially compete at the last summer Olympics because of widespread doping and cheating. This piece of shit Russian essentially said that since Cizeron is gay they cannot “convincingly portray romance” the way the top Russian team can; to that I say, “hey, you homophobic needle-dicked piece of shit, if you want to see a gay man convincingly play a romantic lead, watch Pillow Talk some time and tell me Rock Hudson didn’t deserve an Oscar. And by the way, go fuck yourself and drink bleach.”

I am so fucking sick of this shit. Seriously.

I did manage to get some things done yesterday, but I am still looking for my old journals. I cannot for the life of me remember where I stored them; I know sometime over the past few years I found them in a box, but now I don’t remember what I did with them. It seems unlikely I would have simply shoved them into another box and stored them somewhere; but I can’t seem to locate them anywhere inside the apartment, which makes it appear that must be what I did with them. Generally I don’t go back and read my old journals very often–I don’t really like to see how much of a mess I used to be, written down plainly in ink on paper–but I kind of need to because I am writing a novella set in the summer of 1994 and I kind of need to go back and see what I recorded back then about music and pop culture and so forth. One of the hardest things about doing research on gay life in the past is so much of it is hidden, or wasn’t recorded anywhere, really–like there’s no listings anywhere on the Internet of “what dance songs were popular in gay dance clubs in 1994?” and my memory banks simply are not substantial enough anymore for me to summon those answers up out of the muck and mush my brain is slowly turning into as I age. That summer I went out dancing a lot, but I honestly don’t remember anything much about the music other than there were a couple of Pet Shop Boys songs that were really popular that summer–“Go West” and “I Wouldn’t Normally Do This Kind of Thing”, and Erasure had a great remix of their song “Always”, but beyond that I have no memory of much.

Today I am debating as to whether I actually want to go run errands; making groceries is kind of necessary but I really have no desire to leave the house and go out in public. There’s not a Saints game today–they’re on Monday Night Football this week–and next weekend is LSU’s bye week, so I don’t really need to spend Saturday watching football (despite it being the weekend of Georgia-Florida and Auburn-Mississippi), so here’s hoping I can get some serious writing done today and this coming weekend. Stranger things have happened..and I am definitely running out of time to get this book written, which is incredibly stressful for me, as always. Heavy heaving sigh.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Primitive Notion

Another good night’s sleep, only to wake up to a frigid forty degree morning here in the Lost Apartment. I have my cappuccino prepared, the space heater is blowing warm air in my general direction, and the ceiling fans are most definitely turned off. The kitchen is clean this morning, which is lovely–there’s a load of dishes in the dishwasher needing to be put away, but that can wait till after work–but it was marvelous to come down to a cleaned up and organized kitchen this morning.

Paul was working last evening, so I did the same. I got another two chapters of the book polished and revised; and hopefully will keep that momentum going this evening. I also started reading Jess Lourey’s Edgar finalist Unspeakable Things, and that voice! It’s quite good thus far, and I am really looking forward to getting further into it this evening after going to the gym. Yes, I have to go workout this evening; my shoulder is finally no longer sore from last week’s inoculation (hallelujah) and it has been nearly a week since I last went to the gym. My muscles and joints will no doubt protest and creak a bit as I put them through their rusty paces this evening, but I really have to get back into the swing of the regular workouts…and I also have been missing them. This is a good thing, and I am very pleased that my natural inclination of blowing off the gym has become, at least currently, a thing of the past; a former behavior, if you will.

I’ve also concluded that there are so many wonderful notes in my journals that when I am not actually writing on the book, I should start going through the journals yet again and pull ideas out of there, actually creating electronic files and folders to track the stories. I have written at least six or seven hundred words in my journal on “The Sound of Snow Falling,” and I need to convert that into a Word document as soon as I can so I can really start writing the story. I also can’t believe I allowed myself to go so long without keeping a journal; I believe it was 2017 when I started keeping them again, and it’s really been rather nice. While I no longer write for the most part by long hand–primarily to spare myself the ordeal of transcribing–I do find that brainstorming while scribbling has a restorative, creative effect; the journals were enormously helpful when writing both Royal Street Reveillon and Bury Me in Shadows–and there are an awful lot of helpful notes and brainstorming in them about the Kansas book, which are certainly coming in handy as I write the book. It has evolved so much over the decades since I started writing it all those years ago, and so much that I wrote in it originally has come in helpful over the years, being pirated and plundered for other books and stories. I am very deeply ensconced inside this manuscript now–to the point where I haven’t been thought about Chlorine since I started this deep dive into this final edit. This is unusual; earlier in my career I would become immersed in a manuscript the way I am now; but over the years it inevitably got to the point where I would always be thinking about–and wanting to work on–the next one while rushing to get through the current. I also think having this razor sharp focus is making the book better than it might have been.

I guess we’ll have to wait and see, won’t we?

I also was thinking about “The Rosary of Broken Promises” yesterday for some reason, as well as “To Sacrifice a Pawn”–two other stories I think I started writing in December; yes, December, because the idea was to write something for a last minute Christmas anthology Gabino Iglesias was pulling together (it’s always interesting to me how I will write a story for a submission call of some sort, but the story rarely ever gets published by the market I wrote it for; take “The Snow Globe” for instance. That started out being written for a Halloween anthology HWA was doing; I never finished it and the deadline passed. I turned it into a Christmas story for another anthology call; it was rejected, but now I have sold it somewhere else entirely), but of course I was in the weeds with Bury Me in Shadows and never finished it; I think the most likely thing that’s going to happen is I will spend March planning out Chlorine while finishing some of these other stories and getting them out for submission. I think I still have two or three stories in anthologies that will be coming out this year at some point; I am really looking forward to seeing the finished books. And at some point soon, I will have enough stories for another single-author collection of my own, which is very exciting.

But the sun is rising over the West Bank with pinks and reds and pale blues staining the sky; and I must start putting together today’s lunch, packing my backpack, and getting into the shower to face down yet another day of clients and work at the office. I’m also going to need to start pulling together my tax information (yay); which I’m also kind of dreading…but I can do that after I finish the book, really. No rush there at all–which is a good thing; there are few things I hate more than prepping my taxes for the accountant.

And so I shall go ahead and bid you adieu for yet another morning, Constant Reader, and hope your Tuesday is as marvelous as you deserve.

Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Paper Rings

And now it’s Tuesday again, huzzah! One day down, four to go.

Don’t mind me–I’m just over here wishing my life away.

The Saints managed to eke out a win last night, and it wasn’t pretty, frankly; 30-27 in overtime over the Chargers. I actually went to bed when the game went into overtime; I had to get up early and I really couldn’t justify staying up any later and risking being tired all day today, with so much that needs to get done. I was very tired and drained when I got home from work last night, to be honest; but after sitting in my easy chair for a little while and cuddling with Scooter, I put the dishes away and did another load; took a shower to wash the day off me and did a load of laundry, and basically took some time to clean and organize the kitchen with the end result that I came downstairs this morning to a clean kitchen, a dishwasher filled with newly washed and clean dishes, and feeling pretty awake and not tired. I also set out my clothes for today last night, and packed today’s lunch last night as well. I may have been too mentally tired to read or write anything last night, but overall, it was a much smarter way to spend the evening than i usually do on a day when I had to get up at six.

We’ll see if I can continue to be that smart tonight, shall we?

Highly unlikely, given my past history, but we shall see.

One never knows.

I emailed the essay off for another round of edits yesterday, and hopefully today will have time to start working on the edits for my story “The Snow Globe.” I have a shit ton of other things I need to get to–odds and ends, here and there, now and then–I am very behind on everything, as always, and trying to get caught up. But my email inbox is getting emptied, slowly but surely, and that’s always a good thing.

Over this past weekend, I was paging through my journal from two years or so ago or whenever St. Petersburg Bouchercon was; there are notes in there from St. Petersburg, so I know that’s when the journal was from (Dana Cameron and I stood around in the lobby near the hospitality suite, talking about a Nancy Drew spoof that someone needs to write called Escape from Canyon Ranch, and we literally laughed until we were in tears; I wrote some of it down in my journal, and rereading those notes reminded me of the good times I used to have when I could travel and go to conferences), and it was quite illuminating. I realized, while looking through it, that I really need to go back through old journals; there may be notes and ideas scribbled down that have completely escaped my mind, and some of it might be good, usable stuff. (My last two have pages with notes on Bury Me in Shadows marked by post-it notes; but there were also notes in this particular journal as well.) One of the lovely things about journals is the memories they can spark, and of course, there’s also the notes on works in progress or ideas that can spark even more inspiration…which is also lovely.

I’ve been reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, bit by bit; Vidal’s work is very well written but it’s not compulsive reading–it’s rather easy to put it down and walk away from it for a few days or so–but for some reason on Sunday I picked up my copy of Edna Ferber’s A Peculiar Treasure, which is a kind of memoir about her writing life (do people even remember Ferber today? She was kind of a big deal in her time, was a member of the Algonquin Round Table, and wrote a lot of successful novels and plays, including Giant, Show Boat, Cimarron, So Big, and many others), and it’s interesting to view her style of memoir-writing; slightly whimsical and self-deprecating while somehow at the same time kind of boastful? I was interested to see that she had a connection to Emporia, Kansas; she began as a journalist and was friends with Emporia’s most famous son, William Allen White, and visited there often; he was, in fact, the person who gave her the idea to write Cimarron. Ferber has always interested me–she never married, for example, which of course always made me wonder about her sexuality (as one always does with historical figures who died unwed) but I’ve never really been able to find out much about her, which is why I bought this used copy of her memoir, to see if there were any hints in it. She’s very good at deflection, and from the bits and pieces I’ve been able to read over the years since getting the book, she never really talks much about her personal life at all, other than in a whimsical, almost magic realism way, and mostly focuses on her professional life once you get past her childhood–but there are no stories about dates or crushes or teen heartbreaks or anything like that, alas.

And now, on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, everyone.

Out of My Head and Back in My Bed

We are all unreliable narrators of our own lives.

Probably one of the most interesting things–to me–about getting older is discovering for myself how differently I remember things in my past than other people do.  I used to think about writing personal essays–“I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet” is probably the best one I’ve ever done, and one of the few that have ever been published–because I love them, and the way some of my favorite writers can produce the most insightful and touching ones. But then I always have that doubtful voice in the back of my head–who cares about your personal experiences? Why do you think your insights are more valuable than anyone else’s? Who would be the audience for these?–and you know, FUCK that voice. I fucking hate that voice, and it’s always there, whispering, not sweet nothings, but vicious you’re nothing’s in my head.

And for the record, I’m pretty damned proud of “I Haven’t Stopped Dancing Yet.”

But perhaps the worst part of that snide, hateful voice is that it’s always there, you know? When I think to myself, hey, you should write a personal essay about this and then…yeah. My friend Laura, whose amazing personal essay collection My Life as a Villainess will drop soon–buy it buy it buy it–and I were talking about this very thing once over drinks (always over drinks) several years ago; I was telling her how much I loved her essays and that I wished I could write personal essays, with my usual “I can’t do anything” default, and she replied, “You write one every day. What do you think your blog is?”

Touche, as it were.

But….I can never seem to silence that voice.

Another reason why I back away from writing personal essays or the occasional thought that I might want to write a memoir–or a lengthy series of personal essays about my life which can then be stitched together into a memoir–is because my memory is so faulty, and the older I get, I find–when checking actual facts against my memory–inevitably I remembered wrong. For years, I believed we left the city of Chicago for the suburbs in the winter of 1969; why that winter, I don’t know–even though intellectually, after thinking about it some more, I realized my memories were lying to me. I was ten when we moved, I turned ten in 1971, so we moved in the winter of 1971–and we only lived there for four and a half years–which seemed so much longer than it actually was! Just as how I thought, after Katrina, I’d sheltered at my parents’ for months, when it was actually just a little over two weeks. I was only gone from New Orleans for about six weeks in total, actually; it seemed like I was gone for an eternity. My memory lies to me, all the time.

And how I remember things is different from how other people remember the same things. I think we tend to make ourselves the heroes in the story of our own lives, and so we rewrite our histories a little, so we look better than we actually were. Our memories are also seen through the haze of our collective other experiences, emotions, and perceptions; I might remember someone as being distant and cold, why they remember the encounter as two strangers being polite to one another. I used to think my first impressions of people were always the correct ones and evidence of my remarkable perception; but that is also demonstrably false. After all, once you’ve closed your mind to someone it’s terribly easy to interpret their behavior and the things they say through the filter of that initial observation, thereby turning it into a self-fulfilling prophecy. I’ve taken to not entirely trusting my first impressions of people the older I’ve gotten, and people who put me off when we first met have turned out to be lovely; and lovely people I instantly liked have turned out to be horrible.

So, how could I trust my memories enough to write them down?  Joan Didion said we tell ourselves stories in order to live, but I think we tell ourselves lies in order to live with ourselves is actually a more accurate statement.

So, what is real and true in our pasts? How does one examine the truth of your own memories?

I am regularly amazed at the lies I tell myself about my past, and how I’ve told myself those lies so many times that I’ve become convinced they are truth. How can I ever write any kind of memoir when I already don’t trust my memories–all of which I would have been willing to swear at some point were honest-to-God truths?

This blog is, in some ways, a remembrance project for me; to remember events in my life, and career, and how things actually were. I kept a diary for years–I still carry a journal around with me, but I don’t record my thoughts and feelings in it; it’s mostly for ideas about books I’m reading or movies I’m watching or for working through issues with things I’m writing or for writing down ideas for stories or books or essays; hoarder Greg has kept most of those journals from the days before blogging, when I used to record things down in a book so I could process emotions and anger and other things I was going to do; to talk about my dreams and my ambitions; as a way to escape whatever misery was going on in my life. I rarely revisit them; perhaps some weekend when I am bored and don’t want to write I should start going through them again–but in all honesty, the self-absorption can be a bit much to take.

I also don’t like to revisit my past that much, which is yet another reason for me not to write a memoir. I wasn’t a person I liked very much until I was in my mid-thirties, and even then I was still a work in progress. My friend Jeffrey Ricker said to me the other day on Twitter: “I always forget you weren’t born full formed in New Orleans, like Athena from Zeus’ forehead.” A lot of it had to do with being miserably unhappy with my life, of just kind of drifting, of having no self-confidence (I may have issues with that still–particularly when it comes to my writing–but it’s nowhere near as bad as it used to be, so I have made progress; I don’t let it ruin my life anymore, which is a good way to go), and not having the slightest idea of how to go about making my dreams come true. I always wrote–I wrote short stories in high school, I wrote a novel while in college, and then wrote three more, and of course was writing short stories the entire time–but it was very easy to give up after getting some rejections; to assume that becoming a publisher writer was something outside of my particular skillset, and to just give up and go back to being miserable. There’s really nothing from that period of my life I think would even be interesting enough to write about.

So, I generally shy away from the idea of writing a memoir, despite the enormous temptation. I don’t remember things the way they actually happened, but rather, how they happened through the prism and fun-house mirrors of my own mind. Whenever we tell stories about ourselves, we inevitably make ourselves sound better than we may have actually beenLook at the carefully curated lives we see of friends and acquaintances and relatives on social media.

My blog served me well for remembering things during the Time of Troubles; it actually began as a way to start writing again, of making myself sit down and write something every day. It has evolved over the years into something else, something different; I’m not even really sure how to classify it. I talk about television shows and movies and books I enjoy; I talk about my day to day life and experiences; the way I view things and my hopes and dreams, and my struggles with my writing. It is, of course, much more carefully curated now than it was in the beginning–more lies of omission, I suppose, is how it would best be described. It’s now a habit; on those rare days when I don’t have the time, or can’t find the time, to write an entry it bothers me all day–in fact, it’s been awhile since I have missed a day, and usually it’s because I’m out of town.

I guess this entry counts as a personal essay, doesn’t it?

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Breaking Up Is Hard To Do

So, this came this week:

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Pretty cool, right? I really like the cover.

This, on the inside, is also kind of cool.

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Yes, that’s the two page illustrated title page for my short story, “Neighborhood Alert,” which is in the spring issue of Mystery Tribune magazine.

I know, right? Gregalicious is breathing some rarified air these days!

Wonder of wonders, Trish found a parking space in front of her townhouse on Euterpe Street, which hardly ever happened. A good omen, she thought as she grabbed her purse and the reusable cloth grocery bag from the passenger seat. It was cold for New Orleans, down in the thirties. An overnight rain with a cold front right behind it had dropped the temperature thirty degrees. The city was in a hard freeze warning overnight. She wasn’t sure if her pipes were in danger, but always ran the water to be on the safe side. She couldn’t imagine the hell of busted pipes. She lived in constant fear of something going wrong with her townhouse—termites, ants, broken pipes, the ground shifting. She had some money put aside, but not enough for any of those catastrophes.

She clicked the key fob to lock her car and frowned. Her gate was ajar. She would have sworn she’d closed and locked it, but it was such an automatic habit she couldn’t be sure. She’d been having trouble sleeping, which made her foggy in the mornings. She wasn’t sure what was causing it; her doctor said to cut back on caffeine, but if she didn’t sleep well at night and was groggy in the morning, how was she supposed to do her job without drinking some coffee? She’d compromised, giving up on extra shots of espresso and just having regular coffee…but was still restless at night, tossing and turning and waking up to stare at the ceiling. She shut the gate and locked it with the key. The wrought iron fence was tall, spikes on the top, and since she started living alone, she made sure the gate was locked whenever she was home. Anyone wanting in had to ring the buzzer, and she could check from the safety of the house to see whether she wanted to let them in. She grabbed the catalogues and junk mail from the mailbox, wondering who still used catalogues and slipped it all into her grocery bag. She tried to reduce her carbon footprint by recycling and not using the disposable grocery bags, but she still felt guilty driving to and from work every day. It wasn’t even a mile, but she rationalized that her company paid for her parking space whether she used it or not, and the St. Charles streetcar was two blocks from her front door and four blocks from her office—not bearable in heels or the heat of the summer.

And at least, she reasoned, she did feel guilty about it. Most people didn’t even think about it.

As she unlocked the front door, a sheet of paper sailed out and came to rest on the third step of the hanging staircase. She frowned, shutting the door and turning the deadbolt. There was a mail slot on the front door that wasn’t used anymore; not since she’d installed the big fence, buzzer and gate lock after the divorce. She’d left the gate unlocked and someone had slipped something—a sales notice, probably, or a lost pet flyer—through the mail slot.

I wrote “Neighborhood Alert” last year, during that period of time when I was focusing on writing short stories, early in 2018, and I’d originally intended for it to be included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I honestly don’t recall why I decided to submit it to Mystery Tribune, but I did one day and then kind of forgot about it. (I do have a spreadsheet where I keep track of submission dates and markets, but I wasn’t making notes on the calendar yet–which I now do, so I can check on the submissions and so forth; I am trying to get better organized, Constant Reader, I AM!) As I was pulling everything together for Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, I always included “Neighborhood Alert,” so you can imagine my surprise when I got the email from Mystery Tribune that they wanted to publish my story! Huzzah, indeed! I then had to put a different story in the collection, but I got a rejection from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine  and I swapped that story in for the this one, and problem solved.

“Neighborhood Alert” first came to me as an idea years ago, when someone put one of those ‘registered sex offender in the neighborhood’ flyers through our mail slot when we lived on Camp Street. On the one hand, I certainly understood the neighborhood’s right to know there was a convicted predator moving in; on the other hand, he’d served his time and how can you move forward with your life when everyone in the neighborhood knows about your crimes? I wrote the idea down in a journal, and when I was going through my journals last year during that manic short story writing period, it occurred to me, what if you’d lost your only child to a predator, and then a few years later you get a one of these alerts?

This was the story that resulted from that thought. And I am very proud that it’s my first publication in Mystery Tribune.

And it will be in my next collection.

And now back to the spice mines. Happy Friday, everyone.

Misty Blue

Happy Saturday everyone! I just got home from doing an event at the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional library, where I talked with Jean (J. M.) Redmann about characters and writing crime. It was quite fun–the Jean and Greg Traveling Dog and Pony Show always is–and the audience was quite lovely and engaged, which is always lovely. One never knows how those things are going to go, so it’s always lovely when things turn out nice.

I did some brainstorming and note-taking both yesterday and this morning, as a new series (HA! I am not telling you more than that) is starting to form in my mind. When the idea first came to me, I wasn’t sure if it was something I could tackle, or even if it was something I wanted to write…or even if I wanted to write it, if it was something I could write. But yesterday afternoon I decided to start writing some ideas down, and it suddenly started to come together in my head. I knew who my main character was and some of her back story; I began to build her world a little inside my head and in my journal, and I wrote some more about it today before the library event, which was also kind of lovely–I am so glad I started carrying journals around with me again last year! They really do come in handy, and I find just having one with me all the time is most helpful. I’ve done a lot of brainstorming in those journals since January 2018…I may spend some time today going back through them and retrieving stuff and ideas from them.

If you want to be a writer I highly recommend carrying a journal of some sort around with you.

I also read more of Steph Cha’s delightful Follow Her Home yesterday, and when I finish writing this I am going to repair to my easy chair and read some more of it–with my journal and a pen handily nearby. I should do some cleaning–the floors are revolting yet again, and the sink is full of dishes–but on the other hand I am also thinking having a day off is kind of a nice thing. Tomorrow is a free day–and the premiere of the final season of Game of Thrones–and so I have all day tomorrow to clean and write and do things. I need to get back to work on the WIP, and I also want to keep not only making notes for this new series but there’s a stand alone idea I also want to work on. I’ve not yet written any stand-alone novels that weren’t classified as either young adult or “new adult”, this would be something for the “adult” audience, with no adjectives out in front. I am excited about both projects, but also recognize I need to get the first draft of this WIP finished this month so I can move on to revising a final draft of the other WIP. (There’s another WIP out there, as well…languishing in the drawer it’s been in for about five years now; someday.)

And on that note, I am heading over to my chair. Have a lovely Saturday everyone!

04

Perfect Way

I submitted a story to Cemetery Dance yesterday, and felt very accomplished after having done so. As I have said before, getting a story published in Cemetery Dance is a bucket list item for me, and I am reasonably proud of the story; we’ll see what happens. But I’m glad I did it; glad I spent the morning and early afternoon revising and polishing it. And hopefully,  if they don’t use the story I’ll get a chance to submit to them again at some point.

To celebrate, I went to the gym and did cardio, continuing my iPad screening of Troy: Fall of a City–which is starting to, sadly get a little boring. I’ll keep watching, though–I want to see how they play the story out, plus it’s helping me with my pronunciation of all their names; most of which I’ve been saying wrong my entire life, since I was a kid and read The Windy Walls of Troy.

I also spent some time last night with my journals; basically going through them and marking the pages where I wrote notes on the Scotty book, which should make the next revision much easier. Huzzah! I am also glad that I did this because not only did I find some ideas for short stories I’d forgotten, as well as how some of the short stories I have written since the first of the year were born, but I also discovered that I had roughly sketched out a couple of scenes for Bury Me in Satin, which I typed up last night–remember, I’d started writing the opening on the 4th, but was incredibly pleased to see that I’d actually handwritten not only the opening but some other scenes from the first and second chapter that needed to be transcribed. So, I am pretty far ahead on this one already, which is kind of awesome. I’m having lunch today with a friend, which will be lovely, and then I am going to run a couple of errands before coming home and doing some more writing.

I may even (gasp) return to the gym for the third consecutive day: madness.

I also spent part of the day reading about the Dreyfus Affair in Barbara Tuchman’s book The Proud Tower, which takes a look at life and the issues confronting the great powers from 1895-1914; basically, the set-up for World War I. I’d heard of the Dreyfus Affair, of course, and Emile Zola’s participation; but I didn’t know the entire story, and, well, you really can’t go wrong with reading Barbara Tuchman on a subject you want to know about.  I love reading history, and I always make a point of trying to read some around the 4th of July (I also took down Catherine Drinker Bowen’s history of the Constitutional Convention Miracle at Philadelphia, which should be required reading for all Americans); Tuchman is the kind of historian I would have liked to have been, writing the kinds of things I would have liked to have written had my career path gone in that direction (I still toy with The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a history of the sixteenth century, built around all the women who held power–more women held power in that century than any before or since). The Dreyfus Affair was really something, and even more horrific, in many ways that time in France is reflected in modern day American society as well.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Porn King and I”:

He is beautiful.

He is everything I want in a lover.

Thick curly black hair.

Blue eyes.

Muscles rippling under tan skin.

A hard, round, beautiful ass.

The cock of Apollo.

I first saw him in a poster in the adult book store on Decatur Street. The poster was black with just a picture of him, hands on hips, wearing a jock strap. His face was smiling, a warm, inviting smile that would melt anyone’s heart and stir their groin. His tanned skin gleamed. At the bottom of the poster in red capital letters it said: CODY DALLAS IN THE SEX SENSE. I stood, staring for a few moments, my glance going from that pretty face down the neck to the beautifully shaped chest, smooth and silky, down the abs that looked carved out of stone, to the top of the jock. His hard-on was unmistakable beneath the white cloth. I walked over to the counter. “Do you have that film?” I pointed back over my shoulder with my thumb.

The counter boy was just that; a boy. He didn’t look old enough to be working in a sex shop. Hell, he didn’t look old enough to have hair on his balls. Bleached blonde hair standing up spikily over black roots. A straggle of hair on his chin that was supposed to be a goatee. He weighed maybe 130 pounds. His baggy jeans hung off his hips. A black Marilyn Manson t-shirt. Pierced nose and eyebrow. Tattoos on both arms. He grinned at me. Braces.

“Yeah. Only $59.95 or did you want to rent?”

“I’ll buy.”

I walked home to my apartment on Chartres Street. Opened the door. Switched on the television with the remote. Opened the box and popped the video in. Hit play as I pull off my shirt, kick off shoes, strip naked. Reach underneath the couch for the fresh bottle of poppers and the lube. Fast forward through the opening credits. First scene.

It’s him. He is wearing Daisy Dukes and work boots. No shirt. The sun glistens on the muscles in his back. He is trimming a bush with garden clippers. Every movement he makes causes muscles to ripple. Someone is watching from the house. Behind the curtains a face appears. Cut away to from behind the curtains. He looks beautiful, oh so beautiful. Camera pulls back. The man at the window is naked. Thinner. Not as muscled as Cody. Lean wiry muscle.

Cody looks up at the window and smiles. The man in the window beckons. Cody puts the clippers down and walks to the door. It opens.

I open the bottle of poppers. My eyes are glued to the screen. I lift it up to my right nostril. I close off the left and start inhaling. Deeply. The scent fills my nose, my sinuses, my lungs. I shift it to the other nostril. Inhale.

“The Porn King and I” was, ironically, inspired by something that actually happened; I was walking into the Quarter on a warm early summer evening. I walked past a house right on the sidewalk with its enormous windows open–anyone could have climbed into the house; something that has always amazed me about the Quarter and those that live there–and on the wall was a framed and mounted poster of a porn star (I do not recall, all these years later, precisely which porn star it was; I am thinking Kris Lord but that might be wrong). It inspired a story about a lonely man who talks to the poster, like it’s real, and eventually there’s a scene where a young man catches him talking to the poster, climbs in through the window, and they have nasty hot passionate sex. When I was asked to write this story for one of the Best Gay Erotica volumes, I stripped out the poster and the guy walking by on the street, leaving the main character’s obsession with a porn star, and renting the video from Tower Videos on Decatur Street (which is, sadly, no longer there); the sex scene thus became three-sided: there’s the main character watching the video and masturbating; what he’s imagining in his head as he masturbates; and, of course, what is actually happening on the television screen. I thought it was a clever take.

And the stuff I stripped out? I eventually used in a story about a lonely guy who lives in the Quarter and how a gorgeous young man talks to him through the window, and what transpires then. The story was called “Mr. Lonely” and was published in the original Saints and Sinners anthology.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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