Play with Fire

Well, I met quota again last night which was marvelous. It’s still a bit chilly this morning. By the weekend it should be back into the seventies (it was yesterday as I ran my errands after work; it’s sixty-one this morning but it does feel colder outside of my bed and blankets), as the Alabama and Kansas State fans start arriving for the Sugar Bowl. LSU is also playing on New Years’ Day in the Citrus Bowl against Purdue, which will probably be the only game I actually watch that day.

There’s been a conversation going on over at Book Twitter lately that doesn’t really impact me in any way, but it’s been kind of interesting to follow. The conversation has to do with concerns about what is and isn’t considered y/a fiction as well as what is, or should be, considered age-appropriate reading material for teenagers and pre-teens. It doesn’t impact me because no one considers me a young adult writer, for one thing; despite having written numerous books with younger and/or teenaged characters (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit), most people think of me as a gay mystery writer. Everything published under my own name is a mystery novel of some sort, whether it’s one of the series books or one of the stand-alones. I’ve never really marketed myself as a writer of young adult fiction, really; I shy away from that, I think, because of The Virginia Incident and the subconscious fear that one day that controversy might resurrect itself (which is ludicrous, and I know that; it certainly would have by now and it hasn’t, which further proves my belief that The Incident had nothing to do with me or my writing or my career and everything to do with systemic homophobia and othering used for political gain). It just seems weird to me that in less than five years after that happened–when I was deemed a menace to America’s youth–I could publish books for teenagers without a single whiff of complaint or scandal or even the raise of a single eyebrow.

Interesting, isn’t it? Almost like the whole thing was just more smoke and mirrors whose sole intent was to rile the homophobic base.

I just love that my existence is considered by some as a constant and continued threat to children.

One of the things that has always mystified me over the years is what is and isn’t considered age-appropriate. Intellectually I was far more advanced that most of my classmates (my emotional and personal maturity being an entire other subject–I’d say I am still behind on that score) and I started reading early. The library and the Scholastic Book Fairs were my best friends as a child, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved history, from which grew an appreciation and love for historical fiction (which I really don’t read much of anymore, which is odd. I really want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books…) and of course, my grandmother got me interested in “scary” movies and mysteries.

You’d think I’d be a huge fan of historical mysteries, but I actually don’t read many of them. I did love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and I’ve become a huge fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series…I think exploring historical mysteries might be a project for 2023.

But the point was I was reading books far too advanced for most people my age when I was young. I freely will admit that in my first read of Gone with the Wind at age ten I didn’t know Rhett raped Scarlett the night of Ashley’s surprise birthday party–it wasn’t until a reread in my late teens where I thought oh, this isn’t right–let alone that she enjoyed being overpowered and forced. I also read The Godfather when I was ten, and there was no mistaking anything about Sonny Corleone and Lucy Mancini. He had a cock the size of a horse’s and her vagina was apparently the Lincoln Tunnel. (Although the she felt something burning pass between her thighs still mystifies me to this day.) I also read The Exorcist when I was ten and I was also very well aware of what was going on in the crucifix masturbation scene. As a kid, I was fascinated by these sex scenes (aka “the dirty parts”), and it wasn’t until I was older than I began to question the entire Sonny-Lucy thing (and why it was even in the book in the first place); and while the crucifix scene was gross, shocking and basically icky to me at ten–when I reread the book sometime in the past decade it seemed prurient, to be honest–used primarily for shock value and to get people to talk about it.

So, yes, I started reading books for adults when I was around ten. I also read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots and Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra that same year–I remember doing a book report on Mary Queen of Scots and my teacher not believing that I had read the thick volume; he started opening the book at random and asking me questions–which I was able to answer, so he grudgingly accepted the book report and gave me an A. (Teachers have doubted me all of my life; can’t imagine why I am insecure about my intelligence…)

Over the course of my teens I also read books by Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann and Gordon Merrick-every last one of them crammed to the gills with racy sex scenes. I was also reading Stephen King, Irving Wallace, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney and any number of authors who wrote for adult audiences not teens. Were there things in the books I didn’t understand? Sure there were. Were there things in those books that were probably inappropriate for teenagers? Undoubtedly. (I’ve also never forgotten the scene in Joyce Haber’s The Users where a Liza Minnelli-based character fucked herself with her own Oscar; some images are simply too vivid to forget methinks.)

This is one reason I shy away from calling some of my books with teenagers “young adult” novels. Megan Abbott’s Dare Me centered teenagers, but I would never consider Dare Me a young adult novel. I was thinking about this the other night while watching Sex Lives of College Girls (it’s hilarious, you really should be watching); can I authentically write about teenagers anymore? Have I ever been able to? I don’t speak their language anymore, and I haven’t been one in over forty years (!!!!); I don’t know the technology they use or their slang or what they watch or listen to. I don’t know what today’s teens think about virginity and sexuality these days; do the tired old tropes still exist? Does that whole “good girl/bad girl” dynamic still exist, or are today’s teenaged girls a bit more sophisticated than they were when I was in high school when it comes to sex and sexuality? (Contrasting two high school shows with queer content makes you wonder–there’s the jaded cynicism of the rich kids in Elite vs the wholesome purity and innocence and sweetness of Heartstopper, which also had me wondering–although I feel certain Heartstopper might be closer to reality than Elite…or that’s just my hope?) Of course I have other ideas for more books about young people–I have another in-progress one that’s been sitting around for a very long time that I need to repurpose–and I’d kind of like to write more at some point, but I don’t know. My suburban 70’s serial killer preying on teenaged boys book would be told from the perspective of a twelve year old, but it would definitely not be a young adult novel–but will probably be marketed and sold as one.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines on my last day in the office for 2022. Check back in with you later, Constant Reader.

When the Sun Goes Down

Work-at-home Friday has rolled around again, and today I get to do data entry and quality-assurance on forms until my eyes cross. I have a couple of errands to run this afternoon–but other than that, I am looking forward to a nice, peaceful day at home doing my work-at-home duties and my chores. Later on, I hope to get some good work done on the book before I repair to my easy chair with the latest Wanda Morris novel. It was a tough choice between that and the new Donna Andrews, but I am thinking since Dashing Through The Snowbirds is a Christmas tale, I may save that for Christmas reading this year–it makes the most sense, and since I generally don’t watch any Christmas movies or specials anymore (I do sometimes watch A Charlie Brown Christmas–it’s my favorite), maybe I could read Christmas-themed books and stories this year in December; maybe call it “The Twelve Reads of Christmas” or something like that. Hmmm, it’s a thought.

It really is amazing what a good night’s sleep will do for you after a few days of insomnia and exhaustion/fatigue.

Last night I didn’t sleep as deeply or as well as I did on Wednesday night. I kept waking up, partly due to Scooter’s restlessness and sometime need to let me know his outrage about something, but was always able to fall back asleep. I had to have bloodwork done this morning; I got an email from the lab telling me I had lab orders waiting for me, so I scheduled it. I got there this morning and checked in–mind you, I needed to fast, so I didn’t eat last night or have anything to drink or eat this morning before leaving the house–only to find out they didn’t, in fact, have lab orders for me. Hilariously, I am terrible about remembering to do the labs after my doctor appointments, so this last time in July I made the appointment for Labs the same week as my doctor appointment and had them done. Once they told me I didn’t have orders in, I looked in the app and saw that I had, indeed, had them done back in August. So, no need to fast overnight, no need to not have coffee before leaving, no need to leave, in fact. Heavy sigh. But I did start reading Wanda Morris’ new book while waiting to be told I didn’t really need to be there, and it’s quite marvelous already. I knew it would be–her debut novel was superb–and it’s such a delight, as always, to see exciting new voices grow and become even stronger as their career progresses.

Last evening as I relaxed before heading to bed I watched another documentary about the history of gay pornography–I’ll probably watch another one later today–which of course put me in mind of writing about that history. I really do need to focus on getting this Scotty book and the next thing I have to write finished so I can get back to Chlorine; my goal for the rest of this year and 2023 is to get these two books finished, finish two other in-progress projects, and wrap up some other things that are unfinished but need to be finished so I can cross them off the list. I may do another short story collection; I’m not sure but I think I have enough sold and/or published for another collection to actually be possible. This one, when it materialized, will be called This Town and Other Stories, because the strongest story I’ve done since the last collection was “This Town”, which was in Holly West’s anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. At least in my opinion, although The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy and Other Stories would probably sell better…

And of course, tomorrow is a big day for the Southeastern Conference, with division championships on the line. LSU can actually get a leg up in the West by accomplishing the gargantuan task of beating Alabama in Baton Rouge for the first time since 2010–but I don’t think that’s going to happen. Sure, it’s possible–anything is possible in college football on any given Saturday; I am sure no one would have thought Kansas State would shellack Oklahoma State the way they did last weekend–but despite all the hype chatter, I’m not getting my hopes up terribly high. Yes, I want the Tigers to win–but I don’t have any expectations, just as I really haven’t all season. I’m just delighted the program seems to be on the rise again after the last two horrible years. I certainly would have never thought LSU would be coming into the game with Alabama tied with them and Mississippi for first place in the division. And earlier in the day Georgia and Tennessee will play for the leg up in the East–which again, no one would have seen coming before the season started; no one really give Tennessee much thought as the program has been moribund since at least 2007, the last time they won their division (which also happened to be the year a two-loss LSU team won the national championship–see how you can see omens and portents in everything?). I am not a Tennessee fan by any means–I rooted for them during the Peyton Manning years because I thought he was a phenomenal athlete plus I despise Florida with every fiber of my being, but that was about it. I only root for them in non-conference games and bowls, but I am happy for their fans–just as I was happy for Georgia fans last year as they finally beat Alabama and won the national title; I always think back to what a glorious ride 2019 was for LSU fans, so it’s always nice to see a long-starved fan base finally get something they can be excited about. Pundits and fans are already comparing 2019 LSU and 2022 Tennessee…but it’s really not even the same. Sure, no one thought LSU would be as great as they were in 2019, but they were also coming off a 10-3 season. Tennessee was 7-6 last year, so it’s an even bigger turnaround for them on that level. I plan to get my writing and my errands and chores finished tomorrow morning well before the 2:30 Georgia-Tennessee kick-off, so I can spend the rest of the day nervously cleaning with the games on in the background. Paul also comes home tomorrow (yay!) so I am going to need groceries, too.

And my kitchen, as always, is a disaster area on a Friday morning, so it’s perhaps time for me to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you later or tomorrow.

Someday at Christmas

Yesterday was so beautiful here that I grilled burgers outside, taking a pillow for my back to rest against as I took my Agatha Christie reread out with me and basked in the glory of the gorgeousness of the day. And it was gloriously beautiful outside yesterday; hard to believe it was December…but then, early December is often quite delightful here. I did not, alas, get everything done yesterday that I wanted to get done, but that’s also kind of par for the course. Sundays are always hard-to-get-anything-done days here in the Lost Apartment. It usually is a day for Paul and I to hang out together–he usually doesn’t work on Sundays (he went to the office, for example, Saturday and didn’t get home until around eight that evening)so I generally try to get everything finished in the time before he gets up (he also sleeps late on Sundays). I didn’t manage that yesterday, so of course there’s still things for me to get done left over from yesterday, but that’s okay. I had a lovely time hanging out with him yesterday and watching Gossip Girl–the original show is really quite addicting–with the occasional break, during which I read more of my Agatha Christie reread.

Christie’s later books are often seen as lesser than her earlier ones, primarily, I think, because the earlier ones were so groundbreaking. Trying to figure out who the killer is was always part of the fun of reading Christie (spoiler: it was often hard to figure out because it was all-too-frequently two people, working together), and one of the interesting things about revisiting this particular Christie–any Christie,really–is that over the years I’ve read a lot of criticism of Christie, primarily that her characters weren’t developed well and she was so focused on the puzzle aspect of her books that the writing wasn’t strong. I guess those critics read a different Christie than the ones I’ve read? There were several times yesterday–and I am not very far into the book–where I was struck by her insights and cleverness about human nature, behavior, and how clever and wise some of her sentences were. One, in particular, stood out: And now he was dead, buried, and nobody cared very much…a rather chilling, if honest, insight. There’s also the fact that the primary reason Miss Marple is so successful at ferreting out information and solving crime is because no one takes her seriously for the simple reason she is old; she often uses that condescending attitude of the young towards our elders (well not our, I certainly am old now) against them, even at times playing the part expected of her, prattling on and on to distract her targets from her real objective, and then they are a bit startled by just how sharp her mind is, to the point they blurt out information they didn’t intend to ever share with anyone. We never get into Marple’s mind; she sometimes will tell us what Jane is thinking, but we don’t see it from her perspective; when Christie writes in the third person, it’s from a remove. There are also other point-of-view characters, but just to give the reader a bit more insight into what else is going on around the murder and how that impacts others. It’s also–I’d quite forgotten–how often old women are referred to as “pussies”, or Marple as a “nice old pussy”; I am sure the word meant something different then than it does now; or maybe it’s another example of the difference between UK English and American English–like how fanny means something entirely different in England than it does here.

I cannot imagine writing a book now and referring to an old woman–any woman–as a pussy now. But you know how I know Christie is a good writer? Rereading this book was inspiring–I was getting ideas for new projects of my own and about the current project, which means reading Christie triggered my own imagination, and writers who trigger my own imagination are, at least in my eyes, the best writers.

Today I am up and the sun is rising as I drink my morning coffee. I don’t think I slept all that well last night; it was a bit warmer than usual, not warm enough for the air conditioner to be necessary but I did need a fan. I don’t know if the whirring of the fan was why my sleep wasn’t deep–it wasn’t restless, just light–but I also don’t feel terribly tired this morning; we’ll see how that lasts through the day. I have errands to run after work today, so no gym this evening–saving that for tomorrow–so when I get home tonight I’ll do the dishes and try to get the kitchen/office finished (something else I’d intended to get done yesterday and didn’t) and work on the book some more. I also have a lot of emails to answer between clients this morning; I did make the to-do list (perhaps not as detailed as it should be) and have already started striking things from it. But progress is progress, after all, and one should never really beat oneself up over not making enough progress. Celebrate the wins, however small, rather than treat them as defeats.

LSU is going to a bowl game this year–next, really, not sure why it’s so late on the schedule–playing Kansas State, which is a sort of split loyalty thing…not as much as one might think. LSU is my team, and while I won’t be happy should they lose the game, at the same time that loss won’t be terribly disappointing or upsetting. It’s weird, I guess the new head coach won’t be coaching the game–there’s an interim head coach–but it’s also on a weird day of the week; a Tuesday after New Year’s, which is, as I said, very strange. But that’s okay, I suppose. Not sure how many of the bowl games I am actually going to watch this year–the National Championship game is, after all, on a Monday night, and since LSU isn’t going to be in it, I am not staying up late that night since I have to get up the next morning; it was an entirely different thing LSU was playing it it that lovely season two years ago–but I might have the games on in the background while I am doing something else.

Who knows? But Happy Monday and I am heading into the spice mines. Catch you tomorrow!