I’m So Afraid

Sunday morning and there’s an LSU game tonight (GEAUX TIGERS!). There’s no way of knowing how good LSU is going to be this year, so I guess tonight’s the night we find out. I watched some of the games yesterday–Georgia certainly looked impressive, and good for Florida and Ohio State winning their big games yesterday, but again, it’s also too early to know anything for sure. Were the two top-ranked teams from the PAC-12 (Oregon and Utah) overrated, or will they rebound (although that shellacking the Ducks got from Georgia had to sting) to make a play-off run after all? The only thing you can ever be sure of in college football is Alabama will be a contender.

Yesterday was a very good day. We had a downpour and flash flood warning for most of the afternoon, but fortunately I had already run the errand I had to run; this morning I have an errand to run as well, and then i am going to come home and order Costco for delivery (just a few things we need) and I intend to spend the day writing. I spent the day organizing and cleaning (which is always an incredibly pleasant way for me to spend the day) and cleaned out kitchen cabinets in order to throw away a lot of items that I had purchased for single, one-time use and had never used again. My cake carrier, for example; I bought that to carry birthday cakes I’d made to work. I used to make our nurse a red velvet cheesecake for his birthday every year–but he’s left the agency and it is highly unlikely I’ll ever make another cake that needs to be transported; if I do, I guess I can just get another one. I also was throwing away things I don’t use but take up space in the kitchen–the big metal salad mixing bowl, the big plastic salad container, muffin tins, etc.–and then reorganized the shelves and made more room for things. I also cleaned things off the tops of the cabinets. It now looks a lot less cluttered in the kitchen and when I open the cabinets.

There’s still some work to be done on the cabinets, but I feel very good about the progress made yesterday. I also did the floors.

I also spent some time revisiting Bourbon Street Blues yesterday. I didn’t give it a thorough read, more of a skim, but it had been a hot minute since I last read the book and…Constant Reader, it wasn’t bad. The book came out nineteen years ago, and I of course wrote it twenty years ago. It’s had to believe it’s been that long, isn’t it? I wrote it when we lived in the apartment on Sophie Wright Place after we moved back to New Orleans in 2001; it’s the only book I wrote there, because I wrote the next two after we moved onto this property and were living in the carriage house. I also realized that the reason I am so hard on myself when I read my own work is primarily because I have trained my mind over the years to read my stuff critically and editorially, with an eye to revision–and that doesn’t change once the book is actually in print. Bourbon Street Blues is not a bad book at all–there’s even some really clever lines in it. Someone had actually responded to one of my blog posts about the stand alone books that they’d like to see me do the same for the series book; I feel like I may have done that already, but it’s not a bad idea. I need to revisit the Scotty series anyway in order to write the new one (which was part of the reason I picked up Bourbon Street Blues yesterday) and since I have trouble focusing enough to read other people’s work at the moment, why not reread the entire series from start to finish? It certainly can’t hurt.

I have been bemoaning how bad the writing is for this new Scotty book I am writing and yesterday, as I cleaned and organized and reread Bourbon Street Blues, I began to see why precisely the work I’ve already done isn’t good and what precisely was/is wrong with what I’ve already done. The bones are there, of course, and it can be saved, which is what I am going to do today. I know precisely know how to make this book work, how to structure it, how to introduce the new characters and the plots for the book, and it’s a marvelous feeling. After I finish this–and then write my entry on Bourbon Street Blues–I am going to go run that errand, come home and get cleaned up, place the Costco order for delivery, and then dig into redoing the initial three chapters of the book and maybe even dive into another. I also am going to spend some time today with Jackson Square Jazz; I may bring the iPad with me so I can keep reading the Scotty series during Bouchercon–but then again, I have other things I am taking with me to read, too. But those are for the airport and the flights primarily; I can lug my iPad around in my backpack and then between panels or when I am sitting alone in the lobby I can pull it out and scan through another Scotty book quickly. It’s also not a bad idea for me to start working on (at last) pulling together the Scotty Bible I’ve always said I needed to pull together. (I also kind of need to pull together all the information on the Gregiverse; the world in which all of my books are actually set, from Alabama to New Orleans to California to Kansas to Chicago’s suburbs…)

I also have a short story submission I need to look over before sending it in for the blind read–next year’s Bouchercon anthology is the market–but I am not sure I’ll have the time or if I know precisely how to fix it.

And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. I’d like to have another productive day today, so…lots to do before the LSU game tonight.

And one last time, GEAUX TIGERS!!!

Sorceress

I have always loved the word sorceress.

I also love the word “enchantress.” Go figure. Must be something about the sibilant s.

I moved from Kansas to Fresno, California in February of 1981. It was cold and there was snow on the ground when I boarded an Amtrak train at 2 in the morning with my mother. I fell asleep before the train left the station in Emporia; when I woke up it was gray outside and we were in western Kansas. The trip seemed endless, and our train was delayed because of weather crossing the Rocky Mountains; that part was terrifying, honestly. There were times when there was only enough room on the mountain ledges we rode over for the train tracks, and the wind was powerful enough to rock the train. I’ve always been afraid of heights, so obviously this was completely terrifying for me. I had brought books with me to read on the train, but I’d finished them all by the time we reached Barstow, California–missing our connecting train by half an hour–and thus were stuck there for twelve hours until the evening train to Fresno.

You haven’t lived until you’ve spent twelve hours in a train station in Barstow, California.

(Although reading everything in the magazine rack in that train station completely fueled my soap opera obsession–but that’s a story for another time.)

After I finished writing the first draft that became Sara I put the manuscript aside and started working on another one, which I called Sorceress.

Why was the move on Amtrak to California pertinent to the story of Sorceress and how it came to be? Because it’s one of the few books–in fact, the only book–I’ve written under my own name that is set in California (all the Todd Gregory ‘fratboy’ books are set in California).

It was a beautiful day to die.

The sun was shining and she could hear the birds singing in the trees outside.  Through the window on the other side of the room she could see a gorgeous blue sky with wisps of white cloud drifting aimlessly. The house was silent around her, and she closed her eyes again, biting her lower lip.

Her throat was sore and she was thirsty.

There was a glass pitcher of water sitting on the nightstand just out of her reach. Drops of condensation glistened in the sunlight as they ran down the sides, pooling on the wood. She licked her lips and dry-swallowed again.

“Please.” She’d intended to shout, but all that came out was a hoarse whisper. Tears of frustration filled her eyes.

This can’t be happening to me, she thought as the tears began to run down her cheeks. She felt the wetness against her lips, flicking her tongue out to catch the moisture.

It might not be much, but it was something.

She tugged at the handcuffs again, and moaned as the raw skin around her wrists rubbed against the metal, dull arrows of pain shooting up her arms.

That isn’t going to work. You’ve got to think of something else. There has to be something.

As if on cue, the phone on the other side of the room began ringing.

If only I could reach the phone!

If only I weren’t handcuffed to this stupid bed,” she said aloud.

If only, if only, if only.

A grandfather clock began tolling somewhere in the house.

Five o’clock. Maybe four more hours until the sun goes down.

She was safe until the sun went down.

She heard footsteps coming down the hall towards the closed door.

“I’m thirsty!” she shouted. “Please! I’m so thirsty!”

The footsteps stopped. She was about to shout again when heard the footsteps start again—only now they were moving away from her door.

She closed her eyes.

Not a bad opening, huh?

I started writing the novel Sorceress sometime in 1992 or 1993; I’m not sure which. Sorceress was the easiest of the early manuscripts for me to write, and this was because I knew the story, from start to finish, before I started writing it–which is incredibly rare for me; I even knew the middle, which I always have the most trouble with. I originally wrote Sorceress in the late 1980’s as a novella that originally clocked in at around seventeen thousand words. But even as I wrote that incredibly long short story (at the time all I knew about novellas was that Stephen King sometimes wrote really long stories, like “The Mist”) and had always put it aside, because I knew there was more story there and it needed to be longer–novel length, in fact. So when I finished the first draft of Sara and was ready to move on to something else, I decided to finally expand Sorceress out into a novel.

Fresno wasn’t a pretty city, by any means. It had a desert climate (the entire San Joaquin Valley has a desert climate) that was very dry and climbed to well over 100 degrees in the heart of the summer (sometimes even getting up to over 110) and was all brown, mostly; brown, palm and orange trees, and concrete in the unforgiving sun. My parents bought a house in a subdivision in a city that bordered Fresno yet somehow wasn’t considered a suburb. It had a pool, two orange trees, and several eucalyptus trees. These seemed exotic and cool and fun–until you realized how much fruit one tree, let alone two, could produce, and there was no way to keep up with them, either; inevitably, the back yard was always dank with the sickly-sweet smell of rotting oranges. The eucalyptus trees with their slim, silvery leaves were also a pain in the ass; those leaves would get into the pool, and unless fished out, became water-logged and sank to the bottom, where they would stain and/or discolor the bottom of the pool. It seemed like those little leaves were always fluttering through the air and unerringly landing in the water.

Never again will I live a place where I am responsible for a swimming pool.

But the true beauty of Fresno was its location. It was within a few hours’ drive of many wonderful places: Yosemite, Sierra, and Kings Canyon parks, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. LA was the furthest away–four hours down the Grapevine; and the final descent through the mountains into the plains on the other side was one of the steepest highways I’ve ever driven down–but in college I also made friends with students who came from some of those mountain communities–Sonora, Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Tuolumne–and wound up visiting them at times. I spent most of my time visiting the mounts in either Sonora or Tuolumne. I’d never spent much time in the mountains before or since, and the thing that always stuck in my head was how close the stars in the night sky seemed up there, almost like you could reach up and grab one. I decided to create my own version of these small mountain towns and call it Woodbridge. When I started writing Sorceress as a novel, I set it in the countryside in the mountains outside of “Woodbridge.” By this time, I had already discovered y/a horror, obviously, and so “Woodbridge” was going to be the anchor of all my stories–they were all going to be connected, and in some ways the center of that fictional universe I was building was going to be Woodbridge (Sleeping Angel is also set in Woodbridge). I also put a college there; a campus of the University of California (UC-Woodbridge) which also gave me college students to play with as well as the high school kids. Laura, my main character, was originally from the same area of Kansas where Sara was set; I even mentioned her in passing in Sara, as a friend who’d moved away to California and who had been betrayed after she left by her best friend and her boyfriend…which also figured into the plot of Sorceress.

Sorceress was also the first book I wrote where I followed the Gothic tropes: a young woman all alone in the world after the death of her parents is summoned by an elderly aunt she didn’t know existed to California. The elderly aunt has a huge Victorian mansion in the mountains, a man-servant/housekeeper/butler, and once there Laura begins to suspect that not only are things not the way they seem, but that her own life might be in danger. There’s also a hint of the paranormal here as well…and some of the kids Laura meets in Woodbridge also figured into some of my other books for young adults as well.

When I had the opportunity to write something on spec for Simon and Schuster teen in the summer of 2005, Sorceress was the one I chose to revise and rewrite for them. I felt it was the most complete and needed the least amount of work, plus I loved the entire Gothic mood of the story. Then of course Katrina came along and knocked that right out of my head; I kept trying to revise it but focus was incredibly difficult, and finally I gave up. This is the story I mentioned in conversation with a friend, who was later given a job as an acquisitions editor, and this is the story she wanted me to pitch to her. I did, but they didn’t pick it up, but when she went out on her own later and started her own small press specifically for juvenile and y/a fiction, she wanted Sorceress, so I dragged it back out and went to work on it again. It was released in 2010, I believe; it’s hard to remember dates these days for me. Anyway, this is the book where I told Bold Strokes I was publishing a y/a with a friend’s small press, which got the response “you know, we do y/a too” that led to me giving them both Sara and Sleeping Angel, and led to all the others.

I also wrote another Woodbridge story–a very long novella–that I intend to either revise as a novella or expand out into a novel. This story directly references events in Sorceress and Sleeping Angel, as well as characters…so while it might be entirely too late to release another book in that linked universe I originally intended to create, a good story is a good story. I just am not sure about the ending of that one, which is one of the reasons it remains in the drawer.

Maybe someday.

Sara

Wait a minute, baby…stay with me awhile.

Ah, Sara. The first actual book I wrote for a young adult audience, and what a long and tortured history this story actually had.

I started writing stories when I was really young, my own versions of the kids’ series books I was addicted to and were blatant rip-offs, frankly, but it was good practice, I started writing original fiction when I was in high school; basically, I started writing about a group of high school students at a small rural high school (kind of like the one I was going to), and always felt that someday I would turn them all into a book about those kids. A couple of years after high school I abandoned the first actual novel I tried to write (I don’t even know if I still have it anywhere but I don’t think so; it most likely got lost in one of the many moves over the decades), and decided to write a novel about high school students in Kansas. Writing in cursive longhand, I expanded the story beyond the teenagers–who were still the primary core of the story–but also wrote about their parents and siblings as well. It was very soapy–this was the time when my daytime soap addiction was at its highest–but ultimately, the real story was the murder. I wrote whenever I could, often changing character names and ending subplots and starting new ones willy-nilly as my mind bounced around, always coming up with new ideas for it. I started in 1980, and I finally wrote the end on it in 1984; four years. I had thousands of wide-ruled paper filled with my loopy, pretty handwriting; now the trick was to somehow type it all up and edit it, cut out all the excess and tighten it, decide on final names, and so forth.

Needless to say, I never did that. I still have it all somewhere, in a box–it did survive all those moves–but over the years I pilfered plots and character names and stories from it. I have a tendency to come up with character names for ideas for stories and books that never get used; I then turn around and use those names again in something else I am writing (I talked about Chris Moore and Eric Matthews before; I came up with those names for an idea I had for a book set in a fraternity, and have used them in Todd Gregory “fratboy” books and they’ve turned up elsewhere, too).

Sara is one of those books born from that original manuscript, and no, despite the opening sentence of this entry, I didn’t take the title from the Fleetwood Mac song. I’ve always liked the name, and right around when I started writing the book as a young adult novel, I went to a family reunion and met a cousin’s daughter for the first time, and she was absolutely adorable. She actually looked like she would grow up to look like my mysterious title character–and her name was Sara. (I had originally named the character Tara; it was an easy switch.)

Being a senior sure doesn’t feel any different, I thought as I looked at myself in the bathroom mirror, and I sure don’t look any different–besides that damned pimple on my chin.

I don’t know what I’d been expecting. I;’d been looking forward to my senior year almost from the very day I started high school. This was it–when the year ended, I’d be an adult. No more being treated like a kid, no more getting up Monday through Friday at six thirty, no more being at the mercy of teachers and coaches and guidance counselors–it would all end when I cross the stage, took the diploma, and put the tassel on the other side of the cap.

It couldn’t happen soon enough, thank you very much.

And then I could get the hell out of this podunk town in the middle of nowhere, and never look back.

I finished toweling my hair and hung the wet towel on the rack. I looked in the mirror again. I touched the angry-looking red blotch in the direct center of my chin. It might as well have been blinking and neon–no one could miss the stupid thing. I sighed and wondered what kind of omen that would turn out to be as I put on my underwear and a pair of jean shorts. Probably not a good one, I thought, sighing again as I brushed my damp hair into place. I was out of hair gel, so I just parted it on the side and combed it flat.

I was already starting to sweat. It wasn’t even eight in the morning yet, and our crappy house was already turning into a sauna. The house didn’t have central air conditioning–all we had was some window units in the bedrooms. Mom kept saying when she got a little bit ahead she’d buy one for the bathroom, but until then we’d have to make do with fans.

I walked down the hall back to my bedroom, wiping sweat off my forehead. I stood in front of the window unit and raised my arms so my armpits would dry. When I didn’t feel damp anymore, I reached over to the bed for my purple Trojan Football T-shirt. I pulled it over my head, but had to yank it down hard to get it past my chest. The weightlifting I;d been doing all summer had worked–the shirt stretched so tight across my pecs it looked like it might rip. I looked into the full-length mirror hung on the back of the bedroom door and smiled. It made my muscles look huge–so maybe no one would notice the stupid pimple. I tucked the shirt into my shorts and rubbed some antiperspirant into my armpits, hoping it would work this time. I picked up my backpack and made sure one more time I had everything: notebook, pens, my cheap cell phone–yeah, I hadn’t forgotten anything. I put my wallet into my back pocket and sat down on the edge of my bed to put on my socks and shoes.

I’ve often joked that Sara is my “get even with everyone I went to high school” book, but that isn’t true. Yes, I did not have a great time in high school–either of them–but it wasn’t all bad; I did have some friends, even though it often felt like I didn’t have any, and after graduation, I decided to shut that door behind me firmly and move on with the rest of my life. I harbored a lot of anger and bitterness about my high school experience, but time does provide some healing, even if there’s a scar left behind. I was weird and different from my classmates from kindergarten on: I was gay but I was also an artistic child with a wild and vivid imagination in an environment where no one knew what to make of either. I was different, and that was all that mattered, even if they couldn’t quite process that I wasn’t from another planet or an aberration that needed to be shunned and excluded and mocked.

As I have mentioned before, I started writing in high school about a group of high school kids in a rural high school similar to the one I was attending. That eventually morphed into a lengthy, hand-written (and incredibly amateurish and terrible) first novel from which I have pilfered plots, stories and characters ever since. Sometime in the mid-1980’s, as a fan of Stephen King and Peter Straub, I decided to try my hand at writing horror short stories, with an eye to maybe writing a horror novel. I even started writing a horror novel (The Enchantress, which I occasionally think about getting back out of the drawer and working on again; it did, however, lead me to write a different book decades later, but I still think about The Enchantress from time to time). By this time I’d taken a junior college writing class and was starting to get my confidence in my dream back after the horror of my first creative writing course in college; I took another course in it when I started going to Fresno State (CSU-Fresno at the time, to be correct) and that teacher, in a conference about one of my stories (which he really liked), told me, when asked about writing a novel, “The best way to study how to structure a novel is to take one that you really like, and then break down how it’s structured; how the story and the characters are built and the pattern and rhythm of how action is interlaced into the plot.” I’ve always remembered that, and sometimes when I am stuck on a book I think about his advice and think about how a book with a similar story to the one I am trying to tell is structured.

I put The Enchantress aside and decided to try, once again, to do something with fragments of that horrible first novel I’d written, and introduce an element of horror to it. I decided to structure the book the way Stephen King structured Christine–something awful happened when we were in high school, and now, many years later, the main character is looking back and remembering, and at the end of the story we find out that the reason he is telling us this story is because he’s afraid the awful thing is coming back again (reoccurance/revival of something evil is a strong theme in horror, and King has gone to that well numerous times, most famously with It and the dueling timelines). So, I started writing Sara with a prologue written in the present day; ten years later, the main character has gotten an invitation to the high school reunion and starts remembering back, and then in the first chapter we’re back in the late 1970’s and don’t return to the present again to the epilogue. I also decided to do the different POV thing King did in Christine (which I still think is one of his most underrated novels of all time); he tells the first part and the third part of the book in the first person point of view of Dennis, but the second section is the third person and bounces around from character to character before the return in the final section of the book (it really is a three-act structure). I thought this was very clever and decided to use it in this book, too. But instead of an evil car, we had a mysterious new girl at the rural high school who dazzles and enchants all the boys–but there’s something not right about her.

I decided that the book–primarily focusing on teenagers–would work best as a young adult novel (ater discovering there even was such a thing as y/a horror) and so I dropped the looking back prologue/epilogue framing and moved the action into the present day. I finished a first draft in about six months, and then put it in a drawer for about fifteen years before returning to it, overhauling it and dragging it into the new present day and publishing it.

Revisiting Sara now, thirty years after I first conceived it and ten years after publishing it, the first thing I noticed was “hmmm, you should have reread this before turning in the final draft of #shedeservedit, since technically the two books were supposed to be connected; with the newer book set in the county seat and Sara taking part in the rural southern part of the county” but I am also recognizing that my books don’t, in fact, all need to be connected together; there’s no reason why this particular county and its county seat can’t be a county or two away from this one, even if they are remarkably similar geographically; it’s the plains, after all. There may even be characters in this one with the same name as a character in #shedeservedit, but again, it doesn’t really matter–and I’ve written other stories set in Kansas in the same area where the geography is the same and maybe even some of the character names. I used the ten-year-reunion (or possibly twenty) in rural Kansas thing in my story “Promises in Every Star,” for example, and revisited the Kansas well for “This Thing of Darkness” too.

And will probably return to that well at least once more for a book, if not more than one.

Sleeping Angel

I originally started writing Sleeping Angel in 1994.

That seems like such a long time ago, too. I hadn’t met Paul yet, was still working for that wretched airline at the airport, was broke broke broke and often ran out of money long before payday, and any kind of decent life for me seemed impossible. It was the next year I decided to snap out of the constant feeling sorry for myself, and instead of waiting for the world to come knocking on my door to make my dreams come true, that the only person who could make my dreams a reality was me, and that I needed to make the changes necessary to my life if I were going to become a writer for real–like stop dreaming about it and writing now and then, and start taking it seriously and writing all the fucking time, and trying to make it happen–which meant sending things out to try to get them published.

It’s weird how you forget things about books you’ve written until something out of left field reminds you of something. Julie Hennrikus, during our Sisters in Crime podcast interview, asked me about writing young adult fiction, and how I came to do that. The story is very simple, really; after discovering Christopher Pike and R. L. Stine and other young adult authors who wrote young adult novels that were either crime or horror or a cross of the two, I decided to take the book I was writing at the time–Sara–and write it as a young adult novel instead of as one for adults. It really didn’t take a lot, to be honest–I removed the framing device that firmly set the book back in the 1970’s–and turned it into a modern day story about teenagers (which it always was). After I finished Sara, I wrote another called Sorceress–and when I finished it, I began writing Sleeping Angel. I still didn’t have a strong grasp of how writing actually worked (which is kind of embarrassing when I remember how naive and stupid I actually was back then, but what did I know. seriously? Very little.) and so I never rewrote anything; I just printed them (I had bought a very inexpensive word processor that I loved, and wrote on) out and saved the originals. I was about half-way through Sleeping Angel when I discovered there was such a thing as queer crime novels…so I abandoned writing young adult fiction and started thinking more in terms of writing a gay private eye series…which eventually became the Chanse MacLeod series and Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Flash forward another decade or so, and in the spring of 2005 I attended BEA and the Lambda Awards in New York. I lost twice that year (Best Gay Mystery for Jackson Square Jazz and Best Scifi/Fantasy/Horror for Shadows of the Night) and then on Saturday night I attended a cocktail party for the Publishing Triangle. (It was at this party that I met both Tab Hunter and Joyce Dewitt.) I also met a very nice man who was familiar with my work, and asked me if I had ever considered writing young adult fiction with gay characters and themes? I laughed and replied that I had two completed first drafts and a partial for another in a drawer back home; he then gave me a business card and told me he would love to take a look at them with an eye to publishing. I lost the card years ago, probably in the Katrina aftermath, but he was an editor for Simon and Schuster Teen, which was very exciting. I told him I would revise one and send it to him as soon as I finished Mardi Gras Mambo, which was at that point over a year overdue (I didn’t mention that part). This was exciting for me, as one can imagine; another opportunity gained by simply being in the right place at the right time, which has been the story of my career pretty much every step of its way. Once I finished Mardi Gras Mambo that August, I started revising Sara.

And then came Hurricane Katrina, and everything went insane for a few years, and I abandoned the attempt to rewrite Sara. There was just too much going on, I was displaced and finding it hard to get back into writing, and I just wasn’t in the right place emotionally to revise or rewrite a book. I’ve always regretted that last opportunity.

Flash forward another year or so and I casually mentioned to a friend this missed opportunity. What I didn’t know when I mentioned it (bemoaned it, really; I still regret this lost chance) was that she had been working for another publisher as an acquiring editor for young adult/children’s work. “Would you rewrite one of these for me? I’d love to pitch this to the company.” So….rather than Sara, I went with a rewrite of Sorceress, which had a teenaged girl lead character and I didn’t see any place to add queer content (I’d been adding that to the revision of Sara ) and sent it to her. Alas, before she had the opportunity to pitch it the line she acquired for was closed down and that was the end of that….until a few years later when she decided to start her own small press for juvenile/young adult fiction, and wanted Sorceress. I sent it to her, we signed a contract…and then I realized I needed to let Bold Strokes Books know I was doing this. I emailed them, and they replied, “You know we do young adult?”

Well.

I wrote back and mentioned I had two others collecting dust, and so I contracted both Sara and Sleeping Angel with them. I decided to do Sleeping Angel first–which is odd, as I didn’t even have a completed first draft; I don’t remember why I decided to do this, frankly–and so I started writing and revising.

The really funny thing–just looking at the cover for the book–is that the character name “Eric Matthews” was one I came up with when I was in college; I had an idea for a book set in my fraternity, and came up with three names for characters that were pledge brothers and friends: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. I used Eric and Chris for Sleeping Angel (completely forgetting that I had already used those names in Every Frat Boy Wants It a few years earlier), so yes, even though the fraternity books I used were by “Todd Gregory”, I accidentally re-used the character names.

Whoops.

The original intent with my young adult fiction was to connect it all together, the way R. L. Stine did with Fear Street, and sort of how all of Stephen King’s work is as well. The three books I started with–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–were connected, and were the springboard from which the others would come–or were supposed to come, from. Sara was set in rural Kansas. The main character of Sorceress moved from rural Kansas to a small town in the mountains in California, Woodbridge, which was also where Sleeping Angel was set. The main character of Sara moved to Kansas from the Chicago suburb where the main character of Lake Thirteen was from, and so on. (Likewise, the main character from Dark Tide was also from the same county in Alabama where Bury Me in Shadows took place, and #shedeservedit was set in the town that was the county seat for that rural Kansas area where Sara was set.) I’d consciously forgotten that, but fortunately my subconscious still holds on to things the forefront of my brain doesn’t.

When I originally envisioned Sleeping Angel back in 1993 (or 1994, I don’t remember which), the concept I wanted to explore was something, a concept, that Dean Koontz had used in his book Hideaway–that someone was in a car accident and died, only to be resuscitated by the EMT’s. But when he came back to life, he brought back something with him from the other side that gave him a psychic connection with a serial killer. It was an interesting idea–I wasn’t using the serial killer thing–but I loved the entire concept of someone being brought back with something extra (which, now that I think about it, is also the entire conceit Stephen King built The Dead Zone around). I decided to keep the car accident to open the book in the new version, but the opening I originally wrote had to be tossed. I also came up with an entirely new concept for the book: what if you were in a bad car accident, but there was a dead body in the car who was NOT killed in the accident but had been shot and was already dead when the car crashed? And if the main character has amnesia….who killed the kid in the back seat?

And away we went.

He was driving too fast, and knew he should ease his foot off the gas pedal, bringing the car down to a safer, more manageable speed.

But he couldn’t bring himself to do it.

“Hang in there, buddy,” he muttered grimly under his breath, taking his eyes off the road for just a moment to glance in the rearview mirror into the backseat. What he saw wasn’t encouraging. Sean’s eyes were closed, and he couldn’t tell if Sean was still breathing.

The blood–there was so much of it, and it was everywhere.

He swallowed and took a deep breath, trying to hold down the panic. He had to stay calm. He couldn’t let the fear take over, he just couldn’t. He had to hold himself together. He had to get to town, to get Sean to the hospital before it was too late–if it wasn’t already too late.

Not a bad beginning, right? Pulls you right into the story.

I don’t remember what–if anything–I was expecting when Sleeping Angel was finally released (it actually wound up coming out before Sorceress, ironically); it had not even been six years since the right-wing homophobes had come for me for daring to accept an invitation to speak to high school students in a Gay-Straight Alliance. And now I’d actually dared to write a book about teenagers, for teenagers. The horror! But the book come out and there wasn’t even the slightest whisper of controversy about the “gay pornographer” writing a y/a book. It got really good reviews for the most part, people really seemed to enjoy it, and it eventually won a gold medal for Outstanding Young Adult Mystery/Horror from the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards, which I’d never heard of but was kind of a big deal, or so I’m told. The gold medal was nice, too–very pretty (but it’s not the rock from the Shirley Jackson Awards–the smooth polished stone I got for being a finalist may be my favorite thing I ever received as recognition for my writing).

I’m still pretty proud of Sleeping Angel.

Of Thee I Sing

This is a weird 4th of July for me.

It’s always been a strange holiday for me, having grown up as an outsider drenched in Americana and taught American mythology rather than US history. (The more I use the word American to describe things that really only involve the US the less comfortable I am with it, particularly as I grow older. It’s simply a shorthand, obviously, for the much more awkward “US citizens,” but its use erases the fact that Canadians, Mexicans, and those from Central and South America are also Americans, and others them to US citizens. USAmericans also is an awkward construction. And can people of non-indigenous descent have a right to call themselves Americans in the first place? Once you start parsing, it’s a bottomless well.) It isn’t really our nation’s birthday, either–it’s Independence Day; the anniversary of the day the Declaration of Independence was ratified. Our actual national birthday is the date the Constitution was ratified and we actually became the United States from the thirteen colonies–and after the British defeat at Yorktown and the Peace of Paris, we actually were thirteen independent states in a loose alliance with each other for self-protection, and it was entirely possible those states might not have ever unified into a single nation. That was the real miracle of our nation’s founding–that, and the fact that thirteen disunited colonies who agreed on very little somehow took on the largest and most powerful global empire the world have ever seen and managed to defeat them–without checking I cannot be entirely sure, but it might be the only war the British Empire lost before it’s post-World War II collapse.

So, this year’s celebration is a bit muted. We are losing our freedoms and our rights–losing them to a bizarre political coalition that claims they are the real Americans, what they believe is the only way to believe and/or think about politics and the country, who scream and whine and protest about their freedoms and their liberties as cover for the fact they want to steal the freedoms and liberties–and citizenship–of people who do not agree with them. We have a “supreme court” that uses the Constitution, and almost 250 years of precedent and decided law, to wipe their asses with because it doesn’t really fit their vision of a theocratic nation ruled by a minority that forces the majority to put up with their bullshit because they have gerrymandered, legislated, and ruled in such a way as to entrench their power. This has happened before, of course–it always has happened before (which is why our lack of interest and education about our short national history is so deliberately encouraged; so we won’t learn from the mistakes of the past)–and I feel like we are living in a situation very similar to that in which the country was in between 1850 and 1861: an extremely loud and belligerent minority had been controlling and running the country since almost the beginning, in defense of a completely indefensible belief that it was okay for white Americans to either own people with differently hued skin, or to kill them with impunity. The slavery supporters had packed the Supreme Court with their supporters, and the compromises over the admissions of MIssouri and Kansas to the union were fraught because the slave states saw they were in danger of being outnumbered and thus losing their hold on the government.

And now this illegitimate body currently sitting on our highest court–deciding law for a majority even though most of them were appointed by presidents who didn’t win the popular vote–has started legislating from the bench under the guiding conservative principle that “it’s for each state to decide”–abortion rights, same sex marriage, racial equality, etc.

Because that worked so well with slavery?

The entire point of a federal, centralized government is to have the final say on law and rights; the Constitution also makes it very clear that the laws of one state should be honored by the others. But the framers of the Constitution also knew that there would be times when one state’s laws would come into conflict with another’s, and the federal government would have to decide which law was Constitutional–as they both might or might not be; but the idea was the law that restricted or prohibited rights more would be the one thrown out. This balancing act, naturally, was already in trouble because of slavery; a free state could not be forced to recognize the property rights laws of a slave state, and a slave state would never recognize the laws of a free state that outlawed slavery outright. The conflict and battle between states’ rights and the Federal government was baked into the document from the beginning, because the Southern states refused to give up their right to own people in a nation that was predicated on freedom and equality of all men.

The notion that a state like Texas could criminalize abortion (or anything) to the extent they have, and that they expect pro-choice states to not only comply with their laws but turn over documents and accused violators of said law is just the Fugitive Slave Act all over again: conservative states are all about federalism when it comes to enforcing their own laws…but will scream “States’ rights!” to protect their own.

The cognitive dissonance it must require to be a conservative astounds me sometimes.

I’ve spent most of my life with my sex life making me a criminal in almost every state in which I lived. Lawrence v. Texas guaranteed that the government had no right to tell me who I could sleep with and what I could do in my bedroom with that consenting adult. I remember the day that decision came down; it was something I never thought I would see in my own lifetime. One of the things I was trying to recapture (am trying to recapture, really) in “Never Kiss a Stranger” is that sense of criminality; of how it felt to be a sexual outlaw; how every time you went into a gay bar you knew there was a chance the place would be raided by the police–or that every time you left a gay bar you were in danger from the police until you made it safely home. It wasn’t something conscious you’d think about back in those days, but it was always there in the back of your mind. Gay bars inevitably (with the exception of the French Quarter in New Orleans, the Castro on San Francisco, West Hollywood, and the village, among others) were in a sketchy part of town, and often they were own by the Mob for money-laundering purposes. The marriage between the gay bars and the Mob was an uneasy one, of course–a marriage of convenience. The Mob needed to launder their money, bars are an excellent way to do so, and the Mob could also pay off the cops to prevent raids–a corruption-go-round, if you will. (Gay bar raids inevitably wound up being extortion for corrupt cops to get more bribe money from the mob…this weird marriage between criminals–gay men and the Mob–is something I want to explore in fiction more. And the police, for the record, have never been friends or allies to my community; quite the obverse, in fact.)

I should make a note to reread this next year on the 4th of July. Will things be better or worse? My money’s on worse.

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

Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around

Thursday and my last day in the office this week. Huzzah! Which means I do not have to get up at six tomorrow morning, which is lovely, and next week my work at home day is Monday, so I don’t have to be back in the office until Tuesday, which is kind of nice. I need to do a couple of errands tomorrow–brake tag and wash the car–but I am also kind of hoping against hope that I can make it to the gym tomorrow in the early evening as well. I hate that the first thing to go out the window whenever I am overwhelmed with work are the two things I enjoy most in life and are, really, things that are just for me: working out and writing.

I entered #shedeservedit for the Thriller Award for Best Children’s/Young Adult this week; I am not sure if there’s any point, really, but you cannot complain about queer books not making award shortlists if you don’t enter your own and encourage every other queer writer to do so as well. I am also entering it for the Edgars. Dream big, Gregalicious.

I have to admit I’ve not really been promoting #shedeservedit the way I should be, and I am not entirely sure why that is. Every step of the way of writing that book I was worried about whether I was the right person to tell that story or not…something I would have never even thought about ten years ago. I still don’t think I would have been the right person to tell the story had the main pov character been a girl; making it a guy, seeing everything that was going on in Liberty Center from a male teenager who is also on the football team, for me, made it more palatable–and it’s not just the story of the toxic masculinity and the rape culture permeating the town of Liberty Center: there’s a whole lot of just plain wrong going on in that town, and my main character, Alex, was affected and damaged by all of it, even as (sometimes) merely a witness to the shenanigans. Everything has a ripple effect, after all. But at the same time, the book has a content warning–which, I am ashamed to admit, never crossed my mind that it would need when I was writing it. How would a young woman who has experienced this, or knows someone who has, react to reading this story? That thought also kind of made me pull back a bit from the promotional stuff. Even with a content warning, is what happens in the book–even though it’s all already happened, and is seen only through flashbacks–going to be too difficult for a young woman (or a young man, for that matter) who has experienced something similar to read? The book has been out in the world now for over five months, it has a four and a half star rating on Amazon (I will not look at Goodreads, and no one can make me go to that barren hellscape for authors)…but at the same time there hasn’t been any pushback thus far on the book–which also doesn’t mean it won’t eventually happen, either.

But this week, I was scrolling through my Twitter feed (I honestly don’t know why I do this. Sometimes I have fun joking around with my friends there, and I’ve seen posts about books that I went on to read and enjoy, but for far too large a percentage of the time I have to step away from it in revulsion when I see how truly terrible so many people are willing to be behind the anonymity of a computer screen, a cartoon avatar, and a fake name…and how many more are unashamed to reveal their monstrous true selves with their actual names and images proudly on display for everyone to see) and I came across a piece from The Cut, which is a part of New York magazine and Vulture and I am not sure what all other websites and so forth are involved in that tangled mess of on-line and print publications. It purported to be about a high school teenager who “made a mistake” and “got canceled by his school.”

Ah, another story about the evils of cancel culture, I thought to myself, should I bother?

Reader, I bothered. And dear God in heaven, I am so sorry I did. If you want to read the nauseating swill for yourself, if it is still up, it can be found here: https://www.thecut.com/article/cancel-culture-high-school-teens.html. If you have high blood pressure, I would advise against it.

What makes the entire thing worse, in my opinion, is of course they assigned this piece to a woman. There’s a reason why men accused of sexual harassment or sexual assault will inevitably hire a female defense attorney–it subliminally communicates to the jury would a woman defend this person if he were a rapist? No woman would take on such a case! But when I was doing my research for #shedeservedit, one of the things I noted was how many women didn’t believe the girls, how many of their peers didn’t believe the girls, and that the nastiest and most vicious critics of the victims were other women/girls. I remember reading about Brock Turner’s mother, weeping and sobbing about how her son’s life was being ruined (implied: by that drunk slut!); the former girlfriend who wrote a character reference letter for him to the judge, and on and on. (I always wonder–as I did with Brock Turner–does he have any sisters or female first cousins? What do they think about this?)

Anyway, the author of this piece–whose sympathies are entirely with this boy whose only regret for sharing nude pictures of his girlfriend with his friends (when he was “drunk,” because I guess that makes it okay) is that he was shunned by his entire high school–misses the lede in this article so many times. She is so desperate to make us all feel bad for this kid for being made to feel the absolute least amount of consequence possible for his actions that she misses that the girls at this school felt so betrayed and dismissed by the system–which is supposed to protect them–that they took action on their own. That is the story here–what the students had to step up to do because THE ADULTS and the SCHOOL SYSTEM failed them.

But no, we get another “oh this poor boy”. (Who went to four proms and is leaving for college in the fall, where none of this will follow him.) By a woman writer who, per Wikipedia, has teenaged daughters of their own. How must THEY feel when reading their mother’s latest work?

Not even ten years ago the victims in Steubenville and Marysville were the ones shunned; not the guys who got them wasted and took advantage of them. (At least the Steubenville victim got some justice, as two of the boys were convicted; the poor girl in Marysville got nothing but slut-shamed and eventually she committed suicide.)

My original inspiration for writing this book honestly came back in the early 1990’s. Remember the Spur Posse at Lakewood High School? (No less an august literary figure than Joan Didion herself wrote about the Spur Posse, in her New Yorker piece “Trouble in Lakewood.”) I thought I had read about the Spur Posse in Rolling Stone–which, let’s face it, I was more likely to read at the time than the New Yorker–and was completely appalled…I sat down and started writing an idea for a book based on it, where the girls of the school, getting nowhere with the police and the school administration and so forth, become ‘avenging angels’ to publicly shame and embarrass the boys…and then they start dying. I wrote a couple of chapters, created some characters, and titled it When Stallions Die (stallions, obviously, a stand-in for Spur Posse); I always meant to swing back around to it at some point because it was an interesting idea (if you agree, you should read Lisa Lutz’ brilliant The Swallows from a few years’ back) and I still might–one never knows. But it was the Spur Posse situation that made me start thinking–long and hard–about sexual assault and sexual misconduct, victim-blaming and slut-shaming, and the weird need that some women have to protect men at any cost: “boys will be boys,” “any red-blooded American boy”…”locker room talk.”

And since I had been wanting to write a Kansas book, and had been playing around with a story for a small city in Kansas, its teens, and its high school football team, #shedeservedit kind of evolved from there.

I don’t know why I am so reluctant and/or nervous to promote the book. It was a deeply personal book for me to write (as was Bury Me in Shadows), and yes, I put a lot of my teenaged self into that book–not the surface Greg everyone saw and knew, but the interior Greg, the one who was so deeply miserable and unhappy and alone on the inside.

Wow, this rambled on for a lot longer than I expected it to! That article clearly pissed me off, did it not?

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

Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EVERY SEASON OF ELITE.

One of the most moving moments during Left Coast Crime came during Raquel V. Reyes’ acceptance speech for Best Humorous Mystery for Mango, Mambo, and Murder. Raquel spoke very eloquently about her love for the crime fiction genre, and why it was so important for her to write a Latina sleuth heroine in her series: “Representation matters,” she emphasized, her voice breaking a little bit. This naturally got me to thinking about representation and its importance. It reminded me of the weird little boy in Chicago (and later, in the suburbs and on the plains of Kansas) who believed he was so weird, unnatural, and anything but normal; and how those rare appearances of gay men in fiction–scattered here and there in paperbacks–meant so much to me and made me feel, even if just for a moment, that I wasn’t strange and weird and an outsider. There were people like me out there somewhere, and maybe, just maybe, someday I’d find them and my community and feel like, finally, I belonged somewhere.

I was thinking about this very thing as Paul and I binged our way through Season 5 of our favorite show, Elité, on Netflix recently (the new season dropped while I was in Albuquerque).

I don’t remember how, when, or why Paul and I started watching Elité, but I am so glad we did. I know it was pre-pandemic, because I do remember both of us being concerned about when the fourth season would drop and whether it would be delayed because of the pandemic. But regardless of when we started watching, this Spanish-language Gossip Girl type show (far, far superior to Gossip Girl, sorry, stans, don’t @ me) really captured our imaginations and we became full fledged addicts. (The best way to describe the show is as a terrific hybrid of Gossip Girl and How to Get Away with Murder, yet better than both). I think part of it was the great cast–everyone was not only gorgeous, but they were remarkably talented as well, and the writing/plotting/story construction was superb; take note, American television series. I also greatly enjoyed the Ander/Omar romance, which began with both deeply closeted and meeting guys on hook-up apps, which is how they met. They began building a relationship, coming out to friends and family–it didn’t go well with Omar’s Palestinian parents–and their romance was given equal weight to that of their straight cast members; I don’t recall many shows where that happens. It was handled very well, and they literally became one of the show’s “super couples”, to borrow a daytime soap term. Fans loved them, and their romance was handled so beautifully that I was impressed, all the way from the terrors of the closet to fears about acceptance to actually coming out and developing a romance, with all the drama and upheavals young straight couples usually have to deal with. Omar and Ander were no different from any other romantic couple on the show; their story was just as important as the others, and there was never any sense of “oh they’re just pandering because we’ll always watch something with gay representation on it.”

And it wasn’t just Omar and Ander, either. Polo and Carla were in a long-term relationship since they were children; deeply in love and yet somehow bored with each other, both found themselves attracted to sexy new student Cristian; and that progressed from Polo watching Cristian and Carla together to joining them! Polo’s sexuality became a bit more murky than it was at the beginning. Is he bisexual, pan, or are they all three polyamorous? Carla and Polo end up breaking up and Cristian left the show after a tragic accident; but the intricacies and intrigues from their long-term relationship continued to play out and affect their storylines as well as others along the way. A lesbian romance was introduced into season 4, as well as a new villainous gay character, whose entire purpose was simply to be rebellious against his father and try to come between Omar and Ander. Played by the strikingly beautiful Manu Rios, I liked the idea of a manipulative gay villain (think Erica Kane as a gay man), but hoped they would flesh him out more. I felt Manu Rios was more talented than the material they were giving him, and hoped that in Season 5 we’d get to know him better.

(There are many other reasons I love the show–the other characters are also incredibly well developed, and their behavior fits their characters as they’ve developed along the way; no one ever acts in a way that doesn’t feel realistic simply to suit a story-line, something else American show runners should pay attention to.)

Season 5 literally dropped the Friday night I was in Albuquerque, and as soon as I got back to New Orleans, Paul and I started watching, and binged the entire season in like two nights. Season 4 wasn’t as good as the first three seasons (the bar was set high, to be fair), but it was also a transitional season; at least half of the cast graduated at the end of season three and thus left the show–which I thought was probably a good thing, despite losing some absolute favorite characters from those earlier seasons. Season 4 transitioned the story as the show added new cast members to replace those who’d left; so we didn’t enjoy it as much as we could have (more original cast members departed at the end of season 4) and so I was worried that Season 5 wouldn’t be as good, either…but I am delighted to report I was totally wrong on that score. -With Season 5, the show is back at the incredibly high level/standard it set for itself in those first three seasons, and while it is very hard to compare the one season with the interconnected stories of those first three, I don’t know. Season 5 might just be my favorite.

And of course, now that we’ve seen Season 5, the stage has been set for a very strong new, sixth season, and I literally cannot wait.

But the primary strength of this most-recent season comes from the further development of the character of Patrick, played by the stunningly beautiful young actor Manu Rios, through a truly terrific storyline that let us see sides of Patrick we’ve not seen before.

I mean, look at that stunning face.

The body isn’t too shabby, either.

Patrick joined the cast of characters, as I mentioned, in season 4. The openly gay character was primarily brought in as an agent of chaos: self-absorbed, narcissistic and rebelling against his strict father (the new principal), his role in season 4 was primarily to cause drama and disruption between the long-running gay romance storyline between Omar and Ander (again, and it can’t be said enough, how lovely was the Omar/Ander storyline, where a gay couple in a soapy show got the kind of story usually reserved for opposite sex teen couples?), so he was kind of a villain character–striking out angrily whenever he was hurt but inevitably causing more trouble for himself than for others, but the role was played with such sensitivity and style by Manu Rios that we as viewers couldn’t hate him the way we should have, the way we wanted to; since he was really “the other guy” and causing trouble between the already fraught Ander/Omar relationship we were all rooting for. Patrick was really nothing more than the latest obstacle to their happily ever after; but when Ander also left the show after season four, I wondered if Patrick and Omar would pick back up–it didn’t seem likely, but they were the gay characters, so…

And even I didn’t fully appreciate how talented Manu Rios was during season four–but that changed in a matter of moments in Season 5. I mean, I could see he was beautiful–anyone with eyes can see that–but could he turn what was essentially a one-note character into someone who seemed perfectly real to the viewers?

The answer was yes yes a thousand times yes.

You see, there’s a new student at Las Encinas in season 5, who catches Patrick’s eye on his first day: Ivan Carvalho, played by André Lamoglia.

This picture doesn’t do him justice in the least, either. He’s beautiful. And the way his face lights up when he smiles–utterly irresistible. (Lamoglia is also a remarkably good actor.) His father is a world-famous soccer player, Cruz Catalho, and there’s no sign or mention of Ivan’s mother. But Cruz lives the good life of the hard-partying rich superstar, often telling his uptight son–who’s moved around the world following his father’s career, unable to make lasting friends or set down roots anywhere as a result–to loosen up. Ivan just wants a normal life–with Cruz always telling him to relax and enjoy the great life Cruz is able to provide for him.

And the character is so kind and loving and understanding…it’s easy to see why Patrick would not only be attracted to him for his looks but drawn to him as a person. He sees Patrick in a way no one else ever has before. It’s impossible not to root for them to fall in love with each other.

Ivan first comes to Patrick’s attention when he is looking for directions to the high school locker room–which, at the time, didn’t strike me as odd but now looking back, it kind of does; he was in his gym clothes and in need of a shower, but I SUPPOSE that it’s entirely possible he could have gotten turned around–new school and all, I guess. Immediately interested and attracted to this handsome stranger, Patrick not only gives him directions but offers to take him there “since I was on my way there anyway.” They talk as they shower–but Ivan is onto Patrick; after the shower he points out with a smile, “you just wanted to shower with me to see me naked” he teases, pointing out Patrick’s arousal. As I mentioned, Ivan is breathtakingly gorgeous. When he smiles, you can’t do anything but melt. And yet, the two boys have undeniable chemistry.

But Ivan is straight. He keeps telling Patrick this, over and over again, but…

We actually first meet Ivan as he is getting ready for school, climbing over the passed out bodies in the living room to see if his father will drive him to school. Instead, Cruz winds up hugging the toilet and telling Ivan to take the car. During his first initial meeting with Patrick, Ivan definitely points out that he isn’t gay, but he’s not put off by Patrick’s sexuality, either. They can be friends–but that’s all it’s going to be. He knows Patrick is attracted to him, and he’s a bit of a tease; sending mixed signals that confuse and anger Patrick.

This, too, is an old trope of a story, and I was really not overly thrilled with it; it’s clichéd and one of the tired old reasons the homophobes trot out whenever they want to deny us our rightful place in society and culture: we want to convert everyone.

Because it’s just that easy.

But at the same time, Patrick’s desperate crush on his new straight best friend isn’t played as exploitative. There’s more there than just him being a cocktease, really; Ivan clearly cares very deeply for Patrick, and their friendship means a lot to him. He cares, and this is a new experience for Patrick; he isn’t used to anyone genuinely caring for him. He’s a disappointment to his father, he loves his sisters but those relationships are very tense, and he really just wants to be loved. So the fact that he has found someone who genuinely loves him is confusing; he loves being loved, but he is also strongly attracted to Ivan, in love with him (at one point Ivan teases him, “you’ve fallen for me”) and isn’t sure how to react or behave or what. Ivan is attracted also to Patrick’s sister Ari–and the heartbreak when Patrick sees them together is completely believable; and it’s all done in his incredibly expressive face. After seeing Ivan and Ari having sex on a boat on the lake…heartbroken Patrick goes back to the dock and sits there, hating himself and hating his life. While he’s sitting there, Ivan’s father Cruz comes out there–they’ve already had a couple of run ins already, and Patrick is on to the fact that Cruz isn’t as straight as he acts–and as Cruz comforts Patrick–they begin to kiss!

Did. Not. See. That. Coming.

At the time, I was rather impressed with the writing, frankly. What better set-up for drama than having Patrick, in love with Ivan, wind up in a relationship with Ivan’s dad? (Yes, aware of the creepiness of an adult man sleeping with a high school student; yet I still thought it make an interesting story.) But the writers are even more clever than that.

Patrick winds up comforting Ivan after his brief little fling on the water with Ari–who no longer wants to even speak to him–and the two boys go back to the Carvalho household. Cruz isn’t happy with this–he has his own developing feelings for Patrick, so he acts homophobic, but privately he invites Patrick to join him later after Ivan falls asleep. Later, when Patrick cleans up before bed and walks into Ivan’s room, he sees Ivan watching porn and they come oh-so-close again to something physical happening…but Ivan pulls aways again. Frustrated and hurt AGAIN, Patrick goes to the guest room. While watching porn on his phone and masturbating, he gets a text from Cruz asking is Ivan asleep yet? Hating himself but hurt AND horny, Patrick gets up to go join Cruz–but when he walks out of the guest room Ivan is there in the hallway.

IVAN: I can’t sleep.

PATRICK: Count sheep.

IVAN: No, no, I want you to come back to my room with me.

PATRICK: You need to stop. I am going to get really angry with you.

IVAN: I can’t stop thinking that…what if…because of prejudice or fear or something…what if I am missing out on something amazing…with someone amazing…who makes me feel amazing.

PATRICK: Stop.

Ivan then tries to kiss Patrick, but awkwardly. Patrick pushes him away, and Ivan apologizes. “I’m sorry, I’m just really nervous but I want this.”

The look on Patrick’s face literally made me tear up as he said, “No, let me.” And then they kiss. When Patrick pulls away he says, “Are you okay?”

Ivan smiles and just nods, and the two boys go back to Ivan’s room.

What followed was the most amazing slightly longer than five minutes gay sex scene I’ve ever seen outside of gay porn. But it wasn’t raunchy (it’s definitely not gay porn); it was sensual and beautiful and erotic; an expression of love between two young men who’ve never been really in love before. It wasn’t all candlelight and roses; it was Ivan’s first time (at one point, he’s doing oral on Patrick for the first time, and Patrick stops him–“watch the teeth!” I defy anyone to find a gay man who has never said that or had that said to him once in his life. ) and while i know rimming scenes have become more commonplace on cable shows, I’ve never seen two males do it as realistically as it was done here. Patrick allows Ivan to top him, and even that was realistic, honest, authentic. The entire thing was beautifully shot and scored (EDIT: the song playing in the background is Brian Eno’s “By the River,” which is beautiful and perfect for this scene), and the acting was fucking fantastic (the pun was deliberate). I literally got tears in my eyes.

There were three more episodes in the season after this–with ups and downs and more pain and heartache for the two–but it all comes together in the incredible season finale, which again left me in tears.

This entire season could have simply focused on Patrick and Ivan’s story, and I would have been happy. But the other storylines of the season–which didn’t seem all that great in the first half–coalesced in the second half of the season, with twists and surprises and suspense; this show is fantastic at surprise twists that make you gasp.

But this story…wow. How much of a difference would it have made in my life to have seen something like this play out on a television series when I was a teenager? Even in my early twenties? Both young actors are fantastic. The acting is stellar, and I have to admit it’s one of the few times I’ve seen a gay storyline play out like this where I was absolutely 100% convinced they were in love with each other, was rooting for them, wanted them to end up together against all the odds.

Manu Rios and André Lamoglia steal the fifth season right out from under the rest of the cast–which is no small feat, as Elité’s biggest strength has always been its incredibly talented cast.

I loved this show already, but I love it all the more now. I have no idea what they are going to do with Ivan and Patrick for the next season; but whatever it is, I am here for it…and so are the rest of the fans of the show around the world. (Yes, I did a deep dive the other day on-line; Patrick and Ivan and their story are the breakout stars of season 5…as they should be.)

I would seriously write Patrick/Ivan fanfic.

Bravo, Elité and Netflix, and thank you.

Go Away Little Girl

It’s really strange to look back at old music–from really not that long ago–and see how actually pedophilic and disturbing the lyrics to some of these songs actually are. Today’s title, for example, is about a guy being tempted by a girl who’s much too young for him–but while he at least recognizes this, the song itself makes it sound like she is the seductive temptress, which again: weird and uncomfortable. Granted, the version I am most familiar with is Donny Osmond’s, and he was prepubescent when he recorded it, so there is that. But imagine how creepy it would sound if sung by someone in their twenties? Thirties?

I am sure you get the point.

Yesterday wasn’t one of my better days, frankly. I woke up at five in the morning and of course, was wide awake (fortunately, Scooter decided that was the time to start howling for food and water, so it wasn’t a total disaster; he would have woken me up then anyway so hurray for already being awake, at least). But I felt very–not tired, but also not entirely checked into my day, if that makes any kind of sense? It’s a weird feeling, and not one I am particularly fond of, either–but what can you do? Try to function as best you can, is the only answer–along with hoping that tomorrow will be better. It’s sort of the like the post-novel writing malaise I often experience when I’ve turned a book in; but it’s not quite the same. I tried working on some writing yesterday to no avail; I did get a bit done but very very little. But after abandoning the attempt to write, I sat down with Chris Holm’s Child Zero, which is quite compelling and extremely well written. I got only a few chapters in before Paul got home from the gym (it’s so lovely having a husband again; it’s been like four months of having a roommate I never see), and thus had to reluctantly put the book aside.

We’re also getting some nasty weather later this afternoon–hurricane force winds are predicted, and potential tornadoes (again). The worst of the weather will be north of us–sorry, Mississippi, please stay safe, my Mississippi friends–but it’s also supposed to be at its worst right around the time I get off work and head home. There’s also potential for power outages–as always with high winds–so who knows what’s going to happen around here? I will have to figure out precisely what to do when it’s time for me to come home, I suppose. Yay? AH, well, weather has become even more threatening to us down here over the last few years, I suppose.

We also started watching season two of The Righteous Gemstones last night, which is a very underrated show–it’s quite funny, and of course, the goings-on behind the scenes at most megachurches always is interesting to me on some levels. John D. MacDonald’s One More Sunday is maybe my favorite novel about a televangelist family (MacDonald was a stunning writer, one of the best and one of my favorites, definitely an influence on my career); and of course, in one of its many iterations the Kansas book (now #shedeservedit) was about a megachurch in Kansas; which might still become a book, although probably no longer set in Kansas. Although hypocritical evangelicals has become a cliche…

But it’s also pay-the-bills day (yay?) But at least I can pay them and not worry about buying groceries and so forth, so definitely yay.

And hopefully, tonight when I get home we’ll have power so I can do some writing.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me! Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader!

Y

Your Wonderful, Sweet Sweet Love

Well, last night was a bit intense there for a while.

Yes, we had really horrific weather events down here last evening. I was sitting in my easy chair, relaxing and watching episodes of Young Justice when my phone started blaring the emergency alert. I knew there was a chance of tornadoes because we were having high winds all day (another emergency alert) and thunderstorms would be moving in during the early night. Sure enough, the wind was howling and the rain was coming down in torrents and lightning was flashing–and then my phone emergency alert started going off. I immediately paused the show and switched over to Margaret Orr on WDSU (since Nash Roberts retired, Ms. Orr has been my go-to local weatherperson, and saw that the “tornadic” (a new word to me) storm was on the West Bank–and there was another, separate one entirely, on the North Shore. The location of this tornadic storm placed it pretty much directly across the river from my neighborhood–needless to say, a bit terrifying knowing it was literally that close–but the path the storm was following indicated it would probably jump the river just below the French Quarter, into either the Marigny, Bywater or lower 9th ward neighborhoods. (Even more scary–I know a lot of people in those neighborhoods, so of course I was scrolling through social media rapidly making sure my friends were all okay and worrying.) Then came the visual confirmation there was actually a tornado on the ground over there–and yes, know and love people over on the West Bank as well–and then it jumped the river into the lower 9th.

I grew up with tornadoes–they weren’t common but did happen in Chicago; but of course, five years in Kansas. My first thought was great there are no basements in southeastern Louisiana and second was fuck there’s really not even an interior place for me to huddle in this apartment if it comes here and third was acceptance: oh well, if it comes this way hope for the best.

Seriously, y’all. Major major yikes.

I know at least one person died in St. Bernard Parish (Chalmette/Arabi), and I’m not seeing any estimates on damage yet (haven’t done a deep dive) but I do remember I drove through the East on a trip out of town after the tornado there a few years ago and being horrified by what I was seeing (not on the level of the ‘disaster drives’ I took around the city when I returned after Katrina, but still pretty fucking horrible; Katrina’s a very high bar, after all). I know thousands are still without power this morning, and I’m not sure how this is going to affect my work day–I don’t know if there’s power at the building, for example, but I think I would have heard something by now–but I wouldn’t be surprised if my appointments have a rather high percentage of no-shows today.

The new book’s cover reveal was graciously hosted by none other than Dru Ann Love this morning; you can find it right here! I love this cover–the look on the cat’s face, based on Scooter, is absolutely perfect–and I am very excited about the new book. I am hopeful it will become a series–it was a one-book only deal, so hopefully it will continue. Huzzah!

I did manage to get quite a bit done yesterday, and was tired a bit when I got home last night so wasn’t able to get any reading or much else of anything done other than watching Live Justice and the second episode of Minx (I have some thoughts on this show, which I am enjoying but not sure if I should be, if that makes sense? But I will discuss that more at another time, and feel like I need to give the show a few more episodes before making up my mind one way or another; I will say that the thing I found problematic in the first episode was that the main character–whom I liked–was very much a 70’s feminist stereotype: humorless, strident, angry–not that they didn’t have every right to be, mind you, but I often find that this lazy stereotype inevitably leads to lazy character development: let’s watch as the uptight opinionated humorless feminist learns how to relax and shed the systemic misogyny training she received as a woman growing up when she did, and of course, being around a porn publisher and porn models…you see what I mean? I like the positive representation of porn and the people who work in it, but…maybe I am making more of this than I should. I don’t know) before of course the tornado alarm went off on my phone, which shifted everything for the rest of the evening.

Paul’s moving into the hotel today so I will also be home alone for until Sunday night or Monday morning. Sigh, Festival widowhood staring me in the face again.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines. Have a lovely and safe day, Constant Reader!

Up the Ladder to the Roof

It’s a gray Saturday morning, and my body clock has definitely reset. I woke up just before six again, wide awake, but stayed in bed for another hour (just like yesterday). I don’t feel as energetic as I did yesterday, though; but I have things to dig through and work to do and lots of coffee on-hand for fueling. But that’s okay; I don’t have huge plans for the day. I am going to start doing some editing, I am going to work on my short story a bit, and i am going to spend some more time with Kellye Garrett’s Like A Sister, which will be my reward for getting the other stuff done. I need to go make groceries at some point this weekend, just haven’t decided which day to do that. I also need to go to the gym, maybe later today. There’s always organizing and cleaning to do, too.

In other words, another normal weekend around the Lost Apartment.

But that’s cool, I suppose. Trying to do normal things helps me deal with the over-all concern about the world burning to the ground around us, which sometimes makes doing anything feel completely pointless. (I do remember all the hesitation from people in December about trying not to get thrilled or be happy that 2021 was coming to an end; we all felt that way every December for several years only for the new year to be even worse than the one before. Looks, sadly, like those people were right.) It’s a weird place to be in for someone my age, or in my generation, or those of us who remember the world before the collapse of the Soviet Union. I’m sure many of them, like me, had forgotten what it was like to live under the daily threat of nuclear annihilation and the end of civilization as we’ve come to know it. But that’s what we did back then–we went about our daily lives with that worry in the back of our minds at all times. I remember the amazement and joy when the Berlin Wall came down, and Germany reunified; part of their punishment for causing World War II and uncountable war crimes was allowing the Russians to basically split the country, turning East Germany into a communist satellite state while West Germany became a democracy and joined NATO and the west–basically for protection from a Communist takeover. I don’t miss nuclear apocalyptic fiction and films; Neville Shute’s On the Beach was such a bleak read, and the television movie The Day After was also dark and hopeless. There was an abandoned nuclear missile base about two or three miles from my high school in Kansas (which I’ve always wanted to write about); I remember there was a PBS documentary that aired when I was in high school about nuclear war, which was also the first time it ever crossed my mind that Kansas, of all places, would be a strategic military target for the Russians (because of all the missile bases spread across the prairie), they even named the closest town to the abandoned base as a target (Bushong, Kansas, population 37 at the time). And of course, The Day After made that very clear, as it took place in Kansas City and environs. Testament is another bleak film about the aftermath of nuclear war; and I remember reading another book, War Day, by Whitley Strieber and someone else, set about twenty years after a nuclear war between the superpowers. We used to learn about all kinds of things, like the electromagnetic pulse (the detonation of a nuclear weapon in the atmosphere which somehow–I don’t remember how it worked–rendered anything requiring electricity to cease working), often simplified to EMP. We were taught that iodine helped with radiation sickness, along with the grim knowledge that those killed instantly were the lucky ones. Apocalyptic and dystopian fiction used to be about the aftermath of nuclear war.

I didn’t realize how lovely it had been to be able to push those concerns completely out of my mind.

And what unique privilege it is, to be so consumed with worry over what may happen that might affect me and my life, while people are literally being slaughtered by the minute and large cities are being bombed and shelled ruthlessly and refugees are fleeing by the hundreds of thousands.

And there are other atrocities occurring around the world that aren’t being reported on, or covered as widely by the western media–primarily because the people being slaughtered or bombed aren’t white.

The great irony is that we consider our current civilization as the apex of humanity thus far–that civilization continues to evolve and grow less barbaric with the passage of time, while knowing that future generations will look back to our times and wonder what the fuck was wrong with them? How could they not see how fucked up the world was, and do something about it?

What is happening in Ukraine is just another chapter in the never-ending on-going series of books showing how incredibly inhumane humans are.

I don’t know what’s going to happen over there, and I worry that a peaceable resolution is not possible. I don’t see how Putin can possibly survive this, and he is a desperate thug with a massive Napoleon complex. I don’t know how many Ukrainians have to die before the rest of the world says enough. I don’t know how you get a madman with a nuclear arsenal to stop making war on civilians.

So, I just keep going. I get up every morning and have coffee. I check my emails, read some, delete some and reply to others. I check the news to see the latest from the front. I work on day job responsibilities and my writing and MWA business and edit. I do my dishes and clean my house and cook dinner and try to read to take my mind off the nightmares unfolding in the far corners of the world. I donate what I can to relief efforts. Little things, here and there, to cope with a reality that is incredibly worrisome and stressful and so overwhelming that I can’t allow myself to spend too much time going down that road–because I have the privilege to not have to be concerned about surviving today’s bombings. I have food and medicine and access to services. I have power and water and a working car. I have resources to draw upon. I am lucky.

I create. I write novels, fictions which may or may not have any meaning, trifles that can serve as a distraction from the worries and cares of a burning world over which I have little to no control. I have always been hesitant to use the word art when it comes to my writing; I’ve always felt that it isn’t for me to decide whether my work is art or I am an artist. But literature is a form of art, so therefore by extension my work is art and I am an artist; whether good or bad, important or forgettable is for others to discuss, debate and decide. But one of the foundations of civilization is art; art can survive the centuries and epochs and tell future generations stories about the times in which we live, to give them context for our civilization and our country and what we do and how we live. Fiction can educate and distract; it can provide a needed distraction and escape from the horrors of reality and provide comfort and joy in times of stress and terror. I have always escaped into books, and as a writer, I can also now escape into worlds and characters of my own creation. Reading and writing have always been my escapes; and now, more than ever, those kinds of escapes are necessary.

So, writers–we need to keep creating even as the world burns. There is always a need for beauty and truth, especially in times like these. And with electronic books–our words can now last for eternity, forever–or at least as long as civilization as we know it exists. I have no crystal ball; I do not have visions–although there have been times I’ve felt like Cassandra screaming on the walls of Troy, ignored and mocked as she tells them their future and of their folly. I do not know how this will all turn out, I do not know where we will be tomorrow or the next day. But as long as I have the ability to do so, I will keep working. I will keep making to-do lists and crossing off the tasks as I complete them. I will go on, living my life and doing whatever small thing I can do to try to keep the light burning. I will always try to make sense of the senseless, and I will always keep going.

No matter how dark the world might seem, no matter how much suffering we have to witness.

And on that somber note, I am going to dive into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and hope you and all your loved ones are safe and secure, and continue to be.