The Silky Veils of Ardor

As Constant Reader knows, Gregalicious loves short stories. He regrets deeply that they are much harder for him to write than novels (I’ve often joked that I find it much easier to write a novel than a short story; the word count limitations are hard for me as I always tend to write probably more than is needed to illustrate a particular point–take this sentence, for example), and I am sure part of this insecurity comes from my oft-told tale about my first writing professor, who earwormed his petty nastiness into my brain and soul. (But also this gives me an enormous sense of personal satisfaction in that I know I’ve published more fiction than he did during his time on this planet; to this date, I still cannot find a single fiction publication for the prick.)

And while I am a firm believer in the mentality that writers should always be paid–even if merely a token–for their work, I will often write short stories if requested, and don’t mind donating a story for a good cause. The two stories I had in Bouchercon anthologies weren’t paid, nor was my story for Murder-a-Go-Go’s; like I said, when I am asked to write a story I am genuinely so flattered that the editor thought enough of me and my work to ask. I like writing short stories, even if they are a struggle for me, and there aren’t many places where one can get them published these days.

I was enormously flattered to be asked by short story master Josh Pachter to write a story for his anthology of stories inspired by the music of Joni Mitchell. The irony, of course, is that while I am familiar with Ms. Mitchell and her work–and I like what I know of it–I am not as familiar with her canon as I am with women singer-songwriters like Stevie Nicks, Dolly Parton or Carole King; I also realized that the songs of hers that I could name off the top of my head–“Free Man in Paris”, “Help Me”, “Big Yellow Taxi”, etc.–were the same ones anyone could; I wanted something not quite as famous and perhaps a little more obscure, something to which a Joni Mitchell fan would say oh yes, of course you chose that song.

So, I did what I often do in these situations: I asked my friend Michael Thomas Ford (aka That Bitch Ford), and he immediately came back with “You should pick ‘The Silky Veils of Ardor.’ It’s about that hot guy all the high school girls fall in love with and breaks their hearts.”

That was definitely intriguing, so I looked up the lyrics and listened to the song several times as I listened to Joni’s sweet voice singing them…and I knew immediately what story I was going to tell.

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The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she stepped out into the hotel lobby and took a quick look around. At the front desk, a young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she was holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to head back to the elevators and punch at the UP button until the doors opened, get back to her room and repack her suitcases—everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet—was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this….

A dull murmur came from the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattle of ice against glass, the whir of a blender. From where she stood, she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses with trays balanced on one hand maneuvering expertly around groups of people.

Maybe no one there was from the reunion. Maybe she was early. Maybe—

You can do this!

She’d always had social anxiety. Had never made friends easily, couldn’t make small talk, sometimes said the wrong thing, alienated people without even knowing what she’d done. Parties and dances had always been agony. Even with friends, people she felt relatively certain actually did like her, there was always the irrational fear she’d say the wrong thing, forget a birthday, commit some horrific social faux pas that would turn them against her, show them what a damaged, worthless person she actually was. She’d started seeing a therapist after college, years after she should have, but her parents thought therapy was all touchy-feely mumbo-jumbo for the weak and all you had to do was suck it up and forget about it, not worry, lock it all away in some dark corner of your mind and move on.

I have never attended a high school reunion, and frankly, have little to no desire to ever do so–with no offense intended to anyone I went to high school with. Our school was very small and remote, for one thing–my graduating class had only 48 students, and at that point, were the largest graduating class in our high school’s history. It’s not easy to get there–one would have to fly into either Kansas City or Wichita, rent a car, and drive for at least an hour just to get to the county seat, and of course, my high school was about nineteen miles (give or take) north of the county seat. I do think about going back from time to time, more to take a look around and see what’s different now as opposed to then; to refresh my memories a bit for writing about the region–which I’ve done somewhat already, but not nearly as much as I could. Using Google Earth has already shown me that my memory is faulty–I’ve fallen into Google Earth wormholes frequently–so while there is some idle curiosity about going back, there’s very little desire or motivation. It’s difficult, I think, for my classmates to understand that I really don’t have much desire to revisit that time of my life; it’s certainly not their fault but the four or five years I spent in Kansas also contain some of the darkest periods of my life.

I wrote a short story about a high school reunion under my Todd Gregory pseudonym; “Promises in Every Star,” which eventually became the title story of my Todd Gregory collection. I first had the idea for that story when I received the invitation to my ten year reunion, back in 1988; the title is a lyric from one of my favorite til Tuesday songs, “Coming Up Close,” from my favorite album of theirs, Welcome Home, which I can listen to over and over again, and have, many times; it’s definitely in my Top Five favorite albums of all time. I don’t remember where I originally published that story, but it was many, many years later, after I had the original idea and wrote the first draft (in long hand), and after that, I figured I was finished with high school reunion stories.

Until “The Silky Veils of Ardor.”

As I listened to the song, the more the story began to take shape in my head; a high school reunion, twenty-five years later; returning to the town where she went to high school for the first time since she graduated and moved away with her family. I had already written the opening, for another short story; as I revised and retooled that particular story, the character grew and changed and wasn’t the timid, nervous, medicated woman she originally was–but I loved that original opening, and decided to lift it from the initial drafts of that story onto this one. I found the original word document of the first draft, erased everything after the opening few paragraphs, and renamed the file THE SILKY VEILS OF ARDOR. The rest of the story flowed out of me after I finished rereading and tweaking the original opening to fit the new story, and I was off and running. I revised the story several times, and one of the things, one of the points, I was trying to make with the story is about how differently we see high school than our friends and classmates did–which is an idea I’d been toying with after an exchange on social media with some of my classmates after I’d posted something–a status update or a blog post, or something along those lines–about how miserable I’d been in high school; my friends were all astonished because how remembered high school was very different from the way they remembered it, and me. I remembered feeling isolated and lonely, like an alien from another planet set down into their midst; a freak everyone kept at arm’s length. They, on the other hand, remembered me as being popular and well-liked by everyone.

And that, my friends, is where this story came from. I still think about those tricks our memories play on us; our inability to see what was right in front of us if we could just see clearly.

The book will be officially released on April 7th from Untreed Reads; you can preorder it at any vendor that sells ebooks. There’s a stellar line-up of writers, and some of the proceeds are going to charity.

And thanks again to Josh Pachter for inviting me.

Here’s a link to Joni singing the song–this is the video I listened to for inspiration.

The First Noel

Merry Christmas! And if you don’t celebrate, HAPPY DAY OFF WITH PAY! Huzzah!

Later today we’re going to see The Rise of Skywalker in IMAX 3-D; I am very excited. I’ve managed to avoid spoilers completely on social media–an accomplishment only rivaled by my ability to do the same with The Force Awakens many years ago–it was out for weeks before we finally saw it, and I managed to completely avoid spoilers the entire time. And while I’m certainly sad that the Skywalker story is coming to an end at long last–some forty-two years or so since I first sat in a movie theater in Emporia, Kansas, to see the first one–The Mandalorian and Rogue One have proven conclusively that you don’t need a Skywalker to tell a great Star Wars story.

I spent Christmas Eve mostly relaxing. I finished reading Laura Benedict’s The Stranger Inside (it’s fantastic; blog post about it soon to come), and then watched a documentary about Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis–it mostly focused on Dark Shadows, of course–and that was nice. I also decided that my next read is going to be an actual reread of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley, which I’ve only read once–back when the film with Matt Damon was released, back in the late 1990’s, whenever that was. I’ve not read any of the other books in what is commonly known as the Ripleyad (Ripliad? I don’t know how they spell it), but I’ve slowly been working my way through the Highsmith canon over the years since (if pressed, I think I’d pick The Cry of the Owl as my favorite of those I’ve currently read; her short stories are also quite marvelous), and have not regretted a single moment of reading her. I decided to reread the first Ripley for any number of reasons–but primarily because I honestly don’t remember much of it, and what memories I do have are mostly of the film, and I am mostly curious to see how Highsmith handled his sexuality in the actual text; was it coded, or was it more obvious?

I also kind of want to watch the Netflix true crime documentary on Aaron Hernandez–also curious to see how they handle the sexuality issues involved with him.

For the record, RWA continues to throw gasoline on the dumpster fire they started on Monday, in case you were wondering–and each new story emerging makes them look even worse. I am so happy I never bothered joining that organization–which I considered, since I was leaning towards writing romantic suspense (The Orion Mask). But its history of problematic treatment of minority writers made me shy away from it, and again, so glad I listened to my gut.

I do have to work tomorrow–and Friday–these middle of the week holidays are a bit disconcerting. I also am taking off New Year’s Eve (Commander’s Palace luncheon, as per tradition) and New Year’s is a holiday, so next week will wind up being the same as this week: work Monday, two days off, and then back in for Thursday and Friday. Weird and unusual, yes–but also discombobulating a bit and will need to recenter and refocus.

And now I am going to retire to my easy chair with Ms. Highsmith for the rest of the morning. Happy day, everyone!

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Meet Me Half Way

LSU won last night, 58-37, over Mississippi at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford; but the defense gave up a lot in the second half–yards and touchdowns–and at times had me wondering if this would indeed turn into a trap game. A couple of offensive mistakes that the Rebels capitalized on, and suddenly they had pulled back within two touchdowns to 44-30 before the Tigers scored twice more to effectively ice the game. I may have sworn at the television a few times, as LSU’s pristine, well-oiled precision in the first half got sloppy in the second.

I suppose it is a measure of LSU’s success this season that a 21 point win in a rivalry game on the road felt disappointing; I guess this is what it means to become a member of an incredibly spoiled fan base. 58 points and over 700 yards on offense–and I was swearing at the television. Lord.

But the defense is going to have to play better than this if LSU is going to win the SEC title game against Georgia, who clinched the East by beating Auburn yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day on many fronts. I cleaned and organized, which of course always makes me happy; I didn’t get to the floors yesterday, but everything else is cleaned and organized, with a few more things to finish off this morning before I get back to work. I did have a relatively good day yesterday–cleaning and organizing capped by an LSU game is always the best Saturday possible for me. I also managed to read some more of The Ferguson Affair, and making notes on it. It’s not one of the stronger MacDonald novels–definitely not as good as some Lew Archers I’ve read–but it’s an interesting story, and I do like how the entire case begins with the main character, an attorney, being called in to represent a young woman accused of stealing, or rather, being part of a burglary gang robbing wealthy residents of the small city–and how it unrolls from there. I also made some notes on my current work-in-progress; dissecting why the story isn’t playing well in my head and realizing that it’s my own stubbornness and refusal to change things–even when they aren’t working. I always try to  make it work somehow before recognizing finally that it’s not working and must be changed; I have to go back and redo the first chapters of the book–which I’ve already kind of done. Part of the reluctance to see things clearly is because I don’t want to redo work I’ve already done—but if the work doesn’t work, accept that the time was wasted and redo it, for fuck’s sake. And so that is the task that lies before me today. I am going to go ahead and finish redoing chapter 13, because I’ve been in the middle of it for quite some time now–not finishing because deep down I knew I was going to have to go back and rework the earlier stuff, and why keep going when you know you’re going to have to revise and edit and rewrite what you are currently revising and editing and rewriting? Not an effective use of time or energy…and sometimes you have to just accept that you’ve wasted the time and be done with it. But I do believe I have now solved the key problem with my story, and it will now work going forward.

The other day I talked about the Stephen King short story “The Raft” (filmed as part of Creepshow 2), primarily in the terms of a book idea inspired by the trope of the story–essentially, four (or more) young people go somewhere no one knows they are, and something bad happens to them there–and they know rescue isn’t coming because no one knows where they are, and even if they did, it would take a while before anyone figured out they needed help–and wouldn’t know where to find them. Because of this, I kept thinking about “The Raft,” and finally at one point yesterday I got down my copy of Skeleton Crew and reread the story.

It’s extraordinary, really, and a good reminder of why Stephen King is one of my favorite writers.

It was forty miles from Horlicks University in Pittsburgh to Cascade Lake, and although dark comes early to that part of the world in October and although they didn’t get going until six o’clock, there was still a little light in the sky when they got there. They had come in Deke’s Camaro. Deke didn’t waste any time when he was sober. After a couple of beers, he made that Camaro walk and talk.

He had hardly brought the car to a stop at the pole fence between the parking lot and the beach before he was out and pulling off his shirt. His eyes were scanning the water for the raft. Randy got out of the shotgun seat, a little reluctantly. This had been his idea, true enough, but he had never expected Deke to take it seriously. The girls were moving around in the back seat, getting ready to get out.

Deke’s eyes scanned the water restlessly, side to side (sniper’s eyes, Randy thought uncomfortably) and then fixed on a point.

“It’s there!” he shouted, slapping the hood of the Camaro. “Just like you said, Randy! Hot damn! Last one in’s a rotten egg!”

“The Raft” is a terrifying story, and one that is all too easy to relate to. Randy is the main character of the story, and we see it all through his point of view. Deke is his best friend and roommate, on a football scholarship, handsome and well-built and holding the world in the palm of his hands; things come easily to him, especially women. The two girls with them on this adventure are Rachel, Deke’s current girlfriend, and LaVerne–who, as it turns out, isn’t a particularly nice girl in how we tend to define that sort of thing. Randy likes Rachel but really is into LaVerne; one of the dynamics of the story is that Deke and Rachel’s relationship is ending (but she isn’t aware) and LaVerne is poised to move in on Deke–and it happens during the course of the story. Randy loves Deke, Deke is his best friend and he admires him and would do anything for him; but he also harbors a bit of resentment for his beloved best friend–for whom everything seems to be easy, and women willing to crawl into his bed are easy to find; he also resents that women don’t seem to notice him when Deke is around. This is excellent character building by King; this makes Randy relatable.

(When I first read this story in the mid-1980’s, I had already become accustomed to being the “friend no one notices”; I always had male friends who were good looking and well-built and a lot of fun to be around, so I always felt eclipsed and that no one noticed me. This continued for many years, even after I came out in every aspect of my life–that weird mixture of love and resentment one can have for a friend who is always the center of attention who doesn’t even try to be; it just happens. It also reminds me of the dynamic at the root of A Separate Peace, which I read as a teenager; I need to go back at some point and reread that book to get a better sense of the novel and the queer undertones that even I–a closeted and terrified thirteen year old–was able to pick up on.)

The building of suspense–and the terror that comes when they realize the weird little oil slick on the water not only has intelligence but is a predator–is phenomenal, and yet another example of King’s story-telling genius.

I also could relate to the story because when I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a nearby lake we often went to, for swimming and so forth; it was out in the middle of nowhere, and it, too, had a raft you could swim out to and sunbathe on. (I used that lake in my novel Sara; in what I think is probably the best, most frightening horror I have ever written–that chapter at the lake is absolutely terrifying–or at least I think so, at any rate.)

But remembering–and rereading–“The Raft” also reminds me of the Short Story Project from last year, which I hadn’t intended to stop doing, but I got sidetracked with this year’s Diversity Project, among other things. But it’s time for me to get back to work on everything this morning, and so, Constant Reader, I bid you adieu as I head back into the spice mines.

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Songbird

So, daylight savings time means I didn’t sleep as late as I have the last few mornings–simply because the clocks were turned back an hour. I woke up yet again at ten this morning–I went to bed around ten last night–and slept like a stone yet another night. Sleep really is the best thing, isn’t it? These last few nights of good sleep have been absolutely heavenly, and I feel a million times better than I did before this staycation started. I also can’t help but feel that missing Bouchercon–much as I hated to do so–was probably the smartest thing I could have done; thank you, doctor, for forbidding my travel.

And a belated congratulations to all the Anthony Award winners! I didn’t win for Best Short Story, but couldn’t be happier that Shawn Cosby did! He’s a great guy, a terrific writer, and also supports other writers. His debut novel, My Darkest Prayer, was fantastic; he recently signed a two book contract with Flatiron Books and I can’t wait to see what he does next, quite frankly. The other nominees–Art Taylor, Barb Goffman, and Holly West–are also terrific writers and awesome people who support other writers as well. Being nominated for an Anthony for a short story was one of the biggest thrills of my career so far.

It’s also weird that it’s a Sunday morning and  there’s no Saints game today.  It’s weird that both the Saints AND LSU have bye weeks the same weekend; but next weekend is going to be tough–LSU at Alabama for all the marbles; the Saints playing the hated Atlanta Falcons.

I imagine by the end of that weekend I am going to be quite worn out from emotion and adrenaline.

Angela Crider Neary, who moderated the Anthony Short Story nominees panel yesterday, very graciously sent me the questions she intended to ask me on the panel, so I thought I’d go ahead and answer them today–even though I’ve already lost. 😉

You’ve written in an impressive array of genres – over 50 short stories, two different private eye novel series, young adult novels (some with supernatural elements), and even some erotica as well as some horror and suspense.  Do you like one of these genres or formats (short or long) better than others, and tell us what you enjoy or find rewarding about writing each of them.  Are there any other genres you have written or would like to write?

I’ve also written some romance! I like all the genres I write in pretty equally; I just wish I was better at writing horror than I am. I’ve always had a strong passion for history, so I think historicals is something I’d like to try at some point–it surprises me that I haven’t already. I find writing short to be a lot more difficult than writing long; I always think of ideas in terms of books rather than short stories, and sometimes have to modify the idea down, as I can certainly never write all my ideas as novels unless I have an exceptionally long life. I’ve been experimenting with writing novellas lately–I’m in the process of writing two right now. Of course, there’s little to no market for novellas. I guess I’ll wind up self-publishing them or something.

I love the title of your current Anthony-nominated story, “Cold Beer No Flies.”  Is there a story behind this particular title, and how important do you think titles are for stories or novels?

Thank you, I’m rather partial to that title myself! When I was a teenager in Kansas, there was a bar in the county seat that was very similar to the bar in my story. It was simply called My Place and they had a reader board out on the side of the road and one day it said COLD BEER NO FLIES. That tickled me for some reason, and I never forgot it. About ten years later I wrote the first draft of the story with that title. It sat in my files for a very long time, and about ten years ago I revised it for the first time, shifted the setting from Kansas to the Florida panhandle, and changed the main character from a young woman to a young man. When Florida Happens came about, I revised it one last time and submitted it to the blind read process, and was delighted to have the judges score it highly enough for inclusion. (My story in the Blood on the Bayou anthology also went through the blind read, and was picked.)

You have two PI novel series set in New Orleans.  How would you describe these two series, how they differ from each other, and how you’re able to slip into the separate moods and characters of each of them?

The Chanse series is more hard-boiled than the Scotty series, which is more light and fun. Chanse is a completely different kind of  gay man than Scotty; he was raised working class, his family lived in a trailer park and were evangelical Christians in a small working class town in east Texas. He used football and a scholarship to LSU to get out, and finally came out officially after graduating from college. He’s more scarred emotionally, more bitter and cynical, and has a very low opinion of humanity. Scotty is the polar opposite of Chanse: from a wealthy society family on both sides, he grew up in New Orleans with extremely liberal, progressive parents who never had any issue with his sexuality, and was kind of a fuck-up in some ways, though–flunked out of college, worked as a stripper and a personal trainer, etc. But he has a very positive outlook on life, and has no baggage about his sexuality whatsoever; in fact, he revels in being gay. I’d never read a character like that before, and I felt like there needed to be one. Scotty is much more fun to write than Chanse–I kind of just make up the story as I go, because that’s kind of how Scotty lives his life, up for anything and everything–whereas Chanse is more rigid, more unhappy, and more of a tight-ass, so I have to plan his stories out from the very beginning.

You’re the co-founder of the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival, which takes place in New Orleans every spring.  Tell us about it.

Well, way back in 2002 my partner, myself, and Jean Redmann went out for dinner and drinks one night, and over the course of conversation the subject of writer’s conferences came up–and how queer writers were often not included, and if they were, were put on what we call a “zoo panel”–a panel where all the non-straight writers are gathered together which, no matter the good intentions, always felt like we were zoo animals people came to see and point at, and those panels inevitably devolved into “let’s teach the nice straight people about homophobia.” We thought it would be lovely to have an event of our own–open and welcoming all who wanted to participate–where being queer wasn’t the topic of discussion. We also thought it would be good to stress the importance of queer literature and its importance in its response to the AIDS epidemic, and try to honor the many writers we lost to the plague years. We figured we might be able to pull it off maybe once or twice before interest died down…and here we are, seventeen/eighteen years later, still going strong. I have less to do with the organizing now than I did in the beginning–most of it is my partner and his team–but I still get credit for it.

Your Lambda Literary Award winning Murder in the Rue Chartres was described by the New Orleans Times-Picayune as “the most honest depiction of life in post-Katrina New Orleans published thus far.”  There was such overwhelming personal and community devastation after the hurricane and flooding.  Why did you choose to write about the hurricane and what was that like for you?

It’s so weird to me that it’s been over fourteen years now. But even now, it’s impossible to describe, or talk about, everything that happened because of Katrina. 90% of the city was rendered uninhabitable, and for awhile we weren’t even sure if the city was going to come back–or if we would ever be able to come home. We were lucky, we were able to evacuate when so many couldn’t–and that guilt lasted a really long time. It took me a long time to forgive myself for leaving New Orleans to die. It’s very difficult to describe how New Orleanians feel about New Orleans, that deep love that runs through, and colors, everything. The entire time I was gone I felt unmoored, unanchored, unsure about the future. I also knew I was going to have to write about Katrina, and I didn’t really want to. I was one of the first to come back–I returned to New Orleans on October 11th, about six weeks or so after it happened. I had been blogging at that time for not quite a year–but I was blogging extensively throughout that time, describing what I was feeling and what I was seeing. (I only wish technology had advanced to the point where phones had cameras–I didn’t have a digital camera at the time and so was unable to document everything with pictures; all I have is memories and the blog.) Katrina was such an enormous event, that the entire world was aware of–I didn’t see how I could possibly continue to write fiction about New Orleans without acknowledging Katrina, but at the same time I didn’t want to write about it, either. The Scotty series–I’d finished and turned in the third book in that series, Mardi Gras Mambo, about three weeks before the storm and I’d intended to start writing the fourth almost immediately, after taking about a month off to rest and regroup. Ironically, the idea was called Hurricane Party Hustle and I wanted to write a book set in the city during an evacuation with another near-miss hurricane–which I’d already experienced three or four times at that point. Needless to say that idea was scrapped. I also didn’t see how I could write a light, funny book about New Orleans when we were still in the midst of everything.* I wasn’t even sure I wanted to write a Chanse book. My editor at Alyson Books, Joseph Pittman, kept after me, telling me I was the perfect person to write such a book, and so on and so on, and I finally agreed to write it–but only on the condition that Chanse, like me, had evacuated and returned on the same day I did. I didn’t think survival stories from Katrina were mine to tell.** Writing the book itself was incredibly difficult, and I found myself drinking a lot whenever I finished for the day. But in the end, it was incredibly cathartic to write the book and I am very grateful, to this day, that Joe wore me down and convinced me to write it.
*Of course, now, all these years later, I can actually see how a funny book could be written about New Orleans in the aftermath–particularly in the way New Orleanians who were here reacted. The ruined refrigerators, for example, that everyone dragged out to the curb for disposal and sealed with duct tape–people decorated their refrigerators or wrote slogans on them; some of them were enormously funny. New Orleans has always had a sort of gallows sense of humor about itself; we always laugh, no matter what, and I do regret that I wasn’t in a place where I could examine that.
**I did eventually write a survival story, “Survivor’s Guilt” (my story in Blood on the Bayou, it was nominated for a Macavity Award a few years ago), and while I still didn’t think I had the right to tell a survival story–I kept questioning myself the entire time I was writing it–I based a lot of it on survival stories I’d been told, and given the response to the story, I think I got it right. I have another idea for a noir story set in the aftermath as well–it came to me on a panel at Raleigh Bouchercon several years ago Katrina Niidas Holm was moderating, and she keeps pushing me to write it–and I think I’ll someday get to it.
I also think sometimes I might go ahead sometime and write Hurricane Party Hustle–probably enough time has passed to write a story about an evacuation and near-miss , and sometimes I think I might go back and write a Scotty book set during that time as well…maybe.
And on that note, back to the spice mines. Thanks to everyone who voted for my story for the Anthonys so it made the short-list; that meant a lot, and I appreciate it.
And here’s hoping I won’t miss Sacramento next year.

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The Next Time I Fall

Wednesday has rolled around again and it’s Pay-the-Bills Day. Huzzah.

That’s the worst part of being an adult, methinks–being responsible financially.

hate it.

Ah, well, it’s an evil thing that must be done, alas, for there is no choice.

I was still extremely tired yesterday when I got home from work; it was a long day, of course, and I am probably still recovering from whatever that was I caught at Tiger Stadium Saturday night–my throat is still sore–and I slept like a stone last night. I was so relaxed and comfortable this morning I didn’t want to get out of bed, and in fact, stayed in bed much longer than I probably should have. What can I say? Sleep is essential, and necessary, and I clearly needed more. I probably should have stayed home again yesterday, to make sure I was completely rested and over everything, but…yeah. I felt well enough to go to work and so I did.

I am, as ever, behind on everything; I tried yesterday but just didn’t have the energy to focus and get things done. I’ll have to do better today, as the month of October is clearly slipping through my fingers. But I have to make groceries on the way home from work tonight, and I’m not sure how much energy I’ll have once I get home. I need to remember to conserve my energy, and not expend it all the time. This weekend I seriously need to get my shit together and get some work done on the Lost Apartment–it’s seriously filthy; the LSU-Mississippi State game is the marquee game on CBS Saturday, so it’ll be on smack dab in the middle of the day, at 2:30–which means I’ll be on the emotional rollercoaster until sometime after five. So, clearly Saturday is the day I need to run errands and focus on cleaning around here, so I can devote Sunday to writing.

I keep getting more ideas on how to make Bury Me in Shadows a better book than it currently is; so that’s going to be my primary focus for the rest of this month–getting that finished. I think part of the problem I’ve been having this month so far has been lack of focus; I’ve been far too scattered with my energies this month, which is always a problem with me–that and focus. Squirrel! See what I mean?

And let’s be serious, any ideas I get on how to make the current WIP better are welcomed. I groan and moan about the additional work its going to cause me, but I already knew the manuscript needed work, and there were holes and inconsistencies in the story–the ever popular oh why would they do this other than I need them to in order to advance the story keeps popping up, and that’s what, frankly, needs the work. There’s nothing worth than having contrivances in your story.

Last night the SEC Network rebroadcast the LSU-Florida game, and as I already mentioned, I was too tired to do much of anything last night–even read–so I just put the television on the game yet again–I rewatched it Sunday night, but was so ill and tired I kept falling asleep and it was primarily on for background noise, that’s how tired I was–and as I watched the  game again my mind started wandering again–back to the first LSU game Paul and I ever attended, back in 2010 against Ole Miss. That game was also a nail-biter, with LSU finally clinching the win with a touchdown in the final minute of the game. LSU has, as I’ve mentioned before, never lost when we are in the stadium. I then remembered that I promised to dedicate my next book to the Judge and his wife, Janet, if they gave us those tickets–which they did, and so I did, and that book was, I believe, Sleeping Angel. Janet and the Judge have gifted us with their game tickets at least once per season ever since–others have given us tickets over the years as well, and we’ve sometimes bought them on Stubhub–and as I was thinking about Sleeping Angel, I realized, wow, I haven’t thought about that book in YEARS.

I had written a foreword for the new edition of Jay B. Laws’ The Unfinished, which was brought back into print yesterday byReQueered Tales–this was the essay I was struggling with several months ago–and while I did get it finished (the publisher loved it, I might add, writing me back to tell me it was beautifully written), in the posts about the book’s release yesterday I was referred to as “legendary writer Greg Herren” and other such complimentary things. I am always, inevitably, taken aback by such pronouncements–I don’t see myself as legendary, or any of the other kind ways people refer to me these days; mainly because when I think of legendary queer crime writers I think about Michael Nava and John Morgan Wilson, among others. It isn’t fake humility, either–although I’ve been accused of that before. I generally don’t, as a rule, tend to think about myself in those kinds of terms; therein lies, I believe, the path to madness–which I really don’t need any help finding, thank you very much. Felice Picano told me once, a long time ago, that if you stick around long enough you’ll get respected for the longevity, if nothing else…and it’s also weird to me when I realized I’ve been doing this consistently for seventeen years.

I was also thinking, in my roundabout way last night, about the need to buckle down and focus. I was talking with another writer friend yesterday about short stories–we’d both written a story for the same anthology–and we exchanged our stories, which turned out to be vastly different. But I loved hers–it’s wickedly funny–and she loved mine, which was also very cool. I love writing short stories, even though I often struggle with them, and right now I have two out for submission, and about three that are pending publication. I have two collections I want to do–Monsters of New Orleans, which would be Gothic horror stories set here, and Once a Tiger and Other Stories, which would compile my crime short stories that have been written and/or published since Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories was published. I was also thinking I need to rename Once a Tiger and Other Stories; maybe This Town and Other Stories, since people really seemed to like my story in Murder-a-Go-Go’s a lot. I was also thinking about doing the four novellas into one book thing, like Stephen King has done–which would most likely have  Never Kiss a Stranger anchoring the collection. I’d of course have to get permission from Kensington to reprint “The Nightwatchers” in this collection, and if they don’t give it to me, I’d have to write another, which wouldn’t be the end of the world, either. I’d always wanted to turn “The Nightwatchers” into a series; it’s loosely connected to both the vampire novella and novel I later wrote as Todd Gregory–“Blood on the Moon” and Need–but have never gotten back to them. (The next book I’d planned would have been Desire.)

I was also thinking I should dedicate another book to the Judge and Janet; the game experience was so amazing on Saturday night I should do something incredibly nice for the two of them again.

And maybe I should revisit Sleeping Angel. It, along with Sorceress, was set in the mountains of California, in the small city of Woodbridge; I’d intended to write several novels set there, and connect all my y/a fiction together in some way. Laura, the main character in Sorceress, was from the small rural area of Kansas where I also set Sara; and I keep forgetting that Dark Tide is also kind of connected to Bury Me in Shadows, which is also kind of connected to Lake Thirteen and Sara. 

I also have an unfinished manuscript, tentatively titled Spellcaster, which is also set in Woodbridge with some character overlap.

I was trying to do an R. L. Stine thing.

And on that note, the bills aren’t going to pay themselves, so I best put on my mining cap and head back into the spice mines.

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Free Your Mind

Well, I slept deeply and well last night, only waking up twice–and both times I was able to go back into a lovely, lovely deep sleep. I also didn’t wake up until almost nine. I know, right? It’s so lovely to feel rested.

LSU’s game isn’t on until tonight, but there are some terrific games on throughout the day. I suspect I can finish the floors and cleaning the living room around and during some of these games; I can also get some writing done as well, methinks. I am leaning towards editing some short stories rather than working on the book–yes, I know that will put me two days behind where I want to be with it, but I am also stuck. (And no sooner did I type that, did I come up with a way to start Chapter Four in a way that will help advance the plot somewhat. Huzzah!)

Yesterday, as I mentioned, I stopped at the Latter Library on my way home from work to pick up a book I’d requested on-line, Volume 2 of Otto Penzler’s Bibliomysteries. If you aren’t familiar with the “Bibliomysteries,” these are slightly longer than your average short stories, written by today’s top crime writers, and have to focus or be centered around a book or a bookstore. I first became aware of them when I was a judge for the Edgar Award for Best Short Story a few years ago (maybe more than a few; time has become so fluid and untethered for me–particularly when I realize it’s fucking 2018 sometimes), and in fact we picked John Connelly’s Bibliomystery, “‘The Caxton Lending Library and Book Depository,” as that year’s Best Short Story winner. Since then, I’ve read others–Megan Abbott’s “The Little Men,” Laura Lippman’s “The Book Thing,” Denise Mina’s “Every Seven Years”–and been blown away by their absolute brilliance (which reminds me, I really need to get back to the Short Story Project, which has sadly fallen by the wayside); so I am very excited to read this second collection of these singles; the stories are, you see, originally published as singles–you can buy them as ebooks or you can get a print copy.

I love the library, and was extremely pleased with myself, as Constant Reader is probably already aware, for finally getting my library card. I haven’t had one since I left Kansas in 1981; and even in Kansas I hadn’t used mine for years when we moved. Libraries were very important to me, as a kid and as a teen; I don’t know why I stopped using them–other than the fact that I often lost library books, or forgot to return them on time, which meant fines, which meant lectures from my mother about irresponsibility and on and on and on it went–but I remember the Tomen Branch of the Chicago Public Library fondly; the library on 6th Street in Emporia, and the little library in Americus, as well as when the Bolingbrook Library opened. I often spent time in my school libraries as well as a kid. Stupidly, I suspect I stopped using libraries when I started working and had my own money to buy books with; I loved owning books, always coveted other people’s, and for years was also sentimentally attached to books and didn’t want to get rid of my copies of them. I still am, and I still hoard books, always buying more when I haven’t read all the ones on hand, and I was the same with the library; always checking out more than I could possibly read because I also wanted choices about what to read. I’m looking forward to reading–and reporting back–on the stories in this book I haven’t already read–the Abbott and Mina stories are also inside this collection of them. Writing a Bibliomystery is a bucket-list thing for me; but I will also need to become more important of a writer to be asked.

Last night, as I laundered the bed lines and blankets and coverlets, it took longer for the dryer to dry things then planned–it was damp yesterday, and damp always affects the dryer–so I had to stay up a little later than I wanted to, so I started streaming an 1980’s classic thru Prime: Night of the Comet, starring Robert Beltran, Catherine-Mary Stewart, and Kelli Maroney. I saw this movie in the theater when it was released; it’s not the greatest movie in the world, but it also recognized that it wasn’t a great movie and embraced its camp sensibility. The premise of the movie is this: a comet with an enormous orbit through space is going to pass close by Earth again for the first time in sixty-five million years (hello, dinosaur extinction event!), and of course, it turns into this thing, with comet-watching parties and so forth. Our two leading ladies manage to miss the comet by falling asleep inside of steel–Stewart in the cinema where she works in a steel-walled room for storing film; Maroney in a steel shed in the backyard–and the comet turns everyone into either dust or murderously insane zombies, and they have to survive somehow. Fortunately, the women–sisters–have a father in the military who taught them how to protect themselves. Beltran plays a truck driver (who passed the night inside his truck) they encounter, and eventually team up with for survival. I was just far enough into the movie to get to the part where they run into Beltran for the first time–having already realized most of the world is dead–when the blankets were finished. I also remembered some trivia–Stewart’s big break was being the original Kayla on Days of Our Lives (her replacement became one of the most-loved and popular stars of the show), and Maroney started out playing a manipulative spoiled bitch teenager on Ryan’s Hope. Stewart was also the female lead in a favorite scifi movie of mine from that same period, The Last Starfighter. Both kind of faded away which I always thought was kind of unfortunate–although watching the movie again last night and seeing their performances clearly, it’s really not that surprising.

And Beltran, of course, was part of the Paul Bartel stable, also appearing in Eating Raoul and Scenes from the Class Struggle in Beverly Hills. Interesting that Bartel’s films, which were kind of the same style as John Waters movies, aren’t remembered or talked about much anymore. (Bartel and his usual female muse, Mary Woronov, also were in another classic from the period, Rock ‘n’ Roll High School–but I don’t remember if Bartel directed that one.)

I may finish watching Night of the Comet at some point today; we shall see how the day goes.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Do I Have to Say the Words?

GEAUX TIGERS!

It wasn’t a pretty win by any means, but a win is a win–and LSU is now the only team to have beaten four teams that were ranked at the time of the game. With Ohio State’s stunning blow-out loss to Purdue, the Tigers should be ranked in the top four (probably number four) when the rankings come out..and also setting up a huge game against Number One ranked Alabama… look completely unbeatable. Regardless, this has been a wonderful dream season so far–particularly when you take into consideration everyone had LSU dead and buried before the season started. The defense looked amazing against Mississippi State last night; the offense moved the ball decently at times, but for the most part looked sluggish and off. But on a night when the offense wasn’t clicking, we still managed to beat a top 25 team 19-3.

Yes, this season has been joyous, for the most part.

I did all my chores and ran all my errands yesterday. I was too nervous about the game to get much else of anything done, other than random tasks that don’t require much thinking; filing, organizing, cleaning, dishes, putting groceries away, and so forth. I did some thinking about writing while my  hands were busy, which sort of counts, and I did look over the Scotty book. I do like getting organized and preparing my thoughts. I am going to try to get my revisions done this morning before the Saints game; knowing I will become completely useless afterwards. But at least I don’t spend as much time as I used to parked in front of the television, flipping back and forth between games I don’t care very much about.

That’s something, at any rate, isn’t it?

The Saints game isn’t until two this afternoon, so I have plenty of time to answer emails and do some editing/revising/cleaning in the meantime. This is actually kind of nice; I slept later than I’d intended this morning but again I feel amazingly rested, which is kind of nice; and I remain hopeful that I’ll be able to get everything done that I need to get done today. It would be lovely to get three chapters finished; but I’ll have to see how that goes as I start writing. I’d also like to get my floors done today, and maybe some more reading of Empire of Sin; I also need to mark up my old journal with sticky notes for ideas on works in progress so I don’t forget about those notes. I used to have such an amazing memory; it’s almost tragic how much my brain has slowed and how overloaded it has become in my late fifties. Tragedy, truly.

Yesterday, in the afternoon lull before the LSU game, rather than reading something new I took down my hardcover copy of Stephen King’s ‘salem’s Lot, which is one of my favorite novels of all time, and dipped into it again from the beginning. If The Stand is my favorite King novel–of several to choose from; if pressed I name it as my favorite but it’s on a pretty equal par with several others, including Christine, Carrie, The Dead Zone, It, Misery, The Eyes of the Dragon, The Talisman, and Firestarter, to name just a few–‘salem’s Lot also holds a special place in my heart for any number of reasons. For one, it’s a book I bought solely because of the name of the author–the first time I did this with King, and from this one on I anxiously awaited the new King novel every year–because I’d never read anything remotely like Carrie before, and I was curious to see what he would do in this new book. I was living in Kansas when it was released in paperback; I actually saw in the grocery store line at Safeway with my mother and I asked if I could have it. She said yes in this instance–I always was asking for a book whenever we were anywhere shopping; whenever we went to malls she would send me into a bookstore while she shopped; the most exciting thing my mother could ever say to me was You can have a book–and I started reading it in the car on the way home. I remember it was a Saturday; I  remember retiring to my room with a bag of taco-flavored Doritos (also a treat; my mom would either get me a bag of those or barbecue Fritos whenever she went to the grocery store and I would spend the afternoon methodically eating the entire bag while reading in my bed), and starting to read. Living in Kansas I had no idea what books were about–there were no book reviews in the Emporia Gazette, the only paper we had access to–and so I could only go by the blurb on the back of the book or on the first page inside the front cover. I had no idea what was going on in this little town in Maine until King revealed it halfway through the book. Also, when you bear in mind that Jerusalem’s Lot’s population at the beginning of the book was just over a thousand and I was living in a small town with a population just under a thousand; it was raining that day and as I read, the rain turned into a thunderstorm that seemed to last for hours; and right at the time King revealed that the secret supernatural thing going on was vampires the wind blew a tree branch against the screen of the window directly next to my bed–well, you can see why I may have uttered a half-scream and dropped the book. I remember my heart was racing and I was breathing hard; I had to go wash my face and take some deep breaths before I could pick up the book, find my lost page, and finish reading it. I stayed up until three in the morning finishing the book. ‘salem’s Lot has always had a place in my heart as the first book I ever read that truly terrified me; I’d read horror fiction before but I’d never had such a major physical reaction of sheer terror and shock as I had in that book. (I had also barreled through Carrie in one day, but it didn’t terrify me so much as suck me into a fast-moving train of a story about a horrible tragedy; I’d never read anything like it before–and this would prove to be the case with so many of King’s novels for me.) Reading ‘salem’s Lot made me a King fan for life; a Constant Reader, if you will. Eventually, other distractions and changes in my life also changed my King fandom; I don’t always necessarily buy his new novel the day it is released and put everything else on hold as I read it in a day or two, shutting everything else in the world out. (I just, for example, bought The Outsider yesterday; I still don’t have a copy of Sleeping Beauties, and I’ve never finished reading The Dark Tower series, haven’t read Bronco Billy or The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon or Black House or Doctor Sleep or 11/22/63 or End of Watch yet; I know, I am a terrible King fan.)

But one of the things I loved the best about King–one of the reasons I always felt, back in the days when he was dismissed as simply another hack genre writer–was the way he depicted small towns and the people who populate them; Jerusalem’s Lot was the first of his great small towns, to be followed by Castle Rock and later, Derry. King’s small town, and the people who populate them, are so realistic, so real, so these are my next door neighbors, that I’ve always loved his work and characters and their reality, their realness. This is why his horror works so well–the reader is invested emotionally with his characters–which is also one of the reasons why my least-favorite King novel, The Tommyknockers, is my least favorite. (I also want to revisit that novel at some point; just as I want to reread Pet Sematary again. Both are amongst the few earlier King novels that I’ve only read once and never went back to; I used to reread King all the time.) This is also, I think, why Netflix’ adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House was so powerful, and why I enjoyed it so much: so much was done with character and their relationships with each other that I became vested; I cared what happened to the Crains.

And isn’t that, ultimately, what makes any work resonate with the reader? The ability to identify with, and care about, the characters?

I am really looking forward to continuing my return visit to Jerusalem’s Lot.

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