Hello Walls

Well, hello Thursday morning and a beautiful looking morning outside of my windows.

I’m not really sure what to make of what is going on in the world today. One of the reasons I always loved Stephen King’s The Stand so much was because it seemed so brutally realistic; I was amazed at how it played out and thinking wow this is exactly how it would happen, right down to the government lying and covering it up to suppression of the news and people spreading it despite containment policies, procedures and protocols. How on earth did he ever think this up?

Which is one of the biggest parts of why I love Stephen King’s writing. For one, the imagination to think up the stories–and the scale! I don’t know that I could ever create something like The Stand and do that kind of world-building, let alone keep track of all the individual characters and their story arcs, both their individual personal arcs as well as the over-arching arc of the main story. I’ve considered writing post-apocalyptic fiction–I have a really good idea for one, but I can’t make up my mind how to precisely do it, to be honest, and so it has always languished in the back of my mind. I had several different ideas for stories, actually; primarily triggered by the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, and then I realized how I could weave them all into the same story. But…it’s an epic story and a massive undertaking, and I simply don’t have the confidence in my own writing abilities to actually try writing it.

And that’s the bottom line for the vast majority of the ideas and stories I have that would probably make amazing books–I just don’t have the confidence to write them.

Okay, here I am later in the evening, and I am still not sure what to think or how to process everything. Twitter and social media and the news are determined to terrify me; I don’t know what I should be thinking or worrying about or doing. I know I should use this time creatively; I should block everything out and just write and check in on the world later this evening. And yet…

I’m not sure what the deep root of the insecurity I was talking about earlier comes from. I feel confident that I’m good at what I do, but when you send a manuscript to twenty agents and only even bothers to write back to say, “Thank you but no thank you; I’m not taking on more clients at this time” it tends to wear on you. Manuscripts editors passed on were later published. Needless to say, I am very wary of agents, and still am to this day. I know I need one, should have kept trying years ago until I got one, but now…I go back and forth between your career isn’t the greatest but at least you have one, be happy with what you have and an agent will help me get better deals and better sales and my books more attention. This week I got my fifteenth Lambda Literary Award nomination; and I sold a gay-themed short story to a mainstream market (well, I haven’t heard back from them, but it’s been a bit of a week, hasn’t it?) so one would think I write well enough to draw even a little bit of interest from an agent. I’ve been nominated for numerous other, mainstream awards; I’ve even won some of them.

And yet…

AH, well. I think I need to spend some time with Scooter. Til tomorrow.

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King of the Road

Wednesday.

Yesterday wasn’t so bad–other than having to wear a mask  at work because I have a cough (stupid sinuses)–but I was still more tired than I needed to be or should have been, frankly. I did sleep better on Monday night than I did on Sunday.

I know, The Sleep Chronicles. Absolutely fascinating.

But one of the things we’re doing at work to deal with the looming pandemic is shorten our evening testing hours; it’s a long story, but basically our last clients will be seen at six because the people pre-screening clients before they can come into the building will be leaving at six, so we’re not staying open later than that. I can stay later, of course–I have data entry to do, and there are other chores around the office that need to be done every night, so I don’t have to get up and come in any earlier any day other than Wednesdays–today, in fact–which just means I need to come in around 2 instead of 4, and I can go to the gym at night when I get home from the office. It’s an adjustment, but life is nothing if not a long series of adjustments, am I right?

And today I feel perfectly fine. I slept deeply and well and later than normal, but I feel great this morning. Sinuses and head clear of phlegm and snot, throat not ticklish at all…yeah, this is great. Yay! I hate how when you’re sick you can’t remember what it feels like to not be sick anymore…but then when you don’t feel sick it’s so lovely.

For a few brief moments earlier this week my inbox was empty empty empty. It was so lovely while it lasted, really. Now here I sit with my first cup of coffee, wondering if I will ever know such bliss ever again.

Christ. But then I’ve always been a bit of a drama queen.

But yesterday’s fifteenth Lambda nomination, coming on the heels of the acceptance of my short story by that market on Sunday evening, was a nice confidence boost. It’s been awhile since the last time I was nominated–three or four years or so, at least–so I’d been beginning to think that I was out of step with their judging panels now, or at least what I was writing and publishing anymore was.  ON the other hand, I feel like Royal Street Reveillon was probably one of the best Scotty books I’ve done in the series, and I felt, I don’t know, present while I was writing it.

I probably am going to write another Scotty book, perhaps later this year, and possibly another Chanse next year; I haven’t decided, really, on the Chanse. I don’t have to use Chanse as the main character and voice on that story, but it would just be easier–and I don’t know that I want to write anything that feels easy to me anymore. I want to write challenging books that push me; making deeper dives into the characters and actually have a point to make. I just wish I could remember the mindset I used to have when I wrote the first Chanse and Scotty books, but it was a long time ago and it was pre-Katrina, so it’s all kind of a fog for me.

This morning I need to work on those emails, and I need to go to the grocery store and pick up the mail, and now that I am working 2-6 instead of 4-8 I think I am going to wait and go to the gym when I get home. I would be too pressed for time to try to get everything done before I head into the office, so I don’t see too much point in making myself crazy and rushing around. Slow down, you move too fast and all of that.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Breathe

Well, yesterday was wretched. The weather here changed once again overnight on Sunday, so my sinuses went haywire. Again. Coughing, didn’t sleep well, woke up every hour all night–it was dreadful, and there’s simply nothing worse than suffering through a twelve hour day when you’re worn out and don’t feel well. It kept up all through the day as well; I literally thought my head was going to explode a few times. I didn’t manage to get any writing done last night or any reading either; I just sat in my easy chair and whined a lot.

And ugh, how I hate losing an entire day’s work like that.

I do feel somewhat better this morning–there’s still a little congestion and coughing, but I did sleep better last night and do feel a better. I’ll probably go ahead and keep swigging Dayquil all day; it can’t hurt, and it’s not a bad idea. Hopefully I can get some writing done tonight after work. We shall certainly see, at any rate.

Obviously, with all the concerns about the coronavirus–and I fluctuate between thinking they’re over-exaggerating the crisis for ratings and they’re not telling us the whole truth to prevent a panic; sadly, both are viable options. As someone who has read Stephen King’s The Stand about thirty or forty times (it’s one of my favorite novels of all time; I’ve not reread it in a while so who knows if I’d find it problematic now?), alas, it’s easy to see what’s going on now and how it’s being reported as echoes from that novel.

But it’s okay; when your body isn’t up to par it’s okay to lose an evening’s work, even if it puts more pressure on you for the future. It’s also–as I sat in my easy chair waiting for death, like Camille–entirely possible that I won’t be able to get all three stories done in time for the end of the month, and the one I should truly focus is on is the Sherlock since it pays the best. But when have I ever done the thing that makes the most sense? Never. But I keep thinking that somehow I’ll manage to pull all three stories out of my ass somehow; the sale of my story on Sunday was an enormous confidence boost. Yes, I have a lot of responsibility and things to get done in my role with Mystery Writers of America, which has limited my time for writing; returning to the gym regularly also sucks more oxygen out of the room.

It’s interesting how, despite all the years and all the sales and all the books and all the award nominations, I am still insecure about my ability to write and produce good stories that people want to read. I have fought against this lack of confidence most of my life, quite frankly; ironically, I had more faith in my ability to write and create before I started publishing–it was always the fall-back: yeah, this job (or situation) sucks, but once I get my writing career going things will be better. I never had any doubt that I would one day be published; even if I had no idea how to go about making it happen or when, or what to do, or anything. It was only after I started writing and getting published that the doubt and insecurity began to plague me. It never seems to let up, either. I seem to recall earlier in my career, during the Scotty at Kensington/Chanse at Alyson days, that I wasn’t as insecure as I might be now; but it’s also entirely possible (since those were the antideluvian days before Katrina) that I don’t remember it as well; most of that time is fuzzy and seems to be the distant past to me now.

But I do know that I never had much confidence in my short story writing ability; and I think that’s the bottom line of all of this. I can never forget completely that fucking college professor who told me I’d never be published, based on a single short story I wrote for his class. If you’re still alive, sir, I hope your life is a complete misery because you had such a negative, long-lasting impact on mine, you worthless motherfucker. I’m probably the only one of your students who’s ever made it and I am probably the student you treated the worst–although if he did that to me, I’m sure he did it to others, and I wonder how many dreams he killed? And seriously–that is not your job as a writing professor; your job is to help your students get better. Had he ripped my story to shreds, had he taken it apart, bit by bit, to tell why it didn’t work and why the characters didn’t ring true–that would have been brutal at the time, but it would have done me some good. DOn’t just sit there and smugly assert that I’ll never be published. I was willing to learn, and would have worked my ass off with a bit of encouragement and some strong feedback. I’ve always responded well to feedback, and I appreciate it.

I also woke up this morning to the news–well, I was already awake–that Royal Street Reveillon  made the Lambda short list for Best Gay Mystery. It’s been a hot minute since I made their short-list, but I think–and I could be wrong–this is either the thirteenth or the fourteenth time this has happened? I honestly had forgotten about this as a possibility–it’s been around four or five years since the last time; the awards were presented on the same day that Jean and Gillian got married at City Hall in New York, so whenever that was. I suppose I could go to their website and check, but it doesn’t matter to me that much, and the fact that you can’t search a name in their database to pull up said person’s nominations is irritating; you can certainly search by name on Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar database. I stand corrected, and owe them an apology; I just went to count and you can now search by name; so under my own name and various pseudonyms, this is  number fifteen. Yay for me, and so much for never getting published.

That fucker.

I guess, other than feeling like shit yesterday and still not be 100% today, this has been kind of a good week for me.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

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Long Train Runnin’

Ah, it’s the weekend. I went to bed relatively early last night, after watching the final episode of The Last Czars (which, of course, included the horrific massacre scene in the basement in Ekaterinburg; which is probably why everyone sees the monstrous, people-abusing, careless Romanovs as tragic figures–the way they died, as opposed to the way they lived; it’s impossible to hear the children screaming and the sound of the guns without feeling badly for them) and before that, I watched Spider-Man Into the Spider-verse, which was, without question, the absolute best superhero movie, bar none, that I’ve ever seen. Well-written, well-voiced, and extraordinarily animated, it was quite an achievement in film making, and definitely a high spot when it comes to superhero films The entire time I was watching I kept thinking imagine how incredible this must have looked on the big screen. It took me a moment to get used to the style of animation, but it was absolutely amazing, and should be used as a blueprint for origin stories for superheroes. I do hope they do another; I really loved the character of Miles Morales and his family.

This morning I woke up well rested with a shit ton of work to get done today. Yesterday I was lazy; I got home from work around one and just cleaned the house. I never manage to seem to finish getting my office in order, because there simply isn’t enough space for me to put things, and I am always afraid to put thing into my inbox because they tend to get buried once they are there. I try to put things into it in ways that they can still be seen; but I don’t always have the best luck with that, and out of sight, out of mind if I don’t have it on the to-write list (speaking of which, I don’t see it anywhere, damn it to hell), which is also ridiculous when you consider how much I have to get written, or hoped to have written, by the end of this month.

One thing at a time, cross them off the list, and be done with it.

I’m also looking forward to spending some time with Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay over the course of the weekend; after which I am going to read S. A Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer. I’d also like to get started reading the other Anthony nominees for Best Short Story (Cosby is one of my fellow nominees, along with Holly West, Barb Goffman, and Art Taylor–three of my favorite colleagues)–I still can’t believe I’m an Anthony finalist. I am very proud of my story, and its genesis; I originally wrote the first draft when I was in my early twenties or late teens, while I was still living in Kansas–close to forty years ago, and here it is, nominated for an Anthony Award.

How fucking cool is that? I had no idea when I wrote that story in long hand on notebook paper that forty years into the future it would be nominated for an award I’d not yet heard of, to be presented at a fan conference I knew nothing about, and that my life would be something I didn’t even dare dream of at that age.

I was thinking about my self-appreciation project last night, the one in which I work on stopping belittling my achievements, learn how to accept compliments, and take some pride in myself and my writing and everything I’ve done thus far in my life. Because I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to sustain an almost twenty year career in a niche sub-genre of a genre, and not only that, I’ve accomplished quite a bit not even counting the writing itself. I was also thinking last night back to the days when I was editor of Lambda Book Report, which kind of set the stage for my publishing career. I reinvented myself, you know; I went from being a highly knowledgeable industry insider, basically running a magazine that was sort of a cross between a queer Publisher’s Weekly and a queer The Writer; for nearly two years I read a lot of queer fiction, and if I didn’t actually read a queer book, I knew a lot about it. I had already sold Murder in the Rue Dauphine to Alyson Books when I took the assistant editor job at Lambda Book Report, and that was actually the first job I ever had where I kind of flourished. It was the first job that allowed me to be creative in what I did, and where all the lessons I’d learned at various dead-end jobs along the way could be applied in a very positive way. I’d also learned how to treat writers, from being treated myself in very shitty ways by magazines and editors and papers I’d written for by this point–something I continue to do today as an editor (one of my proudest moments of my career thus far was being told by one of the contributors to Florida Happens–Hilary Davidson, a very talented writer whose works you should check out–that working with me was one of the best editorial experiences she’d had in her career thus far). Lambda Book Report seems like it was a million years ago; I actually officially resigned from the job in November 2001, three months before Rue Dauphine was published finally. I resigned because of the conflict of interest involved in running a review magazine while publishing my own novels; there was a strong sense, at least for me, that I couldn’t allow my own books to be reviewed in my own magazine, and as it was the only real game in town nationally (the odds of being reviewed in any of the national gay magazines–Out, The Advocate, Genre–were slim to none; on the rare occasions when those magazines chose to review books, it was either a straight celebrity ally’s (so they could do a feature and put straight celebrity ally’s picture on the cover)or if it was an actual queer book by a queer writer, it was never a genre work. They sniffed disdainfully at queer genre writers; kind of how Lambda Book Report did before I came along, and, all due respect, kind of how the Lambda Literary Foundation (which was always the parent apparatus of the magazine, and now runs a review website) still does. I’ve rarely been reviewed there–either in the magazine I left behind, when it was still being done as a print magazine–or on their website.

But I did a great job running that magazine, if I do say so myself, and I am very proud of everything i accomplished while working there. I met a lot of people, a lot of writers, and made some lifelong friends out of the experience.

I have also been nominated for the Lambda Literary Award, in various categories and under various names, quite frequently. I don’t know how many times I’ve been nominated, to be honest; it’s something like thirteen or fourteen times. I think the only people nominated more times than me are Ellen Hart, Michael Thomas Ford, and Lawrence Schimel. I won twice, once for Anthology for Love Bourbon Street, and once for Men’s Mystery for Murder in the Rue Chartres. The statues are somewhere around here; my Moonbeam Award medals hang from a nail right next to my desk, and my Anthony Award for Blood on the Bayou sits on one of the shelves in the bookcase where I keep copies of my books, but I’m not quite sure where my Lambda Awards are. My Shirley Jackson Award nominee’s rock is in my desk drawer, and even though it just represents a nomination (I didn’t win the award), it’s my favorite out of all the awards I’ve won. I don’t get nominated for Lambda Literary Awards anymore–I think the last time I was nominated was for Night Shadows, which should tell you how long it’s been–and I don’t really care about that anymore, to be honest. After thirteen or fourteen times…yeah, it’s just not quite the thrill it was back when I was nominated the first time. Getting nominated for things like the Shirley Jackson, or the Anthonys, or the Macavitys–those are thrilling because they come from out of nowhere, and are completely unexpected.

And let’s face it, being nominated for Best Short Story awards, for the kid who was told by his first writing instructor that he would never be published, would never have a career as a writer, and had no writing ability whatsoever–opinions all formed by reading a short story written by a kid who’d just turned eighteen–are very thrilling and satisfying. My lack of confidence in my short story writing abilities is pretty extreme, and so whenever one gets published or one gets nominated for an award or I get some great feedback from readers for one, it’s quite reassuring and quite lovely.

All right then–Steph Cha’s novel is calling my name, and I want to get some things written as well before I run my errands later this morning.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

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You’re So Vain

You probably think this blog post is about you.

Vanity, thy name is Gregalicious.

Vanity is one of the seven deadly sins (which are not mentioned in the Bible, I might add; they are a part of Christian dogma and tradition, but never specifically named as such in their holy book) and I was raised to be humble, not vain; pride is also one of the deadly sins, and pride goes hand in hand with vanity.  The satisfaction of achieving or accomplishing something was theoretically enough of a reward, in and of itself, without getting praised for it; it’s wrong to bask in the glow of people’s compliments. As I have mentioned before, this has made promoting myself as a writer difficult; every time I make a post crowing about succeeding at something or winning something or being nominated for an award I can hear my mother’s voice, in her soft Alabama drawl, saying, “highs are always followed by lows, remember that, life likes to take the air out of people for having too much pride.”

It’s something I still struggle with. I was also told most of my life that self-absorption is also problematic, but a certain degree of self-absorption is necessary if you’re going to succeed at writing. (I think that like with all things, it’s a matter of degrees; some self-absorption is necessary, but anything taken to extremes is never a good thing for anyone.) Most writers have full time jobs and families, so the time they spend actually working on their writing is precious and should be sacrosanct; we give up our free time to write, and many of us get a very small return for that time. I’ve been accused of being self-absorbed by people I know most of my life, and it always used to sting a little bit, because the implication was that being self-absorbed is a bad thing. But as long as it isn’t taken to extremes it’s necessary, and when I began to notice that my “self-absorption” accusations usually came about because I was choosing to be jealous of my spare time and not do something someone else wanted me to do–I stopped caring so much about it and started embracing self-absorption.

“Sorry, I can’t do that, that’s my writing time.”

Having that statement met with anger and accusations of being selfish and self-absorbed, I realized, said more about the person saying it than me, to be honest. I am a writer, and am always in the middle of writing something, or have a manuscript or many short stories in some form of the process. I should, quite literally, always be writing and working, and I also finally realized that if a friend cannot respect my writing time, and gets angry and belligerent and nasty and insulting about me not wanting to give that time up….that person isn’t actually a friend, after all, and is everything they are accusing me of–but because of many experiences and lessons learned in my life (that I am still struggling to unlearn) my automatic default is to feel guilty and blame myself for being a bad person.

I’m learning. I am still learning, and unlearning, my conditioning. I’ll probably go to my grave still wrestling with these kinds of things, but I am getting better about this sort of thing.

My friend Laura suggested the other day that another good thing people should do is write a press release about themselves; channel their inner publicist and write a press release highlighting your achievements and accomplishments in glowing terms, without embarrassment and without shame. I’ve been thinking about that for a few days now, and looking back over my life, there have been quite a few highlights in my writing/publishing career…and I should be proud of myself. I’ve managed to publish over thirty novels and twenty anthologies and an absurd amount of short stories and essays and book reviews and author interviews and fitness columns/articles over the years. I wrote a writing column for the Erotica Writers Association for several years. I am currently writing a column called “The Conversation Continues” for the Sisters in Crime Quarterly, and have been for several years. I’ve been nominated for a Lambda Literary Award fourteen or so times, winning twice. I’ve been nominated for the Anthony Award twice, won it the first time, and will find out in Dallas how I did the second time. I have been nominated for a Macavity Award and a Shirley Jackson Award. I won two Moonbeam Children’s Book Award medals, one gold and one silver. I won a Lesbian Fiction Readers Choice Award for Anthology/Short Story Collection for Women of the Mean Streets: Lesbian Noir, which I co-edited with J. M. Redmann. My first horror anthology, Shadows of the Night, won a queer horror award, and Midnight Thirsts won a Gaylactic Spectrum Award. I won several Best of the Year awards from the Insightout Book Club, which used to be a wonderful queer version of the Book of the Month Club. I’ve published two short stories in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and have been published in both Mystery Weekly and Mystery Tribune. I had a short story in New Orleans Noir. I’ve written for the Mystery Writers of America newsletter and for the Edgar Annual (twice), and even edited and put together the Edgar Annual once.

Wow, right? I do think it’s important, as Laura says, to take stock of everything you’ve achieved periodically, so you can get a better handle not only on your career but as to how other people see you.

You may not like me, you may not like my work, but you cannot deny me my accomplishments. And when I put them down, when I write it all down and look at it and reread it over, it is kind of staggering in some ways…particularly when you consider I’ve worked full-time outside the home since 2008, and if you take into consideration how much editing I’ve done since around 2002/2003…yeah. I’ve done quite a bit.

And seriously, no wonder I am tired all the time.

Today Paul is heading into the office and then is spending the evening with friends; leaving me here all alone by myself in the Lost Apartment for the majority of the day. I have a lot of work to get done here this weekend–not just cleaning and so forth, the usual, but I also have a lot of emails to get through, some writing to do, and some revising/editing to do. I need to get the mail and I’d also like to get some groceries at some point today; I’m not precisely sure how that’s going to play out, frankly, but it’ll get taken care of. I started rereading Bury Me in Shadows while sort-of watching the fifth episode of The Last Czars (“Revolution”), and then after Paul got home we started watching the CNN series The 2000’s on Netflix–the episodes on technology and the first one on television in the twenty-first century, which is, as always, fascinating. (We’ve really enjoyed all of CNN’s decade-documentary series, from The 1960’s on.)

Rereading Bury Me in Shadows also was a bit of a struggle, you see, because while I have talked endlessly about the troubles I am having writing this book, some of them are due to stubbornness and some of them are due to technical challenges for my writing. The stubbornness comes from the refusal to let go of the opening sentence, which I love (The summer before my senior year my mother ruined my life.), but the reread showed me it really doesn’t work and doesn’t fit with the story or the style of writing I am using. The style of writing–remote first person present tense–is a departure from the way I usually write a book and something new and difficult I am trying, and after decades of  tight first or third person past tense, I have to actually pay attention because if I am not I will, by default, slip into the past tense. The first chapter is going to need to be completely redone, almost completely reworded, from start to finish. I’d like to finish reading it and making notes this weekend; I’d also like to finish writing Chapter 18, and also would like to revise some other short stories and other chapters of books in some sort of progress–I want to reread that first Chanse chapter I wrote, for example, and look at the first chapter of Chlorine again–and I should probably start working on some promised short stories I have to write.

It’s daunting, but I need to make a list, keep it handy, and just mark things off as I go.

It’s always worked in the past, so I should stop resisting, do it, and be done with it all.

And on that note, Constant Reader, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, however you choose to spend it.

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