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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All Cried Out

Tuesday! My long day but it’s also my last day of work for nearly a week; I don’t have to go back into the office until next Tuesday! Huzzah!

I slept very well last night, thank you very much, and I am feeling energized and alive this morning! HURRAY FOR CAPPUCCINO TUESDAYS! It rained most of last night–still is raining now, but it’s that weird kind of rain where it feels all steamy outside; usually it’s not very humid when it rains. We’re also in a flash flood warning; but aren’t we always when it rains?

I started reading Lou Berney’s November Road last night and while I was only able to read two pages before I had to put it aside, it’s fucking unbelievably good. And this rain makes me want to go back to bed with my blankets and just relax, reading it and drinking coffee until I’ve devoured every word. It’s that good, people. Preorder the hell out of it.

Paul and I also started watching a Netflix animated series last night called Big Mouth. Someone recommended it to me, and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was, but it popped up on my recommendations last night and I started watching it, and OH MY GOD. It’s about junior high school kids who are going through puberty and it’s hilarious and honest and real and did I say HILARIOUS? It’s definitely not for kids, I suppose, since there’s some pretty frank talk about masturbation, menstruation, and questioning your sexuality, but it’s terrific–if you have a really off sense of humor like I do.

And now, back to the spice mines. One more chapter and this Scotty draft is FINISHED. Huzzah!

Next up for Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is my story “Unsent”:

Dear Greg,

 I hope you don’t mind I’m writing this letter. You said you didn’t mind so I’m guessing you don’t.

I wanted to thank you for being such a nice guy…it’s funny, I’ve been wanting to write this letter for a long time; I started writing you so many times and I just ended up throwing the letters away every time. I know you probably think I’m just a goof; a dumb kid who doesn’t know what he wants or needs or anything, and that’s true I guess. I don’t know what I want to do with my life….if I live through this. I just wanted to fly planes, and now I am flying them….but this is different.

I guess I was just naïve and stupid when I joined the Air Force. All I wanted to do was fly planes….it never occurred to me I’d be flying planes and killing people…pretty dumb, right?

**

He was just a boy.

He couldn’t be more than fifteen, was my first thought when he walked into Lafitte’s that Tuesday morning. There was no one in the bar besides me; it was twelve thirty. I was working the 5 a.m. till 1 shift, covering for Mike. This shift sucked. The only hope to make any kind of money was leftovers from the previous night when you start, and they’re gone by nine…..so for the last four hours of the shift it was just me and the cleaning women, and they were gone by eleven.

He stood for a few seconds in the doorway, hesitating. I looked up from wiping down the bar for the thousandth time in the last twenty minutes, and smiled to myself. I recognized the hesitation—an underage kid steeling his nerve to sit at the bar and ask for a drink. Well, kid, I said to myself, prepare to be carded.

He walked in and sat down on a bar stool right in front of me. He was cute, still with a little baby-fat in his pale freckled face. His hair was military buzzed, reddish-blonde, and his eyes gray. He was wearing a red sweater and a pair of blue jeans.

I put my rag away under the bar.”What can I do for you?” I asked.

He looked around the bar, not meeting my eyes. “A beer?”

“You got ID?”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn black wallet, pulling out a military ID which he slid across the bar to me. I picked it up. The picture was him, all right, looking maybe ten years old, innocent and young. The birth date was August 12, 1968. Yeah, well, so I was wrong about his age. “What kind of beer? A draft?”

“Yeah.” He nodded and smiled at me. His whole face lit up when he smiled, his full lips pulling back over slightly crooked, yellowed teeth. I got a plastic cup and filled it at the tap, my back to him. I placed it on a napkin. “Dollar fifty.”

He handed me two ones, and I gave him his change. He left the quarters on the bar, which I slid into my hand and tossed into my tip bucket. “Not very busy, huh?” he said, looking down at the bar, not touching the beer.

I shrugged. “Nah, we’re never busy—don’t even know why we bother being open.”

“Yeah.” He toyed with his napkin. “Do you mind talking to me? I don’t wanna be a bother.”

I laughed and gestured to the empty bar. “Not like I got anything else to do.”

This is without doubt, one of my personal favorite short stories, if not my favorite. “Unsent” was inspired by several different things: I took the title from the Alanis Morrissette song, where she is writing letters to all of her ex-lovers, which I thought might make a great concept for a short story; the heartbreaking Dixie Chicks song “Travelin’ Soldier,” which I heard for the first time on the radio driving back to New Orleans from my parents’ in Kentucky and made me cry in the car (it still makes me teary whenever I hear it; it’s one of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded) and a memory I have of standing in the doorway at Cafe Lafitte in Exile, just before the invasion of Iraq and seeing a boy, in his Army greens, standing across the street looking at the bar with longing on his face. I kept waiting for him to cross the street and come in; but he finally just turned and walked away up Bourbon Street. Seeing him reminded me of something we so frequently forget when it comes to wars and the military; the vast majority of the young men and women out there risking life and limb are so heartbreaking young; and every death, every injury, every veteran with PTSD is such an incredible, horrible waste. And I wanted to write a story that illustrated that horrific waste. And this was, of course, during the time of don’t ask don’t tell.

When Tim and Becky asked me to write a story for Fool for Love, I remembered the idea for “Unsent” and sat down and wrote it in one sitting. When I was finished, I was exhausted, and then I simply did a quick copy edit and emailed it to them. It made them both cry, and they loved the story, but wanted something a little more…upbeat, so I wrote “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time” to replace it. I eventually published it elsewhere–I think Lawrence Schimel was the editor?

I love this story, and despite the fact that it’s considered erotica because there’s a sex scene in it, it’s really about love and loss and waste and lost possibilities. I’m enormously proud of this story, and it is one of the stories I remind myself of whenever I get Impostor Syndrome:   if you weren’t a good writer you could have never written something like “Unsent.”

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