The Power of Goodbye

At 3:00 pm, Saturday, January 14th eastern time, I officially (and symbolically) turned over my gavel as Executive Vice President of the Board of Directors of Mystery Writers of America.

It’s going to take some getting used to, methinks.

As you get older, your perspective changes on things when you look back. I’ve never been one to look back at my past–I’ve always tried to focus on the present and the future–but once I hit sixty, it was inevitable. January 20th this month is the twenty-first anniversary of the release of my first novel, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and with the closing of this chapter–my service to MWA–it’s hard not to look back and remember.

When I was first published, my mystery writer friends kept urging me to pursue mainstream markets and join mainstream organizations. A lot has happened since 2002: Lawrence v. Texas still hadn’t been decided so my sex life was still a crime; “don’t ask don’t tell” was still in place; and it’s not like you could get married to your same-sex partner when our sexuality was criminalized. That was a completely different world and society and culture than the one we currently live in. For one thing, for a gay mystery author, there were queer newspapers and magazines and bookstores. It was entirely possible to make a living and a career for one’s self outside of the mainstream–and this situation developed because of the mainstream’s rejection of most things queer. There had been some queer publishing booms, but I came in at the tail end of the last one–as all the New York publishers had started canceling queer imprints and slowly but surely removing queer writers from their lists. I decided that I would try to arrange signings and appearances at mystery bookstores as well as queer ones, and that was a lesson in homophobia I’ve never forgotten. One mainstream bookstore actually hung up on me after nastily cutting me off to say we don’t carry those kinds of books in our store–some variation of which I heard from all of them except one (which is why Murder by the Book in Houston will always hold a place in my heart). A friend bought me a membership in an organization as a gift (I won’t name it) but it was made abundantly clear to me that mainstream spaces weren’t welcoming or safe for a fledgling queer writer, so I didn’t bother joining any others or going to any mystery conferences–my concerns were always poo-poohed by straight mystery writer friends, which now, in reflection, was a kind of gaslighting, but I was inevitably always proven right (it’s always nice to be told you’re “nobody”). But when I emerged from the haze of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the wreckage it made of my life, publishing had significantly changed, as had the rest of the world. The queer stores were closing, and our newspapers and magazines were shuttering–as were some of our publishers. I took a look around and thought, what am I going to do now?

I took a deep breath and joined Mystery Writers of America. Within a year I was asked to run for my chapter board, and then was asked to run for chapter president, which would also give me a seat on the national board. I remember going to New York for my first board orientation, staying at the Roosevelt Hotel–I always loved staying there; it made me feel like an author the way I only really feel when I am in New York, to be honest–and walking into the room where the meeting was being held. I had already met MWA staffer Margery Flax (at the time administrative director, now Executive Director), who had made me feel not only welcomed but like I belonged, which was something I had only rarely ever felt outside of queer publishing. I remember being awestruck that I was in the same (proverbial) room where it happened; the same board meeting that giants of our genre had attended in the past. I was stunned when a beautiful woman asked me if the seat next to me was taken and I was like oh my god, that’s Harley Jane Kozak! (I knew her from my long addiction to daytime, but also from other films she’d done.) I sat there quietly, overwhelmed, absorbing it all, and that night at dinner I had the thrill of sitting next to Jess Lourey, and as we talked over dinner we became friends–something that has lasted to this day; I will always love Jessie–and over the next four years I slowly found my voice and began taking on more and more responsibilities. It became a huge part of my life, and I kept working, as is my wont, to try to achieve equity for everyone in MWA, specifically with the goal to make queer writers feel welcomed and a part of the organization as a vital part of our community. I made a lot of friends that I cherish to this day, and it felt very weird when my time there was finally up and I stepped away. Being involved with MWA, and making friends in the organization (which led to making even more friends in the genre) was what got me to start attending our genre conferences, getting involved and being more active in the community, and becoming better known than I was before.

It would have been easy to give up after the collapse of queer media and outlets. Mystery Writers of America gave me hope that my career could and would continue, and that the best part was yet to come.

So one can only imagine my surprise when four years after I left the board I was asked to return and serve as Executive Vice President (basically, chairman of the board). I was thrilled, flattered, and honored, particularly for being the first openly gay one in the history of the organization. What better way, I thought, to let queer writers know they were welcome than by being in a leadership position? There was admittedly some hubris involved in saying yes–the making history thing, for one, as well as thinking I could handle all that responsibility while maintaining a full time job and a full time writing career. I will never regret saying yes; the only regrets I have are the mistakes I made (there were plenty) and not having as much time to devote to the office as was needed so I could get everything done that I wanted to get done while I served. But I am not going to focus on the regrets, ever; instead I shall take pride in the things we were able to accomplish.

And now, it’s over. I could have served five years total, but bowed out after three. Were we still living in the same world we were in when I was initially approached in the fall of 2019, I probably would have stayed for the full five. But we’re not living in that same world–the pandemic that shut down the world within two months of my taking office overwhelmed every aspect of my life, from day job to running errands to my writing and publishing career to helping to oversee the operations of the organization. (I like to joke about how I was not only the first gay EVP in history but also the first EVP to cancel the Edgar banquet) Navigating an organization through the unknown waters of a pandemic and a changing world, where there was no previous experience to draw from was challenging, especially since I had to worry about my day job, adjust to working from home on some days and helping with the COVID testing at our office, exposing me to something that could quite possibly kill either Paul or myself every day I was there. The years between 2020 and now are all kind of blurry to me now; sort of the way everything from the Katrina evacuation through about 2009 is either a blank or blurry.

It’s going to take some getting used to, and it’s going to take a while before it sinks in that it’s no longer my responsibility.

I wouldn’t trade the experiences–both good and bad–for anything. Even though sometimes it was stressful and disruptive, and there were times when I got incredibly frustrated because I was very short on time and in the middle of a book that I needed to focus on, it’s going to be weird for me for awhile. It was very weird checking my emails this morning and seeing that there were none with (MWA) in the header line. I worked with some great people and made some friends–at least I like to think so, their mileage might vary–that I would have never made had I not served. I learned a lot about myself, and strangely enough I also think serving somehow has made me a better writer somehow; I know the work I am producing now is vastly superior to the work I did before I served. I know I have a stronger sense of the genre after my total of seven years of service.

The hardest part, I think, is going to be remembering that I no longer have anything other than an opinion and that I am now just one of the many members.

Thanks to everyone I served with, the membership, and the community. I no longer feel like an outsider looking in at the community, and maybe, just maybe, I made a small difference.

I can live with that.

You Make It Feel Like Christmas

Christmas Eve! It’s warmer today than yesterday by a full six whole degrees; it’s 32 degrees instead of 26, as it was yesterday. The The apartment is over all toasty and warm–but the kitchen and upstairs bathroom are not. They are a bearable degree of cold, but I do have the space heater going this morning in here as I type this and swill coffee and wake-up gradually. I slept magnificently last night, and feel very rested and relaxed this morning, which is quite marvelous. I hit my word count somehow yesterday–three thousand words–and hope to do the same today. Today has a higher goal–I’m feeling rather ambitious this morning–and Paul has his trainer this afternoon and is working on a grant proposal, so I should have the solitude I need to bang out the count I need to achieve today. I picked up the mail and ran some other errands yesterday–including taking Paul to Michaels on Claiborne to pick up a gift for me. You’d think by now I’d know he’s going to flout the “no gift” rule every year, because he has and yet every year I think he’s going to stick to it. I think it’s part of that failing memory thing I have going. Anyway, he had the front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune/Advocate from the morning after the 2020 National Championship game framed and mounted; it’s a full page shot of Joe Burrow running downfield holding up both hands with his forefingers extended, with the headline PERFECT. It’s mounted on gold paper and the frame is purple, and I absolutely love it. Paul always won Christmas when we used to get plan on getting each other gifts, primarily because he pays attention to things I say and takes notes all year to plan for Christmas; I’ll never forget that marvelous year he got us tickets to see the Monte Carlo Ballet Company’s Romeo and Juliet, which I absolutely loved–all because I’d casually mentioned once that I loved ballet and wanted to write about it one day, despite knowing next to nothing about it. (Aside: I keep thinking I want to write a Sherlock Holmes story built around a Nijinsky performance in New Orleans; someday perhaps.)

We also watched, and greatly enjoyed, Glass Onion last night. I actually liked it better than Knives Out, in all honesty, and I love that this is turning into a film series. It reminds me so much of Agatha Christie at her best, and is there a better compliment to give a mystery film than a Christie comparison? I think not. I think Daniel Craig (whom I’ve loved since he emerged from the surf in that square cut swimsuit in Casino Royale, and quickly became one of my favorite James Bonds) is simply fantastic. The Southern accent grated a bit on me at first in Knives Out, but by the end of the movie it didn’t bother me anymore and it didn’t even make me recoil the first time I heard it last night. I think I’d like to write something along the lines of these films sometime–the big cast of suspects, the great detective unraveling the case–because I’ve always wanted to do an Agatha Christie style/classic vintage mystery type house party murder mystery. (Note to self: reread The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy)

But mother of God, it was cold yesterday when we were out in it. As I said to Paul–the entire world was out shopping yesterday because of course it was; we had to park a very long way from Michaels–“I can hang with this cold for a couple of days, but months of it would make me homicidal.” My grocery pick-up order ended up being canceled; they were unable to get it together for the time I’d selected, and the message was up to two hours minimum delay. At first I was a bit stunned, but then realized everyone and their mom is ordering groceries for pick-up today, and I bet the orders are a lot larger than usual. So I stopped by Rouses, they had a turkey breast in the freezer section, so I picked it up and carried it to the small order register, canceled my pick-up order (all I really needed with the turkey breast; everything else could wait) and then when I got home, put in another order for pick-up on Monday, since I have the day off.

Picking up the mail also ended up with a great gift to the Lost Apartment from the President: there was a stack of envelopes in the mailbox from the IRS for Paul, thirty in all. Turns out his student loans had all been forgiven, retroactively to 2017; the stack of envelopes were refund checks for every payment he’s made since then. So, yes, only more proof that our votes for President Biden and Democrats down the line was the right choices (and always have been for queer people). So keep your “how fucking dare you forgive student loan debt” shit to your fucking selves, you selfish assholes. This did, and will continue, to make a significant difference in our lives going forward; and can I just say, I can’t remember the last time any government policy had such an impact on us directly? Obviously, the Lawrence v. Texas and Obergefell Supreme Court decisions had a macro impact on us, but this is an intimate micro effect that made us both very happy yesterday. And what lovely timing, too–right before Christmas. Let’s go, Brandon indeed.

I get a text from Entergy this morning warning of potential brownouts because of high demand for energy with the cold weather; I would imagine this is because the cold is effecting everywhere, so there’s nowhere Entergy can borrow power from if the supply runs low. That’s kind of scary, really, because people could literally freeze to death down here; imagine that! How weird would it be for someone to freeze to death down in southeastern Louisiana? It does make me a bit concerned about the homeless population here–we have a considerable one–so I hope they all found shelter and a place to stay warm.

And I think as soon as I finish this I am going to get the turkey started in the slow cooker, and curl up in my easy chair with my coffee, a blanket, and Dashing Through the Snowbirds by Donna Andrews. I think my new Christmas tradition every year will be just that; I’ll read Donna’s Christmas mystery for Christmas every year.

The Wedding Song (There Is Love)

Thursday morning and my last day in the office of the week–tomorrow I took the day off for miscellaneous appointments and things (and yes, a trip to Metairie is required, sigh) which will be nice. I don’t have to get up super-early to go, for one thing, so I can allow myself to sleep in a bit, and then I can leisurely enjoy my coffee throughout the morning before it’s time to head out there. I am also going to stop at Costco on the way back home, so it’ll be a big day for one Gregalicious. I imagine by the time I get home I will be hot, sweaty, crabby and ready to spend the evening inside with the air conditioning.

Such an exciting life I lead!

I slept really well last night–an enormously pleasant surprise, given the questionable sleep I got the previous two nights–but according to my Fitbit, it was yet another bad nights’ sleep. I am beginning to think my Fitbit doesn’t know what it’s talking about when it comes to my sleep, you know? I feel rested and a bit groggy this morning, which hopefully the coffee will take care of (fingers crossed) but I will say yesterday I felt a bit out of it for most of the day. I didn’t get nearly us much accomplished as I’d intended when I got home from the office last night–I didn’t really do much of anything, to be honest. I wrote for a little while before retiring to the easy chair, where I fell into a spiral of videos about French history, which is always fun for me. When Paul got home we watched Obi-wan Kenobi, which I am really enjoying, on-line haters be damned, and the little girl who plays Princess Leia is fantastic–it’s completely believable she would grow up into Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia, and props to Disney Plus for pitch-perfect casting. The show is also doing a really great job of filling in some gaps in the story of Star Wars, too.

Today hopefully will be a good one. I want to get some more writing done–for whatever reason, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is finally taking shape the way I want it to, although now I am worried that its going to wind up being far too long, and far too melancholy, than I want it to be. Its a melancholy story, really, so that’s probably a really good thing, but…I don’t suppose melancholy is the right mood; I am thinking I want to go for a Daphne du Maurier tone (which I love); I don’t want to call it gothic either, but if you’ve read du Maurier you know what I mean. Hmmm, perhaps I should dip into her collection Echoes from the Macabre again, to get a better sense of what I am talking about here…that is actually a really good plan, now that I think about it.

You can never go wrong rereading du Maurier.

One thing that is interesting/kind of fun about writing this novella is that it is set in a place that no longer exists–New Orleans in 1994. I was talking to some of my younger co-workers (ha ha ha, they’re all younger now, I am the old man of the department by a LOT now) about how different New Orleans was when I moved here in 1996 than it is now; and I was thinking about that some more last night. Gentrification hadn’t really gotten started in the city yet; it was a crumbling, dying city whose glory days were in the past. The Lower Garden District was considered a bad neighborhood back in those days; we moved in just as it was started to regenerate…but there was still a crack house next door, and of course the Camp Street on-ramp to the Crescent City Connection was still there, about fifty yards of concrete climbing into the sky and just ending (if you ever watch the Brad Pitt/Tom Cruise version of Interview with the Vampire, there’s a scene when Louis–Pitt–leaves a movie theater in New Orleans that is showing Tequila Sunrise. That was the Coliseum Theatre, which was closed but still there when we moved into the neighborhood. It burned to the ground a few years later. Anyway, as Louis/Pitt walks out, the camera pans back and shows a highway on-ramp with cars going up–that was the old Camp Street on-ramp, still in use when the movie was filmed but not when we moved here two or three years after the movie’s release). I also imagine that on-ramp, when it was still connected to Highway 90, was a bitch for traffic in the neighborhood, since the bridge backs up all day now; I imagine there were times when that ramp backed up all the way down Camp to probably the Garden District. Where it was now is a lovely neutral ground that separates Camp and Coliseum Streets, beautifully designed and landscaped so it seems like a perfect extension of Coliseum Square. That’s why I want to write about that time period, when gay bars still occasionally got raided by the cops, when there were still two bathhouses in New Orleans, when many of us could only be openly gay when we went to the bars in the Quarter on the weekend, and how frenetic and wild and crazy those weekends were; all the gay bars in the Quarter were packed every weekend, and of course, deeply closeted gays from the surrounding areas–the rural parishes and Mississippi–would come into the city so they could let go and be free.

But even that wasn’t a guarantee of anything, either. Death stalked the gay bars back in those days–another reason I want to write about that time–and you couldn’t really trust the cops and sometimes it was dangerous to walk back to the lower Quarter or Marigny where you’d parked your car. There was this weird sense of being an outlaw; despite the Lawrence v. Texas decision there’s still a sodomy law on the books here in Louisiana, and once this Supreme Court gets to decide Lawrence v. Texas was wrongly decided (because make no mistake, this Supreme Court is definitely going to dial us back to 1900, and it wouldn’t surprise me if they decided to take the right to vote away from women, too), once again my sex life will become an enforceable crime in Louisiana yet again.

Sigh.

Well, writing that last paragraph certainly made me melancholy. Too bad I don’t have time to work on the novella before heading into the office. Have a great Thursday, Constant Reader! I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.