Ghosts Are Gone

Well, this morning I managed to finish reading Curtis Ippolito’s marvelous Burying the Newspaper Man. It obviously shouldn’t have taken me as long as it did to read; my mind has been so squarely focused on 1) writing the new Scotty and 2) managing my life that when it came time to relax and enjoy myself, my mind wasn’t really able to focus a whole lot on reading. This is not by any means a judgment on the book or its writing but rather an explanation; since the pandemic started I have these bouts of time where I simply cannot focus my mind enough to read fiction. I don’t know if it’s trauma from the onslaught of horrible and horrific things going on in the country and the world, or me getting older, or what; but when this happens I generally go back to things that are easier for my brain to focus on–documentaries, non-fiction, comic books (I recently reread the first two volumes of The Sandman; more on that later)–and eventually my ability to focus on reading fiction comes back. I think it actually has more to do with my ADHD getting worse as I get older; there’s always too many things for my brain to think about and not forget that it doesn’t settle down enough to read for escape.

I don’t remember where I first heard about this book, but I bought a copy–it’s always fun to find brand new writers, not just brand-new-to-me writers–and the plot of this one sounded particularly interesting. Then I got to meet the author at Left Coast Crime and had some nice conversations–which made reading the book even more of a risk; I met and liked the author, what if I don’t like the book?

Constant Reader, those fears were for naught.

A piercing alarm blared, sending a surge of dopamine straight to the reward center of Marcus Kemp’s brain. He squeezed the steering wheel tight with both hands, ears and lips tingling. Flipped on the cruiser’s siren and lights and spun the wheel, whipping a U-turn, early morning on Abbott Street in Ocean Beach, San Diego.

His hypnotic, one-handed computer-key clacking had paid off again: entering plate numbers into the county’s database in search of stolen vehicles. He had spotted a meter maid ticket on the windshield of a newer model, blue Nissan Altima parked on the west side of the street–thirty yards south of the lifeguard station. Ran the plate number and got an immediate hit. The match set off the unrelenting, high-pitched alarm that would cause the average person to jump through their skin, like when a smoke detector goes off in the dead of night.

Grinning, Marcus swung the cruiser into an open street parking spot, across from Ocean Beach Hotel on the corner. The sidewalk-lining light poles still beamed yellow skirts onto the concrete below.

Isn’t that last sentence amazing? I mean, wow.

Marcus Kemp is a San Diego (Ocean Beach beat) cop who enjoys doing his job–primarily because he likes helping people–and has a pretty good life. He has an on-again off-again relationship with a woman he cares about and the feelings are reciprocated (the off-again thing is all on him, because, well, issues) and with a bit of a traumatic past that he’s trying to put behind him. But in the trunk of this stolen car is the body a newspaper editor from his past, his childhood to be exact: this is the man who sexually abused him when he was eleven. So, even though this isn’t his case, he can’t help but get himself involved in the investigation–even if it means losing his job. As he tries to figure out how his abuser wound up dead in San Diego in the trunk of a stolen car, he has to relive his own painful past while trying very hard not to let it destroy or affect his present–and the twists and turns take the narrative in places I couldn’t have imagined it would as I read along, but was very glad it did. This was a very tricky plot to pull off, and a very ambitious one for a debut author–one experienced authors might have trouble getting to work. The fact it does work perfectly is a tribute to Ippolito’s ability.

But the strongest part, to me, of the book is the authorial voice. The rhythm of the words, the interesting and original imagery, and oh-so-creative use of words, sentence and paragraph structure, that not only keeps the intensity of the story building but wows the reader with its raw creativity. It’s noirish, but not completely dark; the subject matter is intense, and the reader can’t help pulling for Marcus to not only solve the crime but resolve his own history and come to terms with it so he can finally, at long last, move ahead with his life.

I can’t wait for Ippolito’s next book.

Mama’s Pearl

Saturday morning in the Lost Apartment, and I have a rather lengthy weekend of work staring me down. Yesterday wasn’t a bad day, per se; I’ve certainly had much worse ones over the years. I didn’t have to be at the office at the usual time–Fridays I can go in later, which is so lovely–and I had slept really deeply and well the night before so the morning started off in a much better manner than usual. I ran some errands on the way home from the office, including making groceries (so I wouldn’t have to do it this weekend), and came home to a nice, lovely and sort of quiet-ish evening. The heat has been miserable here–and there’s already tropical systems forming in the Atlantic and in the Gulf, whee!–and I am already a bit concerned about the power bills to come this summer. It was ninety-five degrees yesterday when I left the office–which is high, even for June, if I recall correctly.

It’s usually the humidity that makes it so miserable here…it feels like August already, so i can only imagine how miserable August itself will actually be.

But I will worry about that when I have to. For now, I am just going to enjoy the cool loveliness of the climate controlled Lost Apartment and pretend I have money to (quite literally) burn.

I slept well last night. We finished watching The Little Drummer Girl and Beneath the Banner of Heaven–both of which I recommend–and I started reading Tara Laskowski’s Anthony nominated The Mother Next Door, and it’s excellent, y’all. I only read the first chapter, but I was immediately sucked in–which is a very good thing; that means I can use the book as a reward for working this weekend, aka if I get this far, I can spend two hours reading Tara’s book. I can see why it was so acclaimed and has gotten so much award recognition–it’s currently nominated for the Anthony for Best Paperbook/Ebook/Audiobook Original–and I am very excited that it’s finally worked its way up to the top of the TBR pile. I keep talking about the golden age of crime fiction we are currently living through–seriously, reading the first chapter of Tara’s book served as further confirmation of that theory.

Today is going to be spent mostly working on the edits, of course. Once I’ve swilled enough coffee for my mind to function–I am also getting the hang of Wordle, I’ve been getting it in two or three tries this past week–and some of this mess organized and cleaned up and put away–I will probably dive headlong into the edits. They went really well last night–I was very pleased with the progress I’ve made and how much better the book is becoming (an editor is really worth their weight in gold, and I am very privileged to be working with Terri Bischoff on this one) as I go. I hope to get really deep into it today, so I can finish it tomorrow and then have Monday to go over it one more time before turning it in, once and for all. I’ve also been seeing a lot of submission calls I find interesting and that I may have something for–there was one in particular that I’d like to submit for, since it was for novellas and those are indeed rare, rainbow and glitter unicorns, and since I have like four or five of them in progress…I should be able to get something together for it, don’t you think? And at the very least, it means I would have one of them finished.

My writing schedule has been so off and so fucked up this year. What a strange year this has been thus far: I am discovering that I am so unused to traveling now that whenever I do it, it takes a few days to recover, which I usually don’t have; the binge-writing thing hasn’t changed, but it’s getting harder and harder to do it now–and much more tiring; I’ve been off my gym/workout schedule for months now, and my body doesn’t like it even one little bit; and my goal to broaden my cooking skills has failed miserably. I have, in fact, traveled only three times thus far this year–Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Kentucky–and I have only two more trips planned for this year, Fort Lauderdale in July for Sleuthfest and Minneapolis for Bouchercon. I’ll probably wind up going to Kentucky a few more times this year, but I will worry about that when the time comes. I will most likely take the rest of this coming week off from writing anything after I turn the edits in on Monday, and then try to dive back into the short stories and various other projects next weekend–although I do have to teach that workshop at the library on Saturday, which also means I will go to That’s Amore and order us a deep dish Chicago style pizza on my way home–as well as start working on cleaning out the attic preparatory to cleaning out my storage unit (I’d like to get that emptied out by the end of the month so I can close the account and stop spending that money every month; it’s ridiculous I’ve been paying that every month now for so many years), but if not, maybe by August 1 at least. I need to start pruning the books out of the apartment again, too. The only thing I really need to keep is research materials, if that–most of that can be found on-line or as ebooks–and it would really be nice to get rid of some of this stuff, you know?

Clean like you’re moving, Gregalicious.

And of course, I need to get started on Mississippi River Mischief at some point. The story is starting to coalesce in my head, as more and more ideas and things to include come along…I’m actually kind of excited about it, to be honest, and even more excited to have to make some field trips to some of the bayou parishes to get a look around and take some pictures and get some background color for the book. It’s going to be a little bit weird to write more about a fictional parish outside of New Orleans than about New Orleans itself; and yes, I am inventing a fictional parish to go along with the other fictional parish I use for some of my paranormal stuff–St. Jeanne d’Arc and Redemption parishes–just as I have invented some things for the current project in edits. I never used to do that, but if people want to ding me for making some shit up so be it. I find myself not quite as tied to “can’t invent something that isn’t there in the city because I want to” as I used to be–but I will never write about basements or subterranean caverns beneath the city (although I do suppose there are underground drainage tunnels down there).

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy Saturday wherever you are, Constant Reader, and I’ll let you know tomorrow how things are going with the edits. I know–the suspense, right?

Sweet City Woman

I’ve been making an effort over the past few years to get outside of my reading comfort zone and delve into books and writers and subgenres of crime fiction that I’ve sadly been neglecting over the course of sixty years of living on this weird planet. I’ve always been grateful that I developed a love of reading when I was very young; I was set on this path very young and one of the great pleasures of life, I have found, is curling up with a good book. I’m never bored, because there’s always something to read, and I never go anywhere without a book to read if I have to wait and pass time–whether it’s traveling or getting my car worked on or the doctor’s office or anything. (I have regrettably developed a social media/on-line default in those instances; I’m working on breaking that hideous habit…there’s nothing ever on social media that ever needs an immediate exposure or response by any means, and I hate that we’ve all become so addicted to our phones that we prefer to stare at a small screen rather than interact with the world…or get lost in a world created by a truly gifted writer.) I have very limited reading time (if I had my way I would spend at least half of every day reading a book–and even if I did that I don’t think I would ever really clear my TBR pile), and so I should be certain to utilize every bit of down time that I have inside the pages of a book.

Hmmm…kind of veered away from my original point, didn’t I?

Anyway, several years ago I decided to embark on reading sub-genres I usually don’t default to within the umbrella of crime writing, and two of the biggest gaps in my reading were traditional mysteries and writers of color, so I made it a point to stop defaulting to books by straight white people. It actually makes me a bit ashamed that I had to make a point of doing so; my own internal subconscious biases needed to be dragged out of my head by the roots, and while I am ashamed it took me so long to do this, I am so glad that I did. I’ve discovered so much rich and wonderful writing by amazing writers from communities that we as a society and culture have failed for so long…I feel like I’m becoming a better person and a more nuanced reader than I’ve ever been, and as someone who’s always prided himself on being a discerning reader, correcting my failings in my reading choices was certainly long overdue.

And what a marvelous time I had in Coral Beach, getting to know Miriam Quiñones-Smith in Raquel V. Reyes’ wonderful Mango, Mambo, and Murder.

“¡Basta, Alma! I told you I’m not doing the show.” I accentuated each word with the knife I held in my hand before I stabbed the packing tape and sliced open box number five of forty-eight.

“You are perfect for it. And come on, Miriam, what else are you doing?”

I narrowed my eyes and glared at my best friend, Alma. “¿Qué es esto?” I waved my hand like a hostess showing someone to their table. “Is this house going to unpack itself?”

“Porfa, this is not going to take all week. The cooking spot is next Friday. Today is Tuesday. You have a week and a half. It’s a short cooking demo on a morning show.” Alma shook her pinched hand like a stereotypical Italian grandmother. Except, of course, she wasn’t Italian, and neither was I. We’re Cuban American. Both cultures talked with their hands. Or, in my case, with whatever was in my hands at the moment.

I crumpled the New York Post page that wrapped a chipped green dinner plate. Before placing it on the stack that was building in the cupboard of my new Florida home, I shook the plate like a tambourine, “But I don’t cook!”

Representation matters, Raquel said as part of her poignant and moving and impassioned acceptance speech when she won the Lefty Award at Left Coast Crime in Albuquerque a few weeks ago, and while I’ve always known the truth of that two-word sentence, it’s been resonating with me a lot since the Left banquet. The fifth season of Elité and Netflix’s wonderful Heartstopper reminded me, very deeply and emotionally, how much carefully crafted stories about young gay men would have impacted my much younger gay self; it cannot be said enough how many unfortunate queer kids are isolated and feel very much alone in the world.

From page one, Raquel throws her readers headlong into the life of her heroine, a Cuban-American woman named Miriam who fell in love and married a white man; they have a young son Manny who is, along with Roberto, her husband (his name is Robert Smith, but she calls him Roberto affectionately, which I absolutely loved), the center of her life. Her parents have retired to the Dominican Republic, and despite being raised in Miami, she went north for college and fell in love, ironically, with an Anglo from a suburb of Miami–or at the very least a very elite (and very white) bedroom community for greater Miami, Coral Shores. Miriam is an interrupted-academic: her field of study is food anthropology, with a particular emphasis on how colonialism and the Caribbean diaspora affected the development of foods, cooking, and how from one Latinx culture to another, the basics veered into different directions (it actually sounds fascinating) based on the region and cultural adjustments. Her best friend, Alma, is a top realtor in the area and helped Miriam find a house for her family; they’ve moved back because Roberto has gotten a job down there. Alma is very well connected and also gets Miriam a gig on a local Spanish-language talk show doing cooking demonstrations.

Alma drags Miriam along to a women’s club meeting (in which Miriam has no interest in attending, let alone joining) during which an attendee at Miriam’s table face-plants into her plate of chicken salad (flavorless); she is pronounced dead–and little does Miriam know how this sudden death is going to help change the direction of her life.

While this is a fine mystery–I enjoyed following Miriam along her route as she becomes a reluctant amateur assistant to the investigation officer, Detective Pullman to try to clear Alma, who has been accused of not just this death but another that follows shortly thereafter–the real strength of this book is Miriam herself. Reyes had created a lovable character, fiercely proud of her own heritage and determined that her child be appreciative and a part of that heritage (I love that she only speaks Spanish to Manny while Roberto speaks to him in English so he will grow up bilingual), and she is absolutely real; fully developed with a strong history, an inquisitive and intelligent mind, and trying very hard to adapt to being a fish out of water in her own home region–Christ, the microaggressions she has to put up with on a daily basis (I wanted to slap her bitch mother-in-law any number of times)–and despite being off-balance, she is very centered even as life keeps throwing things at her.

I also loved that Miriam brings to an end a long-time family rift as well.

I loved this book, and i am really looking forward to getting to know Miriam more in the future.

NOTE: This is the second book I’ve read where a foreign language–in this case Spanish–was used and never demarcated by italicization. It caught me off-guard at first, but as I got more used to it I began wondering why that was ever done in the first place? Did publishers think readers would be confused and think the foreign words were typos unless delineated as “different”? Oy.

Glad to see that practice ending.

If You Could Read My Mind

Friday morning after the Edgars and I feel very drained emotionally and intellectually. Physically I am fine; I cannot believe how well I’ve been sleeping in a hotel up here in New York. I slept for about ten hours again last night–I’d forgotten how that actually feels, and it’s marvelous, really–so I am simply not going to question it, you know? We fly home tomorrow and today is one of those busy days where I am meeting people for coffee and drinks and trying to get all kinds of other stuff taken care of while I am here, and of course tomorrow we fly home. Sunday is going to be a regrouping kind of day, and I do get to work at home on Monday, so that will help me ease back into the regularity of what is my regular day-to-day life. I think I am already ahead of the game in that I am physically rested rather than exhausted, which is my usual when I travel. I have fallen behind on a great many things–April was simply a terrible month for one Gregalicious, and I think a lot of that had to do with being so tired most of the month. I still can’t wrap my mind around the way the Left Coast Crime trip just blasted me with both barrels; I was literally afraid that I couldn’t handle traveling anymore. But this trip has been marvelous; I’ve slept a lot on this trip (more than I do at home, which is even stranger) than I usually do at home, and the lovely thing is that when I feel rested, I feel like I can get anything and everything done, including taking over the world.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt like that, too. I’d almost forgotten how amazing it feels.

I feel like me this morning, and I haven’t felt like me in a long time.

I didn’t take a single picture last night, either. I tried to keep my anxiety under control before I had to get up and speak, and I honestly don’t remember what I said when I was up there on stage–I always just kind of go into some weird dissociative state (probably not that extreme, but that’s how it feels) when I have to do things like that (panels and moderating are different; at least those I can remember some things I said and can remember being up there) and afterwards I have to really focus on breathing and so forth to come back into myself. I didn’t do a very good job of managing the anxiety, obviously; certainly not as well as I controlled the travel anxiety the other day when we flew here. (That experience gave me the false hope that I could possibly start being able to control my anxiety in other situations..obviously, I was wrong. But hope will always spring eternal.)

I still can’t get over how late I’ve been sleeping in here. And it’s not that weird half-sleep thing, either; I actually am sleeping. Obviously it something remarkable since I can’t stop writing about it, right?

But now that this is out of the way–I also think the anxiety was subconsciously building all month which helped make April a much worse month than it needed to be–and my mind is clear again, it’s time to start making lists and figuring out where everything stands and clean out the email inbox and start ticking things on the list and making progress again. I feel like, in some ways, I’ve been in this weird holding pattern for a long time without the energy or the drive or the desire to actually accomplish things. I don’t know what caused it; there was an awful lot of burnout I think for some reason. Probably all the juggling and plate-spinning I’ve been doing, and of course the first few months of the year are inevitably overwhelming on many different levels for me. I mean, I was on-boarding a new board of directors for Mystery Writers of America; coordinating and organizing the Bouchercon anthology; writing my own book; and writing several promised short stories (the one due tomorrow the editors graciously gave me another week so I am going to really have to buckle down and do a great job on the story–no pressure there, and of course the festivals and Carnival as well as other transitions at the day job. So yeah, the first third of the year were kind of rough, but I am–at least this morning–feeling like I can get everything done.

There’s nothing worse than that overwhelmed feeling of defeat.

I really don’t like it, because it also starts a spiral into hopelessness and I hate that most of all. That’s the why bother phase, the “why do I try because nothing matters and it doesn’t make any difference anyway” and I absolutely despise that; I call it the Pit of Despair (thanks, The Princess Bride). I seem to have spent a lot more time in the Pit of Despair lately than I have in years, and I don’t like feeling that way.

Or maybe I’m just on a high from the awards last night. It was a bit overwhelming being in such a big crowd, as well as seeing people I’ve not seen in years thanks to the goddamned pandemic; I wanted to see and talk to everyone and chat and laugh and get caught up, but it’s also kind of impossible in that kind of situation and yeah, it can be a bit much, particularly when you’re socially awkward and much more of an introvert than you should be when your job requires you to speak publicly and be social and circulate and all of those things. There are so many weird contradictions and oppositions built in my psyche and personality that are constantly at war with each other…for one example, obviously I would love to be more successful than I am, but success also comes at a price. The more successful you are, the more public events you have to do as well as public speaking (things I am terrible at, cause me stress and anxiety, and drain me completely) not to mention the small talk. One thing I’ve never been good at is receiving compliments. I don’t know what to say to people when they’re complimenting me and my work…I just stammer and blush and say “thanks you’ve very kind” but somehow can’t engage any further than that because I get awkward and feel stupid.

And on that note, I am going to post this and get some work done. Have a great post-Edgar Friday, Constant Reader.

Doesn’t Somebody Want to Be Wanted

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD FOR EVERY SEASON OF ELITE.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I mean, look at that stunning face.

The body isn’t too shabby, either.

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

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

The answer was yes yes a thousand times yes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because it’s just that easy.

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

Did. Not. See. That. Coming.

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

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

IVAN: I can’t sleep.

PATRICK: Count sheep.

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

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

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

PATRICK: Stop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I would seriously write Patrick/Ivan fanfic.

Bravo, Elité and Netflix, and thank you.

Temptation Eyes

Thursday morning and I slept well again last night. Yesterday wasn’t a good day by any means of measurement; the less said about the day the better, methinks. I was mentally and physically exhausted when I got home from the office, so I basically collapsed into my easy chair and spent most of the evening until Paul got home trying to decide what I want to read next. I really couldn’t pick anything; but I suspect I am going to probably go for a Carol Goodman next–I may change my mind by the time I get home from work tonight, but that’s where I am at right now with everything,

People are starting to arrive and/or get excited about Malice Domestic, which is happening this weekend in Maryland. I had hoped to go to Malice, but the scheduling conflict with the Edgars and New York–I really couldn’t take that much time off from work–prevented my attendance. I had such a lovely time at Left Coast so I am already experiencing FOMO seeing everyone’s arrival posts. Have fun, everyone–and certainly wish good luck to everyone nominated for an Agatha Award this Saturday–lots of friends on those short lists, as always–I have so many talented friends!

When Paul finally got home–he also had a shitty day–we watched White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch–which was interesting, but really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. It did remind me of their catalogues, which were essentially homoerotic porn–every gay man had a copy, it seemed–but I was never terribly interested in their clothes despite really liking their ads (I mean, come on–gorgeous practically naked young people? Sex sells, people.) and I don’t think I ever set foot in one of their stores. But the thing that kept striking me was seeing how much American culture has changed, and changed so dramatically, since the turn of the century. Nowadays you can’t imagine a company selling exclusion and “we’re just for the cool kids” and becoming successful; especially since it was clear the company’s standard for “cool kids” was nearly exclusively white. And then of course there were the sexual harassment/abuse charges against Bruce Weber, the photographer whose images helped create the look the company was going for and helped the company take off into the stratosphere–something I’ve always thought would make an interesting back story for a crime novel, to be honest; maybe someday that book will get written–but I didn’t really learn anything from the documentary that I didn’t already know, so while it was interesting, and yes, I enjoyed watching it…I guess I was expecting more? I’m always a little disappointed when I see a documentary but don’t get any new information about it. I will say I’d recommend it, if for no other reason than for people today to see how recently societal viewpoints about beauty standards and “pretty privilege” have shifted and changed–and the horrible fact that an enormous corporation could build its entire public image on a distorted, racist view of how beauty in our culture and society is defined without anyone even saying, “hey, wait a minute…”

And yes, I do get the irony of me writing that while posting blogs every day with photos of beautiful men showing off their bodies.

I still haven’t made as much progress on everything I have to get done as I would have liked this week and it’s already Thursday, which means, inevitably, that I will not be able to be a lazy slug this weekend and just lie around doing nothing while binge-watching television shows and/or reading. But I did make some progress yesterday, which was nice, and I just wish I wasn’t so damned tired when I got home last night from work. I will probably be tired when I get home tonight, but I need to put the dishes away from the dishwasher and finish a couple of loads of clothes that I started doing the other night. But I am excited for my trip next week, and looking forward to being in New York and seeing people again and just, in general, having a lovely time of things–even if it means getting up on the stage at the banquet and speaking for a moment or two. Yikes! But I have to get that story finished, I have to get my emails under control, and there are some other odds and ends I need to tie up before I leave town on Tuesday. Huzzah? Today already feels like a better day, and like it can be more productive, so fingers crossed that it will continue this way as it goes forward. I did sleep well again last night–I am afraid to celebrate the sleeping well contingent of my existence for fear of jinxing it–and maybe, just maybe, I am starting to get used to this schedule after all these years? (It certainly feels like it’s been years)

There are worse things, I suppose. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Thursday be lovely and charming and marvelously productive, Constant Reader. I will talk to you again tomorrow morning.

She’s a Lady

Saturday morning and I have errands to run today and chores to do; writing to get done and emails to write. I also want to spend some time today reading as well. I was a lolly-gag this morning, leisurely remaining in bed far longer than is my norm. It felt lovely, frankly, and I think it was exactly what I needed to get my body and my mind back in the order it needs to be in for me to function properly.

In other words, I think I have finally recovered from my trip to Left Coast Crime, which is marvelous.

Last evening I finished reading Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House (more on that later), I actually wrote for a bit (more on that later) and then once Paul got home we binged through the rest of season 2 of Bridgerton, which I think I enjoyed much more than the first (despite the absence of gorgeous charismatic Regé-Jean Page, whom I stopped missing once the story really began going). I think I actually preferred the plot of season two more than the one for season one, and it was absolutely lovely seeing an openly gay actor (Jonathan Bailey) so brilliant and convincing in a traditional male romantic leading role. Is that homophobic of me, or a commentary on show business’ homophobia and fear of casting openly gay male actors in those types of roles? I am not sure.

So last evening was quite an accomplished one, and I was most pleased to see that going into work on Friday was actually helpful. I did manage to get a lot done in the office yesterday as well, which was lovely, and that carried over into my evening here at the Lost Apartment. Today, as I mentioned, I have errands to run (prescriptions, mail, groceries) and chores to do (dishes, floors, organizing) and I would love nothing more than to get some writing and reading done today as well. One can dream, can’t one? I want to get through the first draft of my story this afternoon, and I’d like to work some more on something else I started working on yesterday; nothing of import, really, simply a novel idea I’ve had for a very long time that, for some reason yesterday I couldn’t get out of my head, so I just went ahead, found the existing files, and started writing my way through the first chapter. It actually flowed pretty well, and before I knew it–and it was time to call it quits for the evening–I’d written well over a thousand words, which was marvelous, and had also done no less than a thousand or so on my story. This was pleasing, as Constant Reader is no doubt aware of how I always worry that the ability to write is a skill that I might lose at some point in my life, and it always, always, terrifies me.

I am absolutely delighted to let you know that my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor”, originally published in The Beat of Black Wings, edited by the incomparable Josh Pachter, has been selected as this week’s “Barb Goffman Presents” by Wildside Press in this week’s Black Cat Weekly. I am not the most secure short story writer in the world (many thanks to both Josh and Barb for their keen editorial eye that helped improve the story dramatically from the terrible first draft I wrote years ago), so these little victories help a lot with my Imposter Syndrome issues–which inevitably raise their ugly Cerberus-like heads all the time but especially when I am in the malaise period after finishing a novel manuscript, and especially if I am trying to work on something else and it simply isn’t coming. I am confident now that I will not only finish an initial draft of my story this weekend but perhaps even finish that first chapter I started writing last night and maybe even an outline/synopsis of said book project, which has been languishing in my head for at least a dozen years now, if not more. I mean, it’s not Chlorine, obviously; but that book is becoming even more complicated for me the more I research it–not a bad thing, but indicative of how much work the book is going to be. I was paging through William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen the other night, and I once again was amazed at how tunnel-like my vision was in my initial conception of the book and who the characters needed to be; but I also think the more research I do and the more fears I have of writing it making it all the more necessary for me to actually go ahead and do so.

I really need to work on my focus. I don’t know what it’s actually like to be able to simply write a book and block everything else out of my life in order to solely focus on the writing; my ADHD certainly makes it more difficult and I am inevitably always juggling a million things at once. What must it be like to be able to laser focus all of my attention and energy on a book? It will be interesting to see how retirement, should I ever reach that place, will change and/or make a difference in my writing, won’t it?

I imagine I won’t know what to do with all the extra time. I’ve gotten so used to being scattered in my approach to everything I write that I don’t know what being singularly focused that way would be like, or if it’s even possible for me.

On that somber note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Brown Sugar

Wednesday morning and today is my work-at-home day. I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff; and of course, household chores to do when I need to back away from the computer for a moment or two. I’ve sort of gotten caught up on my chores around the house–it’s also Pay-the-Bills Day, hurray–but there’s always something that needs to be done around here. There are dishes in the dishwasher that need putting away, and laundry as well, the bed linens didn’t get their weekly laundering on Friday because I was out of town, and so forth. I slept deeply and well last night and feel incredibly well rested this morning–for the first time since leaving, really; yesterday was merely an improvement on Monday because this is supposed to be how I feel when I get up. I’m a bit groggy, but the coffee will undoubtedly help with that, and I’ve already done Wordle–I am finding that to be very helpful in kicking my mind back into gear again in the mornings–and now I just have to finish writing this entry. I also have entries to do on Mia Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobe and Wanda Morris’ All Her Little Secrets, and I am getting close to finishing Catriona McPherson’s A Gingerbread House, which I am really enjoying.

I came straight home from work yesterday and did some chores when I got home, which included putting away the stuff in the dishwasher and folding clothes, before settling in to read some more of Catriona’s book. Scooter climbed into my lap and turned into his usual contented purr-ball self (we think we have a new outdoor kitty; Guzman has also come back and isn’t skittish anymore; and Tiger has resurfaced as well), and when my mind finally became too fatigued to go on reading, I started watching some videos on Youtube (I started watching another one about the inbred Spanish Hapsburgs, but turned it off when it failed to note that Charles V had also married a first cousin on his mother’s side, adding to the inbreeding coefficient dramatically; the Iberian royal houses of Castile, Aragon and Portugal had already been inbreeding for centuries) and then Paul got home. I’ve also discovered a new wonderful channel on Youtube about music, “Todd in the Shadows,” and I really enjoy his lengthy looks at one-hit wonders (last night I watched his videos about “Mickey,” “I Touch Myself,” “Missing,” and “What is Love”–I’ve watched quite a few of these in the past and while I don’t always agree with his opinion about the song itself, it’s interesting to hear the backstories of the artists and the songs themselves, as well as what they tried to do to follow up the success of their one hit wonder. And of course, when Paul came back downstairs, we binged the rest of the fifth season of Elite, which we both greatly enjoyed and might be one of the best seasons thus far; certainly it was stronger than season 4. I think this deserves its own entry, frankly; so I think I am going to go ahead and do one at some point. And then it was off to bed and I fell asleep almost immediately, which was lovely, and slept deeply and well through the night, which was also pretty amazing.

Huzzah!

And hopefully, once I am done with my work-at-home duties, I can work on finishing that short story. I really need to get it finished and turned in before I leave for the Edgars in two weeks. Woo-hoo! (Although yes, I am terribly worried about sleep once I am in New York, too. Fortunately I will have at least one night to get used to sleeping in a new bed before the banquet.

It looks kind of cloudy outside this morning, and the crepe myrtles–which are getting more full since the butchery last year–are swaying in the winds. I should probably check the weather to make sure this isn’t going to be another one of those “potential tornado” days–we’re all a little jumpy after that one a few weeks ago–and it looks like it could be another one of those days. Heavy heaving sigh. I also need to make a to-do list; the one I am working off is from before the trip to Left Coast Crime (so much fun!) and is, therefore, dated.

Sigh.

I also need to get some other stuff done–the Bouchercon anthology needs more organizing, I need to start planning Mississippi River Mischief, and I also got, ordered on-line, another copy of William J. Mann’s Behind the Screen: How Gays and Lesbians Helped Shape Hollywood, which I already have a copy of somewhere but it was simply easier to order a new copy than go through every fucking box in storage to find it, and is going to be important research for Chlorine. I was planning on writing a draft of Chlorine in May, but I may push that back a month and do another first draft of something that has drawn some interest from another potential publisher; it’s something I’ve also been wanting to write for some time but have never gotten around to, so we shall see. The day job is changing a bit, so that’s also going to have some impact on my writing schedules and so forth. Heavy heavy deep heaving sigh.

It’s always something.

And on that note, I am going to make another cup of coffee, pay the bills, and get started on my day. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Just My Imagination (Running Away with Me)

Saturday morning at Left Coast in Albuquerque and I am very tired. I didn’t sleep all that well again last night, and I am exhausted. I am having the best time. It’s absolutely been delightful seeing people again and meeting new people, and just laughing and having a great time. My panel yesterday was quite marvelous; all the other panelists had a lot of good things to say about creating characters, so it was educational for me as well–I also love listening to writers talk. I wish I hadn’t overdone everything yesterday! But I think maybe if I just rest and relax for most of the day in my bed, I’ll be able to face the banquet tonight. (After which I think I will repair to my room to get ready to leave tomorrow.) But what a lovely day it was. I had a marvelous dinner with excellent conversation last night with some wonderfully smart and witty people. I ended up staying up way too late talking to people in the lobby (the bar closed at ten, which is wild for a mystery convention), which is totally on me; I never want a good time to end. But..I don’t think I am back to my normal social interaction capabilities yet. And I did a panel yesterday, with all the attendant anxieties and stresses that come with that, so I suppose it’s not so surprising that I am so tired and worn out today.

But what a lovely evening it was! I haven’t laughed so much and so hard in such a long time, and it does feel absolutely marvelous. I just have to take it easier on myself and possibly ease back into these things and reserve my energy as well as recharged more regularly.

Well, it’s now Sunday morning and yes, I did wind up spending most of the day in my room; only venturing out to grab some snacks before coming back upstairs. I did make it to the Lefty Banquet last night–I had to get up and speak, which of course brought on all the usual anxieties and terrors and stage fright–but the banquet was a lovely time. Congratulations to the winners (Raquel Reyes for Best Humorous; Naomi Hirahara for Best Historical; Wanda Morris for Best Debut; and of course, William Kent Krueger for Best Novel), of course! There were some really moving speeches given, and of course, it was just amazing being around other mystery writers in a conference environment. But I was so damned tired all day yesterday, even going downstairs to get snacks was an ordeal. I spent most of the day in my bed, too tired to do much of anything besides whine and read (I read Vladimir by Julia May Jonas; it was very well written) and just rested, in general. After the banquet I socialized a bit in the lobby (the hotel has a very strange set up) and talked to some more people, then finally making a farewell lap around before coming upstairs and gratefully, happily, falling asleep.

And it was a good sleep at last; of course, the night before I am scheduled to fly home is the only night I got good sleep. But I also have to go in to work tomorrow, which means getting up at six; so the traveling home will wear me out again, and I’ll get home probably in time to just put the dirty clothes in the washer and get it going before having to go to bed again. Fingers crossed for another good night’s sleep. (This week my work-at-home day will be Wednesday, so I have to get up super early for the next two days only) Huzzah? And of course, once I am home I will have to start really getting dug into the things I am now horribly behind on–what else is new? I have to get my story finished by the end of the month, and I want to get some other writing done this month as well before I head up to New York for the Edgar awards (and yes, I am worrying already about the sleeping situation at the hotel in New York).

And I need to go forage for coffee, and I need to buy a book to read for the flight home which means a swing by the book room once I have achieved coffee status. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Me and Bobby McGee

Busted flat in Baton Rouge, waiting for a train…

Actually, I am in Albuquerque for Left Coast Crime. I have never been to either Albuquerque or Left Coast Crime before. As for the former, it’s very very dry and the air is a lot thinner here than it is in New Orleans. The trip wasn’t bad; the flight from Austin (where I changed planes) was delayed an hour and there was horrific turbulence on both the take-off there and the landing here that had me closing my eyes and making my peace with the Universe, but other than that it was relatively unremarkable. Lots of people everywhere, but neither flight was full and I had a bit of crowd anxiety at every airport I was in, but it was all okay. I managed to finish reading Mia Manansala’s marvelous Arsenic and Adobo and got halfway through Wanda M. Morris’ All Her Little Secrets (which is also marvelous) and once I got to the hotel I started running into friends I’ve not seen in years–which was again quite marvelous. I went to dinner with a friend (I hadn’t eaten all day, and then had a glass of wine–which, given the lack of food in my stomach, and the altitude, and being tired, wasn’t probably the brightest move to make), and then ran into even more friends when I made it back to the hotel. The hotel bar closes at nine (much to the disgruntlement of many a mystery writer), but it was probably for the best that I not imbibe any more alcohol. I haven’t really drank anything alcoholic since the pandemic shutdown–if I have, it’s been so few and far between that any tolerance I might have for it is long since gone–and so having a typical mystery convention weekend’s worth of drinking this weekend is probably not the brightest thing to do. Perhaps I am finally growing up?

As if.

I didn’t sleep well last night–first night in a hotel, not my own bed, yadda yadda yadda–despite my complete exhaustion last night when I turned out the light and got under the covers; I was too tired to read, even for a little to shut my mind down a bit. Part of it was overload, I think; I am not used to being around groups of people, plus seeing friends and acquaintances I’ve not seen in nearly four years–as well as meeting new people–caused a bit of overload of my circuits last night, which shoved me headfirst into punchy mode. I probably should have come to my room immediately after dinner last night–but I ran into people in the lobby, which is what always happens at these things, and yes, I probably shouldn’t have gone into the lobby at all and headed straight for the elevators. Lesson learned, although I’ll probably do the same damned thing tonight.

I never learn.

SIgh. And now to head out to the conference,