Well, this would normally be a work-at-home Friday blog, but we have a staff meeting that I have to go in for this morning, so there’s that. But we made it through another week, Constant Reader, and lived to tell the tale, which is marvelous, of course. I got to sleep an extra hour later this morning, which is lovely, and I am now having a quite delicious cup of coffee. The doctor doesn’t think I have gout; rather, he thinks it’s an infection of sorts, and prescribed an antibiotic cream. I am also supposed to keep the foot elevated as much as possible, as well as to soak it in hot water and epsom salts several times a day as well as taking Advil three times per day to get the rest of the swelling down. I’m glad it’s not gout, of course, but I’m also not certain that it isn’t. But we’ll see how it goes this weekend; if it’s all better by Monday I guess he was right.
I’m actually rather excited that it’s the weekend almost; I am looking forward to diving headfirst into the manuscript and making excellent progress. I feel good this morning, too–not like low energy, or like it’s not going to be a good day on any level–so that’s a good thing. I think my body has adapted to the time change and to getting up in the morning again, which is always helpful. I think the time change is why I had such a shitty sleep Sunday night which made Monday kind of a lost day for me. I was tired after going to the doctor and had things to do when I got home–putting away dishes, laundry, etc.–and by the time I was finished I was a bit fatigued, and of course once Scooter crawled into my lap it was over. I watched a documentary about how the Kansas State football team–once one of the worst in the sport–rebranded and rebuilt itself into a winning team, something no one ever thought would ever happen. (I love when traditionally terrible football teams turn it around; I kind of have a soft spot for both Kentucky and Vanderbilt, for example, in the SEC because they rarely, if ever, succeed. I have a thing for underdogs–and no one should ever think a traditionally bad team can’t be turned around; not when you have the New Orleans Saints example right in front of you, either.)
I’m not sure how much Paul is going to be around as the countdown to the festivals continue. I know the SEC Gymnastics meet is this weekend and he’ll want to watch that, so maybe he’ll be around on Saturday. *shrugs* Who knows? But I have a lot of work to get caught up on, and of course all the chores around the apartment that I am behind on need to be done. Groceries shouldn’t be a need this weekend since Paul will be out of the house starting on Wednesday, and I am not sure when or how much time I am going to be down in the Quarter that weekend, either. I can always go hole up in Paul’s suite to write and edit, if need be, but there’s also the possibility–a very high one–of overstimulation; I’m still not used to being around large groups of people. I was never great in those situations to begin with; after the pandemic I’m not even remotely as close to being decent in those situations. I know at Bouchercon I would get overwhelmed in the bar so always tried to stay out the outer fringes of that enormous crowd. So, we’ll see how all this goes with my flagging energy and my inability to remember things.
This was also a big week for awards shortlists; the Hammett Prize, the Lambdas, and the Thriller Award finalists were all announced this week. Lots of friends, as always, nominated for awards, but my joy for Barb Goffman, who landed a Thriller nomination for Best Short Story for her contribution to Land of 10000 Thrills, “The Gift” knows no bounds. It’s always lovely when people who’ve contributed stories to one of my anthologies gets recognized for their work; primarily because it reflects well on my editorial choices and I can also take a tiniest little piece of credit for publishing the story in the first place. (Like how I am always excited when something I’ve contributed a piece to gets a nomination or a win; How to Write a Mystery‘s almost complete sweep of everything it qualified for was a bit of a thrill since I had a piece in it.) The Lefty Awards will be presented on Saturday, but I have zero chance of winning since I am not there–since attendees vote over the weekend, not being there is a hindrance (not that I would have run around begging people to vote for me anyway) to winning. (I probably would still have zero chance of winning even were I there; there are some juggernauts in the category with a strong track record of winning awards.) I do miss being there and seeing everyone, but with the Festivals coming up this next weekend and me going to Malice next month…there’s no way I could have squeezed a trip to Left Coast in this month without a complete physical, mental and emotional collapse.
Well, I didn’t finish writing this entry before I had to leave for work; the time somehow slipped through my fingers and the next thing I knew, I was worried about being late and rushed on out of here, leaving this as a task to finish after work-at-home duties. I did manage to get the prescription for the medicated gel for my toe my doctor prescribed, and it seems to be working. I’ve only used one application and the ache/pain seems to be gone, and I can bend it again without agony running up to my brain, so I guess my doctor knows what he’s talking about. I hate doubting my doctor; I’d much rather believe everything he says without question. I don’t want to be one of those patients, but when you’re a natural-born worrier with a touch of obsessiveness, well, that’s a line that I am always afraid I am going to cross with my doctor. Maybe now I can just relax and believe everything he says.
Hilariously, it’s now even later on Friday evening and this still isn’t finished or posted. I started doing laundry and pruning books and cleaning/straightening/organizing, and got sidetracked from this yet again until I sat down, woke up the computer and saw the cursor blinking here on this page, and thought, whoops, if I don’t my streak of daily posts will come to an end and so here I am , trying to finish this while still leaving things to talk about on here tomorrow morning. (I did a quick reread of The Celluloid Closet by Vito Russo, the first time in decades, and was a bit surprised at what year his book finished in; I was like, wow, I was actually looking forward to hearing his thoughts on Priscilla and To Wong Foo…more on that tomorrow morning.) I have also continued to put the gel on my toe and I cannot believe the significant difference it has made already. Definitely saving whatever is leftover in case this ever happens the fuck again, right? Sheesh.
And on that note, I am finally going to bring this to its inevitable and long overdue close. It’s been a hot minute since it took me all day to write an entry. Be back in the morning, and have a lovely evening.
Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day has rolled around yet again. Woo-hoo!
Yesterday I was working on cleaning out my inbox–an ongoing struggle, but it’s suddenly gotten easier lately–and around noonish an email from Left Coast Crime dropped in letting me know that A Streetcar Named Murder had been selected as a finalist for the Lefty Awards! I certainly wasn’t expecting anything like that to ever happen, so thanks to everyone who listed me on their ballot. It’s a tough category–the other nominees are Ellen Byron for Bayou Book Thief, Catriona McPherson for Scot in a Trap, Jennifer Chow for Death by Bubble Tea, and A. J. Devlin for Five Moves of Doom. Such a thrill, really, and to be nominated against authors for whom I have so much respect and admiration for their talents and achievements already? And so many other amazing nominees in the other categories as well–including lots of friends! Kellye Garrett, Alex Segura, James L’Etoile, Karen Odden, Laurie R. King, Gigi Pandian, Rob Osler, Eli Cranor, Wanda Morris, and Catriona again (nominated TWICE!!!!). I’m really sorry I won’t be going to Left Coast this year. I had a marvelous time last year, but it’s also the week before TWFest and Saints & Sinners, and there’s no way I could take that much time off so close together–let alone leave the week before the festivals. I’d come home to find the locks changed, seriously. So many amazing reads this past year on this list, and there I am, right there with some of my favorite people.
It’s always lovely to get recognized, of course. Award nominations are always a lovely pat on the back, and yes, while I often joke about always losing everything I am ever nominated for (I love pretending to be bitter and cynical about losing awards), it is indeed a great honor and a thrill and all those things they’re supposed to make you feel like. Being nominated for mainstream awards, like this and the Anthonys, was never in my thoughts or calculations (to be fair, I never think about awards when I’m writing something)–so yes, for the kid who used to give acceptances speeches to the mirror holding a shampoo bottle as a stand-in for an Oscar, it’s an honor and a thrill and a privilege. I mean, winning isn’t really in my control–anyone who’s ever nominated’s control–so I just look at it as a lovely nice job thumbs-up from the community and add it to my author bio.
I slept really well again last night and this morning I don’t feel tired or sore and my mind is completely alert–yesterday there was some residual fog from my trip still, and leftover exhaustion–but today feels absolutely great. I ran errands after I got off work yesterday–some books and other things came in the mail yesterday, including my Rainbow candles (a client gave me one for Christmas; I loved the smell, and then had to go searching on line to find more of them) and the leather-bound copies of Rebecca and Echoes from the Macabre by Daphne du Maurier as produced by the International Collectors’ Library (about time I got two really nice editions of two of my favorite books). I was terribly tired when I got home from work yesterday so I pretty much melted into my easy chair with Scooter asleep in my lap and just watched videos on Youtube (I went down a Rihanna wormhole for a good while–I’d forgotten how amazing her music was–while also looking up videos from Hadestown, whose score I’ve been listening to every since I got home; I cannot tell you how much I loved this show). I need to pay the bills today and get back to work on the book–I’m behind again and am really going to have to work my ass off to get it done by the end of the month now, no time for goofing off or anything other than a major push; I also have a short story to finish that I’ve promised to a friend for an anthology; that will be a nice creative and intellectual challenge to try to get finished around the book, too.
So, yes, Constant Reader, as you can probably tell I’m in a really good place this morning. My coffee is marvelous, I got a lovely pat on the back from the mystery community yesterday (“they like me! they really like me!”), and I am feeling great about my writing and my future. We’ll see how long this happy feeling and inspiration lasts, won’t we? I also think the cold or sinus thing that’s been going on with me since I flew to New York has finally been given the boot by my immune system, which is really nice. (I always feel terrible when I travel–part of it is the lack of sleep and the dehydration caused by the pressure changes required for flying; one of these days I’ll learn to drink water and replenish electrolytes when I travel instead of just drinking Cokes and coffee and alcohol; you’d think I’d know better by now but I clearly do not) But I feel like me again for the first time in what seems like a really long time, and it’s going to take some getting used to and adjusting again. (This weekend especially is going to feel weird as fuck, to be honest.)
And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow.
And here we are, on the final day of the year 2022. Happy New Year, I guess? It doesn’t feel like the year is turning, but everything has felt so totally out of whack since the 2020 Shutdown that it’s not a surprise, really. As I sit here bleary-eyed with my coffee trying to wake up for another thrilling day of writing and cleaning, it seems very weird to look back to a year ago at this time. I was on deadline then, too–and was way behind on that book, too (A Streetcar Named Murder, for the record), but other than that I don’t remember what my mood was like or what I was thinking about going into the new year. We were still in the midst of the pandemic (that hasn’t changed–what’s changed is it isn’t news anymore and everyone seems to be pretending it’s all over), and I know I wasn’t exactly going into 2022 thinking oh this is the year I’ll get the coronavirus! That did happen, and my ten-day experience with COVID-19 was bearable for the most part. I just had intense and severe exhaustion as well as the brain fog, which hasn’t entirely lifted. I still have no short term memory, and am struggling to remember things every day–which has made writing this book more difficult because I can’t remember small details and things that are kind of important. I also think being so scattered isn’t much help in that regard; I’ve never been able to handle getting a grip on things and have felt like I’ve been behind the eight-ball for the last three years, floundering and struggling to keep my head above water, and never confident that I had a handle on everything. It’s been unpleasant, really; I prefer to be better organized and to have things under some sort of manageable control, and this constant feeling that I am behind and will never catch up on everything has been overwhelming, depressing, and damaging.
I read a lot of great books this year–I was going to try to make a “favorite reads of the year” list, but as I went back through the blog for the last year looking at all the books I talked about on here, there’s no real way for me to quantify what were my avorite reads of the year. I managed to read both of Wanda M. Morris’ marvelous novels, All Her Little Secrets and Anywhere You Run; Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout; John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind; Carol Goodman’s The Night Villa, The Lake of Dead Languages, and The Disinvited Guest; Ruth Ware’s The Death of Mrs. Westaway and The Woman in Cabin Ten; Raquel V. Reyes’ Mango, Mambo and Murder; Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief; Rob Osler’s debut Devil’s Chew Toy; Mia P. Manansala’s Arsenic and Adobo; Kellye Garrett’s Like a Sister; Alex Segura Jr’s Secret Identity; Laurie R. King’s Back to the Garden; Tara Laskowski’s marvelous The Mother Next Door; James Kestrel’s Five Decembers (which would be a contender for favorite read of the year, if I did such things); and of course several Donna Andrews novels as well. I am forgetting some great reads I truly enjoyed this past year, I am sure–I will kick myself later for not remembering I Play One on TV by Alan Orloff, for one example–but it was a year of great reads for me. I know 2023 will also be a great year for reading.
I also watched a lot of great television this past year as well, and again, I won’t be remembering everything and will kick myself later. If nothing else, it was a year of some amazing queer representation on television; this was, after all, the year Netflix not only gave us the wonderful, amazing, adorable Heartstopper but the equally charming and adorable Smiley (which you should watch, absolutely). It was also the year where Elité continued, but the shine is starting to go off the show a bit. I was very vested in their Patrick/Ivan romance, which they ended in this last season with Manu Rios, who plays Patrick, leaving the show at the end of the season along with his two sisters (spoiler, sorry), which was dissatisfying. I am looking forward to seeing what else Manu Rios gets up to in the future…we also enjoyed 1899, Andor, Ted Lasso, Sex Lives of College Girls, Peacemaker, The Sandman, House of the Dragon, Ozark, and so many other shows I can’t possibly begin to remember them all this morning. But I have no problem saying that without question my favorite show of the year was Heartstopper. Even just looking at clips on Youtube, or those “Ten Cutest Moments on Heartstopper” videos, always makes me feel warm and fuzzy when I view them. The soundtrack for the show was also terrific, with some songs so firmly engrained in my head with scenes from the show (one in particular, Shura’s “What’s It Gonna Be” always makes me think of that scene where Charlie comes running after Nick in the rain to give him another kiss, which is what was playing in the background). Wednesday was another highlight, a surprising delight when I was prepared to have my hopes dashed, and The Serpent Queen was also a lot of fun. We also enjoyed The Bastard Son and the Devil Himself, but it was cancelled after its first season, which was disappointing.
Professionally, it was a pretty good year in which I had three book releases: #shedeservedit in January and A Streetcar Named Murder in December, with the anthology Land of 10000 Thrills, thrown in for good measure in the fall. I sold some short stories that haven’t come out yet, as well as some that did this last year: “The Rosary of Broken Promises,” “A Whisper from the Graveyard,””The Snow Globe,” and “This Thing of Darkness” all came out in anthologies this year, with “Solace in a Dying Hour” sold and probably coming out sometime in the spring. I also sold another story to another anthology that will probably come out in the new year as well, and I still have one out on submission. In what was probably the biggest surprise of the year, last year’s Bury Me in Shadows was nominated for not one, but TWO Anthony Awards (Best Paperback Original and Best Children’s/Young Adult) which was one of the biggest shocks of maybe not just the year, but definitely one of the highlights of my career thus far. I lost both to friends and enormously talented writers Jess Lourey and Alan Orloff respectively, which was kind of lovely. I had been nominated for Anthonys before (winning Best Anthology for Blood on the Bayou and “Cold Beer No Flies” was nominated for Best Short Story), but being nominated for one of my queer novels was such a thrill–and to have it nominated in two different categories was fucking lit, as the kids would say. The response to A Streetcar Named Murder was an incredibly pleasant surprise; people seemed to genuinely love the book, which was very exciting and cool.
I traveled quite a bit this year as well–going to Murder in the Magic City/Murder on the Menu, Left Coast Crime, the Edgars, Sleuthfest, and Bouchercon. I went to Kentucky twice to see my family, which further fueled my love of audiobooks for long drives–on both trips I listened to Ruth Ware on the way up and Carol Goodman on the way back–and also did some wonderful podcasts and panels on-line, which was nice. We didn’t go to any games this season in Baton Rouge, but in all honesty I don’t know if I can hang with a game day anymore–the drive there and back, the walk to and from the stadium, the game itself–I would probably need a week’s vacation afterwards!
College football was interesting this season, too. This season saw the reemergence of Tennessee, USC, and UCLA to some kind of relevance again; the slides of the programs at Texas A&M, Florida, Oklahoma, Auburn, and Texas continued; and LSU turned out to be the biggest surprise (for me) of the year. Going into the season I had hopes, as one always does, but after two years of consistent mediocrity (with some surprise wins both years) they weren’t very high. The opening loss to Florida State was a surprise and disappointment, but at least the Tigers came back and almost made it all the way to a win. The blowout loss to Tennessee at home was unpleasant, certainly, as was the loss at Texas A&M. But LSU beat Alabama this season! We also beat Mississippi, so LSU was 2-2 against Top Ten teams this season–and I would have thought it would be 0-4. And 9-4 is not a bad record for a transitional year, with a new coach rebuilding the program. And LSU beat Alabama. The Alabama game will undoubtedly go down as one of the greatest Saturday night games in Tiger Stadium. It was incredibly exciting, and I still can’t quite wrap my mind around it or how it happened. It certainly shouldn’t have; LSU was simply not an elite-level team this past season, but what a job Brian Kelly did coaching in his first season in Baton Rouge. Did I mention that LSU beat Alabama this year? (And one really has to feel for Alabama, in a way; they lost two games by a total of four points on the last play of each game. Four. Points. That would probably be what I would call this season for Alabama: Four Points from Greatness. The LSU-Alabama game this year is definitely one of those that gets a nickname from the fan base, I am just not sure what it would be. The Double Earthquake Game? (The cheers when LSU scored in overtime and then made the two point conversion registered on the campus Richter scale) The Conversion Game? I don’t know what it will be named for all eternity, but it was an amazing game. I do think it also bodes well for the future for LSU. Will both LSU and Tennessee (which also beat Alabama for the first time in like fifteen years) be able to consistently compete with Alabama now? Has Georgia taken over as the SEC behemoth? Has the Alabama run ended? I don’t think so–they have an off year where they lose two or three games periodically (2010, 2019, 2022)–and they could bounce right back. next year and win it all again. You can never count them out, even in their off years.
As for the Saints, they swept Atlanta again this year, and that is enough for me.
I did write a lot this year, even though it didn’t seem like I actually did while the year was passing. I also worked on Chlorine and another project I am working on throughout the year, as well as the novellas, and of course, I was writing short stories and essays for much of the year. I also read a lot more New Orleans and Louisiana history, and I had tons of ideas for things to write all year long. I did make it to the gym on a fairly regular basis at the beginning of the year, but then it became more and more sporadic and after my COVID-19 experience, never again. I also injured my arm a few weeks ago–when I flex the bicep it feels like I have a Charley horse, so not good, but it doesn’t impact my day to day activities. I also had my colonoscopy at last this past year–the prep was horrific, and I am really dreading doing it again at sixty-five, should I make it that far.
Yesterday was a nice day. I was exhausted, and after my work-at-home duties were completed I did some chores–laundry, dishes–and I also spent some time both reading (A Walk on the Wild Side) and writing. I also watched the Clemson-Tennessee Orange Bowl last night before Paul got home from his dinner engagement and we watched a few more episodes of Sex Lives of College Girls. Today I am going to read a bit this morning with my coffee before getting cleaned up and diving headfirst back into the book. Paul has his trainer today and usually either goes to the gym to ride the bike or to his office to work for the rest of the afternoon, so I should be able to have some uninterrupted writing time, which will be lovely. And on that note I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I will check back in with you later.
One of the great joys of being a voracious reader is discovering a new-to-me talent: a terrific writer capable of creating relatable characters; telling great stories using wonderfully constructed, lyrical prose; and illuminating experiences and lives that are vastly different from my own, using fiction as a method to not only entertain but educate.
Earlier this year, I had the great pleasure of reading Wanda M. Morris’ impressible debut, All Her Little Secrets, which I raved about in a blog entry. Of course, that was her book from last year, so I was very excited to get my hands on a copy of this year’s Wanda M. Morris novel, Anywhere You Run, and it does not disappoint in any way other than coming to an end.
I also had the pleasure of meeting Wanda earlier this year at Left Coast Crime, and she is as lovely a person as she is as a writer.
All four men passed around a bottle of Jim Beam as they peeled up State Route 19, giddy with excitement about what they’d do once they hog-tied those coons and got them to a tree. The engine revved as they hit the crest of the road, doing 80 mph. Getting pulled over was the least of their concerns because Olen’s cousin, Sheriff Bickford, was riding shotgun. Bickford had gotten a tip and rounded up the other three to head from Jackson over to Meridian and then north to Neshoba County.
Olen, sitting there in the back seat, threw back a swig and passed the bottle on, assuring the others they were doing God’s work. “The last thing anybody needs is for them to start votin’. Bad enough the goddamn government wants us to let ’em eat in our restaurants and sit beside us on a bus. If the Lord has meant for whites to mix with coloreds, he woulda’ made the coloreds a hell of a lot smarter. Either we stay all white or we die amongst ’em.”
A couple of the other men nodded in silent agreement.
Anywhere You Run is, in some ways, a kind of prequel to All Her Little Secrets, in that it gives us the backstory on some of the characters in the first novel. Set in the turbulent 1960’s, during the Civil Rights struggle in the old Confederate states and the resistance to racial equality from the Southern bigots, this may be one of the first novels I’ve ever read to show that time from the perspective of a woman of color? (There was a woman of color point-of-view character in William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, but I’d need to revisit that book to make a comparison, but I know the visceral sense of being othered, of knowing there is no justice for you in this world and society, wasn’t as strong in the Huie novel as it is in this one.) I’m not going to go out on a limb and claim that as fact, but it is likely–and being Southern, and seeing the South of the time through this lens (remember, I was alive then, too, but my perspective was greatly different), was sobering. Morris brings the time to life with a vivid, powerful brush that makes it very clear what it was like to be a second-class citizen in a system designed to keep you there.
The story focuses on two sisters from Jackson, Mississippi–Violet and Marigold. Their parents are dead, as is their older sister, Rose; the two sisters are very different and on different paths, but they love each other very deeply and have a strong sisterly bond. Marigold has been working at a Civil Rights office in Jackson while having an affair with a married lawyer, come south for the summer to work on voting rights, and finds herself pregnant. SHe’s been seeing a man she doesn’t love, Roger Bonny, and decides to marry him and move north with him to Cleveland, leaving the Jim Crow South far behind her. Violet also wants out of Jackson and the book opens with her running–but for different reasons and in an entirely different situation. Violet was raped by a white man, and knowing there was no justice possible for a woman of color under these circumstances, kills him. She’s also been dating a white man, Dewey Leonard, who claims to be in love with her–and wants to run away with her and marry her in Boston. Violet doesn’t love Dewey, but she sees him as her ticket out of town. As the two of them flee, they are stopped by a cop once they’ve crossed the Alabama state line, and the fact Dewey has to act like she’s in his employ to save them both only convinces her that her plan to run away from Dewey the first chance she gets is the right one. She avails herself of the first opportunity that presents itself–ironically, at the same Birmingham Greyhound station where the freedom riders were attacked by a mob and police dogs–and catches a bus to a nowhere little town in rural Georgia–Chillicothe, which is very important in All Her Little Secrets.
But Dewey isn’t ready to let go of Violet, and hires a white-trash no account to track her down for him. He loves her and wants her back–but probably would be willing to let her go except for the wallet, which contains something that puts both Violet and Marigold’s lives in grave danger.
This is an exceptionally good novel, tightly plotted and highly evocative of the period Morris is writing about. It couldn’t have been easy, researching this painful past that we as a nation should be incredibly ashamed of; no writer is powerful or talented enough to truly bring the totality of the horror that was life for people of color in this country, particularly in the South, to life. But Morris does it beautifully; by focusing on how individual lives were affected and impacted, the implications of how truly horrible this time was on a macro level can easily be extrapolated. There are also slurs, accurate to the time and the characters using them, which are jarring to come across in the present day in the printed word.
But I’ve also heard those words used…not in a very long time, but seeing them in print I can hear them again vividly in my head, dripping with venom and hatred and contempt.
This book is fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and I urge you, Constant Reader, to start reading Wanda M. Morris.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.