It Don’t Come Easy

The future’s so bright, we have to wear shades.

I’m referring to the crime fiction world. I’ve been having a marvelous time reading debut authors lately–Mia P. Manansala, Wanda M. Morris, just to name two–and I have to say, the debut authors are simply killing it lately. I am glad I’ve not been asked to sit on any judging panels for best firsts lately, because while it would be amazing to read all of these exceptional debuts for an entire year, having to winnow them down first to five and then to pick a winner would be incredibly difficult. It’s hard enough participating in fan-voted awards, like the Leftys and the Anthonys.

That is also particularly true when it comes to queer crime. Some of the queer crime novels I’ve been reading over the last year or so have been exceptional–and Marco Carocari’s Blackout fits right in with the premise of this post: an exceptional debut novel, and with gay characters, issues and themes front and center; and written by a gay man. Blackout was a Lefty finalist for Best First Novel (a truly packed category, seriously) and I couldn’t have been prouder of Marco–especially once I finished reading the book.

Franco couldn’t deny it any longer. This had been a mistake. “I’m sorry…hold on a second,” he said, gripping the rooftop’s metal railing to keep his balance, his blue gym shorts around his ankles. All around him low hanging pinkish clouds held back SoHo’s city lights, dousing the neighborhood in a muted glow.

The half-naked man behind him grunted and stepped back. “Dude, this isn’t working for me.”

Franco detected frustration in his voice, but found it hard to care. Wiping sweat from his forehead, he scratched the blond stubble on his cheek, his naked skin damp from from the sultry air. “Sorry, I…need a moment. I don’t feel so hot,” he said over his shoulder, straightening up. He spat on the ground, but the strange metallic taste lingered in his dry mouth. He swayed and saw double. “What the hell was in that thing?”

He got no answer and glanced at his bare chested hunk of a date standing there, zipping up.

Okay, considering this had barely taken ten minutes, date was probably grossly overstated. Franco eyed the ripped, olive-skinned stud who went by Pitcher9 on the MeatUp app, but whose real name he’d already forgotten. Pressed, he’d go with Hey since that was an intimate an introduction the situation warranted. A fading, crudely drawn mermaid tattoo on the man’s left oblique, possibly a blast from his youthful past, only increased his bad boy vibe.

Well, that’s an opening, isn’t it?

When I discovered that not only was queer fiction a thing, but that queer crime fiction was a strong and vital force in the genre, I was in heaven. I devoured queer fiction, and especially queer crime fiction of any kind. I discovered the rich history of queer fiction by reading writers like Joseph Hanson, Barbara Wilson, Richard Stevenson, Michael Nava, Ellen Hart, and Katherine Forrest–and any number of others. I was a queer book reviewer for years. I was editor of Lambda Book Report and served as a Lambda judge any number of times. I kind of burned out on it, to be honest…but I kept reading it and I certainly was paying attention. There has been any number of ups and downs in queer crime over the decades, but the flourishing we’re seeing now is pretty amazing for me to witness.

First of all, Marco’s book begins with the above scene (there’s a set-up introduction chapter, that dates back to the New York blackout of 1977), and it’s from a crime fiction small press. Not a small press that is queer owned and operated, but a crime fiction small press. That’s some serious in-your-face gay sexuality going on in those opening paragraphs; a hook-up gone bad on a rooftop in Manhattan. It is both blunt and frank and right there, in your face–and I cannot even begin to express how exciting it is for me, not just as a gay author but as a gay man of a certain age, to see gay sexuality expressed so bluntly and openly from a small crime press. Just as it amazed me that PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus was published (and promoted heavily) by one of the big presses in New York, it’s also lovely to see that small crime fiction publishers are embracing this kind of content.

It’s lovely, frankly.

The book itself is a strong debut novel from someone who will undoubtedly be a force to reckon with in the years to come. Franco smokes a joint with his trick, but the joint is laced with something so Franco becomes what we call an unreliable narrator/unreliable witness. He thinks he sees a murder happen in the window across the street–but the police find nothing to corroborate or back up his story. Did he really see something? Was it the drugs? And slowly, as Franco and his friends try to figure out what is going on and what is happening to Franco, it all seems to lead back in time to that night when the lights went out in New York…

Franco is a terrific character–likable if frustrating from time to time–but how would anyone react in this kind of situation? The trope of “I think I saw a murder but I may not have” isn’t original–Agatha Christie’s brilliant What Mrs. McGillicuddy Saw is one of the best of these types of stories, but Carocari giving it a gay twist–and what a gay twist it was, indeed!–made it fresh and original and new. I don’t know if Carocari plans on writing more books with Franco as his protagonist–or if what he writes next will be a crime thriller or gay at all; but whatever it is, I am looking forward to reading it when it comes out.

I am a fan. Well done, Marco, and welcome to the queer crime fiction club!

Another Day

Sunday morning and I slept really well again. I woke up, as always, at just before seven, but stayed in bed lazily until nearly eight–when nature’s call became too much to be ignored for longer. But I have a nice fresh hot cup of coffee, a long Sunday with a lot to do and/or get done today (I also need to run to the grocery store this morning, which is always so exhausting) but I suspect that i can get everything I need to get done, done. Yesterday morning I spent some time with the Carol Goodman novel (which is really and truly spectacularly well done), went to do my self-care (which was lovely) and then picked up the mail and headed home to spend some time doing things. I did the bed linens, emptied the dishwasher and did another load (that needs to be emptied this morning) and also got some things organized for my next writing project. I did the Spirit of Ink interview at 2, as scheduled, and then when I was finished with that I was drained, as I knew I would be, so I did some more file organizing before retiring to my easy chair with my journal to make notes for Mississippi River Mischief, which I am also starting to get excited about writing (which is a lovely change from the usual, where I dread writing any and every thing).

So, overall, I was quite pleased with my Friday. Since we’d finished or gotten caught up on everything else we had started watching, we decided to binge through season two of The Hardy Boys on Hulu, which I am enjoying. Is it the Hardy Boys of my childhood? No, but neither was the 1970’s show with Parker Stevenson and Shaun Cassidy. I belong to several kids’ series groups on Facebook (they are very interesting people; I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fandom) and they were, of course, quite unhappy with this adaptation (but not NEARLY as up-in-arms as they were about the Nancy Drew television series, in which Nancy actually has sex with Ned–who’s Black in the show–in the very first episode). Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, but I don’t expect adaptations to match us precisely to the source material, and whether people in their fifties and sixties want to admit to it or not, both series in their original forms are horribly dated today. I did enjoy the show’s nods to the canon series throughout–one of the villains was named McFarlane (Leslie McFarlane ghost-wrote many of the original books) and the bad company is Stratemeyer Global (the Stratemeyer Syndicate created and owned both series, among many others), and there was also a single throwaway line at one point about “what happened at midnight” (which is one of the titles of the original canonical series); so that was all a bit fun for me. Even as I watched, I kept remembering all the dog-whistles of the fan group–disguised as “dedication to the original canon” of course–but when you use words like woke and so forth, your bigotry and personal biases are kind of put right out there on display.

And I can only imagine how upset they are that Aunt Gertrude (Trudy on the show) is a lesbian…which actually makes canonical sense, to be honest.

But it was a very pleasant way to waste the rest of the day, frankly, and I felt pretty marvelous when I went to bed last evening. I am really enjoying my sleep lately, which is marvelous, and lately I am feeling very–I don’t know, optimistic?–about my career and my future as a writer, which is always a plus. I am still waiting for my edits on A Streetcar Named Murder, and to hear back about my short story, but I am feeling pretty good about myself this morning (let’s see how long that lasts, shall we?) and tomorrow evening i am going to make a semi-triumphant return to the gym. This morning I am going to spend some time with The Lake of Dead Languages, and then I am going to head out to the grocery store, probably around elevenish, so I can come home and do some more writing and organizing and so forth. I am going to try to bang out a draft of a new manuscript by mid-June, and then I want to spend until August 1 finishing a first draft of Chlorine, at which point I will most likely have to start really working on Mississippi River Mischief. That’s a pretty good schedule, if I can stick to it–and then of course there are any number of short stories I want to get written in the meantime. There are two submission calls I saw recently (with very tight deadlines) I’d like to get something submitted to–but then it always comes down to time and motivation–both of which I am good at failing at–so it’s all going to depend, I suppose. But I am going to get organized here in my office space before retiring to read for the rest of the morning, which hopefully will mean productivity. We also need something new to watch, since we’ve binged our way through everything already–but there are any number of shows that dropped since the beginning of the year that we’d like to see that we never got around to, and more are coming out all the time.

I also want to rewatch Heartstopper at some point, so I can finish my post about it at some point. I really need to get those old unfinished posts finished and posted at some point, don’t I? I also have a bad review of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not to finish as well as a review of Marco Carocari’s marvelous Blackout, as well as some ruminations about the resurgence of anti-queer political homophobia which hs reared its ugly head again.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader!

Put Your Hand in the Hand

And now it’s Easter! Happy Easter to those who celebrate, to those who don’t, well, Happy Sunday.

I bought a flat of fresh Ponchatoula strawberries yesterday. It was an impulse buy, of course; I was heading down Tchoupitoulas Street in the midst of my errands when I saw a little stand set up, and impulsively I pulled over, got out, and forked over twenty bucks for some beautiful and delicious fresh strawberries. I made myself a protein shake with some of them (along with two bananas) once I’d gotten home and put everything away; for the rest of the day whenever I walked into the kitchen for anything I grabbed some strawberries and ate them quite happily. There really is nothing like Ponchatoula strawberries freshly picked from the fields. Today I will have to freeze some, naturally; I am now really excited for Creole tomato season, which should be here at any moment (I’ve started looking for them every time I set foot in a grocery store). It’s very odd how delighted I am about having these strawberries; I only wish I could eat even more of them…but I am only one person and there are only so many I can eat…and the frozen ones will be perfect for slushing up my protein shakes a bit, giving them more of a daiquiri style consistency.

I really do need to write about Ponchatoula strawberry season at some point–and Creole tomatoes.

As usual, I was very tired once I got home from the errands. I was also startled at how hot and humid it was outside yesterday; despite being only mid-April it felt like early June already. This does not bode well for the unholy hell that is the usual New Orleans summer. They’re predicting a slightly less active hurricane season this year–slightly being the operative adjective doing the heavy lifting in that sentence. I can’t imagine that the Gulf water temperature isn’t going to be significantly elevated this year, which means that the hurricanes that come into the Gulf of Mexico will intensify dramatically once they reach the hot water of the Gulf before they head ashore. Yay? Heavy heaving sigh. But it is what it is, and God knows you cannot control the weather, so it looks like it’s going to be another one of those insanely intense years of storm-watching for six months. But once I was home in the cool and out of the muggy nastiness that was yesterday’s climate, I felt a bit better. Paul came home from his trainer–which was weird, I’d gotten used to him going to the office directly from the trainer and having the rest of the day to myself. We watched The Truth About Pam on Hulu, which was creepy and weird and bizarre–although at the end of the final episode they actually showed footage of the real-life Pam, and you can see how Renee Zellweger actually underplayed the role. We then moved on to BritBox and Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?, an adaptation of one of my favorite Christies–one I feel doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves–and then had to look up the American title (Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? is the British title, which was better than the American title, which I had to look up because I couldn’t remember it, and it was The Boomerang Clue, which is clearly inferior. Why did her American publisher do this to her books when the British title was always superior? Murder on the Orient Express was actually originally published in the US as Murder in the Calais Coach, which is clearly inferior). It’s very well done, and I always liked the characters of Bobby Jones and Lady Frankie Derwent. WIll Poulter is a very good choice for Bobby Jones; he’s becoming one of my favorite working actors.

So I kind of didn’t really do a whole lot yesterday. But it was a good battery-recharging kind of day, which was necessary and needed, methinks, and so today I can dig into all the things I need to get moving on and make some forward progress. Paul will be heading out today to one of the many Easter parades around town to hang out with an old friend who is in town, and I need to get going on my lists and things. I got my tax refund already–I literally scanned the signature sheets and emailed them back to my accountant on Monday and yesterday morning it had already hit my bank–which means I also need to strategize bill payments. I had also meant to spend some time with Marco Carocari’s Blackout yesterday, but I think this morning, once I have finished this and made myself a second cup of coffee, I will head to my easy chair with said coffee to read a few chapters and get a feel for his writing style and the story. Tomorrow I am taking a sick day; I need to take the car in for an overdue oil change at the crack of dawn tomorrow, and as such I made appointments for the afternoon in which to get some things taken care of with my routine bi-annual servicing to make sure things aren’t breaking down somewhere; so tomorrow I’ll be out running around most of the day in the heat. Huzzah? Fucking hardly.

I also need to get a lot of other work done today as well–writing, editing, organizing, and so forth. I’d like to get that working first draft of my story done today, and maybe even the first chapter of the book I started working on this week to get my writing kick-started again; I also need to cut up these strawberries and start putting them into freezer bags for future protein shakes. The glamour around here truly never ends, does it? And there’s cleaning to do, as always, and organizing, and so forth–all that lovely stuff that I absolutely love to do.

And on that note, probably should head into the spice mines and get my day underway.

Treat Her Like a Lady

Tuesday morning and I clearly should never go into the office the day after I travel. Lord, was I tired yesterday! But I was good Sunday night when I got home and unloaded the suitcase directly into the washing machine and even remembered to move them to the dryer. I stopped on my way home from work yesterday to get the mail and to make some groceries, and then had another load of laundry to do, and dishes to wash and put away…ah, the mundane that comes after the glamour. But there could be worse things. I was a little too tired to focus on finishing Catriona McPherson’s marvelous A Gingerbread House, which I really want to get to the end of because I am dying to know how it all turns out; but that will have to wait, I suppose. I think I am going to tackle Marco Carocari’s Blackout next; I should have already gotten to it, really. (Bad Greg, bad Greg!)

It’s very exciting that we have so many up-and-coming queer writers in the mystery genre, I have to say.

I slept really well last night; this morning I don’t feel tired at all (and yes, I woke up before the alarm went off this morning). I feel like I am actually settling back in to my life and rest and reality; we’ll see how it goes the rest of the day, won’t we?

We watched the first three episodes of the latest season of Elite on Netflix, and I think it is safe to say that it is clearly one of the gayest shows ever to air; and this season more so than any of the prior ones (or maybe it has been all along, and it just caught me off guard last night?). The show is centering gay Patrick more this season than last, and he’s falling for an absolutely beautiful young straight boy (I think we’ve all been there at least once in our lives) and their “friendship” is kind of nice to see; it’s one of the few times I’ve seen this dynamic played out on television. It could easily go the wrong way, so I am curious to see how this continues to play out. But as always, everyone on the show is gorgeous, the drama is way over the top, and we don’t know who this season’s murder victim is yet. There are some new characters (a wealthy Paris Hilton type who calls herself the “queen of Ibiza” and deejays; the handsome son of a soccer player I’ve already mentioned) and of course, no one is left from the original core cast except the characters of Samuel and Omar–and their friendship is already on the ropes. Sigh. I love this show so much.

I’m also feeling more hydrated than I have since I left for Alburquerque Thursday, and yes, that’s entirely on me; it never even crossed my mind that the higher altitude (five thousand feet!) and drier climate would have an effect on me. It did. I had a glass of wine Thursday afternoon when I ran into a friend in the bar and literally got tipsy from it, and my God, were my lips constantly getting dry and chapping? I also can’t remember the last time my mouth was so consistently dry, and drinking water didn’t help at all; maybe some blessed relief for a moment or two before my mouth went completely dry again. I guess desert climates are something you get used to when you live in one, but ugh, my skin was also so dry and of course, the dryness also triggered my psoriasis again (which has cleared up since I arrived back into the dampness of New Orleans.

So, overall, I feel much better this morning than I have in a few days; rested, rehydrated, and relaxed. Which is nice, since yesterday all I did was spin my wheels and keep everything level, rather than moving in a forward direction to get everything taken care of that is on my to-do list (hello, short story that needs writing!). I did make a stop on the way home to make a bit of groceries, but a more in-depth trip will be necessary once the weekend rolls around. Heavy heaving sigh. But…I should probably do an in-depth reorganization of the kitchen cabinets (yes, I have a deadline looming, can you tell?) but there’s undoubtedly some expired things in there that could be cleaned out, and yes, the other cabinets could stand a good reorganization as well. Maybe I should move the pots and pans from over the stove to over the sink? Decisions, decisions.

But tomorrow I get to work from home and it’s not a full eight hour day, either. I’m thinking about watching some movies while I make condom packs and break down some biohazard stuff (expired tests; they need to go into biohazard but aren’t dangerous to handle without gloves), and of course, there’s always data to enter as well. Huzzah! We now have to come into the office four days a week, so I guess this week that will be Friday since I am working at home tomorrow. I can’t decide which day would be best for me to come in next week–it will alternate between either Fridays or Mondays until we go back to five days in the office again–and as tempting as it is to stay home again on Monday, on the other hand I’ve never really gotten used to Tuesdays being my Mondays. So….we’ll see.

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader!