Fotzepolitic

Sunday morning and things went about as well as could be expected yesterday. Friday evening I had some items delivered from Sam’s Club, but hadn’t noticed that one of the items ordered actually had to be shipped; it arrived this morning here at the Lost Apartment. And while I was waiting for my Cox cable technician to arrive (I rearranged the entire morning to accommodate their 10-12 am window), I got a text message at 11:30 informing me that my appointment was cancelled; then came the email stating we know things happen! Reach out and reschedule! I reached out, only to be told that the technician arrived, called, got voicemail, and departed DESPITE MY HAVING GIVEN THE SAME INSTRUCTIONS I ALWAYS GIVE: OUR BUZZER DOESN’T WORK SO YOU HAVE TO CALL OR TEXT WHEN YOU ARRIVE.

Also, I had my phone with me all morning, so I wouldn’t miss the call. No one called, I have no recents, and I have no voicemails.

This obviously threw me off my game yesterday for writing, but I did get some done. I am a bit behind on the schedule I’d given myself, but I think it’s going to go relatively easily from now on. I ran some errands, came home, got cleaned up, and dove into the writing. I wasn’t really able to shake off the mood, so after struggling for a few hours to get the chapter done, I called it a day and repaired to my easy chair. Needing to cleanse my soul, I did a rewatch binge of the first episodes of Ted Lasso, which are even more charming on rewatch because you get to see all the callbacks you might have forgotten about later in the run of the show, like Keeley acknowledging that she “dated a 23 year old footballer when she was seventeen, only now I’m thirty and I’m still dating 23 year old footballers” while talking to Rebecca. You can almost see the light come on in her eyes–what the hell am I doing–which kind of opens the door for her breaking up with Jamie later. Even though they don’t know each other well, she recognizes that it’s time for her to grow-up and start thinking about her own future, while talking to Rebecca–which is the first building block in their close friendship. Then later, when Paul was finished working for the day we watched Bama Rush, which was kind of disappointing. Originally focusing on four girls about to go through sorority rush at the University of Alabama–which I guess is this viral thing on TikTok–it got a bit derailed with the director started seeing similarities in behavior of the girls planning to go through rush as she went through being a lifelong alopecia sufferer…which could have been made a lot more interesting, but I always thought the point of a documentary was the director didn’t make themselves a part of the story? I think the point she was trying to make was valid, but the way the documentary was a edited together simply didn’t work. The focus shifted, and it derailed after that.

But Jesus God in heaven, those sorority houses in Tuscaloosa! The fraternity houses! They’re enormous. I had kind of figured Greek life at universities would be declining, given how old-fashioned and restrictive they can be, especially sororities–and this newer younger generation doesn’t seem as interested as preserving traditions and institutions as previous ones were, but Bama Rush showed me things I didn’t know…that “Rush Consultant” is actually a career, for one thing…and the documentary only briefly touched on the Machine, a supposedly secret society made up of representatives from every fraternity and sorority that controls everything at the University. (I kind of love that shit; I’ve long been an admirer of Pat Conroy’s The Lords of Discipline, which kind of touched on that kind of thing.)

Today I am going to get shit done. Later this morning I am going to make a very brief and short grocery run to the Rouse’s in the CBD, and then I am coming home to spend the rest of the day writing and reading. I didn’t read yesterday, which was a bit disappointing; I’d hoped to finish reading my current book this weekend so I could move along to Megan Abbott’s new one; but anticipation is always lovely, and perhaps I can get along to that next week. One can always hope, can’t one?

But I feel rested and awake this morning. My back and legs are a bit tight and sore, so I think I’m to use that massage roller thing for my back and maybe do some stretching (which I should do every day) to see how it feels. I am planning on getting a chapter finished, maybe doing some reading, and then making my grocery run so I can come back and do more writing. I need to write most of the day, to make up for the last couple of days of irritation and aggravation that kept me out of the proper mindset.

My mind has been all over the place this week, which is weird, but also kind of normal for me. Whenever I am in the weeds with a book my mind goes off in all kinds of directions and produces all manner of thoughts and ideas. I started writing several other entries yesterday, specifically for Pride Month and specifically about being gay–sometimes about being a gay author and what that’s like; I always forget that people never really quite grasp or understand what it’s like to be a queer writer in an intolerant country, of what it feels like to be othered by every community in which you try to find a place where you belong. I’ve never wanted to be THAT gay; the one constantly having to remind people of what is and isn’t homophobia, and is always having to point it out and teach straight people about what it’s like. It’s exhausting, frankly, and sometimes the well-meaning ignorance is highly offensive, but you know they don’t mean it that way so you push down the offense and ignore it while calmly trying to explain to the person why they can’t say or do that…while also not trying to hurt their feelings (although had they put even the tiniest bit of thought into it, would have never said anything offensive in the first place). It’s exhausting having to see trash equate your sexuality with pedophilia and grooming on a daily basis. It’s exhausting having to constantly have to defend your right to exist, having to constantly prove you’re a human being worthy of being treated the same as everyone else…

The mental health of queer people is always under constant assault.

And on that note, I am going to get some more coffee and start working. Either on the book, or on one of these Pride entries. I can’t decide which. We’ll see. Anyway, enjoy your Sunday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Heaven or Las Vegas

Thursday and my last day in the office for the week. Huzzah? Huzzah. I do have to go into the office ungodly early for a department meeting, but that’s okay. I may just have to swing by Five Guys on my way home as a weekend treat. WHY NOT? Why not indeed.

Yesterday was similar to the day before; I didn’t feel tired but I also didn’t feel rested. We were busy at work all day, too, which was cool; the day always passes faster if we’re busy. I was very tired when I got home, worked on the book and knocked off another chapter, then we settled in to watch the finale of Ted Lasso, which was simply marvelous; I am going to watch it again (I cried a lot of the way through it, not ashamed to admit it) and was enormously satisfied with the ending. There will be another, more in depth conversation about the show to come at some point, when I’ve had more of a chance to digest it. I see that there are some people who aren’t happy with it–but it hit every note for me perfectly. Did I get everything I wanted in the end? Of course not, but that was never going to happen, and I am very grateful I found the show (thanks again to Alafair Burke, who told me I’d love it in the first place and she was right). I’ll miss AFC Richmond, but…am grateful that I got to know them all. It was simply magic.

We also watched a George Michael documentary–not the one Paul wanted to watch, alas; we’ll watch that one tonight–and then I had to catch up on the Vanderpump Rules reunion, which was hilarious and fun and reality gold. I also loved that almost every commercial break featured a commercial with Ariana Madix, who is having probably the best revenge tour in the history of reality television.

I slept well last night, and this morning I feel rested and awake and ready to go; first time this week, alas, but what can you do? The book is progressing nicely; I may even have time to revise it one more time before it’s due to be turned in. I have a big weekend coming; a weekend of writing and reading (I want to finish Chris Clarkson’s marvelous That Summer Night on Frenchmen Street so I can move on to the new Megan Abbott) and cleaning. I want to get the car washed this weekend and vacuumed out, I need to get moving on the scanning project, and I should get another box down from the attic to go through. I need to drop books off at the library sale on Saturday, too. Sounds like I am going to need a to-do list specific for the weekend, doesn’t it? I’m also going to have some things delivered, I think, on Saturday.

I feel good this morning, about everything, which is lovely. It’s amazing what a difference it makes when I sleep well, isn’t it? And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday Eve, everyone!

Fifty-Fifty Clown

Yesterday wasn’t pleasant. It wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t pleasant. I slept well but didn’t feel completely rested, and we were in ozone advisory for most of the day. The air conditioning at work isn’t functioning properly–it was 76 degrees when I got there in my testing room; 82 when I left–and it was also muggy; it rained late in the afternoon. Muggy and warm are a toxic combination for my sinuses, so that was making me miserable for most of the day. I ran errands after work, and picked up my copy of Beware the Woman, the new Megan Abbott, which is now next on my TBR Pile. Then Ted Lasso dropped later than usual, so I couldn’t stay up late enough to watch it and thus will have to avoid social media all day…which isn’t really a bad thing. I did work some on the book as well, but I am not sure if it was good work or not because I was out of sorts with the day.

It’s not the heat, it’s the humidity, as the T-shirts used to say. Do they still sell those in the tourist shops in the Quarter? I wrote about that in the first Scotty book, the French Quarter that used to be, just after the turn of the century. It had already changed and evolved from when we first moved here, some four or five years earlier; perhaps some of it was just me getting older and my own life situation changing. But I do remember how raggedy and dive bar-like Cafe Lafitte in Exile used to be, when that balcony wasn’t the safest place in the world to go out on while drinking. The 90’s were a different time entirely in the French Quarter, although I do wonder sometimes if I am doing the “rose-colored glasses” thing about New Orleans in the 90s. (Writing about that time period–Never Kiss a Stranger–does bring it all back to me in some ways, and I do hope that I’m not simply being nostalgic about the time because I’m writing about it.)

I’ve decided to cancel the cable appointment. The schedule at work this afternoon filled up quite a bit during the day yesterday, and it’s working for now. I know I’ll get irritated when and if the Internet proves to be an issue again, but here’s hoping it will happen when I can schedule them to come out when it won’t interfere with my job. I don’t think I slept very well again last night–surprise–but I can make it through the day. I can come home straight from work and watch Ted Lasso when I get home because Paul’s working from home today to write a grant anyway. (It did occur to me last night that I could just have Paul deal with it since he’d be home, but Paul has no idea how to talk to the cable people and it’s easier just to cancel, with a reschedule planned if needed.)

We also finished watching Chicago Party Aunt, which we really enjoyed. It was surprisingly funny–and the dynamic between the low-rent Chicago sports fan version of Auntie Mame and her gay nephew was surprisingly well done, and also hilarious.

Feeling rather dull this morning, so I am going to bring this to a close and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow.

Like a Prayer

For me, one of the great joys and pleasures of being an author and being part of the business is getting to meet and discover new-to-me talents. I am very quirky when it comes to reading; I do things like always leave one book by an author unread so I know I still have one more book of theirs to read–there are a couple of authors I am caught up on completely and waiting for another title is agony (looking at you, Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott and John Copenhaver).

I had heard of Scorched Grace before this past Saints and Sinners; Paul had asked me if I knew the author and explained everything about her and her debut novel several months before the event. I was of course completely fascinated; how can you not be fascinated by “her main character is a chain-smoking tattooed lesbian former punk rocker who is now a nun”? I immediately ordered a copy–isn’t that cover amazing?–and then at Saints and Sinners, I heard Margot read from it, and then attended a panel she was on and was terribly impressed. I decided it absolutely had to be my next read. It took me a lot longer to read than it should have–particularly since I was enjoying it so much–which has more to do with other obligations and pure exhaustion so shouldn’t be used as a gauge of the book’s quality.

Because this book deserves your full attention.

The devil isn’t in the details. Evil thrives in blind spots. In absence, negative space, like the haze of a sleight-of-hand trick. The details are God’s work. My job is keeping those details in order.

It took me four and a half hours to do the laundry and clean the stained glass, and my whole body felt wrecked. Every tendon strained. Even swallowing hurt. So, when my Sisters glided into the staff lounge for the meeting, folders and papers pressed against their black tunics, I slipped into the alley for some divine reflection–a smoke break. It was Sunday, dusk.

Vice on the sabbath, I know. Not my finest moment. But carpe diem.

An hour to myself was all I needed. An aura of menace taunted me all day. The air was thick and gritty, like it wanted to bare-knuckle fight. Sticky heat, typical in New Orleans, but worse that day. The sun, the swollen red of a mosquito bite. Slow simmer belying the violence of the boil. I couldn’t sit through another reprimand.

Sister Holiday is easily one of the most compelling, and interesting, main characters to come along in crime fiction in quite some time. And while there is a good and involving mystery at the core of this novel–who is setting the fires at the convent school? Who killed the maintenance worker? Was the fire set to cover up the murder or are they part and parcel of the same thing?–the absolute strength and power of this book comes from the narrative voice of this peculiar, not your average not-taken-her-vows-yet nun. She’s fascinating, and the voice is so strong and powerful: cynical yet innocent, bitter yet hopeful, Christian yet not. Her back story, which we learn through her progression of following clues and interviewing suspects and trying to put all the shifty pieces together, is enough in and of itself to keep the reader involved and turning the page.

And the language! My word, the power of Douahy’s language choices, sentence and paragraph structure! Here are some examples I marked:

Revenge is a stupid way to feel in control. Like all drugs, it doesn’t last, but it sure is fun in the moment. (p. 75)

Most boys couldn’t be trusted. Testosterone poisoning, Moose was fond of saying about guys and their bluster. I imagined the cartoon poison flowing through boy veins whenever my brother said that. (p. 79)

There is a sublime wholeness in holding one another, fitting into other bodies. We eat the body of Christ. We drink the blood. So many years later, Nina’s taste still laced my mouth–champagne, sweat, graphite licked off a thumb. (p.106)

New Orleans was ornate in every way, especially in its punishment. Like wispy fiberglass, the city doesn’t feel like it is of this world. (p. 107)

Everything in New Orleans is overdue, overgrown, dripping. The oak trees decked with boas of Spanish moss. Frogs creaked and peeped until the moon set. Morning glory vines strangled pink roofs and wisteria tentacles swayed in the cross breeze. A row of traditional, one-level shotgun homes: bright orange window frames, mint-green wooden shutters, and bright white columns A cat meowed on a nearby porch. (p. 123)

We are all like stained glass, beautiful and complicated and fragile as fuck. We all need care. And some of us don’t get what we deserve. (p. 233)

What a glorious read this was. I look forward to the next in the (planned) trilogy; and will probably revisit this one, too. Get a copy now.

Like a Virgin

Somehow we made it through….

And it’s Friday this morning, in which I get to work at home and do chores around the house when I need to get up and away from my computer. Huzzah! Alas, some of those chores will have to wait, as we had a notice that the city is turning off our water between 10 and 5 today to do some repair work. Great, so laundry and dishes are out until this evening, but that’s okay. I have work to do, and as always, there’s always filing and organizing and the floors. At least I have enough water for my morning coffee, which is tasting really good this morning. I slept in a bit–always a pleasure on Friday mornings–and slept deeply and well. I feel very well rested this morning, which is a good thing. I did soak the dishes in soapy water over night, so all I have to do is rinse everything before putting it in the dishwasher; and I probably don’t even need to do that. I can just empty it and add the new stuff, and then run it once the water is back on. Why couldn’t they have done this yesterday while I was at work? Because that’s just not how Greg’s life works, everyone. Tis a pity, but also tis a fact.

I slept well last night and feel really rested this morning, which is lovely. I am also having to get used to having Paul at home in the evenings; I was a Festival widow this year for far longer than usual and I really didn’t care for it much. I did get some writing done last night before he came home, and we settled in for some more episodes of season 3 of Outer Banks, which kind of lost its way at first but seems to be settling into that cheesy, over-the-top writing that we so loved the first two seasons. I was getting a bit worried–the storyline of John B’s father’s return from the dead isn’t really working for me, plus it was some terrible casting; more on that when I’ve finished watching the season. I also want to watch some of the movies that are available to stream now, especially The Pale Blue Eye, based on Louis Bayard’s wonderful novel, and there’s another, too, that I really want to watch but I can’t think of the name of it now–the great joys of old brain combined with long COVID brain, hurray!

I do have to make groceries at some point this weekend and I also have to get the mail at some point. I do need some French bread because I’d like to make pasta this evening; I also have clean the refrigerator on the weekend chore list, and I also would like to start cleaning out my cabinets; I have a tendency to buy stuff and forget about it–which is annoying–and then it expires and sits in my cabinets for years because I never check or look at those things until, of course, I need it and well, it’s not any good anymore. I really need to reorganize my cabinets, and I’d also like to make at least one box of books to drop off at the library sale tomorrow–I’d also like to wash and clean out the car, which would be really lovely. I also want to start, I don’t know, taking more control and charge of my life than I have been? It’s incredibly easy to feel tired and just collapse into a chair and do nothing, of course, and scroll through videos on Youtube and then binge television shows once Paul is home. But that isn’t getting me anywhere, and really, I’ve also been operating without a to-do list for a couple of weeks now, too; perhaps I should add make a to-do list to the chores list for this weekend? Yes, perhaps I should. I also want to spend some time reading Scorched Grace this weekend; I need to get back into my regular reading schedule else I will never finish all these books I want to read–and I’ve limited myself to how many books I can buy until I make some progress in getting rid of some of these books I have on hand that I’ve not read yet, and that means actually reading them. And I have so many great books on hand to read, too; and there are more coming out all the time. This year will see new books by Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, S. A. Cosby, Lisa Unger (so behind on Lisa Unger it’s not even funny), and so many others whose work I both admire and appreciate and respect. So I clearly need to get back to reading. Perhaps today I can find some time this evening, around writing and chores and making dinner and so forth? Stranger things have, in fact, happened before and will probably happen again at some point.

And of course, my major project for the summer is cleaning out the storage attic, which will wind up being an enormous pain in the ass–which is why I’ve not started it yet–as well as cleaning off the tops of the cabinets in the kitchen, which has kind of turned into a catch-all storage place, too–seriously, I have papers and books packed into boxes every-fucking-where in this apartment–and one of the things I really would like to do this year is somehow get my hoarding and apartment back into some kind of control and in some kind of livable order. I only have two definite author trips left this year–Malice Domestic at the end of April and Bouchercon at the end of August–and I’ll also have to do some family visiting this year as well–Mom’s death means I need to check in with Dad a lot more often than I ever have before–but hopefully my vacation time will start accruing and building back up over the course of the year.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and I’ll check in with you again later.

Everybody

Sunday morning in the Lost Apartment and I am sitting here, swilling my coffee and feeling very rested and relaxed, which is absolutely lovely. I came home last night after the Saints and Sinners anthology launch/reading; because I was exhausted and Scooter was home alone since Friday afternoon when I got my Lyft down to the Quarter. (And my poor baby kitty was lonely and needy, too.) I’m going to leisurely get ready this morning before I head back down to the Quarter. I have to moderate a panel at 1 with John Copenhaver, Kelly J. Ford, and Marco Carocari; and then I want to see the TWFest panel right after, moderated by Jean Redmann, with Shawn Cosby as one of the speakers (I don’t remember the other panelists and I don’t want to get it wrong, and of course, have no program here to consult. I was very tired yesterday. I had an eight am breakfast yesterday morning before my panel (young adult fiction) and so of course, spent the night at the hotel only to not sleep a wink all night–I should have just come home and gotten up early yesterday, dumb decision–and so was dragging most of the day. I had a reading in the late afternoon as well–I read from “This Town” from Murder-a-Go-Go’s, edited by the divine Holly West, and it went really well. I was also in the same reading session as Cheryl A. Head, Margot Douaihy, Chris Clarkson, and a couple of others whose names I’m blanking on. Everyone read very well, and Chris was on my young adult panel (he wrote That Summer Night on Frenchmen Street, which I am looking forward to read); he’s very charming and fun to talk to and smart. He also lives in our neighborhood!

As always, S&S is a whirlwind and the time just seems to fly by every day. I’ve had the great good fortune to be palling around with my panelists–which hopefully will make the panel easier to moderate–and been having a marvelous time. I’m feeling rather inspired about my own writing and my career–S&S always has that effect on me; all writer/lit cons do, really–and while I slept amazingly well last night, I know I’m probably going to tire out easily today. I also forget that I am not used to being around a lot of people all the time, plus public speaking has always tired me out; I have such stage fright that always triggers an adrenaline rush that departs from my body once its over, leaving me drained and tired. I think I’ve also changed my mind about what my next read is going to be; Margot’s book Scorched Grace, which she read from yesterday, just sounds so inventive and clever and original that I think I just want to go ahead and read it instead of Christopher Bollen’s The Lost Americans, which I am also really looking forward to, and then I want to read Chris Clarkson’s book. I am a reader first and foremost, and there’s nothing I love more than discovering great new books and finding new-to-me authors. (There’s also a lot of great books coming out this year yet, too–a new Shawn Cosby, a new Megan Abbott, a new Lou Berney, a new Laura Lippman; what an amazing year for reading this is going to be!)

My books also sold out this weekend by yesterday afternoon, which was really lovely.

This is also going to be a rough work week, as I will be heading into the week feeling exhausted and tired already. But that’s really okay; I will survive and that will make next weekend’s rest and relaxation that much better and needed.

It’s always weird every year when the Festivals are over. It’s always weird to go into the literary bubble for a weekend and then have to reenter reality again. But that’s the way my life goes; this weird duality and parallel lives I am living this time around. And everyone is always so kind about my books and my panels, it’s actually rather lovely. I guess I have, just by sheer determination and dogged perseverance, managed to stick around this crazy business for twenty-one years as an author; twenty-six if you count when I first started getting paid to write, and somehow maybe settled, unknowingly, into a ‘respected elder’ place. I don’t know, maybe my work has been respected all this time and I, being the oblivious type who always takes compliments with several spoonfuls of grains of salt, never noticed because I always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder. Something to think about, anyway, on those rare occasions when I can just sit around and reflect on my life, career, and the passing of time. (I know I’ve recently had some insights on situations and people in the past that I didn’t quite see or understand at the time; the wisdom from time passing, I suppose.)

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. I want to eat something and get cleaned up before I head back down to the Quarter; my panel is at 1 I think. Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader!

Play with Fire

Well, I met quota again last night which was marvelous. It’s still a bit chilly this morning. By the weekend it should be back into the seventies (it was yesterday as I ran my errands after work; it’s sixty-one this morning but it does feel colder outside of my bed and blankets), as the Alabama and Kansas State fans start arriving for the Sugar Bowl. LSU is also playing on New Years’ Day in the Citrus Bowl against Purdue, which will probably be the only game I actually watch that day.

There’s been a conversation going on over at Book Twitter lately that doesn’t really impact me in any way, but it’s been kind of interesting to follow. The conversation has to do with concerns about what is and isn’t considered y/a fiction as well as what is, or should be, considered age-appropriate reading material for teenagers and pre-teens. It doesn’t impact me because no one considers me a young adult writer, for one thing; despite having written numerous books with younger and/or teenaged characters (Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen, Dark Tide, Bury Me in Shadows, #shedeservedit), most people think of me as a gay mystery writer. Everything published under my own name is a mystery novel of some sort, whether it’s one of the series books or one of the stand-alones. I’ve never really marketed myself as a writer of young adult fiction, really; I shy away from that, I think, because of The Virginia Incident and the subconscious fear that one day that controversy might resurrect itself (which is ludicrous, and I know that; it certainly would have by now and it hasn’t, which further proves my belief that The Incident had nothing to do with me or my writing or my career and everything to do with systemic homophobia and othering used for political gain). It just seems weird to me that in less than five years after that happened–when I was deemed a menace to America’s youth–I could publish books for teenagers without a single whiff of complaint or scandal or even the raise of a single eyebrow.

Interesting, isn’t it? Almost like the whole thing was just more smoke and mirrors whose sole intent was to rile the homophobic base.

I just love that my existence is considered by some as a constant and continued threat to children.

One of the things that has always mystified me over the years is what is and isn’t considered age-appropriate. Intellectually I was far more advanced that most of my classmates (my emotional and personal maturity being an entire other subject–I’d say I am still behind on that score) and I started reading early. The library and the Scholastic Book Fairs were my best friends as a child, and I read everything I could get my hands on. I loved history, from which grew an appreciation and love for historical fiction (which I really don’t read much of anymore, which is odd. I really want to read Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books…) and of course, my grandmother got me interested in “scary” movies and mysteries.

You’d think I’d be a huge fan of historical mysteries, but I actually don’t read many of them. I did love Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody series, and I’ve become a huge fan of Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series…I think exploring historical mysteries might be a project for 2023.

But the point was I was reading books far too advanced for most people my age when I was young. I freely will admit that in my first read of Gone with the Wind at age ten I didn’t know Rhett raped Scarlett the night of Ashley’s surprise birthday party–it wasn’t until a reread in my late teens where I thought oh, this isn’t right–let alone that she enjoyed being overpowered and forced. I also read The Godfather when I was ten, and there was no mistaking anything about Sonny Corleone and Lucy Mancini. He had a cock the size of a horse’s and her vagina was apparently the Lincoln Tunnel. (Although the she felt something burning pass between her thighs still mystifies me to this day.) I also read The Exorcist when I was ten and I was also very well aware of what was going on in the crucifix masturbation scene. As a kid, I was fascinated by these sex scenes (aka “the dirty parts”), and it wasn’t until I was older than I began to question the entire Sonny-Lucy thing (and why it was even in the book in the first place); and while the crucifix scene was gross, shocking and basically icky to me at ten–when I reread the book sometime in the past decade it seemed prurient, to be honest–used primarily for shock value and to get people to talk about it.

So, yes, I started reading books for adults when I was around ten. I also read Antonia Fraser’s Mary Queen of Scots and Robert K. Massie’s Nicholas and Alexandra that same year–I remember doing a book report on Mary Queen of Scots and my teacher not believing that I had read the thick volume; he started opening the book at random and asking me questions–which I was able to answer, so he grudgingly accepted the book report and gave me an A. (Teachers have doubted me all of my life; can’t imagine why I am insecure about my intelligence…)

Over the course of my teens I also read books by Harold Robbins, Sidney Sheldon, Jackie Collins, Jacqueline Susann and Gordon Merrick-every last one of them crammed to the gills with racy sex scenes. I was also reading Stephen King, Irving Wallace, Herman Wouk, Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen, Jean Plaidy, Victoria Holt, Phyllis A. Whitney and any number of authors who wrote for adult audiences not teens. Were there things in the books I didn’t understand? Sure there were. Were there things in those books that were probably inappropriate for teenagers? Undoubtedly. (I’ve also never forgotten the scene in Joyce Haber’s The Users where a Liza Minnelli-based character fucked herself with her own Oscar; some images are simply too vivid to forget methinks.)

This is one reason I shy away from calling some of my books with teenagers “young adult” novels. Megan Abbott’s Dare Me centered teenagers, but I would never consider Dare Me a young adult novel. I was thinking about this the other night while watching Sex Lives of College Girls (it’s hilarious, you really should be watching); can I authentically write about teenagers anymore? Have I ever been able to? I don’t speak their language anymore, and I haven’t been one in over forty years (!!!!); I don’t know the technology they use or their slang or what they watch or listen to. I don’t know what today’s teens think about virginity and sexuality these days; do the tired old tropes still exist? Does that whole “good girl/bad girl” dynamic still exist, or are today’s teenaged girls a bit more sophisticated than they were when I was in high school when it comes to sex and sexuality? (Contrasting two high school shows with queer content makes you wonder–there’s the jaded cynicism of the rich kids in Elite vs the wholesome purity and innocence and sweetness of Heartstopper, which also had me wondering–although I feel certain Heartstopper might be closer to reality than Elite…or that’s just my hope?) Of course I have other ideas for more books about young people–I have another in-progress one that’s been sitting around for a very long time that I need to repurpose–and I’d kind of like to write more at some point, but I don’t know. My suburban 70’s serial killer preying on teenaged boys book would be told from the perspective of a twelve year old, but it would definitely not be a young adult novel–but will probably be marketed and sold as one.

And on that note I am heading into the spice mines on my last day in the office for 2022. Check back in with you later, Constant Reader.

Carousel

As Constant Reader should know by now, while my entire identity and ego is wrapped up (probably too much) in being a writer, the truth is I have always been, currently am, and will always be, a reader first. I love to read, always have since I first learning what the little squiggles on the pages actually meant and learned how to decipher the little squiggles first into words, then into sentences, paragraphs and eventually entire stories. Reading was always my escape from a world too harsh for a little creative gay boy surrounded by people who didn’t read much nor cared much about books and so forth; sometimes the fantasy worlds I created in my head–always influenced by my reading–were safer and better places that I preferred to what, to me, was the horror of reality. I also learned a lot from my reading. I learned about other countries and cultures and groups; history and geography and other little odds and ends of information that remain lodged in my head and make me good at both Jeopardy! and Trivial Pursuit (case in point: I learned from Nancy Drew’s 44th adventure The Clue in the Crossword Cipher that the Incas’ language was quechua; I’ve never forgotten that, or that the Nasca Lines play a part in the book, and she and her friends also went to Machu Picchu).

Over the last few years I realized that my reading was primarily white and straight and decided to correct that; since then I have discovered the eye-opening marvel that is the talent of non-white authors and their remarkable story-telling ability. S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Mia P. Manansala, Alex Segura Jr, Raquel V. Reyes and many others have opened my eyes to other American experiences, and reading their work has also given me a broader and deeper understanding and appreciation of a different kind of American experience.

And then I read Gabino Iglesias’ 2022 release, The Devil Takes You Home.

Leukemia. That’s what the doctor said. She was young, white, and pretty. Her brown hair hung like a curtain over her left eye. She talked to us softly, using the tone most people use to explain things to a child, especially when they think the child is an idiot. Her mouth opened just enough to let the words flow out. She said our four-year-old daughter had cancer in her blood cells. Our Anita, who waited in the other room, playing with Legos and still wrapped in innocence. Acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Those strange words were said in a voice that was both impossibly sharp and velvety. Her soft delivery didn’t help. You can wrap a shotgun in flowers, but that doesn’t make the blast less lethal.

The young, white, pretty doctor told us it was too early to tell for sure, but there was a good chance that Anita was going to be okay. Okay, that’s the word she used. Sometimes four letters mean the world. She immediately added that she couldn’t make any promises. People fear being someone else’s hope. I understood her, but I wanted her to be our hope.

Jesus.

The opening of the book rips your heart out and rends your soul.

I am not a parent, never have been, never wanted to be, and never will be. I admire and respect parents (for the most part) because when I try to imagine what it’s like to be one, I can’t–it literally wears my brain down. I am a chronic worrier as it is; I get nervous when Paul doesn’t come home from work when he’s supposed to, or dawdles and delays and doesn’t text me. But for the most part, I know he’s an adult and functional and I believe he can, for the most part, navigate the world safely so I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about him.

I don’t think parents ever have a moment’s rest from the time the child is born until the child or the parents die–and I can imagine no greater grief than losing a beloved child.

Losing their child is how this book opens. And you just know in your heart of hearts–things aren’t going to get better any time soon for the father narrating this story. It isn’t a spoiler to let you know, Constant Reader, that by Chapter Three Anita is dead and her parents are swimming in debt and grief and drowning in it all. Before long, the marriage is over and Mario is alone with his grief and his debt and misery.

I don’t think I’ve ever read such a literate and powerful description of rock bottom in my life.

Mario turns back to crime in an attempt to make things right with the world and to somehow fill his horrible emptiness with something, anything. He starts off as a hitman, killing bad people and making money to pay down his debt and maybe, just maybe, somehow get his wife back and they can start over. Mario is desperate–and aren’t desperate characters the essense of noir at its purest distillation? He is then recruited to help liberate some cash from a cartel on its way to Mexico. Success means a cool two hundred grand and the potential to start over. Failure means a bullet in the head.

Both are better options than the life Mario is living at the time.

The pacing is breakneck and the story itself is a trainwreck you can’t look away from; you can’t help rooting for Mario, flaws and all, because the suffering is so intense you want him to find, somehow, both redemption and peace. (The book also serves as a stinging indictment of poverty in this country, and the near-impossibility of bettering yourself while drowning in the debt incurred for the possibility of bettering yourself, as well as our fraudulent health care system. Parents shouldn’t be saddled with insurmountable debt for trying to keep their child alive and especially not when the child passes.)

There are also some fascinating elements of the paranormal/supernatural mixed into the story, too–but while this might throw a typical noir off-track, it works here to heighten the sense of madness and unreality the entire book invokes. The true horror of the book is the system, designed to keep people of color down and to keep the cycle of poverty going.

Here are just a few of the gems in the prose:

The middle of nowhere is remarkably consistent in terms of being unmemorable.

The d├ęcor was a mix of a failed attempt at hill-country chic circa 1970 and neon signs for the kinds of beers folks buy at gas station convenience stores on their way to somewhere they wish they could escape.

The Devil Takes You Home is raw, fresh and original, with the kind of crisp smart literate writing that speaks of Lisa Lutz, Megan Abbott, and Jim Thompson.

I marked any number of pages for these writing gems that both awed and inspired me (to do better with my own work).

I highly recommend the book–but be warned: there is violence and gore aplenty, but it all works because it’s not there for shock value.

If Anyone Falls

I absolutely loved the tag line for the marvelous television adaptation of Megan Abbott’s equally brilliant novel Dare Me: “There’s something dangerous about the boredom of teenaged girls.” It’s also incredibly accurate; our teen years often impact and influence who we become and can color the rest of our lives. I loved Dare Me; it was lyrically, hauntingly written, and the story it told, while actually pretty simple, showed how the intricacies of relationships between young girls and authority figures who aren’t much older than they are, can become so complicated and complex; layers of love intermingling with hate and jealousy, the power dynamic shifting and changing as the characters themselves shift, change, and grow from their experiences.

I write, sometimes, books where the main characters are young–teenagers, either in high school or college or having just completed college–and those books are often labeled and marketed as “young adult” fiction, even though I generally just consider them novels about young people. I mean, technically novels about young people are young adult novels, and yet while I am resigned to this marketing label I am never certain if my books truly qualify or not. Perhaps that’s some kind of internalized arrogance and a sense of subconscious superiority to what I consider something lesser; it’s definitely something I should unpack at some point. But I think it is also an interesting starting point for one of my endless essay ideas, and perhaps someday–when I am less scattered, less all-over-the-place mentally and creatively–I’ll be able to sit down and write all those essays I want to write.

Which brings me to John Copenhaver’s second novel, The Savage Kind, which I just finished reading yesterday.

If I tell you the truth about Judy and Philippa, I’m going to lie. Not because I want to, but because to tell the story right, I have to. As girls, they were avid documentarians, each armed with journals and buckets of pens, convinced that future generations would pour over their words. Everything they did was a performance. Everything they wrote assumed an audience. After all, autobiographers are self-serving, aggrandizing. Memoirists embellish. It’s unavoidable. To write down your memories is an act of invention, to arrange them in the best, most compelling order, a bold gesture. Some of the diary entries that follow are verbatim, lifted directly from the source, but others are enhanced and reshaped. I reserve my right to shade in the empty spaces, to color between the lines, to lie.

You may balk, dear reader, but I don’t care. I need to get this right.

I could take different approaches. I could contrast the teenage girls: the black hat and the white, the harpy and the angel, the cunning vamp and the doe-eyed boob. Or I could draw them together, a single unit: Lucy and Ethel, Antony and Cleopatra, Gertrude and Alice, Holmes and Watson, or even, I dare say, Leopold and Loeb. But neither of those angles would work. The complicated facts are inescapable. These girls are both separate and together, but many times, they followed their own paths and even crossed one another. Things are never that simple, never that black and white, that good or evil, or that true or false. I’m not writing this to assign blame, or to ask forgiveness, or to tie it up in a bow for posterity. It’s not that kind of book.After all, an act of violence committed by one may have originated in the heart of the other. That’s to say, this is a story about sisters, and like many of those dusty and gruesome stories from ancient literature, here sisterhood is sealed in blood.

I should know. I was one of them.

Great opening, right?

John’s debut Dodging and Burning won the Macavity Award*, and was quite the impressive debut. II was completely blown away by the book myself–it showed a maturity and sophistication in theme, writing, and characters that one rarely sees in a debut novel. One of the things I thought was very interesting about the book was that while it did focus on a gay story, the main voices in the book were young straight women; I thought that was a risky thing to try to pull off, but he did a really excellent job.

As good as Dodging and Burning was, I wasn’t prepared for how good The Savage Kind would be.

The heart of the book is the friendship/relationship between two damaged young women in the post-war afterglow of the late 1940’s in Washington DC. (Both of John’s novels are set in the post-war period, when the world was trying to go ‘back to normal’ after the massive paradigm alteration of a global war that left most of Europe and significant parts of Asia in ruins; tens of millions dead, billions in property damage, and the world needed to rebuild from the rubble–and normal was also being redefined; the paradigm shift caused by the war made going back to “the way things used to be” practically impossible–which makes it a very interesting time to write about.) Philippa’s mother died giving birth to her and she has a slightly adversarial relationship with her stepmother, Bonnie. Judy was raised in an orphanage and adopted by a wealthy couple who had lost a daughter in a particularly brutal way–Judy was adopted to replaced their raped and murdered daughter, but her adoptive parents are still too scarred and damaged from the lost of their own child to raise and love another, and this history also colors Judy’s personality and who she is. The two girls find each other and become very close friends; so close that their love for each other might go even deeper than the Platonic ideal of friendship–their teenaged hormones raging out of control, are romantic/sexual feelings also developing between the two of them?

They are also playing girl detectives, trying to get to the bottom of a mystery that they don’t know has anything to do with them beyond the idle curiosity (and their dangerous boredom) but as they look further into the mystery revolving around a classmate, a favorite teacher, and that classmate’s family–as well as their own–they become more and more deeply enmeshed in danger and cling even tighter to each other.

As if that juggling act isn’t tough enough, Copenhaver makes all of these characters realized, fully developed and realistic in their emotions, their feelings, and their reactions. He also tells the story in alternating points of view between the two girls while they are experiencing the events, as well as a narrator voice from the future, telling the story in retrospect as well as talking directly to the reader. This is hard to pull off, particularly the omniscient future narrator–the last time I saw this used so effectvely and memorably was in Thomas Tryon’s The Other (at least, this is the book that popped into my head as I was reading, and it’s a favorite of mine).

The Savage Kind was nominated for a Lefty Award, and it very deservedly won the Lambda for Best Mystery recently. I highly recommend it!

*I may be wrong here, but I think he might be the first openly gay author of a book with gay characters and themes to win the Macavity Award; I know I was nominated once for a short story–but my characters and themes weren’t queer.

Wild Heart

I can’t remember where or when I had this conversation, but I do remember once asking Megan Abbott that “is there anything more noir than the suburbs?” I know it had to do with her brilliant novel The End of Everything, but I don’t remember if it was a bar conversation or if we were on a panel or what. I spent four and a half years living in an actual suburb when I was growing up–grades six through sophomore in high school–and while my family has always been loners (not getting involved in neighborhood groups, barely knowing the neighbors, keeping mostly to ourselves), so we didn’t get the full experience of the cattiness, the bitchiness, or the “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that are such a rich mine for crime fiction.

On the other hand, we really couldn’t keep up with the Joneses. In our suburb, we were on the lower end of the economic scale than most of the kids my sister and I went to school with, and the longer we lived there, the higher that economic scale continued to go. And there was a lot of strangeness in our suburb–I really do need to write Where the Boys Die and You’re No Good, the two books based on the suburb in which we lived–murders and drugs and undoubtedly affairs and so forth. A famous wife-killer was from our suburb, Drew Peterson. When I was a freshman in high school a junior boy and his girlfriend–a senior–murdered someone over drugs.

And that doesn’t take into consideration all the crimes that were probably going on at the time that no one thought anything about–date rapes and sexual assaults, child abuse, etc.–because nobody talked about them (I found out, for example, that one of my classmates–someone I knew and liked an awful lot–was being sexually and emotionally abused by her father; I never knew until about twenty years later).

Yikes.

Tara Laskowski’s second novel (and Anthony Award finalist!) The Mother Next Door is more evidence that I was right about suburbs being a dark place.

The moms were having a party. I watched from across the street, through my living room window, as aI ate my dinner of chicken piccata on the couch, sipping a hefty glass of merlot.

At dusk, they arrived one by one from the houses around the cul-de-sac, the glow of their phones like fireflies in the dying light. Dressed stylish but casual, ponytails and makeup, jeans and heels.

Viciously, effortlessly powerful.

The blonde mom was hosting. The one I’d noticed walking an oversize dog around the cul-de-sac, cell phone to her ear. She seemed to know everyone, always paused by one porch or another while her dog sniffed in the grass. Yes, my new neighbors were social butterflies. I observed their fluttering hugs as they converged in front of the house. My view inside was limited–a hallway beyond the screen door, painted red, like the inside of a mouth, and at the end, the corner of a giant island in the center of the kitchen where I imagined they set their Tupperware trays and booze.

The Mother Next Door is set in a toney, elite suburb of the Washington DC metro area known as Ivy Woods. Our primary point-of-view character, Theresa, has just moved into a lovely cul-de-sac with her daughter and her husband of a year, who has been hired as principal at Woodard High School–a very top level school, which makes Theresa an appealing target for friendship by the highly competitive moms at the school. Theresa went to college locally, and is now returning, using her connection to one of her professors–they had an affair when she was a student–whose father is school superintendent, to land her husband his job. Theresa has a secret–as do the other four moms who live around the same cul-de-sac–known as the Ivy Five (although there were only four until Theresa moved in and became one of them). Theresa trying to negotiate this strange new world for herself–as well as keeping her secrets, always afraid someone else in the group is going to stumble over one of them.

But the other moms also are hiding a terrible secret–one alluded to in emails and private messages from a mysterious account called “Ivy Woods”–making threats to expose them all and “what they did.” Halloween is approaching, and the Ivy Five are very well known for their massive Halloween block party…so as they try to figure out costumes and decorations, they are also trying to figure out who they can trust, who they can’t, and who could possibly know all their secrets. Our other point of view character is Kendra, the alpha of the group (think Madeline from Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which this reminded me of a lot), with her great job, her ruthless efficiency, and her mad organizing skills.

There’s also an urban legend about the woods behind their houses–Ghost Girl, who fell to her death from a bridge over a railroad track and who now haunts the woods at Halloween, the night she died.

It’s quite the concoction Laskowski has pulled off here, and the way she manages to humanize all of her characters–despite their weaknesses and their really (in some cases) deep flaws–makes the reader engage with and care about them, and the deeper you get into the book, the harder it is to put it down for even just a moment to get something to drink or to go to the bathroom.

Highly recommended.