Sweet Mary

Preparing for a workshop on writing sex scenes is not as easy as one might think. And of course, I have to do it today since the workshop is tomorrow morning, but I am going to have to do it around appointments and driving all over the metropolitan area of the city and it looks like we’re going to be having a shitty weather day on top of it all. Huzzah. I did sleep in this morning–I suspect my Fitbit, which I am not so sure I trust anymore is going to tell me that I didn’t sleep well (oh, there was some thunder!) and in just now checking the weather I see we are going to be having thunderstorms during the entire time I will be out dashing around the city. Huzzah.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Last night after Paul and I got home, I finished (I’d started the night before while I was waiting for Paul to come home) watching the first episode of The Real World New Orleans: Homecoming, or whatever it’s called. We used to watch The Real World religiously; I think we stopped watching during the Austin season, and never went back. But we were very excited back in the day when the New Orleans show was announced, and of course, even in those pre-Internet days stories about the cast and the filming used to break in the newspaper. They also were living in the Belfort mansion, which isn’t far from where we lived then (and now), but in the years since it’s turned into a boutique hotel. (The owner–mentioned but not by name–used to work out at my gym.) I am not sure where the house they are living in for this taping is, but I think it’s on Esplanade Avenue; I don’t recognize it from the exteriors. I never really had put a lot of thought into the shows before it filmed here–but once it started, I started to understand that “reality television” wasn’t really reality. They weren’t on camera 24/7, like the show claimed, and they also set up shots and maybe there wasn’t a script, per se, but it wasn’t “real”–we used to see the cast walking around the neighborhood, followed by a film crew that wasn’t filming them. They also filmed in places we knew; Danny the gay one worked as a bartender in one of the gay bars (I want to say Oz? I could be wrong, it’s been over twenty-odd years), and of course we used to see them and the signs on the doors of businesses announcing that the show would be filming there, the time they would be filming, and being present inside during those times meant consent to being filmed unless you advised the crew otherwise (those people who are pixilated out in background scenes didn’t give consent). The “job” the cast did while here was to produce a talk-type television show on local public access which began airing while they were still filming; Paul and I actually caught it by mistake flipping through the channels, and as we watched it, we both said, “Oh, this isn’t going to go over well here”–they were being hypercritical of the city, and yes, as you can imagine, it didn’t go over well. Places began denying them the right to film there, they were criticized everywhere–from all the local newspapers to all the local media–and they eventually had to apologize in order to get places to let them film. (I actually kind of felt sorry for them–they were kids, for Christ’s sake.) The reunion show is weird to watch–again, they were going to places I recognized (the drag show was at the Bourbon Parade, the dance club above the Pub), but it’s also weird to see how they look now, who they’ve become, and hear their stories about the impact being on the show had on their lives.

Then Paul came back downstairs and we watched the first two episodes of the new Queer as Folk, which was filmed here and is also set here. New Orleans is a beautiful city, and that’s one thing the producers and editors decided to play off; the show is beautifully filmed, and they made sure they showed off the city’s beauty at every opportunity they had. It was kind of choppy at the start–uneven, but first episodes when you’re launching a new series often are; it is the rare show that pulls off the first episode perfectly, especially when there’s a large ensemble cast. I love the cast, by the way; it’s mixed and diverse and displays a broad spectrum of the community, as opposed to the original (with its focus on white cisgender men, with the token lesbian couple thrown in just for fun). Paul and I watched the original primarily to be supportive; we knew it was a groundbreaking show and we needed to support it so networks would see there was value in queer programming, but neither of us were really fans of the show itself. It was very earnest, very ABC Afterschool Special and preachy when it came to important topics; and then would veer off into the ridiculous. For me, it was this weird mix of a Very Special Episode and silliness, and it is virtually impossible to do both. Daytime soaps make it look easy, but it’s not that easy to do–we always kept saying, “they need to either decide if they want to be a serious drama or gay Melrose Place” (obviously, we were hoping they’d go the Melrose Place route), but it seems like this reboot–despite the shaky opening–is off to a good start. We will continue watching, and hoping for the best (my supervisor at my day job filmed with the show; he does drag as Debbie with a “D”–his outfits and lewks are fucking amazing, so I am also hoping to see Debbie on the show)–and as Paul said, (and is why I’ll keep watching that awful Homecoming show) “at the very least, the city looks beautiful.” Babylon, the queer bar in the show, was actually in the neighborhood of my old office; it sits on the corner of Frenchmen Street and Chartres, and that neighborhood you see in the show isn’t the Quarter but the Marigny (I miss my old office on Frenchmen Street). We will probably continue watching it tonight, and I am kind of oddly looking forward to it. I am definitely here for all the queer rep on television lately, even as the trash continues to come for us and our rights.

Yes, I said trash, even though the word hardly expresses my deep, abiding, and utter contempt for those who hate me and my community and wish us dead.

And there’s the rain.

AND the obligatory flash flood warning came right after it started, of course.

Heavy sigh.

I did work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday some; it’s now about twenty-four thousand words, for those who are keeping track. I am really liking the story and I am really enjoying working on it, for those who were wondering. It’s nice to be writing again and enjoying it–it’s been weird this past year how that has gone; but I’ve also come to recognize that I have had periods of my life where I was going through depression and didn’t realize its extent until it had passed. I feel like I’ve been experiencing at the very least low-key depression since March 2020–the kind where I am tired all the time, not sleeping well, and even when I look back at that period, I’ve either forgotten everything and what I actually can remember…it’s through a bit of fog, with darkness around the edges…and I’ve not really been enjoying writing since March 2020, if I’m going to be honest. I am enjoying it again–good thing, since it’s compulsive for me and I always will do it, regardless of how I feel about it–but my writing has always been a source of joy for me, and having that not be the case has been very unpleasant. I’ve really not been finding much joy in anything since March 2020, but I also feel like I’ve kind of turned a corner, somehow–my brain snapped or something and it snapped back into the place where it should have been all along.

And on that note, best get ready to head out to Metairie in a thunderstorm in flash flood conditions. Woo-hoo!

Talk to you tomorrow, Constant Reader.

Merry Christmas Darling

Yesterday the box o’books for #shedeservedit arrived; which was an extraordinarily pleasant surprise on an otherwise wretched day (I won’t bother you with the details of why it was wretched, simply take my word for it). The arrival of the finished books is always a delightful experience, even if it means having to find a place to keep them (the Lost Apartment is running out of space very quickly), so for now they are stacked up on the kitchen counter; I’ll worry about finding a space for them at some point this week when I am more awake and not, well, not feeling as defeated as I am this morning. It’s nothing really, just more of a sense of how much there is to do and it seems as though every day more pressure is building up on me to get things done and more things seem to get added to the to-do list exponentially faster than I am able to get things crossed off.

I did, however, have a lovely, if brief, time with the manuscript yesterday. It’s finally coming together, and my character’s voice is coming through at long last–a little too late if you ask me, but better late than never–which means I am hopeful that the the rest of the book is going to flow much easier and faster. My shoulder still is sore this morning, so a return to the gym tonight is doubtful; I am not going to allow myself to get stressed about that because well–I need to let the muscle heal before trying to get a new rhythm going again, and why keep straining it before I let it heal? My workouts won’t be very productive until such time as the muscle can handle them anyway, and it is what it is, right? I also have to ignore that snide voice in my head telling me that I am again making excuses not to go to the gym, because I do want to go. I’ve finally broken through that mental block I’ve had for so long where I don’t want to go at all; ironic that a strained muscle is slowing down the momentum.

It’s also hard to believe that Christmas is practically upon us; next week I have a short work week as a direct result of the holidays, and again the following week. I am not terribly sorry to see 2021 come to an end, in all honesty; it was another dreadful year, with absolutely no guarantee that 2022 will be any better, quite frankly. Years are arbitrary things anyway; my usual questioning of why everyone gets so excited about New Year’s Eve and so forth when it’s simply a relatively arbitrarily fixed date (why not start the new year on February 1? March 15th? etc etc etc), although there probably is a reason that I’ve simply never bothered to research or look up. There is, as always, a sense of time slipping through my fingers; that one day I’ll wake up and my book is due and I am nowhere near ready to turn it in (that is my version of the nightmare of showing up to school unprepared for a test one has forgotten about), but I think I can buckle down and push through it–especially now that I have found my character’s voice. I think the problem was before that I was trying to not write her to be snarky–one of the complaints about Paige was she was too bitchy, when I feebly tried to spin her off into her own series–but the reality is she just needed a bit of softening. Paige kind of was a bitch, by design; Valerie, my new character, can be snarky but she’s also needs to be kind as well, and that was the balance I needed to find.

And now, I think I’ve at last found it.

Eureka!

We are still working our way through the original Gossip Girl, and still enjoying it. It’s delightfully bonkers, really, in that crazy, over the top Melrose Place campy way Paul and I like. It’s eminently sweeter than Melrose Place, though, and never completely goes completely insane the way Melrose did; they don’t have, for example, a regular psycho character like Kimberly, but they have some who will show up for a short arc before disappearing again–Agnes the skank model and Georgina the seriously unbalanced heiress, for example; the episode last night saw Agnes’ return, for example, and here’s hoping that was simply a single episode arc, because she’s so awful and dislikable I really don’t want to see her on the screen again–but it’s also interesting to see that the original villains in the cast, Blair and Chuck, are really the only characters who’ve exhibited any growth or real development as characters–and they are much more interesting than the “good” characters (Dan and Serena) that the audience is supposed to be rooting for. I mean, none of them ever make good choices, but at least the villains have developed into much more interesting and more richly developed characters than the one-note terrible people they were originally written to be.

And no, I didn’t get a chance to finish A Caribbean Mystery last night. When I got home I put away the dishes in the dishwasher and did another load (they’ll be waiting for me when I get home tonight, and I’ll probably have to do another load of laundry as well)–the endless toil and strife of the American housewife, trying to have it all–but tonight I am definitely going to spend some time reading after I finish doing my writing.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a fabulously lovely day, Constant Reader.

People on the High Line

Several years ago–I have no concept of how long ago; time and its passing literally have no meaning to me anymore–I started what I called “the Short Story Project.” I wanted to become a better short story writer; it’s a form I’ve always struggled with, and it always seemed to my hypercritical self that whenever I was successful in writing a short story, it was more of an accident than anything I had planned when I embarked on writing the story. I’ve also become a little bit easier on myself on that score–sometimes, not every idea will work as a short story, and writing isn’t something that can ever be forced without it showing to the reader–and I did have a wonderful period of productivity with short stories after setting course for the Project–which not only entailed writing them but reading as many of them as I could. After all, what better way to improve my own short story writing skills than by reading good stories? I have, over the years, collected any number of single-author collections as well as anthologies, and yet, with few notable exceptions prior to the start of the Project, had rarely ever cracked their spines. Lately, as I have struggled with time and focus while I’ve been working on this revision of the Kansas book (aka #shedeservedit) I find myself unable to focus much on reading novels; my mind inevitably wanders, or I will set it down and not get back to it for days. So, this morning I decided, before getting in my work on the book for the day, to read some short stories over my coffee this morning, and I wound up reading four of them; all of them marvelous in their own unique, distinctive ways. The stories I read this morning were, in order: “Better Days’ by Art Taylor, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Mischief in Mesopotamia” by Dana Cameron, also from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine; “Hop-frog” by Edgar Allan Poe; and finally, “To Build a Fire” by Jack London.

Maybe I wasn’t the only one on our stretch of the North Carolina coast who picked up the Washington Post on a regular basis, but I doubt anyone else it like I did–scanning the bylines, measuring the thickness of the paper and the heft of it, stifling the envy.

So begins Art Taylor’s “Better Days’, which won the Macavity Award for Best Short Story and was a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony Awards. Art is one of crime’s best short story writers (and one of my favorite people), and it’s easy to see why he has won every award under the sun for crime short stories. Art’s stories are always tightly written, with characters so real and honest and human that you can’t help but care about them, as well as having a bit of an edge to them. He manages to capture the resigned despair someone whose career path didn’t quite go the way he wanted perfectly; the former Washington Post journalist downsized and back in coastal North Carolina, working for the local paper while still thinking about his past with an uneasy regret. The story focuses on a love triangle between the main character, the local bar owner he’s been seeing, and a newly arrived tourist on a yacht with money to burn. This story tightly plotted, flows perfectly, and the characters are people I wouldn’t mind spending some more time with. In some ways it kind of reminded me of John D. Macdonald; maybe it’s the sea and boats and so forth that put me in mind of Travis McGee. Highly recommended.

I sat across from a row of decapitated kings, gods, and heroes waiting for them to speak to me. I didn’t know a word of their language, and they’d been dead–their monuments erected, sanctified, and decaying–long before anyone speaking my language was born. Still, I waited, if not as patiently as they did.

That’s the opening paragraph of Dana Cameron’s “Mischief in Mesopotamia,” originally published in the November 2012 issue of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, and it went on to win both the Agatha and Anthony awards for Best Short Story the following year. (I initially met Dana the weekend she won the Agatha; she’s been a constant source of joy for me ever since.) The story features her series character Emma Fielding, and reading the story is my first encounter with her–and now I am going to have to go back and read the entire series of novels with Emma (you may also know her from the television films made from some of the books in the series, with Melrose Place alumnus Courtney Thorne-Smith playing Emma). Set on a tour of museums and archaeological sites in southeast Turkey, Emma and her group happen to be on-site when a museum robbery occurs–and Emma solves the crime through her keen observations of her fellow tour group members. The voice is delightful, as is Emma–there’s a hint of my fiction goddess Amelia Peabody about her–and the story is enormously satisfying.

I never knew anyone so keenly alive to a joke as the King was. He seemed to live only for joking. To tell a good story of the joke kin, and to tell it well, was the surest road to his favor. Thus it happened that his seven ministers were all noted for their accomplishments as jokers. They all took after the king, too, in being large, corpulent, oily men, as well as inimitable jokers. Whether people from fat by joking, or whether there is something in fat itself which predisposes to a joke, I have never been quite able to determine; but certain it is that a lean doer us a rare Avis in terris.

Yes, that first paragraph made me squirm a bit as I started reading Edgar Allan Poe’s “Hop-frog,” which I suppose can be held up as an example of how things don’t age well (the notion that overweight people are jolly, as evidenced here). The story itself, which is about a court jester who is also a little person (“dwarf”) and crippled at a royal court, mocked and laughed at and the butt of the jokes of the King and his advisors, along with another female who is also there for their entertainment–whom Hop-frog appears to love, eventually reaches his own breaking point when they mock him one time too many and when the female begs them to stop, the King throws wine in her face and humiliates her. There is a costume ball coming up, and Hop-frog chooses this for his revenge, convincing them all to dress up as “ourang-outangs”, which will require covering themselves with tar and pitch and fake fur….and they waltz right into his punishment, as they are set aflame and are burned alive. This is based in actual history–Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror details the “the dance of the burning fools,” where King Charles VI of France and some of his buddies costumed themselves in such a manner with the same outcome–some of them caught fire and were burned to death, although the King was not one of the victims. When I was rereading that book in the early pandemic days, I came across this true story and thought it might make for an interesting short story; doing further research, I discovered that Poe had written a story based on this actual event, and bookmarked it to read later. As with everything classic, my education in Poe is limited; but all the earmarks of a Poe’s story’s justice are here: justice is meted out to the foolish king and his cruel advisers…but it’s not one of his better efforts, which is why, undoubtedly, it’s not as well known.

Day had dawned cold and gray when the man turned aside from the main Yukon trail. He climbed the high earth-bank where a little-traveled trail led east through the pine forest. It was a high ban, and he paused to breathe at the top. He excused the act to himself by looking at his watch. It was nine o’clock in the morning. There was no sun or promise of sun, although there was not a cloud in the sky. It was a clear day. However, there seemed to be an indescribable darkness over the face of things. That was because the sun was absent from the sky. This fact did not worry the man. He was not alarmed by the lack of sun. It had been days since he had seen the sun.

I originally read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” in high school. It was assigned for us to read when we were studying short stories and fiction; it was assigned as an example of the theme “man v. nature.” I’ve never forgotten the story–I loathe the cold, as Constant Reader is aware, and London does an amazing job of getting that frigid climate across to the reader. The man is never given a name–his name doesn’t matter–and neither does the wolf-dog by his side have a name; their names don’t matter. This story is about human hubris–he isn’t worried about the cold, despite being warned about it, and he wants to get back to his camp. His job was to go upstream and see if its possible for logs to be floated downstream when the temperature is warmer and the waters of streams and rivers and creeks not frozen solid. His mission accomplished, he is heading back to his actual camp, with some food stored under his shirt next to his body and a pack of matches in case he needs to start a fire. The dread in this story builds slowly and smoothly as he begins to suspect he made an error in not respecting the cold for its ability to kill him; occasionally London goes into the perspective of the animal who is also beginning to sense the man–food and fire provider, nothing more–is out of his depth. Eventually he succumbs to the cold, after a series of misadventures that come about because he isn’t paying enough attention and is careless. Whether that is because the cold has affected his ability to think and reason clearly is never part of the story or his own consideration. Even now, after all these years, the story has the ability to make me wince and shiver and think yikes, there’s no fucking way I’d ever go outside when it was 75 degrees below zero, let alone make a trip of many miles through wilderness on foot.

And on that note, now I am finished with my morning and its back to the spice mines with me,

I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry

And so we go into self-isolation, of a sort.

Yesterday was not a good day, Constant Reader, I’m not going to lie to you about it. I got up early and went to the office, only to stay for only about four hours or so before departing to run some errands and come home. There’s a surreal feeling about everything. I was reminded of 9/11; after watching the news non-stop for hours and sending emails to friends and calling people and trying to get through, I ran some errands just to get out of the house and I remember, to this day, how eerie it felt. There weren’t any people out and about; not many, at any rate, and it was such a beautiful September afternoon. Everything seemed subdued. That’s how it felt yesterday driving to the post office. I stopped at Wal-mart as well to get a few things, and like Rouse’s on Saturday, so much empty shelving.

And of course, Mystery Writers of America had to cancel the Edgar banquet yesterday.

Cases in Louisiana continue to rise, and we had our fourth death overnight. It’s so weird, because the weather is so beautiful outside and even the construction site two lots over from the Lost Apartment is proceeding apace–I can hear them working on the building while I drink my morning coffee. I am going into the office today, once I get cleaned up and get going on my day–I have data entry work to do, and there’s other work that can be done while we aren’t seeing clients. It’s going to be very weird being in the office mostly by myself, but I am going to wear gloves and a mask to prevent contaminating any surfaces, and of course I’ll be washing my hands and face fairly regularly. There’s a lot of work to be done that we generally don’t get around to doing because we are so busy seeing clients, so I am going to try to get to work on those things over the next few days (or weeks) until we have the clearance to open and start up our programs again. I suspect we are also going to see a spike in STI’s in the upcoming months–gay men are still going to be horny and bored, and if the HIV risk didn’t stop people from having unprotected sex, I seriously doubt that this infection risk is going to stop anyone, either. But at this point I have no idea when we will be able to re-open and get back to work.

We streamed some more episodes of Toy Boy last night, and I have to tell you, Constant Reader, watch this show. If you loved night-time soaps, especially in the 1980’s, and Melrose Place and Desperate Housewives, you’re going to love this show. Good campy melodrama, and all the stripper boys are pretty to look at. The true star of the show, though, is the actress playing Macarena (seriously) Medina. She’s magnificent, steals every scene she is in, and is just fantastic. She’s the Alexis Morell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan of this show, and she is absolutely amazing. There’s also a gay character and story-line on the show–young Jairo the stripper, who’s also mute, is gay and works as a hustler in addition to his stripping, and he’s sort of fallen into a relationship with Macarena’s emotionally damaged son. There’s drug cartels and murders and backstabbing and corporate espionage and–seriously, it’s amazing.

I’ve not written anything in days, and the deadlines loom, so I am going to have to get into the writing headspace soon or else I’ll never get anything finished the way I should.

And on that note, I am going to get ready to head into the office now. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and stay safe.

augFabian-Thorson6

Be Tender With My Love

Saturday morning, and how is your weekend so far, Constant Reader? Mine is going just fine, thank you for asking–you’re always so thoughtful.

I woke up early this morning–I’d just planned on sleeping until I woke up, and boom! There I was wide awake at seven thirty this morning, so I just rolled with it and got out of bed and decided to start the day.  Yesterday afternoon was kind of lovely; as I said yesterday I spent the afternoon backing up devices, cleaning, doing the laundry, that sort of thing, while trying to cleanse my mind and prepare myself for the next chapter of the WIP. There’s also still some cleaning and straightening up to do, and later I have to go pick up a book at Garden District and my prescriptions from CVS. After that I intend to come home and read or write or clean for the rest of the day.

I started watching Good Omens last night, and rather enjoyed it. Paul didn’t care for it, so it’s something I’ll have to watch on my own, and then we watched another episode of Killing Eve, which has gone into a whole new level. I daresay this second season is even better than the first? The primary thing I love about this show is it constantly surprises me; I never have the slightest clue which direction the story is going to go next, which I absolutely love. There’s nothing better than a completely unpredictable show, you know? This is why I loved Game of Thrones and Dead to Me so much; why I continue to enjoy How to Get Away with Murder, which no longer even makes any logical sense, but is just a wonderfully over-the-top campy soap opera now. (I am also aware that a lot of people have stopped watching Murder for that very reason; but I’ve always enjoyed soaps so I don’t have a problem with it–I also remember that Melrose Place became a lot more fun once it stopped trying to be realistic and went full-on over-the-top)

I also want to work on a couple of proposals this weekend, and I’d love to send some more of my short stories out into the world. I have a couple that I think might be ready to go out; but it’s difficult, as I’ve said before, since my short stories tend to be crime stories that aren’t necessarily mysteries. Writing a mystery short story is incredibly difficult, of course; I’ve tried it a few times and I’m not certain I had any success with it. But I do think there may be some stories I have on hand that might be ready to be sent out into the world, and the worst thing that could happen would be they say no, right? And no doesn’t mean I suck, of course, it just means the story wasn’t right for that particular medium.

It’s also Pride Month, today being the first day of it, and lately I’ve been seeing (and sharing some of the) posts about the history of Pride, or “pictures from this city’s pride in this year” and one of the things that strikes me as I look at photos from pride celebrations in the 70’s or 80’s or 90’s is how overwhelmingly white and male the pictures are; which is kind of a sobering thought. Where are the gays of color, where are the lesbians, where are the transpeople? One of the problems we have as a community is that we are a microcosm of the society at large; so the queer community comes with its own racial/misogynist baggage carried over from the bigger society. And while progress has been made in the right direction within our community, we do still have a long way to go.

I often doubt, as I am wont to do about anything to do with me being a writer, my ability to tell stories about race, misogyny, and homophobia well; without being preachy, without being over the top, without making out those who believe in those things cardboard cutout villains with no redeeming qualities. Can a racist or a sexist or a homophobe have any good qualities? And therein lies the rub. No matter how much of a good person someone with any of all of those qualities might be, I don’t think their good qualities can outweigh the bad ones, quite frankly. “I’m glad you rescue dogs. Unfortunately, your commitment to the belief that (fill in the blank) are secondary citizens not entitled to full and equal protection under the law negates the good you do.”

Ava DuVarnay’s seminal mini-series about the Central Park 5, When They See Us, has been released and is apparently wrenching. I know I need to watch it, but I am resistant to it because I know it’s going to expose some horrific things, and from everything I’ve seen or heard it is a wrenching experience. But I do think it’s important, and not watching would serve to only make me even more complicit in systemic racism; I consider this to be yet another step in my ongoing re-education on the subject of race in America.

I’m also hearing good things about Chernobyl, which Paul also doesn’t want to watch.

And now back to the spice mines.

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