Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

Go West

Good morning, Thursday; just today and tomorrow before we slide into another delightful three day weekend. Memorial Day! Huzzah! I am always about another day off from the day job–which I completely understand that it sounds like I don’t like my day job, which couldn’t be further from the truth. I just enjoy not having to go to work more than I enjoy going to work; I’m not sure how everyone else comes down on that category, but I’d be more than willing to bet that most people prefer their days off to their days on.

I could be wrong, but I rather doubt it.

Anyway, here I am at the crack of dawn swilling down coffee and trying to get more awake and alert. I am looking at a long day of screening at both buildings (Marine in the morning, Elysian Fields in the afternoon) and right now it seems like its about a million years staring into my face. But I will persevere, and deal with the heavy traffic on the way home just after five. Tomorrow is the Friday of a long weekend, which is absolutely lovely, and my ink cartridge was delivered yesterday so I can pick it up on my way into the office tomorrow and actually start printing shit I need to print again this weekend. Yesterday was a relatively good day, despite being tired–that tired lasted again, like the day before, pretty much all day–but I managed to get my errands accomplished after work and got some organizing and straightening done in the kitchen/office area; always a plus. Paul was a little late getting home last night, but we watched an episode of The Great and then I started streaming The Story of Soaps, an ABC show about the history of the soaps–just to see if it was any good–and it was quite enjoyable; I’ll look forward to watching the rest of it this evening. I watched soaps from the time I was a kid–our babysitter in the summer watched General Hospital, One Life to Live, and Dark Shadows, which is how I got started watching them, and over the years I remained pretty (fairly) loyal to General Hospital and One Life to Live. The summer we moved to Kansas, until we got cable we only got the CBS affiliate from Kansas City, so my mom and I ended up watching the CBS shows–from The Young and the Restless through Search for Tomorrow, As the World Turns, Guiding Light, and The Edge of Night. After cable, we watched General Hospital–it was the late 1970’s by then, and everyone was watching General Hospital by that point.

It’s interesting, in some ways, that our moves–my moves–gradually went west. The suburb we moved to when we left the south side of Chicago was west; from there to Kansas, and from there to California. I started heading more and more east from California, to Houston and then to Tampa, before going north to Minneapolis and coming back south to New Orleans. I never thought about it too much, really; but it’s interesting how I’ve moved around the country and the strange pattern to it. Of course, we’ve been in New Orleans since 1996 (barring that year in Washington), and since I’ve lived here longer than I have anywhere else, I tend to think of New Orleans as home more than I’ve ever thought of the places I’ve lived previously. Granted, had we never left Chicago, I probably would think of Chicago as home, but I’ve literally only been back to Chicago maybe twice, possibly three times, since departing the area in 1975. I’ve never been back to Kansas, and I’ve been to Houston many times since I moved to Tampa–but only twice to Tampa since leaving there (I’ve actually been to Orlando quite a bit; I’d say I’ve visited Orlando more than anywhere other than Houston over the last twenty-odd years).

I tend to not write about Florida, for the most part; while I’ve written about a fictional city in California based on Fresno in the Frat Boy books (the third was set in a different fictional California city, San Felice, based on Santa Barbara), and I’ve written about the panhandle of Florida, I’ve never really based anything on, or written about, the real Tampa or a city based on it (I do have ideas for some stories set in “Bay City”); I’ve not really written about Houston, either. My fiction has always primarily been set in New Orleans, with a few books scattered about other places (Alabama, Kansas, a mountain town in California called Woodbridge) but it’s almost inevitably New Orleans I write about; which makes sense. I live here, I love it here, and I will probably die in New Orleans.

And I’m fine with that, frankly.

“Go West” is also a song I associate with New Orleans, actually. I know it was originally a Village People recording–which I actually never heard before the Pet Shop Boys covered it–but I always associate it with 1994 and when I first started coming to New Orleans; it, along with Erasure’s “Always” were the big hits of the moment that were always being played in gay bars, and I heard them both for the first time on the dance floor at the Parade on my thirty-third birthday; which was also the first time I ever did Ecstasy. So, whenever I hear “Go West” by the Pet Shop Boys, I always think back to that birthday and that trip to New Orleans (“Always” has the same affect, but not as intensely; I’ve never been able to find the proper dance remix the Parade used to play–and in fact, a lyric of the song, “Hold On To The Night”, became a short story I’ve never published anywhere–and haven’t even tried to revise in almost thirty years. It wasn’t a crime story; I was writing gay short stories then, about gay life in New Orleans–and no, I never published the vast majority of them (with the sole exception of “Stigmata”, which was published in an anthology that came and went very quickly), although I did adapt some of them into erotica stories and some could easily be adapted into crime stories…I know a fragment of one, I think, morphed into “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which was published in Jerry Wheeler’s The Dirty Diner anthology, and was probably reprinted in Promises in Every Star.

I should probably pull those stories out again and see if there’s anything I can do with them,

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.

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C’est la Vie

Wednesday morning and I’ve made it thru the long days of my week. Today is a short day; I am free after three thirty, and then it’s back home to the spice mines and getting the house cleaned, organized and so forth, all around me not only writing at my desk but preparing a new taste treat for dinner–shrimp and baked potatoes–which is the same as my shrimp-and-grits, only substituting a baked potato for the grits. I saw this somewhere on social media recently, looked at the recipe, and realized it simply meant making baked potatoes instead of the grits…and realized that with a baked potato, timing the meal isn’t quite as important as it is when you’re making grits at the same time as the shrimp.

I managed another good night’s sleep last night, which was incredibly lovely; it’s amazing what a difference that makes to your quality of life–and productivity. I’m still behind on everything this morning, just as I was last night when I went to bed, but this morning I feel like I can do anything and everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we?

But as I face my computer with my first cup of coffee this morning, I do feel almost as though I can do anything and everything.  I had a slight minor panic attack last night about everything I need to get done this week, but it passed quickly, as I remembered my favorite mantra: sometimes, it just is what it is. Simple, but helpful and rather wise; there’s only so much one can do, there’s only so many people one can please, and sometimes you just have to let the worry go–because it just is what it is.

I sat down with Royal Street Reveillon last night, and opened the book up. When Paul got home he told me that someone whose opinion I deeply value had told him to  let me know she’d read and loved the book, and invited me to be on her radio show. Yes, it was Susan Larson, the long-time books editor of what was once the Times-Picayune and now has her own show on WGNO, “My Reading Life.” This naturally made my day, if not the week or month; Susan has read practically everything and everyone, has been a Pulitzer Prize judge (!!!!!), and is one of the most respected reviewers in the country. Her opinion means, obviously, a lot to me. As I sat in my chair last night holding a copy of the book–and it’s a beautiful looking book, probably my favorite cover of all time–I thought about how it never gets easier, no matter how many books you write; at least for me, it’s like the first one every single time. Will people like it? Will people hate it? Is it any good? Writing the books never gets easier over time, either. If anything, the only thing that’s changed with the actual writing is efficiency; I am more efficient in the use of time when I write now. But the self-doubt, the insecurity, the imposter syndrome–all of that still plagues me, even after all this time and all these books and all these short stories.

So, I opened the book and started skimming through it. My goal when I wrote it was to make it the best Scotty book thus far; I don’t know if I achieved that goal, but I am pretty pleased with the book. I think it turned out well. I also realized, as I was reading through it last night, that the reason I don’t like to reread my work–why I never go back once its published and look at it again, isn’t because I always wind up dissatisfied and disappointed with it (although that’s some of it), but primarily because I only reread my work to correct, edit and fix it. So, I am so trained from revising and editing my work that when actually reading it in a print format my mind automatically switches into editorial mode and I want to fix things and oh this sentence could have been better or look at this, you used the same word twice in the same paragraph and so on and so forth; it’s impossible for me to read it as a reader coming to it for the first time. And with Royal Street Reveillon, I don’t feel like I rushed the ending the way I inevitably feel about most of my books–which is a direct result of deadlines. So, I’m kind of glad I don’t write on deadline anymore; it’s relieved that bit of stress from my life, thank the Lord.

I also got out a copy of Bourbon Street Blues last night, because one of my co-workers wants to read it. She was reading the latest Janet Evanovich, and we got into a bit of a discussion about Evanovich, mystery novels, and so forth. SHe eventually said, “I really need to read one of your books”, and me being me, I said, “I’ll bring you a copy” and then realized, hey, I can give her a copy of Bourbon Street Blues,  my first Scotty!

So, I actually looked through it as well. I remember so little of the story now; I barely remember writing the book now. It was all so long ago; I turned the book in to Kensington on May 15th, 2002. Christ, we were so broke then, cobbling together an income from Paul working part time and teaching aerobics, me writing, doing some part time work for a friend as their assistant, and eventually getting a part time job at the LGBT Community Center to supplement the writing income, as well as doing some freelance editorial work. I was mostly working for Bella Books then–yes, I got my start as an editor working for a lesbian publisher–before moving on to Harrington Park Press and then Bold Strokes Books. Bourbon Street Blues is, of course, the Southern Decadence book I’d been wanting to write ever since I first came to Decadence as a tourist back in the early 90’s. I was also writing the book, ironically, on 9/11–I didn’t actually work on it that day, but I always associate 9/11 with Bourbon Street Blues because I can remember being glued to the television in horror all day, and glancing over at the pile of pages on my desk and wondering if I could distract myself by working on the book. I never tried…I didn’t get back to working on the book for a few days. As I looked through Bourbon Street Blues last night, thinking about how Southern Decadence had just passed and how much the world, the event, the city, everything had changed since the days when I was writing this book.

My career as a published writer of fiction dates back to 2000, with the publication of two short stories in the month of August, one in an anthology and the other in a magazine. It’ll turn twenty the month I turn fifty-nine; but I of course started getting paid to write (journalism) in 1996. I moved in with Paul and within a month had published my first column in a local queer newspaper in Minneapolis; as I used to say, Paul was my lucky charm for my writing career; it truly started when we moved in together.

So yes, he never has to worry about me going anywhere, since I do emotionally consider him entirely responsible for my career–and all of it tied up in a nice New Orleans bow. New Orleans inspired me, and I knew I would become a writer if I moved to New Orleans. I met Paul here, and while I was already writing before we moved here, New Orleans made it possible for me to meet the love of my life and create the career I’ve always dreamed of and wanted.

And you know what? As I paged through Bourbon Street Blues, reacquainting myself with the original story I came up with for Scotty all those years ago, I thought, this is a pretty decent book, really. There’s never really been a character like Scotty in crime fiction–and certainly not one like him in gay crime fiction. I also never dreamed that people would connect with him the way they did–I may not sell books in Harlan Coben or Stephen King numbers, but the people who read the Scotty books love him, and that means I did my job well.

I also realized, looking through both books last night, that the occasional charges of “political agenda” I get on Goodreads and/or Amazon are accurate. I never really think of the Scotty books as having an agenda or being political, but I forget that any book centering a queer character is still radical and political; let alone a book centering a queer character who is perfectly happy and loves his life and has some terrific adventures, finding love to go along with the wonderful loving family he already has. This is still, sadly, for some a radical concept; as is the idea of having Scotty never change the core of who he is,  no matter what happens or how awful a situation he’s in might become. The Scotty books were never intended to be, nor ever will be, torture porn. Bourbon Street Blues was all about homophobia and the religious right. Jackson Square Jazz, long before Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon, looked at homophobia in figure skating and Olympic sports…and on and on it goes. Royal Street Reveillon actually goes into several things–familial homophobia, for one, and date rape/sexual assault for another–and ultimately, I am pretty pleased with it.

And yes, for those of you worried I may never write another Scotty book–there will be at least one more. Hollywood South Hustle is already taking shape in my head; I have several disparate threads of plot to weave together for it, but never fear, they are most definitely there. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it–I have several books to write before I can even think about starting work on it officially, and yes, that includes a new Chanse–and so it goes, on and on forever and ever without end, amen.

And now I should perhaps return to the spice mines. This shit ain’t gonna do itself.

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Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again

It isn’t very often that I look back at the past. While memories and nostalgia can be quite lovely, they can also be a trap; it is far too easy to start second-guessing your life and thinking things like oh if only I’d done this or maybe if this hadn’t happened and so forth. Many years ago, shortly after I moved to Minneapolis to live with Paul, I gave up on looking back. The truth was, no matter how many bad decisions or wrong turns I’d made in my life, no matter how many shitty things I endured, no matter how many times a friend betrayed me or whatever…the truth was everything in my past was part and parcel of who I am today and my life would be different now if any of those things had changed; so having regrets about the past and playing the if only game indicated that I was, in fact, not happy with my life at the present time because why else would I want to change something in my past if not to change the present?

And I’m pretty fucking happy with my life and my career(s). I do love my day job, where I get to  help people every day, and I love my writing career. I marvel from time to time that I have one at all; it’s been my dream for as long as I can remember–I remember being a little boy and getting my weekly Scholastic book club books, sitting on the back porch of our little apartment in Chicago and reading them, and thinking that what I wanted to do when I grew up was write books for people to read and enjoy, the way I read and enjoyed books. Are there times when I wish I was more successful? Of course there are; I wouldn’t be human if I didn’t have some ambition. And really, while some of that ambition is about making more money, it’s mostly about writing more complex stories and exploring complicated themes and characters.

Right now I have three unpublished manuscripts here in the Lost Apartment; one has been languishing in a drawer after two drafts for nearly seven years, another has gone through five drafts and needs one more to correct everything then another to polish; and the partial I am currently working on (which is like pulling teeth for me, for some reason. I don’t understand why it’s so hard to write this book…). I want to spend probably the rest of this year getting those manuscripts ready for publication before I start writing yet another; I am also working on a proposal for a potential new series, and I have another idea for a stand alone thriller….there’s also an amorphous Scotty book swirling around in the mists in the creative part of my brain. I also would like to do another short story collection, but I need to get those stories written and sent out. I also want to do an essay collection.

Yesterday was a lost day for me, because I was tired all day. I didn’t sleep particularly well either night of the weekend; I was asleep and resting, but not a deep sleep that rests up everything; more of a I’m sort of asleep and wake up every few hours. This made my twelve hour shift yesterday more of a survival thing rather than a participatory day–I was present, and I gave my clients excellent service yesterday (I am, he typed modestly, extremely good at my day job), but I was too tired to really function mentally and creatively. When I got home last night, I was too tired to do much of anything other than stream the first two episodes of the new season of Archer, which I love–even though it’s not quite as good as the earlier seasons were. I’m also considering buying the first season of The Other Two, which isn’t available to stream for free anywhere, I’ve heard good things, and it’s only ten bucks…I hate paying for anything television, but since getting rid of the cable service and using Hulu’s streaming service, even with subscriptions to certain services (HBO, Showtime, ESPN) I still am paying less than I  used when I had cable, so paying to watch a TV show isn’t that bad of a thing. Animal Kingdom has also returned, and we’re watching it as well–and in just over two months college football and the Saints will be back, taking over my weekends. I’m taking a long weekend around the 4th of July–five days; it falls on a Thursday so I am taking Wednesday and Friday to go with it.

Anyway, to bring this back around to the first paragraph, as I said yesterday being interviewed for the Writer Types podcast put me into a reflective mood, looking back at my past–and part of that is also the current WIP, which requires me to probe memories of my childhood summers in Alabama to make the book come to life–and that, in turn, brings back other memories and reflections. At first, I resisted the rabbit holes of memories that were flooding through my brain, determined to never look back–but I also think part of that was not wanting to remember mistakes made and revisiting bad decisions. But embracing the memories hasn’t made them rosier and glossier; but I am able now, with the proper time and distance, to examine them dispassionately and deconstruct how and why, and the lessons learned from them.

And that isn’t a bad thing, really.

I was talking to my co-workers last night about how much change I’ve seen throughout my life–not just for the queer community, but for women and people of color–and even though none of us in those groupings have achieved true equality yet, we’re closer than ever and getting closer every day.

It’s also amazing how patchy my memory is–as I told Eric and Steve during the podcast, the years from 2005-2009 are mostly blanks, which I have learned is a result of the PTSD created by everything from Paul’s gaybashing through the Christian attacks to Katrina and it’s aftermath; it’s not unusual for people to have memory gaps after that kind of emotional trauma.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Small Town

I’m never really certain how to describe where I’m from; because it isn’t simple. I was born in Alabama, which is where my people are from (which is what we say in Alabama), but we moved to Chicago when I was two. We lived in the city until I was ten, which is when we moved out to the suburbs. I was fourteen when we moved to Kansas, and nineteen when I followed my parents to California. Since California, I’ve lived in: Houston, Tampa, Houston, Tampa, Minneapolis, New Orleans, DC, and then back to New Orleans once and for all. So, saying I grew up in Kansas isn’t quite accurate, nor is I grew up in Chicago. I graduated from high school in Kansas, so there is that. I consider New Orleans home; I’ve certainly lived here longer than I have anywhere else in my life, but in a sense, I am kind of ‘homeless’ in that regard. I’ve always pretty much considered wherever my parents live to be home, even though now they live somewhere I’ve never actually lived–so I lazily say I’m going home to see my parents, even though their current home has never really been my home; I guess in that sense that wherever my parents are is home because my parents define, for me, where that indescribable, undefinable place that I call home would be. I also think of Alabama as home, too; though I haven’t lived there in fifty-five years and I have no memory of ever living there.

Does that make sense?

New Orleans is home for me now; Alabama is where I’m from, but I also consider anywhere my parents live to also be home.

Is it any wonder I am barely clinging to my sanity with my fingernails?

And yes, I lived in a very small town in Kansas: I believe the population of Americus was 932 when I lived there (that number is stuck in my head, so it came from somewhere), and moving there, even from a suburb of Chicago, was a bit of culture shock for me. (Not nearly as big as the shock must have been for my parents, moving from a mostly country existence in a remote part of Alabama to Chicago when they were twenty with two toddlers.) The streets didn’t have names or numbers; and at the main intersection in town there was a blinking red light hovering over the center, suspended on wire that waved and swayed in the wind. There was a gas station and a tiny little food place called the Katy Drive-in; what was now the Americus Road that you took to “go to town” (the county seat, Emporia, about eight miles away) used to be the Katy Railroad Line, long gone and almost completely forgotten. We caught the bus at the grade school, which had been the high school until its conversion when the old grade school was condemned by the fire marshall; people in town were still bitter about the loss of the town’s high school and the students being absorbed into the consolidated high school, about sixteen miles from town: Northern Heights High School, about a mile east of yet another small town named Allen. Northern Heights’s student body was an amalgamation of farm kids and kids from five towns: Americus, Bushong, Allen, Admire, and Miller, each of which used to have it’s own grade and high school.

It was strange for me, but being the new kid  had added benefits to it; no one knew, at my new school, that at my previous school I was picked on and sort of mocked and belittled and made fun of; had gay slurs sneered at me in the hallways since the seventh grade, sometimes cornered by a group of boys who got their jollies by mocking me and making me worry about physical violence. By the time some of the kids at my new school realized that I was different not only because I was new and from the big city but because I was harboring the deep secret that I was gay it was the second semester of my senior year and I only had a few months to endure slurs and mocking laughter, of finding Greg Herren sucks cock written in magic marker on my locker or on the desk I usually sat in during a class.

Kansas has been on my mind a lot lately; Constant Reader will no doubt remember that several months ago I had dinner with a classmate, passing through town on his way to a long bike ride along the Natchez Trace. That dinner reminded me of things I hadn’t thought about in years; the smell of corn fields after the rain, the brooding heat, how you could see a thunderstorm coming from miles away across the flat terrain, and the long drive to school. The WIP is set in a town based on Emporia; Sara was set in a high school based on the one I attended. Laura, my main character in Sorceress, was from Kansas and had gone to the Sara high school until her parents’ death, which is the impetus that ended with her in the California mountains. My story “Promises in Every Star” is set at an imaginary high school reunion in Kansas, where my main character returns for the first time in years.

I do have a lot of fond memories of my high school years in Kansas; I don’t want to make it seem as though I don’t. But the passing of time and the malignant spread of nostalgia through my brain hasn’t yet succeeded in dulling the bad memories either, or painting over them with a golden, rosy sheen.

But I also wouldn’t be who I am now were it not for that time, so I can’t be bitter or angry about the bad; you can’t have the good that came from then without having to accept the bad. And there was a lot of good, really, a lot of fun and laughter. Even were I not a gay kid terrified of what would happen if anyone knew–although more knew than I was aware back then–being from the city would have made me different anyway; as would being a creative type who loved to read and aspired to be a writer.

I would have been different anyway; the main issue of almost all of my life experiences before I finally came to terms with who I am, my difference, was always predicated in my mind on my sexuality; it took a long time for me to realize that my difference wasn’t just the gay thing because the gay thing overrode everything else.

Heavy thoughts for a Sunday morning.

And you will be pleased to know, Constant Reader, that I have returned to the Short Story Project. Next up is “Nemesia’s Garden” by Mariano Alonso, from Cemetery Dance, Issue 79, edited by Richard Chizmar:

Why is it that the secrets we don’t like to talk about during our lives are the same secrets we don’t want to take to the grave with us?

The day before dying on a hospital bed after a long battle with cancer, my mother told me a story that happened the year before I went off to college. The story was as strange as the time she chose to share it.

For many years, my mother worked as a cleaning lady in several private residences on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and Upper West Side. She was an illegal immigrant with basic education and poor English-language skills; for this reason she was in no position to negotiate with her wealthy patrons for a fair wage that, at least, was always in cash and tax-free.

This is a creepy ass story about two twisted, elderly sisters–one disabled, the other cruel–which is more than a little reminiscent of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane in style and theme and tone, but I greatly enjoyed reading it. It’s told from the perspective of their cleaning woman, an illegal immigrant who is telling the story to her son, as you can tell above, when she is dying, because she can’t go to her grave with the creepy tale on her conscience.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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