Bad to the Bone

The push for more diversity–amongst writers and subject matter–in publishing this last decade has not only been welcome, but is also long overdue. It hasn’t been smooth sailing by any means–there are those writers who feel threatened somehow by the push for diversity in publishing, and then try to push back, Publishing isn’t a zero sum game by any means; I seriously doubt the market for cisgender white narratives will ever go away. For many years, the heavy lifting for narratives outside that default has primarily been borne by small press, who did an excellent job despite the many obstacles presented by the realities of the book market. The larger, traditional New York publishers tend to suck all the oxygen out of the room, leaving precious little behind for the small presses–who nevertheless persisted.

And while I have never defaulted to the cisgender white male narrative with my reading, my default still remained lily-white for the most part. Sure, I was primarily reading books by and about women, but at the same time they were always white women. It was quite sobering to realize, upon a closer examination, how segregated my reading was. I have always believed there is no better educational tool than reading, even if you only read fiction. Fiction can be an excellent way of learning about attitudes and life, in general, for people that are different from you; and it was shocking how much I patted myself on the back for my “diverse” habits that was solely about reading primarily female authors. So I made a conscious choice for 2019 to focus my reading more on books by authors of color or queer authors; and it’s been an incredibly joyous and intellectually stimulating enterprise.

There was no reason for me not to have read Walter Mosley before other than subconscious racism, frankly. And I’ve read some truly extraordinary works by writers of color this year, including but not limited to Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, Rachel Howzell Hall’s They All Fall Down, S. A. Cosby’s My Darket Prayer, Kellye Garrett, and so on.

I also hope that this year-long focus has integrated my TBR list, and it will now come more naturally for me to read writers of color or queer ones, without having to make it into a project.

I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad several years ago, and while I am not big on magical realism by any means, I absolutely loved the book. It was incredibly powerful, highly imaginative, and beautifully written. He went on to win not only the Pulitzer but the National Book Award; I went to see him interviewed at a special event/signing and was again, terribly impressed with him. I started reading his zombie novel, Zone One, but got distracted by something else I was required to read–I think I had to moderate a panel or something, so I had to read the work of the panelists–and somehow never got back to it. I shall, obviously, correct that oversight. I also have a copy of John Henry Days, which I shall get to eventually.

I was also really excited to get a copy of his new novel, The Nickel Boys.

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Even in death the boys were trouble.

The secret graveyard lay on the north side of the Nickel campus, in a patchy area of wild grass between the old work barn and the school dump. The field had been a grazing pasture when the school operated a dairy, selling milk to local customers–one of the state of Florida’s schemes to relieve the taxpayer burden of the boys’ upkeep. The developers of the office park had earmarked the field for a lunch plaza, with four water features and a concrete bandstand for the occasional event. The discovery of the bodies was an expensive complication for the real estate company awaiting the all clear from the environmental study, and for the state’s attorney, which had recently closed an investigation into the abuse stories. Now they had to start a new inquiry, establish the identities of the deceased and the manner of death, and there was no telling when the whole damned place could be razed, cleared and neatly erased from history, which everyone agreed was long overdue.

All the boys knew about that rotten spot. It took a student from the University of South Florida to bring it to the rest of the world, decades after the first boy was tied up in a potato sack and dumped there. When asked how she spitted the graves, Jody said, “The dirt looked wrong.” The sunken earth, the scrabbly weeds. Jody and the rest of the archaeological students from the university had been excavating the school’s official cemetery for months. The state couldn’t dispose of the property until the remains were properly resettled, and the archaeology students needed field credits. With stakes and wire they divided the area into search grids, dugs with hand shovels and heavy equipment. After sifting the soil, bones and belt buckles and soda bottles lay scattered on their trays in an inscrutable exhibit.

The Nickel Boys is built around a true story; the Dozier School for Boys in Marianna, Florida; the discovery of the secret graveyard by archaeology students and the long history of abuse in the school came to light through some amazing investigative journalism done by the Tampa Bay Times. I read the reporting when first published; I took extensive notes and thought there’s a really good novel in here, filed it away for future reference, and then didn’t think about it again until last year, when I read Lori Roy’s brilliant The Disappearing, which was also inspired by the reporting on the Dozier School; Roy went in a different direction with her story, though, and it was easily one of my favorite novels of last year (if you haven’t read Lori Roy yet, get thee forth to the bookstore or library and get started immediately). When I first read about Whitehead’s new novel, I immediately recognized its inspiration, and having greatly enjoyed his previous book, I made a note to get this one when it was released.

It is quite exceptional, from beginning to end.

It is the story of one of the Nickel boys, Elwood Curtis, beginning with how he came to wind up there–a gross, horrifying injustice that can’t be corrected or fixed, given our broken justice system–and so a promising, bright young boy of color, with plans for college and a future, basically is thrown away by society and wasted (which begs the question: how many more times does this happen, every fucking day?), and then his survival at this brutal, horrific school; how the whites and blacks are segregated, even there, and the aftermath; what happens after he and a friend make a break for it and try to escape so they won’t be killed there.

The best literature is that which shakes your worldview, makes you think, makes you reassess everything that you thought you knew; makes you reevaluate things you believed. This novel is stark and brutal and heartbreakingly real; you root for Elwood to survive, to get past this–gradually you begin to feel that way for all the boys, and your heart breaks for all the potential that was lost in places like Nickel; the endless potential we as a society still throw away daily, because of racism and classism and bigotry.

This is a very powerful novel–one I’ll be thinking about for a long time. Highly recommended.

Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Superstition

And today is the last day of THIS vacation.

Heavy heaving sigh. Tomorrow is back to reality; to getting up at six in the morning and two twelve-hour days to kick off my return to work. Hurray. Huzzah. Meh, it’s a good thing i have a day job, frankly, no matter how much I whine about having one. If it weren’t for that, I’d only leave the house for the grocery store and other errands or to go to the gym, and the human contact is kind of necessary, not only for my sanity but for my writing. How can you write about people if you never encounter or interact with any?

Plus, I love my day job, so there’s that, too.

I had a horrible bout of Imposter Syndrome over the last two days and I am not sure what triggered it, to be honest. I did have that lovely time on social media on Friday, which helped a lot, but it came roaring back yesterday even uglier than it had been on Friday; so I finished reading Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, which is still resonating in my mind today, it’s that good. There was so much there, so much to unpack, so many things I find myself wishing I’d talked about when I talked about the book yesterday. Seriously, people, you need to read this book and see for yourself what an accomplishment it was.

I did write a little bit yesterday morning before the Imposter Syndrome kicked in; and no, it wasn’t on the WIP or any other in-progress manuscript (novel or short story) I have on hand; I wrote the opening for Chlorine, and then my mind went into a spiral about who my main character was, why he was the main character, and what his story was…and while my mind was in that creative loop, it became time to run the errands. It was when I returned from the errands and put everything away and sat back down that it started. Who knows? I’ve tried figuring it out over the years, and think it’s a combination of things.

I didn’t, as expected, accomplish remotely nearly enough as I’d planned over the course of this five day vacation, but at the same time I think the rest–both physically and mentally (creatively and emotionally) was absolutely necessary in order for me to move ahead and get things done. Unstructured days, such as these have been, aren’t good for me–I need to stick to rules and scheduling and routine; when I fall out of structure I don’t seem to get nearly as much done as I do when I have loads to do. Funny how that works, isn’t it? And when I have unstructured time, I tend to look at all the things I have to do and get overwhelmed by them, to the point of paralysis at first, shortly thereafter followed by well there’s no way I can get this all done so why trying? 

And that, my friends, is how the spiral starts. It’s often followed by if you don’t want to write how can you call yourself a writer? 

Self-destructive, isn’t it?

So, on this the last day of my vacation, I am going to try to get as much done as I can before I go to bed. I need to do some cleaning upstairs, I need to do some writing and filing and organizing downstairs, and I need to finish cleaning out my email inbox. I also need to spend the rest of the day focusing in, laser sharp, on what I need to get done. I think part of the problem I”m having (besides the inability to stick to a schedule) is the lack of list and long/short term goals; I’m not entirely sure what I’ve promised to do when, and I really need to write all of that down and get it on the calendar so I can start getting shit done, you know?

I did remember yesterday I’d promised to write an introduction to the rerelease of an old Jay B. Laws novel, The Unfinished, but I don’t remember what it’s about or anything about it; I’m not entirely certain I ever read it in the first place. I know I read his debut novel, Steam, which is one of my favorite queer novels, and favorite horror novels, of all time, and I really should reread it at some point.  But my copy of The Unfinished is on the end table near my easy chair, along with other things I need to read, and so perhaps, once I’ve accomplished all that I need to get done today, I can repair to the chair and read for a bit. I know I can’t write about the book until I’ve reread it.

I also have to get the proof corrections written up and turned in today as well.

And on that note, perhaps it’s time to head back into the spice mines. Wish me luck, Constant Reader! I may check in again later on.

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Miracles

I thought I was finished with the downward spiral into Imposter Syndrome I experienced yesterday, but I wasn’t.

So I walked away from my computer, ran errands, and came home to finish reading Angie Kim’s exceptional debut novel, Miracle Creek,

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My husband asked me to lie. Not a big lie. He probably didn’t even consider it a lie, and neither did I, at first. It was just a small thing, what he wanted. The police had just released the protestors, and while he stepped out to make sure they weren’t coming back, I was to sit in his chair. Cover for him, the way coworkers do as a matter of course, the way we ourselves used to at the grocery store, while I ate or he smoked. But as I took his seat, I bumped against the desk, and the certificate above it went slightly crooked as if to remind me that this wasn’t a regular business, that there was a reason he’d never left me in charge before.

Pak reached over me to straighten the frame, his eyes on the English lettering: Pak Yoo, Miracle Submarine LLC, Certified Hyberbaric Technician. He said–eyes still on the certificate, as if talking to it, not to me–“Everything’s done. The patients are sealed in, the oxygen’s on. You just have to sit here.” He looked at me. “That’s it.”

I looked over the controls, the unfamiliar knobs and switches for the chamber we’d painted baby blue and placed in this barn just last month. “What if the patients buzz me?” I said. “I’ll say you’ll be right back, but–“

“No, they can’t know I’m gone. If anyone asks, I’m here. I’ve been here the whole time.”

And that lie, that simple little lie, opens Angie Kim’s amazing debut, Miracle Creek, which is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year, if not one of the best books I’ve read in the last few years.

Miracle Creek is and isn’t a legal thriller. The present-day setting of the book is a trial; but it’s also more than that, if that makes sense. A woman is on trial for setting a fire that results in two deaths and several bad injuries–it’s a lot more complicated than that, technically; it has to do with an alternative therapy in which people with chronic issues, such as autism or cerebral palsy or, in one case, low sperm count, are put into a submarine like contraption and gradually subjected to the same kind of pressure you’d get several fathoms down while breathing pure oxygen. The pressurization and the pure oxygen theoretically will help with these “incurable” conditions. The owner of the business, Miracle Submarine in Miracle Creek, Virginia, is a Korean immigrant named Pak Yoo; his wife and daughter help with the business. Someone starts a fire that ignites one of the oxygen tanks and sends flames through the tubes which supply the “submarine” passengers with air to breath, and there’s ultimately an explosion.

Elizabeth, the divorced mother of an autistic son, Henry, chose not to go into the tank with her son that night; her son is one of the victims. She also chose that night to rearrange the way everyone is seated inside, guaranteeing that her son was one of those attached to the tank that goes up and is killed. There is plenty of circumstantial evidence to point to her guilt, and she is arrested and put on trial.

Mary Yoo, the daughter, is also blown up and scarred; she also goes into a coma for two months.

The book also bounces around from multiple points of view; all in the first person, and juggling these points of view, different voices and different experiences, is not an easy thing to do; Kim, in her debut novel, manages this with extraordinary skill.

This method of telling the story also allows Kim to share the true story of what happened that night, how one lie can lead to another, and how circumstances can all come together in a horrifying instant–if this hadn’t happened or she hadn’t done this or he had decided to do this, all of this could have been avoided–this randomness that can lead to tragedy, is horrific to contemplate but all too horrifyingly realistic and true.

Going inside the heads of different characters also allows Kim to explore multitudes of themes, all grouped together under the heading of parenting.

One of Stephen King’s greatest gifts as a writer, I have always felt, is how he is completely unafraid to take risks with who his characters are; he isn’t afraid to expose those horrible thoughts his characters have and the guilt that comes with those thoughts and feelings; it makes his characters come to life in a way less skilled writers can only dream about; Kim does the same, making her characters so real in their ugliness and their guilt, unafraid to show that parenting is an ugly job that sometimes has wonderful benefits but  showing how the day-to-day grind can sometimes wear a person down into saying or thinking things that are only too human but too horrible to contemplate or share with anyone else, that sense of resentment that is only too human but also too horrible to let anyone else know.

Her portrayal of the Korean immigrants, the racism they encounter, the fragile bonds of family that connect them yet also fray in a different world and culture than what they are used to, is overwhelmingly compelling.

On every level, the characters and their relationships–whether its husband and wife, mother and child, father and child–areas  layered and complex and complicated as the truth of the night of the tragedy.

All of the characters are flawed, all of them heartbreaking in their humanity, but perhaps the best, the strongest, the one who I will always remember, the one I keep coming back to is Elizabeth, single mother of an autistic only child, the defendant, whose humanity and heartbreak and guilt and suffering is almost too painful to contemplate, to read, and as the truth comes rushing out at the end…wow.

You’re only as sick as your secrets.

This book is amazing. I cannot recommend it enough.

Loves Me Like a Rock

Saturday.

So, yeah, yesterday was something. I slept relatively well on Thursday night, woke up at eight, and while doing my usual morning blogging over my coffee as I woke up, I kind of casually mentioned an idea for a book I had several years ago–and now that I think about it, talking about James Ellroy, which then morphed into talking about Megan Abbott’s staggeringly brilliant period noir novels was what brought it back to the front of my mind–and some friends on Twitter fell in love with the idea for the book and began pressing me to go ahead and write it, which was really unexpected and lovely and overwhelming and nice. I posted the blog entry, went and did the dishes, and when I came back to the computer my Twitter mentions had blown up (I think that’s the way to say that, hopeless Luddite that I am).  Then I walked away again, started laundering the bed lines and then cleaned the staircase only to come back to even more mentions, and some lovely new followers.

But like I always say, I never ever will have enough time to write everything that I want to write. I had already kind of decided that next year’s plan was to write three gay noirs I’d been wanting to write for quite some time (Chlorine was one of these, the others being Muscles and Heatstroke), and then a couple of weeks ago I sat down and wrote the first chapter of yet another Chanse book, despite the fact I’d officially retired the series with Murder in the Arts District several years ago. The Chanse story is already burning in my mind, aching to be written, and I’d kind of figured I’d try to get it written by the end of the year…and all the while these thoughts and ideas and creativity are running through my fevered little brain, I am also not working on the WIP or the revision of the Kansas book, which I kind of need to get done at some point….and there’s yet another unfinished manuscript (it needs another two drafts, at least) languishing in my CURRENT PROJECTS folder.

This is why writers drink.

I also spent some more time with Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, which is simply extraordinary. I’m not even a fifth of the way through and it’s a marvel I cannot recommend to you highly enough, Constant Reader; it makes me wish I was a judge reading for a Best First Novel award so I could pick it, it’s really that good.

But I did manage to get the proofing done, or at least a first pass at them (I’ll most likely do it again this weekend since I got a bit ahead on things with it). They aren’t due back until Monday, so I think I’ll probably give them another going over tomorrow, with fresher eyes again, just to make sure nothing gets missed. Huzzah!

I have to venture out into the heat today–we are in a heat warning, I think, and an air quality warning as well–to get the mail and make groceries. Usually going out into the heat drains me of all energy, but I think what I’m going to do when I get home is self-care–use the back roller/self massage thing, exfoliate my skin, shave my head and face, so a psoriasis treatment, take a long hot shower, and perhaps then recline for a moment or two in my easy chair with Angie Kim’s novel.

I’ve not written a word this entire vacation, but I am going to get my proofs finished, which is lovely, and I’ve gotten a lot of cleaning done, too. I’ve wasted more time than I’ve spent doing things, but I don’t care. I’m allowed to have some down time, and I feel very rested, which is cool. I also seem to have trained myself to go to bed every night around ten…and get up around eight. Ten hours of sleep per night has been lovely; no wonder I’m rested, right? Also, I’ve managed to stay off social media for most of the time, other than yesterday’s Chlorine-fueled blowing up of my Twitter mentions. I also have discovered these amazing, short videos on Youtube that look at some moment in history–the Wars of the Roses, the fall of the Byzantine Empire, the Hundred Years’ War, Charlemagne’s empire–with animation, humor and all in under ten minutes. They’re terribly clever, and are also informative in a very macro way; there was a lot, for example, that I didn’t know about the collapse of the Ottoman Empire that was filled in by the video explaining it in ten minutes, which also explained how the British came to be in charge of Palestine and Egypt, as well as how the French wound up with Algeria–which I’d never really known before. This also led me to researching the history of the Franco-Spanish kingdom of Navarre; I never really quite understood how Henri IV, King of France, managed to be the son of a regnant queen of Navarre–particularly since Navarre is barely ever mentioned throughout European history (Richard the Lion-Hearted’s wife was from Navarre); I now understand it.

I love how, despite knowing more history than most people, there are so many gaps in what I do actually know.

I also need to figure out what I have agreed to write. I think there are at least three anthologies I want to write for, or have been asked to write for, so I need to figure out the deadlines and what I want to write for them. I am going to try for the Mystery Writers of America anthology again–I have a story already written that fits; it just needs some serious tweaking and revising before submission–and I think there are three others I’ve been asked to contribute something to? I really have been scattered this spring/early summer, which is disconcerting. I also, because of all the Chlorine stuff on Twitter yesterday, sat down and wrote down all the manuscripts I have started and have some version of finished, as well as the others I want to do, and some others I’ve been asked to pitch, and I am sure it will come as no surprise that Greg, the underachieving overachiever, has ten books on said list; and I want to do them all.

And of course, that doesn’t mean I won’t have more ideas in the meantime, either.

This is also why writers drink.

Correction: I just remembered two more, so it’s a list of twelve.

Yup, I am certifiably insane, in case there was ever any doubt.

And on that note, the bathtub isn’t going to scrub itself, the bastard.

Off to the spice mines, have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Delta Dawn

And now, tis time to turn the three days left of my vacation into a productive time.

I have spent the last two days simply doing as I pleased; occasionally stepping up to do some chores around the Lost Apartment, but mostly just reading and watching things on television. I tried, the other night, to watch a movie, but gave up on both Lucky Logan and The Man in the Iron Mask (Leonardo DiCaprio version); I also tried watching a documentary, How the Devil Got His Horns, but quickly bored of each of them. I will probably give Lucky Logan another shot, as I love both Channing Tatum and Adam Driver, and it seems like a subversively brilliant and funny noir movie. (I actually stopped watching, not because I was bored, but because I thought, Paul would probably like this movie so I should wait and watch it with him)

I also watched the original Star Wars trilogy yesterday–well, more like had it on as background noise while I did other things–and while Episode IV has always been my favorite, since it was the first, I have to confess for the most part Episode V is probably the better film. I also have always resisted criticism of Episode VI, but the more I watch the more I tend to agree with the criticism. I mean, really, was the entire opening sequence rescuing Han necessary? It took up a good portion of the film, quite frankly, and to what purpose? And precisely, how did Luke, who never finished his training in Episode V, was far too impatient and wasn’t breaking through, suddenly become a Jedi Master in Episode VI?

Questions. So. Many. Questions.

But today, I need to get moving. I need to write, I need to proof the pages of Royal Street Reveillon AND the cover design and get that turned in. I need to finish cleaning the downstairs–I started and made some lovely headway over the past two days, doing it leisurely, and I’d like to keep that pace going, so by Sunday evening the entire place will be sparkling and clean. I want to read some more of Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, and I have a lot of cleaning and organizing to do around my desk–balanced around the complaints and whines of Needy Kitty, who wants me to sit in my easy chair so he can sleep in my lap. I’ve also been going to bed ridiculously early every night, around ten, and sleeping until eight every morning, which has also been lovely. I don’t feel a bit slothful, which I usually do when I am getting this much sleep and doing so little. But I chose to look at Wednesday and Thursday as holidays, and now I can get some work done over these final three days of vacation.

A Twitter conversation sometime in the last few weeks with Rob Hart (whose soon-to-be-released The Warehouse–actually being released on my birthday) got me thinking about gay representation in crime fiction over the years, and reading I the Jury (surprise! Mickey Spillane’s first novel is rife with homophobia) made me remember that the only James Ellroy book I’ve ever read also had homophobia in it. I’d always wanted to read Ellroy, just had never gotten around to it, and I’d decided to dip in with a lesser known work. There was a gay character in it–minor–and the way he was talked about, the way he was treated, and the language that was used, was horrific. Despite owning a copy of L.A. Confidential, I’ve never read it…nor read any other Ellroy. I’ve always intended to go back and read some Ellroy; I met him when he was named a Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America and we had a weird bonding experience over the Ken Holt mystery series for boys that we both read as kids. But I could never remember the name of the book of his I’d read. I knew it had a one-word title, which narrowed it down somewhat, and I’d even gotten a copy of Perfidia only to realize it wasn’t the book. For some reason I went digging around on Amazon and realized the book in question was Clandestine, and now I want to read it again.

Honestly. But the Spillane essay I’ve been making notes on would kind of fit into the over-all concept of a larger examination of gay representation, homophobia, and homophobic content in crime fiction; as well as questions of masculinity and toughness in America and American fiction.

It was also be interesting to do an essay comparing/contrasting Megan Abbott’s historical noir fiction with Ellroy’s.

So much writing, so little time, so little desire to actually do any of it.

Heavy heaving sigh.

I’d love to write noir novels about the hidden gay underground of Hollywood’s Golden Age; I had a great idea for one a while back that involved the drowning murder of a young actor who was sleeping with powerful gay men to help his own star rise at a studio in the 1950’s, and how his roommate/best friend/ex-lover, also an actor on the rise, tries to solve the crime since the homophobic cops don’t give a shit about another dead gay man in Los Angeles. It even has a great noir-like title: Chlorine.

I have so many ideas, always.

And now, it’s back to the spice mines. I have a load of laundry to fold, some things to print, and then it’s time to buckle down and start getting things done.

Have a lovely post-holiday Friday, Constant Reader.

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Me and Mrs. Jones

So, the vacation is going swimmingly so far. Yesterday I simply ran errands–prescriptions, making groceries, picking up the mail–and once I got home and put the groceries away, I decided to take the rest of the day off. Being out in the heat and humidity, even for that brief period of time, was exhausting and draining.

I also kept thinking it was Saturday–as the above is my usual Saturday routine–and actually went upstairs after putting the groceries away to start stripping the bed linens for laundering them before realizing, dude, it’s only Wednesday.

So, I retired to my easy chair and finished reading Mickey Spillane’s I the Jury.

And wow, do I ever have some thoughts about that book.

When Sarah Weinman brought up Mickey Spillane on Twitter the other day  by asking if Mickey Spillane was camp, I responded with oh god yes, which led to  further conversation with the end result that I decided to read, at long last, a Mickey Spillane novel; I just happened to have a copy of I the Jury on hand. (My references to Spillane being camp had everything to do with his image, reflecting back when Spillane was a public figure and doing everything from print ads to commercials; I’d also briefly watched the Mike Hammer television series starring Stacy Keach) I’d gotten a copy of I the Jury after reading an appreciation of Spillane somewhere (Crimereads? Perhaps) which made a very strong case that Spillane and his work was dramatically underrated in the crime genre, and was long overdue a study and another look;  furthermore, he was vastly more important to the genre than he was ever given credit for. I’d never read Spillane, primarily because as a gay man I was clearly not the target audience for his work; as I’ve said before, many times, I stopped reading crime novels in the 1970’s because I was very tired of the many, over-worn tropes of the genre and the toxicity of the fragile masculinity contained within the majority of the books/series.

The cover of my copy of the book also contains the tag line: Before there was Jack Reacher…there was Mike Hammer.

An intriguing bit of marketing by the publisher, don’t you think? I have greatly enjoyed Lee Child’s Reacher series, and think it is one of the best of our modern times; however, I also stopped reading the series over ten years ago. This has, by the way, nothing to do with the quality of the series or the character or the writing, but more to do with falling behind in my reading of the series and the next thing I knew, I was five or six books behind and I gave up on even attempting to catch up; this has happened with numerous other writers and series I enjoy, so this is not a shot at Lee Child, whom I also like personally.

It’s just one of those things that can happen with prolific writers.

But in reading the book, I don’t really see the correlation between the two characters, other than, perhaps, their size. Reacher is an enormous man who takes up a lot of space; so is Hammer. But Reacher is more of a philosopher than Hammer–I’d say Reacher owes more to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee than to Mike Hammer; although I suppose it could be argued that MacDonald and McGee may have been influenced by Spillane and Hammer.

I would also argue that Spillane also owes an enormous debt to Dashiell Hammett and The Maltese Falcon, because there are some similarities in plot and structure.

I did start taking notes and writing down ideas, because I would really like to write a critical essay on I the Jury, because there’s an awful lot there–misogyny, homophobia, racism–that, while it may reflect the time in which it was written and published (1947), is problematic for the modern, present-day reader. Hammer is, in some ways, the embodiment of a masculine ideal that is very problematic, a personification of the type of a toxic masculinity that might not have ever truly existed, even in that time. The books were wildly popular, and I also believe the popularity of the books can be tied into the societal and cultural definition of what a man was supposed to be, but so rarely was in reality.

And frankly, the PTSD from World War II drips from every page.

The book is highly reflective of its time, and I think writing about it critically, both as a product of its time as well as through a modern lens, could make for a fascinating and interesting essay. We shall see.

I also started reading Angie Kim’s debut novel, Miracle Creek, yesterday, and while I only managed to get through the prologue, I was blown away by it completely, and look forward to delving more deeply into it during the course of today.

I am rather enjoying this life of leisure. I did do some other things around the house yesterday, starting reorganization/cleaning projects that can be leisurely finished over the course of my vacation.

And now, it’s time to repair to my easy chair with Ms. Kim’s novel.

Have a lovely holiday, Constant Reader, and I will speak with you again on the morrow.

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Frankenstein

So, vacation. Five glorious days off, which are not to be wasted, but utilized productively; but I also intend to pace myself and give myself plenty of time to relax and read. It would be completely awesome to be able to get about three or four books read over the course of this holiday/vacation weekend; there are also some films I’d like to watch in the evening–and since I cannot watch any of the shows Paul and I are watching together, that definitely frees up some more time. There are some Hitchcock films available on Amazon Prime; I may do a Hitchcock film festival this weekend. Who knows? We shall see. The possibilities are endless, after all.

One chore I have to do is read the galley proofs for Royal Street Reveillon, which means the book is that one more step closer to becoming, you know, an actual book; which is of course incredibly cool and never truly ever gets old. At the rate I am going, of course, there’s no telling when there will be another book by me; I can’t seem to finish anything these days, but hopefully over these next five days there will be progress made and I can take great joy in getting something done. I am very scattered–that creative ADD I talk about all the fucking time–and seriously, it is rather daunting to think about all the things I have in some sort of progress–a collection of essays, two short story collections, at least three (now four, if you count the Chanse first chapter I wrote last week) novels in some sort of stage of being finished, and countless, endless short stories.

I’d like to send some more stories out to markets; perhaps this weekend, if I don’t get sidetracked and distracted, as I always seem to be. I always tend to think I’ll get more done over this little vacations than I wind up getting done, but on the other hand, I am also going into this vacation more well-rested than I usually do. I am not in the least bit tired this morning, and I wasn’t tired after I got home from work last night; which is a good sign. Perhaps I am adjusting, at long last, to getting up early in the mornings again and maybe I can go back to the times when I used to get a lot done in the mornings.

Then again, it only takes one shitty night of insomnia to derail everything, doesn’t it? But that didn’t happen last night again–thank you baby Jesus–and so this morning I am awake, rested somewhat, and thinking lazy thoughts already. Oh, I don’t need to do that today, I have five days after all–which is, quite naturally, how it always starts, you know? “Oh, sure, why don’t I just be lazy for two days–take a weekend–and then the last three days of the vacation I can be getting things done.” And then nothing ends up getting done at all…why not simply get everything done to begin with, and then take the weekend?

I got further along in I the Jury yesterday at the office between clients, and it is definitely something I’m glad I’ve taken the time to read—despite the limits on my reading time–and the essay I rather glibly assumed I’d be able to write after reading it is sort of taking form in my mind. It’s a short book, fortunately, but the philosophy behind it is one that generally doesn’t appeal to me; if toxic masculinity were a book, it would be a Mike Hammer novel. But at the same time, I can also understand and see why these books sold so ridiculously well, and why they appealed to so many (mostly) male readers; Hammer is an exaggeration of the so-called masculine ideal, the ‘lone wolf rugged individualist American man’, which goes hand-in-hand with so many of our societal and cultural problems–past of the mythology of this continent and this nation is based in that loosely defined (and periodically redefined) sense of freedom; this wild frontier and wilderness that had to be settled, tamed, reframed and repurposed. (I sometimes marvel at how remarkably beautiful this continent must have been before European civilization; it’s still stunningly beautiful today, with all the taming and civilizing that has happened.) After the second world war, as the American economy steamed full forward and the society/culture was itself reframed, modernized, and changed forever into what is now looked back at as the great modern society–that sense of wildness and freedom was gradually lost, and it was also the first true generation that didn’t really have that same sense of “hey let’s go west and start a new life” because the west was already “won”, and what men were taught as traditional forms of American masculinity, developed over decades and centuries (with the poison pill of white supremacy inside) were no longer possible and as the so-called good life of career, home and family became sanitized and suburbs and home ownership and consumer culture began subsuming and redefining American masculinity, writers like Spillane tapped into that dissatisfaction and gave them heroes/idols like Mickey Spillane, the rugged masculine ideal who all women wanted and desired; who lived by a strange code; whose methods were steeped in violence; and had no problem taking the law into his own hands–and was SUCH a ‘man’s man’ that even the police never tried to rein him in even as he violated the law and civil rights and the foundations of law and justice the country was built upon.

As you can see, the essay about Mike Hammer/Mickey Spillane is already starting to take form in my brain.

Maybe I could have been an academic, after all.

So, what’s on the agenda for today? I want to do some cleaning, and some writing, and I also have galleys to proof as well as a cover design to look over and approve (it’s so remarkably beautiful! It’s one of my favorite covers ever–Lake Thirteen will probably always be my favorite cover, but this one comes very close to supplanting it in my affections), and I also want to finish reading I the Jury. I also have to go pick up prescriptions and the mail today; I might make a grocery list and stop at Rouses as well–the less time I have to spend outside the house this weekend the better, quite frankly. After I read I the Jury I am most likely going to read either Angie Kim’s Miracle Creek, or perhaps dip into some horror; I’ll have to see how the spirit moves me once I get everything going. I also want to clean out my email inbox–there are emails in there I’ve ignored and done nothing about for far far too long, and they need to be gone.

It’s always such a lovely feeling when your inbox has been cleaned out completely, isn’t it? And it’s been far too long.

As for right now, though, I need more coffee and something to eat…so on that note, I shall leave you for the day and return to the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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That’s the Way (I Like It)

Friday and we have made it to the end of the week, Constant Reader!

I am most pleased, and am even more pleased that I woke up before my alarm this morning. This, as you can imagine, doesn’t happen as often as I would like, and I was not only awake but functional, so I went ahead and got up. The kitchen is a mess this morning, primarily because I made dinner last night after cleaning when I got home yesterday afternoon, so I should probably do something about that before I leave for my half-day this morning. I am hoping to run to Costco after work today, and then come home to my usual Friday chores–primarily washing the bed linens–and perhaps getting back on track with writing. I really need to get back into the habit of writing some fiction every day. I do have other errands to run this weekend–making groceries being the most important of those–and I absolutely have to clean the Lost Apartment. I’ve not done the floors in forever, and the kitchen windows are filthy, absolutely filthy.

I also would love to finish reading Jamie Mason’s quite marvelous The Hidden Things this weekend. This is Jamie’s third novel; her first, Three Graves Full, was quite a stunning and brilliant debut, but I’ve been holding on to her second until she’d published another so I would always have one of her books that I’ve not read on deck. It really is quite odd that I do this; but I never want to run out of authors I enjoy’s books. (I’m still holding back on some Mary Stewarts, Daphne du Mauriers, and Charlotte Armstrongs)

I’ve also had a strong breakthrough on my short story “And the Walls Came Down,” which I reread this week, and think I can fashion with another revision into something quite marvelous. So, that’s also on the agenda for the weekend–and I’ve decided that each week I am picking one of my short stories for a reread and a final revise. At one story per week, it’s going to probably take me the rest of the  year to get them all done–I had no idea precisely how many short stories I have that are in some sort of progress–but at some point I am also going to have to finish the ones I’ve started and never finished the initial draft for–I also need to go through my journals and start digging out the short story ideas I’ve jotted down over the last year, because there were quite a few of those as well.

Paul and I watched the first season–there were only seven episodes–of a Netflix show called Bonding–which was actually quite funny at times and rather clever. The premise of the show is two former close friends from high school run into each other as adults; she is now a dominatrix and he’s an aspiring stand-up comedian who has too much stage fright to ever actually get up and do his act. He winds up working as her assistant, and they begin to bond and learn from each other while negotiating their own hang-ups and possible new relationships. I’m not entirely certain this is an accurate depiction of the BDSM community, or even of what a dom is like; but it was clever and cute and funny; and up till the last episode, we greatly enjoyed it. (The last episode got kind of weird.)

I also got some new books in the mail yesterday: They All Fall Down by Rachel Howzell Hall; Miracle Creek by Angie Kim; A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab; and Upon a Burning Throne by Ashok Banker. I’ve bumped Rachel’s book to the “on-deck” position on my TBR pile; so I am hopeful I can get Jamie’s book finished this weekend so I can dig into Rachel’s.

I am also bound and determined to get caught up on the WIP this weekend, so I can start writing new chapters next week.

Or…I might just be a slug and lay around and not do a goddamned thing all weekend. It happens.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, everyone.

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