Holding Out for a Hero

Wednesday and sixty has crept yet another day closer. In fact, today is Sixty Eve Eve! All About Sixty Eve Eve?

Honestly, I can barely stand myself sometimes!

Yesterday I started the long process of the revisions/edits/tweaks the Kansas book needs; God, I am so heartily sick of those opening chapters I don’t even know how to begin to describe just HOW sick I am of those chapters. This book has had more drafts than any other one I’ve written since maybe Murder in the Rue Dauphine–which I’ve always thought had an excessive amount of draft versions–but in fairness, I’ve told and retold and made up my mind how to tell this story and then changed my mind yet again and so…draft after draft after draft after draft. So many changes, so many corrections, so many characters had their names changed, and then whole thing is really just a big old mess. The manuscript I sent my editor was probably so bad it counted as creating an abusive workplace environment. But as I started going through it all again last night–I couldn’t help but feel the excitement I did have about this project at one time; and I look forward to its release when I can share everything with you, Constant Reader.

But oy–cleaning up this manuscript mess is going to be a challenge and a half. But I CAN DO IT. I know I can.

I also want to go over “The Sound of Snow Falling” one more time. I think it needs yet another tweak I missed the last time around–I was actually rather pleasantly surprised by how well it played out in the original draft–my original drafts are inevitably messy, sloppy, and too embarrassing for me to let anyone else see. (Another issue with donating my papers somewhere–the last thing I want to do is have people reading my horribly patchy and sketchy initial drafts of anything–although for someone who finds that sort of thing interesting, I suppose the journey from horrifyingly sloppy first draft to final, polished draft might be their cup of tea.

I mean, as an intellectual exercise to see how a book or story might come together, sure. But I would tend to think it would get tedious rather quickly.

Then again, maybe that’s just me.

I was tired yesterday when I got off work; I was definitely out of the habit of waking up early over the last few days–not that I ever really get used to getting up early. I could have this schedule for the rest of my life, five days per week, and I would still grumble and be sleepy and tired and slightly crabby all day every single time I have to get up early. I had planned on going to the gym after work, but I was so tired by the time I was done for the day I didn’t really feel like I had much of a choice; just the thought of the walk in the heavy humidity-it rained off and on all afternoon–also would have curled up my hair if I had any. Instead, when I got home I took a quick shower to wash the day off me and curled up in my easy chair with purr-kitty and The Other Black Girl. (I am going to read Megan Abbott’s latest, The Turnout, next; I’ve been itching to get it started) Yesterday was a definite low-energy day; hopefully I’ll have a bit more energy today to get things done. It also started pouring down rain when I got home, which wasn’t exactly encouraging me to go outside and walk for ten minutes to get there, either. I read about another fifty or sixty pages of the book, enjoying it tremendously still–perhaps I can finish it tonight–and then watched the A&E bio of MTV before going to bed last night. I slept really well again last night–it goes without saying that I really didn’t want to get up this morning, but I am not as sleepy/still tired the way I was yesterday, which is also fine; perhaps I won’t be too tired to get things done today the way I was yesterday. It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day (hurray for pay day?), so I will definitely be having to spend some time doing exactly that this morning.

Huzzah?

At least I can pay them; that’s probably the best way to look at the situation.

I still haven’t made that crucial to-do list, either. Maybe today? But at least tomorrow is the work-at-home day this week, and then of course Friday is the big birthday. What am I going to do for turning sixty? Going to drive out to Metairie and get a deep-dish pizza from That’s Amore, for one thing; which is most likely going to be all I do for the day. I’m not a big let’s do something major for my birthday person; haven’t been that in quite some time, and frankly, just being able to laze around the house without guilt–a day off where I don’t feel like I am wasting the day, or like I should be doing something other than being lazy–is actually sufficient. If I don’t have The Other Black Girl finished by then, I will most likely get it finished on Friday, and then will curl up with Megan Abbott. I really need to dig into my reading more–I am getting further and further behind in my reading, as the TBR Pile continues to grow larger at an increasingly terrifying rate–and I am most likely going to go back to placing a moratorium on buying books for a little while again; at least until I make some more progress on the reading.

The dishwasher started leaking last night–it’s always something around the Lost Apartment, seriously–and so I am going to have to start doing the dishes by hand again. At least this time I have the dishwasher to load them into to dry, which is something I didn’t have the last time the dishwasher conked on for a while–so they’ll be, at the very least, out of the way until they dry–but it’s still a pain in the ass. I don’t recall how old this dishwasher is–my sense of time is so fucked up and skewed I don’t remember how old anything is; I still can’t get over how old my old desktop was by the time I finally replaced it–but it should have definitely lasted a while longer, methinks; the failure of appliances to last for decades is something that still catches me off guard and by surprise.

Obviously, in some ways I am still stuck in my childhood, remembering things like how my mother’s first washer and dryer lasted for over twenty years….

And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines.

If I Can’t Have You

Friday!

I feel very rested this morning; I’ve been sleeping well (thank you, medication) ever since last week, and am probably jinxing myself this morning for tonight’s sleep, but it is astonishing what not having insomnia feels like, and how literally marvelous that actually is. Yesterday was nice and relaxing; I made condom packs and other day-job related things around here all day, while doing the laundry and cleaning the kitchen (sort of); today I will be making more condom packs as well as doing various other day-job related things while watching some thing on television. I am now caught up on Superman and Lois (seriously, the best Superman adaptation since Christopher Reeve; if you’re a Superman fan, you really need to watch this show) and Real Housewives of Beverly Hills–which isn’t quite as absorbing as it has been before; it’s difficult to watch the Erica Girardi performances as “victim” without wanting to slap the smug smirk off her criminal face–and am not entirely sure what to watch today–I forgot to check with Paul about Loki–but I am sure I can find something.

I also neither read nor wrote yesterday; the desktop computer isn’t working as great as it could/should and I suspect I am going to eventually need to replace this bitch once and for all, which is galling, but it’s also, now that I think about it, fairly old. It was at least two or three at the time of the Great Data Disaster of 2018, and that’s almost three years ago as is. I hate spending the money–would actually prefer not to, in all honesty–but it is something I really need for my work and it is a complete tax write-off. I ordered a wireless mouse to use for the laptop–I lost the old one, and have looked for it everywhere–which should also arrive today, so working in my easy chair should be a lot easier as far as that is concerned going forward as well. I am also looking forward to paying off the car and some of these outstanding bills–which has also helped with my sleep, quite honestly–and so maybe, just maybe, I should get a new computer as a birthday gift to myself. I can’t really decide, to be honest. I mean, I could take this one back in and have them install more memory into it, but I am also not entirely certain that is the wisest course to take. Heavy heaving sigh.

But as my coffee continues to warm and wake up my brain from the deepest recesses of sleep, I see all kinds of things I really need to get done around here–I am going to bag up some more beads to donate, for example–and maybe I can start working on clearing things out of the attic. That’s a great, if problematic, project–I hate that little ladder that folds down and it attached to the trap door to the attic, and when I’m standing on it that creates an issue getting things up and down from there–but I can handle getting over my ladder phobia for a little while, and of course there’s no need for me to be going up and down; it can be done bit by bit.

And let’s be completely honest here–I’m not going to read anything that’s stored in the attic, am I?

So that can all go. And while I have been saving my papers almost from the very first–I don’t know, maybe I should try to see if there’s an archive still interested in them. I don’t think there will be much interest in them, or me, once I’ve left this mortal coil–I can’t imagine MFA or PhD candidates ever needing or wanting access to them, nor can I imagine I would be the subject of future biographies and/or scholarly research. And that isn’t me being self-deprecating, either–I am trying to watch out for that stuff, to be honest–and I have to wonder if I am, in fact, hoarding the paper. Decisions, decisions, decisions.

Heavy sigh.

But it’s a lovely morning, and I need to make a to-do list for the weekend. One thing for sure I need to do is take boxes of condom packs back to the office (thus clearing out the living room) and pick up the mail; I also need to pick up a prescription. This should all be relatively easy to accomplish; the question is how do I want to do this all, and in what order to maximize my efficiency as I am out and about in the world. I feel pretty good, and that bodes well for my visit to the gym after I get my work done. I want to focus mostly on reading and writing this weekend–often a challenge–and trying to get caught up on everything.

Some day, methinks–or me-dreams–I will be finally caught up on everything. Ha ha ha ha, I still can crack myself up when I put my mind to it, can’t I?

I was also thinking, yesterday, as I made my condom packs and listened to the accessory-after-the-fact nonsense on Real Housewives, about my twisted view on gay relationships when it comes to writing about them; one of the things I’ve always been interested in is relationships gone bad, turned sour, and how to adapt common criminality tropes used for heterosexual couples for gay ones. One of the things I found so interesting about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus was the power imbalance between Nathan and Oliver, and how that dynamic deeply affected not only how they saw each other but how they interacted with each other. The tired cliché love is blind isn’t really quite so tired when your couple is no longer opposite-sex; those dynamics really haven’t been as explored in queer relationships in crime novels so much as its been done to death for straight ones. When I wrote Timothy, I wasn’t playing with the romantic suspense trope (as Rebecca is so frequently and commonly mistaken considered) as I was writing a gay noir with a completely untrustworthy narrator–how innocent is Mrs. deWinter, after all? I have other ideas, of course (as always) for other explorations of noir and gay characters who aren’t on the up-and-up; there used to be a sense that gay characters in gay fiction had to be heroic in some one–no matter how flawed they were in service to the story they might be–because we needed to create them since history and most literature erased our existence. But things have changed, and I don’t feel that tiresome burden anymore–which I didn’t take terribly seriously in the first place if we’re being completely honest; the villain in Murder in the Rue Dauphine was a gay man, after all–but I no longer feel, when I am creating a character or starting to write something that I need my characters to be role models; that is a subconscious thought I am not sorry to have to consider anymore. Certainly my short story characters are not heroic people; they are damaged and flawed and often driven to their breaking point by circumstances beyond their control. My main character in “Festival of the Redeemer” is certainly incredibly flawed and more than a little unreliable; his mental instability and horrific, almost emotionally crippling insecurities are fun to write if emotionally exhausting.

And on that note, I am starting my day. May yours be a fabulous and amazing Friday, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you later.

This Time I Know It’s For Real

It seems hard to believe–and writing it out makes it seem even harder to believe–but my first book came out over nineteen years ago. Right? I’ve been a published author of crime fiction now for almost a third of my lifespan–more, if you consider my career beginning when the original contract was signed–and yes, it makes me feel a bit old and weathered, and no, it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible (well, that so much time has passed).

It’s also a little weird to remember that one of the launching pads that got publishing in the first place was book reviewing. I started reviewing books for IMPACT News here in New Orleans around 1998, which led me eventually to national magazines, and an assistant editor position at Lambda Book Report (now LambdaLiterary.org) for a few months before taking over as editor-in-chief for twelve issues. Over the next few years I still did the occasional book review, but was slowly backing away from it. As a novelist myself, reviewing books was basically a mine field for me. If I reviewed a book badly, someone would inevitably pull out the old canard of “he’s just jealous!” (nothing could be further, ever, from the truth; I am not jealous of anyone’s success; if anything, I am jealous of other writers’ abilities and skills and creativity–which would never result in a negative boo review in the first place)

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve never been accused of jealousy of other writers’ careers and/or success; it amuses me a bit, because clearly the person lobbing such an accusation doesn’t know me at all–but I also don’t like being perceived that way. So I stopped reviewing books for money and for publication–it wasn’t a big financial loss for me in the first place; few places pay incredibly well for reviews; certainly not the places paying me for them, at any rate–and it eliminated any future accusations of “jealousy.” I also stopped talking about queer writers, and/or blogging about their books, a while back for various reasons. For one, I don’t want to be seen as a reviewer or my blog as a review site; as it is, I got requests from authors and publicists periodically wanting me to read and review their book(s) here; inevitably, I never am able to get to it and I don’t want to read for anything other than pleasure anymore.

When someone sends you a book to review, it turns the reading from pleasure to work and I don’t want that; it’s hard enough to turn off my editorial brain when I read, let alone adding the reviewer’s mindset back into my psyche.

I also realize, now, that all of this dissembling might sound like I am about to write some terrible things about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus; nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a fucking mistake.

My heart beats against the back of my sternum like it might knock itself still.

I kill the ignition and Nathan’s SUV sinks into silence. My wedding band slides right off, joining spare console change. Nathan and I aren’t married, but he insists we wear rings.

The iPhone buzzing in my pocket is a miniature washing machine. Nathan’s calling. I wait it out, don’t move. A simple phone call I treated like a kidney stone. Excruciating and it needs to pass. He leaves a voicemail.

“Oliver. Dinner’s wrapped up, heading back to the hotel now. Give me a call if you can. Wondering what you’re doing. Did you remember Tilly’s heartworm medication? Don’t forget. It’s important. Call me. Love you.”

Mental note: return Nathan’s call within the hour. Thirty minutes is his typical limit. If he doesn’t hear back within half an hour, we fight. But he’s out of town, and I can stretch it to an hour. He can’t fight me from Manhattan, and it sounds lie he’s been drinking anyway.

First of all, I want to point out that back when I was getting started, the chances of this book being published by a mainstream press like Doubleday, in hardcover, were so infinitesimal I can’t even think about such a manuscript being delivered to a mainstream editor in 2000 without laughing out loud. The book opens in a bath house, for God’s sake; my QUEER publisher made me make a slight change to Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which meant not having the murder victim and his wealthy closeted lover meet in a French Quarter bath house. (I was told they would not be seen as sympathetic by the reader, which also struck me as odd; but it was also my first book and I wasn’t going to argue, assuming my queer publisher knew better than I did) Hell, even the title is Bath Haus–which kind of lays it all out for you, right there. This book also doesn’t shy away from gay sexuality, either–another third rail in thriller/crime fiction. It’s all right there for you, and not done in a prurient way; it is simply presented as another facet of their lives, much as it would be if it were a heterosexual couple.

And I absolutely love this opening–which contrasts the mundanity of the coupled existence vs. the lure of cheating.

I mean, how genius to have his main character, about to enter a bath house to cheat on his partner, get a text reminding him to give the dog her heartworm medicine! Well played, indeed!

PJ has called this book “Gone Girl with Grindr and gays”–which is a great elevator pitch, really–but the only similarities here with Gone Girl is that the book focuses on a dysfunctional relationship that spirals out of control, and that it’s a thriller with the same kinds of surprising twists and turns and surprises that keep you turning the page, very curious to see how this is all going to end–and to find out what is going on as well.

The book focuses on a relationship that really isn’t an equal one: wealthy surgeon Nathan, from a socially prominent family, has rescued a lower class drug addicted younger man from drowning in his own no-where life. But that power differential (rescuer/savior and rescued/victim), when added in with the financial differences, has made Oliver almost as dependent on Nathan as he used to be with drugs; if he loses Nathan, he will have nothing–which he is very aware of, and yet…like all addicts, there is a self-destructive streak in Oliver. He has never gotten over the self-loathing that was only amplified by drug addiction–and so he has begun checking out other guys on a Grindr-like app called MeetLockr (props for the clever app name! PJ needs to trademark that before someone else makes a fortune off it…then again I am assuming it’s NOT a real app, aren’t I?) and finally, with Nathan out of town and the coast, as he sees it, clear–Oliver decides to go to Haus, a bath house, for a night of anonymous sex which should never intrude into the picture perfect life Nathan has provided him. But his encounter turns terrifying, as Kristian, a gorgeous Scandinavian, begins choking him far past the point of pleasure and Oliver panics, fights back, slashes Kristian’s cheek open with his locker key–and then has to lie to Nathan about the bruises on his neck, beginning a downward spiral of lies and deception that begets more lies and deceptions as he frantically tries to hide the truth from Nathan–but few things in this book are what they seem at first glance, and the deeper the reader gets into the book, the more surprises are in store….

Bath Haus is definitely a thriller; a non-stop thrill ride that is difficult to put down, with brief chapters and short staccato sentences that come at the reader like bullets from an AK-47, almost daring you to put the book down–which you won’t be able to.

The book has received a lot of hype–also thrilling for me to see–and I am very happy to say it lives up to said hype.

Well done, PJ–can’t wait to read your next one!

History Has Its Eyes On You

Ah, Independence Day.

That’s really what the 4th of July commemorates–the day the Continental Congress ratified, and began signing, the Declaration of Independence, when the thirteen British colonies along the Atlantic seaboard threw off the yoke of the King of England and his Parliament and said, nah, thanks–we’re going out on our own. It was extremely radical–particularly since the British Empire was the greatest power in the world since the end of the Seven Years’ War (to the colonials, the French and Indian War) in 1763; perhaps the largest empire to date in world history.

And yet…no rights for women and there was still slavery for another ninety-odd years, give or take.

Someday I will write an essay about American mythology and how I learned it as absolute truth as a child; American history (or rather, US history) was my gateway drug to world history. I should have gone into History as my major in college; it’s entirely possible that History rather than English (or business; I switched back and forth between the two for a very long time) might have garnered an entirely different result when it came to my academic career. But I also would have had to have picked a time to specialize in, and how on earth could I have ever decided? There were so many interesting periods…although inevitably, I tend to think my metiér would have been sixteenth century Europe.

Someday–probably after I retire–I am going to write A Monstrous Regiment of Women.

Yesterday was rather lovely. I actually slept late, of all things; I cannot remember the last time that happened, and thus got a rather late start to my day. I started cleaning up around the house, and organizing things, but again–a late start kind of threw me off my game a bit, and I didn’t get near enough done that I had wanted to get done. I did read a couple of short stories for the Short Story Project, and I also read some more of Robyn Gigl’s wonderful By Way of Sorrow; that was lovely. I also listened to some Bette Midler albums on Spotify (joking on Facebook that I was doing my part to break down gay stereotypes by doing so); in particular I listened to It’s the Girls and Bette Midler, before moving on to Liza with the Cabaret soundtrack, and the little known sequel to Rocky Horror soundtrack, Shock Treatment, and then moved on to the Pet Shop Boys. I made meatballs in the slow cooker for dinner, and then we watched Fear Street 1994 (which was remarkably fun), then a few episodes of High Seas (which is really fun) and a few episodes of Happy Endings before bed.

R. L. Stine and Christopher Pike, who were hugely successful writers of young adult suspense/mystery/horror in the 1990’s, actually had an influence on me as a writer, surprisingly enough. I read most of their novels when I lived in Tampa back in the day (I actually preferred Pike, to be honest), and I actually wrote three novels–Sara, Sorceress, and Sleeping Angel–for young adults during that time. I had always intended to do the Fear Street thing–where the books were all connected somehow and minor characters in one would become the lead characters in another–and spread them across the country, as opposed to one town, as Stine had done; mine would be scattered between Kansas, California, Chicago, and Alabama (one of those ideas became Dark Tide and another Bury Me in Shadows). Then I discovered, through Paul, gay mysteries and all those ideas went into a drawer, along with those manuscripts, and I started creating Chanse and his world, and what eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Fear Street 1994 is a lot of fun, as I said, both a mystery, a slasher film, and horror–the main romantic story is a lesbian love story, which was very cool–and it also slightly involved class differentials between the town of Shadyside (often called Shittyside) and it’s wealthier, preppy neighbor, Sunnyvale. It was a fun homage to Scream as well, and it was clever, witty, and quite a fun ride. I do recommend you watch it, if you like those kinds of movies. Nothing deep, but lots of fun, and now I can’t wait for the next part of the trilogy, which drops this Friday: Fear Street 1978.

I did try writing yesterday, without much luck, logging in less than a thousand words. But rather than despairing, as I am wont to do (Oh no! I knew I was breaking my momentum!), I chose to understand and recognize that the scene I was writing needed to be set up better–which was why it wasn’t working–and it needed more than just the cursory slide over I was giving it. I am going to open the document back up later this morning–probably after getting another load of laundry finished, and emptying the dishwasher–and scroll back a bit to start revising and getting into the story again. There really is such a thing as thinking too much about what you’re writing; that’s when the door to doubt starts to open a crack and Imposter Syndrome starts saying pssst through that open crack in the door.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a happy and safe 4th of July, Constant Reader!

Love on the Rocks

Yesterday was kind of lovely, actually.

I got up early because of that weird stress-inducing dream I’d had, and then spent the morning doing things–organizing the kitchen, doing some laundry, taking out trash, vacuuming (God, what a difference a good vacuum cleaner can make; I am so glad I bit the bullet and spent the money on a good one Saturday–and I am reading the manual AND will be taking care of this one, to make it last), and yes–I actually spent some time writing “Festival of the Redeemer,” which was lovely. I am actually enjoying writing this novella or whatever it is going to be–I can’t get it out of my head, so I keep writing on it, even though I should be working on other things, but there’s no deadline for anything and so why not while I wait for my edits on the two manuscripts I turned in? I am trying for a Daphne du Maurier Gothic style, but am trying very hard not to reread “Don’t Look Now” or “Ganymede”–her two Venice stories, much as I desperately want to because I don’t want it to be derivative; I really like the voice, and I like my untrustworthy narrator a lot. (oops, shouldn’t have said that, I suppose) It’s also interesting writing about a dysfunctional couple, one where there is an enormous power differential as well as an undefined relationship; which helps keep my main character off-balance–he wants to know but then he’s afraid to have that conversation because he is afraid of the answer–and while I know how I want this story to end, I am finding my way there slowly; I am just writing in free form without any real sense of what I am writing and where it is going and you know, just seeing where it is going to wind up as I keep writing. I’m not writing at the pace I generally do–but I am writing, which is kind of nice, and there is an element where I kind of want to get this finished instead of putting it aside; I kind of want to finish something since I’ve had so many false starts since turning in the Kansas book. (I’ve also had a few more ideas while working on this, but am just writing notes and coming back to this.)

We had quite a marvelous thunderstorm last night–which was undoubtedly why it was so oppressively humid yesterday; I think I must have sweated out ten pounds of water walking to and from the gym. Oh yes, I made it to the gym again yesterday and the stretching and weight lifting felt absolutely marvelous. I was actually a little surprised that my flexibility gains hadn’t been lost during the fallow weeks of not going, and as the summer continues to get hotter and more humid daily, there will undoubtedly be days when I won’t want to go. But I also need to remember how good I feel during and after–especially the next morning. I also took a lot of pictures on the walk home for Instagram, which I am really starting to enjoy doing. I don’t know why I never really got into Instagram before, but since I love to take pictures and I live in one of the most beautiful–if not the most beautiful–cities in North America…it seems like it’s only natural that I bring them all together into one user app. I’ve talked about how I’ve felt sort of disconnected from New Orleans for a while now–several years at least; I feel like I’m no longer as familiar with the city as I used to be; the changes and gentrification plus all the working I’ve been doing in the years since Katrina have somehow weakened or lost my connection to the city. Yesterday, walking home and detouring a bit around Coliseum Square, I felt connected to the city again in a way I hadn’t in a long time. I also took and posted a picture of the house where Paul and I first lived when we moved here in 1996; the house, in fact, where Chanse MacLeod lives and runs his business from…we were living there when I wrote Murder in the Rue Dauphine, in fact…and I started remembering things from when we lived there and were new to the city. This is a good thing, making me feel anchored and tethered to the city again, and if I am going to write another Scotty book–well, the strength of my books set in New Orleans is that sense of love for the city I always feel and try to get across in the work.

I also had weird dreams last night. I rested well, but drifted in and out of sleep most of the night. I’m not sure what the deal is with the dreams; I dreamt that someone I went to high school with in the Chicago suburbs came to New Orleans with some of her friends from her current life and wanted to connect again; and I did so, primarily out of curiosity other than anything else. (Maybe it was all the tourists I saw out and about yesterday?) But it was very strange–going to the casino and watching them drink the insane tourist-targeted colored drinks; meeting them at their hotel on the West Bank, listening to them talk about New Orleans to me in the insane and often offensive ways tourists will speak to locals about the place where we live, not even realizing they are being insulting and offensive. I don’t know; I cannot say for certain what is the deal with the weird dreams lately, but I’ve been having them.

We rewatched Victor/Victoria last night–we’ve been talking about rewatching it for a while now, and it recently was added to HBO MAX. I don’t remember what brought it up, or what made us think about it–I know it was Paul who did; I had already added it to my watchlist when it dropped and when he said he wanted to watch it again, I replied, “Its on the HBO app so we can, whenever we want to” and so last night we did–primarily to see if it still worked, if it was still funny, and watching it–a relatively tame movie, really–last night I remembered (rather, we remembered) how incredibly subversive it was at the time it was released in 1982; it depicted homosexuality and drag in a nonjudgmental way years before being gay was less offensive to society at large, as well as bringing drag into the mainstream years before RuPaul’s Drag Race. The performances are stellar–especially Robert Preston and Lesley Anne Warren in supporting roles–and the humor is kind of farcical and slapstick, which never really ages; as Paul said, “that kind of humor is kind of timeless.” It also struck me that it was very Pink Panther-like; the film, not the cartoon–which makes sense since Blake Edwards wrote, directed and produced both. Some of it wouldn’t play today, of course, and the movie probably couldn’t be made today–some of the sex humor was misogynistic, not to mention men trying to spy on “Victor” to find out if he was really a man or a woman, which is incredibly invasive and horrible, plus it was very binary about gender and gender roles. 1982 was also the year of Tootsie, which I also kind of want to rewatch now to see how it holds up as well. It would seem that both films–which were both critical and box office hits , rewarded with scores of Oscar nominations–seemed to signal a new direction for Hollywood when it came to queerness and gender; it was also around this time that the soapy Making Love was released as well. but HIV/AIDS was breaking around this time as well, and soon the repressive politics of the 1980’s would change everything.

Tonight after work I am going to run some errands and then I am going to be guesting on Eric Beetner’s podcast, along with Dharma Kelleher, to talk about three queer writers everyone should be reading year-round, not just during Pride Month. That should be interesting; I am also appearing on a panel for the San Francisco Public Library tomorrow night being moderated by Michael Nava–one of my heroes–which should also be interesting and fun.

And on that note, it is time to go back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

Cherish

Saturday and the coast is clear, I think?

Today I am going to venture out to run some errands and then probably (possibly) brave the horrible heat to head over to the gym. I also want to get a lot of writing and cleaning and so forth done today–yes, yes, what else is new, I know–but I was able to get the car back yesterday and then we ventured to Costco before coming home to collapse like heavy woolen blankets that didn’t completely dry in the dryer.

Christ it is hot this June.

Paul did point out that last June probably was just as hot–which reminded me of working the screening desk in the garage at work and getting dehydration sickness (HYDRATE PEOPLE)–and then he also pointed out May was unusually mild and much rainier than usual, so the bitch slap of the return of your usual New Orleans summer weather felt even nastier than it generally does when it happens.

I am tired this morning, despite sleeping like a stone. I was tired yesterday–any amount of time spent out of doors in this type of New Orleans weather is exhausting and draining (and I am not, alas, in as good of physical condition as I should be; but despite the draining nature of this weather I draw the line at driving the short distance to the gym, which is simply insane and goes against the entire idea of going to the gym in the first place)–and while I need to, am trying to, exercise and be more conscious of self-care, I cannot allow the weather to keep me from doing things. (Yesterday when we picked up the car–shout out to Dawn, our amazing Lyft driver–it was 97 degrees and morbidly humid; after the Costco trip and unloading the car, all I really wanted to do was curl up in a corner in the air conditioning and hide for the rest of the evening. But there were other things that needed doing, so I wrote for a while (adding about another thousand words to “Festival of the Redeemer”), finished some laundry (I just heard the dryer click off from a fluff cycle, since I left the clothes in there over night), and then we finished watching an absolutely delightful HBO MAX show called Starstruck, which is incredibly charming, funny, and sweet–the premise is a young woman who has two horrible dead-end jobs, approaches life with a kind of grin and sense of humor but is really adrift, hooks up with someone one New Year’s who turns out to be a major film star–and follows their back-and-forth fumbling towards a relationship. The chemistry between them is absolutely fantastic, and we absolutely loved it. Rose Matafeo plays Jessie (she’s also the writer of the show) and she is just perfect; while Tom Kapoor, the movie star, is also perfectly played by Nikesh Patel–the cast is perfect down to the smallest role. The irony of the show is Jessie is positively NOT starstruck; she finds his celebrity appalling and a barrier to any possibility of a relationship between the two. Constant Reader, I think you would love it. It’s probably one of the most charming shows I’ve seen, up there with Schitt’s Creek, Ted Lasso, and Kim’s Convenience–which is high praise indeed.

Someone tweeted at me yesterday about having finished Mardi Gras Mambo and having tears in their eyes by the end; which was absolutely a lovely thing and an incredibly pleasant reminder that I kind of needed…we so often as writers live in a vacuum, and the negativity out there about our work is so intrusive and debilitating sometimes that it’s always lovely when someone who enjoyed your work reaches out to let you know. Thank you, person on Twitter that I don’t know; you made my evening…and it really takes so little.

I read a wonderful article in LA Review of Books written by Michael Nava yesterday (he really is a treasure; I am so delighted he has taken up the Henry Rios character again), which was the second part (I somehow missed the first and will be looking for it today) about the history of queer publishing. This was about the Golden Age, from the late 1970’s to the mid-1990’s; and reading it reminded me of so many names that I hadn’t forgotten but simply hadn’t thought about in a very long time. I came into queer publishing around this time, as a book reviewer for the New Orleans queer newspaper Impact; eventually branching out into national queer glossies and Lambda Book Report, where I actually wound up working; first as an assistant editor for about five months before taking over as editor for a year. I made many friends during that year and a half at LBR; it was while I was working there that Michael ended the Henry Rios series (I got Katherine Forrest to interview him and put him on the cover, using my very poor and picked-up-on-the-job Adobe Photoshop skills to pull together my most ambitious cover design to date; I have all the issues I worked on in a box up in the storage attic…and reading Michael’s piece made me think about bringing that box down and going through them, for the sake of the memories they would bring back for me–and then I thought, wow you sure have been experiencing a lot of nostalgia this year and decided to skip it for now), which was heartbreaking for me, a long-time fan. I left LBR–which in many ways was my dream job–just before the release of my first book, Murder in the Rue Dauphine, because I felt I couldn’t really run a review magazine focusing on queer lit while I was also publishing my own fiction; I felt it created too much of a conflict of interest. I still stand my that decision–a lot of people were disappointed that I stepped down from the job; I remember one legendary queer writer telling me I was “destroying my career” by doing so (I think things worked out rather well, though; always trust your own instincts). I continued reviewing books for a few more years, but really felt uncomfortable doing so; for me, as a writer of queer fiction, it seemed–and still does–like a conflict of interest and so eventually I stopped being a paid reviewer. Now, of course, I review the occasional book I loved here on the blog; but I am not being paid for my opinion and I won’t talk about a book I didn’t like on here…I also don’t write about every book I read on this blog, either; and sometimes I worry that people think I didn’t like their book if I don’t review it…but then I remind myself that reviewing books isn’t the point of this blog, and it never has been….the blog is something I primarily write for myself, and I’m not interested in having a book review blog. I love reading for pleasure, and really, when I do write about a book I loved on here it’s to emphasize how much I love to read more than anything else.

And I really do need to get back to reading more.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. There’s a lot on the agenda today, and randomly riffing on my musings here isn’t going to get any of it done. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and see you on the morrow.

Vicious Circle

Ugh, Monday morning. I slept really well again last night–woke up before the alarm, in fact–and feel relatively well rested, if not completely mentally awake yet. I am sort of feeling like myself again; like my batteries have finally recharged, even if it meant putting some things off for a few days and just allowing myself to relax completely. The Lost Apartment is all pulled back together again; I’ve made some terrific progress with my writing, and my creativity is firing on almost all of its cylinders again, which is more than I ever thought would happen for me again. I finished reading The Russia House yesterday–it’s quite good, if unexciting; the writing itself is so marvelous the coldness of the story itself doesn’t matter, really–and we started watching season two of Very Scary People, getting through the Son of Sam and Night Stalker cases, and then part one of the Coed Killer (honest takeaway from this series: California sure has a lot of mass murderers and serial killers/rapists) before retiring for the evening. I also started reading Jack Olsen’s The Man with the Candy: The Story of the Houston Mass Murders (interesting title, because the term “serial killer” hadn’t really been coined yet), which is extremely well written, and also paints an interesting picture of Houston; coupled with Thomas Thompson’s Blood and Money–I’ve always wanted to write about Houston. I lived there for two years, and then six months again a few years later, and it’s an interesting, complicated city that no crime writer, at least that I am aware of, has set a crime series in, or written a crime novel set there….which is something I find interesting. I think it’s also true of Dallas.

Interesting trivia Greg fact: the Chanse series was originally set in Houston, and the first book was called The Body in the Bayou. I later, when I started writing it seriously (and got beyond two chapters) I moved the series to New Orleans and the story evolved into Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which is the real reason why Chanse was from Texas: he was originally supposed to have lived in Houston, playing for the (at the time) Oilers after attending Texas A&M before getting injured and becoming a private eye. (In the published series, Chanse went to LSU instead of A&M, and was injured in his final college game, which kept him from playing in the pros.)

I still think someone should write a cop or private eye series set in Houston. As wild and crazy as these true crime books set there make Houston seem, I doubt very seriously that the city isn’t wild and crazy still. I remember going to see the stage version of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast at Theatre Under the Stars (TUTS) there, the very first time it was publicly performed (little known Greg fact), and the audience was interesting….I loved the guys in their formal jackets, ties, Wranglers and boots escorting women in evening gowns and furs and dripping with diamonds ( needless to say, I was wearing a nice pair of slacks and a dress shirt, but I spent the intermissions and the pre-performance time in the lobby literally just staring at the fascinating fashion choices for Houston’s moneyed class).

Oddly enough, there were not many children there; considering it was the stage production of a Disney animated film, you’d think there would be more kids there…but it was a world premiere, and more about Houston’s higher class showing off jewels, furs, and gowns more than anything else.

I also had fun brainstorming the background work for Chlorine over the weekend; naming characters and loosely sketching out bios for them, as well as trying to figure out how to pull off the plot and how to make it work. This is the really fun part of a book–figuring out everything–before the drudgery of actually writing it starts. I am very excited about writing this book, though, and it’s been a hot minute since I was excited about writing a book–in fact, so long that I can’t remember the last time I was actually excited to write a book–it may have been Lake Thirteen, all those years ago–which is different than being happy to write a book. I also have to be careful not to worry about expectations of other people, too–Chlorine began its life as just a vague idea I had one morning while writing my blog, which somehow caught on with some of my friends on Twitter who started tweeting at me (some of them still, periodically, will bring up Chlorine on social media, wondering where it is and when I am going to write it), excited about the idea.

I also spent some time yesterday coming up with a to-do list, which I always enjoy doing when I’m not stressed and worn out. When I am stressed and worn out (hello, first three months of this year), to-do lists simply make things worse more than anything else; emphasizing how far behind I am and how much I have to get done and sometimes–not always, just sometimes–the to-do list defeats me once it’s written. Just looking at it causes me stress. I’m not sure how long I am going to be able to hold off stress at the moment–it’s always just lurking there, in my peripheral vision, waiting to pounce on my like a tiger and hold me down–but I am hoping that having the apartment back together and having the two deadlines in my rearview mirror will help stave off it’s inevitable return for a little while, at least.

Tonight I am planning–we’ll see how that goes–to return to the gym for the first time in a couple of weeks, which means basically starting over with one set of everything, which means I won’t be there for terribly long, which for a Monday night is a good thing, most likely. Here’s hoping this will also help me fall asleep tonight; insomnia so frequently derails me. The office is also on track to going back to full staffing and regular open hours, possibly as early as May; I am curious to see how that winds up going. I’ve gotten used to the tumbleweeds blowing through our mostly empty department, and it will seem weird having other people around when they actually starts to happen.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, all, and I’ll check in with you again tomorrow morning.

Wonderland

I see it’s time for all of the “end of the year” lists, from the best of’s to the worst of’s, and literally, I had to scroll back through my blog to find my “favorite” short story of the year to reply to a tweet in order to enter a giveaway–and it was such a confounding year that I just posted the first one I came to, whether it was the best or not–“The Day I Died” by Cornell Woolrich, and immediately after I hit send, I thought, “that wasn’t even my favorite Woolrich story I read last year; that was ‘It Had to Be Murder’ (filmed as Rear Window)”. But that’s indicative of the kind of year this 2020 has been, not just for me but for others: I can’t remember shit. I can’t remember what I read and when I read it; was the Diversity Project this year or last? When did I started the Reread Project? And the Short Story Project certainly didn’t het much traction here on the blog this past year. This year now blends with other years in my memory, and I am not sure when I read things or what I liked or what movies I watched or television shows I enjoyed–and there were a lot; but was this year the year we started watching foreign language shows like Elite and Dark? I know I watched a lot of films for the Cynical 70’s Film Festival–still have a lot to go on that, for that matter–but as for reading….I know I read some books this past year, and I know I started the Reread Project–not just to revisit books I’d enjoyed, but to get back into reading because the pandemic shutdown–and the basic state of the world in chaos–made it hard for me to focus.

Even more maddening, the lack of focus also hurt my writing schedule (which really needed no assistance–I can not write all by myself without assistance from outside influences, thank you very much), and I cannot keep track or remember what I wrote and what I sold and so forth. I know I wrote my first ever Sherlock Holmes pastiche this past year, and it will be out in the new year–“The Affair of the Purloined Rentboy” (and I am so glad to finally get that title used; although, in fairness, the title I had lying around forever was The Purloined Stripper; I was originally thinking to parody Poe titles with the Chanse series, hence Murder in the Rue Dauphine. But the publisher (Alyson Books) wanted to brand them with the Murder in the titles, and once I made Scotty a stripper and wrote about him, I revised the plot and made Chanse’s boyfriend a former gay-interest video wrestler and that book became Murder in the Rue St. Ann instead)–and I also sold some other stories, like “The Snow Globe” and “Night Follows Night”–but it also seems like I sold more stories than that? I think this was the year “The Silky Veils of Ardor” came out in Josh Pachter’s The Beat of Black Wings, and of course “The Carriage House” came out in Mystery Tribune this year. Was this also the year of “The Dreadful Scott Decision” and The Faking of the President? I think that may be the case.

I do know I spent most of the year trying to get Bury Me in Shadows finished and ready to go–it’s still not completely finished–and I also started researching Chlorine. I kind of am feeling a bit discombobulated lately–no idea what day it is; I really had to stop and think this morning before recognizing that it’s actually Sunday. Crazy, right? I went shopping yesterday to make groceries and get the mail and air up the car tires again–the ‘tires are out of balance’ light came on the other day, which means they are low in air–and then I came home. I spent some time trying to locate my copy of Otto Friedrich’s City of Nets, which I may have read already and donated; the library also didn’t have it, so rather than going through the storage space I ordered the ebook, which was only $7.99. I spent some time with it yesterday reading it–it’s a period that always fascinates me; my interest in Hollywood begins to die out in the 1980’s, and beyond 1990 my interest wanes considerably.

Last night we watched two movies: 1917 and Bombshell, neither of which proved to be very involving. Both movies were very well done, but…I really didn’t feel any emotional involvement with either. Bombshell was probably the more interesting of the two–primarily anchored by Charlize Theron’s terrifyingly spot-on performance as Megyn Kelly, which really dominated the film, and I’m glad there’s a film sort of documenting the crazy goings-on at Fox before the 2016 election; in all honesty I’d pretty much forgotten many of the pertinent details about Gretchen Carlson and Megyn Kelly’s departures from Fox News, but once the movie had finished all I really thought–I’m a really terrible person, I admit it–was that while the working environment at Fox was indeed terrible for women….it also wasn’t a big surprise to me? Why would anyone think that a network that was so definitively anti-women would be a nurturing environment for women? But as we saw with the “#metoo” movement…men have been abusing their power and victimizing women over whom they have power–whether real or perceived–since the beginning of time, and that cuts across the political divide. And while there was some reckoning, there wasn’t nearly enough–and I am sure it is still going on in companies and businesses and corporations today.

But again, Charlize Theron was eerily perfect as Megyn Kelly; I’m sure Kelly didn’t care for it, and she has since proven that she’s still a garbage human being despite everything that happened and everything she experienced; she’s still anti-feminist, still homophobic, still racist—now she just spews her bile on Twitter instead of in front of a camera. Same with Gretchen Carlson–and I am willing to bet that both of them learned nothing from their own experience and still question women bringing charges against men.

I know that S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland was one of the best books I read last year, along with The Coyotes of Carthage. Elizabeth Little’s Pretty As a Picture was also a favorite. I think this year included my first-ever read of Mary Stewart’s Thunder on the Right (is there a more hard-boiled, noir setting than a convent in the Pyrenees?), and I also enjoyed Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat (although I recently read a review which suggested the book would have been much more interesting as told by the other doppelganger’s point of view, which is a very interesting suggestion). I know I reread several of Stewart’s books, including Airs Above the Ground, The Moon-spinners, and This Rough Magic, and in the case of the latter two, I remembered so little of them from my original read it was like reading something new. I also read a lot of histories of New Orleans and Louisiana, which was a lot of fun as well–and of course, my Chlorine research led me to reading some gay Hollywood histories–as well as some basic Hollywood histories. I know I also greatly enjoyed Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths.

Highlights of my television viewing have to include at the very top two of the best comedies ever done on television, Schitt’s Creek and Ted Lasso. Both shows were both funny and tender and heartwarming, and one of the great pleasures of 2020 has been watching other people discover how magic and wonderful both shows are. Paul and I also got into foreign language television at long last, thoroughly enjoying shows like Dark Desire, The Club, White Lines, and several others, but two of the best were Elite (from Spain) and Dark (from Germany), but Babylon Berlin was probably my favorite watch of the year. We also thoroughly enjoyed The Morning Show, Little Fires Everywhere (the book was also pretty spectacular), and of course, The Mandalorian. I also would be remiss without shout-outs to two of my favorite trashy binge-watches, Outer Banks and Tiny Pretty Things. Ozark continues to be terrific, as was the second season of Castle Rock and HBO’s The Outsider. We also saw Mr. Mercedes‘s first season on Peacock, and liked it a lot as well.

I still miss Game of Thrones, disappointing final season notwithstanding.

As for movies….I spent most of my time with my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, which included some rewatches (Cabaret, which I love more every time I see it) as well as first time watches of films like The Candidate, The Parallax View, Three Days of the Condor, The French Connection, and Chinatown; all of which served as an interesting re-education into the decade that was the 1970s, and probably one of the more formative decades of my life. There are still some 70’s films I need to see for this–I really want to rewatch The Last Picture Show, which I’ve not seen in years, as well as The Sting, What’s Up Doc, Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore, A Woman Under the Influence, Starting Over, An Unmarried Woman, Saturday Night Fever, and so many others. It was such an interesting decade for film…but of the rewatched films, the ones I have always loved–Don’t Look Now, Cabaret, Chinatown–I appreciated even more than I have on previous watches, if that makes any sense. Of the ones I hadn’t seen before, I think my favorite would have to be The Conversation, which was simply brilliant, and a perfect illustration of what the 1970’s were really about on many different levels.

There are a lot of books coming out in the new year that I am excited for; new novels from Alison Gaylin and Laura Lippman and Megan Abbott at the top of the list, of course, and so many others! There’s never enough time to read everything I want to read or watch everything I want to watch, let alone write everything I want to write….which sounds like an excellent place to wrap this up and head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

I Did Something Bad

Actually, it would be bigger news if I did something GOOD, frankly.

But here it is Friday and I am working from home yet again. I have my work supplies already in place, and will be adjourning to my easy chair after reading emails and getting caught up on things. I had intended to watch Aliens immediately after watching Alien earlier this week, but since that didn’t happen, I am now wondering if I should dip back into the world of 1970’s paranoia/conspiracy film (although the point could be made that both Alien and Aliens also fit into that category; I love how film, like novels and short stories, can straddle genres–which kind of defies the very notion of genre in the first place), and both The Parallax View AND Three Days of the Condor are on HBO MAX.

I’ve never seen either (but read the books back in the day) and I am very excited. All the President’s Men is also there, but I’m not sure I can bear, in these times, to watch a film about journalists actually doing their job and holding politicians accountable. Perhaps it’s possible they never did–our own history is littered with examples of journalistic lies and media manipulation–the Hearst empire and fortune was built on that, as The Alienist: Angel of Darkness reminds me in every episode (the Hearst papers, and others of their ilk, were partially, if not directly, responsible for the Spanish-American War, and it is this time period in which the show is set). We are continuing to enjoy this season, which is telling a compelling story and is very well produced, written, and acted. I am also looking forward to Lovecraft Country, and Season 2 (mayhap the final season) of Krypton is also now available on DC Universe.

I also discovered, to my great joy, that my story “The Carriage House” is in the current, or soon to be released, issue of Mystery Tribune (click to order); it also contains stories by Josh Pachter (“Paramus is Burning”; I read this in draft form as a sort of ‘sensitivity reader’), as well as Reed Farrel Coleman and others; they do a lovely job and the magazine is quite beautiful; you can also buy the electronic issue, which is less expensive and will be delivered electronically on August 20th, which also happens to be my birthday–which is in less than one week. I am hoping to be able to take a long weekend next weekend for my birthday–we shall see how it goes.

I’ve not had the energy this week to look at Bury Me in Shadows, but these last few nights I’ve slept extremely well and have felt very well rested each morning when I get up, so I am hoping this will hold through the weekend so I can get those first ten chapters polished and finished. Ideally, I would be able to get that taken care of on Saturday so that Sunday I could start marking up the next ten, but I also recognize that might be overly ambitious and I don’t want to end up berating myself for an inability to get something finished that was overly ambitious in the first place.

But…on the other hand, it’s much too easy to not be overly ambitious and underestimate what one can get done as well–which isn’t as effective, at least for me. If I plan “oh I’ll just get these five chapters done” and then breeze through them relatively quickly, I am not the type to say, “well, since that was so easy I should immediately move on to the next”–rather, I simply pat myself on my back for achieving the goal and walk away from my computer, which is not optimal.

I did, while waiting for Paul to finish up his work for the day (he inevitably will go upstairs when he gets home from work to continue answering emails and do chores before coming down to watch whatever it is we are currently watching), pull up Murder in the Rue Dauphine on my iPad to start reading it again–as I mentioned the other day in my post about the genesis of Chanse MacLeod, I think it might not be a bad idea to revisit the Chanse novels, particularly since I am thinking about writing about him again, eve if only in novella form–but I’d forgotten I’d written an introduction to the ebook edition, which was made available perhaps about ten years after the print book was released; it was this introduction that I read while I waited for Paul last night. It’s really not a bad essay, quite frankly, and since I received Laura Lippman’s My Life as a Villainess, a collection of her published essays and some new material, I found myself again thinking about my own potential collection of essays; while I haven’t published a great many of them over the years, I have published a few–and God knows I’ve been keeping this blog, in one form or another, since December 2004; this December will make sixteen years of blogging. There is, of course, self-doubt involved in even considering the project; it’s not like vast multitudes awaken every day and think oh I need to go see if Greg’s blogged yet. There’s also, I don’t know, this whole self-defeating sense of like anyone cares about your self-reflection or your opinion on anything.

God, it never ends.

I also managed to get Alex Segura’s Poe Dameron: Free Fall this week; and this is actually a Star Wars novel I will read rather than just place on the shelf and let collect dust (I read the novelization of the first film, obviously, many years ago, ghostwritten by Alan Dean Foster and credited to George Lucas, and enjoyed it very much. I also enjoyed Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, which was written and published between Star Wars–the first film will always be Star Wars to me, and I am ready to die on that hill–and The Empire Strikes Back; when the second film was released all of its revelations and surprises immediately made the book wrong and irrelevant and reduced it to simple fan fiction. I vowed then I would never read another Star Wars novel, other than novelizations of the films, because I couldn’t trust George Lucas to release a film that fucked with the books–and sure enough, the release of The Force Awakens wiped that universe clean and all the novels released since 1983 became non-canon–which made me glad to have not read them. But…the release of The Force Awakens also made remember my fanboy self, and I did start buying up the books again–especially the ones that were well-regarded, like the Thrawn trilogy. And yet I’ve never gotten around to reading any of them…but I will most definitely read Alex Segura’s because I know he’s an amazing writer).

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Friday, Constant Reader, and will check in with you again on the morrow.

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.