Miss Americana and The Heartbreak Prince

One question that always exasperates authors is the old standard, where do you get your ideas from?

I get why it annoys writers to be asked this; who wants to be psycho-analyzed on a panel or at a reading? It’s a process, of course, and one that cannot be distilled into a quick, witty, quotable sound bite–and the ultimate truth is, it’s almost always different in every case–whether it’s a novel, an essay or a short story; I certainly have not gotten inspiration the same way every time. A lot of the Alabama fiction, for example, that I have written/am writing/have thought about writing, comes from stories my grandmother told me when I was a child about the past–mostly her family’s past, and certainly those stories were self-aggrandizing and self-serving, and still others were apocryphal: the ancestress, for example, who killed a Yankee soldier come to rob her during the Civil War? Yeah, that one was almost certainly lifted from Gone with the Wind–but I have since come to find out that Mitchell probably took the story from legends as well–that story seems to exist everywhere in local legend throughout the former Confederacy (I mention this in passing in Bury Me in Shadows, which also originated in one of my grandmother’s stories).

A while back, I started thinking about doing period novels centering gay male characters and telling their stories about the times when prim-and-proper society swept all things gay under the rug and homophobia was king (or Queen, I suppose). I had already come up with a great idea for a gay noir centered around a health club that operated as a money-laundering front for the local mob in a city in Florida called Muscles, which I hope to write at some point…I cannot recall exactly how or why Muscles led into thinking about other one-word titled gay noir novels set in different periods of the twentieth century; but there you have it. I think Muscles led me to think about setting one in a gay bar in the early 1990’s, built around the time gay porn star Joey Stefano was arrested while performing at a Tampa gay bar for public indecency; Indecency was such a great title that I couldn’t forget it–and I also figured I could link the two books, the way I always link my books together in an Easter eggy kind of way that the majority of people don’t notice but pleases me immensely. Right round that same time a gay man who was very active as a fundraiser and a donor for political causes died; he had started out owning a company that published gay-interest magazines with nude models and had been arrested, and served time, for using the mail to deliver pornography; I wanted to write about him and the rise of gay porn films in Southern California and call it Obscenity. So there it was: a trilogy of loosely connected gay noirs I hoped to write someday…and then one day, as I was blogging–I think maybe two years ago? I don’t recall–my mind was wandering (as it is wont to do) and I started riffing about an idea that was forming in my head as I wrote the entry for a book set in 1950’s Hollywood, dealing with the underground gay community, McCarthyism, and scandal-mongering that would open with a gay movie star’s body being found naked in the surf at the beach…only the autopsy found that the water in his lungs actually contained chlorine…so he hadn’t drowned, he’d been murdered and the body moved. I called it Chlorine; and that was, for me, kind of the end of it–I wrote the idea down, created a folder for it, and posted the entry.

So, I am sure you can imagine my surprise when I checked Twitter a few hours later and had a ridiculously high amount of–what do they call them? Mentions? Anyway, I had no idea what had triggered this–I rarely get much interaction there–and so when I went to check…some people had read my blog and were all about Chlorine–and the more they tweeted about it, the more people had gotten drawn into this conversation. I was thrilled, to say the least, to see so much attention on-line for something that was really just an amorphous idea…and then a great first line occurred to me: The earthquake woke me up at nine in the morning. So I opened a new Word document, typed in that line, and next thing you know, I had an over 3000 word first chapter written, and the entire plot was forming in my mind already. I took voluminous notes, and decided that, once I got finished with everything I was in the midst of writing already, I would give Chlorine a shot.

And in the meantime, I could start reading up on the period, gay Hollywood, and root myself firmly in the period.

Which is how I came across Robert Hofler’s The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson: The Pretty Boys and Dirty Deals of Henry Willson.

On November 29, 1954, The Hollywood Reporter’s gossip columnist Mike Connolly wrote about the proud, happiest day of Rock Hudson’s life. The movie star had just been cast in George Stevens’ cattle-and-oil epic Giant, and Connolly’s one-line blurb commemorating Rock’s celebration party was as cryptic as it was pumped with news ready to break: “Saturday Mo-somes: Phyllis Gates & Rock Hudson, Margaret Truman & Henry Willson.”

In one of his rare acts of discretion, newshound Connolly dispensed with the ampersand that should have wedded the names Rock Hudson and Henry Willson. Fifty years into the future, “Mo-somes” could be read as slang for the two men’s sexual orientation. But not in 1954. Back then, “Mo” meant something far less provocative but nearly as colorful

“Mo” was short for the Mocambo, the Mount Olympus of Sunset Strip nightclubs. Pure tinseltown fantasy, the Mocambo was an over-heated study in contrasts where oversized tin flowers and humongous velvet balls with fringe festooned flaming candy-cane columns that framed a dance floor designed to induce claustrophobia when more than two couples got up to fox-trot. The tables were equally miniscule, making it possible for the establishment to charge lots of money for not much food, which nobody could see. Overhead, rococo candelabras gave off so little illumination that revelers kept bumping into each other by mistake, and sometimes now, as they tried to check themselves out in the flecked mirrors that recast everybody’s reflection in tones of warm, flattering, fake gold.

I had a vague idea of who Henry Willson was before I read this book–he appeared in the Rock Hudson bio I read a few months ago as well as in Tab Hunter’s memoirs–and of course, Jim Parsons played him in the Ryan Murphy alternate-history Hollywood. I was also vaguely aware–my memory is a lot dimmer than it used to be–of the gay Hollywood underground; the Sunday afternoon pool parties at George Cukor’s, for example–and I had read some gay Hollywood histories (the ones by William J. Mann are particularly good), but I knew my main character in Chlorine needed a Henry Willson-like agent, and so I needed to research Henry Willson. Willson was, of course, notorious in his time and the passage of time since his heyday has done nothing to soften that image. He was the definitive “casting couch” agent–and per this book, which is very well written and very entertaining–men who wanted to be movie stars (whether gay, straight or bi) were more than willing to service Henry if it meant a leg up in the business. And Henry did work very hard for his clients, polishing rough material into diamonds for the camera. He taught them how to speak, how to walk, the proper silverware, how to behave in public; manners and etiquette. Henry believed that talent wasn’t as important to being a movie star as having star quality–the indescribable something that all major stars have, that is impossible to describe–and he knew what he was doing. He also frequently renamed them–hence the proliferation of the one syllable first names with the two or three syllable last names: Rock Hudson, Tab Hunter, Troy Donahue, Chad Everett, Guy Madison, etc.

This book provided a wealth of information as well as inspiration for me, as did the Rock Hudson biography I read several months ago. This period of Hollywood history is fascinating, and I love that writing this book–or rather, planning and researching, since I haven’t really started writing it–is giving me an amazing excuse to study gay Hollywood history and the post-war film industry.

Make no mistake about it–Henry Willson was good at what he did, but he was also a terrible person; trying to make it in a homophobic culture, society and industry at the time in which he lived would definitely twist a person. He was an arch-conservative; a Log Cabin Republican of his time, friends with the horrific Roy Cohn. Was it camouflage to help protect him and his clients from the Red Scare days of McCarthyism, when being queer was also just as suspect? Or was he really that terrible of a person? The author makes no judgments; rather leaving it to the reader to. make up their own minds about who Henry was as a person. As terrible as he was–and some of the things he did, like the casting couch, were pretty unforgivable–I did feel sorry for him in some ways, and in basing a character on him I kind of have to find the humanity in the monster. He was not attractive in a business that revolved around beauty; while the straight male pigs who ran the business used their power to force women to sleep with them, Henry used and abused his own power to get beautiful men to sleep with him.

My own main character–a second-tier movie star who slept his way into parts and a career–is also not entirely likable; but I think I’ve gotten deep enough inside of his head to at least make him identifiable and relatable to the reader…but I guess we will just have to wait and see.

I do recommend this book, if you’re interested in Hollywood history in general or gay Hollywood history specifically.

O Come All Ye Faithful

As Constant Reader may or may not know, the Lost Apartment–hell, the entire house–is a haven for stray cats. We feed them and take care of them, so does our landlady, and so does our neighbor on the first floor on the other side of the house—and Jeremy in the carriage house does too. I think the largest the herd has ever been is five cats, but I could be wrong. We’ve been down to two–Simba and Tiger (who has the most seniority)–for quite a while now, and there’s a tuxedo cat that pokes around sometimes, but runs whenever you try to get close to her, but this past week a new cat has shown up, and has taken up residence beneath the house: a a tiny black kitten we’ve not really named yet, but have taken to calling the Dark Lord, because he’s completely invisible once the sun goes down. He doesn’t let us get close–he’ll come out to look at us, but scampers away whenever we try to pet him or get him to come near. We’ve started feeding him, as we feed the others, and Paul will eventually make sure that he becomes friendly, so we can catch him and get him to the vet. I don’t think he’s old enough to be fixed now, anyway. He can’t be more than a month or two old.

I always wonder where these strays come from, you know? Tiger was clearly always feral, but Simba is much too friendly to not have been someone’s cat. And a kitten? Where did the kitten come from?

Ah, the mysteries of being the Crazy Cat Couple of the Lower Garden District.

LSU defeated Mississippi yesterday 53-48 in what wound up being a completely insane game in Tiger Stadium; one in which they managed to go up early in the third quarter 37-21, only to fall behind 48-40 with about eight minutes left in the game. True freshman quarterback Max Johnson (who is 2-0 as a starter) managed to connect up with true freshman Kayshon Boutte (you cannot get a more Louisiana name than that, seriously) on two impressive scoring drives, sandwiched around an impressive defensive stand, to pull ahead with less than two minutes left in the game to go up 53-48; the defense held again, forcing a fumble to end the game with less than a minute to go to escape having the first losing season since 1999 and give Tiger fans–so beleaguered this season–a lot of hope for the future. That team that finished strong after the pasting by Alabama was mostly freshmen and sophomores….and in these last two games there were guys playing I’d never heard of before. Our back-ups pulled off an upset of Florida (which gave Alabama all they could handle in the SEC title game) and then Mississippi (the LSU-Mississippi games are always exciting; for some reason Ole Miss–it is an old rivalry game–always seems to play their best against LSU and the Tigers inevitably have to rally to win the game in the end. Paul’s and my first game ever in Tiger Stadium was the Mississippi game in 2010, which the Tigers needed a last minute score in to win); so pardon us for thinking perhaps next year will be a good one and the year after that a great one–which is the LSU way, really. It was very exciting, and I’ll be honest, I thought we were done for when the Rebels went up 48-40 and our defense looked very tired–very very tired–but in a downpour the Tigers pulled it off and thus made my day.

I also managed to unlock the puzzle of Chapter Eighteen and got it finished, and by doing so I realized I perfectly set up the final act of the book–which will make these other chapters more challenging, but that’s okay because I still have plenty of time to get this all finished and ready to go on schedule, which is very exciting.

I also read very far into The Man Who Invented Rock Hudson, and I have to say, gay Hollywood history is very interesting, and that particular period, post-war into the 1950’s, is also extremely interesting. I actually kind of wish I was more knowledgeable about the period, or had studied it in greater detail. I’ve already written a short story based in that dangerous era for gay men, “The Weight of a Feather”, which is included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and of course, Chlorine is set in that time period. I actually have several historical gay noirs planned–Obscenity, Indecency, and Muscles–that will take place during different periods of twentieth century gay history–the 1970’s, the 1990’s, and the early aughts–which will reflect the changing moods and dangers of being gay during various decades, and how different life was for gay men in each decade. It’s an interesting concept, and one I hope readers will embrace.

Plus, the research will be endlessly fascinating.

The Saints play the Chiefs today, and apparently Drew Brees will be playing again. This presents a dilemma for me, clearly; I love the Saints, but the Chiefs have several of my favorite former LSU players on their roster (Tyrann Mathieu and Clyde Edwards-Helaire, to name two) and it’s hard for me not to want to see them do well. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to not watch at all. I don’t know. I have to write Chapter Nineteen today, and am trying to decide if I should go to the gym today, or wait until tomorrow. I overslept this morning–an hour, didn’t get up till nine–and I also only have to get through the next three days at the office before the holidays AND my brief between Christmas and New Year’s vacation–I hope to not only get this book finished by then but have the time to work on my MWA anthology submission and reread and plan the final version of #shedeservedit.

Then again, I’ll also probably be horrifically lazy a lot during that time–it happens.

And on that note, more coffee for me before the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

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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Stand by Me

Friday; the last day of my work week and it’s a half-day, at that. How lovely.

Or it would be, but I have to go to Metairie to the Apple Store this afternoon. My laptop is acting funny, and I really really don’t want to replace it. Granted, it is eight years old, and it may not even be fixable, but it doesn’t hurt to find out one way or the other. Yesterday morning some long black lines showed up on the left of the screen, and the images beneath the lines were flickering. Heavy heaving sigh.

It never fails, does it? I was just starting to feel a little bit more comfortable. That’ll teach me, right? Plus this is throwing a monkey wrench into my plans for the weekend. Oh, okay, yes, I had only a two and half day work week, sure. But still. I was really looking forward to not leaving the house this weekend. Heavy heaving sigh.

Ah, well. It is what it is. The worst part of the trip to Metairie is going to be returning to the city during rush hour. Just thinking about it turns my stomach…heavy heaving sigh. Now i am also thinking I should have made the appointment for Saturday and kept my Friday as originally planned.

Paul and I started watching You on Netflix this week, and I have to say I was most impressed with it. At first I was like, oh, okay, a stalker story where the girl falls in love, unknowingly, with her stalker. I’ve seen this before, thank you very much and thought I’d give it an episode or two…but then the first episode took a much darker turn that I didn’t see coming and that woke me the fuck up. I am looking forward to watching the rest of the show now…alas, with the festivals looming on the horizon, Paul is terribly busy so leisure watching isn’t really a priority for him these days.

I am still feeling a little bit out of it this morning; like my life is something I’m watching on television and not actually participating in. Needless to say this is a bit disorienting. I’ve not been doing as much creative thinking this week as I would have preferred, but this entire week has been an exercise in “just make it through till the weekend”; I’m not sure why that is, but it has been. I also feel very disconnected from the world at large; Carnival always has this weird tendency to separate us here from the rest of the country and the rest of the world and what’s going on out there, and these days the news moves so quickly that it’s impossible to get caught up on what’s happened during the parades.

I did do some creative thinking yesterday, about the long-abandoned and pushed to the side used-to-be-WIP. I had already decided to do one last revision of it and turn it in to my publisher; it’s what I am going to do once I finish the first draft of the current WIP. I also am going to start doing my research on the next Scotty; I suppose that makes it kind of official that I am going to do a ninth one. But don’t get too excited, Scotty fans; I am going to have to finish these other two first and there’s another first draft I want to write before I get to the Scotty; a gay noir I’ve been wanting to write for quite some time. That would be Muscles, and over this weekend one of the things I want to get done is pulling all of the material I want together (that I already have on hand) for the next three manuscripts. I am also going to go over Royal Street Reveillon one more time; one final read and copy edit before it finally is turned in for good.

And on that note, ’tis back to the spice mines for me.

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Thought I’d Died and Gone to Heaven

Thursday, and the first day of a four-day weekend that just kind of dropped into my lap. The office move and so forth has had some complications; I’d planned on taking today off anyway, and then it occurred to me yesterday that I should just go ahead and take Friday as well; what was, after all, the point in taking Thursday off, working on Friday, and then having the weekend off? I’ve been very tired lately, badly in need of recharging the batteries, and the two-day weekends just haven’t been cutting it; so why not take a mini-vacation?

So, here I sit at my desk, looking outside at a gray day. Shadow is watching birds atop the stone fence outside my windows, there’s no sign of the sun anywhere, and it rained pretty heavily at some point in the early morning as everything is wet and shiny and dripping out there. I have a load of dishes and a load of laundry to put away; another load is running in the dishwasher, and the kitchen/office is completely out of control. Yes, indeed, there are plenty of things for me to do today, when the spirit so moves me.

We finished packing up the office Tuesday, and the movers came yesterday. I worked at the main office yesterday; a long ten hour day mostly doing paperwork, making condom packs, and then doing testing last night.  Apparently we’re waiting for some final clearances from the city before the new office building is up and operational. It was a little poignant saying good night and good luck to the office on Frenchmen Street when I left Tuesday night, and there were a couple of times  during that day when I felt a wave of sadness coming…but I made it. Yay, me.

Also Tuesday morning, the ebook of Bourbon Street Blues, aka Scotty I, went up for sale at long last. I’m very excited about this; it’s been unavailable for far, far too long, and people have been asking about it for years. But it’s finally a thing, and eventually a print version will also be available. If  you’re interested in getting the first Scotty ebook, you can get it right here. This makes me really happy; you’ve got no idea, Constant Reader. Especially since I am in such a Scotty state of mind with my writing these days.

Hopefully, Jackson Square Jazz (aka Scotty II) will be up by the end of the year as well, and all Scotty books will thus be available for anyone who wants to buy and read them.

I also finished writing Royal Street Reveillon  (aka Scotty VIII) Monday night. I am going to go ahead and get that turned in this week. I just need to add the chapter headings, which is always a fun part of the wrap-up process. I also have to do the afterward, but that’s going to have to be short–the book is clocked in at 101,000 (and some change) words. This is the longest book I’ve written in years. I guess I am writing longer these days. Not sure what that’s about, but there you have it. I feel relatively confident I can get these finishing touches on the book done today.

The rest of this week I am going to focus on replacing “Don’t Look Down” with two other stories for the collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories. I’ll probably start working on Bury Me in Satin, my Nanowrimo project, on November 1 and hopefully will have a healthy first draft finished by the end of the month, after which I will spend December revising it and tearing apart/restructuring the WIP, which is what I plan on doing in the first two months of the new year; I’ll then have to spend another month or so writing a new ending for it, and then another month or so revising and polishing. Hopefully, come April, it’ll be in good enough shape to try to lure in an agent. One can hope, at any rate. And then I want to spend the summer writing Muscles, and then I am going to spend the fall trying to write something historical about New Orleans; I am just not quite sure yet what that project will be.

I didn’t sleep well Sunday night, so Monday I was tired all day. Monday night I slept deeply, but had to get up earlier than I wanted to; I felt rested but still slightly sleepy. Sleepy is better than tired; there’s a difference, and that distinction is important–kind of like the difference, from working out, between sore and tired. Since this is the week of the office move, my work schedule was disrupted; I had to get up early every day until today, which made me cranky and tired every night. I’m not really sure what my schedule is going to be next week. Alas, uncertainty is not one of my stronger suits. But I did sleep very well last night, getting up just around nine this morning and I feel rested and alert. This is a very good sign for the rest of the day, and the potential for productivity.

I also started gathering my essays over the last couple of evenings, which was interesting and fun, yet weird at the same time. There were essays I’d published that I’d forgotten about writing and publishing–seriously, who else forgets work they’ve done and been paid for? This mook, that’s who. (MOOK? This is what comes from following David Simon on Twitter.) So yes, that is definitely going to take a while to get in order. It’s always interesting–at least to me–to come across old things I’ve written, whether I remember them or not. If I do remember writing them or what they’re about, I almost always discover my memory is wrong when I start rereading them. I don’t mind it; it’s just odd. That’s kind of where The Fictions of My Life comes from; my memories aren’t correct so frequently because of the interpretive personal filter I view everything through that I often suspect my memories differ so much from the reality that they are closer to lies than truth.

And on that note, I think I shall head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely day, everyone.

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Breakin’ My Heart (Pretty Brown Eyes)

WE MADE IT! Constant Reader, we have survived another week and it’s finally Friday! Huzzah!

Looking forward to the weekend always reminds me of my mom warning me, when I was an impatient teenager and counting the days till summer vacation, don’t you know you’re just wishing your life away?

But now, whenever I hear her voice in my head reminding me of that, I think, yeah, well, we’re all going to die someday anyway. Not looking ahead to the weekend isn’t going to make me live longer.

Sometimes, when I have those down days and I wonder why I ever thought I should write fiction–or anything, really–I think things like look at all the books you’ve written and published! Look at all these award nominations–you’ve even won a few! And still you have a day job. Why do you try? Why do you keep writing books? If you haven’t broken out and become successful (even by your own modest standard) by now, why do you think it still might happen?

And then I remember John D. MacDonald wrote a lot of books, but didn’t break out and hit bestseller lists until he was about forty or so books into his career, when he hit upon Travis McGee. He was certainly successful prior to McGee; but McGee was the big break that enabled him to stop writing two or three books a year and settle into just one. His pre-McGee pulps were also quite good; I certainly have enjoyed the ones I’ve read. But I hold on to that with both hands: John D. MacDonald didn’t hit the Times best seller list until he was over forty novels into his career.*

So, there’s still hope for me…if I can figure out how to write as well as John D. MacDonald.

So, this is something to keep in mind as I move into the weekend and try to decide what I’m going to write once the Scotty is finished. I think the WIP, which needs to be deconstructed and revised almost entirely from scratch, might have to take a backseat for a while to something else. I’d like to do Bury Me in Satin, but I am also interested in writing a short and nasty noir, which would inevitably be Muscles. 

Sigh.

Seriously.

AH, well, back to the spice mines.

*this may be incorrect; but I believe it’s true.

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Move This

Tuesday!

The weather here in New Orleans has changed slightly; not much, and probably wouldn’t be noticeable if you didn’t live here. The humidity is still here, surprisingly, but we’ve been getting a lot of rain lately, which of course would explain the thick damp air. My goal for today is to get back on track with the Scotty–I’m partway through Chapter Four, with only another twenty-one to go–but even with laziness and procrastination, there’s simply no way I shouldn’t be able to get this draft finished, read aloud, and line edited and turned in, by the end of October/early November.

She’s been a long-time a-birthin’, but the end is near.

I want to write either Bury Me in Satin or Muscles next; I am leaning more toward Bury Me in Satin for some reason; even though I’ve been meaning to write Muscles for years, and it would probably be an easier book for me to write, honestly. There’s another idea brewing in my head as well…isn’t there always? But I am not sure I am ready to even start that one, and I kind of have an idea for a paranormal series set in Louisiana–think Dark Shadows crossed with True Blood as written by Lisa Unger; that’s the direction I am thinking about taking with it. I’d originally thought to do it more cozy/Gothic; but my mind just doesn’t go that way–I’m too snarky and too dark at heart. Sigh. The story of my life in a nutshell. Anyway, a book I started writing in the 1980’s, The Enchantress, could easily be re-purposed for this; I do love to recycle.

We started watching Season 5 of How to Get Away with Murder last night; we still highly enjoy it, even though the past plots are so complicated and layered we don’t really remember what has happened; fortunately it’s written well enough so it’s easy to get back up to speed with what’s current–although I do believe every single person in the cast has killed at least one person, although I cannot remember whether Annelise has or not.

Probably has, but then again, it would be interesting if she was the only one who hasn’t, you know what I mean?

My short stories have all stalled out again; I also realized last night that this year’s Short Story Project has completely stalled out. I need to finish reading Circe and get back to my short story reading!

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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Finally

Saturday morning, and my ten day vacation from work began last night at around eight thirty, when I got in my car to drive home from passing out condoms all evening. It was a rather long day– I had to work at the main office first for several hours before heading down to the Quarter–and I was physically sore and exhausted and sweaty and crabby as fuck when I got in the car to come home. Once home I took a shower, relaxed, had some wine, and watched the US Open until it was time to go to sleep. I slept deeply and well; clearly, the shower made a significant difference in how this all played out for this morning. I have some errands to run today–groceries, mail, getting the big suitcase out of storage for the trip to St. Petersburg–and I have to do some writing for a website. I want to clean the house–make some progress, at any rate; I like to leave the house very clean when I go on a trip so I don’t have to come home to a dirty house–and I think I am going to try to just read the Scotty manuscript and make notes while the US Open is on. The second season of Ozark also became available last night on Netflix, and I’m really looking forward to seeing if the show can maintain its high level of quality for a second season. I also want to finish reading James Ziskin’s Cast the First Stone so I can start reading Thomas Pluck’s Bad Boy Boogie, and then my Bouchercon homework is done.

Huzzah!

And the LSU game isn’t until tomorrow night, so I may watch some college football–toggling back and forth between college football and the US Open (I still can’t believe it’s football season) while reading in my easy chair. I probably won’t be posting much, if at all, while I am in St. Petersburg at Bouchercon. I do have the WordPress app on my iPad (I don’t bother with my MacBook Air anymore; while I do love my Apple products as a general rule,  I regret buying the Air. I really need to take it into the Apple Store and have them fix some nonsensical things that I don’t understand are wrong with it) but I am not a huge fan of writing on the iPad. Maybe that will change. I did buy the keyboard for it, but I’ve never really had to write on it very much. Who knows–maybe in St. Pete I’ll discover that I love writing on it. Who knows? Stranger things have happened.

Maybe I could try practicing on it here this weekend before I leave on Wednesday? You never know. It’s really about getting used to it because it’s very different from writing on a desktop.

And when I get back I can get back to the Short Story Project! HUZZAH!

I still would like to get the Scotty revision finished by the end of September; and I think if I can focus and buckle down and really stick to it, it’s a definite possibility. And then I can finally get back to the WIP to make the changes it needs before heading back out into the world in search of an agent. I also want to at least get started on Bury Me in Satin by the end of the year; I’d hoped to be finished with it at the end of the year but I really don’t think that’s going to be happening any time soon, either. It’s a great idea, and I think I can do some great things with it, and while I am doing all of this I am going to start researching New Orleans history as I continue to think about writing another, different series. (And once Bury Me in Satin is finished, I hope to start working on Muscles, my long-planned noir.)

And on that note, it’s time to get going on my day. Have a lovely Saturday, everybody

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Something About You

Sunday and it’s my Saturday, which is going to really mess up my body clock, don’t you think? Today is going to be my errands-and-cleaning day; the Lost Apartment is, once again, a disaster area, and the bed linens need a-laundering, and I have to get groceries, and…and…and…

At least I have tomorrow off. Today is going to be one of those days where if I get some writing done, terrific, if I don’t, well, it’s a cleaning-and-errands day and it’s miserably hot. I am going to barbecue later on today–I’m also going to cook things for the week—and so am not really sure how much time I would have for writing today anyway.

I watched another documentary the other night–after the Tab Hunter–which also gave me the answer to the noir novel dilemma I hadn’t been able to figure out for quite some time. It was so obvious I don’t know why it never occurred to me before but whatever the reason, I’m glad I know the answer now. Now that another part of the puzzle has been fitted into place, it’s simply now a matter of figuring out the ending, and I can dive headfirst into writing it, once I’m caught up on everything else I am writing. When I get finished with the Scotty and the WIP, that’s when I’ll decide whether I am going to write the noir next or Bury Me In Satin, the y/a I want to do this year.

So little time! The fact that I lazily waste so much time makes me crazy, yet doesn’t somehow motivate me to not waste time somehow.

Anyway, I’ve always wanted to do a classic noir-style novel with a homme fatale instead of a femme fatale, and this particular story has always really worked for me in terms of something I want to write; I have my main character and some of my supporting characters already in place. The enigma I couldn’t solve was the homme fatale; I can see him in my  head; I know what he looks like an d what his body looks like and the charm and charisma–but the motivation was something I couldn’t quite grasp; and that missing puzzle piece was key to who he is as a character, and now I have that piece. Huzzah!

I suppose I need to get back to the spice mines. Sigh. Now that I’m thinking about these projects, I’m feeling motivated to do some writing.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Anyway, here’s the opening of one of my new short stories from my collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, “The Weight of a Feather”:

It was one of those buildings that went up right after the war, slapped together in a hurry because the city needed more living space.  The soldiers were coming home with their grim memories and the city was booming. People needed places to live if they were going to work in the city and there was money to be had. It was an ugly building, yellow brick and cement and uniform windows, with no charm, nothing that made it any different than any of the other apartment buildings that had gone up, that were still being built.

 The Christmas lights winking in some of the windows didn’t make them look any cheerier.

It was starting to snow, big wet flakes swirling around his head and sticking to his dark coat. There was no sign of life from Rock Creek Park at the end of the street. Max had walked past a small diner on the corner, a few lone customers behind windows frosted from cold. He’d thought about going in, getting coffee, but it was too risky.

Best to get it over with.

He buzzed the apartment, and the door buzzed open. There was a big Christmas tree in the lobby, empty boxes wrapped underneath. The white linoleum floor was already showing signs of wear and tear. He ignored the elevators and headed for the stairs. It was hot inside, steam heat through radiators making him sweat under his layers.

The third-floor hallway smelled like boiled cabbage and garlic and onions. He raised a gloved hand to knock on 3-L.

The man who answered the door smiled. Special Agent Frank Clinton was in his early thirties at most, cold gray eyes, his face battered from boxing Golden Gloves as a teen. He was wearing twill pants held up by suspenders over a white ribbed tank top. He looked up and down the hall. “Get inside, Sonnier.” he said in his thick Boston accent.

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Sara

Memorial Day Monday, and I haven’t gotten near as much done as I intended, according to the “long weekend stay-cation to-do list”, but I got so much more else done that I cannot feel defeated or disappointed in myself.

Which, of course, is a step in the right direction. I’ve also gotten used to waking up in the morning between nine-thirty and ten; tomorrow’s alarm is going to be a very rude awakening, I fear. But it is what it is, I suppose, and at least this is only a four day work week, so that’s something, right?

Always find the upside, you know?

I took a lot more notes in the journal yesterday, figuring out how some other stories are going to play out, and even started brainstorming on Muscles. I know this doesn’t seem like I’m getting very much done as far as actual writing is concerned, and that may be true; but what I’ve done this entire weekend is make the actual writing possible. Today I am going to try to get some of that actual writing done–I know, right? SCARED OF THAT. And I also have some reading to do; I’m participating in a panel of readers to choose some short stories for an anthology. I also have some other busy-work to take care of today as well; so I am going to try to get that done before I start writing.

I am still reading that Roth novel; it’s not very quick going, despite being so well-written and the characters aren’t really quite as awful as the ones I recall from Letting Go, but it’s kind of slow going; there’s not really a reason to keep turning the page, which is always the problem, at least for me, with literary fiction. On my shelves, TBR, are two big literary fiction books that are massively long, Hanya Yanaghara’s A Little Life and Garth Risk Hallberg’s City on Fire, and while there are  gay characters and themes in both…they’re so long. Since they have gay characters, I kind of feel, as a gay author, some responsibility to the community to read them, dissect the gay characters, etc. It is representation, after all, and that representation should be critiqued by someone within the community.

I am sure that was handled by Gay and Lesbian Review Worldwide, which is a lovely magazine, and yet…I feel like it’s sort of my job somehow; a need or feeling which I definitely need to get past and over as quickly as possible. I am sure I will finish reading the Roth this week and I can get back to reading crime novels. (Yay!)

So, yesterday’s journal entries included work on my short stories “The White Knuckler” and “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “Hold on to the Night” and “This Thing of Darkness” and “And the Walls Came Down”; and the novels Muscles and Bury Me in Satin. I am writing a lot in my journal, which is convenient and easy, of course; I love having my journal, and I love having it handy, so whenever something occurs to me I can write it down and riff on it for a little while. This has been working tremendously; I solved the problems with the Scotty novel this way, made progress on the WIP; and at the rate I am going when it’s time to work on Bury Me in Satin the entire thing will have already been written or planned out in my journal.

Which will certainly make the process easier.

I’m all about it being easier, in case you’d never noticed.

As I page through my journal I also see notes I made for two essays; one about the evolution of teen movies from the 1950’s to the present (triggered by watching the original Friday the 13th last night, with a very young, dewy and beautiful Kevin Bacon), and another about Robert Downey Jr.’s career trajectory, and yet another about whether Carrie White from Carrie was a villain or a victim (this popped up on Facebook this week, and the question was very strange; I always considered Carrie a victim and certainly never as a victim; I also made the connecting thought that varied interpretations of what role she played in the novel/film has everything to do with the reader/viewer’s life experience as well as how they see themselves; which is an interesting direction to take, essay-wise; I was also thinking it might not be a bad idea to include Christine’s Arnie in the discussion. I consider both novels to be excellent depictions of teenage life and high school; no one really does childhood or high school quite the way King does).

So, that’s it for today, the end of my stay-cation. I got a lot of brainstorming and problem-solving finished for my writing; the Lost Apartment is in some sort of order at long last, and I am of course making myself all kinds of promises I won’t keep; about staying on top of the household chores and staying on top of the writing and the reading and using my journal to get myself out of sticky situations with both. I am very glad I took the stay-cation, even if I didn’t get close to getting all the things finished that I needed to get finished. My visit to the storage facility had to be postponed because of the recurring back pain; hopefully I can get that handled one day this week; either Thursday or Friday.

Always keep moving forward.

Next up in the Short Story Project is “The Jockey” by Carson McCullers, also from The New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade:

The jockey came to the doorway of the dining room, then after a moment stepped to one side and stood motionless, with his back to the wall. The room was crowded, as this was the third day of the season and all the hotels in the town were full. In the dining room bouquets of August roses scattered their petals on the white table linen and from the adjoining bar came a warm, drunken wash of voices. The jockey waited with his back to the wall and scrutinized the room with pinched, crepy eyes. He examined the room until at last his eyes reached a table in the corner diagonally across him him, at which three men were sitting. As he watched, the jockey raised his chin and tilted his head back to one side, his dwarfed body grew rigid, and his hands stiffened so that the fingers curled inward like gray claws. Tense against the wall of the dining room, he watched and waited in this way.

I’ve never been ashamed to admit that often I don’t get McCullers’ work; but I like the way she writes and the insights into her characters that she shares. This short story, about a damaged jockey who enters a crowded dining room during the season at Saratoga and confronts three people, dining together, who’ve had some impact/will have some impact on his life, and their complete disinterest in him as anything other than an object to be pitied, eventually to be scorned, is well drawn and depicted; and very telling about human nature; how we are with people who are of use to us and who we, as a society, generally are to those who cease to be of use to us. I have to confess, my revisitation of McCullers, between this and Reflections in a Golden Eye, has made me a lot more interested in her and her work; just as reading some of Flannery O’Connor’s stories recently has raised my interest in her work as well.

As I have said before, I often find my failure to get certain writers, seen as masters or geniuses, or in other ways celebrated by the so-called Academy, as a failure not only as a reader or a writer but as an intellectual and even, possibly a moral failure; but my recent reread of The Great Gatsby went a long way towards curing me of that mentality; likewise, the recent re-approaches to the works of McCullers and O’Connor have also made me realize that in some cases, I may not have been intellectually and morally ready to read these works. I am going to give Hemingway another chance at some point  as well, and I do want to read more of Faulkner. I’ve certainly enjoyed reading Sinclair Lewis and Theodore Dreiser a great deal more as an adult than I did in college courses. I didn’t enjoy reading Jonathan Franzen, and I’ve come to believe that David Foster Wallace is a cruel joke played on unsuspecting readers and students of literature by bitter professors. I also found Styron’s Set This House On Fire more readable, more enjoyable, and more of an achievement than Sophie’s Choice or The Confessions of Nat Turner; but I also read the latter when I was in my early twenties, so it may be possible for me to appreciate them more greatly now; I do consider myself to be a more sophisticated reader now than I was in my callow youth.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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