Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day has rolled around again, and my goodness, do I have a lot of bills to pay, YIKES. But with another six thousand word push yesterday, the draft is done. All I need to do now is pull it all together into one document, write the explanatory apologetic email about the mess and how I am going to fix it, and send it off and all is finished–for now. But I know it’s going to be a great book once I tie up all the threads, add in the back story and character development it needs, and I think it’s going to be super awesome when it’s done. Yay! I love creating, I really do, and I actually enjoy the writing.
Well, until I hear back from my editor, at any rate.
I finally started listening to Taylor Swift’s latest album, Midnights, and I have to say, I really like it. I’d always liked her–some of the songs I knew I liked, but I didn’t pay a lot of attention to her or her music. Spotify changed that, and I really have been impressed not only with the quality of her music but how different it all is; not to mention the evolution from teen country star to major world pop superstar. (“Red” is still my favorite song of hers, probably always will be.) I find that putting her albums on continual play on Spotify is really great when it comes to cleaning things or doing the dishes and things like that. (Back when I first started writing I always would put three Madonna CD’s in the CD changer and hit shuffle and would start writing. I should go back to that, really.) I had a lot of chores to get done last night around my writing–unloading the dishwasher and doing another load; cleaning the counters and organizing the office area, etc.–but I do like having those opportunities to take a break from the writing to clear my head and see what comes to me while my hands are focused on something mindless and music streams through my ear buds.
I really do like writing, y’all.
I still have a lot of work to do on the manuscripts I’ve written the last couple of months, but it’s nice to have workable, fixable drafts in place; that’s always the hardest part for me, and the ability to focus on the writing without having to worry about anything else outside of my job and whether the books are selling is kind of nice, actually. I think it’s part of the reason why I’m calmer every day, don’t get my anxiety going, and don’t get stressed. I was irritated when I got home Monday–because I knew I had writing to get done, and I had errands to run which seemed to take much longer than anything had any need to take (don’t even get me started on the hell making groceries has turned into since the pandemic started) but once I was home and had everything under control and could sit down and pound away at the keyboard for a while,after which I was finally completely and totally relaxed for the evening. And of course, last night after a very productive day at work in which I got all of my day job responsibilities finished and caught up (huzzah!), I came home and wrote while doing those odious seeming chores that I always wind up enjoying. And Paul didn’t come home until after I’d gone to bed, so there were no distractions for me, but I would have loved to have watched another episode of The Recruit. I don’t like it when Paul comes home that late because I don’t see him for that day (I leave long before he gets up in the morning; which is another reason I hate working these shifts; I like when Paul and I work basically the same schedule.
It’s going to be warm and rainy today, which means I’ll be wearing a sweatshirt to work underneath my Crescent Care T-shirt; it was freezing in the office yesterday; last week the heat was on, but the weather changed, and they finally turned on the air conditioning I guess on Friday (it had been insanely warm in the office all week) and so yesterday it felt like the frozen tundra of the great white north in the office, which of course meant I was pretty much miserable the entire day there. But I was productive and got all my work caught up; today of course is the first which means all kinds of things for me to do this morning; pulling logs and forms for the month, putting out new ones for the new month and so forth, and of course seeing my clients.
After talking about them negatively yesterday, I do feel I need to thank the Horror Writers’ Association, which quickly moved to ban the incredibly insulting member from all their events and kicked him out of the organization. I had mentioned that I had left the organization a while back because one I’m not really a horror writer, and second because I felt that the organization had a ways to go as far as being welcoming to the non-white non-straight part of the community–I had been made to not feel welcome when I actually chaired World Horror Con in New Orleans, and while I didn’t have quite the same experience when I went to Las Vegas…there were enough little things to make me decide that my money and time were better spent in the mystery community, and that’s what I’ve done. I returned in December for some reason or another–I think they sent me a really nice “we want you back” email–and to be honest, this whole mess over the last week or so kind of had me thinking I’d made the wrong decision in coming back. But the swift movement of the HWA board of trustees over this matter was heartening, and while I have no intention of volunteering for anything any time soon for anyone or anywhere, I do not regret my decision. (I am also remembering that the community is also cantankerous and there are all kinds of feuds and things–long-time long-held grudges and so forth, which isn’t fun to navigate in trying to remember who doesn’t like who and so on; I usually don’t care or pay attention to such things and generally remain neutral because I don’t know the people well enough to have an opinion one way or the other.)
And on that note, I am going to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Wednesday Pay-the-Bills Day, Constant Reader, and I will check in with you again tomorrow morning.
I don’t remember how old I was the first time I saw Robert Wise’s film The Haunting; all I do remember was it was late at night–in Chicago, one (maybe more) of the local affiliates always ran films after the news at 10:30; they also ran afternoon movies at 3:30 Monday thru Friday–which is where I got most of my education in classic Hollywood movies. But The Haunting was probably the most terrifying movie I’d ever seen; it wasn’t until a rewatch later in my life that I realized that perhaps the most terrifying and unsettling thing about the movie was you never saw whatever it was that was creating the happenings at Hill House–and they were never really explained, either. I had nightmares after watching it the first time, and those nightmares became recurring. To this day I am not comfortable climbing a metal spiral staircase…
One afternoon when we were at Zayre’s for whatever reason–we went there almost weekly, although I am not sure why–I found a copy of Hell House by Richard Matheson on the paperback racks. It sounded, from reading the back, similar to the movie that had scared me so when I was younger, and I couldn’t help but wonder if the movie was taken from the book? I bought it and read it–loved it, in fact–but while it was similar to the story of The Haunting, it was also different enough for me to be certain they weren’t the same. (Hell House was filmed actually as The Legend of Hell House, which was also a terrifying film–more on that later). It wasn’t until years later, when I was in a used bookstore in Emporia, that I stumbled across this:
It was only a quarter, and looking at the back I recognized the characters–Nell, Theo, Dr. Montague, Luke–and of course, the name of the haunted house–Hill House. I bought it and a couple of others, and I started reading at the first opportunity, and was completely mesmerized. It quickly became one of my favorite novels of all time–I already knew Jackson’s story “The Lottery”, because at some point in school I’d been shown the film (why was this appropriate school viewing? Imagine trying to show it to students today!) and in a Drama class we’d actually read the stage adaptation and even put it on for the school (I think I had one line in our production?). Reading Stephen King’s Danse Macabre also told me more about both Jackson’s writing and the Robert Wise directed film, which was my first exposure to Julie Harris; I also remembered that the opening of Jackson’s novel was used by King as an epigram in ‘salem’s Lot; he also dedicated a book to her “because she never had to raise her voice,” which is a very poetic way to describe the softly macabre writing style and voice she used in her works. I lost my original copy at some point during moves over the years, and I acquired another copy after we returned to New Orleans in 2001 from our brief, preferably forgotten interlude in Washington DC–and have made a point to reread it every year since.
And no matter how many times I reread it, I never tire of its haunting, terrifying beauty.
No live organism can continue for long to exist sanely under conditions of absolute reality; even larks and katydids are supposed, by some, to dream. Hill House, not sane, stood by itself against its hills, holding darkness within; it had stood so for eighty years and might stand for eighty more. Within, walls continued upright, bricks met neatly, floors were firm, and doors were sensibly shut; silence lay steadily against the wood and stone of Hill House, and whatever walked there, walked alone.
Dr. John Montague was a doctor of philosophy; he had taken his degree in anthropology, feeling obscurely that in this field he might come closest to his truest vocation, the analysis of supernatural manifestations. He was scrupulous about the use of his title because, his investigations being so utterly unscientific, he hoped to borrow an air of respectability, even scholarly authority, from his education. It had cost him a good deal, in money and pride, since he was not a begging man, to rent Hill House for three months, but he expected to be compensated for his pains by the sensation following upon the publication of his definitive work on the causes and effects of psychic disturbances in a house commonly known as “haunted.” He had been looking for an honestly haunted house all his life. When he heard of Hill House he had been at first doubtful, then hopeful, then indefatigable; he was not the man to let go of Hill House once he had found it.
Dr. Montague’s intentions with regard to Hill House derived from the methods of the intrepid nineteenth-century ghost hunters; he was going to go and live in Hill House and see what happened there. It was his intention, at first, to followthe example of the anonymous Lady who went to stay at Ballechin House and ran a summer-long house party for skeptics and believers, with croquet and ghost-watching as the outstanding attractions, but skeptics, believers, and good croquet players are harder to come by today; Dr. Montague was forced to engage assistants. Perhaps the leisurely ways of Victorian life lent themselves more agreeably to the devices of psychic investigation, or perhaps the painstaking documentation of phenomena had largely gone out as a means of determining actuality; at any rate, Dr. Montague had not only to engage assistants but to search for them.
That opening paragraph alone is a masterpiece.
I parodied it for the beginning of one of my Scotty books–it gave me great pleasure to write the words New Orleans, not sane, stood by itself within its levees–and of course, this book was a pretty heavy influence on Bury Me in Shadows. The book reads almost like a fever dream, with its rhythms and poetries of language, and the story itself is as mysterious as one could possibly hope. The genius of Jackson is knowing that the biggest fear of all is the unknown; so we never know what is actually going on at Hill House–is the house actually bad, or just unlucky? The house’s history is bad and tragic from the very beginning, as we are told in Jackson’s spellbinding voice; who precisely was Hugh Crain, who built the house for his wife and family but never knew any kind of peace within its walls? What went wrong? Jackson never lets us know anything other than that the house is bad. Her primary point of view character is perhaps the must untrustworthy and unreliable of narrators, Eleanor Vance, Nell. Dr. Montague invited Nell because of a strange occurrence that happened when she was a small child; stones rained down on their house out of clear blue sky; her mother darkly blamed it on the neighbors (this also happened to Carrie White’s house when she was a little girl in Stephen King’s Carrie–in the newspaper write-up included in the book Mrs. White also blamed it on “the neighbors”), but other than that, Nell is pretty ordinary and small. She’s wasted most of her adult life taking care of her invalid mother; she’s now in her early thirties and living with her sister’s family, sleeping on the couch. She’s meek but capable of anger–she has a lot of anger and rage buried deep inside of herself–anger at the world, at the injustice of her wasted life, at the lack of a viable future; she has no prospects, no job, no friends, no nothing. The invitation to Hill House awakens a joy in her that she’s never known–she’s wanted somewhere. Her sister and brother-in-law refuse to let her take their mutual car; she gets up early and rebelliously takes the car anyway and heads to Hill House. As she drives she daydreams and observes everything along the road, making up a lovely fantasy for herself about living in a house with stone lions at the foot of the driveway; she stops for lunch and observes a little girl who refuses to drink her milk because she doesn’t have her special cup with stars on the bottom she can she as she drinks. Mentally, Nell urges the little girl not to give in, to not surrender to the injustice of not having her proper cup–as it will be the first of many surrenders of herself she’ll end up making throughout her life until she, like Nell, becomes invisible.
And then, hopeful and happy and excited, she arrives and gets her first look at Hill House:
The house was vile. She shivered and thought, the words coming freely into her mind, Hill House is vile, it is diseased; get away from here at once.
Which then gives Jackson the opportunity, as the next chapter opens, to describe Hill House:
No human eye can isolate the unhappy coincidence of line and place which suggests evil in the face of a house, and yet somehow a maniac juxtaposition, a badly turned angle, some chance meeting of roof and sky, turned Hill House into a place of despair, more frightening because the face of Hill House seemed awake, with a watchfulness from the blank windows and a touch of glee in the eyebrow of a cornice. Almost any house, caught unexpectedly or at an odd angle, can turn a deeply humorous look on a watching person; even a mischievous little chimney, or a dormer like a dimple, can catch up a beholder with a sense of fellowship; but a house arrogant and hating, never off guard, can only be evil. This house, which seemed somehow to have formed itself, flying together into its own powerful pattern under the hands of its builders, fitting itself into its own construction of lines and angles, reared its great head back against the sky without concession to humanity. It was a house without kindness, never meant to be lived in, not a fit place for people or for love or for hope. Exorcism cannot alter the countenance of a house; Hill House would stay as it was until was destroyed.
Nell’s sanity, never the strongest, is affected deeply by the house–she both hates and loves it, separate parts of her nature begging her to flee while the other telling her she’s come home, to stay. The other three in the party–Dr. Montague, Theo the lesbian with some psychic ability, and Luke, due to inherit the house one day–become aware very quickly that the house is having an odd effect on her; they also hate and fear the house, but that welcoming feeling Nell experiences, that desire to never leave, is for her and her only. The rest of the book is quietly terrifying–the noises in the night, the realization that whatever is going on in the house has a sly intelligence of a sort–and the scene where Nell is terrified in the night and holds Theo’s hand…until Theo turns on the lights and Nell realizes she was across the room so whose hand was I holding? is one of the most horrifying moments in horror fiction. And then, the chilling, tragic end.
I also always see the house the way it was shown in the movie.
I also rewatched the movie while I was rereading the novel–not the execrable remake but the original–and it holds up just as terrifying and unsettling as it was the first time. Julie Harris is fantastic as Nell, fragile and frayed and slowly unraveling; in the movie isn’t not quite as left to the viewer as it is to the reader the notion that Nell herself is the one haunting Hill House; the house gains its power through her. (This was done beautifully in the Netflix adaptation, The Haunting of Hill House, which is loosely based on the book but updated and adapted and changed significantly; I thought the series was fucking fantastic and an excellent homage to both the book and the original film. You can’t improve on what came before, so why not reinterpret it? I know Jackson purists were outraged, but having seen the dreadful 1999 remake…yeah, this wasn’t that, for sure.)
Also, because of the movie, whenever I read the book I see it in my mind in black and white. The film wouldn’t work in color, either.
If you’ve not read the book, you really should. It’s a masterpiece on every level.
I do not recall which was my first story under the name Todd Gregory, and I am far too lazy to wade through everything to try to find out. I used the name the first time sometime between the release of Bourbon Street Blues and Mardi Gras Mambo, so we’re looking at sometime between 2003 and 2006, and I think it was either “The Sea Where It’s Shallow” or “The Sound of a Soul Crying”; I could also be mistaken in my memory. I’m not really sure of much anymore, and when I try to pin down a specific moment in the timeline of my life I am inevitably proven to be incorrect.
Although maybe my CV may hold the answer–hang on, let me check. Okay, per my CV I started using the name in 2004, and it was actually a story called “Wrought Iron Lace,” which was published in an anthology called A View to a Thrill, with the connecting theme voyeurism (the other two stories, to be fair, came out the same year). Ah, “Wrought Iron Lace,” my gay erotica version of Rear Window, in which a gay man in a wheelchair with two broken legs watches someone move in from his balcony across the courtyard, and his balcony also affords him a view into his new young neighbor’s bedroom, with the inevitable of course happening. (The courtyard set up was one I had wanted to use for quite some time; I loosely touched on it in Murder in the Rue Dauphine but I had wanted to do a kind of Tales of the City kind of thing about gay men living around a courtyard in the Quarter and kind of forming a little family group, a la the Maupin novel as well as Valley of the Dolls and call the novel The World is Full of Ex-Lovers. I returned to the courtyard set-up for another story, written and published as Greg Herren called “Touch Me in the Morning,” where I also used two of the characters I thought up for that novel. Another scene I originally imagined for that novel became the short story “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me,” which appeared as a Todd Gregory story in the anthology Dirty Diner.)
But one of the things that had interested me, the more time I was out and around gay people, was how many gay men I knew had been in college fraternities–myself included. Almost every gay man I knew who’d been in a fraternity also had lots of prurient tales of illicit sexual experiences with their fraternity brothers–something that never once happened to me (I never once had sex with any of my fraternity brothers; to the best of my knowledge I am the only gay man to pass through the doors of my chapter), and that eventually led to me doing my final erotica anthology under my own name: FRATSEX.
FRATSEX was a good anthology, but I was not prepared for it to become a phenomenon. It earned out, thanks to preorders and subsidiary rights sales, before it was published, something that has never happened to me since; I got a royalty check for the book a month before it was released–and it continued selling for years. I got substantial checks for FRATSEX every six months until Alyson decided it no longer need to honor its contracts and pay its authors and editors the contractually obligated royalties twice a year it had agreed to, before it finally went belly-up after years of bad management and even worse business decisions. (I should point out that usually erotic anthologies had a very short shelf life; they usually never sold out their initial run, never did additional print runs, and certainly were gone within a year of release. FRATSEX was most definitely not that.)
But when Kensington decided to pass on the next Scotty book, they came back to me with another offer for something else: a gay erotic fraternity novel intended to follow the same sales path as FRATSEX. I had no idea what to call the book–but the money was too good to pass up, and so I signed the contract for a book whose working title was Fraternity Row. (I had suggested A Brother’s Touch or My Brother’s Keeper for titles; both of which icked out Marketing.) I think it was my editor who struck gold with Every Frat Boy Wants it.
As I walk into the locker room of my high school to get my backpack, I’m aware of the sound of the shower running. Even before I walk around the corner that will reveal the rows of black lockers and the communal shower area just beyond, I can smell that pungent smell; of sweat, dirty clothes and sour jocks. I would never admit it to anyone, but I love that smell. Especially when it’s warm outside—the smell seems riper, more vital, more alive. For me, it is the smell of athletic boys, the smell of their faded and dirty jockstraps. At night, when I lie in my bed alone jacking off in the dark quiet, I close my eyes and I try to remember it. I imagine myself in that locker room after practice, the room alive with the sound of laughter and snapping towels, of boys running around in their jocks and giving each other bullshit as they brag about what girls they’ve fucked and how big their dicks are. I try to remember, as I lie there in my bed, the exact shape of their hard white asses, whose jock strap is twisted just above the start of the curve, and below the muscled tan of their backs. It’s the locker room where I first saw another boy naked, after all—the only place where it’s acceptable to see other boys in various states of undress. The locker room always haunts my fantasies and my dreams.
And now, as I reach the corner, I hesitate. Who could still be showering at this time? Everyone else has left; baseball practice is long over, and I’d be in my car heading home myself if I hadn’t forgotten my bag and I didn’t have that damned History test tomorrow. Could it be Coach Wilson? I shudder as I have the thought. I certainly hoped it wasn’t him. He was a nice man, but Coach Wilson was about a hundred years old and had a big old belly that made him look like he’d swallowed every single basketball in the equipment room. I take a deep breath and walk around the corner.
Maybe it was—um, no, that was too much to hope for. Just get your bag and go.
The locker room is filled with steam from the hot water in the shower. Wisps dance around the overhead lights, and it was so thick I could barely see the floor and make out the row of black painted metal lockers. Yet, through the steam, I can barely see a tanned form with his back turned to me, his head under the water spigot, hot water pouring down over his muscled back and over the perfectly round, hard whiteness of a mouth-wateringly beautiful ass. I catch my breath as I stare, knowing that I shouldn’t be—the right thing to do is call out a ‘hello’, pretend not to look, get what I need and get the hell out of there. But I am utterly transfixed by the sheer beauty of what I am seeing. I bite down on my lower lip, aware that my dick is getting hard in my pants as I watch. I can’t tear myself away—I don’t want to turn and go or stop staring, the body is too perfect. And with the wetness cascading down over it, the glistening flow of the water emphasizing every defined muscle in the lovely male form that has haunted my dreams and my fantasies ever since I transferred here my junior year and started going to this small rural high school. Go, hurry, before he turns around and catches you watching—what are you going to say? Um, sorry I was staring at your ass?
But still I keep standing there, continuing to run the risk he’ll catch me, every second passing making it more likely. How long can he stand there like that without moving?
We-ell, that certainly starts off with a literal bang, doesn’t it?
I had no idea how to write this book, or what it was even going to be about when I signed the contract (I always say yes to money and try to figure it all out later). I’d had an idea, years before, for a book about a fraternity while I was actually living in one, and came up with three main characters: Eric Matthews, Chris Moore, and Blair Blanchard. The three were all friends, all pledge brothers, and all different. Eric came from an upper middle-class family, Chris was strictly middle-class and had a job, and Blair was the son of two movie stars, an aspiring actor himself, and was always intended to be gay gay gay. I had originally wanted to write a Lords of Discipline sort of novel about a fraternity and a secret society within the fraternity–still might; I think it’s a good idea–and so I thought, well, you belonged to a fraternity, and you created a fictionalized version of it for this book idea, so start there.
I fictionalized both Fresno and Fresno State into Polk and CSU-Polk, and my fictional fraternity’s physical house was based on the actual fraternity house, as well as the way its parking lot adjoined a sorority’s at the end of a cul-de-sac, with the fraternities’ parking lots on one side of the little road and the sorority ones on the other side, just like at Fresno State. My fictional fraternity house had a two story dormitory wing attached to the chapter room and meeting/party space/cafeteria, and so on. I created an entirely new character, closeted eighteen year old Jeff Morgan, who had just moved to Polk right after high school graduation (his family was transferred) and enrolls in summer school. In the opening sequence, Jeff is actually in his Economics class and bored, having a very vivid and erotic daydream about a boy he’d had a crush on in high school. Jeff is so involved and vested in the daydream he doesn’t even notice that the class was dismissed until a handsome classmate snaps him out of the daydream…that classmate is Blair Blanchard, who befriends Jeff and invites him to come hang out at his fraternity. It’s also soon apparent that Blair is not only openly gay but has no issue with it; he doesn’t really talk about it around the house, but everyone knows. Blair is the first openly gay person Jeff has ever known–Jeff is from Kansas and hopelessly naïve–and thinks he’s falling in love with Blair; but he isn’t sure how Blair feels about him.
Every Frat Boy Wants It is really Jeff’s story, and about how Jeff slowly comes into himself as a person; accepting his own sexuality and embracing who he is–while having a strange relationship with Blair that he doesn’t quite understand. It’s his first relationship of any kind, and he doesn’t understand why Blair keeps pushing him away–leads him on, turns him off, and so forth, on and on and on–and is told really in a series of vignettes, essentially sex scenes with both elaborate set-ups and follow-ups that have lasting impacts on him, with the story of his unrequited love for Blair running through them all. He even winds up shooting a porn film while on vacation with Blair in Palm Springs at Blair’s movie star father’s place. Eric and Chris turn out to be pledge brothers of Jeff’s–he eventually has a three way with them; they don’t identify as gay but “play around with each other”–until, of course, the very end when Blair and Jeff finally get past all their misunderstandings and disagreements and jealousies and commit, once and for all to each other.
The book did very well–that scorching hot cover also didn’t hurt–and they asked me for a sequel.
That sequel became Games Frat Boys Play, and was adapted from another novel idea I’d had lying around for quite some time (never throw anything away!).
My favorite memory of this book, though, is that I had to go to a conference in Atlanta for the weekend for a queer specfic event. (I still don’t know why I was invited; at that point I had edited one horror anthology and that was it, really) and the book was due. I was in Atlanta for four days; I did my panels and spent the rest of the time holed up in my room, writing madly in a desperate attempt to get this damned book finished and venturing across the street for Arbys whenever I got hungry. I set a writing record for myself that weekend–21000 words in three days–and the book was finished before I drove back to New Orleans. So whenever I talked about writing over twenty thousand words in a weekend? This is the book I am talking about.
It’s probably hard to imagine what Southern Decadence is like unless you’ve actually been to it; even the hundreds of pictures I’ve taken and shared on social media over the years can’t even remotely begin to get the concept of what it’s like across–the same as Carnival, really; it has to be seen and experienced to be truly understood. My first Southern Decadence was in 1995, which was around the twenty-second or third time it was held; my knowledge of Decadence, primarily from urban legend and tales told from one gay to another and passed down over the years, is sketchy and probably untrustworthy (if you’d like the unvarnished truth and read about the history, I highly recommendSouthern Decadence in New Orleans from LSU Press, co-written by Frank Perez and Howard Philips Smith; I have a copy and thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Alas, my memory isn’t what it used to be, but the story is it began as a bar crawl for a friend who was moving away, and grew from those humble beginnings into a massive event that draws queers from all over the world).
That first Decadence I came to was also one of the hottest, temperature wise, or perhaps it was simply because I wasn’t used to the summers in New Orleans yet since I didn’t live here. I just remember being in Oz one afternoon and just soaked in my own sweat, and going down the back staircase from the second floor–the staircase that opens out onto the dance floor–and having to hold onto the railing because the steps were slick and wet. The railing was also wet, and when I touched the walls so were they–all the humidity and body heat and sweat–but at the same time it was so much fun. Gorgeous, flirty and friendly men everywhere, everyone scantily dressed and getting wasted and just having a good time. This was during the height of the circuit parties, most of which have died off over the years–there’s no longer a Hotlanta weekend in Atlanta in mid-August anymore, for example–but back then, it seemed like every month if you had the time and the money there was a circuit party somewhere you could fly off to and be yourself and have fun being in an entirely gay environment for a few days. That was, for me, one of the primary appeals of circuit parties and gay bars–they were safe havens for everyone to be out and proud and loud…and after a few weeks navigating the straight world for work and play and life in general…it was lovely to let loose in, for want of a better word, a safe space.
Circuit parties also had their downsides, don’t get me wrong–Michelangelo Signorile detailed some of those in his book Life Outside, which got taken out of context an awful lot–drug use and rampant sex and bad choices also led to other problems, not to mention the spread of HIV and other STI’s; the very first time I ever went to a circuit party–Halloween in New Orleans, 1995–there was a very Masque of the Red Death feel to it; here were all these gay men crowded into a riverfront warehouse, doing drugs and dancing and having a great time while the plague raged outside the doors. I even wrote about that in my diary on the flight back to Tampa a few days later.
But Decadence was always my favorite, out of all of them, and it was something I looked forward to every year. My workouts were always planned so I would hit peak physical condition for Decadence and maintain through Halloween, before starting to work on the Carnival body. It feels weird to talk about it that way, but that was my mentality and my schedule for years. Bulk up for a couple of months, then lean down leading into the event.
I had always wanted to write about Southern Decadence, and I know I’ve written about how I came up with the idea for the book numerous times; standing on the balcony at the Pub watching one of the strippers fight his way through the mob of gay men to get to the Pub so he could work, Paul saying you really should write a book about Southern Decadence and seeing a scene vividly in my head as I looked down at the sea of sweating gay men. I’ve also written about where the idea for the character and his family came from. So what is there left for me to say about Bourbon Street Blues?
The name’s Dansoir. Dick Dansoir.
Okay, so that really isn’t my name. It’s my stage name from the days when I was on the go-go boy circuit. I started when I was in college, at Vanderbilt up in Nashville. As with almost everything that goes on in my life, I became a go-go boy on a fluke. The Goddess brings interesting experiences into my life all the time. Sometimes I don’t think it’s all that great, to tell the truth, but she always seems to be watching out for me.
I was working out at my gym one day when this guy came up to me and asked me if I wanted to make some easy money.
Like I hadn’t heard that one before.
I was twenty-one at the time, just turned, but I wasn’t some wide-eyed dopey innocent. I was raised in the French Quarter, after all, and by the time I went off to college at age eighteen I had pretty much seen everything. French Quarter kids have a lot more life experience than other kids their age. You can’t really help it. The French Quarter is like Disneyland for adults, and growing up there, you get used to seeing things that other people can only imagine.
Anyway, this guy said he was a booking agent and scout for this agency that booked dancers in gay bars throughout the deep South. The troupe was called Southern Knights.
“You can make a lot of money this way,” he said to me above the sounds of people grunting and weights clanging. “You’ve got the look we like.”
I looked at myself in one of the mirrors that are everywhere in gyms. I was wearing a white tank top and a pair of black nylon jogging shorts. I was pumped up from lifting, and if I did say so myself, I looked pretty good. I’m only about five-eight—nine if I have thick-soled shoes on. I have curly blond hair that’s darker underneath. The sun does lighten it, but that darkness underneath always makes people think I dye it. I don’t. I have big, round brown eyes. I am also one of those blonds lucky enough to be able to tan. I’d gotten a good tan that summer and it hadn’t faded yet. The white tank top showed the tan off nicely. I also have a high metabolism and can stay lean rather easily.
But scam artists are everywhere. I wasn’t about to fall for a line from some stranger in the gym. For all I knew, it was a trick to get my phone number, or an escort service, or something else I didn’t want to be involved in.
Not that I have anything against escorting. People go to escorts for all kinds of reasons—loneliness, fear of commitment, whatever—but they do fulfill a need in the gay community, and more power to them. I just never saw myself taking money from someone for having sex. I like sex. I enjoy it. So, it just never seemed right for me to tale money for doing something I like.
Besides, taking money for it would make it work. I prefer to keep my status amateur.
I got a copy of the book out yesterday and skimmed/read it again, to get another look and remind myself of Scotty’s roots and beginning. I realized yesterday, as I turned the pages of an ARC (yes, I still have ARC copies of Bourbon Street Blues available), several things: one, that the reason I always hate reading my own work is because my brain is trained to read my work editorially, to fix and edit and correct and look for things needing to be fixed (and I can always find something) and that second, it’s really been so long since the last time I looked at this book–or any of the earlier Scottys–was four years ago, when I was writing Royal Street Reveillon. So, by making the obvious effort to flip the editorial switch off, and having so much distance from the book that it almost seemed like something new to me, I was able to skim/read the entire thing without wincing in horror or pain or embarrassment.
Bourbon Street Blues was also the last novel I wrote that didn’t have an epigram of any kind, let alone Tennessee Williams: I started that practice with Jackson Square Jazz with a line from Orpheus Descending: “A good-looking boy like you is always wanted.”
Reading the book took me back to the days when I was writing it. The Greg who wrote Bourbon Street Blues is still here, I’ve just been through quite a bit since then and have changed because of my experiences. There were some sentences in the book I would change now to make better, but there are still some jewels in there, and well, I can kind of understand now why the character is so well-liked. He’s charming and humble and kind; sure he talks about “being irresistible” a lot, but that’s part of the charm. Guys find him attractive. He doesn’t necessarily see it, but is more than willing to accept it and not question it. He enjoys his sexuality and he enjoys having sex. I wanted Scotty to be unabashedly sexual and to have no hang-ups, carrying no stress or issues about being a very sexual gay man.
As I read the book again, I also started seeing something that had been pointed out to me over the years a lot–and began to understand why this was pointed out to me so much; an old dog can learn new tricks, apparently–but I still think other people are wrong. The book isn’t “all about sex,’ as some have said. Rather, Scotty sexualizes men; he sees them as potential partners and appreciates beauty in men. His friend David also loves to get laid, so they cruise a lot–whether they are at the gym (either the weight room or the locker room), a bar, wherever they are–and so people get the idea that the book itself is incredibly sexual, even though there is literally only one sex scene in the entire book and it’s not graphic; Scotty’s weird mish-mash of spirituality and beliefs and values make the act itself a sacred ritual, and that was how I wrote the scene; from a spiritual, commune-with-the-Goddess perspective. It’s also funny in that people are so not used to seeing world through the Gay Male Gaze that it’s jarring, and puts sex and sexuality into the minds of the reader.
The question is, would people think the same if this was done through the Straight Male Gaze, in which women are sexualized? Since this is the default of our society–literature, film, television–is flipping the script to show the Gay Male Gaze so uncommon and so unheard of that it triggers such a reaction from some of the readers?
There’s also so much innocence in the book, and it’s also interesting to see it as a kind of time-capsule: Scotty doesn’t have a computer; his rent (on Decatur Street in the Quarter, with a balcony) is $450 a month (ha ha ha ha, that’s what the condo fee would be now monthly); and he also doesn’t have a cell phone. The whole point of the book was to do a Hitchcockian wrong place/wrong time now you’re in danger kind of story; and that is precisely what Bourbon Street Blues is. I’d forgotten that one of the running gags in the book is that he never gets a chance to sleep much throughout the story so he’s tired all the time and just wants it all to be over so he can go to bed.
Another thing that’s dated: even in 2002, in my naïveté and innocence, the evil politician running for governor–when described by Scotty’s brother Storm as problematic–even he doesn’t support an outright ban on abortion–he wants to ban it but with the rape, incest and health exceptions.
Even in 2002 I couldn’t conceive of anyone running for statewide office calling for an outright ban on abortion.
How things change.
It was also interesting that I got two things very wrong in the book, too: for one, I was thinking for some reason the swamp on the edges of Lake Pontchartrain on the way to Baton Rouge on I-10 was the Atchafalaya (it’s the Manchac/Maurepas), and while I had always remembered I’d given Scotty’s mom a name in this book but forgotten it later when I needed a name for her in a different book–I had the name wrong. I thought I’d called her Marguerite in Bourbon Street Blues then named her Cecile in a later book; I had actually called her Isabelle. (I’ve even told that story–about the names–before on panels and been WRONG ALL THIS TIME!)
It was also interesting and fun to remember–as I read–that Scotty was also not looking for a boyfriend. He was perfectly happy and content being single (which was also something important I wanted to write about–a gay man who didn’t care about finding a life-partner, figuring if it was meant to be it would happen). I also presented him with two potential love interests–Colin the cat burglar and Frank the hot daddy–with that actually being resolved without him having to make a choice between them. I also had the book end with Scotty being slowly persuaded into becoming a private eye.
Originally I had conceived it as a stand alone novel, but the publisher offered me a two-book contract, so when I was writing Bourbon Street Blues I knew there was going to be a sequel. This freed me to leave some personal things open for him; I knew I was going to bring Colin back in the next book so he was going to have to choose between them, and I also knew the personal story needed to be wrapped up by the end of the third book, which was going to be the end of the series with everything resolved. That changed when I wrote Mardi Gras Mambo, but that’s a story for another time.
Bottom line: it’s a good book and I am proud of it. It’s only available now as an ebook from Amazon, but I hope to eventually make it available through every service as well as get a print-on-demand version for those who might want one.
Tuesday and it’s back into the office with me today. Huzzah.
Yesterday I entered data until my eyes crossed, but I got everything caught up. I also, once I was finished with my work for the day, walked over to Office Depot and got some more organizational items to try to make the kitchen workspace–and the kitchen overall–better organized and pulled together. It’s better now–looking around at the space this morning it certainly looks better than the hot mess it’s been for quite some time–so that’s something, I think. I slept fairly well last night, so as I am slowly waking up this morning over my coffee I am thinking this looks pretty good around here this morning. I also decided that since it’s still Pride Month my reading should continue to be queer books, at least for this month, so I plucked John Copenhaver’s The Savage Kind out of the TBR pile (it did win the Lambda Award for Best Mystery this past weekend after all) and hope to start reading it this evening when I get home from work. I made a binder for “Never Kiss a Stranger” as well as ones for Chlorine and Mississippi River Mischief–which definitely helped getting loose piles of paper and file folders off the counter tops, and at the same time felt strangely like I actually was making some kind of progress, which is always enormously helpful with feeling like you’ve gotten some place, accomplished something.
I just feel like I’m not getting anywhere with anything these days, but my mind has really worked strangely over the past few years. My concept of time is completely altered–not that it was ever really strong to begin with, honestly–and I struggle with memory lapses; my memory doesn’t really work the way it used to, which is incredibly concerning, or used to be; it seems like everyone is having the same kind of problems, and it probably is pandemic/interesting times causing it for everyone that seems to be affected (of course, if this was a suspense thriller, some mad genius would have done something to trigger this in people around the world for their own nefarious purposes–you can tell I watched a James Bond film last night), but it still is distressing to say the least.
I am also glad I took the weekend off. I feel like it was absolutely necessary, and there’s a three day weekend coming up this weekend, which is really nice as well. I don’t think I’ll be able to take the entire weekend off again this weekend–certainly not all three days–but it’s a very pleasant thought, I must say, and I am looking forward to getting through the rest of this week so I can rest up this weekend.
Whine, whine, whine.
And yes, we did watch the final Daniel Craig as James Bond thriller No Time to Die last night. It was gorgeously shot, and Craig is much closer to the Bond Ian Fleming wrote about in the books so many decades ago (I was very young when Fleming died), and while watching last night I thought about the original thirteen Bond books that Fleming wrote all those years ago and how badly those stories have aged–and how little the movies based on them resemble the books. The book Live and Let Die was horrifically racist (I read it again a few years ago, since it’s been decades since I read them) and then watched the movie again, which is also bad in that respect. Live and Let Die was also the first Bond movie I saw in the theater–and parts of it were filmed/set in and around New Orleans, so that part of it has always been sentimental for me in some ways…but yikes. The stereotypes! And the Bond books themselves celebrated imperialistic colonialism–many of the books are set in Jamaica or other possessions of the British empire, and that oh-so-British sense of superiority is very present in the books. But No Time to Die was a perfectly adequate Bond thriller film; Daniel Craig is a commanding presence on the screen, even if the villain, played by Oscar winner Rami Malek (which prompted me to say, “Freddie Mercury would have made a great Bond villain”) wasn’t really developed enough to really hit hard as the bad guy.
Then again, are any of the Bond villains ever really developed?
But watching a James Bond movie, coupled with me reading The Great Betrayal about the 4th Crusade, has me in mind of writing a Colin thriller again–I could of course set it at any time, so it doesn’t necessarily have to be current; the lovely thing about a Colin series is I could literally go back and set them in and around Scotty books, which would/could be very fun to do–but I am just not so great about writing action, I suppose–and thrillers are a lot of action, from beginning to end. I also don’t know enough about guns, really–how can I write about a gunfight or being shot at, or shooting back–but it could be fun….I already know the opening scene (set in 1204, as the city is on the brink of falling; the Patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church calls in a couple of warrior priests to smuggle something to safety, and that something is the MacGuffin the entire story turns on: the Pope/Rome wants whatever it is, and the Patriarch would rather burn in hell than let what he considers the Roman heretics have it) and I also know what the first chapter would be–Colin rescuing a politician’s daughter from the terrorists who kidnapped her–and then we would get into the MacGuffin/treasure hunt, with of course the Vatican being the bad guys (seriously, only Nazis make better bad guys than the Vatican) and all kinds of fun stuff.
And on that note, tis time for me to get back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.
In March of 2020, something I had only been vaguely aware of became something I was acutely aware of, seemingly overnight: the world, in fact, shut down in the face of a virulent and potentially deadly disease that was communicable. I went to work one morning and all of our appointments had been cancelled; they’d put up shields everywhere in the testing rooms and at the front desk; and after we were there for about a couple of hours the word came down from the chief medical officer: we were shutting down. It happened so fast my head spun. Within days the Tennessee Williams Festival was cancelled, the Edgar banquet was in jeopardy, and false information was spreading even more quickly than the virus. I also remember thinking that the measures we were taking as a country were so drastic that “surely it would be over in a few weeks.”
Stressed out and concerned about everything and everyone, I did what I always do in stressful times: I turned to books. And, as is my wont, I decided to read about plagues. I got down my copy of Barbara Tuchman’s A Distant Mirror to read the bubonic plague chapter again; I have a copy of a book called The Black Death (whose author I cannot recall) that I also read; I revisited The Stand by Stephen King (an all-time favorite of mine); Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice; Camus’ The Plague; and even got down Katherine Anne Porter’s short story collection to reread “Pale Horse Pale Rider.” I was, as you can obviously tell, interested in seeing how previous plagues had been dealt with, survived, and the changes they wrought on civilization and society. I also wondered how to write about the pandemic (it not being my first pandemic, either; I always felts queers of a certain age were a little better prepared for the coronavirus outbreak than the rest of the world because we’d already been through HIV/AIDS), and if I would eventually; I wrote a short story called “The Flagellants” which I hope to publish someday somewhere, probably in a short story collection of my own, and even came up with an idea for a Scotty: Quarter Quarantine Quadrille.
But I was also seeing people saying they wouldn’t read fiction set during pandemic times; and other authors shying away from it. I kind of shook my head but understood; I remember how New Orleans writers didn’t want to deal with Hurricane Katrina afterwards–I certainly didn’t when I was living through the aftermath–but we all eventually came around to writing about it. Even if it’s fiction, I feel like we need to have documentation of what it’s like to go through things like hurricanes and pandemics and other paradigm shifts that change the world as we used to know it before the shift.
This past week I started reading an advance copy of the new Chris Helm book, Child Zero, and finished it yesterday–and yes, it’s a pandemic story, and no, it’s not about COVID-19…but what it is, is one hell of a read.
Pike and his men reached the encampment’s southwest gate at precisely 3:15 a.m.
Twelve minutes earlier, their sleek black SUV’s–three in total, armored, tinted, and stripped of emblems, license plates, and VINs–entered the Lincoln Tunnel in Weehawken, New Jersey, having passed the darkened tollbooths without slowing. Two minutes after that, they emerged beneath the murky waters of the Hudson River in Midtown Manhattan and zigzagged until they reached Eighth Avenue.
The stoplights blinked yellow in all directions. They encountered neither traffic nor pedestrians. Three years ago, Pike thought, these streets would’ve been bustling–even at this time of night. Now, thanks to the citywide curfew, they were empty save for police cruisers and sanitation crews.
The forer rolled lazily through intersections, or idled nose-to-tail beside one another so their drivers could converse. The latter clung to the side of tanker trucks in hazmat suits, or wandered two-by-two with smaller canisters strapped to their backs spraying bus stops, subway stations, and other public spaces with disinfectant foam. Fresh from the nozzle, it was enough to make your eyes water, but within minutes it dissipated to a lacy film that turned to fine white dust when touched, and smelled like some fragrance chemist’s idea of clean.
My assumption is that smell was either lemon or pine, or a combination of both?
Child Zero is, more than anything else, a rapid-paced thriller about a future world in which antibiotics have become useless; a virus has spread throughout the world rendering them (I won’t go into the technical details here; it’s explained much better within the pages of the novel and I am no scientist) ineffective in stopping infections or bacteriological diseases of any kind. A cut or a scratch can literally lead to death, and the world has clamped down into an authoritarian society that is even more frightening to contemplate than the pandemic itself. Would this be considered a science thriller? I’m not sure how you would classify this book within the world of crime fiction; it’s definitely a page turning thriller (once I got going yesterday there was no way I was putting it down until I reached the end), and kind of reminded me of Michael Crichton’s The Andromeda Strain, only better (The Andromeda Strain scared the shit out of me when I read it as a teenager a gazillion years ago); Chris Helm is a better writer than Michael Crichton at his best, and it’s amazing what a difference sentence structure, word choices, and intense character development can make in a thriller. Focusing on a pair of cops, one white male and one Muslim woman, who get drawn into an investigation into a mass shooting event at a quarantine camp in Central Park (“Park City”), their investigation soon runs afoul of powerful people, within the government and without; Jacob Gibson is soon put on leave but soon they are witness to another mass death event; and find themselves helping a young illegal immigrant, twelve-year-old Mateo–who is the target everyone is looking for.
You see, all the murder victims in Park City were, surprisingly enough in a time of pandemic, completely healthy–which makes no sense. Somehow, Mateo is the key to everything…and time is running out because Jacob’s four year old daughter is sick.
This is a non-stop thrill ride from start to finish, but what makes it better than your average thriller is not just the timeliness of the story but the fact that the characters aren’t two-dimensional Hero, Sidekick, and Target, the way they so often are in thrillers. They have interior lives, are sharply drawn, and you care about what happens to them–which, to me, is perhaps the most important part of a thriller (and why so many thrillers, in my opinion, miss the mark).
Get it pre-ordered if you haven’t already. It’s truly terrific.
I am so messed up this week. I literally had no idea what day of the week it was for most of the day and had to keep reminding myself it was Tuesday and not Monday. It was very annoying and terribly irritating, as I am sure you can imagine. And it kept messing with me the entire day. I kept thinking oh two more days in the office despite the fact that there was actually only one (I have a doctor’s appointment on Thursday so have taken the day off) and I couldn’t wrap my mind around the notion of it being Tuesday all day. I certainly hope today isn’t going to another disorienting don’t know what day it is kind of day.
So far so good this morning, really. I feel more awake and a lot less discombobulated than I did yesterday, which is definitely a plus. It also doesn’t feel as cold today as it did yesterday, which I am also taking as a win; Friday is supposed to be miserably cold, but I’ll deal with that when that comes around (note to self: look for other space heaters this evening when you get home from work); hopefully it won’t cause the “cold paralysis” I sometimes experience–when it’s so cold I can’t do anything but huddle for warmth under blankets. Our heat isn’t working again; I turned it on last week and it came on…but then it turned off and hasn’t come back on again since. I really hate our new system because I cannot grasp how it works, and it seems to be so incredibly sensitive to everything that anything even just the tiniest bit incorrect will shut it down completely and we have to call the guys out again. I don’t even know if Paul has bothered mentioning it to our landlady this time, to be honest. It seems like having a working HVAC system is simply not in the cards for us.
Yesterday I got some lovely new editions of Joseph Hansen’s first four Dave Brandstetter mysteries in the mail, which is very exciting. It’s been decades since I read Hansen; and frankly, I am not entirely certain I read the entire series–but that’s lost in the murk of the past; I cannot imagine I didn’t if they were in print, and I do distinctly remember some lovely paperback editions I picked up at Tomes and Treasures in Tampa…but I don’t recall reading them all. So I have decided that I am going to reread Hansen’s novels again–it’ll be interesting to see what my take on them is now that I am also twenty years into a mystery-writing career as opposed to the mystery-writer-wannabe I was when I originally read them (I also seem to recall picking some up at the Borders in Minneapolis at the corner of Lake and Hennepin). Hansen isn’t nearly as remembered as he should be, frankly; I think it’s a disgrace he was never an Edgar finalist or named Grand Master by Mystery Writers of America.
I got the cover art and the proofs for an anthology I contributed a story over the last few days: Cupid Shot Me: Valentine Tales of Love, Mystery and Suspense, edited by Frank W. Butterfield. This is the place where I finally found a home for my nasty little story “This Thing of Darkness”, which was inspired by a visit to New Orleans a few years ago from someone I went to high school with–I met him at Tacos and Beer, which is just around the corner from my house, and of course while I waited for him and watched the crowd there, I started writing a nasty little story in my head that began precisely that way: the protagonist meeting a friend from high school he hasn’t seen in forty years for dinner in New Orleans at Tacos and Beer (which just goes to show–a writer will take inspiration from pretty much any-fucking-where), and as I wrote the story in my head while I waited it took a much darker turn. I was working on the Kansas book at the time (yet another draft of it) and here I was seeing someone from high school back in Kansas…so it really took a dark, nasty turn. I had been doing some research on, of all things, the nuclear missile bases scattered across Kansas (there was one near our high school) which led me into another Youtube wormhole about the TV movie The Day After…and also made me think about an entire book that could be built around one of the abandoned missile bases…anyway, after dinner I went home and started writing this story. It wasn’t originally called “This Thing of Darkness” (which is from Macbeth, by the way); I don’t remember what I originally called the story, but “This Thing of Darkness” was originally the title for the story in Unburied, “Night Follows Night”, but was too good of a title to not use, so I switched whatever the title of this was out for it.
I do like the story, twisted as it is, but it also got me to thinking about patterns in my short stories and how I write them–which I would talk about it here but the thought is still completely unformed, which has never stopped me before, of course, but it is so unformed that I would embarrass myself writing my way through exploring it, and I am not entirely sure that I actually regularly do what I think I do–following the same story structure in all of my stories–so I would need to reread more of them at once to determine whether that is something I actually do with my work…
And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines.
One final blast of Blatant Self-Promotion for Bury Me in Shadows. (Or is it?)
And I thank you, Constant Reader, for your patience while I do this. Soon we’ll be back to our normal daily programming only; and there will be no more of those navel-gazing posts about writing this book; just navel-gazing posts about whatever strikes my fancy at the moment, I guess.
(Warning: I will be having to do more Blatant Self-Promotion in and around January when #shedeservedit drops. You’ve been warned!)
The first line of the first draft of Bury Me in Shadows was “My mother ruined my life the summer before my senior year of high school.” I liked this opening line, as it seemed a good place to start; for me, it should have struck the interest of the reader: who is this speaking? Surely this is an exaggeration? What did she do?
The problem was—and I can be horribly stubborn when it comes to these sorts of things—that I loved that opening line and tried to keep it even after I realized it wouldn’t work, and didn’t on several levels; it implies, very strongly, that this story is being told in flashback—the entire sentence makes it sound like he’s looking back and remembering that summer from a vantage point in the future—and that wasn’t what I wanted with the story. It even set the wrong tone. In my original vision of the story, my Jake had gotten a summer job at a fast food place in his suburb of Chicago, mainly because he has a huge crush on a guy who works there. His mother sending him away for the summer ruins his plans to get close to Hunter (who still appears in the book, but very briefly), and then he meets a love interest in Alabama while he’s dealing with all the family secrets and what may or not be a haunting of some sort. Originally, Jake was very well-balanced and smart; his mother has always treated him like an adult so he’s more mature than most seventeen-year-old’s, but still has that strong narcissistic streak that so many teenagers share (I’ll never forget Nancy Garden—angel that she was—telling me, when asked for advice, “Just remember that for teenagers everything is the end of the world.”). But…would she send a seventeen-year-old down there? And once I realized that the moonshiners in the holler over the ridge would probably now also have a meth lab (or replaced the still with one), I thought, there’s no way this intelligent, capable, and successful woman would send a teenager down there on his own for the summer and I realized I needed to shift his age, make him older; it also eliminated the need for him to be picked up at the Birmingham airport or borrow a car from his uncle. I also realized if Jake were older, he could be in college in New Orleans—where he would, of course, have a car—and could just drive up there. And as the story continued to flesh out in my head as I conceptualized it and started writing, I began to understand how dangerous it was at the Donelson place; and given the reasons why Glynis has kept her son away from where she grew up, she would have to be completely reassured that she wasn’t putting her son in any danger.
Which led me into a deep dive into who Jake was a character—and he was not the confident, borderline-cocky openly gay high school senior whom I’d envisioned originally. I also needed a reason why Glynis would decide to send her son there for the summer, when she’s clearly kept him away for most of his life. That meant he would have to do something—I wasn’t sure what it was yet, but there had to be something—and I already had her working in Los Angeles for the summer so she couldn’t take him with her or keep an eye on him at their home in Chicago. I debated: a car accident, or an accident of some sort? And then it hit me right between the eyes: he’s the son of a very successful, kind of cold mother; he’s openly gay and went to a private Catholic school in Chicago; and his mother has been married multiple times. He doesn’t feel at home with his father’s second family in the suburbs, so he always feels out of place, with the inherent insecurities and self-doubt and self-loathing that comes with that. Shy and nervous and not sure of himself, he would be easy prey for a narcissistic gay, who would see in him a ‘project’: “let’s teach Jake how to be a gay man!’ And, of course Jake falls for the guy, who is completely the wrong person for him, and the more the guy pulls away the harder he clings, until the guy finally has enough and pulls away. This causes Jake to spiral, badly, mixing drugs and alcohol and who knows what else as he goes on a three day binge, most of which he doesn’t remember, and he ends up in the hospital after collapsing on the dance floor of a gay bar at four in the morning. The hospital contacts his mother, she tells them he tried to kill himself in high school, and he gets put on a 72 psychiatric hold. It is then she comes up with the great idea of what to do with him for the summer: her mother is dying, and the house is full of junk. Someone from the family should be there, and since he is there, he can start doing an inventory of everything in the house, getting it ready to be cleared out once the old woman does finally die. Jake doesn’t really like the idea but Glynis gives him no choice; and he is off to summer in glorious Corinth County, Alabama.
Of course, once he arrives there, he starts having strange memories, weird feelings, and seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing. Having just overdosed, naturally he isn’t certain he can completely trust his own brain; has he somehow fucked up his brain function? But the longer he stays there, the more certain he becomes that what he is experiencing is actually real; and that’s even more disturbing than thinking his brain has rewired. There are a LOT of family secrets and dysfunction to uncover, and of course, there’s that family of criminals with a meth lab just over the ridge, and those archaeologists digging out at the ruins of the old Blackwood Hall; and all those terrible family secrets start coming out…which puts his own life at risk.
If you do decide to take a chance and read Bury Me in Shadows, I hope you enjoy it. It was fun to write–once I figured out how to fix all the problems–and I hope it’s fun for you to read.
I really have no concept of days and dates anymore. And since my office at the day job is closed and without power–at least thus far; I’ve not checked the Entergy map yet this morning–there’s no telling when I will start remembering the dates and what day of the week it is for the foreseeable future, honestly. I’m sleeping better than I was (anything is better than the powerless sleep of last week)yet my energy reserves still seem to be a little on the low side. Yesterday I hit a wall around five, but pushed through the final hour of work-at-home duties; we’ll see how long my energy lasts today before it starts flagging.
I stopped by Rouse’s yesterday; very picked over and the whole building was condensed to half it’s size; fruits and vegetables moved from their usual section over to where the dairy and bacon is usually stored on the river side of the store–but the bakery was operating and they had bread and milk, which was important, but were low on Cokes and Gatorade, which was a bit disappointing, but to be expected. There’s no telling when the trucks to restock will have the gas to get in or out of the city, so am rather glad we bought some things in Greenville to bring back home. Today I have more things to do at home–we still can’t get into the office, per yesterday (I’ve not checked yet this morning as to whether we can get inside or not, as I already mentioned)–but am worried about running out of things to do at home before we can get back inside the office.
Last night Paul and I caught up on the shows we missed during the evacuation–Ted Lasso, American Horror Story, and Archer–before retiring for the evening; as always with a power outage our a/c is now messed up, with it hovering in the high 60’s/low 80’s upstairs and mid-to-low 60’s downstairs, but seriously, am just so happy cold air is coming out of the vents I don’t even care in the slightest that the thermostats are fucked up again. I was laughing yesterday as I did the last load of power outage/evacuation laundry; my tights were in that load, and I remembered that the thermostats had gone all fucked up before the power outage, so I was wearing layers downstairs because it was so cold. I laughed because of the extremes–one day I am wearing layers downstairs because it’s so cold, the next I am sweating to death and can barely breathe. New Orleans is definitely not for the timid of heart.
Driving around yesterday was weird. There’s still a lot of debris out there being cleaned up, but there’s still a lot that hasn’t been as of yet. The streetcars aren’t operating yet–no idea when they will be rolling again–and it’s rained off and on a lot, which leads to water pooling because most of the catch traps or gutters are blocked with debris. The enormous live oak branches are the ones that make me sad; I hate seeing damage to live oaks, but I’ve only seen one or two of our beautiful trees uprooted and down, so that’s something. It seems like we lost more of them during Katrina than we did during Ida, but that may not be true; it’s just how I see it, and of course, my post-Katrina memories are in the foggy recesses of my brain any way.
And of course, now that I am home, I cannot focus on reading anymore. The Internet came back yesterday, so obviously we have television streaming capabilities again (thank you, Cox), so I was able to get my phone hotspot turned off and can also use my work laptop now to actually do the day job stuff–I try to keep my computers free from other uses; I try not to do dayjob stuff on personal computers and personal stuff on the dayjob computer, although it’s not always possible, frankly.
My plan for this week is to slowly get the apartment and the outside yard/walk under control this week–still debris out there that needs to be picked up–and re-acclimate myself to everything; find the last to-do list and make a new one; keep cleaning and purging things from the apartment; keep making a list of things we need to get to be prepared the next time there’s a storm and/or loss of power (candles being at the top of the list; preferably tapered ones), and just get back on top of things–a near impossible task, really, since I wasn’t on top of everything before Ida came ashore–so I can feel better about everything.
And on that note, tis time to head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely whatever day of the week it is, Constant Reader–I’m going to guess Wednesday.
Our power went out for nearly two hours last night–we were watching The Housewife and the Hustler, the damning ABC News documentary focusing on the crimes of celebrity lawyer Tom Girardi and his spouse, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills cast member Erica Girardi (whose alter-ego is entertainer Erika Jayne, who has had some hits on the dance charts)–and while it was out, I fell asleep in my chair and when it came back on, I was too drowsy and tired to write last night. I had done about two or three hundred words before we started watching the documentary, and was really looking forward to making some more progress on the novella last night. Alas, it was not to be–and I have yet to check the progress of the tropical depression in the Bay of Campeche, which is aiming directly for us and would arrive at some point over the weekend. (note to self: fill car’s gas tank TODAY)
UPDATE: I just checked. Strong possibility it will form into Hurricane Claudette, but the primary threat appears to be heavy rainfall over the weekend as it comes ashore. Sort of relief, not really. What it does mean is errands must be run and completed before the weekend; we could lose power at some point; and probably at least being housebound with the car at risk of being flooded (and ruined) if the street floods.
Oh, well, I’ll worry about that tomorrow.
I had weird restless dreams last night–nightmares, actually–so I am not as well rested as I could be this morning. I also made it to the gym last night, so my muscles are a bit achy and tired this morning. But I am not sorry I went to the gym–and believe me, I had to make myself go–but I could do without the groggy tiredness this morning. I have a lot to get done today and very little desire to do any of it; but am also up way earlier than I usually am on a Thursday so hopefully that will translate into a lovely night’s sleep tonight.
I can dream, at any rate.
Any way, as I walked home last night from the gym, sweating sweating sweating, I continued the Instagram experiment, which is actually going fairly well. I did worry about it a bit last night–thinking to myself you don’t want to get addicted to likes and so forth, and allow your obsessive personality to take over here–but at the same time, if I can subversively slip some promo in, why not? I also love taking pictures–I have literally tens of thousands of picture files saved in various digital storage locations, and since I am never going to ever be a professional photographer, why not share the with the world? At least the good ones? And I do live in a very picturesque area in an incredibly beautiful city. Last night, for example, I took a picture of a house that I used in The Orion Mask; the house in New Orleans my main character, Heath, inherited from his mother the painter–who died from a gunshot wound when he was a toddler; the story being it was self-inflicted–and the actual house was merely a starting place. I loved this house in my neighborhood; still do, it’s one of my favorite houses in the city, actually, but I changed and made alterations to it. I needed the gallery to run all the way around the house, on each side, rather than just in the front (like the original’s); and I have no idea what the house’s floor plan was. In the book I made the entire downstairs one big room, with the amazing ten foot windows and shutters on each side; so that when the shutters were all opened the downstairs would be flooded with light–and her studio was a corner of that room, figuring a painter would want lots of light and lots of windows for views and inspiration from the gorgeous colors of the vegetation in the city.
New Orleans really is a breathtakingly beautiful city.
It occurred to me though, as I was posting the picture of Heath’s inheritance, that I don’t ever really write about working class or poor people, at least in my books (and of course, now that I’ve written that, Heath was from a middle-class background and worked for an airline; the hero of Dark Tide was definitely working class/poor, and the main character in Timothy wasn’t exactly rolling in money either–before marrying the master of Spindrift, at any rate. Likewise, Tony in Sara wasn’t even middle class, either. Okay, maybe I shouldn’t be so rough on myself about issues of class) and I can’t help but think I should do that some more. I know that if I ever write Where the Boys Die (and I will; it’s really just a matter of time and when I will get to it; MUST FOCUS ON WRITING) it’s going to be set in a white-flight suburb and focus on families at various levels of the class system in this country; as would You’re No Good, should I ever get to that one as well.
So many ideas to write. Honest to God, I will never have the time to write them all, especially since my work ethic isn’t what it used to be–which is mainly from not having the energy I used to, in all honesty. I keep hoping that going to the gym regularly (if and when I ever get to the point where I have developed a routine that I can stick to) that there will be an increase in stamina and energy for me as I get back into better physical condition. I can dream, I guess.
All right, it’s nearly time for me to head back into the spice mines. Y’all have a great Thursday, okay?