If You’ve Got the Money, I’ve Got The Time

One of the things I find fascinating about many people is their dedication to nostalgia; their insistence that some past time of their life was somehow this incredibly magical time of innocence (which it could conceivably have been); a utopia paradise of some sort where everything was right with the world and everyone was so happy and–you get the picture. It’s like how people glowingly refer to high school as one of the “best times of their lives” (which, frankly, is terribly sad and tells me more about their present circumstances than I’d care to know); the past wasn’t magic and neither were our childhoods. If they mean I liked life better before I knew how awful it can be, that I can understand–and I do think that is what they actually mean, even if it isn’t what they are actually saying: they preferred life when the bills and putting food on the table was someone else’s responsibility; when the biggest worries were who will I go to the Homecoming dance with and I have to study for that History test and so forth. But my teenaged years weren’t halcyon and rosy. The 1970’s was a very strange decade of reaction to the 1960’s–and for a queer kid, first trapped in a middle to upper middle class suburb of Chicago and then a small rural town in Kansas, it was hard. I’ve no desire to ever relive high school or go back to being a teenager. Sure, it might be easier to be a queer teen  in a Chicago suburb now–but I suspect it’s not that different in a rural high school in Kansas now than it was forty years ago.

Reading was always my escape from the pressures of a world into which I really didn’t fit–and one that from my earliest memories as a child I knew I didn’t belong in. Reading was a godsend for me, and I read ravenously. I was always being told to go outside and play instead of reading; the most effective punishments were the ones either prohibiting me from reading or limiting how much I could read, and the earliest signs of my obsessive/compulsive disorder were evident with my discovery of the mystery series for kids, which was the next gradual move for me as a reader from the Scholastic Book Fair mysteries. My goal has always been to finish collecting all the series I read and collected as a child: the Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, the Dana Girls, The Three Investigators and Trixie Belden, as well as the lesser known ones like Biff Brewster, Ken Holt (over whom I had a weird bonding moment with James Ellroy), Rick Brant, Vicki Barr, Judy Bolton, Cherry Ames, Kay Tracey, and Connie Blair. (I also collected the Chip Hilton sports series.) I still have the copies I had as a child, and in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, I discovered eBay and tried to finish collecting the series. I don’t have room in the Lost Apartment to display them proudly in a bookcase–I have far too many books; and many of them are boxed up and stored–but I refuse to rid myself of them, because I keep holding out hope that someday I will live in an apartment or condo or house where I can have a room filled with bookcases that will also serve as my office.

But eBay gradually led me to collectors’ and fan pages of these books on Facebook..occasionally someone on one of those pages will be selling a copy of something I need to complete my collections.  There is a generic page for series books in general, and then there are individual pages for Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, respectively–and probably still others for the other series that I don’t know about. I know there are also fan websites and serious scholarship on the kids’ series–some of them make for interesting reading, if you have some free time (or are wasting time you should be spending on writing). Some of the fan websites also have conferences and trips–the Nancy Drew group, for example, has an annual trip to where one of the books was set, and tours and so forth to visit the places Nancy also went to look for clues in the course of her investigation. (They were in New Orleans a few years ago; I was going to register–it’s not cheap–until I realized it was more about being a fan than anything else.)

And boy, do these people take their series fandom seriously. I’m not as rabid or as devoted as the majority of them; periodically I might reread one of the series books (I’d love to write an essay about the Ken Holt series, which was darker and more hard-boiled than any of the others; which was why James Ellroy and I bonded over them–which is still so weird to me), but I don’t reread an entire series from beginning to end, and while I used to remember plot details quite vividly, as I’ve gotten older those memories are fading.

I’ve not watched the new CW series Nancy Drew–well, I watched the first episode but didn’t keep watching; primarily because I haven’t had time and Paul and I usually watch shows together–at least, I like to give him a chance to watch something I might enjoy before moving on to watch it on my own (like Riverdale). Maybe he’ll be interested in Nancy Drew, maybe he won’t; I thought he’d like Riverdale but he didn’t. Maybe Nancy Drew is something I’ll wind up watching while he’s working in the evenings; I don’t know. But I’ve also not seen the recent film adaptation, Nancy Drew and the Hidden Staircase, either. But boy, do these Nancy Drew fans take their Nancy Drew seriously. They were outraged that Nancy Drew had sex in the first episode (because Nancy of course never had sex in the series; I don’t even think she even enjoyed a chaste kiss from Ned in all 58 of the original books) and Ned Nickerson was black! Nancy Drew was not only having sex but she was having sex with a black teenager!

The pearls were clutched so tightly! And if you stuck a piece of coal up these people’s asses, it would have come out a diamond. There was a lot of moaning and whining about people’s childhoods being ruined (really? Mine is still just fine) and the “horrors of political correctness” and on and on and on. In other words, Nancy should be a virgin and only know white, straight, cishet people. Got it.

Anyway, Hulu recently announced that they are doing a Hardy Boys series; however, instead of Bayport the town is Bridgeport; their first case is their mother’s murder; and rather than being 18 and 17, their ages will be 16 and 12. Their father is off investigating the murder and so he deposits them with their aunt in Bridgeport, but they soon realize their mother’s death is somehow connected to the town–and everyone in town is a suspect.

Yes, these are significant changes to the original canon of the Hardy Boys, but also remember: The Mickey Mouse Club did two serialized versions of the Hardy Boys, making them also about 13 and 14. The Hardy Boys fans are fan with this, of course, and with the other changes Disney made…so what’s the problem? As someone pointed out, in response to all the whining and moaning about ruining characters and childhoods and “political correctness”, someone also commented, grumpily, “I suppose Chet will be slim, gay, and black”–which actually sounded kind of good to me, frankly. The character of Chet is overweight and loves to eat (kind of like Bess in the Nancy series) and also like Bess, his appetite and weight are the subject of lots of jokes, teasing and sometimes humiliation. Not really cool, if we’re being completely honest.

And yes, all of these people are grandparents with graying hair and are white people. All of this whining and complaining over two television series based on characters that have evolved and changed and been rewritten multiple times in the nearly hundred years they’ve been around–to appeal to  new generations of readers. The original versions of the books were all revised in the 1950’s and 1960’s because they were loaded with racial and ethnic stereotypes that were beyond offensive; naturally, the nice old white people prefer the original texts (big shock, right?).

And if any kids’ series need to be turned into television programs, can I vote for The Three Investigators and Encyclopedia Brown?

I am really tired of this whole “you’re ruining my childhood” nonsense. Unless they are traveling back in time to do so, your childhood hasn’t changed.

I’ve always wanted to write a book about kids’ series fans and conventions; I might just have to now. I mean, I get it–people don’t like change, and something that was beloved when you were a child you want frozen in amber forever. But I just wish these people would unpack their issues with the updates and changes–and nothing gets my gorge going more than the ever popular whine of every racist, misogynist, and homophobic piece of shit out there: politically correct. Sorry you don’t feel safe expressing your hateful bigoted opinions any more without consequence.

I’ve also always wanted to write my own middle-grade series; I used to think about that all the time when I was a kid, even up to coming up with characters and titles for the books in the series because of course I did. I don’t know if I can write middle-grade or not; but it’s worth a shot sometime.

And of course, I can talk for hours on the subject of the kids’ series. Perhaps someday I will.

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Tryin’ To Get The Feeling Again

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

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

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

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

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

And that isn’t a bad thing, really.

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Didn’t Mean to Turn You On

I’ve been traveling down memory lane a lot lately, it seems. I am also beginning, for the first time in my life, beginning to understand the pull of nostalgia. It’s something I’ve never quite gotten before–the past is the past and it basically is what it is, has always been my mentality, and I have always been quite happy in the present. But rereading Bourbon Street Blues again as I did the proofing/copy editing took me back in time, and I kind of liked revisiting that time again mentally. Setting “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the summer of 1994 also has me revisiting that time, and remembering it quite fondly. Also posting my daily “Pride Books” on Facebook has also had me spending time in my past, as I remember books and what they meant to me at the time I read them.

I also saw a call for submissions for crime short stories set in the past, which also has me wondering about something I could write. I have an idea–don’t I always have an idea?–but it’s still too amorphous. And I still have these other two short stories to write, and need to get six more chapters of the first draft of the Scotty done and then I can let it sit for a couple of months.

I did work on my short story “Children of the Stone Circle” a bit yesterday, and also managed to write a really shitty chapter of the Scotty book. I mean, a really shitty chapter. I now have six chapters left in which to solve two murders, find a kidnapping victim, and wrap up all the other stuff I’ve thrown at the boys in this book. Heavy heaving sigh.

It should be interesting, to say the least.

So, I made my first ever red velvet cheesecake this past weekend; it was a co-worker’s birthday and another co-worker suggested I make one. I used the Cheesecake Factory recipe, but adapted it a bit–I didn’t, for example, cut the cheesecake in half so there would be four layers instead of three–and it turned out pretty well. (I think the red velvet layers were a bit dry, but everyone else seemed to think it was fine. The cheesecake and cream cheese frosting, though, made the dryness not so noticeable. If I had only made red velvet cake, I think it would be too dry.)

I actually love to cook; I love trying new recipes and changing them up a bit to make them my own. I just wish I had a bigger kitchen, or at least more counter space. I have a galley style kitchen, long and narrow, and my workspace for writing is at one end, in the bay windows which would ordinarily be used, I think, as a breakfast nook. I always think, whenever I am cooking and feeling confined in my kitchen, that there would be plenty of room if I didn’t have to use the kitchen as a makeshift office as well. I suspect that is actually untrue; it wouldn’t really change the counter space much, although I suppose I could have a table where my desk is and use it for the microwave and coffee maker, which would free up a lot of counter space.

Yeah, right.

I really just want an entire room for my office, so I could have bookcases lined along the walls and filled with books.

Perchance to dream.

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Separate Lives

Well, in typical Greg screw-up fashion, I screwed up this morning. I’d signed up to tour the local FBI office and attend two presentations, all of which I was looking forward to, but I had the time wrong. As Constant Reader knows, I am not good in the mornings. So, I thought I had to be there for nine a.m. No, everything started at nine a.m. I needed to be there for eight thirty. As I was getting ready to shave, I double-checked the address and noticed that on the agenda I needed to be there for eight thirty. It was eight-oh-five; I hadn’t shaved, showered, or dressed, let alone drive across town to the lake front. In other words, I wouldn’t been able, even if I hurried, to leave the house until it was time to be there, and then had to hurry to get there. Sigh. So, I made another cup of coffee and felt like a complete idiot.

And now have my morning free.

And before anyone says anything, no. I won’t show up late. I am not that person. It’s disrespectful to everyone who showed up on time, it’s disrespectful to the FBI, and if they want you to allow half an hour to clear security screening, then I need to be there half an hour ahead of time. Period. Plus, you don’t mess with the FBI. Trust me on this one.

Sigh. I hate when I fuck up. Especially after the chapter went to all the trouble to get this sorted out and put together.

Sigh.

I was really looking forward to it, too.

Anyway.

I finished watching season 2 of Versailles last night, and I have to say, it really ended well. You really can’t go wrong with the Affair of the Poisons and the involvement of the King’s mistress, Madame de Montespan, and her subsequent fall from glory. The show is incredibly well done, and they managed to get the character of the second Duchesse d’Orleans, Elisabeth Charlotte, the Princess Palatine, absolutely correct. Liselotte was always one of my favorite people from this period of French history, and the rapprochement between her and her gay husband, and her gay husband’s lover, was incredibly unique in history. I was worried they’d gloss over it, but no, there it was, front and center. Why no one has done a biography of Monsieur, I’ll never know; I suppose everyone is so dazzled by The Sun King that no one has ever thought that, you know, a view of the French court and Louis XIV through the eyes of his gay brother could be interesting.

Believe me, if I spoke French I’d be all over it.

Then again, were I able to speak French, there are so many things I would have written by now.

Sigh. I often regret my monolinguism.

This weekend I managed to read a lot of short stories, giving me a lot of material for The Short Story Project over the next few days, but the weekend was pretty much a bust for writing. I only managed to eke out slightly over a thousand words on one short story and perhaps one hundred on another, which was, as one would imagine, enormously frustrating for me. I am still choosing to see that as a win; getting closer to being finished and all, but still enormously disappointing. The thousand words or so was basically wheel-spinning, because I don’t know how to end the story yet, and I know I need to go back to the very beginning and start revising it so I can figure that out. It’s so weird; I do this with novels all the time but with short stories, I resist doing it until I’ve got a draft version finished. So incredibly stupid, I know, and yet…here we are.

Heavy sigh.

All right, enough of that nonsense. Here are two of the short stories I read over the weekend, both from Alive in Shape and Color, edited by Lawrence Block.

First up, we have Jeffery Deaver’s “A Significant Find.”

“A crisis of conscience. Pure and simple. What are we going to do?” He poured red wine into her glass. Both sipped.

They were sitting in mismatched armchairs, before an ancient fireplace of stacked stone in the deserted lounge. The inn, probably two hundred years old, was clearly not a tourist destination, at least not in this season, a chilly spring.

He tasted the wine again and turned his gaze from the label of the bottle to the woman’s intense blue eyes, which were cast down at the wormwood floor. Her face was as beautiful as when they’d met, though a little bit more worn, as ten years had passed, many of which had been spent outside under less-than-kind conditions; hats and SPF 30 could only give you so much protection from the sun.

If you’ve not read Jeffery Deaver, you simply must read the Lincoln Rhyme series. I am terribly behind on it, but tore through the available volumes over the course of a month or so when I first discovered him. He’s also a very nice man, and it’s lovely when someone nice enjoys exceptional success.

Anyway, this story is terrific. The couple we see in these paragraphs, whom are the main characters of the story, are an archaeologist team at a conference in France. They, while enormously successful with publications and so forth, have never made what is known in their field as a ‘significant find.’ There’s a very strong possibility that they are about to  make one; based on some information passed on to the husband in casual conversation in the bar; undiscovered cave paintings. It turns out the person passing the information on has his own information, collected from a local boy, wrong; the couple figure out what he had wrong, and are about to go look for the cave. The crisis of conscience is whether or not to share the discovery with the colleague who originally got the information. This is the kind of moral dilemma that characters in Tales from the Crypt episodes find themselves in and almost without fail made the wrong choice; so the story always ends up with their come-uppance. This was what I was expecting out of this story; but Deaver manages some exceptionally clever sleight-of-hand and thus the ending of the story comes out of nowhere and is satisfying in its own way; the pay-off is quite good.

I then moved on to “Charlie the Barber” by Joe R. Lansdale.

Charlie Richards, who thought of himself as a better-than-average barber, was lean and bright-eyed, with a thin smile, his hair showing gray at the temples. He loved to cut hair, and he loved that his daughter, Mildred–Millie to most–worked with him. They were the only father-and-daughter barber team he knew of, and he was proud of that. He was also glad she lived at him with him and her mother, Connie, at least for now.

Next year she was off to the big city, Dallas. Graduated high school a couple years back, hung around, cut hair, but now she was planning to attend some kind of beauty college where she could learn to cut women’s hair as well. Planned to learn cosmetology too. Claimed when she finished schooling she could either fix a woman up for a night out, or spruce up a dead woman for a mortuary production. Charlie had no doubt that would be true. Millie learned quickly and was a hard worker.

This story was inspired by one of those classic Norman Rockwell paintings, with it’s homey, almost propaganda-like charm about American simplicity and virtue. Being a story by Joe R. Lansdale, who is embraced by both the horror and crime writing communities–he won an Edgar for Best Novel, and numerous Stoker Awards–you just know this euphoric American idyll story of a small town barbership in the 1950’s is going to take a truly dark turn. Charlie was a POW during World War II and still suffers from a degree of PTSD; the supply closet in the back of the barn, with its tight, confined space and darkness, always takes him back to the horror of the camp and what he had to do to escape the butchering of the prisoners; he was one of the few survivors. And sure enough, the peaceful charming world of the barbershop is turned upside down just before closing time when something wicked that way came. The story is both horrifying and brilliant; the juxtaposition of the Rockwell Americana painting/world view and the automatic nostalgia the time period conjures, steeped in nostalgia for the 1950’s as a more innocent, charming time (which is completely false), against the horror that walks through the barbershop door and what they have to endure to survive it–the sort of thing that did happen, but without 24 hours news channels and the Internet most people never heard about these things–is stunning. Lansdale is a terrific, terrific writer, and this story is one of the best ones I’ve read thus far in this Short Story Project.

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