Love Touch

Sunday morning, as I sit here in my cool workspace swilling coffee, trying to wake up and figure out what to do with the rest of my day. I need to go to the grocery store and I should also probably make an attempt to go to the gym; but I can’t seem to find my iPad, which makes doing cardio pointless (I read or watch TV on my iPad while on the treadmill; perhaps not having my iPad is simply an excuse for not going; what if it’s gone, lost, stolen? I am trying not to think that way and am hoping that I simply left it at the office. If not, I am terribly screwed because I don’t know where it is and I currently don’t have the cash on hand to replace it. So, yes, let’s just continue pretending happily that it’s as the office, shall we?)

I could, of course, just go to the gym and do weights. That always feels good, at any rate. Perhaps once I finish swilling this coffee….

I slept late yesterday, and I slept even later today. I spent most of yesterday not only reading but doing chores around the house, on the pretense that today I would not only go to the grocery store and the gym, but I would also spend some time writing today. I need to finish a short story; I need to revise still another, and there’s that new one struggling to take root in my brain that I haven’t really decided what to do with just yet. There are two others swirling around up there in my head, as well as others I’ve not thought about or have forgotten about in the meantime. But now, now as I wake up I feel more confident about running the errands and going to the gym and actually doing some writing today.

I’ve been reading The History of Western Philosophy by Bertrand Russell, and greatly enjoying it; is there anything quite like well-written non-fiction? It’s why I love Joan Didion and Barbara Tuchman; one of the things I love to do while reading is to learn, and non-fiction fills that need quite beautifully. I also like non-fiction that makes me think; which is why I am looking forward to reading Dead Girls by Alice Bolin. I still would love to do a collection of my own essays, book reviews, and so forth; but egad, what an odious chore pulling all of that together would be. I struggle with essays, but I also think that the writing of essays; the ability to pull thoughts from my head and extrapolate them out to their fullest meaning, is vitally important and a skill-set I wish I had honed more properly. A friend once pointed out to me, as I bemoaned my inability to write essays, that my blog itself is nothing more than years of personal essays. That took me aback, because it was, in many ways, correct; there is definitely some truth to that, but it’s hard for me to take the blog seriously in that fashion, because so much of it is simply written off the top of my head in the morning as I wake up and drink coffee and try to figure out what to do with the rest of my day.

One of the problems for me with personal essays is, ultimately, the issue of self-deprecation, which I’ve addressed in previous blog entries about my writing and my career and my books; who am I to write about this subject? Am I expert enough in this to write about it, or am I simply talking about things that smarter, better-educated people have written about long ago and having the hubristic belief that I am the only person to see this truth for the first time? 

And, in considering myself self-deprecatingly as not that special or particularly smart, I defeat myself and never write the essay.

And of course, there is the problem of all the lies my memory tells me.

But yesterday, I took the afternoon to finish read an ARC of Lou Berney’s new novel, November Road, and was blown away by it.

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Behold! The Big Easy in all its wicked splendor!

Frank Guidry paused at the corner of Toulouse to  bask in the neon furnace glow. He’d lived in New Orleans the better part of his thirty-seven years on earth, but the dirty glitter and sizzle of the French Quarter still hit his bloodstream like a drug. Yokels and locals, muggers and hustlers, fire-eaters and magicians. A go-go girl was draped over the wrought-iron rail of a second floor balcony, one book sprung free from her sequined negligee and swaying like a metronome to the beat of the jazz trio inside. Bass, drums, piano, tearing through “Night and Day.” But that was New Orleans for you. Even the worst band in the crummiest clip joint in the city could swing, man, swing.

A guy came whipping up the street, screaming bloody murder. Hot on his heels–a woman waving a butcher knife, screaming, too,

Guidry soft-shoed out of their way. The beat cop on the corner yawned. The juggler outside the 500 Club didn’t drop a ball. Just another Wednesday night on Bourbon Street.

Lou’s previous novel, The Long and Faraway Gone, won every crime-writing award under the sun that it was eligible for: Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and I don’t know what all; it was the crime publishing equivalent of the EGOT. It was, obviously, an exceptional novel. I met Lou when we were on a panel together at the Raleigh Bouchercon, along with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron; moderated by the amazing Katrina Niidas Holm. It was funny, because the panel topic was, I think, writing about small towns which, in fact, none of us on the panel really did, but we had fun with the topic and I know I brought up Peyton Place at least once and pointed out that suburbs are small towns with the primary difference being suburbs are bedroom communities for cities while small towns aren’t attached in any way to a larger city. It was fun and spirited and I liked Lou, thought he was incredibly smart, as were Liz and Lori. Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars for that year; and I admire their work tremendously. I’ve not had the opportunity to read Liz’ work; but she did have a terrific story in the New Orleans Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou.

Anyway, I digress.

I’ve been looking forward to November Road since I finished reading The Long and Faraway Gone, but I still need to go back and read Lou’s first two novels, Whiplash River and Gutshot Straight. 

I also have to admit, I was a little hesitant about Lou’s new book; it’s built around the Kennedy assassination in 1963, which always gives me pause (I have yet to immerse myself in Stephen King’s 11/22/63). I’m not sure why I don’t care to read fiction around the Kennedy assassination, but there you have: an insight into my mind. But the Kennedy assassination, while a primary plot device, is just that: a device to set the story in motion. Frank Guidry is involved with a mob boss in New Orleans, and after the Kennedy assassination he is given instructions to fly to Dallas, retrieve a car, and drive it to Houston to dispose of it. While he is doing this, he realizes that he is getting rid of evidence that may be of vital importance to the investigation into the president’s murder–and as such, is a loose end who knows too much and figures out he’s got to disappear now because they’re going to want to kill him. And sure enough, they do send someone after him, Paul Barone, a remorseless killer and tracker. The cat-and-mouse game between them builds suspense throughout the book.

But it’s not just about Frank, and it is a credit to Berney’s talent, creativity and imagination in that he throws in another primary character, constructed carefully in all the facets and layers that make her live and breathe: Charlotte. Charlotte is a wife and mother in a small town in Oklahoma, married to a useless drunk fuck-up with whom she had two daughters, and her salary working for the local town photographer is the primary thing keeping a roof over their heads. Her own ambitions for being a photographer herself are constantly shat upon by her boss, her society and culture and environment: she is a woman, a wife and mother, and in 1963 that so thoroughly defines her that any other ambition she might have throws her identity as wife and mother into question. Trapped, with the walls closing in on her closer every day, Charlotte takes the president’s assassination as a sign for her to run away with the girls and start over. Charlotte is an extraordinary character;  her relationship with her daughters is the strong backbone of this story. You root for her, you want her to make her escape and make her dreams come true.

Frank and Charlotte cross paths in New Mexico, and Frank sees them as his salvation; his murderous pursuers might be thrown off as they are looking for a single man, not one traveling with his wife and kids; the book becomes even stronger and more suspenseful once they are all together. Frank and Charlotte become close, despite not being completely honest with each other; they are both keeping their cards close to their vests, but yet form a loving bond. WIll they escape, or will they not?

November Road reminded me a lot of Laura Lippman’s Sunburn; the same kind of relationship building between a man and a woman where a lot of information, important, information, is held back from each other, and that lack of trust while falling in love is an important theme in both books: women trying to make their best lives, even if it means making morally questionable decisions, while becoming involved with a man who isn’t completely honest with her. Berney’s writing style, and tone, and mood, also put me in mind of Megan Abbott’s brilliant Give Me Your Hand. If you’ve not read yet the Lippman and Abbott novels, I’d recommend getting them and holding on to them until Berney’s book is released in October and reading them all over the course of a long weekend.

Bravo.

Sweet Freedom

Ah, Monday, which this week is my short day. I didn’t (of course) get as much done this weekend as I would have liked; but the truth of the matter is I really need a day to run errands and do chores–which exhausts me–and then another day to just chill out and relax to get ready for the next week. But I am not beating myself up over not getting things done as planned any more; a to-do list is merely a list of things that have to be done at some point, without deadlines and/or pressure. (Well, actual deadlines do have to be followed, but you know what I mean.) I did spend the weekend getting caught up on things I watch (Animal Kingdom) and some movies I’ve always meant to watch (The Faculty, which was amazingly and gloriously ridiculous) and an absolutely brilliant documentary about Psycho (78/52: Hitchcock’s Shower Scene) and how it changed everything and influenced everything that came after it. It also called to mind how Anthony Perkins deserved the Best Actor Oscar that year and wasn’t even nominated–one of the biggest crimes in Oscar history.

I also did some reading; I read some short stories, which was fun, and I also read more of  Lou Berney’s November Road, which I am trying to read slowly, so as to savor every word and every moment. It really is brilliant; I have to say this is a top notch year in the world of crime fiction, with terrific novels being released left and right–this year has also seen Laura Lippman’s Sunburn and Alison Gaylin’s If I Die Tonight, with Lori Roy’s exceptional The Disappearing and Megan Abbott’s Give Me Your Hand being released this week, and so many amazing others I haven’t gotten to yet. My reading isn’t as public or as frequent this year as I would like, simply because I am judging an award yet again so am trying to focus on reading for that–hence the Short Story Project–and I worry that the great books are going to continue to stack up in my TBR pile, and thus defeat me in the process of ever catching up.

I really need to stop agreeing to judge prizes.

One of the stories I read yesterday was “Almost Missed It By A Hair” by Lisa Respers France, from Baltimore Noir, edited by Laura Lippman:

Had it not been his body in the huge box of fake hair, I like to think that Miles Henry would have been amused.

At least, the man I once knew would have seen the humor in it: a male stylist who made his fame as one of the top hair weavers in Baltimore discovered in a burial mound of fake hair at the Hair Dynasty, the East Coast;s biggest hair-styling convention of the year. It had all the elements that guaranteed a front page in the Sunpapers, maybe even a blurb in the “Truly Odd News” sections of the nationals. Television reports swarmed the scene, desperate for a sound bite from anyone even remotely connected to Miles. Yes, it all would have been sweet nirvana to Miles, publicity hound that he was. If he had lived to see it.

I knew him pretty well. I knew him when he was Henry Miles, the only half-black half-Asian guy in Howard Park, our West Baltimore neighborhood. His exotic looks ensured that he never wanted for female attention, although they also made him a target for the wannabe thugs who didn’t much cotton to a biracial pretty boy spouting hiphop lyrics. He was a few years older than I was, so our paths crossed only rarely. Besides, he was the neighborhood hottie and I was a shy chubby teenager with acne. The different in our social statures, as well as the difference in our ages, limited us to the socially acceptable dance of unequals. Meaning, I stared at him and he didn’t know I was alive. It was only when we were grown and found ourselves cosmetology competitors that we began to talk to each other.

This is a great story, and yet again further proof of how important the voices of diverse writers are. A murder that takes place at a convention for African-American hair and nail technicians? And frankly, I can’t remember the last time I enjoyed a short story as much as I enjoyed this one. I know nothing –or at least, very little– about African-American hair, although I know it’s a very fraught issue. But from the wonderful opening of the discovery of a dead man’s body in a box of fake hair all the way through the finish, the authorial voice is strong, and what makes it even stronger is how she deftly explains, in a non-info-dumpish way, about weaves and wigs and styles and hair sculpting and everything that goes into what women of color deal with when it comes to hair.

Brilliant, and brava.

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True Blue

I got up this morning to watch Wimbledon, and while I was sad to see Serena not tie the record for most slam titles ever–I always enjoy watching her play. The men’s semi-final between Nadal and Djokovic was also amazing and great to watch. I have errands to run this morning, but have already started on my household chores. I want to get the errands done and then go to the gym, then come home and finish my chores.

All right, I am home from all my errands and I am exhausted. I still have my chores to do, too. The heat and humidity just sucks the energy right out of you. I may–I may skip the gym today and go tomorrow; I can actually watch the tennis while there on the treadmill, which might be the smarter thing to do. Right now all I really want to do is curl up into a ball and go back to sleep somewhere, but I have to do my chores.

I started reading Lou Berney’s November Road last night, and it is amazing, as I suspected it would be. Maybe I could curl up in my easy chair for a while and just read it. Or maybe after I’ve made some progress on my chores. I’d love to do some writing today; but right now I am so drained and tired…perhaps getting cleaned up might do the trick? Perhaps it might.

Sigh.

Yes, I’m not seeing any writing getting done today, although making notes and thinking about writing might be in the cards. I remembered a tremendous loose end in the Scotty book that needs to be tied up–and it’s a big one. I am also going to do the epilogue differently (every Scotty book has both a prologue and an epilogue; the prologue is where Scotty introduces himself and his family to the reader, while i use the prologue to tie up things and let the reader know what happened after the story) in that this time, for the first time since I think Mardi Gras Mambo, it will actually take place at a reveillon meal, probably at Brennan’s, and while the family is having their meal, Scotty will look around the table and think about everything that’s happened since the end of the story. As I have mentioned before, this is probably the most complicated Scotty plot I’ve done thus far–which makes it the most complicated plot I’ve ever done–and it’s a challenge that, when I think about it more, gets more and more daunting and intimidating.

That could be the exhaustion talking.

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

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Why Can’t This Be Love

Wednesday and I am very tired this morning; not sure what that’s all about, but there you have it.

I had yet another breakthrough this week on something I’m working on–which brings the breakthroughs in recent weeks to an almost ridiculous level. I finally recognized, through my own stubbornness, that the story I was trying to tell in the WIP is the wrong story; I kept trying to  make it fit the story I wanted to tell, ignoring the little voice I would hear every once in a while telling me no, this is the real story, why won’t you listen to me? Finally, on Monday night, it hit me upside the head with a two-by-four; and when I finally stopped fighting it and  listened to the voice, the entire plot fell into place and all the problems I couldn’t seem to iron out completely magically answered themselves. And you know what? Once again it all comes down to me being ridiculously stubborn when I didn’t need to be, and not listening to  my inner voices.

Seriously, you’d think I’d know better by this point. But I never seem to learn. And of course, rereading the previous paragraph now I realize it sort of makes me look sort of insane. But you know, I don’t know any other way to say it than a voice in my head. I kept trying to make this manuscript, characters and town fit this story I was trying to tell, with the end result that I wasn’t seeing their real story.

And now I can’t wait to fix it and make it better.

I am so behind on so many things I need to get done–I need to get the Scotty revisions done; I need to get to work on this; I have a short story I need to write….madness. And I have so much reading to do! I need to get back on the Short Story Project, and I want to read Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita and Alex Segura’s Blackout and…heavy heaving sigh.

We watched a really good Australian show this weekend, Secret City, which starred Anna Torv (been a fan since Fringe, and she was also terrific in Mindhunter), which had a lot going for it–the cutthroat world of domestic and foreign politics is at the core of the story, which opens with a young man being murdered and a reporter (Torv) happening upon the crime scene and starting to investigate. I do recommend this show highly, and there’s also a wonderful subplot where it turns out that Torv’s ex-husband is a transwoman, and I thought the show handled it beautifully, with one slight quibble.

We also started watching HBO’s Sharp Objects, which I thought was spectacular. I actually preferred this Gillian Flynn novel to Gone Girl, the book that made her famous and a publishing superstar, and I still need to read her other novel, Dark Places.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Living in America

So, I sent two more stories out into the submission wilderness yesterday. I also had lunch with a friend at the Company Burger and got caught in the rain on the way there from where I parked the car. And for once I actually had an umbrella in the car.

I know, right?

What are the odds?

I slept late this morning; part of that I believe is resistance to having to leave the house. I need to get the mail and I need to make groceries–not much, just a little bit–and at some point I should go to the gym. But I am feeling rather lackadaisical this morning; I ‘d like to start rereading the Scotty manuscript as well as taking notes on it (I was taking notes last night, just from my memories of it) and  I also want to get back to reading  (Lou Berney’s November Road is calling my name and I should get back to the Short Story Project), but I am also thinking about other short stories that are in progress that I’d like to get done…but if I focus, I can also get Scotty finished by the end of this month and then turned in.

Decisions, decisions. I also have two full days left of my staycation. so there is that, as well. And the apartment looks kind of slovenly, again. I don’t know, sigh. It is what it is, I suppose, and the more coffee I swill the more awake and lively I feel. This second cup is really hitting me marvelously, I must say.

We watched A Very British Scandal  last night, the limited series about the Jeremy Thorpe scandal in the 1970’s, where an MP tried to have a former gay lover murdered. It was very well done, the acting was top notch–High Grant was properly narcissistic and monstrous–and the young man who starred in London Spy was also quite marvelous as the young man who had a years’ long affair with Thorpe only to wind up the target of a murder plot. I also have to say, as I watched, I remembered how just twenty years ago being in the closet and wanting to stay there was made someone a terrific suspect in a crime novel, and also an excellent thread to hang the plot of an entire novel on (Murder in the Rue Dauphine comes to mind). I suppose it would still work, but the stakes have to be higher than embarrassment and/or losing one’s family unit–it would have to be a politician on the right, or a church leader, or an anti-gay crusader, or some such; which has also kind of become a tired cliche.

Progress of a sort, I suppose.

Just a quick glance around the workspace is also letting me know that I need to seriously file and organize….so perhaps I should return to Le Spice Mines.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is”Will You Love Me in September?”:

“Will you love me in September?”

Kevin’s voice, his words, echo in his head even after he hangs up the telephone, placing the receiver back into its cradle. He gets out of the bed slowly, gently, not jarring the mattress, and walks over to the patio windows, turning the cord that opens the blinds so that the sunlight spills into the room. The heat of a summer morning in Tampa comes in with the sunlight, and he turns and looks back at the bed, where he could see the smooth outline of—

Sean? Scott? Steve? Sean, that was it, wasn’t it? Did it really matter?

–sleeping, snoring softly, and he feels it then, what he knew would feel last night in the barr when Sean? Scott? Steve? came over and started talking to him, flirting with him, knowing full well that he should not be responsing, but he was nice looking, had a nice body, and he was so obviously interested, and he felt the interest stirring in his groin, and he knew if Sean wanted him, he would bring him home.

“Will you love me in September?”

It had been so long since he had seen Kevin, almost a month, that month stretching into eternity, a bottomless abyss that cannot be conquered, and the phone calls, each one at least an hour in duration, making him think that he should buy stock in AT&T and maybe that way he could get some of the money back they were spending on long distance, the phone calls were nice and made me feel warm and reassured and loved, but he could not curl up with the phone in bed at night, he could not get a hug from the phone after a particilarly bad day, Kevin was two thousand miles away in Minneapolis, the phone calls were just not enough. But I do love him, he thinks again, looking at Sean? Scott? Steve?’s form and feeling like a whore, feeling unworthy of Kevin’s love, undeserving of anyone’s devotion.

“Will you love me in September?”

And Sean? Scott? Steve? began to make the unmistakable signs of interest, the gay mating ritual, the occasional touches, brushing up against him, and he knew that Sean wanted him, it wasn’t just his imagination, he was being cruised and he was being cruised hard, it was not going to be a relationship, it was just a one night stand, it had nothing to do with Kevin, or how he felt about Kevin, it was just a fucking one night stand and he didn’t have to tell Kevin about it. Kevin didn’t have to know, he was two thousand miles away, Kevin knew no one in Tampa except for him, so how woulod Kevin ever know? Only if I tell him, he thought, and he wanted Sean? Scott? Steve?, he wanted to be kissed and hugged and held, and loved, even if love had nothing to do with it. It was just a one night stand. It meant nothing.

“Will you love me in September?”

I wrote this story when Paul and I were first seeing each other and starting to think this was the real thing, but we hadn’t committed completely to each other absolutely yet (I always say we met in person on July 20th, which we celebrate as our anniversary, and add we’ve been together ever since but it wasn’t that simple or that easy; there were steps and issues to be deal with and so forth along the way; mostly because, in the interest of total honesty, I couldn’t believe someone as kind and loving and lovely as Paul could actually care about me. Like I said, issues) and so I was still, you know, going out to clubs and occasionally hooking up with people. One day in mid-August, right before my birthday, we were planning on me coming to Minneapolis to see him in September and he asked me will you still love me in September?

It was such a lovely sentence, really, and it moved me; and I sat down and wrote the story. It languished in my files for years before I dug it out and rewrote it and revised it and included it in this collection; it has a personal feel to for me, especially now that our twenty-third anniversary looms.

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Your Love

Happy Independence Day!

And, in a sense, today is Independence Day for me; I finished the first draft of the new Scotty book, Royal Street Reveillon, last night. The book is very sloppy, and needs a lot of clean-up work, but I am so happy to be finished. I haven’t completed a draft of any novel since late 2016; so I feel like I have finally once again proven to myself that I can actually write a book, you know?

Huzzah!

And I am now on my vacation. I don’t have to return to the office until Tuesday; I have sis glorious days to revel in here at home. I will have to go out of the house to go to the gym and I have a luncheon date on Friday, and I will also have to go to the grocery store at some point as well. But in the meantime I can blissfully relax and clean and organize and slowly work on things I want to work on. I’m excited about new project; I can also make some headway on it, and I may even write the first chapter of Bury Me in Satin. I do have a couple of short stories I need to work on as well, but over all, I am extremely happy and relaxed and feeling oddly, strangely, HAPPILY carefree this morning.

Which is so lovely you have no idea.

I can also focus on reading Lou Berney’s November Road, which I started reading the other night and is already, despite being only two pages in, remarkably well-written and compelling. If you’ve not read Lou’s work, I strongly encourage you to read The Long and Faraway Gone, which won every crime writing award under the sun for which it was eligible, and is one of my favorite crime novels of all time.

We also continue to watch Big Mouth on Netflix, which just gets funnier and funnier with every episode. Seriously, it’s so refreshingly funny and honest about a difficult subject–puberty–that sometimes I just shake my head as I laugh at it. We also watched Hannah Gadsby’s powerful stand-up special Nanette last night, which is so amazing. Watch both her special and Big Mouth….you won’t be disappointed.

I’ve been spending some time lately, in the evenings, while Paul works on a grant and I’m too mentally fatigued to read, rewatching movies from the 1980’s that I remember either fondly or as a cultural marker of the decade. So far, I watched Masquerade (still holds up), Children of the Corn (frankly, wasn’t sure I had watched it originally and am still not sure; a lot of it seemed very new–but wasn’t young Peter Horton beautiful?), and Less Than Zero, which I thought was bad then and was even worse on a rewatch. I feel an entry about Less Than Zero might be coming soon, once I arrange my thoughts a bit more, and perhaps even one on Children of the Corn, which would entail rereading the short story and perhaps watching the film once again. I’d really like to watch Body Heat, Against All Odds, and Tequila Sunrise again; I recently rewatched Streets of Fire and should probably watch it again–I was making notes in my journal and not really paying attention to it. There’s a piece about neo-noir from the 1980’s brewing in my head that I’d really love to explore, especially since the 1980’s was such a strange, transitional period for the culture and our society as a whole.

Things to ponder, certainly.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Man in a Speedo”:

I love you, man in a speedo.

I know your real name is actually Jason.

But I always think of you as man in a speedo.

That was what you were wearing the first time I saw you.

And what a sight it was.

It was a Sunday afternoon at the Country Club on Louisa Street, do you remember? It was July, and so fucking hot and humid. I was sitting on one of the lounge chairs on the deck, sipping a vodka tonic out of a perspiring clear plastic cup. I had just sat up to rub some more tanning oil on my chest when you came walking out of the building to the pool area. You were wearing sunglasses, your thick black hair slicked back, a pair of leather sandals and a baggy pair of basketball shorts. Your skin was darkly tanned, Italian looking with that tint of olive to it, and your body. Oh my god your body. Your pecs are the size od my head, I swear, and those purplish nipples so big and inviting. Your stomach, flat, not defined, like you don’t mind eating a bacon cheeseburger every now and again, not like those other arrogant boys who won’t eat carbs after seven p.m. or watch every gram of fat that crosses their lips, your muscular legs looking like tree trunks, shaved smooth. I sat there, my mouth open, and you walked to a chair on the other side of the pool, set your bag down, sat down, slipped the sandals off, and then stood up again. You stretched, yawning, your arms and pecs flexing, the lats springing out, the curly black hair in your armpits glistening and wet. You reached down and slid the shorts down, revealing a bright yellow bikini that made your tan look even darker. The suit hung off your hips, revealing an amazing pouch in the front. You turned, and stretched again, and I saw your ass, hard and round and muscular, flex inside its yellow lycra container which was barely covering it. I could just stare, my dick hardening inside my own speedo. I knew then that I had to have you, at some point in my life, I had to have you. I wanted to stick my head inside that beautiful ass, run my tongue down its crack and then underneath to the balls, suck on your cock while pinching those amazing nipples, feeling the rounded pecs, staring up as you flexed your massive arms. You took the sunglasses off for a moment, looked across the pool, and our eyes locked. You gave me a small smile, nodded your head, acknowledging me, and then sat back down.

You noticed me.

I know you did.

You acknowledged my interest.

I spent the rest of that afternoon watching you, trying to steel my nerve to go over and talk to you. You had nodded at me, after all, I knew you were interested, but it was such a bright day, and everyone around the pool would notice me walking over there, even if it was just in their peripheral vision, and see me sit down, and what if, by some weird chance that was barely comprehensible to me, you weren’t actually interested? There was that, and my own fear that if I even got close to you, my dick would get so hard everyone could see it, and in my white speedo it would be pretty obvious, and there was the very strong chance that I would crawl up between your legs and suck your dick right there. Somehow I didn’t think you were the exhibitionist type–yeah, sure, you liked to show off your body in that little piece of yellow lycra, but somehow I didn’t think you were the type who liked to have their cock sucked in a public place.

Finally around four you got put your shorts on and left. You turned at the door and looked back at me. My dick was so hard it hurt. My balls ached. I should have gone after you, but I didn’t. That was stupid. I’ve regretted it ever since.

When I got home I had to beat off. I lay down on my bed and covered my aching dick with lube. I closed my eyes and started stroking, remembering every move you made, every inch of your body, the way your muscles moved, the way your pecs moved when you laughed the way your ass moved when you walked, everything. I shot a big load for you, man in a speedo, a big load that even hit me in the face….I had never shot a load that hard before jacking off. I’ve shot them before when I was with a guy that really turned me on, but never ever when I was jacking off. It was you. I knew then you were my fate, my destiny.

We were meant to be together.

This is, if anything, neo-noir gay erotica. It’s really a dark story, about sexual obsession, and I wrote it for an anthology. The editors came back to me and were like, um, yeah, really love the story but it’s way too dark can you write something else? And I did, and put this story away. It’s roots were indeed in a dark place; back when I was living a horrific double life of deception and omission, of misery and despair, I also worked as a bank teller. Fridays were our busiest days, since it was pay day; the teller line was so unbelievably long, almost from the moment when we unlocked the doors at ten until we locked them at six; and often there were so many people still inside and in line that we weren’t finished and out of there until after seven. The one bright spot on my Fridays was a Pepsi delivery guy who came in to deposit his paycheck every Friday around three or four. His blue and white striped shirt with the Pepsi patch sewn on above his chest on the right, was very tight. He had a small waist and a flat stomach and his blue uniform pants were tight over thickly muscled legs; his ass was exceptional as well. His arms were gigantic, and he had blue-black hair and blue eyes and darkly tanned olive skin. He was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous, and it was a GOOD Friday when he wound up at my window. I don’t remember his name, but I do remember he was in his late twenties–and back then, nineteen times out of twenty, if a guy was single in his late twenties (he didn’t have a joint account, and no wedding ring) and took care of himself, and worked out, he was most likely gay (although I never saw him in any of the few gay bars in town, on the rare occasions I was able to get to them; which of course meant nothing). I fantasized about him and his body all the time–and then during that summer I was invited by a friend to hang out and drink beer by her apartment pool…and he showed up there, just as he did in the story, stripping down to a skimpy bright yellow bikini exactly as described, put his headphones on after slathering oil on his amazing body, and just tanned, talking to no one. I kept sneaking glances over at him, hoping he’d jump into the water and emerge dripping wet; he never did.

And when I got back to my apartment, I wrote down the opening of “Man in a Speedo.” It’s a dark story, of obsession, and even the erotic parts of the story are fucking creepy. Every time I tried to get it published it always got rejected; because, I always believed, of it’s darkness.

Or maybe it wasn’t good, who knows? I included it in this collection because I wanted it to be read, and I’m proud of it. It could probably be expanded into a noir novel, a short one; and I’ve always thought it should be.

Someday.

And now back to the spice mines.

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All Cried Out

Tuesday! My long day but it’s also my last day of work for nearly a week; I don’t have to go back into the office until next Tuesday! Huzzah!

I slept very well last night, thank you very much, and I am feeling energized and alive this morning! HURRAY FOR CAPPUCCINO TUESDAYS! It rained most of last night–still is raining now, but it’s that weird kind of rain where it feels all steamy outside; usually it’s not very humid when it rains. We’re also in a flash flood warning; but aren’t we always when it rains?

I started reading Lou Berney’s November Road last night and while I was only able to read two pages before I had to put it aside, it’s fucking unbelievably good. And this rain makes me want to go back to bed with my blankets and just relax, reading it and drinking coffee until I’ve devoured every word. It’s that good, people. Preorder the hell out of it.

Paul and I also started watching a Netflix animated series last night called Big Mouth. Someone recommended it to me, and I cannot for the life of me remember who it was, but it popped up on my recommendations last night and I started watching it, and OH MY GOD. It’s about junior high school kids who are going through puberty and it’s hilarious and honest and real and did I say HILARIOUS? It’s definitely not for kids, I suppose, since there’s some pretty frank talk about masturbation, menstruation, and questioning your sexuality, but it’s terrific–if you have a really off sense of humor like I do.

And now, back to the spice mines. One more chapter and this Scotty draft is FINISHED. Huzzah!

Next up for Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is my story “Unsent”:

Dear Greg,

 I hope you don’t mind I’m writing this letter. You said you didn’t mind so I’m guessing you don’t.

I wanted to thank you for being such a nice guy…it’s funny, I’ve been wanting to write this letter for a long time; I started writing you so many times and I just ended up throwing the letters away every time. I know you probably think I’m just a goof; a dumb kid who doesn’t know what he wants or needs or anything, and that’s true I guess. I don’t know what I want to do with my life….if I live through this. I just wanted to fly planes, and now I am flying them….but this is different.

I guess I was just naïve and stupid when I joined the Air Force. All I wanted to do was fly planes….it never occurred to me I’d be flying planes and killing people…pretty dumb, right?

**

He was just a boy.

He couldn’t be more than fifteen, was my first thought when he walked into Lafitte’s that Tuesday morning. There was no one in the bar besides me; it was twelve thirty. I was working the 5 a.m. till 1 shift, covering for Mike. This shift sucked. The only hope to make any kind of money was leftovers from the previous night when you start, and they’re gone by nine…..so for the last four hours of the shift it was just me and the cleaning women, and they were gone by eleven.

He stood for a few seconds in the doorway, hesitating. I looked up from wiping down the bar for the thousandth time in the last twenty minutes, and smiled to myself. I recognized the hesitation—an underage kid steeling his nerve to sit at the bar and ask for a drink. Well, kid, I said to myself, prepare to be carded.

He walked in and sat down on a bar stool right in front of me. He was cute, still with a little baby-fat in his pale freckled face. His hair was military buzzed, reddish-blonde, and his eyes gray. He was wearing a red sweater and a pair of blue jeans.

I put my rag away under the bar.”What can I do for you?” I asked.

He looked around the bar, not meeting my eyes. “A beer?”

“You got ID?”

He reached into his back pocket and pulled out a worn black wallet, pulling out a military ID which he slid across the bar to me. I picked it up. The picture was him, all right, looking maybe ten years old, innocent and young. The birth date was August 12, 1968. Yeah, well, so I was wrong about his age. “What kind of beer? A draft?”

“Yeah.” He nodded and smiled at me. His whole face lit up when he smiled, his full lips pulling back over slightly crooked, yellowed teeth. I got a plastic cup and filled it at the tap, my back to him. I placed it on a napkin. “Dollar fifty.”

He handed me two ones, and I gave him his change. He left the quarters on the bar, which I slid into my hand and tossed into my tip bucket. “Not very busy, huh?” he said, looking down at the bar, not touching the beer.

I shrugged. “Nah, we’re never busy—don’t even know why we bother being open.”

“Yeah.” He toyed with his napkin. “Do you mind talking to me? I don’t wanna be a bother.”

I laughed and gestured to the empty bar. “Not like I got anything else to do.”

This is without doubt, one of my personal favorite short stories, if not my favorite. “Unsent” was inspired by several different things: I took the title from the Alanis Morrissette song, where she is writing letters to all of her ex-lovers, which I thought might make a great concept for a short story; the heartbreaking Dixie Chicks song “Travelin’ Soldier,” which I heard for the first time on the radio driving back to New Orleans from my parents’ in Kentucky and made me cry in the car (it still makes me teary whenever I hear it; it’s one of the most heartbreaking songs ever recorded) and a memory I have of standing in the doorway at Cafe Lafitte in Exile, just before the invasion of Iraq and seeing a boy, in his Army greens, standing across the street looking at the bar with longing on his face. I kept waiting for him to cross the street and come in; but he finally just turned and walked away up Bourbon Street. Seeing him reminded me of something we so frequently forget when it comes to wars and the military; the vast majority of the young men and women out there risking life and limb are so heartbreaking young; and every death, every injury, every veteran with PTSD is such an incredible, horrible waste. And I wanted to write a story that illustrated that horrific waste. And this was, of course, during the time of don’t ask don’t tell.

When Tim and Becky asked me to write a story for Fool for Love, I remembered the idea for “Unsent” and sat down and wrote it in one sitting. When I was finished, I was exhausted, and then I simply did a quick copy edit and emailed it to them. It made them both cry, and they loved the story, but wanted something a little more…upbeat, so I wrote “Everyone Says I’ll Forget In Time” to replace it. I eventually published it elsewhere–I think Lawrence Schimel was the editor?

I love this story, and despite the fact that it’s considered erotica because there’s a sex scene in it, it’s really about love and loss and waste and lost possibilities. I’m enormously proud of this story, and it is one of the stories I remind myself of whenever I get Impostor Syndrome:   if you weren’t a good writer you could have never written something like “Unsent.”

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