C’est la Vie

Wednesday morning and I’ve made it thru the long days of my week. Today is a short day; I am free after three thirty, and then it’s back home to the spice mines and getting the house cleaned, organized and so forth, all around me not only writing at my desk but preparing a new taste treat for dinner–shrimp and baked potatoes–which is the same as my shrimp-and-grits, only substituting a baked potato for the grits. I saw this somewhere on social media recently, looked at the recipe, and realized it simply meant making baked potatoes instead of the grits…and realized that with a baked potato, timing the meal isn’t quite as important as it is when you’re making grits at the same time as the shrimp.

I managed another good night’s sleep last night, which was incredibly lovely; it’s amazing what a difference that makes to your quality of life–and productivity. I’m still behind on everything this morning, just as I was last night when I went to bed, but this morning I feel like I can do anything and everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we?

But as I face my computer with my first cup of coffee this morning, I do feel almost as though I can do anything and everything.  I had a slight minor panic attack last night about everything I need to get done this week, but it passed quickly, as I remembered my favorite mantra: sometimes, it just is what it is. Simple, but helpful and rather wise; there’s only so much one can do, there’s only so many people one can please, and sometimes you just have to let the worry go–because it just is what it is.

I sat down with Royal Street Reveillon last night, and opened the book up. When Paul got home he told me that someone whose opinion I deeply value had told him to  let me know she’d read and loved the book, and invited me to be on her radio show. Yes, it was Susan Larson, the long-time books editor of what was once the Times-Picayune and now has her own show on WGNO, “My Reading Life.” This naturally made my day, if not the week or month; Susan has read practically everything and everyone, has been a Pulitzer Prize judge (!!!!!), and is one of the most respected reviewers in the country. Her opinion means, obviously, a lot to me. As I sat in my chair last night holding a copy of the book–and it’s a beautiful looking book, probably my favorite cover of all time–I thought about how it never gets easier, no matter how many books you write; at least for me, it’s like the first one every single time. Will people like it? Will people hate it? Is it any good? Writing the books never gets easier over time, either. If anything, the only thing that’s changed with the actual writing is efficiency; I am more efficient in the use of time when I write now. But the self-doubt, the insecurity, the imposter syndrome–all of that still plagues me, even after all this time and all these books and all these short stories.

So, I opened the book and started skimming through it. My goal when I wrote it was to make it the best Scotty book thus far; I don’t know if I achieved that goal, but I am pretty pleased with the book. I think it turned out well. I also realized, as I was reading through it last night, that the reason I don’t like to reread my work–why I never go back once its published and look at it again, isn’t because I always wind up dissatisfied and disappointed with it (although that’s some of it), but primarily because I only reread my work to correct, edit and fix it. So, I am so trained from revising and editing my work that when actually reading it in a print format my mind automatically switches into editorial mode and I want to fix things and oh this sentence could have been better or look at this, you used the same word twice in the same paragraph and so on and so forth; it’s impossible for me to read it as a reader coming to it for the first time. And with Royal Street Reveillon, I don’t feel like I rushed the ending the way I inevitably feel about most of my books–which is a direct result of deadlines. So, I’m kind of glad I don’t write on deadline anymore; it’s relieved that bit of stress from my life, thank the Lord.

I also got out a copy of Bourbon Street Blues last night, because one of my co-workers wants to read it. She was reading the latest Janet Evanovich, and we got into a bit of a discussion about Evanovich, mystery novels, and so forth. SHe eventually said, “I really need to read one of your books”, and me being me, I said, “I’ll bring you a copy” and then realized, hey, I can give her a copy of Bourbon Street Blues,  my first Scotty!

So, I actually looked through it as well. I remember so little of the story now; I barely remember writing the book now. It was all so long ago; I turned the book in to Kensington on May 15th, 2002. Christ, we were so broke then, cobbling together an income from Paul working part time and teaching aerobics, me writing, doing some part time work for a friend as their assistant, and eventually getting a part time job at the LGBT Community Center to supplement the writing income, as well as doing some freelance editorial work. I was mostly working for Bella Books then–yes, I got my start as an editor working for a lesbian publisher–before moving on to Harrington Park Press and then Bold Strokes Books. Bourbon Street Blues is, of course, the Southern Decadence book I’d been wanting to write ever since I first came to Decadence as a tourist back in the early 90’s. I was also writing the book, ironically, on 9/11–I didn’t actually work on it that day, but I always associate 9/11 with Bourbon Street Blues because I can remember being glued to the television in horror all day, and glancing over at the pile of pages on my desk and wondering if I could distract myself by working on the book. I never tried…I didn’t get back to working on the book for a few days. As I looked through Bourbon Street Blues last night, thinking about how Southern Decadence had just passed and how much the world, the event, the city, everything had changed since the days when I was writing this book.

My career as a published writer of fiction dates back to 2000, with the publication of two short stories in the month of August, one in an anthology and the other in a magazine. It’ll turn twenty the month I turn fifty-nine; but I of course started getting paid to write (journalism) in 1996. I moved in with Paul and within a month had published my first column in a local queer newspaper in Minneapolis; as I used to say, Paul was my lucky charm for my writing career; it truly started when we moved in together.

So yes, he never has to worry about me going anywhere, since I do emotionally consider him entirely responsible for my career–and all of it tied up in a nice New Orleans bow. New Orleans inspired me, and I knew I would become a writer if I moved to New Orleans. I met Paul here, and while I was already writing before we moved here, New Orleans made it possible for me to meet the love of my life and create the career I’ve always dreamed of and wanted.

And you know what? As I paged through Bourbon Street Blues, reacquainting myself with the original story I came up with for Scotty all those years ago, I thought, this is a pretty decent book, really. There’s never really been a character like Scotty in crime fiction–and certainly not one like him in gay crime fiction. I also never dreamed that people would connect with him the way they did–I may not sell books in Harlan Coben or Stephen King numbers, but the people who read the Scotty books love him, and that means I did my job well.

I also realized, looking through both books last night, that the occasional charges of “political agenda” I get on Goodreads and/or Amazon are accurate. I never really think of the Scotty books as having an agenda or being political, but I forget that any book centering a queer character is still radical and political; let alone a book centering a queer character who is perfectly happy and loves his life and has some terrific adventures, finding love to go along with the wonderful loving family he already has. This is still, sadly, for some a radical concept; as is the idea of having Scotty never change the core of who he is,  no matter what happens or how awful a situation he’s in might become. The Scotty books were never intended to be, nor ever will be, torture porn. Bourbon Street Blues was all about homophobia and the religious right. Jackson Square Jazz, long before Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon, looked at homophobia in figure skating and Olympic sports…and on and on it goes. Royal Street Reveillon actually goes into several things–familial homophobia, for one, and date rape/sexual assault for another–and ultimately, I am pretty pleased with it.

And yes, for those of you worried I may never write another Scotty book–there will be at least one more. Hollywood South Hustle is already taking shape in my head; I have several disparate threads of plot to weave together for it, but never fear, they are most definitely there. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it–I have several books to write before I can even think about starting work on it officially, and yes, that includes a new Chanse–and so it goes, on and on forever and ever without end, amen.

And now I should perhaps return to the spice mines. This shit ain’t gonna do itself.

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Get Down

Monday morning, and perhaps a more restless night of sleep than one would have preferred; but I did sleep and am counting that as a win. It may take a little longer this morning than usual for me to become human, but I am awake, I do feel sort of rested, and it’s the first day of a rather short week for me. Friday begins the long weekend I am taking for my birthday, so my half-day on Thursday will be the end for me until the following Wednesday, which is rather awesome, actually, and I believe I come back to a half-day Wednesday, even–one of my co-workers wants to permanently switch Wednesday and Thursday with me, which is fine. Having two long days, a short day, a regular day and then a short day seems more do-able, and workable, than what I’ve been doing and I’ve been thinking lately that I need to somehow change my schedule; a co-worker’s need for his class schedule made up my mind for me. We’ll see how it works out, won’t we?

Yesterday I finished Major Project around two in the afternoon, which is an enormous load off my mind. I spent the rest of the day watching the US Gymnastics championships (men in the late afternoon, women last evening) before calling it a night and going to bed; as I sat at my computer drinking my sleepy-time tea, an idea for the story that’s due at the end of the month came to me. I actually wrote the first couple of hundred words in my journal; today I’ll turn them into the beginnings of the short story. I have three chapters left to write in the WIP, and two short stories to write by the end of the month as well as an essay I need to get finished by the end of the month. With Major Project out of the way, now it seems like I’m swimming in time; so much free time to get everything finished I want to get finished by Labor Day, plus two long weekends for me before we get there. I suddenly feel so much more comforted than I did last week.

It’s amazing what getting a huge hunk of work out of the way can do for your confidence.

I also want to finish S. A. Cosby’s wonderful My Darkest Prayer this week, so I can devote the weekend to Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, and then I will probably get back to the Diversity Project, reading Lay Your Sleeping Head by Michael Nava. I also have the new Alex Marwood, The Poison Garden (hello, Labor Day weekend!) on hand, as well as several others I really would like to get to. I had some points through my health insurance at work (it’s a long, complicated, boring story how all that works, so I won’t bore you or me with it) so I converted them to an Amazon gift card, so I have some birthday presents to myself coming in the mail–amongst them Attica Locke’s Edgar winning Bluebird Bluebird, the new Donna Andrews (putting me three books behind in my Andrews reading), Terns of Endearment, and of course Rob Hart’s The Warehouse, which will be released on my birthday and should also arrive on my birthday. There are some others as well–I don’t remember what all I ordered, to be honest–but I should have some more points to convert over this week, and I am going to order some more. There are so many good books, and so little time in which to read them all.

The gymnastics yesterday was fun to watch; Sam Mikulak, the six time US champion, is adorable, and of course Simone Biles, who won her sixth title this weekend as well, is probably the greatest gymnast of all time. She’s so much better than everyone else in the world, and keeps getting better as she gets older. And of course, next year is the Tokyo Olympics, which is always a good time. Although…it will be weird watching an Olympics without Michael Phelps.

And on that note, perhaps it is time to get back to the spice mines.

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Sing

Hello there, Saturday morning. I am on my second cup of coffee this morning, trying to finish two loads of laundry, and essentially wake myself up this morning. I slept rather well last night, which was lovely (as it always is) and now have to plan out my morning/rest of the day, and hope there won’t be distractions. Once I finish this and write some emails, I’ll probably adjourn to my easy chair to read S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer for a while before getting on with my day. I have errands to run, a grocery list to make before I do, and I’d like to get some work done on the Major Project this morning (actually, I’d like to finish it this morning and be done with it, but that might not happen). I’d like to write another chapter of the WIP today (if not two, but I am not pressing my luck) and get some other writing done that needs to be done. I’m feeling confident about my writing these days, which is extremely unusual and very much not like me–I’m not sure where that came from, frankly, but I need to harness it and ride it for as long as I can.

After I was finished with work for the day yesterday I thought some more about how I am going to wrap this entire book up in the next three chapters, and the knowledge there are only three left to do is astonishing, quite frankly, and rather lovely. I honestly never thought I was going to reach this point–this book seemed to take forever and a day to write, frankly–and of course it isn’t finished, not by a long shot; I have some extensive revising, editing and rewriting to do on it before it’s fit to be seen by any living, sentient human being, but I am very pleased with it, and I am looking forward to spending the ret of the month finishing the odds and ends that need to be finished with various other things by the end of the month, as well as making a plan for the revision of the other manuscript I  need to finish revising and editing. Then I have another major project to get done, and while i am doing that I am going to try to revise another manuscript that’s just lying around here, while doing the beginning research for Chlorine, which I hope to write next year.

We’ll see how it goes.

But being this close to done with this manuscript’s first draft is an absolutely lovely feeling, and one that is making me feel rather accomplished this morning. It probably goes along with being able to look around my desk and see that things are under control as far as filing and organizing are concerned; I need to wipe down surfaces and do the kitchen floor at some point this weekend, but overall this is the first Saturday in a long while where I am not feeling antsy because of the mess my workspace is in.

Which is also a lovely way to feel.

We’ve been watching the US Gymnastics championships over the last couple of nights, which is always delightful and fun. The dominance of the US women on the international stage in this century has been something to see…we could easily field three different teams at worlds, and win both gold and silver team medals, with our third tier women in strong contention for the bronze. Simone Biles is so dominant, and so far and away better than everyone else, that she made major errors on every apparatus in the first round of the all around competition and is still almost two points ahead of the second place athlete. As for the men, Sam Mikulak is the cutest gymnast I’ve ever seen–classically handsome, gorgeous eyes, and those muscles. Good Lord. He’s our best male gymnast, hungry for a world and Olympic medal, and finally got one last year–a silver on the high bar. And of course, the Olympics are next year, so this year’s worlds are a major stepping stone to Olympic glory.

I can’t wait for the Olympics.

Anyway.

I suppose I should get to work. The sooner I get all this stuff accomplished this morning, the sooner I can get on with the relaxation portion of my day. I still have a credit on iTunes, so maybe we’ll watch a movie later.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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Saving All My Love For You

Saturday morning. I have an eye appointment in Metairie this afternoon, but I definitely need new glasses. I also have to get groceries this morning (ugh), and I should probably figure out some time to go get the mail as well. Heavy sigh; the house is also a mess and this kitchen needs a-cleanin’. Paul’s going into the office today, so I’ll be alone; I am hoping, after I get home, to spend some time writing. I was very tired and didn’t feel good yesterday; my throat’s kind of sore this morning as well; I woke up a lot last night, but I did sleep. Tomorrow I am going back to the gym to get my workouts going again, so hopefully that will help in the sleep department. I’ve noticed that I’m not sleeping as well since Carnival started and I stopped having time for working out.

I can’t not sleep. I have too much to do and I can’t be tired. Yesterday was my short day at the office and after I got home, I didn’t feel well and was too tired to do anything besides sit in my easy chair and watch Adam Rippon videos on Youtube. (I told you I was stanning.) Then it was time to watch the Olympic figure skating, which was terrific. Very proud of our US skaters! Nathan Chen had six quads in his program, and made Olympic history, and young Vincent Zhou skated magnificently as well. All three of our skaters wound up in the Top Ten, which was terrific, and Nathan came close to medaling. If only he’d turned that second quad in his short program into a combination jump and gotten points for it, he would have. He had the highest score in the long program. Had they both skated clean short programs, they both would have medaled. So, there’s a lot of hope there for the future. Part of the fun of the Olympics is also seeing the future of the sport out on the ice as well–the silver medalist, Shoma Uno, is very young as well, and there was a young Russian who is very artistic. Worlds this year will be very fun to watch.

Oh, Adam. What would it have meant to fifteen year old me, deeply closeted and terrified someone might find out who I really was, to see you skate at the Innsbruck Olympics in 1976? Watching you this past week brought tears to my eyes every time; my heart was in my throat every time you went into a jump. You made me laugh in your interviews, you made me cry with your oh-so-beautiful skating. I can’t remember the last time I was so emotionally invested in seeing a skater do well? Michelle Kwan, whom I loved and still miss? Rudy Galindo in 1996? And how happy and proud to see all the love for you, to the point where even the trash tweeting shit about you could just make me smile and think he has a bronze medal, and you have your phone and bitterness. I feel SORRY for you that you can’t find joy in this, what a sad, bitter, pathetic life you must lead. Especially the gay Republicans, so desperate for the love and acceptance they’ll never get from their abusive relationship with a party that hates them. Adam is a star; will be a star, and he’ll always, always, have these Olympics, three gorgeous performances, and a bronze medal. No one can ever take that away from him with petty nastiness.

Watching Adam and his great joy in his sport and doing his best also made me realize something; it’s about doing something you love, and doing your best. I had already realized that I had lost my joy in writing sometime ago; I’m not sure when it went from being something I loved doing to an odious chore. But this year I’ve rediscovered how much I love it, how much I’ve missed it; how I love creating characters and telling stories and expressing myself on the page. I was already getting there on my own, but watching Adam, seeing him, took me to that final place. It’s not about medals, it’s not about awards, it’s not even about money; it’s about joy in doing something you love.

Thanks, Adam, for that–and for making me realize how I’ve been neglecting my eyebrows.

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I also read some more short stories.

To be fair, I had already read Daphne du Maurier’s “The Birds”; her Echoes from the Macabre: Selected Stories is one of my favorite single-author collections of all time. But it had been awhile since I’d read this story; I knew it was vastly different from the Hitchcock film based on it, so I read it again.

On December the third the wind changed overnight and it was winter. Until then the autumn had been mellow, soft. The leaves had lingered on the trees, golden red, and the hedgerows were still green. The earth was rich where the plough had turned it.

Nat Hocken, because of a wartime disability, had a pension and did not work full-time at the farm. He worked three days a week, and they gave him the lighter jobs: hedging, thatching, repairs to the farm buildings.

Although he was married, with children, his was a solitary disposition; he liked best to work alone. It pleased him when he was given a bank to build up, or a gate to mend at the far end of the peninsula, where the sea surrounded the farm land on either side. Then, at midday, he would pause and eat the pasty that his wife had baked for him, and sitting on the cliff’s edge would watch the birds. Autumn was the best for this, better than spring. In spring the birds flew inland, purposeful, intent; they knew where they were bound, the rhythm and ritual of their life brooked no delay. In autumn those who had not migrated overseas but remained to pass the winter were caught up in the same driving urge, but because migration was denied to them followed a pattern of their own. Great flocks of them came to the peninsula, restless, uneasy, spending themselves in motion; now wheeling, circling in the sky, now settling to feed on the rich, new-turned soil, but even when they fed it was as though they did so without hunger, without desire. Restlessness drove them to the skies again.

One of the best parts of the film is that there’s no explanation why the birds have turned on humans; they just have, and there’s no way of knowing if they’ll ever go back to normal. The end of the movie is kind of left hanging; when I saw it the first time when I was a kid I was deeply dissatisfied with how the film ended. But there wasn’t really any way to end the film, and du Maurier herself gave no clues to what was going to happen at the end of her story. The story ends much the same as the movie; no end to the menace in sight, and even more chilling–I don’t remember if this was in the movie–but the BBC had stopped broadcasting; the horrifying part of this story is the incredible sense of isolation the family feels–are they the only people left alive in the world? On that level, the story is even more disturbing than the film; in the movie there are other people all around in the town. The story is set out in the country…and du Maurier never lets the reader know. The way the horror builds is almost unbearable; her mastery is truly amazing.

I also went back to the Laura Lippman well for “Easy As A-B-C’, from her collection Hardly Knew Her.

Another house collapsed today. It happens more and more, especially with all the wetback crews out there. Don’t get me wrong. I  used guys from Mexico and Central America, too, and they’re great workers, especially when it comes to landscaping. But some contractors aren’t as particular as I am. They hire the cheapest labor they can get and the cheapest comes pretty high, especially when you’re excavating a basement, which has become one of the hot fixes around here. It’s not enough, I guess, to get the three-story rowhouse with four bedrooms, gut it from top to bottom, creating open, airy kitchens where grandmothers once smoked the wallpaper with bacon grease and sour beef, or carve master bath suites in the tiny middle rooms that the youngest kids always got stuck with. No, these people have to have the full family room, too, which means digging down into the old dirt basements, putting in new floors and walls. But if you miscalculate–boom. Nothing to do but bring that fucker down and start carting away the bricks.

The premise of this story; a guy who owns a construction company is hired to renovate his grandparents’ old house for a young woman he finds attractive, despite his many years of marriage–is pretty clever. It also has a lot to say, in a very sly way, about gentrification and how old neighborhoods and their character are ruined by it; this is something going on to a very large extent in New Orleans, and has been for quite some time, and there’s a strong sense for us locals that with these changes, some of what made New Orleans so special, unique and different, is also being lost. Lippman inhabits the voice of this middle-age blue-collar man perfectly; she never once slips and makes an error that jars the reader out of the voice. And as the story builds to its own inevitable dark climax, you really can’t stop reading because you really aren’t sure how she is going to finish playing her cards. That’s the great joy of Lippman, and what makes her special and unique as a writer; you’re never really sure how this is all going to play out, but she never deliberately misleads you, ever–she doesn’t cheat, and once you get there, you think, yes, that’s the only way this could end.

Seriously, her new novel dropping this week, Sunburn, is definitely one of her best; check it out, if you haven’t already.

And now, I’ve got a jam to get Scotty and the boys out of.

Think of Laura

Zulu is passing now; I can hear the drums of the marching bands. It’s a gorgeous morning, the sun is shining and I am betting the crowds up at the Avenue are deep; they certainly were last night for Orpheus. Paul and I both have to work tomorrow, so we’re ending our Carnival early; taking today to rest and recover so we can hit the ground running on Ash Wednesday. I also have a lot of things to do today; emails to answer, things to write, things to edit, things to read, a kitchen to clean. Even though it was abbreviated this year (I was in Alabama for the first weekend of parades), I enjoyed every bit of Carnival this year; and am already melancholy to see it end as always.

I’ve also been enjoying the hell out of the Winter Olympics, and like millions of people worldwide I am–what’s the word kids use now? Oh yes–stanning Adam Rippon. As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve known of Adam long before these games; I remember when he had a mop of floppy curls; when gossip websites were pairing him and Ashley Wagner as a couple (I rolled my eyes every time I saw the photos), and I remember when he came out. I blogged about homophobia in figure skating a while back; when Adam came out while still on the Olympic eligible circuit I thought to myself you’re never going to win anything now; so I was pleasantly surprised to see him win US Nationals and make the world team in 2016; he missed last season with a broken foot, and this season he is full-on out: his short program is to gay club music, and his long program, as everyone saw the other night, is breathtaking. I’m so happy for both him and Mirai Nagasu, who became the first American woman to land a triple axel at the Olympics that same night; they earned bronze medals as part of the team competition, and I couldn’t be happier for both of them–all of the Americans on the team, to be honest. Adam is so funny and refreshingly himself; a big personality and a natural wit he doesn’t try to hold back, and that honesty…I just can’t get enough. I had tears in my eyes when he finished his long program the other night; Paul and I both screamed when Mirai landed the triple axel. Seeing the trashy homophobes on Twitter trashing him or going after him makes my blood boil; I’ve resisted the urge to reply to them He’s got an Olympic medal and you’re a fifth-rate Twitter troll. Congratulations.

So. There’s that.

And in other news of the fabulous, the lucky world of readers can look forward to the upcoming release of a new Laura Lippman novel, Sunburn. I got an ARC at Bouchercon and read it in one sitting on a rainy Saturday back in October.

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It’s the sunburned shoulders that get him. Pink, peeling. The burn is two days old, he gauges. Earned on Friday, painful to the touch yesterday, today an itchy soreness that’s hard not to keep fingering, probing, as she’s doing right now in an absentminded way. The skin has started sloughing off, soon those narrow shoulders won’t be so tender. Why would a redhead well into her thirties make such a rookie mistake?

And why is she here, sitting on a barstool, forty-five miles inland, in a town where strangers seldom stop on a Sunday evening? Belleville is the kind of place where people are supposed to pass through and soon they won’t even do that. They’re building a big by-ass so the beach traffic won’t have to slow for the speed trap on the old Main Street. He saw the construction vehicles, idle on Sunday, on his way in. Places like this bar-slash-restaurant, the High-Ho, are probably going to lose what little business they have.

High-Ho. A misprint? Was it supposed to be Heigh-Ho? And if so, was it for the seven dwarfs, heading home from the mines at day’s end, or for the Lone Ranger, riding off into the sunset?  Neither one makes much sense for this place.

Nothing about this makes sense.

Laura Lippman has been one of my favorite writers since I read Baltimore Blues years and years ago. I tore through her Tess Monaghan series, and she very quickly became one of my buy in hardcover authors. I’ve never regretted making that switch, and as she has expanded her skills and pushed herself with her exceptionally brilliant stand alone novels, I’ve never once quibbled but I want another Tess novel! (I do, always, but the stand alones are so fucking fantastic that it doesn’t matter–I really just want a new Lippman, and wish she was on a yearly schedule rather than an eighteen month one.)

Laura’s career trajectory has been most impressive from a writing perspective; because as a writer of stand alones, she has gone from being a literary crime writer to a literary writer about crime, if that makes sense. Each of her stand alones are unique and different from the others; about as far removed from her series as any novels can be and still be by the same author. Each one of these novels are rare pearls, individual and vastly different from the others; different themes, different explorations, different everything. The one common thread that runs through these novels is that they are, for the most part, about women, and what women face in their lives; how they deal with crimes and tragedies that take them out of the ordinary and into the extraordinary. Laura also regularly experiments with form and voice and tense; enormous, dangerous risks as a writer that she somehow always manages to pull off, make engaging and enjoyable, and always manages to tell a story that makes a very compelling point.

Sunburn,  her latest, is as different from anything she has done before as it could be unless she decided to write about vampires or a zombie apocalypse; but she also brings her incredibly powerful sense of empathy to this tale of murder, vengeance, and oh-so-careful planning. The book opens with the main character, Polly Costello, walking away from her husband and child on a beach vacation and winding up in the hard-knock town of Belleville; she is being observed by Adam, who is being paid to keep an eye on her, follow her–but not to become obsessed by her, which is what happens. Their story is told in a very limited third person point of view, alternating between them, and as we slowly get to know them, watch their physical attraction expand and develop into something more, the questions remain: why did Polly walk away from her family and child? How could she do such a thing? Who is this enigmatic redheaded bar waitress?

And just how fucking good does Adam’s grilled cheese sandwich taste?

The prose in this book is lean; not an extra word to be found anywhere, and it is an homage of sorts to the kind of lean, tight, dark noir that the great James M. Cain wrote. (Cain is a hero of mine, and I have always wanted to write something that dark and lean and tight…ironically, one of the ideas I had for such a noir–gay, of course–was also titled Sunburn) I’ve seen, in some of the early reviews, comparisons to Cain’s Double Indemnity and The Postman Always Rings Twice, which seem obvious; there’s an insurance scam buried deep in the plot, it’s set in a bar/diner, it’s about an unexpected, explosive attraction between a man and a woman; there are side plots that end in mysterious deaths… but if anything, I’d say Sunburn is more reminiscent of Cain’s The Cocktail Waitress than anything else.

The book is extraordinary, and probably Laura Lippman’s best work to date; that wisecracking, tight prose; a complicated and complex plot that grows even more complicated as you read another page; fully developed characters you can help but root for, even if their motivations aren’t exactly pure; and ultimately, the book is about a woman with everything stacked against her all of her life, who  never gives up, and makes plans…risky plans; where she gambles everything, including her own happiness and desire, for her future, yet is flexible and smart enough to always adapt.

Polly Costello is a heroine Cain would have been proud to call his own.

I Feel for You

Adam Rippon is going to the Olympics as the first openly gay American figure skater to compete in Olympic history.

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Let’s not be coy, though–there have been plenty of gay male figure skaters throughout the history of the sport–but most came out (or were outed) after their Olympic-eligible careers were over. (And Adam Kenworthy–not a figure skater– is also out this year, but he wasn’t out when he competed in Sochi.)

One of the things that has always fascinated me about figure skating is the contradiction evident in its gender roles. Men are, while being artistic, also supposed to read as masculine and not feminine; likewise the women (it’s still called Ladies’ Figure Skating, for the record) are supposed to be feminine, graceful and lady-like, rather than athletic; a feminine and graceful skater would always win over someone who wasn’t as graceful but was more of an athlete than a ballet dancer. This bipolarity at the heart of figure skating kept gay male skaters deep in the closet, particularly if they were American men; Russian men had no problem with wearing gloves and performing ballet on the ice–but at the same time, those Russian men (Viktor Petrenko, Alexei Urmanov, Ilia Kulik, Alexei Yagudin, and Yevgeny Pluschenko won every Olympic gold medal between 1992 and 2006) clearly were athletes, flying across the ice in footstep sequences with their feet and blades changing directions and edges as rapidly as a machine gun fires; dizzying fast spins with beautiful positions; and of course, landing quad and triple jumps with the greatest of ease, and almost always on the beat of the music they were performing to.

There was also an unspoken understanding that being openly gay would hurt a skater in the marks, which were often subjective, frequently unfair, and, according to the ISU, above reproach. Rudy Galindo was the first openly gay American skater to win US Nationals in 1996, and went on to win a bronze medal at worlds that year; the next openly gay skater to win the US title was Adam Rippon, some twenty years later. Between them was flamboyant Johnny Weir, who didn’t come out until after his Olympic-eligible career was over… (I might add that, despite being US champion and a world medalist in 1996, the USFSA chose not to send Rudy to any of the Grand Prix events the following season; a clear indication to him that his Olympic-eligible career was over, and he went pro.)

Rippon, incidentally, finished fourth at the Olympic trials this year, but was chosen to go to the Olympics anyway; selected over a heterosexual skater who finished with the silver medal. Have things changed with male figure skating since Rudy’s big win in 1996?

As a long time figure skating fan, I’ve always wanted to write a book about a gay figure skater. I did in Jackson Square Jazz, with the character of Bryce Bell, a US Olympic hopeful who is introduced to the reader as someone a very drunken Scotty picked up at a French Quarter gay bar, only to see him competing that same night at Skate America, being held in New Orleans for the first (and clearly fictional) time. (As a joke, I also had Bryce become the first skater in history to land a quad axel; this has still not happened in real life, and may not ever happen.) But Bryce’s skating was relatively unimportant to the story and plot of the book; although his remaining closeted as a skater was.

I never felt that I was able to truly explore the issues of being a gay, Olympic-eligible, American figure skater in the book; Bryce was a supporting character, and the story wasn’t told from his point of view (I’ve been tempted to bring him back, but can never figure out a way to do it organically; just forcibly grafting him onto a story because I want to just feels wrong).

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Ironically, Adam didn’t win Nationals until after he came out. Coming out–and being able to truly be himself for the first time–paid off. He’s a much better skater than he was before; but I do remember thinking at the time he came out, well, you’re never going to win nationals now. But by embracing himself for who he really is, he changed; he found a look and costumes that work for him–he used to have this mop of blonde curls–and his short program this year, to what Paul and I immediately recognized as a gay techno dance remix from back in the day–is one for the ages.

So, does the central premise of the noir figure skating novel I’ve wanted to write–a skater being forced into the closet and not allowed to be himself so that I can explore not only the dynamics of what masculinity is but the class issues inherent in figure skating (I still haven’t posted about my thoughts on I Tonya, which have everything to do with femininity vs. athleticism and class); the masks skaters are forced to wear in order to play the game and get the marks they deserve to win–does that premise still exist today? As far as I know, Adam and Rudy are the only American skaters to come out and skate at the Olympic eligible level; are there others? Is coming out still a risk to your career as a male skater?

Probably so.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.