When The Going Gets Tough (The Tough Get Going)

Monday morning, and a long week ahead of me. Gay Pride is Saturday, so I will be testing in the Carevan all day–but at least I can take Monday off, which is lovely.

Yesterday I didn’t get as much done as I would have liked–I had a technology problem that wasted a couple of hours and then I had to calm down from being so enraged, which was hardly the right frame of mind in which to work–but I did wind up correcting the fourth chapter of the WIP (which I can now polish) and I also started the copy edit of Bourbon Street Blues, which I did by reading it out loud (it’s amazing what a difference this can make!). I also brainstormed a bit on some short stories–I was asked to write another one yesterday, which was absolutely lovely, and the pay is spectacular–and read a little bit of the Philip Roth, which I still haven’t finished. I really should either sit down and force myself to read it until it’s done or put it aside.

See, that’s my problem with Roth, and with most literary writers (I said most, don’t come for me); there’s never a sense of urgency with their works. Yes, the writing is beautiful, and yes, the characters are painstakingly rendered…but I don’t care enough about them to feel a sense of urgency to find out what happens to them. Given how much grief women crime writers get about writing unsympathetic characters, I find it astounding that no one ever asks literary writers about their unpleasant characters and if they aren’t afraid of losing their readers and so forth, the way women crime writers are.

Case in point: Lucy, the main character of When She Was Good, is a good small-town girl with all the morals and principles and so forth…and it’s perfectly plain that, as a woman of her time, she’s destined to be perfectly miserable with her life and disappointed and bitter about the choices she’s had to make.  As I said, she’s very real, her problems are very real, and the tight constraint of the society she lives in upon women is very real, and it’s all incredibly beautifully written.

But…I am not driven to pick it up every day to find out what happens.

I’m sure that’s a failure of my intellect.

Ah, well.

Here’s the opening of my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor,” which will appear in The Beat of Black Wings, probably next year, edited by Josh Pachter:

The elevator doors opened. Cautiously, her heart thumping in her ears, she walked out of the elevator into the hotel lobby and paused, taking a quick look around. Over at the front desk the young woman in uniform was checking in a couple. They didn’t look familiar. But it had been so long since she’d seen any of them…would she recognize anyone?

She didn’t notice she’d been holding her breath.

She walked across the lobby to the hotel bar entrance. A reader board just outside said WELCOME BACK BAYVIEW HIGH CLASS OF 1992!

The black background was faded, the white plastic letters yellowed with age.

The urge to just head back to the elevators and punch at the up button until the doors opened, get upstairs and run to her room and repack all the clothes into her suitcases, everything she’d just carefully put away neatly in drawers and hung in the closet, was strong. She resisted, recognized the need as irrational, closed her eyes, clenched her hands until she felt her ragged bitten nails digging into her palms.

You can do this you can do this you can do this you can do this.

There was a dull murmur coming from inside the hotel bar, laughter and talking, the rattling of ice against glass, the occasional whir of a blender.  From where she stood she could see the bar was crowded, cocktail waitresses in too-short black skirts and white blouses maneuvering expertly around groups of people with trays balanced on one hand.

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And now back to the spice mines.

Papa Don’t Preach

So, for Pride Month, on Facebook I am posting a queer book every day that impacted me in some way; whether it’s personally or professionally or both. It’s actually been kind of fun tracking down book covers on the Internet, remembering these books and how I felt when I read them. My teen years were sort of a barren desert; the 1970’s in rural areas wasn’t exactly where the we’re here, we’re queer, get used to it chants were ringing across the prairies.

And, as always, I found solace and comfort and joy in books.

As I write the afterword to the short story collection, I find myself reflecting more and more on my life and my past; how things have changed for society in so many ways over the many decades, how far we have come and how far we have yet to go. The afterword hasn’t quite gelled in my mind yet; there are so many thoughts to process and put together and work out; I’ve already tried to get started on it several times, but I am going to knock it out this weekend.

I’m also going to finish reading that damned Roth novel if it kills me.

I want to get some work on the manuscripts done this weekend as well; and maybe even a short story or two. I feel so crazy talking about yet another mental breakthrough I’ve had about short stories. For some reason I’ve always thought they needed to be written about and set in the present; why, I don’t know. I realized with “Never Kiss a Stranger” one night this would work so much better if it was set in the 1990’s and BOOM.

Why can’t it be set in the 1990’s?

And there it was. I started revising the story so it’s set in 1994 and it flowed and worked and made more sense; and I realized how silly I had been. I really am stubbornly focused sometimes, and then when I realize how silly and stubborn about something I am being, I feel so freed and relieved once I get past it. No, no, this is how I have to do this. Um, no, you don’t have to do anything this way. This was, you know, the primary problem with the WIP. I’d become so adamant that it had to play out the way I originally envisioned it, and then tried to force the story to fit the structure I envisioned…well, that’s why I never could figure out how to end it. And then I realized that I’d pretty much tagged every single cliche in the manuscript, the beginning as I’d seen it wasn’t the beginning and actually was yet another horrible cliche, and thought, hey, why don’t you start the story HERE and see how that goes? 

And there it was.

So simply, really. And I am never sure if it’s laziness (ugh, I’ve already written an entire draft and that’s a lot of work) or stubbornness (the way I originally envisioned the story is the only way it can possibly be written) or something else…but it’s a lesson I never seem to learn, even after all these years of writing and editing and rewriting and revising and so forth. I never seem to learn the trick to step outside of myself and the story and looking at it in a different way. Is it any wonder that writing makes me crazy?

Sigh.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Rock Me Amadeus

PRIDE MONTH!

Yesterday was a late day for me; I didn’t have to be at the office until four–I had a late night of bar testing last night—so I spent the day paying bills and doing odds-and-ends around the apartment. Today is my short day, and then I am easing into the weekend; I will probably come home and clean tonight, plus prepare for moving some things over to the storage place tomorrow. I did some writing yesterday–not nearly enough–but I am terribly pleased with the progress I am making on not only the Scotty novel but the WIP. I’ll see how I feel when I get home this evening, but I am hopeful I’ll be in the mood to do some writing. The kitchen also needs to be sorted out a bit; I’ll be damned if I can understand how it keeps getting so out of control all the time–it’s not like I’ve been cooking or anything.

I continue to read the Philip Roth in dribs and drabs; I’m just past page 100. It’s taking me, as you can tell, a long time to read; longer than usual. It’s the story, I suppose; the writing is really good and I can savor the way he uses and puts together words, and even how he develops the characters, but not a whole lot happens. For someone who reads mostly crime and horror, as you can imagine, I kind of need stuff to happen. I am hoping to finish this book at some point this weekend because I really want to read Alex Segura’s Blackout.

I watched Streets of Fire again this week; it’s streaming on Starz, and while this was a movie I loved when I saw it in the theater–I even saw it twice, and owned the soundtrack–I was curious to see if, thirty-odd years later, it still  held up. It does, in a way; I see the flaws in the film now, which I didn’t see back then, but at the same time, there’s an aesthetic about it that I like; it’s a “rock and roll fable” set “another place, another time”–so it’s amorphous in its time period, which allowed the set and costume designers to have some fun with creating their own aesthetic look; it’s a combination of 50’s and 80’s style that oddly works; plus there’s so many bright colors in costumes and neon, but at the same time there’s a sense of drabness; the characters all live in a very drab, working class world, almost a slum-like neighborhood. The soundtrack–which includes a Marilyn Martin cover of Stevie Nicks’ “Sorcerer”–doesn’t really hold up; the big numbers, performed by Diane Lane as rock star Ellen Aim, are very operatic to the point of being over the top–think Meatloaf/Jim Steinman. The one hit to come off the soundtrack was “I Can Dream About You,” which still holds up. The movie could have been a lot better; the primary problem is the lack of chemistry between the two leads, Michael Pare and Diane Lane…Michael Pare, who was quite beautiful, just kind of sleepwalks through his role, reading his lines in an almost complete deadpan, unemotional way that you can’t help but wonder what someone equally pretty who could act could have done with the role. Diane Lane does a good job, but Amy Madigan steals the movie out from under everyone in the sidekick role; as a butch former soldier at loose ends who signs on to help Tom Cody (Pare) rescue Ellen (Diane Lane), his ex, from the motorcycle gang (led by a very young Willem Dafoe) who’ve kidnapped her. It’s an almost Western-style movie in its sensibility/plot; the characters are all archetypes–the Tough Guy hero, the Damsel in Distress, her Money-grubbing Manager (a young pre-Ghostbusters Rick Moranis), etc. etc.

I enjoyed it still, but not as much as I did when I was in my early twenties.

So pretty:

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He was also in the cult hit Eddie and the Cruisers, albeit briefly, as Eddie (which is another film I should revisit).

And now, back to the spice mines.

 

Sara

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

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

Always find the upside, you know?

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

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

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

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

Which will certainly make the process easier.

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

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

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

Always keep moving forward.

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

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

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

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

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Sledgehammer

We have rain forecast again for today, but right now it’s gorgeous and sunny and blue skies as far as the eye can see outside my windows. Alberto has sped up and shifted east; we are no longer in the Cone of Uncertainty, but Monday evening could be rather unpleasant; the whole day in fact could be rather unpleasant.

Yesterday I broke down and read the first fourteen chapters of the Scotty book. I’d been putting it off–avoidance  having always been one of my top methods of dealing with something I’d rather not–and am pleased to report that while the draft is, in fact and as I’d suspected–terribly rough. But while the writing itself needs to be improved on, and the scenes made better and the dialogue strengthened and the characters deepened; the bare bones of the story are there and they are working precisely the way I wanted them to. Chapter Fourteen is, indeed, terrible and off-track; which means I shall simply have to correct it before moving on to Chapter Fifteen. This was such an enormous relief to me, you have no idea, Constant Reader! I also finally figured out the plot as well, which was equally lovely. Now, I have eleven or so chapters more to do and the first draft is finished; and then it’s just clean-up work.

Huzz-fucking-ah!

I also continued making notes on both “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” as well as notes for the y/a I want to write later this year, Bury Me in Satin. I have to say, having this stay-cation has been absolutely necessary and needed; I should probably take these lengthy weekends every few months or so, just to get caught up and reconnect with my writing, rather than just trying to get it done.

I’ve also continued reading Roth’s When She Was Good. Roth is a spectacularly good writer, and he definitely understands character and what to do with it; which is, of course, another way of saying that I am really enjoying reading this book, which I didn’t expect. There is, of course, some casual homophobia in the book, but unfortunately it also fits into the time period and therefore kind of works with the characters…but still kind of jarring to read, while kind of important to remember it wasn’t that long ago that blatant homophobia was so deeply and systemically woven into the fabric of our society that it’s a wonder we’ve made it this far already.

I continue to watch The Shannara Chronicles, and was saddened to see a main character killed off in Episode 8 of Season 2 last night. Shannara is similar to Game of Thrones in that regard; everyone’s life is on the table. I only read the first novel in the series, but it might be interesting to go back and reread the first one and the next two in the series at some point (because I have so much free time).

I also watched the season finale of Krypton, which was terrific. Krypton, which started out kind of ‘meh,’ really hit its stride as the season got going. I rewatched the 1940’s version of And Then There Were None last night, which is terrific other than changing the end of the novel, and the 1974 version of Murder on the Orient Express, which was not as good as I remembered.

I am currently reading two non-fiction books: The Republic of Pirates and The Golden Age of Murder. As my watching of Black Sails no doubt tipped you off, Constant Reader, I am fascinated by pirates and one day hope to write about pirates; whether actually about pirates during their heyday, or about pirate treasure in the present (there’s a Scotty idea in my head somewhere about Jean Lafitte’s treasure I just can’t get my hands on, but someday!), so I am reading The Republic of Pirates as sort of research/for pleasure. Likewise, The Golden Age of Murder is about the Detection Club, and the rise of the British writers who made up the “golden age”: Christie, Sayers, Chesterton, etc. It’s interesting and informative; while I’ve read many of these writers–many of them when I was a teenager–it’s kind of fun finding out what they were like as people; what they thought of their own writing and each other; how they came up with their ideas, and what they did for marketing purposes (Sayers was apparently a tireless self-promoter).

I’ve decided that I have to do more promotion going forward; I am not exactly sure how to do that, but it’s something I need to be more pro-active about. Facebook and Twitter certainly can’t be the be-all end-all of my marketing efforts; however, the gay bookstores are gone as are the gay newspapers, and the mystery bookstores seem to be closing at an equally alarming rate as well. I’ve also come to the conclusion this year, as I’ve mentioned so many times before in past entries this year already, that I need to stop being so self-deprecating and take pride in my work. This is very against my nature; my default is to self-deprecate so I don’t have to worry about other people being deprecating. I’ve always feared that if I say something like I’m really proud of this story someone else will say, well, being proud of THIS isn’t difficult given what you’ve written before; you see how defeating this all can be? Reprogramming my mind isn’t easy, but it is definitely something I need to work on for this year. At the same time I detest arrogance…so it’s a tightrope I have to walk, proud but not arrogant. And I’m not sure I can navigate either properly.

But I am enjoying creating again; enjoying working with my characters and coming up with plots and dialogue and images. Hopefully I’ll do some actually writing–last night I was writing scenes in my journal in long-hand while the television blared in the background; fortunately with the Christie films I’d seen them before and read the novels, so I didn’t miss anything; I may not have been paying as close attention to The Shannara Chronicles as I may have needed to.

Today, I am going to reread the first four chapters of the revision of the WIP (which I have already started revising yet again). I may do some computer-writing today, but then again we’ll see where the day goes, shall we?

I also have been reading some short stories. I’d forgotten that The New Yorker was doing these decades books; showing the decade through collected pieces published in the magazine during that decade. I had purchased the volume for the 1940’s, and forgotten about it. I started paging through it the other day, and came across some great essays as well as some short stories…

The first inThe New Yorker’s The 40’s: The Story of a Decade is”The Second Tree from the Corner” by E. B. White.

\”Ever have any bizarre thoughts?” asked the doctor.

Mr. Trexler failed to catch the word. “What kind?” he asked.

“Bizarre,” repeated the doctor, his voice steady. He watched his patient for any slight change of expression, any wince. It seemed to Trexler that the doctor was not only watching him closely but creeping slowly toward him, like a lizard toward a bug. Trexler shoved his back an inch and gathered himself for a reply. He was about to say “Yes” when he realized that if he said yes the next question would be unanswerable. Bizarre thoughts, bizarre thoughts? Ever have any bizarre thoughts? What kind of thoughts except bizarre had he had since the age of two?

It’s interesting, for one thing, to switch from the crime/horror stories I usually read to read something that’s more along the literary fiction lines; I’ve heard of E. B. White before but never read him other than his collaboration with William Strunk, The Elements of Style, which has become a Bible of sorts, if not to writers then definitely to writing students. So, it was kind of nice to read some of his fiction.

The story itself is rather clever; it’s about the relationship between a psychiatrist and a patient, primarily drawn from the patient’s–Mr. Trexler’s–point of view, and how he sees his own neuroses and if his doctor is actually helping him or not. Mr. Trexler begins to slowly question his therapist during their sessions, which inevitably shifts the dynamic between the two, and Mr. Trexler also has some keen insights into his doctor’s personality. Ironically, this ‘reverse-therapy’ seems to have the most positive effect on Mr. Trexler, and after a session–which may or may not be his final session with this doctor–he’s kind of helped himself; on his walk home from the therapist he is quite buoyant and happy and seeing the world with almost new eyes, seeing everything in a new way.

So, the therapy worked…but just not how it’s intended to work, but does it matter when the final end is the desired outcome?

Interesting.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Holding Back the Years

Yesterday was rather dreary, weather-wise, and I feel fairly confident we are still under a flash-flood warning; but this morning all I see is blue sky and sunshine. Things still look a little damp out there, but over all, much better than one could have hoped. And in checking the project path for Alberto, the cone of uncertainty has narrowed to New Orleans in the west to Panama City in the east; much, much smaller cone; but we are on the outside of the western edge. As storms also tend to turn to the east–even Katrina did before landfall–I’ve breathed a slight sigh of relief this morning.

It is, I suspect, going to be a long hurricane season–particularly since it doesn’t officially start until June 1.

I slept deeply and well last night, and my back–which was aching–no longer hurts, which is a good thing. I wish I could figure out what the hell I am doing to it to make it hurt in the first place, so I can be more careful, but I am more than happy to take the pain being gone as a win this morning. Huzzah!

Yesterday I was scribbling away in my journal as I continued to read Philip Roth’s When She Was Good. The writing is very good, and the characterizations are also quite good; all that remains is the plot/story, and I am intrigued enough with it to continue reading it. Maybe I should dial it back for a while on the crime fiction and read outside my genre for a little while; not just for a break but to come up with better ideas for my own writing, which can never hurt.

I wrote all kinds of notes in my journal yesterday; notes for the WIP, notes for the short stories “Never Kiss a Stranger” and “A Holler Full of Kudzu” and “The Brady Kid” (I’ve not even thought about the latter for months now), so I am feeling all kinds of productive here in the Lost Apartment this morning. I am going to actually write today for a while; I also intend to do some reading–not just the Roth, but I am going to read everything I’ve written on the Scotty thus far and make notes. I also don’t know my characters in the Scotty book as much as I should, and I need to get the plot figured out so I can get the goddamned draft done. I also have a few other things I need to get done as well.

And there’s always cleaning, of course. I am currently working on washing the bed linens, and the living room of course needs to be vacuumed. I also need to clean out my car a bit; and Armor-all the inside of my car now that summer is looming. I also need to put the recycling out. But I have to say, this well-rested thing is actually working out quite beautifully. I could easily get very used to it, I must say. I must also say that I’m greatly enjoying this creative phase I am currently experiencing. I am thinking about character, and why I write the things I write, and how to broaden my reading audience. I’ve been thinking about moving forward with the agent search, how best to approach an agent, how to put my best foot forward, not only with industry professionals but also with the readers of my genre.

I’ve also come to realize that, over the last few days, as I’ve put my finger precisely on why I wasn’t getting anywhere with “A Holler Full of Kudzu” is because I was trying to not be subversive; the write from the gay male point of view without rubbing people’s faces in the sexuality. But WHY? Why would I do that? The point of the story, the theme, if you will, has everything to do with the point of view character’s sexuality; of beginning to understand what your sexuality is and that is partly why you feel different from everyone else, and also, learning how people feel about people who are like you, and how dangerous those feelings are, can push you deeper into the closet. I think the theme may be larger than the story itself, to be completely honest with you; which is why I am tending to think this story may actually be a novel a-borning in my mind rather than the lengthy short story I was thinking it would be. As I plug in some of the story pieces today that I brainstormed in my journal last night, I will come to a better understanding of the story and how long it is going to be.

Likewise, “Never Kiss a Stranger” is becoming much longer than I originally thought it would turn out to be; it’s going to come in far longer than the six or seven thousand words I originally had planned. That will make it harder to place, of course–not that it’s not already hard to place stories with gay characters and themes; it’s almost impossible–but I’ve also decided that I simply have to stop writing things that are specifically intended for markets. I have to write the story the best I can and then try to find a market for it. And I can always, always, always, simply do another collection of stories.

I also like that “The Brady Kid” is starting to shape in my mind; mainly, who the point-o-view character is. Part of the issue with some of my stories is that maybe I don’t define the characters enough; it’s hard to write a good story when you don’t know who your characters are.

I’m also finding that experimenting with voice and style and tone and place is much easier to do in a short story rather than in a novel. I think writing these stories is making me a much better writer, to be honest, which is ultimately going to be more helpful to me in the long run than I’d possibly thought. During my brainstorming last night I also figured out some of the problems I am having with the Scotty novel; not solutions, per se, but actually diagnosing the problems, which is key to figuring out how to solve those problems.

Which is fun, actually, and I have to say, it’s so awesome that writing is fun again.

I also read some short stories. Here’s one: “Crazy Margaret” by Jack Fredrickson, from Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, September/October 2017 issue.

The gravestone had room for only the first name, but it was the largest he could carry up the hill. He set in on ground covered now, as then, with curled brown leaves.

He’d meant to slip into town quietly, place the stone, and slip out again. There was no one from his old life he wanted to see. But a voice had called his name when he was gassing up the rental, a guy he’d known in high school. They’d chatted for a moment before Dave, acting casual, asked about her.

The old classmate had scratched his head, surprised. Crazy Margaret, he said; that’s what the kids sneaking out there called her after she dropped out of school. But new kids came along, kids who didn’t know her, and soon enough, nobody gave her any mind at all. “Hell, it’s been at least twenty years,” he said. “She could be dead.”

I enjoyed this story; which is told from the perspective of someone coming home to their small town and remembering something that happened years earlier, something criminal; this is something I often do in my own stories–in fact, “This Thing of Darkness” is sort of one of these stories. The Margaret of the title is a beautiful young woman who sunbathes out at the lake where she lives in skimpy bikinis; luring young boys out there to watch her and possibly, just possibly, killing some of them. It’s sort of a retelling of the siren myth, from the Greeks: the beautiful woman who lures men to their deaths. Although…really, should the boys be out there spying on her in the first place? Isn’t that a form of harassment?

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed the story; it’s very well done and how Margaret gets her own punishment for what she’s doing is very Tales from the Crypt or House of Mystery; crime is always punished in a macabre, ironic way and so it is for the Crazy Margaret of the title.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Higher Love

Since Philip Roth died this week, I decided to get down one of my copies of his work and give it a read. Roth is one of those authors whose work I know intellectually I am supposed to like and admire and aspire to be more like, but…I read his first novel several years ago, Letting Go. I was having another one of those periods where I realized that maybe I needed to not focus on reading so much crime fiction and needed to expand my mind more, read more critically acclaimed literary authors. I go through these phases periodically; I remember this particular phase not only included Roth but also William Styron’s Set This House on Fire, Faulkner’s The Reivers, something by Jonathan Franzen, and Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. As always, I appreciated some of the books and disliked others. My primary takeaway from the Roth, since he is the subject of this paragraph, was this is really well-written but I neither like nor care about any of these characters. The characters were richly drawn, almost intricately so; which is no small accomplishment, but the more I got to know them, the less I liked them and the less I cared about them. Even as I type this I realize how important characters are to my enjoyment of anything; short story, movie, novel, television show. I have to care, or why bother? I got the sense that as I read Roth didn’t much like the characters he was writing about either, which I don’t understand. Perhaps this is why I am not a Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award winner; I cannot write about characters I don’t care about, and I don’t want to watch or read the same.

Why would I invest hours of my time with characters I don’t like when I wouldn’t spend time with them if they were real?

As I said to begin with, I never read Roth again–I tried reading  The Plot Against America, but it lost my interest several chapters in; I do intend to try again–but I do have copies of some of his novels. The one I am going to try to read is When She Was Good. I’ve heard Laura Lippman, one of my favorite writers and intellects, discuss how much she admires Roth while being conflicted about his work; her novel with a similar title, And When She Was Good, is one of my favorite novels of hers. It’s also relatively short–from the looks of things, Letting Go may have been his longest novel–so I will be giving him another shot over the course of this weekend.

So, yesterday on my first day of vacation, I spent the day organizing and cleaning primarily, but I also did some work; I worked on the opening of my short story “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which, I fear, might actually wind up being a novel; but I am going to continue working on it as a short story in the meantime, I also went to meet a writer friend in town for a few days for drinks at the Saint Hotel bar, which is becoming my go-to. It was fun to talk about writing and laugh about the nonsensical nature of this business with her; one of the best things about being a writer is being able to connect with other writers and in hearing other people are going through the same things.

It really is lovely.

I took the streetcar down there and back, and lugged the Roth with me to start reading. He really is a great writer; I’ve only managed the first chapter and it’s so well-written. I’ll be taking it with me to the Honda dealer today for the car’s oil change, and so I am hopeful the quality will continue; I think it will. I just hope the characters are likable, or at least relatable in some way.

After I finish with the oil change, I’m going to grab lunch over there and then do some errands, and then it’s home to get to work. I have some news brewing, and can’t wait to share it with you, Constant Reader! But until it’s all carved into stone…must say nothing.

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Islands in the Stream

I am officially on Christmas vacation! It’s only four and a half days, but I will take it, thank you very much. I am still not at 100%, but today is much better than the nadir of Wednesday, and even yesterday. My throat is raw and my chest still hurts from coughing so hard, but I am down to DayQuil, cough drops, and the occasional tablespoon of honey. I had planned originally to get a lot done today; and I still might try. I am a bit foggy right now, but then I’ve only been up for about an hour thus far. I think the worst part of this illness has been the utter exhaustion. Yesterday was the worst on the score; I was so tired everything ached.

And to add insult to injury, I’ve gained two pounds this week. Where is the justice in THAT?

I’ll tell you where: nowhere.

I am over halfway through with Joan Didion’s A Book of Common Prayer, and it is really quite marvelous. I tend to shy away from literary fiction, as a general rule, but this is not only gorgeously written but it’s telling an interesting story as well. That’s my primary complaint with literary fiction; if the story isn’t interesting the writing has to be beautiful, and so often it isn’t. I’ve never really understood the cults of writers like William Styron, Philip Roth, Jonathan Franzen; I’ve read their books and not been overly impressed with them. (Although they all have their moments.) But I generally simply say “I guess I’m just not smart enough to understand or appreciate their brilliance” and end the conversation there. I guess I’m just not a fan of the “plight of the straight white male” school of literature.

All right, I’m feeling a wave of illness coming on, so I am going to retire my easy chair with the book.

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Don’t Stop (Thinking About Tomorrow)

One more day to get through and then it’s vacation. Woo-hoo!

I have literally been riveted by Owen Laukkanen’s The Watcher in the Wall; I hated having to put it down and go to bed last night. I’m about halfway finished; Paul won’t be home until late tonight so I am hoping I’ll be able to finish it tonight. I’m probably going to read Michael Thomas Ford’s Lily tomorrow; the LSU game is on early and after that I am probably going to do a lot of cleaning and organizing and reading. (I’ve decided to take Saturday off from all projects, in order to recharge my batteries.) There’s no Saints game on Sunday, so I am debating whether I should attempt Costco before the LSU game tomorrow, or just go Sunday while everyone’s at church.

Decisions, decisions.

Of course, while I juggle these multiple projects, I’ve been thinking a lot about a couple of short stories I’ve been working on for years, “The Ditch” and “Fireflies”; this was triggered, I think, by reading the Lisa Unger novel. I’ve been also thinking about a y/a novel I’ve wanted to write for years called Ruins; rereading the two Barbara Michaels novels in October started me down that path, and the Unger kicked it into overdrive. The problem with Ruins is that I borrowed some of it for Lake Thirteen; if I am going to write Ruins I’ll have to come up with some new things to say, and replace the scenes I borrowed. The problem with Ruins, of course, is that it’s a Civil War ghost story, and you can’t write that kind of book without addressing the elephant in the room: slavery and racism. I originally wrote it as a short story a long time ago (correction: make that a really bad short story; I think it was one of the stories I wrote in the 1980’s when I was trying to emulate Stephen King. I didn’t address any of those issues in the short story; I blissfully pretended, as so many others have done, that none of that mattered. God, the naivete. I think this is why I have so much trouble with trying to write about Alabama. Is there anything more annoying than a progressive white person trying to address race issues? I loved To Kill a Mockingbird when I read it as a kid; I reread it again recently and, while still thinking it was a moving story that was beautifully written, recognized several problems with it. I have copies of the Colson Whitehead novel that just won the National Book Award and the controversial book Ben Winters published earlier this year; I also found a copy of William Bradford Huie’s The Klansman, about the civil rights struggle in Alabama in the 1960’s, on ebay that I want to reread. (I read it when I was young; I’d like to give it a reread as an adult.)

Maybe after I read Lily. The time has never been more ripe for reading about racism, and studying America’s history of it. I also have Philip Roth’s alternate history The Plot Against America.

Hmmmm.

Of course, actually writing Ruins is a long way away; I have so much to do before the end of the year…

But it’s lovely feeling creative again. I am making lots of notes. The book is coming along rather well, too. I may even get all these things done when I am supposed to

Scary. Who am I?

And on that note, I should probably head back to the spice mines.

Here’s a hottie for today:

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