Who’s Johnny

Yesterday I spent a few hours rereading (skimming) the manuscript and I really need to stop being self-deprecating; as a whole, it actually holds together very well and there are some mistakes and loose ends that I did manage to catch; but overall, it’s a very solid, workable first draft and I am enormously pleased with it. I’ll probably do some more futzing with it tomorrow–time-lines and so forth–but I think with the notes I made and a very strong eye to line editing, I can have this finished by the end of the month after all.

HUZZAH INDEED!

I also went over the final edits for my story “The Silky Veils of Ardor” and approved them for editor extraordinaire Josh Pachter, and send them off. Yet another huzzah! This pleases me to no end, Constant Reader, you have no idea. I was, as always, deeply concerned about the novel manuscript; I’m not certain when and where and how I developed this horrible mentality (an off-shoot of Imposter Syndrome or simply another deeply psychotic self-loathing version of it) that everything I write is terrible or garbage or whatever negative thing I can possibly think to say about it while in process; maybe it’s the familiarity and closeness to the story, knowing what I want it to be and what it’s not turning out to be on the page as I struggle through the first draft, but I’d hoped to avoid that with writing this book. This is why I went off deadline for the first time since 2001; so that I could take my time (other than my own personal deadlines) and not feel rushed to finish. My usual methodology for writing a manuscript evolved into writing on deadline and going back, when stuck, to the beginning and revising, with the end result that I usually wrote the last chapter or two the week (or days) before turning it in, and almost always after the original deadline. The end result of this was, to me, that the first two-thirds of my books were often rewritten, revised and polished repeatedly, while the final third maybe got a good going-over maybe once; which quite easily produced the mentality that my work fizzles out at the end rather than delivers.

Obviously, it never crossed my mind as a possibility that that final third of the book needed less work than the first two-thirds precisely because so much work went into the first two-thirds. When I reread my novels now, they seem seamless to me as they move from beginning to end; there’s no place where I can ever identify as definitely being, ah yes this is where I had to start rushing. In other words, it’s part of the self-loathing that comes from a lifetime of self-deprecation, the mentality that if it’s better if I point out my own flaws in a gently mocking, funny, amusing manner before someone else does it in a more cruel fashion.

As you can tell, the part of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette that had to do with self-deprecating humor resonated particularly strongly for me; this notion that I can head off humiliation at the hands of others if I voluntarily humiliate myself first, and that way I can be queer in public with a slightly higher degree of safety. I shall continue to reflect on this, think about it, blog about it more–but the truth is, self-deprecation is really not a good thing. Humility, the knowledge that your success is not only the result of hard work but also involved a healthy dose of what can only be described as sheer luck–whether that’s simply timing or whatever else it might be–is a completely different thing from self-humiliation. I know I’ve always been incredibly lucky with my career; most of it has benefited from being in the right place at the right time or making the right connection at the right time, but none of that would matter without the work. 

If I hadn’t done the work–if I hadn’t written the books or the stories or edited the anthologies, none of the timing would have amounted to anything. So I need to stop allowing myself to think that luck is the sole source of my writing career. Yes, luck did, and has, played a part in my career, but it wasn’t all luck. And there’s nothing, nothing, wrong with allowing myself to take a little credit for the work I’ve done.

It’s really kind of sad that it’s taken me this long to get here–and I’m still not completely here; my default is automatic self-deprecation, and I’ve got to stop that. It’s certainly not healthy, and it’s certainly not helpful in any way.

The final story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Someone to Lay Down Beside Me”:

“You really see some tragic drag in this place at four in the morning,” Dennis said, shaking his head. He said it a little too loudly, and I glanced over at the counter nervously. He rolled his eyes and smiled at me. “Don’t look so worried. She didn’t hear me.” He looked over at her with disgust on his face. “Besides, she’s so fucking wasted she doesn’t know what day it is.”

He plucked a packet of Sweet ‘n’ Low out of the little caddy next to the ketchup and mustard bottles, and shook it a few times before dumping it into his red plastic cup of iced tea. He took a big swig before using a paper napkin to wipe beads of sweat off his forehead.

It wasn’t quite four in the morning, but I wasn’t going to be sleeping anytime soon. The digital jukebox was blasting a remix of Rihanna—“Only Girl in the World,” which weirdly enough seemed like the appropriate soundtrack for episode of The Real Housewives from Hell playing on the flat screen television mounted on the wall I was facing.

I wiped my own forehead with a napkin. It was hot in the Clover Grill and the air seemed thick and heavy with grease. Burgers were frying on the grill, and French fries were sizzling in the deep fryer. The smell was making me more than a little nauseous. I didn’t know how Dennis could possibly eat anything. I felt a wave of nausea coming on, so I closed my eyes and took some deep breaths till it passed. My lower back was aching, so I turned in my chair and put my back up against the wall. We were sitting at the table in the absolute back, and Dennis had his back to the front door. I put my feet up on the extra chair at our table and leaned forward a bit, trying to stretch the ache out of my back.

I took another big drink out of my red plastic cup of water and couldn’t help smiling to myself. I recognized the tragic looking drag queen sitting at the counter. I’d seen Floretta Flynn perform any number of times at various clubs in the Quarter. She was one of the better drag performers in the city, and was actually quite funny. She’d been hostess of the show we’d caught earlier in the evening at the Parade, while we were waiting for our dealer to show up. She’d clearly had too much to drink since then—Dennis swore drag queens were always smashed when they went on stage, but I couldn’t tell.  It was obvious now, though. She was seated at the counter on one of the revolving stools, leaning against a hot muscle boy who didn’t seem quite as wasted as she was. Her massive 1970’s country-singer wig was askew and her lipstick was smeared around her mouth. Her mascara was also smudged around her eyes, and it looked like she may have tried to wipe off some of the foundation and rouge on her cheeks. Her bright red sequined dress looked dirty, and she’d spilled something down the front of it.

This story was written for Jerry Wheeler’s Dirty Diner anthology; I’d written the beginning years earlier, based on the exact same conversation I had with a friend at the Clover Grill around four a.m. as we stopped to get something to eat on our way out of the Quarter. I originally saw this story, when it was conceived, as part of the ‘four-friends-in-the-quarter’ book The World is Full of Ex-Lovers; and it really ties in with some of my other stories about the same characters; though I’m not sure anyone else ever made the connection. This story has a theme that I’ve returned to over and over again in my fiction: finding validation after rejection.

That particular theme also calls for some further reflection, frankly.

And now back to the spice mines.

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R.O.C.K in the USA

Happy Sunday and a good morning to all y’all.

I didn’t get as much done yesterday as I would have liked; running my errands in the pre-rain humidity literally wore me out, and then when I got going again I started cleaning and doing laundry and well, once I start doing that–as well as going through and trying to organize the books–I am pretty much done for the day….especially after I discovered Burnt Offerings was available for streaming on Prime. Oliver Reed! Karen Black! Bette Davis (who was totally wasted in her role)! I’d seen the movie years ago, I think when it first aired on television after it’s theatrical run, and while it’s still has some moments, it overall doesn’t hold up as well as I would have hoped. I read the book for the first recently in the last few years, and it was wonderful. But watching Burnt Offerings put me in mind of an essay about horror in the 1970’s; the 1970’s was a time when the suburbs really developed because of ‘white flight’ from the cities and desegregation; this was this whole movement of back to the country from the urban centers, and at the same time, there was horror that specifically focused on this phenomenon (without the racism and white flight issues); namely this book, Harvest Home by Thomas Tryon, The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin, and even Stephen King lightly touched on this in ‘salem’s Lot; the dangers of the country to people from the city.

One could even argue that James Dickey’s Deliverance also belongs in this category, and it put me in mind of an essay that I may never write. I also thought up another yesterday while running my errands, after car after car after car violated traffic rules and almost caused me to be in in accident (three times, to be exact; which might be a new record): “Right of Way,” in which I would extrapolate the American contempt for traffic rules and laws for everyone’s safety can be directly correlated to contempt for law and order, the system, taxes, everything. I made some notes, and this is one I may actually write. Essays are fun and I do enjoy writing them but I don’t very often, unless one is requested of me for something, and perhaps that’s the wrong approach.

Today I am going to go to the gym and I am going to start rereading Royal Street Reveillon and make notes for the big revision that is coming. I’m also going to start reading Jackson Square Jazz out loud for copy editing purposes, and I’d also like to work on “A Whisper from the Graveyard” today. I should at some point also work on finished “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which means I should also make a to-do list for everything I want to get done in July.

Hmmm. Perhaps not a bad idea, at that.

I also remembered I have notes on a short story I need to read and decide what revisions I need to be make.

It never truly ends, does it? But I am looking forward to Sharp Objects tonight on HBO; I actually liked this book by Gillian Flynn better than Gone Girl, which of course made her hugely famous and hopefully hugely rich. I still haven’t read her Dark Places, but that’s because I still subscribe to the “if I don’t read all the canon then I still have something by her to read” mentality, which is partly why I still have not read the entire canon of either Daphne du Maurier or Shirley Jackson or Patricia Highsmith.

So, I have a lot to do today–only one more day after today before I return to the office, but at least it’s only a four day work week–and so I should probably get back to the spice mines.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Bloodletting”:

The damp air was thick with the scent of blood.

It had been days since I had last fed, and the desire was gnawing at my insides. I stood up, and my eyes focused on a young man walking a bicycle in front of the cathedral. He was talking on a cell phone, his face animated and agitated. He was wearing a T-shirt that read Who Dat Say They Gonna Beat Dem Saints? and a pair of ratty old paint-spattered jeans cut off at the knees. There was a tattoo of Tweetybird on his right calf, and another indistinguishable one on his left forearm. His hair was dark, combed to a peak in the center of his head, and his face was flushed. He stopped walking, his voice getting louder and louder as his face got darker.

I could smell his blood. I could almost hear his beating heart.

I could see the pulsing vein in his neck, beckoning me forward.

The sun was setting, and the lights around Jackson Square were starting to come on. The tarot card readers were folding up their tables, ready to disappear into the night. The band playing in front of the cathedral was putting their instruments away. The artists who hung their work on the iron fence around the park were long gone, as were the living statues. The square, so teeming with life just a short hour earlier, was emptying of people, and the setting sun was taking the warmth with it as it slowly disappeared in the west. The cold breeze coming from the river ruffled my hair a bit as I watched the young man with the bicycle. He started wheeling the bicycle forward again, still talking on the phone. He reached the concrete ramp leading up to Chartres Street. He stopped just as he reached the street, and I focused my hearing as he became more agitated. What do you want me to say? You’re just being a bitch, and anything I say you’re just going to turn around on me.

I felt the burning inside.

Desire was turning into need.

I knew it was best to satisfy the desire before it became need. I could feel the knots of pain from deprivation forming behind each of my temples and knew it was almost too late. I shouldn’t have let it go this long, but I wanted to test my limits, see how long I could put off the hunger. I’d been taught to feed daily, which would keep the hunger under control and keep me out of danger.

Need was dangerous. Need led a vampire to take risks he wouldn’t take ordinarily. And risks could lead to exposure, to a painful death.

The first lesson I’d learned was to always satiate the hunger while it was still desire, to never ever let it become need.

I had waited too long.

“Bloodletting” is an unusual story for me in that it’s actually a short story that bridges the gap between my novella “Blood on the Moon” and the novel Need; I eventually used it as the book’s first chapter. I have always wanted to give vampire fiction a try; I created an entire world that I first wrote about in the novella “The Nightwatchers,” which I always intended to develop into a series. I still would like to develop that series, and when the opportunity came to write “Blood on the Moon” I realized I could simply still use the world I’d created for “The Nightwatchers” and move on to different characters. The second book in the series, the one that was to follow Need, Desire, was going to tie the two story-lines together but Need didn’t sell as well as the publisher would have liked and so Desire died in the water. I may still go back and write it, of course, but I have no publisher for it and I am not particularly interested in self-publishing that much. But…I never say never. I wrote “Bloodletting” for Blood Sacraments, and only had to change the original concept a little bit; in the original idea Cord, my vampire, was actually sitting on the roof of St. Louis Cathedral watching the crowd for his next victim. I still love that image, and may use it sometime, but I did eventually change it to how it reads now.

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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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Perfect Way

I submitted a story to Cemetery Dance yesterday, and felt very accomplished after having done so. As I have said before, getting a story published in Cemetery Dance is a bucket list item for me, and I am reasonably proud of the story; we’ll see what happens. But I’m glad I did it; glad I spent the morning and early afternoon revising and polishing it. And hopefully,  if they don’t use the story I’ll get a chance to submit to them again at some point.

To celebrate, I went to the gym and did cardio, continuing my iPad screening of Troy: Fall of a City–which is starting to, sadly get a little boring. I’ll keep watching, though–I want to see how they play the story out, plus it’s helping me with my pronunciation of all their names; most of which I’ve been saying wrong my entire life, since I was a kid and read The Windy Walls of Troy.

I also spent some time last night with my journals; basically going through them and marking the pages where I wrote notes on the Scotty book, which should make the next revision much easier. Huzzah! I am also glad that I did this because not only did I find some ideas for short stories I’d forgotten, as well as how some of the short stories I have written since the first of the year were born, but I also discovered that I had roughly sketched out a couple of scenes for Bury Me in Satin, which I typed up last night–remember, I’d started writing the opening on the 4th, but was incredibly pleased to see that I’d actually handwritten not only the opening but some other scenes from the first and second chapter that needed to be transcribed. So, I am pretty far ahead on this one already, which is kind of awesome. I’m having lunch today with a friend, which will be lovely, and then I am going to run a couple of errands before coming home and doing some more writing.

I may even (gasp) return to the gym for the third consecutive day: madness.

I also spent part of the day reading about the Dreyfus Affair in Barbara Tuchman’s book The Proud Tower, which takes a look at life and the issues confronting the great powers from 1895-1914; basically, the set-up for World War I. I’d heard of the Dreyfus Affair, of course, and Emile Zola’s participation; but I didn’t know the entire story, and, well, you really can’t go wrong with reading Barbara Tuchman on a subject you want to know about.  I love reading history, and I always make a point of trying to read some around the 4th of July (I also took down Catherine Drinker Bowen’s history of the Constitutional Convention Miracle at Philadelphia, which should be required reading for all Americans); Tuchman is the kind of historian I would have liked to have been, writing the kinds of things I would have liked to have written had my career path gone in that direction (I still toy with The Monstrous Regiment of Women, a history of the sixteenth century, built around all the women who held power–more women held power in that century than any before or since). The Dreyfus Affair was really something, and even more horrific, in many ways that time in France is reflected in modern day American society as well.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Porn King and I”:

He is beautiful.

He is everything I want in a lover.

Thick curly black hair.

Blue eyes.

Muscles rippling under tan skin.

A hard, round, beautiful ass.

The cock of Apollo.

I first saw him in a poster in the adult book store on Decatur Street. The poster was black with just a picture of him, hands on hips, wearing a jock strap. His face was smiling, a warm, inviting smile that would melt anyone’s heart and stir their groin. His tanned skin gleamed. At the bottom of the poster in red capital letters it said: CODY DALLAS IN THE SEX SENSE. I stood, staring for a few moments, my glance going from that pretty face down the neck to the beautifully shaped chest, smooth and silky, down the abs that looked carved out of stone, to the top of the jock. His hard-on was unmistakable beneath the white cloth. I walked over to the counter. “Do you have that film?” I pointed back over my shoulder with my thumb.

The counter boy was just that; a boy. He didn’t look old enough to be working in a sex shop. Hell, he didn’t look old enough to have hair on his balls. Bleached blonde hair standing up spikily over black roots. A straggle of hair on his chin that was supposed to be a goatee. He weighed maybe 130 pounds. His baggy jeans hung off his hips. A black Marilyn Manson t-shirt. Pierced nose and eyebrow. Tattoos on both arms. He grinned at me. Braces.

“Yeah. Only $59.95 or did you want to rent?”

“I’ll buy.”

I walked home to my apartment on Chartres Street. Opened the door. Switched on the television with the remote. Opened the box and popped the video in. Hit play as I pull off my shirt, kick off shoes, strip naked. Reach underneath the couch for the fresh bottle of poppers and the lube. Fast forward through the opening credits. First scene.

It’s him. He is wearing Daisy Dukes and work boots. No shirt. The sun glistens on the muscles in his back. He is trimming a bush with garden clippers. Every movement he makes causes muscles to ripple. Someone is watching from the house. Behind the curtains a face appears. Cut away to from behind the curtains. He looks beautiful, oh so beautiful. Camera pulls back. The man at the window is naked. Thinner. Not as muscled as Cody. Lean wiry muscle.

Cody looks up at the window and smiles. The man in the window beckons. Cody puts the clippers down and walks to the door. It opens.

I open the bottle of poppers. My eyes are glued to the screen. I lift it up to my right nostril. I close off the left and start inhaling. Deeply. The scent fills my nose, my sinuses, my lungs. I shift it to the other nostril. Inhale.

“The Porn King and I” was, ironically, inspired by something that actually happened; I was walking into the Quarter on a warm early summer evening. I walked past a house right on the sidewalk with its enormous windows open–anyone could have climbed into the house; something that has always amazed me about the Quarter and those that live there–and on the wall was a framed and mounted poster of a porn star (I do not recall, all these years later, precisely which porn star it was; I am thinking Kris Lord but that might be wrong). It inspired a story about a lonely man who talks to the poster, like it’s real, and eventually there’s a scene where a young man catches him talking to the poster, climbs in through the window, and they have nasty hot passionate sex. When I was asked to write this story for one of the Best Gay Erotica volumes, I stripped out the poster and the guy walking by on the street, leaving the main character’s obsession with a porn star, and renting the video from Tower Videos on Decatur Street (which is, sadly, no longer there); the sex scene thus became three-sided: there’s the main character watching the video and masturbating; what he’s imagining in his head as he masturbates; and, of course, what is actually happening on the television screen. I thought it was a clever take.

And the stuff I stripped out? I eventually used in a story about a lonely guy who lives in the Quarter and how a gorgeous young man talks to him through the window, and what transpires then. The story was called “Mr. Lonely” and was published in the original Saints and Sinners anthology.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I’m Your Man

Well, the first day of vacation passed without too much of note occurring. We grilled out for dinner–burgers and cheese dogs–and watched It on HBO; I cleaned and started organizing the kitchen; we watched a few more episodes of Big Mouth on Netflix-, and oh yes, Paul spent most of the day watching Wimbledon. I was most pleased to spend a day relaxing (and yes, I find cleaning and organizing to be relaxing; feel free to sue me), and will probably spend today doing more of the same, in addition to going to the gym and doing some writing and answering some emails. I keep thinking today is Sunday, which is also kind of funny–evidence of how nuts the mind can be; I kept thinking yesterday as Saturday. I need to revise my short story for submission to Cemetery Dance (yes, a long shot, but it’s a bucket list thing and I am going to keep trying every year until I actually get in) and in other bizarre news, I also managed to start writing my next book yesterday. I didn’t intend to; but I just felt like I needed to get that opening written down. It’s been swirling in my head for months now, and getting started neither took a long time nor was it particularly painful (what’s going to be painful is rereading the Scotty manuscript, which I am rather dreading).

Here it is:

The summer I graduated from high school my mother ruined my life.

Okay, I’m exaggerating. Mom says I do that a lot—well, that, and that I’m melodramatic. When I tell her being called a drama queen by my mom will make a great story for my future therapist, she just gives me that look and says, “The prosecution rests, Your Honor.”

This particular book is going to be vastly different from anything I’ve written before–I am being most ambitious in my thinking with this one–and I am also writing about a kind of character I’ve never really done before–oh, sure, gay teenager, to be sure, I’ve done that multiple times–but he’s also the only child of a incredibly successful attorney single mother, and the tricky part, the part that’s kept me from writing this book, which began as a short story called “Ruins” about thirty years ago, was I simply could not figure out how to get my main character to spend the summer in rural Alabama, which I have finally managed to do.

Also, yesterday while I was cleaning and organizing–and really, this is the best way to have this sort of thing happen–I kept getting ideas on how to fix and repair the Scotty novel. There really is something to writing an entire draft from start to finish, even knowing that it’s sloppy and you’re leaving things dangling or starting threads that you don’t see through to fruition, as opposed to going back and revising as you go so that by the time you reach the end, you’re past deadline and you don’t get to revise or rewrite the end, or have the time to go back and do much fixing once you’ve finally devised the end. I’ve always been paranoid about that with my Scotty books, which is kind of how I’ve written them all since Mardi Gras Mambo. But if 2018 has been about anything, it’s been about going back to the beginnings and remembering how I used to do things, and going back to my original systems has really been helpful when it comes to writing.

And I got to say, I love that very much.

Next up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Wrought Iron Lace”:

The guy who just moved in across the courtyard is gorgeous.

 I would guess that he’s still in his early thirties, maybe still the late twenties. Since I turned forty it’s really hard for me to judge age. Twenty years olds look like babies, fifty year olds look forty, and that group in between I just have no fucking clue. I watched him move in the day after I came home from the hospital. I have three pins in my leg from the car accident, and I have to keep it elevated as much as possible. I can’t stand on it yet, even with crutches, so I have a nice loaner wheelchair from the hospital. Friends are running errands for me when they can, and checking in on me to make sure I’m not lying on the floor in the bathroom helpless. I don’t think I’ve ever spent so much time at home by myself ever before. It’s amazing how little there is to watch on television, even with eighty cable channels. Is there anyone left on the planet who has not seen the movie Sixteen Candles? Why do they have to keep airing it?

It was a Saturday, and if ever there was a day of television hell, it’s Saturday. There’s nothing on, at any time of the day. I don’t really care that much about billiards, snowboarding, or timber-sports, thank you very much. I knew that the vacant apartment on the other side of the courtyard had been rented, the lower one, but I’d forgotten someone was moving in. My apartment is the second floor of a converted slave quarter, and my balcony has a view straight into the living room and bedroom windows of the lower in the back of the main house. I had seen the young lesbian couple who had lived there naked in the bedroom entirely too many times, and had trained myself not to notice those windows.

What can I say? I was bored, bored, bored.  It was eleven o’clock in the morning, I’d been up for three hours, and I wasn’t expecting anyone to come by again until two o’clock. I put a Jewel CD on, and pushed myself out onto the balcony. It was a beautiful October morning, the sky blue, the sun shining and warm, but none of the humidity that made New Orleans almost unlivable in the summer. There was a stack of books on the balcony table, and I figured this enforced captivity was a pretty good time to catch up on my reading. On top of the stack was a hardcover with two incredibly pretty young men giving each other the eye on the jacket. They were fully dressed, so I knew it was a romance rather than some porn. The sex would be soft-core, the characters fairly two-dimensional, and the problems they faced would be most likely vapid, but it would while away some time without requiring a vast degree of thought.

The door in the gate opened, and this guy came in. Wow, was my instant reaction. I put the book down on the table. He was wearing a black tank tee, tight black jean shorts that reached almost to his knees, with the bottom inch or so rolled up, and calfskin ankle boots with heavy socks pushed down on top of them. He was wearing a black baseball cap with the fleur-de-lis emblem of the Saints on the front. He had a key ring in his hand, and he walked right over to the door of the vacant apartment and unlocked it. When his back turned to me, my jaw dropped. He had without a doubt the most beautiful ass I have ever seen in my entire life. It was hard, it was round, perfectly curved. It was an ass to make men weep, an ass that belonged on an underwear box, an ass that could launch a thousand hard-ons.

I lit a cigarette.

A couple of other guys, muscular, attractive enough but nothing like the first, came back carrying boxes. Any other time, I would have probably been attracted to either or both of them, but the incredible beauty of the first boy (I found myself thinking of him as a “boy” strangely) made them seem like the girls who don’t make the Top Ten at Miss America. I’m sure they were used to it–it probably happened to them in bars all the time. I sat there for several hours, watching them move boxes and furniture, occasionally breaking to have a beer or a smoke break at one of the iron tables in the courtyard. The also-rans eventually removed their shirts, displaying fairly nice torsos, one with some hair, the other completely smooth. Again, under ordinary circumstances I would have been fantasizing a pretty damned vivid three way scene. If I could walk I’d be down there helping, flirting a little, feeling them out about trysting. I would watch the sweat glistening on their bare skin in the sun and wonder how it might taste, if their armpits were becoming a little smelly perhaps from the sweat, if their underwear was sticking to their asses. But my mind was solely on my new neighbor, hoping that he too would take his shirt of, give me a glimpse of his chest and back, maybe the waistband of his underwear showing above his shorts. It never occurred to me that they might be aware of me, the aging man in the wheelchair up on the balcony watching them hungrily without even saying hello. I never saw them look up or give any indication they were being watched. For all I knew, when they were out of sight on the street taking stuff out of the truck they could be laughing their asses off at the perv on the balcony, thinking he’s hidden behind the  wrought iron lacework. But if that were the case, it wouldn’t have mattered to me at all. I could not tear myself away from watching the boy in the black tank tee.

I wrote this story for an anthology called  A View to a Thrill (finally! I remember the anthology!) which was about voyeurism. Voyeurism always reminds me of Rear Window, and so I wanted to do a kind of Rear Window take on a gay erotica story; without the murder, of course.

When I first moved to New Orleans all those years ago, I always wanted to write a book about a group of gay guys–friends and frenemies–who all lived around a courtyard in the French Quarter and their quest for love and happiness and success; kind of Armistead Maupin meets Jacqueline Susann, using the same structure of Valley of the Dolls–one older character who’s already at the top of his game and owns the buildings, and the three younger ones who become unlikely friends/frenemies on their journey. I called it The World Is Full of Ex-Lovers (a play on two Jackie Collins titles), and from time to time, I found myself writing short stories about these guys. “Stigmata,” which was my first or second non-erotica short story, was about these guys; so was “Touch Me in the Morning,” the story I wrote for Foolish Hearts and had completely forgotten about until I took the book down and looked at the table of contents. I’ve got a lot of first drafts and partial drafts of stories written about these guys and their courtyard. One of the things I love about New Orleans is how, in rental situations (like the one I currently am in) you find yourself in a kind of enforced intimacy with your neighbors; one that you tend to ignore for the most part to maintain the illusion of privacy.

I even used the concept of the French Quarter courtyard with friends living around as a key component in Murder in the Rue Dauphine.

Maybe someday I’ll write that book. You never know.

Anyway, I digress. As I was pondering my ideas for a voyeur story, what better setting than a French Quarter courtyard that a number of people rent apartments around? I broke my character’s legs and gave him the upstairs apartment in a slave quarter/carriage house in the back of the courtyard, who observes a really hot young man moving into one of the apartments in the back wing of the main house, through the wrought iron lace of his balcony. I think the story turned out well, and I’ve always been pleased with both it and its title; in fact, when I thought about collecting the erotic stories together originally the book’s title was going to be Wrought Iron Lace and Other Stories.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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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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