What You Need

Today is National HIV Testing Day, and I’ll be doing testing all day in the Carevan in the parking lot of my neighborhood Walgreens. A long day, to be sure, and I will most certainly be exhausted tonight when I am done. But at least I’ll only have a two block walk home.

The heat and humidity feels particularly crippling this year; maybe I’ve gotten too old to handle it, or something, but I find myself these days tired and drained all of the time; exhausted, and never hungry; I have to remind myself to eat something every day. Right now, it’s not as bright as it should be outside my windows; there is cloud cover blocking the sunlight but in the distance I can see blue skies. I’m on pace to finish the Scotty by the end of this weekend (thank the Lord) despite the fact the book is a sloppy mess; but a sloppy mess can be fixed.

I’ve also not been reading as much lately; I haven’t had the energy. I have started reading Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, which the film Love Simon was based on, but I am not really getting into it very much. Maybe that will change the deeper I get into it, but what I really want to do is dive headfirst into Lou Berney’s November Road and Sarah Weinman’s The Real Lolita.

Then again, I could be tired and drained and out of it this week because last weekend wasn’t a normal one; and I even was out on Monday night this week. My stay-cation built around the 4th of July cannot come soon enough, Constant Reader.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”:

I watched as the storm rolled in from the ocean into Acapulco Bay. The lightning flashes at the mouth of the horseshoe shaped inlet lit up the night sky In the distance, the black water below the jagged white strings turning green. I sat on the balcony of a beachfront highrise, smoking a cigarette, unable to sleep. It was about four o’clock in the morning, and I knew I was going to have to let myself out relatively soon to catch a cab back to the S. S. Adonis, which was setting sail for Mazatlan at promptly eight in the morning. Part of me was tempted to just go on to the airport and catch the next flight back to Los Angeles. I wasn’t enjoying the cruise, as I’d known I wouldn’t. It seemed now, as it had in the days before departure, like an incredible waste of time.

Inside the apartment, beyond the open sliding glass doors, Jesus mutttered something in his sleep and rolled over onto his back. I looked inside, noting the long thick brown cock resting off to the side of the large balls. His flat, perfectly smooth stomach rose and fell with every breath. I felt my own cock stir again inside my underwear, but ignored it and turned back to look out to sea. There wasn’t time for another round, and besides, he was asleep. When he woke, I would most likely be out to sea, on the cruise I regretted taking. It’s only five more days, I reminded myself. After Mazatlan, we turn back north and head straight back to LA. You can get through it, surely.

The cruise hadn’t been my idea. Whenever I thought about going on a cruise, my mind automatically returned to movies like The Poseidon Adventure and Titanic. It had been Mark’s idea, one of his harebrained schemes born out of his own boredom and need for change. Maybe that wasn’t quite fair—Mark was just more adventurous than I was, always had been, and I was usually more than happy to go along for the ride. It was Mark who’d dragged me to Gay Days at Disney, Southern Decadence in New Orleans, and IML in Chicago. I’d never regretted letting Mark serve as my vacation planner, having a great time every time I went anywhere with him. It was hard not to have fun with Mark; Mark drew people to him everywhere he went with his infectious big smile, sexy blue eyes and his ripped muscular body. Everyone always looked at Mark, everyone always wanted to meet him, everyone always wanted to fuck him. Maybe I was a little jealous of him, but he’d worked long and hard on his body, and the work showed. He was always prone to take his shirt off whenever he got the chance, displaying the huge mouth watering pecs and gigantic biceps that everyone wanted to touch, to see flexed. But I’d known Mark before he’d dedicated himself to turning himself, as he said, ‘into the hottest man over forty in Southern California.” When he suggested going on the Adonis cruise, I’d been more than happy to fork over the several thousand dollars, despite my aversion to being on the high seas.

Mark made everything more fun.

I flicked my cigarette over the edge of the balcony and watched the little glowing red ember tumble end over end down eleven stories before exploding into sparks on the marble walkway below. The wind was picking up as the storm crossed the bay towards land, and I shivered a little. I debated lighting another one; debated getting dressed and slipping out the elevator and heading back to the ship.

Instead, I went inside and got back into the bed, feeling Jesus’ warmth as he breathed shallowly in his sleep. There was a bedside lamp on, and as I drew on his body heat to warm my chilled skin, I looked back at the semi-hard cock with a little drop of liquid in the slit. It was a beautiful cock, purplish-brown and gigantic when flaccid. When erect, it was the stuff of pornographic dreams. I stared at it wonderingly. That thing was inside of me about an hour ago, I thought, resisting the urge to shake my head. It made me feel like no other cock ever had before. I came three times while he pounded into my ass—no one’s ever done that before. I came the first time without even touching my own cock.

Mark had been forced to cancel his cruise at the last minute—a medical emergency. He’d overdone it at the gym and created a rupture inside his own ball sack, and his doctor had insisted on operating on it right away. The surgery itself was minor and routine—an outpatient procedure I’d driven him to and home from—but the doctor forbade him to leave the country. And when I said I’d cancel, too—Mark wouldn’t hear of it. “NO, you go on without me,” my best friend had insisted. “I’d never forgive myself if you didn’t go because of me. You go on. You’ll have a blast, you’ll see.

This story was clearly based on our trip to Acapulco in the summer of 2006; we rented a beautiful apartment in what was known as the “Mexican” part of the city–where the wealthy Mexicans vacationed, rather than the part where most Americans from the US went. The place was gorgeous, absolutely gorgeous; there was a pool, the entire building was done in marble, the bedroom had a balcony that opened out to the bay, the pool was just above the beach with wooden steps down…it was wonderful, and it was our first real vacation in ten years. Jesus, the lovely Mexican local my main character has an adventurous evening in bed with, was actually based on a stripper at a local strip club Paul and I discovered called the Club Caliente; the downstairs had female strippers and the upstairs male. We were startled to discover a major cultural difference between American and Mexican strip clubs: in Acapulco, they are completely naked. My writer’s mind began to wander–this was also the first time I was ever in a strip club, and realized the attention I was getting from the strippers was probably triggered by oh, look, a bald old rich American gay man! (“Rich” being the only adjective that doesn’t fit.) So when I was asked to write an erotic story for an anthology of cruise stories, I decided to write about Acapulco and Jesus, the beautiful stripper I’d met. (I gave him a couple of dollars.) The title came about because the Christian nonsense in Virginia had resurfaced, and hey, if the evangelicals wanted to slander and smear me and destroy my career, well, I’m going to title a gay porn story the same name as one of their favorite hymns.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Acapulco, and the view from our balcony:

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The Sweetest Taboo

Last night Paul and I had dinner at Galatoire’s.

Galatoire’s is a New Orleans institution; like Antoine’s and Arnaud’s and Commander’s Palace, it is one of those places you simply have to experience. This wasn’t my first time at Galatoire’s, but it was my first time there in a while. Galatoire’s was immortalized by Marda Burton and Dr. Kenneth Holditch in their book Galatoire’s: Biography of a Bistro, and Stella famously took Blanche there for dinner the night of the poker game in A Streetcar Named Desire. I don’t think I’ve ever been into Galatoire’s and left without feeling, at best, tipsy; at worse, staggeringly drunk. Last night I merely had a Bloody Mary and a glass of white wine; fortunately Paul and I had about a six-block walk to the car in the infernal heat of a late June evening, so I was completely sober by the time we got to the car.

We were at a dinner party in honor of author Lou Berney, whose last novel The Long and Faraway Gone is one of the best crime novels I’ve ever read, and whose next novel, November Road, drops in October (we were able to score ARC’s at the dinner). I’ve known Lou since Bouchercon in Raleigh, when he and I graced the stage on a panel with Lori Roy and Liz Milliron, moderated by the incomparable Katrina Niidas Holm. (Lori and Lou went on to win Edgars the following spring; coincidence? I THINK NOT.) It was a lovely evening, despite the extreme heat (and don’t laugh; it is unusually hot, even for New Orleans, this June; this is August weather).

Did I mention I got an ARC of Lou’s new book?

Today’s short story, the next one up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, is, of all things, a story about a baseball player, “Phenom.”

The arms around me hit a grand slam tonight.

 It didn’t matter; we lost the game anyway. But I didn’t care. I’ve never really cared much about baseball. In fact, I’d never been to a game until our local team signed Billy Chastain. As soon as I saw him being interviewed on the local news, I knew I was going to start going to games. It’s not that I don’t like baseball, I just never cared enough to go. But all it took was one look at Billy Chastain, and I was sold.

The interview had been one of those special pieces. He’d been a high school star, played in college a couple of years, and then one year in the minors, where he’d been a force to be reckoned with; with an amazing batting average and some outstanding play at third base, he’d been called up to the majors for this new season, and everyone was talking about him.  I just stared at the television screen.

Sure, he was young, but he was also composed, well spoken, and seemed mature for his age. He was also drop dead gorgeous. He had thick bluish-black hair, olive skin, and the most amazing green eyes. They showed clips of him fielding and batting—and then came the part that I wished I’d recorded: they showed him lifting weights. In the earlier shots, it was apparent he had a nice build; he seemed tall and lanky, almost a little raw-boned; but once they cut to the shots of him in the weight room, I was sold. His body was ripped as he moved from machine to machine in his white muscle shirt and long shorts, his dark hair damp with sweat. As his workout progressed and his muscles became more and more pumped, more and more defined, I could feel my cock starting to stir in my pants. And then they closed the segment with a shot of him pulling the tank top over his head and wiping his damp face with it. I gasped. His hairless torso slick with sweat, his abs were perfect, his pecs round and beautiful, and the most amazing half-dollar sized nipples which I wanted to get my lips around.

I bought tickets and started going to every home game.

Our team sucked, to be frank, and it was soon apparent that there was no World Series or even division pennant in our future that year. But Billy was a great player and everyone was talking about him. He was leading the division in hits and had one of the highest batting averages in all of baseball. He made the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline PHENOM, his beautiful face smiling out at people on newsstands all over the country. There were several shots of him inside without a shirt on; shots I had scanned into my computer, enlarged and printed out for framing. I made sure my seats were always behind third base, so I could get as great a view of him as humanly possible, in his tight white pants that showed every curve and muscle of his legs—and the amazing round hard ass I thought about when I closed my eyes and masturbated. Every so often he would look up into the stands and smile, saluting us with a wave.

I wrote “Phenom” for the Alyson erotica anthology Fast Balls; I was asked by the editor to write a story.

I’m not a big baseball fan; my parents forced me to play when I was a kid and yes, the experience was incredibly traumatic. I do love going to games and watching in person; but watching on television isn’t something I’ve ever really enjoyed a lot. So, writing a baseball story was a bit of a challenge for me.

Then I remembered, when I was a teenager in high school, following the Kansas City Royals, and a Sports Illustrated cover with young star Clint Hurdle with the word PHENOM on it…and I thought, you know, I can write about a player instead of the game, and that was my starting point: a hot young baseball star turns up in a gay bar after a game and a fanboy’s dream comes true.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Invisible Touch

The last Monday in June dawns, and I am tired and sleepy and despite sleeping well, am awake much earlier than my body wants me to be. And while hot New Orleans summers are almost a stereotype at this point, it’s already hotter here than it usually is at this time; it feels more like August out there than late June. Taking the streetcar down to the Quarter both Saturday and Sunday drained me, physically; I think that’s why I am so tired and out of sorts this morning. Perhaps that will allow me to write from my subconscious this morning; we shall see how that goes.

I was so drained yesterday after I got home that I sat down at the computer and started Chapter 21; I managed about 300 excruciatingly painful words before I finally gave up and retired to my easy chair to watch the end of Cardinal and an episode of The Handmaid’s Tale; we are about three episodes behind on it. It’s hard to watch, particularly with what is going on in the country at the moment, quite frankly; the idea of children being taken away from their mothers, while always sickening, is particularly rough to watch right now.

But I just have to get through this week and I only have a two-day work-week next week; then comes a lovely six-day stay-cation, or whatever you want to call it. I am definitely looking forward to that down time to clean the house, move some things to storage, clean out some cabinets and so forth; I’ve decided that the 4th itself will be my day of rest and then I will focus on getting things done on the other days I have off, which will be lovely.

But all I really want to do right now is go back to sleep. But I must persevere. The spice must be mined.

The next story in my collection Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Disaster Relief”:

“Most of the damage is upstairs,” I said as I unlocked the front door to my apartment and pushed the door open. I stood in the doorway and allowed him to pass. “Although we did get some mold down here on the walls.” I shrugged. I’d shown the wreckage that had been my home for just two months to so many people by this time that it didn’t affect me anymore. The first time I’d walked in after Katrina had gone through I had been in shock. You never expect to see your home in that condition; mold running down the walls, plaster wreckage covering the stairs, your bed a mildew factory. It had made me sick to my stomach.

Well, that and the smell coming from the refrigerator.

It was my home, it was the same apartment I’d been so excited to move into a million years ago in June, but I didn’t feel the same way about it as I did before.

Christian Evans, my FEMA inspector, whistled as he walked in and took a look around. “Nice place.”

“It was.” I used to love the high ceilings, the two ceiling fans, the curved staircase leading up to the second floor, and the hardwood floor I polished until it was like a mirror. Now the floor was covered with dust from the collapsed ceiling upstairs. The plaster on the walls in the living room was cracked, and the true enemy was evident on the ceiling—those horrible black spreading spots of mold that looked like ink blots. But at least the ever-present stench of mold and mildew was hardly noticeable anymore.

And I’d won my epic battle with the refrigerator.

“But I imagine you’ve seen a lot worse.” I went on, hugging myself. It was a cool morning with a strong breeze blowing that made it seem colder, and of course I didn’t have the heat turned on. Not much point in trying to warm the place when there was no ceiling upstairs. Of course he’s seen worse, I scolded myself. That had been my litany ever since I’d come back.

You’re one of the lucky ones, remember that.

Christian shrugged. He was a small man, maybe about five eight, in his early thirties. He was cute in that nondescript metrosexual “is he gay or straight?” way. He had a light brown goatee, and had gelled his brown hair into that just-got-out-of-bed look that seemed to be all the rage. Before the storm, I’d always referred to that style as the freshly fucked look. I’d never really cared for it much, but it worked on him. He had a way of grinning that somehow worked with the gelled hair. “I’ve been out to the 9th Ward and Lakeview,” he said as he pulled his laser pointer out of his pocket and started measuring the dimensions of the room. “So you lost your couch?”\

This story came about because of a post on my blog I made about our FEMA inspector.

That was a crazy weekend, all those years ago. My friends and fellow authors Timothy and Becky, part of the Timothy James Beck writing team, had scheduled a book event the week before Thanksgiving as a fundraiser for Katrina relief and invited me to participate; we’d become friends through our blogs and had communicated a lot, and this was an opportunity to meet in person as well as for me to get away from the ruins of New Orleans for a few days. I had already planned on driving up to Kentucky for the holiday, and the plan was to swing through Illinois afterwards to pick up Paul and Skittle and bring them home at long last. My car needed new spark plugs and possibly a tune-up, which I planned on getting done in Houston.  My grandmother died on the Thursday I was in Houston; my mother called me on Friday to tell me the service/funeral would be on Sunday so I needed to go to Alabama on Saturday. Okay, fine, cool. Then Paul called me to tell me the FEMA instructor was coming by at 8 am on Saturday morning to go through our house, so I needed to be there.

JFC.

My car was finished at six thirty that evening, so I drove back to New Orleans from the auto repair shop and got up at seven the next morning to meet the FEMA inspector–and once he was done, I was going to drive to Alabama. The FEMA inspector was very attractive and sexy; after the tour of the apartment I wrote in my blog Is it wrong to find your FEMA inspector sexy? I could probably write a really weird erotic short story about having sex with your FEMA inspector in the ruins of your house.

Someone–I don’t remember who–commented on the blog not only asking me to write the story but promising to include/publish it; whether it was on a website or in an anthology, I don’t recall. So, while I was at my parents’ in Kentucky for the holidays, I wrote “Disaster Relief.” it was my first Katrina piece of fiction, and it was pretty good, if I do say so myself.

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If You Leave

Sunday morning.

I wrote another chapter, slightly less than three thousand words, yesterday. I don’t know that I can match the output today, but I’m certainly going to give it another try. I only have five chapters left to go on this excruciatingly sloppy first draft, but a finished first draft is a finished first draft, and I can tear it apart and patch it all back together again in September. Oddly enough, I am looking forward to doing that, to be honest; I just wish these five chapters were finished already.

Heavy sigh.

Last night I took a streetcar named St. Charles down to the Quarter to have dinner with a friend in town for ALA (I am heading back down there again today, to meet the publishers for the Bouchercon anthology), and it was absolutely delightful to talk with someone incredibly smart about books and writing and publishing; it always is, frankly. The heat and humidity were somehow bearable on the way there; it was the way home that was horrific. I was completely soaked when I got off the streetcar and by the time I got to the Lost Apartment, and the heat/humidity just sucked the energy right out of me. I feel icky and sticky still this morning; I feel asleep in my chair and just went to bed from there, forgetting the cardinal rule of summer in New Orleans: always shower whenever you can, especially before bed.

But, it was a lot of fun. I really do have amazing and smart friends.

So I am going to try to get some work done before it’s time to hit the streetcar again. I would prefer to hit my three thousand words today before I get leave, since I probably won’t be in the mood when I get back home again–note to self: take a second shower when you get home, you won’t be sorry in the least.

The next story up in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “Desire Under the Blankets.”

Blair lit a cigarette. The light cast from his match flared briefly, casting shadows in the darkened room. He shook out the match and tossed it into an overflowing ashtray as he sucked in hungrily at the smoke. The menthol clotted in his lungs and he fought against the cough that fought its way up his windpipe, determined to expel the poisons. His eyes watered for a moment, and he gave in to the cough at last, muffling its sound. The clock on his desk read four fifteen. The rest of the fraternity house was silent. The majority of them were undoubtedly passed out from too much alcohol; some of them, he was sure, were huddled in rooms smoking pot out of bongs or snorting cocaine off the glass in picture frames. His own supply of cocaine was sitting in a small pile on a framed photograph of his mother on the desk top next to a bong made of glass and plastic in the shape of a dragon.

He opened his small refrigerator and got a can of Pepsi. He was still a little drunk from the evening’s festivities. Big Brother night, a semesterly tradition in which the pledges received their protectors and advisors amongst the group of the already initiated, ended around two in the morning when the keg ran dry and the last pledge had vomited. His own little brother, Mike Van Zale, was sleeping off his drunkenness in Blair’s bed, snoring a little softly. Mike had puked around midnight, thanks to the Jose Cuervo shots Blair had poured down his throat. After Mike had staggered down the hallway to the bathroom and lost the contents of his stomach, Blair took pity on him and led him up to his room. Some of the other brothers would force their new charges to drink again after throwing up, but Blair was a little more compassionate. Besides, the previous semester one of the Alpha Chi Omega pledges almost died from alcohol abuse. Blair’s brothers at Beta Kappa, for the most part, only paid lip service to the new University regulations regarding alcohol hazing of pledges. They were idiots, Blair reflected as he stubbed out his cigarette and made another line from the cocaine.  It wasn’t the first time he’d thought that nor, he reflected, was it likely to be the last.

His nostrils were already numb from previous snorts and he knew that this one wouldn’t restore the high the first one, hours earlier, had given him. All this would do was make his hands shake and his teeth grind. It was a waste but he was in the stage he called the “I  wants”, when he began to mentally crave more and more cocaine. He took a hit off the bong to lessen the edge of the coke when it hit. He held the smoke in as long as he could before it exploded out of him in a massive coughing fit. He grabbed a tissue and spit out a wad of phlegm.

On the bed, Mike shifted and moaned a little.

Blair took a sip of his Pepsi to cool his burning throat and walked over to the bed. Mike was sprawled on his back on top of the covers. In the moonlight coming through the slightly parted curtains, his skin looked like smooth alabaster. His hairless and hard chest gleamed in the ghostly light. Thick wiry hair sprouted from under his arms. A thin line of drool hung from the corner of his mouth. His face was expressionless. A thin trail of wiry black hairs ran from his navel to the waistband of his white briefs.

He was quite beautiful.

I created the character of Blair–along with two others, Chris Moore and Eric Matthews–years before I was published. When I belonged to a fraternity and was actually living in the house, I created these three fraternity brothers that were very close friends, and wrote lots of notes about them. I was originally thinking along the terms of writing a fraternity thriller, with these three characters kind of a Three Investigators team solving the murder. I’ve always thought a fraternity would be a good setting for a murder, and I still do. This entire scene, in fact, was born from that idea for a novel; I’d always intended Blair, whose parents were movie stars, to be flamboyant and gay, if closeted within the hallowed halls of the fraternity house. I wrote this particular story out as an idea; the title was obviously a play on the Eugene O’Neill play. I used this story for an anthology, and then years later incorporated it into my novel Every Frat Boy Wants It, the first of three erotic fraternity novels I’ve done as Todd Gregory.

I always liked Blair, and should have done a sequel about him. (The fratboy series always focuses on a new character with the new book; the main characters from the previous one show up, but don’t have a lot to do .)

Who know? Maybe someday I will.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Crush on You

Saturday! I am having dinner with a friend this evening, who’s in town for the ALA (American Library Association) convention; someone I don’t get to see with the level of frequency I would prefer, so am very excited to spend the evening discussing the genre and books and maybe just a little hint of gossip. Huzzah!

I cleaned the house yesterday when I got home; the big macro clean; hopefully today, around writing and editing, I’ll get to do the micro clean (macro: picking everything up, cleaning counters, putting dishes away, doing bed linens; micro: sweeping and mopping and cleaning dust off picture frames and reorganizing cabinets, etc.). I slept deeply and well last night also; I woke up this morning around nine feeling foggy and not quite there awake yet; I am about to brew my second cup of coffee but I feel wildly awake and motivated…we shall see how long that lasts.

Today I want to focus on working on the Scotty book as well as read the WIP’s first four chapters aloud. My deadline for finishing the Scotty is next Saturday; I have essentially eight days to write six chapters. I also have to wrap up a ridiculous amount of plot and subplots in six chapters, but it is something I think I can do. After all, the first draft is always going to be a mess, isn’t it? And then I can work on cleaning up that mess when I work on the second draft. I do project it being finished by the end of September and turned into my publisher at that time.

As we progress into my next story in Promises in Every Star, we come on to “Angels Don’t Fall in Love”:

“Angel…..”

I wake up in the middle of the night whispering his name. When my alarm goes off at seven in the morning, for that brief instant I imagine that he is there with me in the bed, that he never left, that his warm body is lying there next to me, and when I open my eyes his round liquid brown eyes will be looking into mine with that curious sexy mixture of innocence and awareness. But my eyes open, as they do every morning, to see the other side of the bed empty, a vast desolate waste of cotton sheets and woolen blankets. My heart sinks again, down into that blackness, the darkness of despair, loneliness, and missed opportunity. For I have known love, I have known passion, I have known joy.

And lost it.

I first laid eyes on Angel one night wandering home from the bars at about two in the morning. I’d had more than my fair share of drinks that night, and was giving up and going home. Staying out didn’t mean meeting the man of my dreams, or even just a warm body with a forgettable name for the night. It just meant more alcohol, more disappointment, standing alone in a corner of the bar, not approaching anyone, nobody approaching me. Before going out that night I’d made a promise to myself that I would break the cycle. I would not stay out ordering more drinks thinking that maybe in five minutes the right guy would walk in. The drinks would only cloud my judgment and distort the way guys looked, making them look far better than they would in the cold light of morning, when I would ask myself, what were you thinking? It was a tired old game, and one I didn’t feel like playing anymore.

He was standing, leaning against a lamppost on Royal Street just a block from my apartment. He was smoking a cigarette dangling from his lower lip. His hair was that dark shade of black that looks blue in the light. There was a mustache and goatee, and he was wearing one of those white ribbed tank tops that cling. His jeans were several sizes too big and were slung low across his hips, exposing black boxer shorts. There was a tattoo on his right arm, a cross in outline with beams of light radiating from it. In the flickering light of the gaslit lamp he seemed to be a large presence, but when I got closer I saw that he was maybe five five, five six possibly. His eyes were amazing, round liquid pools of brown with golden flecks in them, like the sad eyes of a Madonna in a renaissance painting by a forgotten master. They were framed by long, curling lashes that looked dewy in the light.

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Again I don’t remember which anthology I originally wrote this story for, but I reprinted it in my Todd Gregory anthology Wings,  and again, of course, in Promises in Every Star. “Angels” was inspired by an old ’til Tuesday song, “Angels Never Call.” I happened to be listening to the Welcome Home CD when it cued up, and as I listened to it, the image of a man coming home after an evening in the gay bars of the Quarter came to me, encountering a young man named Angel, and the story just progressed from there. It was the first, or at least one of the first, erotica stories I wrote that had an edge of the supernatural to it; was Angel just an attractive young Latino male, or was he actually an angel? It was around this time that I found myself exploring themes in my erotic short fiction, and including supernatural elements, turning the erotica into stories with sex scenes in them. “Angels Don’t Fall in Love” was about, as so many stories I’ve written are, about loneliness and needing to make a connection with another human being. It’s a theme I’ve returned to over and over again, and probably will continue to do so.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Two of Hearts

FRIDAY! Huzzah!

It’s my short day, which is always a lovely way to roll into the weekend, and then I only have one more full week before my next two-day week and six day vacation! Woo-hoo!

I managed to write three thousand words, which is all of Chapter 19, yesterday; I also had miscounted. I still have six chapters to go, alas, but that is doable before the end of the month. The manuscript is a completely sloppy mess, of course, but one that should be easy to fix, to trim, to revise and edit and rewrite. I am hoping to get it into decent shape by the end of September. Huzzah!

I also decided yesterday that “Children of the Stone Circle” isn’t the right story I want to submit to this call. I am going to revisit “The Arm,” which I think is probably more consistent of a story and more believable, would work better in a revision, and so I am going to give it a try this weekend and see what happens with it.

Right now I am hating everything I’ve written. Some things never change.

Next up in my erotic short story collection Promises in Every Star was “All the World’s A Stage.” This one was also written for an anthology, and again, I don’t remember which one or who the editor was or what publisher. I should probably keep better track of this stuff, don’t you think?

The dance floor was still crowded with shirtless boys, sweat running down smooth muscled torsos. My friends had moved on across the street to Oz, leaving me alone on the dance floor enjoying my Ecstasy high and the charms of a guy in his late twenties with the body of an underwear model and the face of an angel. His ass was round and hard in his jeans, and he kept grinding it into my crotch with the beat of the music. He had a tattoo on his lower back, a fleur-de-lis, symbol of the New Orleans Saints. Every time he would back into me that way my dick would get hard in my jean shorts. I wasn’t sure if he actually wanted me to fuck him or not. You never can be sure of anything at a circuit party. His flirting could be entirely based in whatever mind altering substance he’d imbibed. He could have a boyfriend. He might just enjoy losing himself on the dance floor and flirting, in getting attention from men he thought were hot. It was flattering, for sure, since I am now in my late forties, and I had always been brainwashed into thinking that gay life—and most assuredly gay sex and desire—ended at forty.

And if this boy fucked the way he danced, well, it would definitely be worth my while.

He backed into me again, and I slid my arms around his waist, pulling him back against me. His body was wet with sweat, his jeans damp to the touch, his short blonde hair glistening in the flickering laser lights. My cock hardened again, and I ground my crotch into the back of his jeans, rubbing it against him. He suddenly spun around so that our crotches were together. I could feel his hard on against mine. He pressed his lips against mine, forcing mine apart with his tongue. I sucked on his tongue when it entered my mouth, reaching down to cup that pretty ass with my hands.

 “Mmmmmm.” He smiled as he pulled his head back from mine. He put both of his hands on my pecs, squeezing a little bit. “Very nice.”

I smiled back at him. “I could say the same.”

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“All the World’s a Stage” is one of those bar/partying stories, and it is sort of based in reality; although it was kind of a combination of two different events. First of all, yes, once at Southern Decadence a hot younger guy was flirting with me on the dance floor and yes, he did at one point call me daddy, which was the first time that ever happened, and yes, I did get pulled up on stage to mess around with two porn stars by a drag queen. But the getting pulled up on stage and the night I was called a daddy for the first time were, in fact, different occasions; but realistically, in creating the fiction of the story, it simply made sense for the narrative to combine those two incidents.

I’m pleased with it. I think I captured the feel of being drugged out and blissful on the dance floor; that tribal sense I used to get whenever I was one of a crowd of shirtless, sweaty gay men dancing. I loved to dance; always did, and hitting the dance floor was always one of my favorite things to do for years.

I do miss dancing sometimes; I miss that feel of the loud music and the sweat and the shirts being tucked into the back of your jeans (and still losing it sometimes) and sweat rolling down your body and the flashing lights and the fog and everyone lost in joyful abandon…

And now back to the spice mines.

Walk of Life

Thursday, and a bit reflective this morning. I’m not as well-rested as I was yesterday, but still feel pretty good this morning. I’m also only on my second cup of coffee, so there’s also that.

June continues to slip through my fingers; only nine days left for me to finish the first draft of the Scotty book and finish writing two short stories. This weekend I also have to put together the copy edits for Florida Happens, and I have to do a final pass on another short story. But…the more I have to do, the busier I am, the more I seem to get done. (Which is sort of obvious; if you have less to do, you are obviously not going to do as much as you will when you have more to do. But what I mean is the more I have to do, the less likely I am to procrastinate or put something off because I have plenty of time.) I also want to read aloud the first four chapters of the WIP, and I also need to start copy-editing Jackson Square Jazz.

I have, however, requested off a very long weekend around July 4th; I will be off from the 4th thru the 10th, and that should help immeasurably with everything–especially cleaning the house. In other exciting news, today I found the image I want to use for the cover of “Never Kiss a Stranger,” once it’s finished, edited and ready to be a Kindle single. That’s one of the lovely things about living in New Orleans–it’s very easy  to take a gorgeous photo here.

I did go ahead and reread “Tell Me a Lie” last night.

The music is loud, almost at eardrum-bleeding levels. A thin veil of smoke hovers just above the heads of the people in the bar. A muscle man in a red bikini shakes his ass on the other side of the bar, coaxing dollar bills from the gaggle of older men gathered at his feet. I watch him for a moment. It is truly a wondrous ass, hard and round and perched atop two well defined thick legs. There is a tattoo on his lower back just above the red stretch fabric but in the glow of the black lights I can’t make out what it is. It doesn’t matter. He’s a terrible dancer, probably gay for pay like so many of them are, and who has time for that kind of nonsense? The body is remarkable, but there are a lot of guys in the place just as hot as he is, who won’t require cash up front for a fuck. Maybe I should have just stayed home and gone on-line, I think to myself. I’ve been here for almost an hour and no one’s even looked at me twice.  I look at my watch. Another half hour and I’m out of here. Home to my empty apartment and the glow of the computer screen as I cruise manhunt.com and hope someone even half-way decent messages me. But I don’t want that again, the wait for them to knock on my door and the enormous disappointment when I see that their picture was at least ten years out of date, or they haven’t been to the gym in a couple of years, or any number of things…that’s why I prefer going to bars to find someone. At least in a bar you can see what you’re getting and you don’t have to experience that awkward moment when they are standing on your doorstep and you have to resist the urge to slam the door in their face, that horrible split second of resignation of a live body’s better than jacking off to porn again.

I sip my beer, and I see a guy walk around the corner. I’ve seen him before, over the years. Desire rises in my heart and groin. I’ve always wanted him, but he was always with a guy who protectively always seemed to stick close to him—or been part of a group with no apparent interest in hooking up with anyone. He’s beautiful. He’s about six foot tall or thereabouts, with dark hair he cuts short and hides beneath a baseball cap—tonight it’s an LSU cap. He has the thickly muscled body of a football player, and always wears T-shirts and tight jeans. Tonight is no exception. His face is gorgeous, with wide blue eyes and tanned skin—there’s probably some Cajun in his background. I’ve cruised the contact sites looking for him before, with no luck. He’s either faceless in his profiles or just not on-line looking for Mr. Right Now.  I watch as he walks up to the bar directly across from me, ignoring the stripper gyrating near where is standing.

Our eyes meet, and he smiles at me. He has a beautiful smile, the kind I’d like to see in the morning when I wake him with a kiss on the neck.

It’s been a long time since I went into a gay bar, to drink and relax and have fun; even longer since I went into a gay bar looking to get laid with either someone I’d slept with before or someone new. That part of my life, and that lifestyle, is so far off my radar now that it never even crosses my mind to think about going out clubbing. I am fifty-six, soon to be fifty-seven, and while I  certainly don’t want to age myself or think of myself as old…I do feel that I’ve sort of grown out of that now.  I don’t think of it as being sad; I’m not sad about it. I certainly spent my fair share of time in gay bars.

When I talk about stories I’ve written and published, it’s not always easy for me to remember where the idea came from; in this case, I don’t even remember where the story was originally published, but I know I wrote it for an anthology; whether it was for one of mine or someone else’s, I do not recall. But rereading this one…I actually remembered the original idea; I was at the Pub one night, standing in a corner drinking a Bud Lite long neck, as I did, in a tank top and jeans. I hadn’t moved to New Orleans yet, nor had I met Paul. I was here for the weekend, visiting, and I ran into someone–someone gorgeous–that I’d slept with on a previous trip. He’d told me his name was something, I don’t remember what–he’d asked me where I was from and I’d said Tampa, so being a tourist I suppose meant giving me a fake name–but someone else I knew was there, and wound up introducing us; which is when I found out he’d given me a fake name. He was terribly embarrassed; I just laughed and said not to worry about it because it really didn’t matter.

On the flight back to Tampa the next morning I wrote a brief description of a story in my journal; about meeting someone and hooking up with someone in a bar who gives you a fake name and you know he’s lying to you but you don’t care. About five years later I started writing the story–the first draft was terrible, and it didn’t work–and then I remembered the story years later for this anthology (I wish I could remember which one) and started over. I tried to capture that prowling, on the hunt feeling you get when you go out looking to get laid, to have fun. I thought I did a pretty good job, frankly.

I actually used to run into that guy a lot after we moved here, and we became friends. He moved away about ten years ago; we always chatted and laughed and hung out for a while when we ran into each other.

I never asked him why he gave me a fake name that first time; I now kind of wish I had.

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Words Get In The Way

My first published fiction was erotica. Porn, if you will, perversion and filth if you won’t.

I always wanted to do an erotica anthology called Filth and Perversions. Alas, the market for print erotica has long since dried up; there’s too much easily accessible and free/low cost visual erotica available these days. It’s a shame–because all notions that erotica writing is all trash is incredibly incorrect; part and parcel of the American puritan ethic about sex and sexuality that is responsible for a lot of things wrong in this country today, frankly.

Or maybe I’ll just call my memoirs Filth and Perversions. It’s too good of a title not to use, you know?

But I often credit writing erotica with helping me understand how to write short stories better. Erotic stories are the ultimate definition of a story: beginning/middle/end; characters meet/have sex/resolution; writing erotica essentially taught me/help me understand story structure, which for some reason I just couldn’t get through my head before.

As I mentioned in my afterward to Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, there’s not much of a market for short stories with gay characters. In fact, the only way to get gay-themed short stories published was the write erotica.

So, I basically would write a story and then figure out how to add a sex scene to it so it could get published.

That’s not to say, of course, that some of the stories weren’t simply about the sex; but I wanted them to be about more than just random gay guy meets other random gay guy, they have sex, and each goes on his merry way.

The title story of my collection, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, is about going back to your high school reunion and running into someone you had a mad crush on when you were a closeted, bullied gay teen.

There’s nothing quite like the smell of a cornfield after a heavy rain.

I’d forgotten that in the twenty five years since I’d left Kansas and never looked back. Off in the east I could see the black clouds and the mist that hung from them to the ground, blurring everything beyond it. I’d forgotten that the sky in Kansas surrounds you and goes on forever, so that you could see the weather coming and the weather that was just there. There were no clouds overhead now, just sky that was something between azure and robin’s egg, reaching down into the wet corn. The pavement of the county road beneath the tires of my rented red Mustang convertible was wet and splashing every once in a while, the water being thrown up making a slight slapping sound against the rubber. Twenty five years. What else had I forgotten?

As I turned off onto the Allen road, I slid Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours into the CD player and turned it up. This was the way  used to drive to school when Mom let me have the car or one of my friends picked me up and I didn’t have to ride the bus. It was a CD now rather than a scratchy 8 track player, and the sound quality was much better, but it was still the same. I smiled to myself as I saw my old green Chevrolet Bel Air with holes rusted in the sides running up the Allen Road, the old muffler pipe hanging too low from the back end. All the windows would be open to catch the breeze and eliminate the smell of the cigarette dangling from my lip. Stevie would be wailing about the thunder, and the rain washing you clean, and you’ll know. I would be singing along at the top of my lungs, thumping my hand on the steering wheel with the bass line.

No, it didn’t look too different, I thought as the Mustang sped along. The same fields, the same houses, the same barns. Every once in a while there’d be a clearing in the corn and a brick house I didn’t remember would appear, laundry flapping in the sweet after rain air on a clothesline, a couple of cars in the unpaved drive. I crossed the Cottonwood River bridge, and saw a house coming up on the right. The Gosses used to live there, I thought as I drove by. Mrs. Goss was the school secretary, and Sue her spoiled only child. I couldn’t remember what Mr. Goss did for a living, but I remember Sue had her own custom Mustang when we were in school, and she always dressed nice. Sue was cute, in a little girlish kind of way, and a lot of the guys thought she was sexy. I thought she was funny. She made me laugh. She also didn’t strike me as the type who’d marry any of the boys in our school. Sue would, I thought even then, marry money.

The mailbox still said GOSS. I guessed the Gosses would probably be in their seventies by now, and why wouldn’t they still be there? Sue was undoubtedly long gone, came home a couple of times with her kids to see them a year, every once in a while they’d get into their Buick and go see her.

Hmmm. A lot of this is drawn from my own experience, obviously, being a closeted bullied gay teen in a Kansas high school–and the Allen road was one of the ways to get to my high school from the town I lived in, but I’ve never been to one of my reunions so that is all fictional.

This story was actually triggered by getting an invitation to attend my twenty-five year reunion, and that got me started thinking about what it would be like to go back. I’ve written a lot of fiction about Kansas (mostly unpublished, with Sara the noticeable exception. The WIP, by the way, is set in Kansas, and I have an idea for another Kansas novel called Kansas Lonesome that I hope to get to next year).

The next story in the collection,  “Tell Me a Lie,” was written for an anthology but I can’t remember which one, but it was one I didn’t edit. It was specifically about going out looking for sex, cruising a gay bar looking for your trick of the evening, and not really caring about who that person is…it’s kind of a cynical story, in some ways, now that I think about it; cynical and sad, about wanting a physical connection with someone out of need, but wanting nothing more.

Hmm, I should read that again.

And now back to the spice mines.

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I Can’t Wait

So, yesterday I signed the contract to publish my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, with Bold Strokes Books for an April 2019 release date–which means it should be available at Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in late March.

I am inordinately excited about this, you have no idea, Constant Reader! It’s the first book contract I’ve signed since 2015, for one thing–everything came out in 2016 or early 2017, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute–but I am also excited because it’s a short story collection and it isn’t erotica.

In 2004 Starbooks collected my wrestling stories into a short-lived collection called Wanna Wrestle?, that went out of print very quickly for various reasons, none of which had to do with actual sales; it’s a rarity and few copies exist out there in the wild. Bold Strokes also did a collection of my Todd Gregory erotic stories, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, a few years back as well. But I’ve always wanted to do a collection of non-erotic short stories, but never thought I would ever have enough stories, enough material, to actually do so.

But I also had no way of knowing I would also lapse into a short story writing mania the way I have  this year. I mean, I can’t believe how much short story writing I’ve been doing this year.

But, also in fairness, only four of the stories in this collection are new.

Here’s the table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt (originally published in Blood on the Bayou, which won the Anthony Award for Best Anthony and the story was nominated for a Macavity Award)

The Email Always Pings Twice (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Keeper of the Flame (originally published in Mystery Week magazine)

A Streetcar Named Death (originally published in the anthology I Never Thought I’d See You Again, edited by Lou Aronica)

An Arrow for Sebastian (originally published in the anthology Cast of Characters, edited by Lou Aronica)

Housecleaning (originally published in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley)

Acts of Contrition (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle (originally published in Men of the Mean Streets, co-edited by me and J. M. Redmann)

Cold Beer No Flies (originally published in Florida Happens, coming in September)

Annunciation Shotgun (originally published in New Orleans Noir)

Quiet Desperation (originally published as a Kindle single)

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

Smalltown Boy (originally published in Rebel Yell 2, edited by Jay Quinn)

So, only four of the stories, (five, if you count “Quiet Desperation,” which was a Kindle single) are original. And technically, “Cold Beer No Flies” is a new story; but by the time the collection comes out next year Florida Happens will also be out, rendering it no longer a new story.

But even more exciting? “My Brother’s Keeper” is the first Chanse MacLeod short story ever, and now that I’ve written one, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve already started another, “Once a Tiger,” and who knows? Maybe I will write more. I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but short stories? Why not? Writing private eye short stories is challenging; more of a challenge than just the usual crime story I write, and so I see writing more private eye stories as an opportunity to grow further as a writer, and get better at what I actually do.

The great irony is that my short story writing mania of this year actually has provided me with almost enough stories for a second collection, all unpublished stories, and I have about another dozen or so in some form or stage of being written. Freaking crazy.

Oh, and you know that messy Chapter Fourteen of the Scotty book? Was so fucking easy to fix it’s not even fucking funny. It literally required the deletion of about 200 words and the addition of 120 or so back, and it’s fucking fixed. Blam. Problem solved; the same problem I might add, I’ve been avoiding for like  three weeks.

Because, you know, avoidance. My go-to.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Here’s the opening paragraph of “Don’t Look Down,” aka the Italy story:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel. 

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