I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Tennessee

Wednesday and halfway through another week. I am almost finished with the revision of Chapter Three, and am hoping to power through it and Chapter Four today, with a side helping of Chapter Five and Six tomorrow; at this rate–should it persist–I will finish the revision in about three weeks.

I suspect, however, that will not turn out to be the case.

Look!  A squirrel!

Not having to be at the office early today feels really strange; like should be there already and I am somehow loafing around this morning. I only have a partial day tomorrow, so I am going to try to get the weekend errands done before heading into the office tomorrow so this weekend I can simply focusing on writing and editing and revising.

It sounds good in theory, at any rate. In a worst case scenario, I am hoping to finish reading Circe this weekend at the very least. And maybe even work a little bit on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” which is turning into a novella. Which is fine; it’s too much story for a short story and not enough story for a novel; so I guess I am going to just somehow manage to turn it into a novella and sell it myself on Amazon, which I of course did with “Quiet Desperation.” I got rejected from a major market yesterday, which I was expecting, and I have to say–some of the major markets have the most kind form rejection letters.  I like to think that the kinder rejection form letter means my story was actually seriously read and considered before they decided against it; that helps lessen the sting. Since it was done through Submittable, they easily could have simply let the rejected label let me know, but they had the decency to email me as well; which I greatly appreciated.

A rejection used to always send me into a tizzy or downward spiral; but I also am very well aware that I am not the greatest short story writer out there–and there are a lot of terrific short story writers out there–and I am not really sure what I need to learn/experience/know to take me to a higher level as a short story writer. I am pretty much flying blind with them, to be honest; and sometimes I do manage to get it right. I know my subject matter can be a bit disconcerting; the story that was rejected was about someone raised in a cult who escaped from it and has built a life for himself outside of it…only to have paranoia set in when he thinks he recognizes someone from the cult at the grocery store. I think it’s a good story and I did a good job with it; but trying to find a market for it with a gay main character…well, you never can be completely sure that didn’t play a part in it being rejected, to be honest.

You see, there’s the thing when you’re a writer from a marginalized group, the thing the straight cisgender white writers never quite get when we talk about own voices and diversity; we never are sure if our work just wasn’t good enough for the particular market (or publisher) and we need to work harder, or if the marginalized voice/character automatically disqualifies the work. And for the record, that doesn’t even mean bigotry on the part of anyone reading the work to decide whether to publish it or not. Inherent bias can be so systemic and subconscious that perfectly lovely people who don’t think they have a bias at all actually do but are completely unaware of it; which is why the conversation always makes them uncomfortable.

All marginalized voices are asking is that our work be judged on its merits and values. This business is hard and crazy enough without having to always have that awful voice whispering in the back of your mind it’s because you wrote about a gay man/Latina woman/black man/transwoman.

All due respect, straight white cisgender writers don’t have those concerns. (Although it can be very strongly argued that straight white cisgender women also are in that same boat.)

And now, back to the spice mines.

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These Dreams

Wednesday. Ordinarily this would be the halfway point of my week, but alas, I am working Saturday (whine whine whine) so I have a six-day work week. Okay, I do have this coming Monday off, so it’s not that horrible, and that makes the next week only a four day week. YAY.

I started writing a new story this week–yeah, I know–but I was asked to write a story and I was thinking about it and I had an idea of how to start it so I wrote it down and then the next thing you know there I am, writing a story that I really shouldn’t be taking the time to write right now. It’s called “The Feast of St. Expedite,” which might be a temporary title, but it’s one I really like and have been wanting to use for some time now. It’s supposed to be a pulp story with some sort of supernatural or occult or paranormal element to it. I kind of like the idea of what I’m doing–hence the working on it when I should be doing something else–but it’s very tough so far. What I’m trying to do is take the typical, usual trope of the tough guy narrator from pulp fiction, and make him gay. (How original, I know, but I think it’s an interesting challenge.) I like this new character so much I may even spin him into a book or a new series or something.

We shall see.

I also worked on “Never Kiss a Stranger” yesterday, which is starting to coalesce. It’s a longer story, like “Quiet Desperation” or “Don’t Look Down,” which on the one hand is fun–it’s kind of fun to write a short story without worrying about length–but on the other hand, I worry that I am including too much in the story. Meh, get over yourself, Greg, and stop doubting yourself already. Sheesh.

Write the story you want to write.

I do think it’s a good story; I think I’m going to, when it’s ready, make it a Kindle single.

I really like this Kindle single thing.

I also watched two other movies this past weekend: Angel Heart and The Covenant. I’d seen Angel Heart back when it was in the theater and not seen; I have, in recent years, read the Edgar Award winning book it was based on and loved it. As I watched Angel Heart–which holds up remarkably well, although it’s terribly sad to see how naturally attractive Mickey Rourke was in his youth; and his performance was fantastic–I wondered, as I did when I read the book, why the story was moved from New York to New Orleans. The book is all New York; and I suppose they wanted  to use the gorgeous locations of New Orleans, plus there was all that supernatural/devil worshipping thing…so I guess they just thought ah, New Orleans is perfect for this. And I did kind of smile at the magical geography the city had in the film. But the city–and Louisiana in general–looked fantastic and beautiful, and I also remembered that seeing this film, along with The Big Easy, rekindled my interest in New Orleans…so it was another link in the chain that brought me to live here.

I’ll save The Covenant for another time; it certainly is deserving of an entry of its own.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Material Girl

As I continue to readjust back to what passes for normal in my life–I still feel disoriented, not knowing what day it is–but I am pleased to announce that my short story, “Quiet Desperation”, is up on Amazon and for a limited period of time, you can get it for a mere ninety-nine cents. You can’t get anything at Starbucks for that amount of money, and just to get you a little bit more excited, here’s a bit of a glimpse at the story:

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The fishing camps on Lake Catherine were deserted. I’d hoped they would be. That was why I was driving my three-year-old Honda C-RV east along Chef Menteur Highway at almost three o’clock in the morning. This old highway wasn’t used much since I-10 was built less than a mile to the west. I could see the twin spins out the driver’s window, the lights of cars and trucks heading to the north shore glowing light lightning bugs in the darkness. When I was finished, I’d head north across the Rigolets bridge and catch I-10 west back into New Orleans without being seen out here.

That was the plan, at any rate.

I pulled over onto the shoulder opposite Lake Catherine just before the road curved slightly to the left. Two fishing camps about two hundred yards ahead of me sat dark and silent on their stilts on the lake. I turned off the headlights and killed the engine. Bayou de Lesaire was just on the other side of the underbrush. I didn’t know if there were alligators in Bayou de Lesaire. It would be great if there were, but it wasn’t important. It wouldn’t be optimal if someone found the body in a few hours, but even so, I figured I’d still have a day or two.

And then I would be home free.

I clicked the key fob to unlock the hatch.

“You just couldn’t leave it alone, could you?” I said to the rolled-up rug as I started pulling it out.  “You couldn’t just take no for an answer.”

Don’t you want to know what happens next?

Of course you do!

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We Don’t Need Another Hero

Monday morning; the typical post-Festival weekend exhaustion. I am so tired this morning, but what a lovely weekend of talking to people and reconnecting with friends and listening to smart people talk. It’s so wonderful to get to listen to smart people talk about books, especially, and politics and being queer and writing. The weekend was a whirlwind, and not being as young as I used to be, I am more tired and drained than I used to be afterwards. But it was a glorious experience, as always, I have some new books to read and new writers to read and my mind is all a-whirl this morning; too many thoughts to really put into words this morning. I definitely am inspired to write again, which, having rediscovered how much I actually love to do it, is wonderful.

I am still waiting for all the Amazon updating to take place on my new story, “Quiet Desperation”, my first-ever ebook single, or Kindle Short, or whatever the hell it’s called; I am very excited about this as a way to get my short stories out there from now on. Will anyone buy or read them? Maybe not, but at least I know that if people want to, they can. I know there are a lot of issues–and legitimate ones–that people have with Amazon, but if Amazon is making it possible for writers to make even a little bit of money for short stories, maybe it’s possible for Amazon to revive the form and more people will write them. My appreciation for the short story has obviously grown exponentially with the Short Story Project this year, and all the short story writing I’ve actually been doing. I really am pleased with “Quiet Desperation” and how it turned out; as I said yesterday, I read a piece of it on Saturday to the audience and everyone seemed to like it, and formatter extraordinaire Erin Mitchell also seemed to like it. It’s not for everyone, of course; nothing is, and of course I am not thinking oh I am going to sell thousands of copies of this. I’m not crazy, even if I am a dreamer; I’m a little too pragmatic to think that way. But…it’s always fun to try something new, and now that I am writing again, it’s also time to think about the business side of things as well.

But today is about getting over the weekend, and recovering, and getting mu equilibrium back. I don’t remember what I was working on before the weekend started–I know I revised some short stories last week; not really sure which ones, and I think I am going to start finalizing that short story collection and get back to working on Scotty again. I am going to have to go over what’s already written and done on it because I can’t remember where I was and what was happening and where it was going because I’ve been away from it for so long, but I want to get this all under control and harness all this writing energy I have again and put it to good use.

And on that note I am going back to the spice mines.

 

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Obsession

I’ve slept well this entire weekend, which is mostly unusual, but lovely. I generally don’t sleep well during conference/festival weekends; and yet here I am. I’ll be walking down to the Quarter later for my genre panel at Saints and Sinners; then watching some other panels before the closing. It’s always so lovely listening to smart people talk. Yesterday’s highlights, for me, were the Baby Boomer Lesbians panel with Judith Katz, Jewelle Gomez, and Elana Dykewomon; listening to the wisdom of our lesbian elders is absolutely wonderful. This was followed by a great panel on LGBTQ rights, the movement for equality and where we currently stand; it was invigorating, and reminded me that we, as writers, whether we want to or not, do have responsibilities to our community and society. We as queer writers have a particular responsibility; we tend to forget that everything we write, by virtue of who we are as a marginalized people the mainstream tends to try to make invisible, is ultimately political.

I also read from “Quiet Desperation” yesterday; merely a fragment, no more than a few minutes, but the audience reacted perfectly to it, which pleases me to no end. I am very pleased with this story, and can’t wait to make everyone fully aware of it as soon as the revised file is available.

I’m starting to feel excited about writing again; looking forward to the challenges of finishing novels, writing short stories, doing edits, getting shit done, you know? It’s lovely; I can’t tell you how much better I feel and how incredibly awesome this year has been so far already. Self-care is optimal, and I need to remember that; I also need to remember that when it becomes a slog…that talking to other writers about writing is always the tonic that works. Probably in the future I should look into writing events and schedule attendance at one every quarter, so I get my reinvigoration on a regular basis.

All right, I am going to get some things done around here before it’s time to head down to the Quarter.

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If You Love Somebody Set Them Free

I have to panel today and tomorrow at Saints and Sinners; one is a genre panel and the other is an on-stage interview with Jewelle Gomez; we are being interviewed by Eric Andrews-Katz. I can’t seem to get it into my head which is which day; old age is not pretty for anyone. The irony is the primary topic has to do with being prolific and/or maintaining a career over a long period of time; considering I haven’t published a novel under my own name since 2016 and the last Todd Gregory was January last year (I think), it seems kind of weird to be talking about being prolific. But I suppose all the stuff I’ve published since 2002 kind of makes up for the last year or so of slacking off.

I guess I can talk about how I used to be prolific.

I’m also supposed to read from my work. Sigh. Not sure what I’m going to read. I can always fall back on Timothy, I suppose; that always goes over pretty well. Or I could read from this story that is eventually going to be available on Kindle as an ebook. (It IS up, but I keep finding mistakes, and having to upload a corrected file; and I am not going to try to start selling it until I have it right. My fabulous friend Erin also put together a better cover for me AND made sure the formatting and everything was done in a new file, but since I had already corrected something on the page–adding a tag line about A new story of suspense from award-winning author Greg Herren–I have to wait until the page corrects before I can put the new file up AND the new cover; and trust me, the next time I do this I am going to make sure I do everything right the first fucking time.)

I have downloaded a copy of the story from Kindle, so I do have an electronic file, so I could just read from my iPad, I suppose. And since I’ve read it out loud a few times already the last few days in order to catch mistakes…I’ve kind of practiced. It’s a thought.

Heavy sigh.

I’ve also been playing around with the short story collection. I realized I was including stories in it that are out for submission, operating on the assumption that if my publisher wants it, it wouldn’t come out until sometime next year, so the stories would either have been accepted or rejected by then; but by including them in the collection I was assuming they would be rejected, and why would I put that kind of energy out into the universe? I know one is going to be used; I’ve already gotten corrections from the editor of the anthology, but the others–well, it will be a while before I hear back from them; and one is notorious for how long it takes to respond; they still have a story I submitted last summer so still keeping my fingers crossed on that one. But again, gay characters in this one, so the odds against me are even stronger than they were for the other story.

It’s funny, but I am so damned stubborn, you know? Twenty-odd years ago when I decided to finally make my dream a reality and started taking writing seriously, I deliberately chose to write about gay characters and gay themes and tell our stories. I knew it was going to limit my success; making them crime novels limited the success still further. I said the other day I never tried writing crime short stories for the longest time because I knew gay crime stories wouldn’t get published in the limited markets for crime stories, and the limited markets for gay fiction wouldn’t publish crime stories. “Annunciation Shotgun” was the first time I wrote a crime story with gay characters, but I also knew it was going to be published; New Orleans Noir’s editor had requested the story, and had requested specifically I write about a gay character. And now that I’m going through this burst of writing short stories, some of these could have been about straight people, sure…but in some instances the story requires the characters to be gay. “The Weight of a Feather,” which I just revised this week, was written years ago for the MWA Ice Cold anthology; stories about the Cold War. It didn’t get used, and I recently took the plunge and sent it somewhere else. It was rejected, but not because of the characters; the story moved too slow, and I immediately saw the value of that critique from the editor, which I used in the revision. (I had always seen, stubbornly, the opening of the story being the image of a man, in winter, in a trenchcoat, standing on a bridge over a creek as snow starts to fall; then he throws a gun into the water and as he walks back home, the story is told in a sort of flashback. I now have rewritten the story to open with the actual commission of the crime, the middle with him walking tells the why; and I am probably just going to use it for the collection. I fucking love that title, too; it comes from the Egyptian Book of the Dead; the goddess Ma’at weighed the heart of the dead against the weight of the feather of truth to determine whether the soul was admitted to the afterlife; my story basically illustrates a situation where, despite the crime, I’d be curious to see how the scales of Ma’at would balance….)

Need to get ready. Later!

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