Well, yesterday was actually quite lovely. I slept extremely well Thursday night and of course, the Anthony Award nominations turned my week around when the news broke that night (I still can’t believe Bury Me in Shadows is nominated TWICE), and I did spend a lot of yesterday trying to thank everyone for their congratulatory tweets, posts, comments and emails–I can’t think of anything lovelier than having to say thank you to people for their kindness–AND then Netflix renewed Heartstopper for an additional two seasons, which warmed the cockles of my cold, dark little heart. I wasn’t able to get as much done as I would have liked–but I did get some important thinking done, and today I am really going to start working on my edits. When I got home from work yesterday I did a lot of cleaning and organizing in order to get it out of the way before the weekend, precisely so I could focus on my edits. We spent the evening, once I’d made dinner (Swedish meatballs over egg noodles, if you were wondering) watching this week’s Under the Banner of Heaven and then one of the two new episodes of Hacks before we turned in early for the evening. I slept marvelously again last night, and feel very rested and a-rarin’ to go this morning. I do have some errands to run–nothing major that will take me away for long; I need to get the mail and put gas in the car–and then I can settle in for a day of editing and writing, which I am strangely looking forward to doing.
It was a rollercoaster of a week, ending withe incredibly pleasant high of having two Anthony Award nominations for the same book–still having trouble wrapping my mind around this, to be honest; I don’t know if it’s ever happened before–but I am not the only person with more than one nomination. Tracy Clark is nominated for Best Novel for Runner and for Best Short Story; S. A. Cosby is nominated for Best Novel (Razorblade Tears), Best Short Story, and Best Anthology for Under the Thumb. I feel confident no one’s ever been nominated for three Anthonys in the same year, as well; Shawn just keeps breaking down barriers with his extraordinary work. The nominations list is also one of the most diverse I’ve seen in all my years in this business, which certainly also bears remarking on.
As always, I still have a ridiculous amount of work to get done; but now that I am all rested this morning and feeling great about things, I am not so worried or stressed about it as I was yesterday or earlier in the week (being tired is so unpleasant, and just opens to the door to stress and anxiety and depression); we will see, of course, how long that will last very shortly, won’t we? I have hopes–although I know going out into the blisteringly hot and humid day to run errands will suck the energy right out of me, sending me quite literally to my easy chair; but I can work in the easy chair–if I make myself do it, which I feel like I can do today. I don’t think I am going to make the deadline for that short story–its fine, really; I was thinking about it last night and realized working on it has been a way of pushing off getting the edits on my book finished because I just can’t face working on it again, but I am over it already. I still don’t know the middle of the story, and I can always finish it some other time and get it done and try to sell it somewhere. It’s a pretty good story–I just need to figure out the middle of it.
Sigh. I hate the middle.
But looking around the desk this morning, there’s things I need to put away and filing that needs to be done; I also got down my Scotty books (with the pages marked with sticky notes for each character’s history and background; this was the initial step to creating a Scotty Bible to make continuity easier for me) and have them stacked neatly on the right corner of the desk underneath some others I’ll be using for Chlorine research (should I ever get around to that, I am beginning to sense the slippage of time through my hot little fingers). This is always the first step of writing a Scotty book; gathering the copies of the old for references. I have the prologue-opening spoof of a more famous book’s opening selected and even written somewhat (A START!) and I am doing some research–I am going to pay homage with the book to two Nancy Drew mysteries (The Ghost of Blackwood Hall and The Haunted Showboat) in this plot/story, so I actually had to sit down and reread both books (another blog post there, but you’ll have to be patient, Constant Reader) this past week–more of a skim, really; just to get some feel for them again since I didn’t really remember as much of them as I would have liked–and yes, I have thoughts (hence the blog post which I’ve already started).
But as I said, I have edits to dig into today, and some filing to do before I run the errands, so it’s perhaps best that I bring this to a close this morning and head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader, and I will chat with you again tomorrow morning.
And so we have reached the last day of 2021 at last (it’s still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that it has been 2021 for a year; 2022 is going to seem even stranger, methinks). I’m on a holiday, so there’s no work for the day-job to be done today, but there’s plenty of other things that need to be done. I need to work on the book some more, I need to clean, I need to run some errands, and I’d also like to do some reading. It’s a lot, I know, and who knows how much I can or will actually get done around here? Yesterday I did data entry, made condom packs and rewatched the original Clash of the Titans (starring a very young Harry Hamlin and his nipples; seeing this in the theater made me a Harry Hamlin fan for life) while I did so. I also was able to pick up two boxes of home COVID-19 tests (the day-job procured you them for the staff as a preventive measure, which are apparently like gold these days.
It was a very challenging year in many ways. I suspect that if I looked back at a list of my goals for the year, two of the most key things–getting an agent and finishing Chlorine–would not be able to be checked off the list. My faulty memory–I keep, for one thing, conflating the last two years as one and the same mentally–has something to do with it. I know I wanted to write more short stories in 2021, and I don’t know that I succeeded at that. I know I had a couple of stories of which I am very proud come out this past year (my first ever attempt at writing a Sherlock Holmes story for one), and of course I finished writing two books while trying to finish yet a third under contract, and trying to get Chlorine done.
I always feel sort of weird at the end of the year when I compile my favorite things (books, movies, television) because I never limit myself to things that were new to the year, but rather new to me during the year; I am always so woefully behind on everything I read and watch that it doesn’t seem fair to leave off things that didn’t debut in 2021. Besides, it’s always kind of fun, I think, to remind people of things they themselves might have missed and forgotten about. But when I started thinking about all the books I read this past year, I would have sworn that I hadn’t read this much, or that I couldn’t have possibly read this many books–and I know I am also forgetting some, and these are the ones that stand out enough to be remembered. My favorite reads of the year were, in no particular order, The Turnout by Megan Abbott; The Collective by Alison Gaylin; Dream Girl by Laura Lippman; The Gift of the Magpie by Donna Andrews (I read three or four Andrews novels this past year, and loved them all, frankly); Velvet was the Night by Silvia Moreno-Garcia; Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier; Razorblade Tears by S. A. Cosby; A Beautiful Crime by Christopher YBollen; Yes Daddy by Jonathan Page-Ramage; The Other Black Girl by Zakiya Dalila Harris; These Toxic Things by Rachel Howzell Hall; Invisible City by Julia Dahl; and By Way of Sorrow by Robyn Gigl. I also read a lot more cozies than I generally do, which were quite fun–I highly recommend checking out Leslie Budewitz, Vivien Chien, Sherry Harris, Ali Brandon, Miranda Harris, and Carolyn Haines, among many others–my TBR pile is nothing if not a treasure trove of terrific reading–and I am hoping to get even more reading done in the new year as well.
As for movies, I also watched a lot of movies. I saw a lot of classic cinema of the past I’d never seen before–my Cynical 70’s Film Festival had some marvelous entries this past year–as well as revisited some favorites. I greatly enjoyed Dune, which I thought was incredibly well done, and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings was a great super-hero film, with just the right amount of spectacle, humor, and humanity to ground it in enough reality that an audience could relate to it. I don’t remember any other new films that we saw in this past year, but I am sure there were some–the direct-to-streaming/limited theatrical release model for the pandemic ensured that I saw some things much sooner than I probably would have otherwise–but give me a break, I am still on my first cup of coffee after a lovely and deep night’s sleep.
Television again is something a bit blurry for me; the lines between 2020 and 2021 also blurring a bit here. I know we loved Mare of Easttown, Ted Lasso (a true gem of a show), The Mandalorian, Elité, Superman and Lois (probably the best version of Superman since the first two Christopher Reeve films), the original Gossip Girl (which is winding down now with a last season that is rather disappointing, alas), Hacks,One of Us is Lying, Cruel Summer, and Only Murders in the Building, which was also a jewel. But maybe my favorite show of the year was HBO’s It’s a Sin, which was not only well done, but powerful and thought-provoking. I had debated whether I wanted to see it or not; entertainment about HIV/AIDS, particularly about the height of the plague, has never sat well with me–either pandering nonsense or heavy-handed. The gold standard for me has always been Longtime Companion, but after watching I had to say It’s a Sin belongs up there. It was hard to watch at times–and I realized that the reason was the characters were all the same age that I was when it all started, which was a big part of it–but it also made me acknowledge and understand any number of things about myself and my past; namely that I had never grieved, just going numb at one point and deciding to keep moving forward and not think about anything. Watching the show brought back a lot of memories which, while painful at times, was necessary and needed.
I also spent time writing and working on two novellas, “Festival of the Redeemer” and “Never Kiss a Stranger”; one thing I really want to be able to do in the new year is get the novella collection together as well as another collection of short stories. Lots of plans for the new year, including a new Scotty novel I’ve been itching to get to, and another stand alone, in addition to Chlorine. I was able to visit my parents twice this past year, and I was also about to make it to New York and then Boston for Crime Bake, which was simply marvelous. I have lots of travel plans for the new year that I am hoping new pandemic variants aren’t going to jettison–I really do want to be around writers again, seriously–and over all, the year wasn’t as terrible as it easily could have been (2022, do not take this as a challenge). I got a new computer, paid off a lot of debt, and over all, I have to say, all things considered, 2021 wasn’t altogether terrible. I wish I had been more productive, but I also wish that every year.
And on that note, this next chapter isn’t going to write itself, is it? Have a lovely New Year’s Eve, Constant Reader, and I’ll talk to you next year!
One of the things I’ve greatly enjoyed over the last few years has been the sea change in how publishing views works by non-white and non-straight authors; the push for more diverse voices in the publishing community has already borne wonderful fruit. I’ve been saying for years that the world of crime fiction was in danger of getting stale again, much as it did in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s; particularly the private eye novel. The arrival of Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, and Marcia Muller on the scene shook things up and shook things out; the private eye novel got a much-needed shot in the arm of adrenaline with these three women and the others their work inspired; I strongly believe the move toward diversity is going to bear fruit in much the same manner–and it already has, frankly; the works of diverse writers like S. A. Cosby, Kellye Garrett, Rachel Howzell Hall, Alex Segura, Tracy Clark, Cheryl Head, and so many others have joined the great pioneers like Walter Mosley and the wonderful Barbara Neely to open up new perspectives on crime and crime fiction; our society and world; and again, this was desperately needed–and is necessary every so often, for our genre to refresh and expand and become more inclusive. We’re also seeing more queer books being sent out into the world from the big houses in New York, which is also incredibly exciting (another shout out to Yes Daddy By Jonathan Parks-Ramage and A Beautiful Crime by Christopher Bollen).
It’s a very exciting time to be a fan of crime fiction.
Noir has always been one of my favorite sub-genres of crime fiction, and I always enjoy reading modern takes on it. I want to write more noir, quite frankly; Chlorine would be the first of at least four I want to write, if not more (for now, I have ideas for four of them, with Chlorine being the most full formed). I always enjoy modern takes on noir–Laura Lippman’s Sunburn was quite marvelous, as was Christa Faust’s Money Shot and Choke Hold)–and of course, S. A. Cosby is a master of rural Southern noir; both Blacktop Wasteland and Razorblade Tears are destined to be considered classics, I think.
So, I was very curious to read Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on modern noir, Velvet Was the Night. It took me a very long time to finish–which is not indicative of the quality of the book, I hasten to add–because after I read so much during the post-Ida power outage, I kind of broke my brain and thus haven’t been able to really focus as much on reading as I would like; yesterday after the LSU game I sat down and finished it with Georgia-Kentucky on as background noise.
And what a fun ride it was.
He didn’t like beating people.
El Elvis realized this was ironic considering his line of work. Imagine that: a thug who wanted to hold his punches. Then again, life is full of such ironies. Consider Ritchie Valens, who was afraid of flying and died the first time he set foot on an airplane. Damn shame that, and the other dudes who died, Buddy Holly and “The Big Bopper” Richardson; they weren’t half bad either. Or there was that playwright Aeschylus. He was afraid of being killed inside his house, and then he steps outside and wham, an eagle tosses a tortoise at him, cracking his head open. Murdered, right there in the stupidest possible way.
Often life doesn’t make sense, and if Elvis had a motto it was that: life’s a mess.That’s probably why he loved music and factoids. They helped him construct a more organized world. When he wasn’t listening to his records, he was poring over the dictionary, trying to memorize a new word, or plowing through one of those almanacs full of stats.
No, sir. Elvis wasn’t like some of the perverts he worked with, who got excited smashing a dude’s kidneys. He would have been happy solving crosswords and sipping coffee like their boss, El Mago, and maybe one day he would be an accomplished man of that sort, but for now there was work to be done, and this time Elvis was actually eager to beat a few motherfuckers up.
He hadn’t developed a sudden taste for blood and cracking bones, no, but El Güero had been at him again.
The recent rise of Silvia Moreno-Garcia has been meteoric, although I am sure to her it has seemed anything but. I read her terrific vampire novel, Certain Dark Things, a while back, loved it, and have been following her career ever since as she has turned out novels at a terrific rate–Gods of Jade and Shadow, Untamed Shore, Mexican Gothic–all of which have been critically acclaimed and sold very well; I love that she bounces from genre to genre–horror to fantasy to crime; even bouncing around in the sub-categories of the crime genre. This is only my second read of her work–I have them all, of course–and had been meaning to get around to her take on noir with a Mexican flourish for quite some time. (I am really sorry I broke my brain with all the reading I did after the power went out; I greatly enjoyed this book, but it was so hard for me to focus for some reason…but am glad I sat down yesterday with the book, determined to finish it at last.)
One of the things that strikes me about Moreno-Garcia’s work is that I am seeing Mexico, a place I greatly love, through a fresh new perspective; like all Yanquis, I always view Mexico through the prism of a tourist. I’ve always wanted to write about Mexico, and have several short stories in the files that are set there (I did write one erotica story as Todd Gregory set in Acapulco; from the perspective of a tourist, of course: “Oh, What A Friend I Have in Jesus”)…but reading Moreno-Garcia makes me aware of how scant my knowledge of our Southern neighbor is–all of the counties south of the Rio Grande, frankly–which is a stinging indictment of our education system. (Don’t even get me started on the concept of Latin America vs. “America”) I know very little of Mexican history after the Spanish conquest, other than the Mexican War and the French empire set up under a Hapsburg by Napoleon III during our civil war. I know very little history of any of the countries that make up the rest of the American continents, really–and isn’t that more than a little bit disgraceful? I also know very little about their cultures, their politics, and what goes on there; a quick glance through the news also will show very little information or news being reported about those non-United States/Canada American countries, which is really a shame.
Velvet Was the Night is set un 1971, a particularly politically rife period in Mexico. The US was terribly concerned about communism being spread by the Soviets in what has always been considered the American soft underbelly–I mean, look at our reaction to Cuba–and there’s no question that CIA operatives and money were working to subvert Communism while supporting borderline Fascist governments because that was preferable to Washington than another potential Soviet satellite state in our hemisphere. The vast paranoia of that time–which really lasted from 1945-1990, really–cannot be underestimated or understated. By rooting her story in actual events of 1971–the crackdown of the Mexican government on dissidents–Moreno-Garcia slyly gives us a taste of how American foreign policy of the time affected everyone in Mexico, as well as a history lesson. (One of the great modern deceptions of our society is this idea that we always act benevolently as a nation; we’re doing this for your own good.) The book has two point of view characters; one, depicted in the opening above, is “Elvis”, a very young man who works as a thug, basically, for an oppressive group of anti-Communists that try to infiltrate dissident groups and haunt protests in order to make them turn violent, so the military can intervene on behalf of the “people.” Elvis grew up very poor and sometimes imagines what his life would be like if he were able to pursue his primary interests–educating himself and music. He doesn’t know what his future holds but is vaguely aware the path he is on–violence and more violence–will not end well. Over the course of the book he begins to question the values he’s been taught to believe in his gang, and begins to aspire to get out of it.
The other main character is Maite, a legal secretary barely getting by on her low salary and barely able to afford food. Her car has been in the shop unclaimed because she cannot afford the mechanics’ bill. She leads a lonely and solitary life, has a very vivid imagination and fantasy world she prefers to inhabit, colored strongly by her love of romance comic books and the music she likes to listen to. Maite’s lovely neighbor, Leonora, asks her to feed her cat while she is away, and when she agreed, Maite unknowingly enters the world of political struggle and upheaval. The riot depicted in the first chapter, that Elvis helps engineer? A friend of Leonora’s has taken pictures that prove that the riot was started by government forces, and those two rolls of film are the McGuffin everyone in the book is after–except poor innocent Maite, who, like any main character in a great Hitchcock film, becomes involved in something life threatening by simply agreeing to feed a neighbor’s cat–something she resents agreeing to do. When Leonora doesn’t come back, Maite starts looking for her–primarily motivated by the fact she can’t afford to keep feeding the car, and Leonora promised her money for feeding it–money she needs to get her car back. Motivated by her own poverty, Maite finds herself getting involved more and more in this clandestine world, and her own life is in danger soon.
The true strength of the book lies in the careful characterizations of both Elvis and Maite; two desperate people trapped by poverty in lives they want to escape, and the parallel journeys they both follow that lead their paths to cross; and the richness of the reality of what life in Mexico City was like during the turbulent time when the book is set. Moreno-Garcia shows us, as she did in Certain Dark Things, what the reality of life is like in one of the world’s largest cities, the reality the tourists rarely, if ever, get a chance to see. And while the hopelessness of both their situations seem unresolvable at times, the pacing is strong and the story construction so tight, and you the readers finds yourself rooting for them both to get out safely.
I really loved this book, and am sorry my inability to focus forced me to take so long to finish reading it. It’s extraordinary, and I recommend it highly.
I slept better last night than Sunday night; being tired was definitely a big help in that regard. It rained a lot yesterday, which is always Kryptonite when I’m tired; rain just makes me want to get under a blanket and go to sleep (there’s nothing better than sleeping while it’s raining, is there?), which also always makes me a bit on the loopy side for the time it’s raining. Being tired I didn’t get as much done when I got home as I had wanted (quelle surprise)but I did get most of the dishes cleaned up and loaded into the dishwasher, and I did get the mail and make groceries on the way home from the office, so that should count for something, right? I also tried to read when I got home, but my mind was too tired to focus, so yes–it was back to Youtube and history videos for me until Paul got home from the gym and I was able to put on Outer Banks, which is not disappointing at all in its second season. I’m a little bit Olympics-ed out; the shitty coverage and commentators from NBC aren’t exactly lighting up the screen with their amazing work, frankly.
I do rather miss the days when ABC Sports actually operated as a news reporting team; actually doing in-depth coverage as opposed to the “entertainment news” style coverage NBC has given us this Olympiad. I’ve never been pleased with Olympic coverage ever since it left ABC, frankly–and even ABC Sports isn’t what it once was when I was a kid watching–which probably all is tied together in the weird shift from actual journalism to journalism as entertainment.
But at least I am feeling pretty good this morning, which hopefully will mean a more productive–and useful feeling–day than yesterday was.
I really need to get back to work on my own stuff. Chapter Four of Chlorine is calling, of course–and I need to do some revisions of short stories, and I also need to get those notes for the Kansas book typed up so I can start working on those for next weekend. I also have to do some writing for my friends’ website, which should have been done over this past weekend, but it was also a low-energy weekend for me and therefore one that I rode out rather than trying to force anything, other than the completion of Chapter Three. I did finish reading Razorblade Tears, which was great, and started The Other Black Girl, also terrific, so the reading life is coming along. The new Stephen King and Megan Abbott novels should also be in my hot little hands today or tomorrow as well, which is absolutely lovely to contemplate (although I am so far behind on my Stephen King reading I despair of ever getting caught up; perhaps I should spend October catching up on King? There’s a thought, isn’t there?).
God, there’s so many good books I need to read! GAH! (And this is why I end up hoarding books, you see.)
I’ve also noted that I am starting to hoard food again–this is always a problem for me; it comes from years of being poor; whenever I have a surplus of cash (as I do currently) I tend to buy more food than we need, or could eat, which comes from the mentality that oh this stuff will keep and if I can’t ever afford food again we’ll be able to eat this along with oh I want to try this recipe but I don’t have this ingredient in the cupboards okay I will go ahead and buy it even if I only use it once and then it sits in the cabinet connecting dust….and then I will forget I have it and wind up buying another one when I need it again (hello, three bottles of red wine vinegar in my cupboard!), which is yet another sign of my lack of organization and my inability to prep before shopping (in other words, check what I have on hand before adding things to the grocery lists).
I really do need to get better organized so I can maximize my use of time.
And speaking of which, I should probably get ready for my day at the office. Have a great Tuesday, Constant Reader!
Sometimes I try to remember the first time I saw or heard or watched or read something, anything, that made me feel less weird, less like an outsider…often to no avail. I can never remember if it was That Certain Summer (a very SPECIAL ABC Movie of the Week), or reading Larry McMurtry’s The Last Picture Show, or discovering The Front Runner on the paperback racks at the News Depot on Commercial Street in Emporia; and then I will remember something else, some vague memory of something–hints about Richard the Lion-Hearted in Norah Lofts’ The Lute Player, or subtle hints here and there throughout history (Edward II and Piers Gaveston; Louis XIV’s brother Phillippe Duc D’Orleans; James I and Robert Carr; Achilles and Patroclus)…Mary Renault’s Alexander the Great series…I can never remember precisely the first time I was exposed to who and what I am in popular culture, nor can I remember if it was positive or negative. I do know that in my own life, it was made very clear to me when I was very young that what I am was not normal, was unacceptable, wasn’t what I was supposed to be. My earliest memories are of me not being like other boys, and it took me a while to realize that the others were just playing at being boys (something I was never very good at) and were actually like that; that they weren’t, underneath, just like me, just better at pretending than I was.
This is why we have emphasized, as a community, the importance of representation in popular culture; kids needs to see themselves reflected in the culture they consume so they don’t feel like they don’t belong. Queer kids aren’t raised queer; we don’t learn how to be queer by interacting with our peers (who are mostly straight when we are kids), nor do we learn anything about being queer while we are inside the educational system in this country. I’ve always firmly believed that queers take longer–at least in the olden days–to form lasting romantic relationships because we don’t have “trial runs” when we are kids; we don’t get to date, we don’t get to “go steady”, etc. We don’t get to play House with other kids of the same gender, we don’t learn societal and cultural expectations about relationships and how they work when we are actually kids. Our queer adolescence doesn’t actually start until we come out–admit it to ourselves without shame, and then start telling our family and our friends and our co-workers that we aren’t wired the same way they are. It’s very tricky, and very complicated and sometimes very messy.
Representation absolutely matters.
And we cling to that representation when it shows up. When a prime time show like SOAP introduces the first long-running gay character to the world in Jody Dallas (does anyone even remember this was Billy Crystal’s big break, playing gay on a sitcom in the 1970’s/early 80’s?), we watch–even if the depiction is problematic to the extreme (you also learn very early that your hunger for representation will also force you to turn a blind eye to some things). Steven Carrington on Dynasty, the terrible film Making Love from the early 1980’s, as well as some other problematic depictions and films along the way–we took what we got, and always had to remember that these characters and stories also had to be palatable to straight people…that, in fact, these characters and stories were created with straight people in mind.
As they used to say, “but will it play in Peoria?”
As i stare down sixty this month, I am very happy to see that representation becoming common-place. It’s lovely to see gay books–THRILLERS, even–being published by major presses with queer characters in them. It’s lovely seeing straight writers including sensitive depictions of queer characters and their stories in their books.
And over the year, yes, problematic tropes that can make you very, very tired have also developed–which makes me wary every time I approach a book by a non-queer person that takes on a trope without hesitation, as S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears does, and that trope is one of the biggest and most hated by the queer community: bury your gays.
Ike tried to remember a time when men with badges coming to his door early in the morning brought anything other than heartache and misery, but try as he might, nothing came to mind.
The two men stood side by side on the small concrete landing of his front step with their hands on their belts near their badges and guns. The morning sun made the badges glimmer like gold nuggets. The two cops were a study in contrast. One was a tall but wiry Asian man. He was all sharp angles and hard edges. The other, a florid-faces white man, was built like a powerlifter with a massive head sitting atop a wide neck. They both wore white dress shirts with clip-on ties. The powerlifter had sweat stains spreading down from his armpits that vaguely resembled maps of England and Ireland respectively.
Ike’s queasy stomach began to do somersaults. He was fifteen years removed from Coldwater State Penitentiary. He has bucked the recidivism statistics ever since he’d walked out of that festering wound. Not so much as a speeding ticket in all those years. Yet here he was with his tongue dry and the back of his throat burning as the two cops stared down at him. It was bad enough being a Black man in the goo ol US of A and talking to the cops. You always felt like you were on the edge of some imaginary precipice during any interaction with an officer of the law. If you were an ex-con, it felt like the precipice was covered in bacon grease.
“Yes?” Ike said.
My faulty memory doesn’t remember how and when I first became aware of S. A. Cosby. What I do remember is that I bought and read one of his earlier works (perhaps his debut?) My Darkest Prayer, and enjoyed it thoroughly. Hard-boiled with a healthy dose of noir, I had a great time reading it–and was thrilled when his Blacktop Wasteland debuted to raves and attention and lots of recognition. Cosby can write like a house afire; and while he keeps up a rat-a-tat pace of story, he also manages to construct sentences and paragraphs beautifully, with a poet’s gift for language–spare and tight, yet poetic and beautiful at the same time (Megan Abbott is the Galactic Empress of this).
So, when I heard the “elevator pitch” for Razorblade Tears, I inwardly winced a bit, even as I had to admit Shawn’s guts; taking on bury your gays is a ballsy move–and also a bit of a dangerous one. If you don’t stick the landing…you’re fucked.
For those of you who don’t know what bury your gays means, it’s very simple: a show, or a book, or a movie, will introduce gay characters (lesbians, queers, whatever initial in the all encompassing umbrella those characters might choose for their identity), get the audience (and especially the queer viewers) deeply vested in them–and then kill them off suddenly and unexpectedly, all so the other queer characters (but usually the straight ones) will experience some kind of personal growth…in other words, you introduce a gay man into your narrative simply to later use him as a plot device, so the other characters can mourn and experience personal growth.
That’s probably explained badly, but you get the gist: gays will inevitably die. A good example of this is the so-called groundbreaking AIDS movie, Philadelphia–but the Tom Hanks character in that movie existed so that Denzel Washington’s character could grow and develop and move on from his own homophobic beliefs and fears about HIV/AIDS; as Sarah Schulman, one of our community’s finest minds, once said, “the entire point of Philadelphia is to make straight people feel better about HIV/AIDS and the gay men dying from it.” (Sections of her book Stagestruck: Theatre, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America are absolutely brilliant; it should be required reading for any Queer Studies course.)
The plot of Razorblade Tears is so deeply steeped in “bury your gays” that the gays are already dead when the book opens. The gays in question–Derek and Isiah–were brutally murdered, and the police don’t seem to care too much about looking into who killed them. Their homophobic fathers–both ex-cons–decide to look for their son’s killers. Both Ike and Bobby Lee feel a lot of guilt about their sons and how they rejected them both–their relationship, their eventual marriage, their child–while they were alive; finding their killers isn’t just about revenge but also a matter of atonement. In some ways, it’s like this book is borne from the anger every queer child rejected by their parents feels–you’ll be sorry when I’m dead.*
Ike and Bobby Lee are, indeed, sorry now that their sons are dead.
This also falls into another long-existent fictional trope: don’t fuck with a father. How many films (I’m looking at you, Liam Neeson), books or television shows are about a father’s rage, a father’s revenge, what a father will do to save or avenge their children?
Ike and Buddy Lee aren’t supermen, though. Cosby’s strength (besides his ability with words and images) is how well he creates characters and makes them human through their faults and frailties. Ike and Buddy Lee don’t much like each other as the story begins to move along–I kept thinking of the old Sidney Poitier/Tony Curtis movie, The Defiant Ones–but their ability to look past their own internal prejudices to see the commonalities between them as they unite in this foolhardy crusade to avenge their murdered sons is the real strength of the book here. (As well as the language.) You eventually start to understand them, care about them, want them to get their vengeance…even as you know it will bring them no peace.
I have to admit, I was hesitant to start reading this. I really was concerned I wasn’t going to be able to read it with the empathy necessary for Ike and Buddy Lee and their suffering–that I would think, yeah, well, maybe you should have thought about that when he was alive–but the book ultimately isn’t about their redemption, either; which is a genius move by Cosby. He makes their pain all too real–I cannot imagine the pain any parent should feel when their child dies–but he makes it clear there’s no easy answers here for Ike and Buddy Lee, and that pain will go on even if they get justice for their sons.
Shawn is also a master of writing about the Southern working class–about the poverty, the lack of opportunity, the societal neglect and how those factors all combine to keep those already mired in it trapped with little chance of escape; he clearly loves the rural South but not so much that he can’t expose the tragedy and ugliness that exists there.
It’s a powerful book, and I do recommend it….although the people who probably should read it inevitably won’t. I can recommend it, and do, enthusiastically; it’s a very powerful book, and it made me think–and what more can you want from art?
*sadly, I have seen all too often that a lot of those parents aren’t sorry when their rejected child dies; far too regularly they will say something along the lines of “So-and-so died for me years ago.”
My GOD, it was hot yesterday. I walked to the gym after work and by the time I got there was drenched in sweat and felt exhausted. I wound up cutting my workout short–I didn’t have the energy to make it through the whole workout; just the partial I was so tired and sweaty and hot that the walk home was absolute misery. I’m glad I went; I just wish the heat hadn’t been so damned extreme. The heat and humidity just suck your energy right out of your body sometimes–and it absolutely felt like 115 degrees as I walked. The ground felt hot, even when I cut through Coliseum Square. Yesterday morning it was cool in the house but I could tell it was hot outside, and as the day passed I had to turn on the ceiling fans and at one point considered getting out the portable air conditioners–but finally decided I was being ridiculous on that score and left them alone. I took a long hot shower once I got home and had my protein shake, and just then luxuriated in that clean, not hot and not sweaty (or that sticky feeling when sweat has dried on your skin–yuck) feeling the shower left me feeling rejuvenated and relaxed. I sat down and read through the edits on the next two parts of Bury Me in Shadows–there’s only one small 30 page section left to get through–and I am feeling content with the book. It’s good work. I like my main character and his instabilities; the weird mystery of what is going on there at the old Donelson place in the country is interesting and intriguing, and it’s also kind of nice to see that some of the points I wanted to make worked and didn’t sound overly preachy (which worried me).
So, yay! I feel much better about the book now, and am kind of interested in getting back to #shedeservedit this weekend. I think I am going to probably do some filing when I am finished here–it never hurts to get better organized–and spend some time with Shawn’s Razorblade Tears this morning, and then do some writing on Chlorine and possibly, just possibly, start rereading #shedeservedit–but I also need to type up the notes from our call the other day.
I overslept again this morning, but fully intended to when I went to bed last night so I don’t feel any guilt this morning about being a lag-a-bed until nine. I do have things to do today but right now I am enjoying feeling rested and my coffee tastes remarkably delicious this morning. I am feeling good–particularly about not having to go outside today as we move into yet another excessive heat warning day. Paul is working out with his trainer this morning (later this morning, I should clarify) and then will probably head to the office, so I have the Lost Apartment to myself for most of the day–so i should be able to finish reading Shawn’s book, get some writing and cleaning and so forth taken care of, before heading back into the Olympics tonight. The second season of Outer Banks also dropped on Netflix yesterday, which is terribly exciting; Paul and i had kind of made up our minds to not watch anything other than the Olympics until they were over, so we’d have a vast variety of things to watch for the rest of the month of August…but damn me, if Outer Banks isn’t tempting. (Paul even mentioned it was dropping yesterday last night as we watched the swimming –Caeleb Dressel is incredibly pretty)
I was also, of all things (because I don’t have enough writing to do on my plate already) about my next Scotty book, Mississippi River Mischief–this was a direct result of finishing going over the copy edits/line edits of Bury Me in Shadows, I should add–and how complicated that story is going to be; I think maybe part of the reason I’ve been avoiding it for so long is because I know how hard plotting that story is going to be; I left the Boys in an incredible personal dilemma or two that needs to be resolved, and I don’t really know how to resolve those issues quite yet. I know what the case is going to be, and it, too, is going to be complex and difficult to plot out and make work. Don’t get me wrong–I know I can do it, but that’s when the lazies kick in.
And on that note, I am going to go finish my coffee with Shawn. Talk to you later, Constant Reader!
Thursday and we have reached the “work-at-home” portion of my week. Yay! I don’t have to leave my house! (crowd goes wild)
I am feeling good this morning, partly because I overslept (this is becoming a thing with me; how lovely to go from chronic insomnia to oversleeping in a just a month) but regardless of whatever the reason was–the switch from cappuccinos to regular coffee, perhaps–but nevertheless, this morning Gregalicious slept late, and it felt marvelous.
I worked a little bit on Chlorine last night, but it stalled out a bit; not so much from a lack of desire to write or not knowing what to write, but primarily distractions around the Lost Apartment, which were annoying and also unavoidable, alas.
And speaking of anomalies in Gregalicious land, I didn’t finish this entry this morning before it was time for me to start working–which hasn’t happen in so long I cannot remember the last time it happened; usually I’m able to push right through the entry before leaving the house. I didn’t have to leave the house this morning, but I did oversleep, after all–definitely a problem. And now I have spent a lovely day making condom packs while catching up on Real Housewives of New York and watching some history videos on Youtube; I also had a lovely call with my editor about both Bury Me in Shadows but also a highly productive conversation about what I need to do on #shedeservedit to get it ready for publication–edits, sloppy transitions, bad bad Greg writer stuff, really–and some serious tweaks that may actually be easier than I think they’ll be; we’ll just have to see, won’t we? (And now I understand the Chlorine inertia this week; I knew I had this call scheduled and I knew I was going to probably have to put it aside for a while…breaking the chain, as it were. I think I will go ahead and finish Chapter Three and maybe Chapter Four before I dive back into my edits.)
I also had some other interesting developments occur this week, career-wise, but nothing that can be reported just yet; sorry to be so vague, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. I am feeling better about everything these days–sleep really makes so an extraordinary difference in my life, it really is amazing–and while I am not in Greg can conquer the world mode again just yet, I have a feeling that it’s just around the corner. I am starting to feel energetic again, creative and ambitious, and more like the old Gregalicious than I have in years. Not sure what caused it, to be honest–pandemic, perhaps? I don’t know but I also don’t remember when I last felt this good about myself and everything in my life, to be honest, and it’s a lovely feeling. Now I need to get better organized; I think that is what this weekend is going to be about; me getting my shit together and getting back on top of everything again. I am going to finish reading Razorblade Tears and pick out my next read; I am going to get those chapters written and some short story edits done, and this fucking apartment and my fucking life are going to be organized and ready for the future.
And on THAT note, it’s time to get to work on everything.
Enjoy the rest of your Thursday, Constant Reader! I’m going to make mine count.
Monday morning and another week of work staring me in the face.
Yesterday was rather pleasant, as Sundays generally tend to be more so than any other day of the week. I slept in, as I have been doing a lot lately on the weekends (thank you medication!) and then I spent about two hours with Razorblade Tears, S. A. Cosby’s thought-provoking and interesting thriller–a very worthy follow-up to last year’s terrific Blacktop Wasteland. After that, I started moving computer files around in an attempt to get better organized, which was a rather dreadful and tedious chore, but listening to the Per Shop Boys’ Pop Art (aka their greatest hits) made it somewhat more bearable, quite frankly. I also went to the gym and had a terrific workout that felt great; I am always amazed at how much better my Sunday workouts are compared to those on days that have work-responsibilities, and I felt and looked so pumped when I left the gym–something I never feel on the weeknight workouts. I also had a great stretching session (I also stretched at home on Saturday; I think I am going to start going on Saturdays to do some cardio…we’ll see. Football season is also looming…), and felt really good when I got home. I also registered for New England Crime Bake in November, which means a visit to Boston and (hopefully) New York as well. YAY!
I’m also trying something new this morning–no cappuccinos, just regular coffee. This could very easily turn out to be a huge mistake–huge–but it’s something I wanted to try. I slept okay last night–woke up a few times, but was able to fall back asleep–and I am pretty sure I can function with a lot less caffeine than I usually have on these early mornings. I guess I am about to find out one way or the other, right? I’m also going to make a to-do list for this week once I get a little bit more awake this morning; and I am going to try to actually follow it. It’s very easy for me to get off track–shiny object! Look!–but it is definitely something I need to try to get back into the habit of working on. I want to get several more chapters of Chlorine written, and I also want to get some things revised/reworked this week–I want to get a few more stories out for submission by the end of July; you can’t sell anything if it’s just sitting in your computer–and getting organized is crucial for me getting things done, period.
I’ve been feeling fairly decently about my writing lately; not sure what’s changed (the chemicals in my body? Thank you, medication) but I’ve been feeling pretty confident. Maybe it’s because I’ve done so much work in this last month? Maybe it’s because the work has gone really well? Maybe, maybe, maybe. Who knows?
I am enjoying watching the Olympics, but it feels weird not watching the way we have in the past. NBC’s coverage is, as always, horrible and cheesy (really makes me miss the days when ABC did the Olympics and treated sports reporting like, you know, actual journalism), but it’s always fun seeing the athletes competing and being emotional and so forth, and there are always lovely Olympic stories. I was also very delighted to wake up to see that our swim team once again won the gold in the mens’ 4 x 100 swim relay–I also loved when they show the one from Beijing with the amazing finish when Jason Lezak pulled out that amazing final leg and stunned France at the wall; that was one of the most exciting moments in Olympic history that Paul and I can recall–I know we both leaped up and were screaming and jumping up and down (also because we wanted to see Michael Phelps break the record for most gold medals at a single Olympics, and this race was crucial for that)–and even rewatching it is almost as exciting as witnessing it as it happened.
This is why I love sports, you know? I am still floating from the 2019 LSU season, to be honest.
And on that note, I should probably head into the spice mines and get my act together for today.
I overslept (for me) again this morning; which felt nice; I’ll take oversleeping over insomnia any day of the week, frankly, and this morning I am going to swill coffee, read some more of S. A. Cosby marvelous Razorblade Tears, and then will write for a while before going to the gym later on in the early afternoon. I still haven’t gotten phô yet–maybe next weekend I can make to the Lilly Cafe and finally get some.
Yesterday saw me relaxing and organizing and cleaning for most of the day, at an incredibly casual pace–so casual, of course, that I didn’t get everything finished that I wanted to get finished (natch); but progress was made and I will always take some progress over not making any. I finished writing Chapter 2 of Chlorine yesterday, also setting up Chapter 3 to be written for today (after some reviewing of Chapters 1 and 2 before getting started on that today). I like that I am starting to feel connected to this manuscript; it’s finally taken root in my head and all the other considerations about it no longer matter to me other than the two most important: that I finish writing it, and that i write the best book I possibly can.
The whole Chlorine thing is remarkably improbable about how it came to be in the first place. I’ve always wanted to write about 1950’s Hollywood and the gay closet/underground that existed there; it was an incredibly turbulent time, with television stealing film audiences, HUAC investigating Communists, and J. Edgar Hoover at the FBI going after gay men and lesbians. It was also during this time that the biggest closeted movie star perhaps in Hollywood history, Rock Hudson, came to success–and there were plenty of other closet cases on the headlining pictures with their names above the title: Montgomery Clift and Tab Hunter–and plenty who may have been bisexual but definitely had experiences with men, like Marlon Brando, Anthony Perkins, James Dean, and so on. I idly wrote about this notion I had for a noir set during that time, with the main character a hustler with no talent but a lot of good looks and charm, that opens with another closeted actor’s nude, dead body being found in the morning on Santa Monica beach–only the drowning victim also had chlorine in his lungs, so he clearly drowned in a swimming pool and his body was moved. I riffed on this concept here on the blog for a little bit, and then thought nothing of it.
Yet Chlorine landed with my peers in the crime writing community for some reason–I got a lot of tweets and DM’s about what a great idea it was, and that I needed to write it. Some people continued pestering me about it, enough time and enough people, for me to go ahead and slot it into my writing schedule….but even then I kept putting it off and not taking it or myself seriously; was I the right person to write such a book? Is this interest in such a book even something that could turn into sales or whatever? You know, the usual self-doubt that plagues me on a daily basis. I sat down and wrote a very rough first chapter several years ago, just to see if I could get the tone right, and the voice properly done; I was rather pleasantly surprised with how it turned out, and so I put aside any thought of imposter syndrome and figured, okay, I CAN do this.
But the syndrome came again when the calendar time to write the book rolled around; I spent the last month or so writing anything but this manuscript…and finally sat down to revise and reshape that first chapter so that it set up the second even better, and I also had an idea of how to do the second as I worked on the first. It took me a few days, but I now have a very nice 3700 word second chapter written; and today I am going to work on writing the third. I wanted to wait until August and spend that entire month writing it, but finally decided that I was being decidedly un-confident, so while I still want to have the first draft finished by the end of August, I decided to go ahead and get started on it in the meantime. I still want to work on Scotty for the rest of the year, from September on, but there’s also a lot of other things I need to get done, so I need to stop being lazy and get my ass into my chair and writing.
We watched the Olympics some yesterday–I am amazed at the sports I couldn’t care less about most of the time but will watch avidly during an Olympics–but it again seems weird that there’s no audience or crowd…and this whole weird vibe these Olympics are giving off–no you smoked weed so you’re banned; you’re a serial sexual assaulter so we’ll make accommodations for you–has kind of tarnished the whole thing for me in some ways. There has always been cheating and stupidity at the Olympics (another example of how media has brainwashed us all into the mythology of the Olympics), but for some reason this year it seems more intolerable than usual. But I love watching the US swimmers–it’s weird without Michael Phelps in the pool–and I will undoubtedly watch more, especially the gymnastics.
I also figured out last night how to change a story I started writing at some point during the last decade and make it actually work–“The Brady Kid”–and while the new idea I have for it may not work after all, it’s an interesting idea for a story and something I definitely want to try writing.
And on that note, Razorblade Tears is calling me, and so it’s off to the spice mines for a bit to read, swill coffee, and prepare to start writing.
And here it is, Saturday again, and life just keeps a chugging along.
I slept until nine this morning–I know, right?–and it felt marvelous, even though it’s taking me a moment or two to get my equilibrium this morning. I’ve already had a cup of coffee, and it’s already almost ten! I am going to try to get a lot done today–writing wise, reading wise, cleaning wise–and I am going to try to get the computer files better organized. Yesterday was a busy day; I managed to get my work-at-home duties completed; I picked up a prescription and the mail; went to the gym; and made groceries AND a Costco run (when I can plan ahead, my efficiency and ability to get quite a bit done in a short period of time can be amazing). I bought an enormous bottle of Kirkland white tequila (Costco store brand; the Kirkland vodka is basically Grey Goose, so I checked out the tequila on line and it’s seems to be close to, if not the same as, Patrón, which is my favorite tequila), and tonight I am going to have myself a Margarita. It’s so weird–we’ve not had liquor in the house for so long, and now, thanks to Costco, I have enough vodka and tequila for a fraternity party. Alcohol and I have always had a strained relationship, which is one of many reasons I never kept it in the house, but I am hoping that my sixties will be the year where I can enjoy alcohol while cutting myself off before getting completely intoxicated. In my thirties and forties I learned (finally) how to tell I’d already had too much and to stop (although there were times when I most definitely did not; and I do remember consciously thinking oh one more drink and I’ll be completely wasted; why not?) but having it in the house always kind of concerned me. But one cocktail nightly is something I think I can handle–and it should also help with sleep problems.
I really need to learn how to properly make a martini. That last one I made was so nasty I am afraid to try again.
We watched the opening ceremonies for the Olympics last night–but it felt off and weird; maybe it was the lack of an audience, and opening ceremonies that were planned to HAVE an actual audience? I don’t know, but the Parade of Nations walking into an empty stadium just seemed weird to me. I feel bad for the athletes–it’s already bad enough that this is last year’s Olympics, and the next Olympic cycle is a year shorter than usual–but at the same time this Olympics has already left a bad taste in my mouth with its systemic racism. Ted Lasso also returned last night, but I hate the thought of not being able to watch them all at the same time; it really is amazing how my television-watching habits have been completely altered and changed by streaming. This is also the first Olympics since we cut the cable cord, so streaming it through Hulu seems weird to me because I actually don’t know when anything is or when it’s going to air live…but the commentary on the opening ceremonies didn’t leave me with much hope about the coverage.
It was also a very weird week in college football. On Thursday the rumor broke and was reported that Oklahoma and Texas had reached out to the SEC about ditching the Big XII and joining, and by yesterday the entire world of college football was reeling and speculating and wondering how this would all shake out with changes to the play-offs and conference expansions and so forth. The thing that makes the most sense to me is divvying the Big XII teams up amongst the other four conferences, turning them all into “super-conferences” with two divisions of eight teams each; which essentially would turn the conference championship games into quarterfinals….with the possibility that a conference champion could not be invited to the semi-finals if there is an astounding team from outside the four main conferences…say, a 11-1 Notre Dame over a three loss conference champion. I think it’s an interesting–and it’s also interesting how much college football has changed since I was a kid and the games were exclusively broadcast on ABC, so at most two games were televised per week–usually a Major Game with National Implications and then a regional game of interest. It will be interesting to see how this most recent shake-up affects everything. I remember when it the Big 10, the SEC, the ACC, the Big 8, the Southwest Conference, and the PAC-8. (it has always amused me that the Big XII only has ten teams and the Big Ten has twelve and then fourteen)
Hell, this realigning might actually force Notre Dame to join a conference–and you can bet it will be the ACC rather than the Big Ten, which makes the most sense given their location.
I also got some great books yesterday, including Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Mexican Gothic; Alan Orloff’s latest y/a, I Play One On TV; Heather Levy’s Walking Through Needles; Robert P. Jones’ White Too Long; and two queer sounding debuts: Yes Daddy by Jonathan Parks-Ramage and These Violent Delights by Micah Nemerever; all of them sound positively delightful, and so yes, I need to get cracking on my reading. And my writing, and my organizing and my cleaning and–heavy sigh. You get the picture.
So I am going to take my coffee right now and go curl up with Razorblade Tears for a while. Have a great Saturday, Constant Reader!