Those Were The Days

I have been debating about whether I should post or not about the passing of gay literary legend Richard Labonte earlier this week. I didn’t know Richard as well as many other queer writers did; my career began only a few years before he retired from A Different Light and moved north to Bowen Island with his husband Asa (fun fact: Bowen Island is where Harper’s Island, a one-season “we’re trapped here on an island with a mad killer who’s picking us all off one by one and must be one of us!” thriller series that wasn’t very popular but I enjoyed tremendously).

I first met Richard when I worked for Lambda Literary back in the day (yes, the very same Lambda Literary that’s being draggedor defended on Twitter the last few days; those of you who’ve not been around for a long time might not know Paul and I both worked there from August 2000 to November 2001) and A Different Light was the bookseller for a Lambda Literary Awards nominee reading we were holding at the San Francisco Public Library in spring of 2000 (ADL was also the bookseller for the Lambda Literary Conference we were putting on in San Francisco later that same year). Richard was always very kind to me; he published several stories of mine in his Best Gay Erotica series for Cleis Press (and no, I don’t remember the years, the volume numbers, the guest editors, or the stories themselves) and often, when he was putting an anthology of some kind or another together, would often ask me to write something for him. I always tried to (I don’t think I always succeeded in writing something for him), primarily because he was so nice and supportive from my days as editor of Lambda Book Report. Since seeing the news of Richard’s passing, I’ve been remembering things from back then–things I’ve not thought about in years–and while some of the memories aren’t great…the majority of them are. (I really enjoyed the job, despite the challenges I sometimes faced doing it.) That Festival in San Francisco was the last time I saw Richard in person; I think I signed twice more at the store in San Francisco but many years later, long after Richard retired and left the city.

He was a very generous man and was committed to not only the queer community but to the queer publishing community. He was so incredibly kind to me when my first books came out; so supportive, always emailing me to let me know he’d read and enjoyed them, which meant a lot to me back in those days. I was, despite my years as a book reviewer and my time as editor of LBR, still remarkably naive about publishing and the business when Murder in the Rue Dauphine was released; we were also remarkably poor around that time and so making money was really my biggest priority at the time; one of the reasons I always tell new writers to enjoy their first book release and everything to do with getting a book published is because I wasn’t truly able to enjoy mine as completely as I would have liked; and the next thing I knew a year had passed and the second book was out and things were…different. I would periodically email Richard when I was down about something–a horrible review, another writer saying nasty things about me and my work publicly, what should I do in a certain situation–and he was always very generous with his time and kind in his replies to the newbie who didn’t know what he was doing (and let’s face it, I still don’t).

His retirement was a loss to the community; his passing an even greater one. He loved his community, he loved books, he loved writers–and he made such a difference, a positive one, in so many writer’s lives.

But I am glad I got the opportunity to know him. I was always grateful to him; I hope he knew that.

Times Change

And here we are on Monday morning yet again–the world keeps turning and revolving around the sun, bringing the endless cycle of night and day we’ve become accustomed to as perhaps one of the few things in this life we can reliably depend upon; things which, alas, are in far too short a supply these days.

I worked on the book yesterday–I wasn’t feeling especially motivated, to be honest, and decided to try not to force anything, but I did get some things done with it, which was necessary, so I don’t feel like the day was entirely lost, either. Paul slept late and I went to the gym, getting home before he got up and left for the office. I was in bed (damned six a.m. alarm anyway) by the time he got home, so I am not even entirely sure when he got home, to be honest. I think I woke up and glanced at the clock around midnight when he was getting into bed–but I may have dreamed that. After I was finished with the bare minimum of the work I got done yesterday, I started watching a documentary series about Egypt–Planet Egypt–but when I was getting going on the second episode, I realized you’ve already seen this–they jump from Narmer to basically the 18th Dynasty and so decided to find something else to watch. I wound up landing on Visible, the documentary about queer representation on television through the decades, and I managed to get through the first two episodes. Ironically, I remember the bad representation on screen from mostly the 70’s (they also didn’t mention another notorious queer killer–John Davidson played a cross-dressing murderer on The Streets of San Francisco to some serious critical acclaim. I didn’t watch it, but it was yet another early representation of queer as psycho killer, so I was a bit surprised they skipped it–and if you think about it, it’s really strange that of all television shows, The Streets of San Francisco wasn’t loaded with queer representation….then again, Arthur Hailey’s Hotel was an 80’s show set in San Francisco with nary a queer in sight; which tells you everything about the times). It also has reminded me that I should probably let go of a lot of the shame I feel/felt about not really coming out until I was thirty in every aspect of my life…it was a very different time, and not everyone was able to escape to San Francisco or New York, which at the time were the only real options for queers.

One of the things that actually gives me hope for the future is seeing all the openly young queer people living their lives today in every part of the country, something that simply wasn’t really possible when I was a teenager or in my twenties.

Another takeaway from the documentary, which I will probably finish tonight–I never remembered Raymond Burr as being as sexy as he actually was–he had amazingly beautiful and expressive eyes. I wonder…are the original Perry Mason shows streaming anywhere? I loved the books, and I can remember watching the repeats when I was a kid. My grandmother loved Perry Mason, and she was really my gateway to mystery books and movies, as well as horror. I never finished watching the HBO reboot, which I was sort of enjoying while not enjoying it at the same time–I didn’t necessarily like the fleshing out of the character or giving him this angsty back story, an the plot was glacial and hard to follow, but it was extremely well done and well acted, and you can never go wrong with Tatiana Maslany, ever. But I’ve also not been driven to go back and finish it, either–the same with Penny Dreadful: City of Angels–although the two shows vaguely reminded me of each other. I had to stop watching that one because of the unrelenting racism against the Latinx community of Los Angeles–which, of course, is completely historically accurate, yet hard to watch because you also knew there would be no justice for them. Perhaps I should go back and watch them back-to-back? They seemed to be similar thematically….hmmm, it’s a thought, and of course, I love Natalie Dormer.

I also managed to read a few chapters of The Russia House, but wasn’t really able to focus the way I would have liked to, so I put it aside and started looking for documentaries.

And this coming weekend is the Tennessee Williams Festival, which means my first quarter of 2021 widowhood will be coming to an end relatively soon. I’m not sure I’ll know how to act, having to make dinner and pack lunches for Paul every day–I stopped doing that early in the pandemic, and am not entirely sure I’ll go back to it. Half the time he wouldn’t eat his sandwich until he came home at night, alleviating the need to make dinner, of course, but he has to carry so much with him as it is and if he wasn’t going to eat it most of the time during the day, why carry it along? I try to reduce everything I have to carry to and from work as much as I can–and I don’t walk, I drive.

It’s going to be in the 70’s this afternoon, which is lovely. It’s in the high fifties right now, which means I’ll have to take a jacket with me to work today, but it’s okay–a relatively small price to pay, really, for lovely weather later today. I did make it to the gym yesterday–even increased some weights–and my flexibility is slowly coming back. Oh, I know even now I am more flexible than most people, but I also can remember how flexible I used to be, and while I seriously doubt I can ever get back to that level at age sixty, the stretching does make my muscles feel better–they feel marvelous this morning, frankly–and what I really should do is stretch every morning when I get up here in the kitchen–doing it every day rather than three times a week would make the gains progress more rapidly, obviously–but that’s something I’ll have to gradually work myself up to. I am pleased with the progress I’ve made thus far–I’ve noticeably lost weight, and people are noticing; every week I get at least one mention from a client, or get asked have you been working out, which is always lovely to hear; positive reinforcement is always welcomed. I also know from experience that I will never really see the changes, or if I do, I won’t think it’s enough–I am so fucking critical of myself and I don’t think that is something I’ll ever be able to change at this late date; I’ve tried to stop being self-deprecating but it’s an on-going struggle, really.

And a particularly annoying one, I might add.

The Last Time

Saturday I was interviewed for Brad Shreve’s Gay Mystery podcast (links to come when it’s available), and some of the questions he asked have hung around in my brain for quite a while now. We talked for a while before the taping commenced, and then continued chatting once we’d wrapped up what would actually air, which was also kind of lovely. (I’ve come to realize that one of the many original reasons I stopped using the phone was because I talk too much; phone calls involving me tend to last far too long because I never shut up, as so many unfortunates have discovered at some point.)

I had been remembering the long-gone queer independent bookstores lately, because Facebook memories had brought up a photo I’d posed for in front of the old A Different Light on Santa Monica Boulevard in West Hollywood, where I was doing a signing/reading for Mardi Gras Mambo in either April or May of 2006. I really do miss visiting those stores–Outwrite in Atlanta was another particular favorite of mine–and it was also interesting to look at the books in the window display I was standing beside; titles by Christopher Rice, Edmund White, Andy Zeffer, John Morgan Wilson, and Joe Keenan, among others. I think that tour was my first time ever signing there; I think I signed there at least once more–on the Love, Bourbon Street tour, and by the time I was touring again–or ready to do appearances again after that–A Different Light in West Hollywood would close; I would eventually do two appearances at the one in San Francisco as well before it closed.

Then again, my memory is sketchy, as I have pointed out quite a bit lately.

But I do miss the queer bookstores–the queer newspapers, too. It was always fun to go into a queer bookstore and look through the new arrivals table, the bestseller racks, and so on. I used to always spend about a hundred bucks every time I signed in a queer bookstore–primarily to thank them for letting me appear in their store, and I have always overspent every time I’ve set foot in a bookstore. I used to always draw decent audiences, too–for me, decent is eight and up–and I remember one time at ADL in WeHo there were about fifty or so people there to see me; that was kind of a trip. (I also hyperventilated before I went out to read to that audience, as well; one thing that has never changed about me, from beginning of my career to now, is that speaking in public to an audience is excruciating torture for me–at least before hand, when I go through every level of stage fright.)

I also managed to get started on working on Chapter 11 of Bury Me in Shadows last evening, and whew–what a piece of shit THAT chapter is. As I went through the file, changing verbs and tenses from present to past, it took all of my self-control not to start erasing and deleting and rewriting. I literally said out loud at one point, “Jesus fucking Christ, this is badly written” just as Paul walked into the kitchen to get something to drink (a diet Coke, for those who pay attention to those sort of details) and he asked, “Who are you reading?” and I laughed before replying “Me. I really suck sometimes.” It’s really true; for someone who has published as much as I have and been short-listed for as many awards as I have (and yes, I know how that sounds, but I’m making a point here, do you mind?) my first and second drafts can be pretty horrible–astonishingly horrible, as I found out last night rereading this chapter. Jesus, it’s terrible. But that’s fine; the manuscript itself is probably too long anyway, and so I should be able to cut quite a lot out of this one during the revision process; there’s a bunch of filler, really, and not particularly good filler, in this chapter that can just be stricken from the record and as such, the chapter can be made much stronger.

Low bar at this point, but there it is.

We’re still in a flash flood watch through tomorrow morning, but a quick glance through social media has shown me that Beta has come ashore in Texas already, but we are still dealing with those break away storm bands, at least through today. Yesterday it actually felt chilly; I put on a sweat jacket at the office, and probably should’ve worn pants. Today it’s not even going to get into the eighties; it’s practically fall.

We did watch the enormously disappointing Saints game last night on Monday Night Football, and of course, this Saturday the LSU season starts with a home game against Mississippi State. It’s very weird; I am not sure how comfortable I am following college football this year. I love college football but this year already is so off and weird, and I’m not sure I should support it or not this year. Should they playing, given how the pandemic has played out thus far? Is watching the games and following how the season plays out actually showing support for young athletes having their health put at risk? Doesn’t playing put their bodies at risk even in a non-pandemic time?

Deep thoughts on a Tuesday morning with the dark pressing against my windows.

And now, back to the spice mines.

Don Juan

Looks like we made it to Wednesday, for whatever that may be worth. Days and dates really seem to have little to no meaning anymore; I can only imagine how bad it is for people who are sheltering in place. We used to be able to tell what day of the week it was based on what was airing on television, but now that we stream everything and rarely watch anything live…yeah, if I didn’t use a Google calendar to keep track of when the bills are due and deadlines and appointments or so forth, I’d never know the date, let alone the day.

I know when I was quarantined at home for that week, I had no clue of days or dates by the time I was cleared to return to work…so those of you who continue to be stuck at home sheltering in place, you have my deepest sympathies. I can’t even imagine. I was going stir crazy after a little less than a full week–well, it was more like nine days total, I think, from beginning to end–and so I cannot imagine how awful it must be for people who’ve been trapped in doors this entire time.

I wonder how many Rear Window type stories are being written as I type this?

I love the whole concept of the Rear Window style of crime and suspense stories. I think my story “The Carriage House,” recently sold to Mystery Tribune, is that precise kind of story; what I think of as ‘the accidental witness.’ I think about this sort of thing all the time; in my neighborhood, for example, the houses are very close to each other. Sometimes as I walk back to my apartment I can hear someone on the other side of the fence, talking on the phone; I can see their upper floor windows from the windows around my desk, and of course, I see my neighbor who lives in the carriage house walking in front of my windows all the time, when he’s coming or going. Likewise, from our bedroom windows we can see into the house next door’s upstairs windows; I never look, really, and most of the time being inside I think no one can see me, either–which is hilarious. (We always think of our homes as being safe spaces, but it wouldn’t be very hard for someone to kick in my front door, really; this is why break-ins and robberies, etc. are so unsettling and feel like such violations–our homes are supposedly our safe sanctuaries, and being reminded that we aren’t safe in our homes in such a way makes things uncertain and uncertainty is often the worst.) Throughout New Orleans, no matter how big the lot our home sits on, we live in close proximity to others; particularly in the French Quarter and most of the neighborhoods of the city; I’m always curious and interested how we all live in such tight quarters to each other and yet pretend we are isolated in our own safe little worlds.

I worked on two of my stories yesterday: “Falling Bullets,” which is a Venus Casanova story, and “Condos for Sale or Rent”, which is one of those “living in close proximity”stories. (And I know–New Orleanians don’t live in nearly as close proximity as New Yorkers or San Franciscans) I also have come to the conclusion that one of my short stories–which I have been trying to make into a short story–is probably more likely to be a novel than a short story; I am going to try to revise it one more time, just to be sure, and if that doesn’t work, “Death and the Handmaidens” is going into the “potential novel” file. I think it’s a good story and one that kind of needs to be told…but it’s been rejected everywhere I’ve ever submitted it; but I do think it still has some potential to work as a short story, so I am going to give it the old college try once more.

I was very tired yesterday when I got home from work–those early mornings on Tuesday and Thursday are particularly rough on me–and watched some more of Maximilian and Marie de Bourgogne, which is very well done, and we started Killing Eve–free trial on AMC; we decided the quality still holds, but are willing to wait until we can binge the entire season over the course of an episode. I slept really well last night, but still feel a little dragged out this morning. Then again, I’m only on my first cup of coffee; that does make a significant difference to how awake I do actually feel.

I read for a little while on Thunder on the Right last night, but my mind was too tired to focus, so I gave up on reading after a few pages. It is much better than I remembered, and it’s also one of the few Mary Stewart novels that isn’t written in the first person. I’m not certain why she made that choice–it isn’t evident yet–and I’m assuming there’s a reason why she deviated from her usual; perhaps as I read further into the book it will become more obvious. (Assuming there’s a story structure reason for not using the first person is a very author-like assumption to make; I myself inevitably fall back on the first person simply–but not entirely–because it’s easier not to make POV mistakes in the first person.)

The weather here is getting warmer–and the Formosan termite swarms have started–but we still haven’t been punched in the face by humidity quite yet, and every day the 80 degree or so temperature this week has been offset by a lovely, cool breeze that has made it seem temperate, which has been really nice.

And on that note, I’m heading back into the spice mines this morning. Have a great Wednesday, Constant Reader.

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