Tied Together with a Smile

Monday morning and facing down the three clinic days, which makes me tired to even just think about, honestly. I love working with my clients, though; that’s always a plus, and while my program coordinator is out quarantining (her roommate tested positive for COVID-19 last week), I think I can handle my job without her being there. (This is why I was so concerned about the stomach issues on Saturday; the last thing in the world I need right now it to have to go out on quarantine myself.)

There actually wasn’t a Saints game yesterday; I didn’t realize it was a bye week for the Saints–it was just weird that neither LSU nor the Saints had a game on the same weekend (I looked up the time for the game earlier in the week and didn’t realize it brought up next week’s game instead), and it’s been quite a while since that happened. In fact, I cannot remember the last time bye weeks fell on the same weekend–although to be fair, LSU wasn’t supposed to have a bye.

But still.

We watched the season finale of The Vow last night, and it seemed to wrap up pretty quickly; Paul was very quick to assert, “there’s going to be a second season, clearly” and after looking around on-line this morning a bit, I see that the show has been renewed for a second season. We enjoyed watching the show, despite its deeply uneven story-telling and a sense that it was longer than it needed to be; I also didn’t think compressing everything–from the arrests, etc. to the present day–into the final fifteen minutes of the finale was the best methodology; it really felt rushed, particularly since some previous episodes were obviously dragged out; it could have been six episodes, I think.

We also watched the first episode of the Jude Law mini-series The Third Day, and decided not to continue. It was very well done–some of the images were exceptional–but it was all just very murky and strange and really, you should watch one part of a three-part show and have literally no idea what’s going on, or have no sense of the characters, or why you should give a shit about their story. We won’t be watching more, I think, which is a shame; the previews looked wonderfully creepy and spooky; and while the first episode contributed greatly to the mood of creepy dread, that was about all we came away from it with, other than little to no desire to watch any more of it.

I started going through old journals yesterday–I found the one in which I started keeping the journal again (2017! It’s been three years!)–mainly because I am trying to get back into Bury Me in Shadows again; it’s been weeks since I worked on it, and I was thinking I needed to go through my notes and so forth to make sure everything is going into the story that needs to be in the story. The old journals are fascinating; there’s also the plans and notes for Royal Street Reveillon in them, as well as the birth of short stories that have since been written and even, in some cases, published; there are other story ideas and titles that never were followed up on–some of them are quite good, upon a review with fresh eyes–as well as sketches and ideas for stories that were written but wound up not really working after several drafts were completed (“The Problem with Autofill” is one of those; it’s a great concept but it doesn’t work because the central conceit winds up triggering how can you be so stupid as a reader reaction, which kills the story, frankly). It’s also interesting to see that this particular novel began being titled Bury Me in Satin, which I discarded early on, changing “satin” for “shadows”, which works ever so much better.

I also managed to do some filing and organizing, and I do feel much better about everything I now need to get done–and feel confident I can do it all.

I also read some short stories yesterday.

“Love & Other Crimes” is the title story from Sara Paretsky’s short story collection, and yes, it’s a V. I. Warshawski story. One of the problems I’ve always had with writing crime fiction short stories is the compression of the investigation aspect. I am used to spreading the story out from anywhere from sixty five thousands words to just over a hundred thousand; Royal Street Reveillon was slightly more than a hundred thousand, and is probably my longest novel. I wrote my first ever Chanse short story, “My Brother’s Keeper”, for my own collection Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, and I’ve started yet another, “Once a Tiger,” that has stalled, along with a couple of other investigation short stories that have never reached a complete first draft–some Venus stories (“A Little More Jazz for the Axeman,” “Falling Bullets,” and “Stations of the Cross”), and there’s a Jerry Channing story (he has appeared in the Scotty books; he’s a true crime writer) whose title I cannot recall at this moment. I struggle with these stories, obviously; reading Ross MacDonald’s Lew Archer short stories (The Archer Files) helped somewhat, as did reading Sue Grafton’s Kinsey short stories (Kinsey and Me); and it’s really no surprise that Paretsky–MWA Grand Master and crime fiction legend–can also pull off the private eye short story. A kid from the old neighborhood is being framed for murder; his sister rather snottily hired Vic to prove his innocence. She manages to do so–ironically, he was really implicated in another crime, just not the murder–and the success of the story makes me think that I should change the way I write these kinds of stories. I am not much of an outliner anymore–somewhere around Murder in the Rue St. Ann I realized that I never really stuck to the outline so wasn’t really sure I should keep doing them; instead, I either come up with a very loose synopsis–or just know where I am going to end it and start writing in that general direction and see where it goes. But…maybe I should outline the short stories that are investigations rather than just starting to write and seeing where they go; I always stop writing when I get stuck, and who knows if or when I will ever get back to it? But I am also digressing from the point of what a great story Paretsky opens her collection with! I don’t think all of the stories are necessarily Warshawski stories–the next, “Miss Bianca,” doesn’t appear to be–but I am really looking forward to seeing what other magic she hath wrought with her writing.

After reading the Paretsky story, I moved on to the Lawrence Block anthology The Darkling Halls of Ivy–whose theme is crime stories set in academia. The very first story is David Morrell’s “Requiem for a Homecoming,’ and it’s an interesting take on a crime story. A successful screenwriter returns to his alma mater for Homecoming as a special guest, and the story opens with him having a drink in a campus-area pub with an old friend from his college days…and then bringing up a twenty-year old murder that occurred when they were both undergrads. They talk a bit about the murder, and some things that never came out in the investigation all those years ago–including the pov character having gone out on a date with her once, but didn’t come forward because he supplemented his income by dealing drugs–the drug dealer would be an obvious suspect and this could have jeopardized his scholarship to USC for grad work in screenwriting–but there’s also a lot more to this fiendishly clever story. But Lawrence Block’s anthologies never disappoint; my bucket list includes getting to write a story for one of these.

And on that note, it’s off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

The Lakes

Yesterday was one of those lovely autumn days in New Orleans that always reminds me how lucky those of us who get to live here actually are. Oh, what a gorgeous day it was, with the temperature in the mid-seventies, the sun shining and the sky that brilliant sapphire shade of blue. As I am sure you can imagine, Halloween is extremely popular in New Orleans, and I love seeing the way people go all out in decorating the exteriors of their homes for the holiday. So, driving uptown in the early afternoon hours of such a glorious day, and seeing the lovely houses all festooned in their orange and black spectral finery was quite relaxing and joyous. The shade from the live oaks also seems somewhat spooky in October–not sure why that is, it just is.

I definitely need to take my phone and go for a lengthy walk, taking pictures.

I proofed the story yesterday–a start on getting things done–and then turned on the television for background noise…and what a crazy day for football in the SEC. Auburn was upset by South Carolina; Texas A&M took out Mississippi State (whose only win is, natch, LSU); Kentucky embarrassed Tennessee in Knoxville, Arkansas somehow took out Ole Miss; and then in the big game of the day, Alabama took out Georgia decisively for the third time in four years after trailing at half-time. I suspect Alabama is going to run the table this year and be the SEC’s best chance for the national title yet again, which means things are sort of back to normal–although the usual suspects don’t seem to be in a position to challenge. Alabama and Georgia will probably play again the conference championship game–with Florida holding an outside chance at winning the East, but would also have to run the table–it’s possible, as I doubt LSU is going to take Florida down this year. The Saints are playing today at noon, but I’m not sure I am going to watch that or not. (Again, probably have it on as background noise, while I reread Bury Me in Shadows.)

Proofing my story yesterday allowed me to reread it again as well, and much as I hate to say things like this about my own work, “Night Follows Night” is actually a good story, and I did a good job on it. I also realized that, in some ways, the in-progress story “The Flagellants” could easily be tweaked into a sequel to it; which I may try to do, just to see…but by making it a sequel, I don’t know what the crime part of the story could turn out to be. So maybe, maybe not. We’ll have to see how it all turns out, I suppose.

I have two books on hold currently at the library–both of which are research for Chlorine–and I am a bit surprised they didn’t email me to let me know they were waiting for me. I can pick them up on Thursday, and will need to remember to call and make an appointment with them so I can do so. I also need to order prescription refills for Thursday as well, so I can get it all over and done with in one fell swoop. (That might be, in fact, a good day to take pictures of the skeleton house in Uptown–they always do such a great job of decorating for Halloween.)

It’s going to be weird not having Gay Halloween this year, just as it was weird there was no Southern Decadence for the first time in decades. It’s not like I’ve attended or participated in years–or for that matter, even go out on Halloween weekend anymore–but the absence still bothers me somewhat. I also have to go up to Kentucky this year–probably for Thanksgiving–which means I’ll be able to get a lot of reading done and maybe even get some writing done as well. The last time I went up there I checked out audiobooks from the library; I’ll have to do the same again this time. Perhaps Stephen King’s The Institute, or another one of his works that I’ve not had the chance to read yet? I am not so sure that it’s perhaps the wisest thing to do to travel–Mom and Dad are getting up there, and if I am an asymptomatic carrier…yeah, so I don’t know. Maybe I should put it off until after this is all over, I don’t know.

Perhaps indeed.

I need to get back to reading for pleasure and education again, seriously. I am still reading Gore Vidal’s Lincoln, which is well-written but rather dense–it’s not like it’s hard to put it down and walk away from it–and I want to dive back onto gobbling up short stories again. I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the stack of collections and anthologies I set aside for the Short Story Project, for example, and of course the latest Lawrence Block anthology is right there next to it.

Yesterday I felt a little off–gastronomically speaking; mostly some terrible heartburn that thankfully seems to have gone away overnight while I slept, which of course had me more than a little concerned. I’ve not had that in a while–of course, I forgot to take my pills both Friday and yesterday, but even after taking them for yesterday the heartburn remained, which was disconcerting and alarming. Needless to say, I am quite delighted this morning that it’s gone away–and I should go take my pills right now, shouldn’t I, while I’m thinking about it and before I forget?

Okay, I am back now. The sun is in my eyes as it rises in the east over the West Bank–is it any wonder we are so off here in New Orleans?–but it’ll just be annoying and right in my eyes for a couple of minutes. Once I finish this, I think I am going to draft some emails to be sent tomorrow morning, and then adjourn to my easy chair with some short stories to read, as well as some of my own work to look over, reread, and correct. When the Saints game starts I’ll probably launch into the reread of Bury Me in Shadows–it’s been so long since I’ve worked on it, and so much is always going on that it’s hard for me to remember anything and everything, which is just plain wrong.

Sigh. I really miss my memory.

And on that note, it’s time to head back into the spice mines. One more cup of coffee, a Sara Paretsky short story, and then a shower to get my day going. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Teardrops on My Guitar

Saturday, and the first blog entry of the three day Labor Day weekend.

Labor Day.

September.

Sep-fucking-tember.

I think the kindest thing anyone can say about this year is that it hasn’t been a pleasant experience for most people, and putting it that way is perhaps a bit of a stretch. I do feel bad for people who are actually having good things happen to them in this year of utter misery and repeated horror; as I said recently, this is why we  need to get our joy where we can find it. Adaptability is one strength (supposedly) of our species, and I do see people adapting left and right; on the other hand, I also see others desperately clinging to the past and resisting adaptation most stubbornly. This has been quite a year on every level–and it has been interesting seeing how people have adapted, and how people are handling it all so differently.

This is why it surprises me when I see authors talking about how they are going to handle the pandemic in their work–or rather, how they are not going to address the pandemic in their work. It’s so global and so intense and it’s affected everyone, changing how we do things and how we live our lives, from the most mundane things like picking up prescriptions to grocery shopping to going out to eat, to the big things like jobs and house payments and school attendance and daycare. It has affected every part of our lives, so how can we ignore it or pretend like it never happened? It’s very similar to the Katrina situation New Orleans writers found ourselves in afterwards; we couldn’t pretend like the city hadn’t been destroyed or that we’d all been through a horrible trauma. But when I, for example, started writing my post-Katrina work, we were over a year into the recovery and so I could write about what it had been like, rather then trying to figure out what it was going to be like. Pandemic writing, of course, will inevitably date your work, just like Katrina divided my career into before and after. I’m still, frankly, trying to decide how to deal with it in my own work–or if I even want to continue writing the series or not.

And let’s be honest: my first and thus far only attempt to write pandemic fiction, started in the first weeks of the quarantine/shutdown, quickly became dated; I am very glad I didn’t finish it because a lot of the work would have been wasted. I do want to finish the story, though, see if anyone wants to publish it.

Today is going to be my catch-up day; I am going to try to get a chapter revised today, but my primary concern is getting things caught up; I want to finish reading Little Fires Everywhere (I really got sucked into it for a few hours last night) and get started on The Coyotes of Carthage, and I also think I might spend some time today with some short story reading–that Sara Paretsky collection keeps giving me side-eye whenever I sit down in my easy chair–and of course, there’s always electronic files to sort and clean up as well as physical ones. The house really needs some serious cleaning, frankly, and I know I’ll feel much better once that chore is actually accomplished.

Then again, who knows? This could easily turn into another lazy day.

Yesterday during condom-packing time, I watched the season finale of Real Housewives of New York (Dorinda’s recently firing makes a lot more sense now) and moved on to the next on my Cynical 70’s Film Festival, All the President’s Men. To digress for a moment, can I just say how fucking ridiculously good-looking Robert Redford was? I know, I know, commenting on the almost insane beauty of Redford isn’t like anything new, but good lord. Dustin Hoffman was also never considered to be particularly good-looking, but he looks pretty good in this movie and isn’t completely overshadowed by Redford, which would have been expected. It’s a very good film, from top to bottom; everyone in the cast is superb (it was also interesting to see so many people in bit roles that would later become stars on television–Polly Holiday, Stephen Collins, Meredith Baxter Birney), and it also made me miss the heyday of the thriller featuring the intrepid, dogged, never say die investigative journalist. This is something we’ve lost with the rise of the Internet, 24 hours news channels, and the death of print: with magazines and newspapers either shuttering or cutting back staff, it’s really no longer realistic to have the crusading journalist as the heroic center of your book or movie; as I watched the show I kept thinking about the old Ed Asner series Lou Grant, and whether it was streaming anywhere.

All the President’s Men, of course, is the film version of the book Carl Bernstein and Robert Woodward wrote about their investigation into the Watergate break-in in 1972, which was the tiny thread that was pulled and eventually brought down the Nixon presidency and almost destroyed the Republican party in the process. I read the book initially when I was in college–it was required reading for my Intro to Journalism class (I was torn between majoring in journalism or English; being unaware that I could have gone to college somewhere and majored in Creative Writing–but actually, I am very glad I never did that)–and it was my first real experience with understanding, for the first time, what Watergate was all about. It happened in real time during the course of my life, but I was also between the ages of 11 and 13 from the first reports of the break-in and the resignation of a president, and so I didn’t really understand what was going on and only had a vague idea as it infiltrated every aspect of the culture beyond the news. It certainly gave rise to the concept of conspiracy theories and the belief that the government couldn’t be trusted–which gave rise to Reaganism in the 1980’s–but reading the book was my first baby-step forward to shaking off the ideology with which I had been raised. I had never seen the film, and so it really seemed to be perfect for my Cynical 70’s Film Festival…although it was difficult for me to get up the desire to actually queue it up and click play, frankly; the utter failure of the 4th Estate to do its job properly in this century plays no small part in why we are where we are today. But it’s a good film, and it also depicts the back-room aspect of journalism–the battle for column inches, the struggle for the front page, the competition with other newspapers and television–which is really kind of a lost world now. (I had always wanted to write about a newspaper–which is partly why I made Paige a journalist, morphing her gradually into a magazine editor.) I will say watching this movie now made me think about writing about a modern-day journalist; the struggle between the print and on-line copy, etc. If I only had more time.

It’s also very sad to know that if Watergate was happening now, the story would be killed by an editor, and we’d never know the truth.

We also finished watching Outcry last night, which was terrific, and the latest episode of Lovecraft Country (it dropped early because of the holiday weekend), and its continued brilliance is really something. We also saw the preview for Raised by Wolves, the new Ridley Scott series for HBO MAX, and it also looks terrific. A new season of The Boys also just dropped on Prime; so there’s a wealth of things for us to watch, and I rediscovered (oops) my Showtime watch list last night, which also has a cornucopia of delights on it.

And on that note, tis time for me to head into ye olde spice mines for the day. May you all have a lovely, lovely day today.

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Picture to Burn

Thursday, Thursday, is today’s child full of woe? I used to know that rhyme when I was younger–one of those things that would pop out of my mouth and brain every now and then when I wasn’t expecting it to–and now I cannot seem to summon it from the depths of my memories. I think it was Tuesday’s child, anyway; was Thursday’s child full of grace or something like that? Possible, I suppose.

Another good night’s sleep was had yesterday evening, which is lovely. I have to go into the office today and run errands on the way in.  I’m just glad to be feeling more rested, to be honest, and then tomorrow is a work-at-home day, and then I slide into the three day weekend, which is kind of nice. I hope to finish reading  Little Fires Everywhere this weekend, start reading The Coyotes of Carthage, and perhaps dip my eyes back into the Short Story Project–I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection glaring at me from the end table as well as the new Lawrence Block anthology, and so many others I’ve not finished reading–and of course, I want to get a lot of writing done. I want to spend some time on Bury Me in Shadows, as well as maybe get some short story writing done, which would be lovely.

One can certainly hope, can’t one?

But I’ve also learned my lesson about over-planning for the weekend; I know I need to just make a list of things to do that need to be done and not overly pressure myself to get it all done over the course of the long weekend, while recognizing that I also need to recharge my batteries and I also need to do some cleaning; perhaps even work on that damned file cabinet which I never finished working on.

Yesterday’s Cynical 70’s Film Festival choice wound up being nothing I was considering. Instead, I choose to rewatch The Exorcist, which I’ve never seen other than the “edited for television” version. The Exorcist was a phenomenon at the time, and most people still, to this day, consider it the scariest film they’ve ever seen and it regularly pops up on lists of best horror films ever made. I read the book at the height of its popularity, when I was in junior high school, and while it didn’t precisely scare me, it was lurid–we all read it for the lurid parts, like the crucifix masturbation scene and so forth; there was something sacrilegious about reading it, like actually reading it was an act of subversion. The film broke all box office records of the time and was nominated for a lot of Oscars, and the soundtrack–Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”–always brings up mental associations with the film. It was the first outright horror film to get that many Oscar nominations, or to be nominated for any, really, other than Rosemary’s Baby, which wasn’t nominated for a lot; William Friedkin, fresh off his Oscar winning outing with The French Connection–which is also on my list–directed it. A more traditional entertainment, The Sting, wound up sweeping the Oscars that year. A few years ago, I reread the book to see how well it held up, and as an adult who is also now a writer and has been a reviewer, and has read thousands of other books in the interim, I can say it doesn’t hold up well at all–it really isn’t all that scary, either; it was a product of its time and it might not even get published were it written today. The characters were very cardboard and one-dimensional and behaved in ways that made no sense whatsoever; the focus was on the sacrilege, really, and the shock. I wondered if that would be true of the movie, as well, in its unedited version.

The acting was fine, really; Ellen Burstyn is never bad in anything, and Linda Blair was also fine; but the truth is the direction of the film doesn’t really develop the characters enough to make the viewer empathize with them, or identify with them. The scares weren’t as scary as they were; it’s hard to be scared when you know something is coming and you’ve already seen it, after all; part of the thrill of a horror film is not knowing when the scares are coming, so rewatches never have quite the same effect. I watched this time in a more analytic way, rather than as a viewer–but while others I’d seen before–Aliens comes to mind–really hold up incredibly well, The Exorcist doesn’t; I don’t feel like I got to know enough about Chris MacNeil or Father Karras enough to care about either one of them; and I found that I had more questions about them and who they were than I did when I viewed it as simply an entertainment. I think had the film been filmed more intimately, rather than from a cold distance, it would have held up a lot more; I don’t know, I am neither a filmmaker or a critic. But it didn’t trigger much of a reaction in me, and that’s rather telling. I think the problem, from a story-telling point of view, is that it couldn’t make up its mind whether it was about the MacNeils or Father Karras; although the title would tend to make you think the focus was on Father Karras; it should have been titled The Exorcism, really, and that, I think, was the end problem result for me: the book and film were really about Father Karras and his struggle with his faith, but only touched on that issue glancingly; because it also wanted to focus on how dismissive we are of spiritual issues in our modern scientific world, and wanted to show how an atheist, irreligious woman would try to get her child scientific treatment and slowly come around to the idea that in the modern world, something rooted in past superstition was the issue. Both are great stories, but for me, it failed in trying to tell both and wound up just skittering across the surface like a needle on a warped vinyl record.

Ultimately, though, The Exorcist–both book and film–are important works in both disciplines; along with Rosemary’s Baby, ushered in the 1970’s revival and rejuvenation of horror, in both film and literature, and that influence cannot be denied. Without either of those books, would Carrie have been published, or Peter Straub’s first horror novel? It was The Exorcist, after all, that first really introduced me to horror.

And I absolutely loved the television series inspired by it.

And on that note, tis time for me to return to ye old mines of spice. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch you again tomorrow.

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If This Was a Movie

I strongly suspect no one would buy into the concept of two hurricanes coming ashore in relatively the same area in such a short period of time. One of Tim Dorsey’s novels had this as a plot point, and I found it so damned far-fetched I actually decided to never read another one of his novels.

My bad, Mr. Dorsey, and my apologies.

Management decided to close the office for today yesterday, due to the state of emergency with Marco heading for us; so I’ll spend most of my day making condom packs and watching HBO MAX films while waiting for his untimely and unwanted arrival, all the while muttering prayers to every deity I can think of (agnostic, but it never hurts) so we don’t lose power. This morning, though, Marco has weakened to a tropical storm and has slowed down; I’m not exactly sure when he is forecast to come ashore; it looks like much later tonight than forecast and it’s going to skim along the coast rather than turning and coming inland–yesterday it looked like we were getting a direct hit. Laura has also drifted west so we are no longer in her Cone of Uncertainty, and has also slowed–it looks like her eye will be making landfall on Thursday rather than Wednesday as originally forecast. I suppose we can now sigh with relief here in New Orleans in dodging two bullets rapidly fired at us; but there’s still potential for wind damage and flooding. Not to mention one of the worst things that could happen in New Orleans in August: a loss of power.

I spent some time on the book yesterday; I didn’t make as much progress as I should have (do I ever?) but I am pleased with the work I am doing. There are good bones to this book; but the muscle tissue and sinew needs exercise and it also needs to lose some body fat. That’s why it’s taking me longer than I anticipated–I often get to a part where I think, ugh, I don’t want to fix this and make it better, it’s good enough and just as I am about to scroll on–I grab the print out with the post-its and scribbled notes on the pages (surprisingly enough, I remember most of it subconsciously, apparently–more on that oddity later) and force myself to fix it. Having the worked-on manuscript pages and post-its and notes in my journal and my notebook is a tremendous help; this is how I learned how to write a novel in the first place and it’s surprisingly helpful in accountability and in correcting laziness. I haven’t done this in years–certainly not this thoroughly–and often only work on electronic files. My working habit of writing books chapter by chapter and dividing up the electronic files that way–Chapter 1-3, for example, is the third draft of chapter one–and I rarely pull it all together into one document before turning it in. Having the actual physical document, and reading several chapters in a row as I correct and edit them rather than doing an electronic chapter file has helped me catch a lot of repetition, contradiction, and holes in the story. The way I’ve been doing this for the last ten years or so, which is undoubtedly faster but far less careful, probably isn’t the best way for me to be doing this. I didn’t reinvent the wheel and make it better after all. I can still write quickly, the way I always have–spewing out anywhere from three thousand to seven thousand words in one sitting–but I shouldn’t, mustn’t, won’t edit and revise that way anymore.

Something peculiar did happen yesterday–this is the more on this oddity later segment of the blog–in which I worked on Chapter Four and got pretty far into it without referring to the manuscript hard copy pages and notes. In fact, I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I got to a part I didn’t want to rewrite (even though it was necessary) and was going to pass through, thinking you can fix this in a later draft and stopped myself, thinking, what if you DON’T catch this next time? And why be lazy and ensure that the next time will take longer when you can just fix it NOW? I reached for the pages and realized that I had been revising/editing/rewriting without referring to them…and then discovered that most of the corrections I had already made were the same as the ones on the pages. Some of the changes were different–and better than the ones in my scribbled notes–and I had made changes to things I hadn’t caught in the hard copy. So, I interpreted this to be mean that I now have the voice and tone and mood of the story so deeply embedded into the creative corners of my mind that I know how it’s supposed to sound–and I also know the story so I can put the pieces in that are missing to make it come together properly.

It was actually quite marvelous.

I also spent some time with Lovecraft Country, which just gets better and better the further into the book I get. There were, as there have been every time I’ve sat down with the book, moments when the racism was so horrific I wanted to put the book down, but I reminded myself other people can’t walk away from racism by putting a book down and kept reading. It’s truly a terrific novel, and I am greatly enjoying it. We also watched the second episode last night, which is also fantastic. The show is pretty faithful to the book, with some minor tweaks and changes here and there, and it actually enriches the story in the book by expanding on it and the changes aren’t jarring; the fit in the context of the story the show is telling. I’m very glad the show was made, glad I am reading the source material–similarly to how I felt with Watchmen and its source material last year. It’s wonderful that so many books are being made into great television series; it’s enormously satisfying to read the book while watching the show. I did this first with Big Little Lies; and of course intended to do it with Little Fires Everywhere but failed; I’ve yet to read that book and am now thinking I should move it up in the TBR pile (I was planning on reading Babylon Berlin  next; I may still go ahead and read that but keep Little Fires Everywhere on deck). I also want to start dipping into reading short stories again–I’ve got the Paretsky collection, and the new Lawrence Block anthology, an so many other anthologies and single-author collections I’ve not finished–but it seems like there’s never enough time in the day, you know?

And it’s almost September already; how scary is that? Time is so weird anymore; it seems like we’ve been living in this pandemic forever, and this year has lasted a century, and yet still I looked at today’s date and freaked out a little bit because it’s like, did I waste this entire year already? There’s always something, I guess, I can berate myself about. It really never ends around here.

I found myself thinking about short stories I have written, or are in progress–there’s a ridiculous amount of them, seriously–and wondering about when I’m going to be able to get back to writing more of them, or finishing some of the ones that are currently in progress. This lengthy birthday weekend, followed up with an extra unexpected work at home day, has me feeling extremely well rested and my batteries recharged; I always forget how necessary that is, and with this weird new world we find ourselves living in these days–I forget that I used to take a three day weekend every six weeks or so in order to do just that: recharge my batteries. It’s just odd because I guess with the  work-at-home days every week where I don’t actually have to go into the office, I had the mentality that I didn’t necessarily need to take time off periodically for mental health purposes; that insidious sense that working at home isn’t really working.

Sigh.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely, storm-free Monday, Constant Reader.

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Cruel Summer

As far as summers go, I’d say this is one of the cruelest of my life thus far. (Nothing, however, including this one, has been as bad as 2005; let me make that very clear–but this one also isn’t over yet and apparently the Saharan dust storm that was hindering the formation of hurricanes is over now. Yay.)

I read an interesting piece on Crimereads about Robert S. Parker and his creation of his iconic character, Spenser, which put me back in mind of how I came to create MY character, Chanse MacLeod–who I have been thinking about lately ( I’ve decided that rather than writing novels about him I’m going to work on some novellas, and then put four of them together as a book; currently the working titles for the first three are “Once a Tiger,” “The Body in the Bayou,” and “The Man in the Velvet Mask”–I still need a fourth, and it’s entirely possible that any of these could turn actually into a novel, and I do have some amorphous ideas about what the fourth one could be), and reading this piece, which is excerpted from a scholarly tome about the genre I would like to read (Detectives in the Shadows: A Hard-boiled History by Susanna Lee), made me start thinking about how I created Chanse, and the entire process that the series actually went through over the years of his development.

It also made me think about looking at Chanse, the series, the characters, and the stories I chose to tell in a more critical, analytic way; I am not sure if I can do this, actually–while I’ve not published a Chanse novel since Murder in the Arts District back on October 14, 2014 (!!! Six years? It’s been six years since I retired the series? WOW)–which means I do have some distance from the books now, I still am the person who wrote them…even though I barely remember any of them now; I cannot recall plot points, or character names, outside of the regulars who populate every one of the books (I also cheated by using some of the same regulars in the Scotty series; Venus Casanova and Blaine Tujague, the police detective partners, appear in both series; and Paige Tourneur, Chanse’s best friend and a reporter, originally for the Times-Picayune who eventually moved on to become editor of Crescent City magazine, also turned up in the Scotty series, in Garden District Gothic and then again in Royal Street Reveillon. Serena Castlemaine, one of the cast members of the Grande Dames of New Orleans, who shows up in the most recent two Scotty books–the same as Paige–is a cousin of the deceased husband of Chanse’s landlady and erstwhile regular employer, Barbara Palmer Castlemaine).

I first created the character of Chanse MacLeod while I was living in Houston in 1989, and the series was intended to be set in Houston as well. I didn’t know of any crime novels or series set in Houston, one of the biggest cities in the country, and I thought that was strange (and probably wrong). Houston seemed like the perfect city for a crime series–huge and sprawling, economically depressed at the time but there was still a lot of oil money and speculators, con artists and crime–and the original story was called The Body in the Bayou (a title of which I am very fond, and is currently back in the running to be the title of a Chanse novella), because Houston also has bayous. I was reading John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee series at the time, and loving them–I particularly loved the character of Travis McGee–and how twisty and complicated (if sometimes farfetched) the plots of the novels were. I had read The Dreadful Lemon Sky when I was thirteen, and liked it; but promptly forgot about MacDonald and McGee; a Book Stop in Houston that I frequented reminded me of them and I started picking them up. I had also discovered Sue Grafton and Sara Paretsky by this time, and was falling in love with the crime genre all over again, developing a taste for the more hard-boiled side I disliked as a teenager. This was when I decided to try writing in this field again–for most of the 1980’s I was trying to write horror and science fiction (and doing so, very badly).

But coming back to the field that I loved as a kid, tearing through the paperback stand alones from Scholastic Book Club and all the series, from Nancy Drew to the Three Investigators to Trixie Belden before graduating on to Agatha Christie and Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, seemed preordained, and also seemed somehow right; writing mysteries, or crime fiction, seemed to me the right path to becoming a published author (turns out, that was the correct assumption for me to make, and one that I have never regretted).

Chanse was originally, as a straight man, a graduate of Texas A&M and a two year veteran of the Houston Oilers; an injury eventually led to early retirement and joining the Houston PD, where he only lasted another three years before quitting and getting a private eye license. He had a secretary, a woman of color named Clara, who was heavyset and in her early fifties. That was about as far as I got; I think I wrote a first draft of a first chapter which established him as having his office near NASA, in Clear Lake (which was near where I lived) and his first case was going to involve a wealthy oil family in River Oaks. Chanse was also six four, dirty blond hair, green eyes, and weighed about two-twenty. When I fell in love with New Orleans four or five years later, I started revising the character and started writing The Body in the Bayou while I lived in Minneapolis. By this time I’d discovered that gay fiction was actually a thing, and that queer mysteries actually existed: Joseph Hanson, Michael Nava, RD Zimmerman, etc. I wanted to write about New Orleans, and I wanted to write a more hard-boiled, MacDonald like hero than what I was reading. (Not that Hanson, Nava, and the rest weren’t doing hard-boiled stuff; they were–I just wanted to subvert the trope of the straight male loner-hero detective.)

Chanse was definitely a loner, and after I moved to New Orleans I once again started revising the manuscript and story that eventually became Murder in the Rue Dauphine. He was cynical about life, love and relationships, even as he was slowly inching his way into a relationship with a flight attendant named Paul Maxwell; he had only two friends, really: Paige Tourneur, who’d been his “beard” while he was at LSU and in a fraternity and was now a reporter for the Times-Picayune; and Blaine Tujague, a former one-night stand and fellow gay man on the NOPD (I changed his backstory to having attended LSU on a football scholarship and a career-ending injury in the Sugar Bowl at the end of his senior year, which led him to joining NOPD, where he lasted for two years before going out on his own). He also lived in a one bedroom apartment on Camp Street, across the street from Coliseum Square in a converted Victorian, the living room also served as his office–and that was the same place where Paul and I lived when we first moved to New Orleans.

The series and the character evolved in ways I didn’t foresee when I first imagined him as that straight private eye in Houston; or even when I rebooted him into a gay one in New Orleans. The original plan was to have him evolve and grow from every case he took on–which would parallel some kind of personal issue and/or crisis he was enduring as he solved the case–the first case was about his concerns about getting involved in a serious relationship as he investigated a case that made him realize he was very lucky to have found someone that he could be with openly; the second case was about investigating someone who wasn’t who they claimed to be while at the same time he was finding out things about Paul’s past that made him uncomfortable. Katrina, of course, came along between book two and book three and changed everything; I know I also wrote another that dealt with the issues between mothers and children which made him reexamine his own relationship with his mother.

The great irony is I probably need to revisit the books to talk about them individually, or to even take a stronger, more in-depth look at the character; maybe that’s something I can do (since I have ebooks of the entire series) when I am too tired to focus on reading something new or to write anything.

And it’s really not a bad idea to reexamine all of my books and short stories at some point, in order to get an idea of what to do (and how to do it) going forward.

And now back to the spice mines.

Mirrorball

And here we find ourselves, yet again, on the dawning of a new work week; the oft-despised and maligned Monday.

I’m feeling tired this morning–it’s not groggy; just kind of dragging, if that’s a thing. More like I should have slept for at least another hour kind of thing. But it’s a “to-the-office” morning, and we have a full schedule both today and tomorrow, which is great, actually–I really enjoy working with clients–and just wish I was a little more awake this morning.

Paul and I blasted through eight (!!!) episodes of Season 3 of Babylon Berlin last night; the third season is just as high quality as the previous two, and I am now thinking I might want to move the book higher in the TBR pile. I had planned on reading Lovecraft Country next, preparatory to the show airing on HBO this month–it’s nice to mix a different genre in every once in a while–and I do love horror, when it’s well done. This one explores racism and Jim Crow through a reimagining of the notorious racist H. P. Lovecraft’s horror, (Lovecraft has been the subject of a raging battle in the horror genre for the last decade or so; he was an enormous influence on the genre and is still quite widely read to this day–but was also a horrific racist. I’ve actually never read Lovecraft–I tried when I was a teenager and it didn’t hold my interest–so I cannot comment on his influence, other than what others say about it) and the trailers for the show look terrific.

I also have some anthologies and short story collections to start digging into; I have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection and Lawrence Block’s The Darkling Halls of Ivy sitting on my end table. (I would love to have a story in one of Block’s anthologies; they are inevitably terrific, and I’ve enjoyed every one of them I’ve read thoroughly.) I’ve kind of been diverted away from the Short Story Project during these dark times; and since they can be gulped down relatively easily and quickly, I may be taking the Block with me to work today for reading during my lunch break; the lovely thing about short stories are they are short and can be finished in a short period of time, without the sadness that comes with having to set aside a truly fabulous novel one is reading.

I’ve read some very good books thus far this year; as I said in my entry about S. A. Cosby’s quite marvelous Blacktop Wasteland, these are terrific times to be a fan of crime fiction because so much wonderful stuff is being published these days. I honestly think the move towards greater diversity and publishing more diverse voices is pumping new blood and new life into our genre; this needs to happen every so often, I think–and with no offense intended towards anyone, there’s a tendency for creative fiction to stagnate, to continue upholding the status quo–and new voices are vital for our genre to survive.

I spent a good portion of yesterday going over the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows, and yes, I was correct; a lot of work needs to be done on them still. But I made some good progress, and if I can get these first ten whipped into shape the second ten, and the final five, will be much easier to work on and correct and fix. It took me about five hours to get through everything, as well as realize what all needs to be done to pull this all together; I am hoping to find the time to do it all during this week so I can spend the weekend working on the next ten, hopefully getting them all finished so I can have the entire book ready to be turned in by the first of September.

And on that note, back to the spice mines.

Se a vida é (That’s the Way Life Is)

And we made it to Friday once again, hopefully healthy and in one piece and mentally stable–that last one is always a bit, shall we say, questionable, for me as a rule? I am taking a vacation day from work today–it was a work at home day (why would one Gregalicious, you might well ask, take a vacation day when I would be working from home? Pay close attention and I shall tell you) anyway and there are all sorts of reasons for this. For one, yesterday was an incredibly low energy day for me. I got up early to have my bloodwork done, then picked up prescriptions and got my shingles vaccine shot. I spent the morning doing what i usually do from home in the mornings–reading articles, checking my work email, doing my timesheet, etc.–then went into the office to make “works’ bags for the syringe access program. As we have ascertained plenty of times before, standing for long periods of time isn’t the best for me, nor is standing while bending over, and my shoulder began to hurt from the vaccine shot. By the time I was finished I was very tired, did a few more things around the office, and headed home. They had warned me that the vaccine might give me mild flu-like symptoms, and that wasn’t a lie. Last night I felt like I had a mild flu, and so my mind couldn’t focus, so I stayed in my easy chair and watched television for most of the night before going to be relatively early. The insomnia has also come back over the last two nights, but I am hoping that this morning I’ll be okay. I don’t feel tired this morning, despite waking up in fits and starts since about two thirty, and the house is a disaster area.

And because of yesterday, I have about a gazillion emails to answer. YIKES. Once I finish this, I am heading into my emails. Pray for me, Constant Reader, pray for me.

But it looks like it’s going to be a beautiful day outside–hellishly hot, of course–but I can see through all the trees up to a clear blue sky. We’ve had torrential thunderstorms every day this week–which I love–but it might be nice to have a day where poor Paul doesn’t get soaked on his way to and/or from work, the poor thing. I also have to launder the bed linens today–which is my every Friday chore–and I am determined that this is the weekend where I get the Secret Project finished if it kills me. I don’t have any errands that I have to run this weekend–I do have to get the mail Saturday and get gas and air up a tire–but that’s not a terrible, exhausting, put-me-out-of-the-mood-to-do-anything else chore, like making groceries, and even if it is, well, Paul will be out of the house on Saturday anyway; he has a grant to finish and he told me last night he’d probably have to go in on Saturday anyway. So, I should be able to finish reading Cottonmouths this weekend at last, and then I can move on to another book in my TBR pile. I may focus on short stories for a while, since those are more easily gulped down–and I do have Sara Paretsky’s short story collection on hand, as well as Lawrence Block’s latest (well, not the latest; there’s been a new one since I got this one) anthology, and those are always a lovely read.

I’ve also decided to put any and all short stories I am working on to the back burner until I get the Secret Project finished.

Over all, it was a pretty good week. I am very pleased that I am stepping up to take control of my health; the doctor visit was terrific; and as I mentioned earlier I am getting the two-step shingles vaccine–and since Paul had shingles about nine years or so ago, that’s something I definitely don’t ever want to suffer through. We’ll see how long this I can conquer the world mood I am feeling this morning lasts. I am hopeful it will last all day, myself–I am going to spend the morning dealing with emails and organizing and cleaning; as I mentioned the kitchen is a disaster area.

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

The Night I Fell in Love

And now begins the three day weekend. Yay!

It’s also July now, as one can tell by the tropical weather experience New Orleans is currently enjoying; heat index averaging high nineties over a hundred everyday, your occasional heat advisory (“stay indoors if at all possible”), thunderstorms and flash flood warnings out of nowhere and some Sahara sand storm dust thrown in for shits and giggles.

I finished watching the only season of the original Jonny Quest yesterday while making condom packs, and I have to say, the original writers of this show had some serious issues with Asians, and most especially the Chinese. It’s unusual that in a decade and time period when the Cold War was particularly chilly–it originally aired only a few years after the Cuban Missile Crisis, and in prime time that single season–the Russians were never the villains. Dr. Quest’s arch enemy was the evil Chinese scientist Dr. Sun; and in several episodes the villains were Chinese. They also had a remarkable number of adventures in Asia–China, Taiwan, India, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Nepal; and the natives were always either evil or horrible stereotypes (as were any jungle natives they encountered in either South America or Africa). Hadji, a series regular, was a particularly stereotypical magical Indian youth–who managed to charm snakes, levitate others, and numerous other magic tricks while chanting “Heem, heem, salabeem” or some such nonsensical thing. He was always in a turban and Nehru jacket, and even in beach scenes, when the others wore swim trunks, he wore a Gandhi loincloth. Why?

I also watched a couple of episodes of Scooby Doo Where Are You, and despite the simplistic, casual racism of Jonny Quest, it’s still the superior show. I’ve not watched any of the later reboots of Jonny Quest–the one from 1986 shows up on HBO MAX as the second season, and in the mid-nineties The Real Adventures of Jonny Quest launched, with the boys aged to teenagers from eleven year olds, and Race’s daughter added to the mix (I guess to deflect the deep queerness of the original); the animation in this version is perhaps the best of all three versions–with Race finally achieving his full muscle-god bodyguard perfection–but whenever I’ve tried to watch, the “it’s not really Jonny Quest” disappointment always sets in and I stop watching.

We also got deeper into Season 2 of Titans, and it gets better and better with every episode, frankly. The Jericho story is particularly heartbreaking; and I love that they are using the second season (with some continuity errors) to explore how the team came to break apart in the first place (the show begins with the Titans already broken up, and them coming back together to confront the big bad of Season One) and how, essentially, all the action of Season One really was set into motion. It’s very exceptional story-telling, frankly, and the plotting and pacing is, for the most part, superb. Also superb is the addition of several new cast members: Rose Slade, Conner Kent, and Deathstroke as the big bad, with Aqualad appearing briefly as set up for the original conflict between the Titans and Deathstroke. We only have two episodes left, and I was glad to see the show was renewed for a third season already…although, given the pandemic, who knows when it will ever be filmed or when it will actually air.

Today, as I already mentioned earlier this week, is the day I am taking off. I have some emails to respond to, and some other things I need to get done this morning, but as soon as I get all of that done I am going on sabbatical for the rest of the weekend. I want to get a lot of writing done this weekend–the Secret Project must be finished, and there’s a couple more short stories in progress I want to work on and develop, but today for the most part I’m planning on mostly cleaning and reading and chilling out, so I can just let my brain relax and recuperate and my body to rest, so that the rest of the weekend I can get the writing I need to get done finished. I am looking forward to getting back into Kelly J. Ford’s Cottonmouths–the first chapter was blistering–and getting through all the emails in my inbox. I also have my edits for the Sherlock story, which I’ll also have to get through this weekend–perhaps today–I am giving myself until one to deal with the Internet and emails and so forth before shutting down for the holiday weekend.

It’s very strange outside this morning, neither light nor dark but sort of grim-looking and hazy. The trees aren’t moving so there’s no wind of any kind out there. I’m not sure what the weather is supposed to be like today–there’s usually not much point in checking the forecast as it’s inevitably always the same–hot humid chance of rain–and usually, after June, we surrender to it and don’t bother with daily updates and just start paying attention to tropical formations and depressions coming across the Atlantic or forming deep in the Gulf. It isn’t hot in the kitchen/office this morning yet–the absence of the blindingly brilliant morning sun has helped, and I haven’t had to turn on the portable Arctic Air coolers yet (but I know it’s inevitable), but it actually feels pleasantly cool down here this morning thus far, which is rather nice, quite frankly.

I still have three stories out for submission (“The Snow Globe”, “Moves in the Field,” and “This Thing of Darkness”), but I do want to spend the summer trying to get more out there. One of the biggest disappointments I’ve found as a writer is the continual drying up of short story markets that actually pay, and while others have sprung up in their place they either don’t pay, or pay so little as to just be a token (and might as well be unpaid, for that matter). I’ve always been concerned about the decline of the short story market, because I do think the form is important to literature, and to crime fiction in particular. I personally love the short form–despite my constant struggle with it–and I also know I am just as guilty as anyone in its decline, because I don’t read them as much as I should. I do buy anthologies and short story collections–Sara Paretsky’s is winging its way to me even as I type this, along with the new one edited by Lawrence Block–and I am probably going to be putting together another one of my own at some point over the next year or so (provided the world doesn’t burn to the ground in the meantime). I was calling it Once a Tiger and Other Stories, but I have to completely rethink the title story, “Once a Tiger,” and so I may need to rename it. I would also like to include some of these stories I’ve recently sold–which will delay the collection more, as the original publications have to occur first, but I was thinking perhaps The Carriage House and Other Stories, or Night Follows Night and Other Stories. I also would love to collect all my love story/romance short stories into an edition–I’ve published three or four, but have a lot more just sitting in files needing to be revised or rewritten or finished.

And on that note, I am going to head back down into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, everyone.

DJ Culture

Ah, Kansas.

I only spent five and a half years there, and yet somehow, it more shaped my psyche and who I am than the years as a child in Chicago or the four and a half years in its suburbs; even more so than the eight years spent in California. I’m not entirely sure why precisely that is, but it’s true. I think perhaps it’s because it was there I really and truly started writing, and started seriously thinking that my both life and career were going to be about writing. By the time we took the 1:30 a.m. train out of Emporia for California, my identity as a writer was firmly fixed in my head; when I stepped off the train into the California sunshine, I knew I was going to be a writer someday, somehow, some way.

And when I lived there, in Kansas, I wasn’t really aware of other Kansas writers. (I also wasn’t aware of other gay people there, either.) Now, of course, I know Sara Paretsky is a Kansan, along with Nancy Pickard and Kay Kendall and Lori Roy; I don’t know if Scott Phillips is a native, but he writes about Kansas. Alafair Burke grew up in Wichita.

And of course, there’s Scott Heim.

I recently read a novella by Scott, “Loam”, which was really good, and it put me to thinking about Mysterious Skin, the first of three novels he published, and alas, the only one that I’v actually read. I read it back in the late 1990’s, methinks, when I was scrabbling around trying to get caught up on gay lit and read as much of it as I could. I also saw the film (I’ll watch anything with Joseph Gordon-Leavitt in it, quite frankly), and while I have met him and spent a little time with him, and we follow each other on both Facebook and Twitter, I don’t know that I would safe in referring to him as a friend, I do consider him an acquaintance of whom I am very fond. He’s quite witty on social media, and I admire his skill as a writer…so I thought I should take a reread whirl with Mysterious Skin. 

I also wanted to read it as a dark crime novel, borderline noir; I was certain the story would hold up, but since Mystery Writers of America classifies it’s definition of a mystery as writing about the commission, solving, and/or aftermath of a crime….while it can be a stretch, Mysterious Skin kind of fits into that broad definition. Laura Lippman thinks we need to stop claiming literary works, like Crime and Punishment and Sanctuary as crime novels; but I honestly believe Sanctuary absolutely and positively is a masterwork of literary noir; the line between “Southern Gothic” and “crime fiction” is relatively tiny and there is a lot of crossover. Some of Flannery O’Connor’s work, definitely Southern Gothic, crosses over that fine line between literary fiction and crime.

I am not defining literary works, or works from other fields, as crime fiction to try to elevate crime fiction; it doesn’t need elevating to get respect, which was Laura’s point. Crime fiction deserves respect because it is good, and those who dismiss sneeringly as genre need to remember that literary fiction is just as much a genre as anything else.

As Nevada Barr said, “It’s either mystery or romance or just plain boring.”

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The summer I was eight years old, five hours disappeared from my life. I can’t explain.  I remember this: first, sitting on the bench during my Little League team’s 7 P.M. game, and second, waking in the crawl space of my house near midnight. Whatever happened during that empty expanse of time remains a blur.

When I came to, I opened my eyes to darkness. I sat with my legs pushed to my chest, my arms wrapped around them, my head sandwiched between my knees. My hands were clasped so tightly they hurt. I unfolded slowly, like a butterfly from its cocoon.

I brushed a sleeve over my glasses, and my eyes adjusted. To my right, I saw diagonal slits of light from a small door. Zillions of dust motes fluttered through the rays. The light stretched ribbons across a cement floor to illuminate my sneaker’s rubber toe. The room around me seemed to shrink, cramped with shadows, its ceiling less than three feet tall. A network of rusty popes lined a paint-spattered wall. Cobwebs clogged their upper corners.

My thoughts clarified. I was sitting in the crawl space of our house, that murky crevice beneath the porch. I wore my Little League uniform and cap, my Rawlings glove on my left hand. My stomach ached. The skin on both wrists was rubbed raw. When I breathed, I felt flakes of dried blood inside my nose.

Like some of the best crime novels, Mysterious Skin is about survivors of a trauma, and the different ways people react to suffering through trauma. It actually isn’t a stretch to call it a crime or mystery novel; the central story is trying to determine what happened to Brian Lackey when he was seven years old and lost five hours of time. Brian at first becomes obsessed with UFO’s and alien encounters, as those are the only places he can find where other people also lost time; so he becomes convinced that he was kidnapped by a UFO and experimented on; all the evidence, such as it is, certainly points to that. The other boy, Neil, had a sexual relationship with his Little League coach, which he believed was consensual and that Coach loved him; as he grows up he becomes a hustler, tricking with johns cruising a park in Hutchinson (all these small cities in Kansas have/had gay cruising places; Emporia even had one) and eventually moving away to New York, where he continues hustling. Neil’s trauma is actually even unknown to him; he’s convinced himself that he was special and that Coach loved him; their sexual relationship wasn’t perverse or perverted or anything wrong, but rather based in love and consent; his own memories are very clouded, and as a young adult hustler he finds himself drawn to older men, much like Coach was.

It’s very definitely a literary novel, make no mistake, but it is, at heart, a novel about a crime and the trauma that comes from that crime and its aftermath; which fits the definition of “mystery” that comes from Mystery Writers of America. I doubt very seriously the panel of judges for the Best First Novel Edgar the year this was released would have picked it as a finalist (which it deserved to be); the subject matter is hard enough for people to deal with, let alone the sexuality of Neil, who is essentially a teen hustler, getting paid by older men for sex.

Beautifully written with a sparsity of language that Megan Abbott or James M. Cain or Shirley Jackson would embrace; Heim chooses words carefully to evoke powerful images and emotions and realities in as few words as possible, and while some might think the ending a bit of a cheat, leaving the door open to many possibilities–I feel like he found the absolute perfect place to end his novel: Neil coming to realize that what he experienced with Coach wasn’t love (something he has been adamantly refusing to understand since it happened–that whole I’m different than the others thing so many children feel under those circumstances–I’ve known any number of gay men who had relationships with adults when they were very young and didn’t realize it wasn’t love until they aged out of their Lolita-like relationships) and Brian finally piercing through the veil his mind has hidden the truth from all these years because it was too much for him to handle…until he could handle it.

Mysterious Skin is also an incredibly powerful depiction of what it’s like to be grow up working class in a sparsely populated state like Kansas–the worries about money, the beater cars you keep coaxing more life out of, that college might not be an option, and there aren’t that many good jobs to be had–and what it’s like to grow up queer under those circumstances. At one point in the book Heim says something incredibly smart and true–about how the stuff that is hip and cool on the coasts takes about three years to get to the center of the country; which is something I learned very quickly when I moved to California and all of my clothes were dated and wrong and out of style.

This is a truly terrific book, and I encourage you to read it, if you haven’t already.