Stay Awhile

Another work-at-home Monday here in the Lost Apartment and I am not feeling especially motivated this morning. Granted, I’ve yet to swill down any coffee (which will undoubtedly make a significant difference) but I also have a lot to do. I wasn’t nearly as productive over the weekend as I would have liked to have been, so the to-do list still has many things to be crossed off of it. But I think the relaxation was necessary in some ways–I did make notes in my journal all weekend, and I did a lot of thinking about writing, and I do think that’s very important; as I mentioned on the Spirit of Ink the other day, it’s crazy to sit down to write something without spending some time thinking about what you are going to write first. There’s this sense, often reinforced by television and movie depictions of writers trying to write, that we simply sit down at the computer (or typewriter, depending on the time period) and then stare in in frustration at the blank page or document before finally giving up. I don’t know any writer who sits down without some idea of what they are going to be writing about when they sit down to start, and it occurs to me that not thinking about what you’re going to be writing before you sit down and start writing it is nothing more than defeating yourself before you even get started.

We wound up watching quite a bit of television over the weekend; Anatomy of a Scandal on Netflix with Siena Miller and Michelle Dockery was how we spent most of yesterday; it wasn’t bad but there was a massive plot hole in the center of it that, once we were aware of it (a surprise twist about halfway through) kind of undermined the story and the character who was committing the deception: it simply did not make any sense. Maybe in the book it was based upon it worked better, I don’t know; but it really undermined the impact of the show and its message; which purported to be about entitled men and the “boys will be boys” dismissal of sexual harassment and assault on women; the old “he said/she said” debate in which the woman is never truly believed in our justice system (or the British one, in this case; sad that both countries have the same issues with toxic masculinity and accountability for entitled male behavior, but not terribly surprising, since one country is basically the mother of the other). The acting was good, but I really didn’t see anything fresh or new to the story; we’ve seen this same story before numerous times: powerful man is accused by underling with whom he is having an affair of sexual assault after the affair ends; wife isn’t sure whether she should believe him or not; and endless surprising revelations from the pasts of everyone involved.

But I did get some things done, so the weekend wasn’t a complete and/or total loss, to be sure. I managed to get most of the dishes done (there’s still another load to put in the dishwasher and run) and most of the laundry, and I did manage to get some organizing done as well. As I already mentioned I got some writing (or thinking about writing) done; I also did some important on-line research for not only my next Scotty but for a sequel to A Streetcar Named Murder if they want one; if they don’t, the research will certainly come in handy for something else. I also did find a couple of submission calls I might, if I have the time, cobble something together for–but the deadlines are very tight, and I don’t have anything in pristine-enough shape to turn in for the calls, either, which would mean needing to find the time to revise and rewrite stories for both, or at the very least trying to figure out which stories might work in either case. I’ll need to review the calls again with an eye to looking at what is in the files.

I also finished reading Carol Goodman’s The Lake of Dead Languages, so Ellen Byron’s Bayou Book Thief is up next for me. I am interviewing her at Blue Cypress Books this coming Sunday, so it’s best that I be prepared to talk to her about her new series don’t you think? I think a week–despite everything I have that needs to get done this week–is more than enough time to make sure I can read the book and be sort of intelligent-sounding while we are at the store. I’m not terribly worried; Ellen is witty and wise and warm and a great story-teller, so I know she’ll run with the ball every time I hand it off to her.

And on that note, this isn’t getting anything crossed off my to-do list, so I’d best head back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader, no matter what it requires you to do.

Temptation Eyes

Thursday morning and I slept well again last night. Yesterday wasn’t a good day by any means of measurement; the less said about the day the better, methinks. I was mentally and physically exhausted when I got home from the office, so I basically collapsed into my easy chair and spent most of the evening until Paul got home trying to decide what I want to read next. I really couldn’t pick anything; but I suspect I am going to probably go for a Carol Goodman next–I may change my mind by the time I get home from work tonight, but that’s where I am at right now with everything,

People are starting to arrive and/or get excited about Malice Domestic, which is happening this weekend in Maryland. I had hoped to go to Malice, but the scheduling conflict with the Edgars and New York–I really couldn’t take that much time off from work–prevented my attendance. I had such a lovely time at Left Coast so I am already experiencing FOMO seeing everyone’s arrival posts. Have fun, everyone–and certainly wish good luck to everyone nominated for an Agatha Award this Saturday–lots of friends on those short lists, as always–I have so many talented friends!

When Paul finally got home–he also had a shitty day–we watched White Hot: The Rise and Fall of Abercrombie and Fitch–which was interesting, but really didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. It did remind me of their catalogues, which were essentially homoerotic porn–every gay man had a copy, it seemed–but I was never terribly interested in their clothes despite really liking their ads (I mean, come on–gorgeous practically naked young people? Sex sells, people.) and I don’t think I ever set foot in one of their stores. But the thing that kept striking me was seeing how much American culture has changed, and changed so dramatically, since the turn of the century. Nowadays you can’t imagine a company selling exclusion and “we’re just for the cool kids” and becoming successful; especially since it was clear the company’s standard for “cool kids” was nearly exclusively white. And then of course there were the sexual harassment/abuse charges against Bruce Weber, the photographer whose images helped create the look the company was going for and helped the company take off into the stratosphere–something I’ve always thought would make an interesting back story for a crime novel, to be honest; maybe someday that book will get written–but I didn’t really learn anything from the documentary that I didn’t already know, so while it was interesting, and yes, I enjoyed watching it…I guess I was expecting more? I’m always a little disappointed when I see a documentary but don’t get any new information about it. I will say I’d recommend it, if for no other reason than for people today to see how recently societal viewpoints about beauty standards and “pretty privilege” have shifted and changed–and the horrible fact that an enormous corporation could build its entire public image on a distorted, racist view of how beauty in our culture and society is defined without anyone even saying, “hey, wait a minute…”

And yes, I do get the irony of me writing that while posting blogs every day with photos of beautiful men showing off their bodies.

I still haven’t made as much progress on everything I have to get done as I would have liked this week and it’s already Thursday, which means, inevitably, that I will not be able to be a lazy slug this weekend and just lie around doing nothing while binge-watching television shows and/or reading. But I did make some progress yesterday, which was nice, and I just wish I wasn’t so damned tired when I got home last night from work. I will probably be tired when I get home tonight, but I need to put the dishes away from the dishwasher and finish a couple of loads of clothes that I started doing the other night. But I am excited for my trip next week, and looking forward to being in New York and seeing people again and just, in general, having a lovely time of things–even if it means getting up on the stage at the banquet and speaking for a moment or two. Yikes! But I have to get that story finished, I have to get my emails under control, and there are some other odds and ends I need to tie up before I leave town on Tuesday. Huzzah? Today already feels like a better day, and like it can be more productive, so fingers crossed that it will continue this way as it goes forward. I did sleep well again last night–I am afraid to celebrate the sleeping well contingent of my existence for fear of jinxing it–and maybe, just maybe, I am starting to get used to this schedule after all these years? (It certainly feels like it’s been years)

There are worse things, I suppose. And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. May your Thursday be lovely and charming and marvelously productive, Constant Reader. I will talk to you again tomorrow morning.

Your Heart Belongs to Me

Sunday morning and reality again looms on the horizon. No more long weekends, no more extra days off from work for a while, and back to the regular grind of living this life, which is–you know, fine, as a general rule, but don’t mind me if I whine a bit about it, you know?

I mean, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t whine, would I?

I got some work done on the book yesterday, and I plan to do even more today. I also need to spend some time reading what’s already written and trying to figure out how to fix the mess that the manuscript has become–it’s really all over the place, but everything I want the book to say and do it does; it’s just going to need some serious editing. The deadline looms to get it all fixed and decent and publishable; which means I am going to be revising and editing my ass off next weekend. Which is fine, and do-able, just an enormous pain in the ass, but as long as I am sleeping well and getting rested, that’s really all that matters, isn’t it?

I spent yesterday afternoon writing my book, and then spent some time doing what I usually do; puttering around and trying to get organized, which will also encapsulate most of today as well. I also have an article to write, and a short story to revise/edit…it’s really endless, isn’t it? And of course this week is a work week, and I have other things on the agenda to get done as well. We also watched Landscapers on HBO MAX last night, which was interesting. Olivia Colman and her co-stars are amazing, as always, but at the same time the producers/directors made some interesting artistic choices that didn’t always, at least in my mind, pay off completely. We then moved on to the second season of Control Z, a Spanish language show whose first season we greatly enjoyed, and this second season is also pretty interesting, once you get the hang of what’s going on again; the problem with bingeing so many shows over the course of time is that it’s impossible to remember the plots and subplots when the show comes back around for another season….supporting actor Andres Baida is also incredibly good looking. But finishing Gossip Girl means needing to find new things to watch regularly, and this is quite the pain in the ass now…maybe we need to find another show from that same period that ran for years so there’s plenty for us to watch without having to think too hard or make a false start with watching something else. (I do want to watch the new John Cena super-hero show, if and when it finally premieres; also, there’s all those Marvel shows over on Disney to watch; we’ve never seen WandaVision, for one, and of course there are others now, too; I greatly enjoyed Loki, despite its slow start, and I think there are other shows coming back that we enjoyed as well.)

I also watched bits and pieces of some of the college football games that were on yesterday, many of which were highly entertaining.

Right now, of course, I feel a bit groggy from the sleep hangover; I slept late again this morning and so am a bit behind on the waking up thing. The coffee, as always, is helping enormously, which is a good thing–as a general rule–and as my brain slowly but certainly comes back to life again, and into consciousness, I am beginning to think I am going to be able to get a lot done today as long as I stay focused. I’ve been mostly ignoring my emails since this long weekend began; deleting spam and junk, of course, and noting bill reminders on my calendar. I am also kind of excited because Paul bought me a datebook–the first one I’ve had in an eternity–because using the digital calendar–while it works perfectly for paying the bills, it’s not so great for to-do lists and deadlines. (note to self: make notes on everything you’ve agreed to write and revise and put it in the date book for now) I know I have some stories to get done, and I’ve got to get this book done, and yes, I need to stop saying yes to things.

But the new book is dropping next week too–yeesh, how quickly this seems to happen!–and I’ve not been doing any Blatant Self-Promotion, have I? Seriously, it’s a wonder how I still manage to have a career; imagine were I to focus my inconsiderable energies directly on my career–then again I could do that and have it turn out to make not the slightest bit of difference whatsoever. That is this kind of life, where it is so incredibly easy to feel defeated and give up without trying very hard. I’ve been thinking about retirement–still five years into the future–and yes, well aware that I am late getting started on retirement planning (when a sprightly young girl, fresh out of college and doing one of those benefits fairs at the office said “well, you’ve certainly waited much too long to start this!”–and yes, I know it’s awful, and yes, I should NOT have said it–but I really couldn’t resist replying, “I didn’t think I’d live to see my retirement”) but I think writing was always intended to be a part of my retirement; I’ll keep writing as long as someone will keep publishing me, and as long as my brain continues to function properly in order for me to do so. My career has always been, from the very first, about writing the kind of books I want to write with no thought as to whether it would become a huge seller or not; I’ve always felt that’s kind of a fool’s game. No one really knows what will sell, no one knows what makes a book climb the bestseller lists or capture lightning in a bottle otherwise everyone would be doing it, you know? Who knows what will capture the imagination of the public? I’m always amazed when another writer will say something like, “So I looked at what was selling and decided, ‘okay I’ll write this’.” I like to think I’m not cantankerous when it comes to writing, but I know when I agree to write something for money, I always struggle more writing that than something I came up with on my own, that I wanted to write about.

#shdeservedit was written because I wanted to take a stand against societal misogyny and the notion that boys’ lives are of more value to society than girls’. Sexual assault and sexual harassment, while hand in glove with each other, aren’t the same thing–but they do accomplish the same thing; the devaluing of female lives, making women feel like they are less than; that they don’t enjoy the same rights and privileges that males do in our culture and our society. I’ve spent most of my writing career writing about homophobia–no real surprise, as it directly impacts me and my life on a daily basis and has for most of my life–but now that I am getting older, I am wanting to expand my writing out to address societal issues that may not directly affect me (although the argument can be made that toxic masculinity is the common denominator in all oppression in this country) but injustice for one is injustice for all, which is something I firmly believe.

And on that note, I have a kitchen to clean, floors to vacuum and some filing to do before I get to work on the short story, the chapter I need to write, and that pesky article I need to get written.

Have a lovely first Sunday of 2022, Constant Reader!

Pretty Baby

Tuesday morning and the year continues to wind down in the inimitable way that every year does, with a whimper rather than a bang, like the last of the helium escaping from the leaky balloon.

My new book will be out in sixteen days; slightly more than two weeks. Those who preordered from my publisher (as well as those who requested ARC’s–advance review copies)will be getting them within a few days, actually, which is panic-inducing as well as more than a little bit terrifying. I am not so certain that I am more nervous about the release of this book than I have been around the release of any others in my past, or if this is the same nervous condition I always experience when a book is about to be released with my name (or whatever name I chose to use at the time I signed the contract) on the spine. I don’t remember; I am not certain if that is symptomatic of me aging or if it’s some kind of protective thing the brain does to spare my psyche; much as how one forgets how painful a teeth cleaning or a blood draw is between the last time it was done and the next time such things are scheduled; if we don’t forget how awful or painful or uncomfortable those experiences actually are, we would most likely never schedule another. (It is most fortunate that it will be years before I need another colonoscopy; that is an experience I would prefer to never live through another time, quite frankly.)

But I am nervous about the book. This one, as I have mentioned tirelessly (tiresomely?) takes on a societal and cultural problem for which I have no solution–well, that’s not entirely true, I always have a solution, but it’s never one people are willing to actually adopt–but it’s also kind of shameful that it has actually taken me so long to address this actual social problem; it’s also kind of shameful for me to admit that it took me so long to realize it was actually a problem. I mean, I knew intellectually it was, but I never realized how extant and/or extreme the problem actually was until the last decade or so. Now I am hyper-aware of sexual assault and it’s plainer, but just as ugly sibling, sexual harassment.

When I became aware that I was different from other boys–from other males–I also became aware of strange disparities that caused some cognitive dissonance in my young, unformed mind; why is sexual expertise, and experience, for men something to be lauded and applauded while the same thing is a source of shame for women?

This never made sense to me; how could men get experience and expertise without women? Why was one thing something to be admired in one gender but must be shamed in the other? In order for men to get the “conquests” and “experience” they needed to be admired and respected (the word that so often pops up in older books is “cocksman,” a word I loathed when I first read it and still do to this day), there had to be women to accommodate those needs and desires…which, I guess, was my first introduction to the “madonna/whore” concept. Societal expectations on women were, frankly, ridiculous; they were supposed to be pure and chaste while at the same time doing nothing to inspire passion or desire in a man; to not attract his attention this way; in other words, if a man became overcome with desire to the point that he stopped listening to a woman telling him to stop…it was her fault, not his; men were clearly slaves to their own passions, while women needed to always keep theirs in check, or else.

Boys, after all, will be boys.

I knew the word rape before I actually knew what it meant–from reading history; barbarian hordes and invading armies inevitably “raped and pillaged.” There was the very famous story, part of the founding myth of Rome involving the “rape of the Sabine women”; I think that was around the time where I began thinking rape meant abduction. The 1970’s, and the burgeoning women’s movement, brought with it a discussion of rape into the public sphere; how it actually affected women and how the judicial system essentially punished women for daring to accuse a man of forcing himself on her; this was the horror known as stranger rape, which belied the sad truth that most sexual assaults inevitably are ones where the assailant and the victim knew each other: aka date rape.

Usually, when the subject was brought up on a daytime soap, it was a date rape situation; star-crossed lovers being kept apart for one reason or another until the man at some point becomes carried away and forces himself on his “true love” against her wishes. This played out on Days of Our Lives–later, and more notoriously, on General Hospital and as late as the 1990’s on One Life to Live (ironically, the story as depicted on One Life to Live was brutal and honest and horrible; the storyline went off the rails later as the lead rapist became redeemed and an anti-hero star of the show).

Rape was often used as a plot device in romance novels (horrifying, isn’t it?); who can ever forget the night Rhett get drunk and in his jealous rage rapes Scarlett in Gone with the Wind–which is also the first time in her life she actually enjoys sexual relations with a man? What precisely is the message being sent here to the readers?

One of the things that struck me the most about the Marysville and Steubenville cases–besides the horrific similarities–was the reaction of the girls in the towns about what happened. Rather than feeling solidarity with the victims–and realizing there but for the grace of God go I–the general reaction was the opposite: the victims deserved what happened to them. There are few crimes where the automatic default is to blame the victim–in fact, outside of sexual assault/harassment I can’t think of any–and the level of blaming and shaming in both of these cases was appalling. Steubenville, the more famous of the two cases, resulted in convictions (and notoriously several reporters editorializing the “waste” of the lives of the convicted rapists; my sympathy is with the victims, frankly); no charges were ever filed in the Marysville case, and the victim, Daisy Coleman, eventually committed suicide (that was still years in the future when I first started writing my book).

I couldn’t get past it. I tried to think about it in terms of my own sister: what if this had happened to MY sister? My niece? My mom?

And the hashtag from Marysville haunted my mind: #shedeservedit.

I knew the hashtag was going to be my title, and that I was going to change the Kansas book one last time; my quarterback was still going to disappear at the beginning, but the story wasn’t going to solely be about that. My fictional town already had a decades-long successful high school football program and was already dying economically; with a growing addiction epidemic and declining population as employment possibilities also dried up. And with all that success, with the town’s identity entirely subsumed by its high school football team (ironically, the Trojans), it stood to reason that the town would rally behind its team and the players–and woe be to anyone who stood against any of the team’s abuses.

But…the question remained: could a man–even a gay one, or especially a gay one–write such a book? Was it my place to do so? Was writing this book an attempt to atone for not being aware of the problem for so fucking long? Could I approach it with the proper amount of sensitivity?

I guess there’s nothing left for me to do than wait and see, I suppose. I have my author copies, ARC’s are going out, and soon those who want to read it will be reading it.

And on that cheery note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a happy Tuesday, Constant Reader.