When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes

As I mentioned yesterday–these blog post titles taken from the Supremes discography sometimes feel a bit off as I do some Blatant Self-Promotion about my new soon-to-be-released novel #shedeservedit.

I got my first ignorant comment on one of those blog posts yesterday; someone posted a link to a video about “toxic femininity” and how it’s “as bad if not worse” than “toxic masculinity.” Needless to say, I not only didn’t approve the comment but marked it as spam and blocked the user from commenting/reading my blog. For those of you who are new here–I don’t engage with trolls, not do I permit them the energy or the oxygen of allowing their ignorance to be seen by anyone here. This is my blog and I pay for it; therefore I will curate the content here and if you want to troll me, well, it’s just going to earn you a comment marked as spam and get you blocked, so don’t waste your time or energy on me. You may, of course–I cannot stop you, but I won’t engage with you nor will I allow Constant Reader to see your ignorance, so there you have it.

I wrote yesterday, and it felt good to get another chapter down. I only have two more to go and the revisions, and I have to say, pantsing this thing on a tight deadline hasn’t been the easiest way to write this book, but it’s working. I’ve got the plot all worked out now, who the killer is and why, and now all I have to do is cram the resolution into the last two chapters and we are finished, done, ready to go off to the editor with prayers that she likes what I’ve done and doesn’t require a complete overhaul, which is also entirely possible and within the realm of probability–one of the reasons, frankly, that I’ve not signed. a contract to dive straight away into another book when this one is finished; I thought it best to leave my time free just in case. (I am going to start working on Chlorine and Mississsippi River Mischief while waiting for my edits; there’s always something to write, after all–I can also work on the revisions of the novellas in the meantime as well.)

There’s always something…

Today’s BSP is going to focus on writing about small towns, rather than what I’ve been covering (toxic masculinity). The first book I remember reading about a small town that really stands out to me–as an examination of small town dynamics, rather than merely a setting for the story–was Ellery Queen’s Calamity Town, which was, if you are an Ellery Queen fan, the first Wrightsville story. There were several of these novels–the second, I believe, was The Murderer is a Fox–and I enjoyed them all; Queen clearly loved writing about Wrightsville, since he kept returning to the scene of the crimes, as it were, but the best, the true standout for me, was the first: Calamity Town. This book–published well over a decade before Grace Metalious scandalized the world with Peyton Place–also covers the same territory as Peyton Place: scandal and hypocrisy and the paralyzing power of gossip in small town America. Calamity Town remains a favorite mystery novel of mine to this day; I should reread it. It’s plot is ingenious and entirely rooted in human psychology, and it also contains one of the best and most clever misdirections in crime fiction history. It was Calamity Town that made me first start thinking about how small town society is actually a microcosm of American society as a whole, all encapsulated in a small package, and also that made me realize, for the first time, how claustrophobic small towns can be; where everyone knows everyone and you can’t really do anything without someone knowing; and how secrets kept can become very damaging over time. Queen is, at first, struck by the apple-pie Americana of Wrightville…and then he begins peeling back the layers.

Peyton Place, which I found to be far less scandalous than either General Hospital or All My Children by the time I got a copy at a secondhand bookstore in Emporia when I was seventeen or eighteen, also showed me again how claustrophobic small town life could be. Sure, there’s some bad to the point of laughable writing in the book (“your nipples are hard as diamonds”, anyone?) but other than those brief moments, overall it’s a very well-constructed book and a damning indictment on the hypocrisy of American small towns. I also read Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street around the same time for an American Literature class (I still think we should have read Elmer Gantry instead, or It Can’t Happen Here, but I was not in charge of the syllabus), which is also about the falseness of keeping up appearances and worrying what the neighbors think. I find it interesting that “small town American values” are frequently–particularly by conservatives–pointed out as what is the backbone of our country and so on and so forth (part of the entire “cities are BAD” thing we have had going on culturally for decades, if not centuries), but when that veil is peeled back, there is just as much rot and decay as in any “wicked” city. As I pointed out on Susan Larson’s radio show the other day, the vast majority of the soaps were originally set in very small towns, rather than urban centers.

Nobody does small towns quite like Stephen King, and the first time he really addressed small town life was in ‘salem’s Lot–although it can be argued he did a masterwork on small town life with Needful Things–and it was in his tale of small town Maine being overrun by vampires, he also did an incredible job of painting the town, it’s working class citizens and the minutiae of their lives; how circumstances trapped some of them and killed their dreams–and how others never had any dreams to be killed in the first place. The way he interweaves the lives of his small town characters, their relationships and histories and how everything is interconnected is masterful; has anyone ever done a critical analysis of King’s work with small towns? It also falls into this group; what King does with Derry is just as exceptional as his work on Castle Rock and Jerusalem’s Lot in the other works.

I based Liberty Center on Emporia, Kansas, geographically; my town is loosely laid out the same way Emporia is; there’s a small college there, as in Emporia, and there’s a meat packing plant on one side of town that reeks of death and stale blood on the south side of town, and of course, the waterfall on the river on the way out of town heading south and the park that goes with it. Other than that, it’s memory and invention; I’ve not set foot in Emporia in nearly forty years and have no plans to ever do so again. (Likewise, when I write about my fictionalized county in Alabama–it’s loosely based on where my family is from, but I haven’t been there in thirty years and will most likely never go visit again, so it’s all memory and invention for me.) I don’t know if I will write another novel about Kansas–I have some other ideas, of course, don’t I always–but it seems weird to create another fictional small city so similar to Liberty Center, but at the same time it seems even weirder to set another book there after having already done so (although i should probably revisit Sara sometime and see how I did it–and what I called the towns in Kahola County–before deciding one way or the other).

Heavy sigh.

Today I need to write another chapter, and I also need to work on revising a short story as well as writing a promotional article–and of course, there’s the horror that is my email inbox which needs to be dealt with this week once and for all (it’s all relative; answering everything and emptying it out inevitably means generating more emails there; my email responses will trigger emails in response which turns it into a Sisyphean task without end), and today is the men’s US figure skating championships, which naturally I plan to watch so I need to get my writing done before then, don’t I?

So on that note, I head into the spice mines. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

Let Me Go The Right Way

A question I’ve been hearing a lot lately, when it comes to my new book. is why do you question whether you are the right person to tell this story?

It may entirely be a side effect of the long psychological disorder (one of many!) I possess that is more commonly known as Imposter Syndrome; but over the last decade or so there have been so many questions about who can tell what story that I don’t really think it’s so surprising that I would be concerned about my right to the tell the story of #shedeservedit that I chose to tell. It’s a book about toxic masculinity in a small town that manifests itself in a rape culture that devalues women, especially the girls, at the local high school; that toxic masculinity culture was created by the town’s worshipful devotion of the high school football team. Fans derives from fanatics, after all, and living in the South (and being Southern) has exposed me to the ‘football fan mob mentality’ that I was trying to recreate in my story. I’ve seen, for example, LSU fans rise up in righteous fury and indignation at the questioning of whether it’s animal cruelty for them to have a live tiger mascot with an amazing habitat on the campus; I’ve seen them rise up in defense of the administration and the players when players have been credibly accused of any number of crimes (not the least of which sexual harassment/assault of female students); and there are any other number of examples here I could cite–and that’s just LSU.

But in a story about toxic masculinity in a small town, I also centered a teenaged boy in the story; we see it all through his eyes, not that of any of the girls. That’s really the primary concern I had about how this book would be received: how could you put a boy at the center of a story about rape culture?

And I guess my response should be why wouldn’t I?

Because, as I read the articles and books that served as background research (there’s a chilling amount of research out there for anyone who is interested), all I could keep thinking was what is wrong with these boys? And from there I began to extrapolate further in my never-ending mental gymnastics. What do the kids who are not football players think about the privilege the players enjoy? High school is, after all, wanting/trying to fit in, not wanting to attract bad attention from people, not standing out from the crowd with an unpopular view or opinion. As I continued to read and research–and in the beginning, you have to remember, I started looking into all of this to begin with not because I wanted to write about it, but because the Steubenville/Marysville cases stoked my curiosity.

It was actually during the reading on Marysville that it hit me right between the eyes: the Marysville victim, Daisy Coleman, had not only been a cheerleader but her older brother was on the football team; the guys that got her drunk and assaulted her were not only guys she knew but felt safe with but were her brother’s teammates and friends.

And that was when I realized, you need to change the Kansas book to be about this, and write about the brother of a past victim when there is a new victim.

And then the other day, in an irony of ironies, I got my copy of Laura Lippman’s new collection, Seasonal Work, in the mail–and there it was, in the table of contents; her own story inspired by the Marysville incident, “Five Fires”; which I read when it was initially published; a story Laura and I had, in one of our infrequent but marvelous alcohol-fueled conversations, talked about (I’d forgotten what an integral part of shaping my own story that conversation with Laura all those years ago played).

“Five Fires” is quite marvelous.

“There was another fire last night.” That’s the first woman. Tennis skirt, Lacoste polo, gold chain with a diamond on it, like a drop of water.

The other woman–I don’t know either of them, you can’t, even in a town as small as ours, know everybody–says: “That makes three this month, doesn’t it?”

“Two. The one at the vacant–you know that place. And now behind Langley’s.”

And the playhouse, I want to say. The first one was that playhouse. But I don’t say it, because, again, I don’t know them. But three is right. There have been three since August 1, and it’s only August 10.

Whereas my story is told from the point of view of a victim’s brother–who is also on the football team–Laura’s story was inspired (if I remember correctly) by a newspaper article on Marysville, when the victim’s house was burned to the ground in a nasty work of arson–as if the family hadn’t been through enough already–and I don’t remember whether it was a photograph or a video she’d seen, of a vigil supporting the accused; there was a young woman in the picture that caught her attention and made her think, now why would that girl not support another young woman in a horrible situation? Why is it so easy for her to not believe the victim? And she thus wrote the story, to try to get into the mindset of a young teenaged girl who found it easy to believe an accused rapist and blame the victim.

It’s really quite an extraordinary story, and rereading it now, after all these years, I am even more impressed with how well done–touching, sad, and poignant–it is. It would be easy to make a villain of this girl, but Lippman approaches her with a strong sense of empathy, and while the character’s views and behavior can be quite repellant, the fact that Lippman gets so deep into her head and point of view makes character all the more compelling, and heartbreakingly sad at the same time–all the while never ever losing sight of who the real victim in the story is. It’s a terrific story, incredibly well done, and I strongly recommend getting this collection of stories; it’s worth it for “Five Fires” alone.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader!

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!

Tears of Sorrow

And just like that, it is now 2022.

We’ve been having a more than abnormal heat wave lately; Thursday when I went to run my errands it was over eighty degrees, according to the car’s temperature gauge, and yes, since you asked so nicely, I was in fact running the air conditioner. The air conditioner in the house has also kicked on and off several times over the past few days. I prefer it to be warm than cold, without question, it just seems a bit weird.

I did give in to my curiosity a bit and watched some of the College Football Play-off games yesterday; in which Alabama spanked Cincinnati and Georgia dominated Michigan to set up yet another championship game between the two. This will be the first time they’ve played twice in the same season though; the question is whether or not Georgia will at long last get the Alabama monkey off their back and finally get a title win. I won’t get involved in the “Did Cincinnati/Michigan belong in the play-offs” conversation because they earned their way in and I don’t think there was anyone else (sorry, Ohio State/Notre Dame/Baylor fans) who might have done any better than they did against this year’s two juggernauts; this is like how in 2011 LSU and Alabama were so much better than anyone else they were the only teams capable of beating each other. Paul said earlier in the season, “It’s really just Georgia and Alabama, and then everyone else” and he was right. People are already bored with the notion of two SEC teams playing for the national championship again for the third time in just over a decade; I am curious to see if this development will result in another reshuffling/change to the system.

We also finished watching Gossip Girl the OG last night, and while it’s nice to finally be finished with the show, I feel like the last season was a bit hurried, and the final outcomes of the cast mates’ lives–who they wound up with for their HEA’s–wasn’t necessarily the best outcome or the one I wanted to see, but life sometimes just works out that way. The identity of the actual “gossip girl” was never really, to me, a big mystery of the show–whenever I did think about it, the big reveal at the end was the only outcome that could possibly make sense over all, even if they did cheat a bit from time to time to throw the viewers off the scent, but at the same time–I was more interested in the melodrama playing out on screen between the characters than actually caring about the mystery at the heart of the show, or finding out who it actually was. I still think–without watching the rest–that the OG is vastly superior to the new edition, but I may go back and finish watching the sequel series simply because I am, if nothing else, a completist.

I need to work this weekend; I need to write and revise and edit and work on my email inbox, among other things, and at some point I need to make a grocery run (something I am really not looking forward to, but there are definitely worse things at this point that going to the store), and of course, there’s always housework that needs to be done. I was very tired these last two days–not sure what that was about, some combination of physical, mental, and intellectual exhaustion, no doubt–so waking up feeling good and rested and not sluggish was a lovely feeling; an excellent portent for the new year. I’ve also decided to set my goals for 2022 in a different entry for clarity’s sake.

Reflecting back on 2021, as I’ve been doing these past few days, hasn’t been easy–in no small part because the last two years have sort of blended together in my head as “the pandemic year” even though we are about ready to go into Year Fucking Three of it, which was completely and utterly unnecessary–but one great reading pleasure I forgot to mention in my round-up of what I enjoyed this last year was Laurie R. King’s Mary Russell series, which has brought me no small amount of pleasure in this pandemic time. I still have a long way to go in the series before I can even consider myself close to the point of running out of books to read within it; but I would also like to revisit King’s Kate Martinelli series and some of her other work as well. She really is particularly gifted as a writer, and she’s made me fall in love a bit with Sherlock Holmes, and Conan Doyle didn’t even manage that particular feat. (I also kind of want to revisit the Nicholas Meyer iterations of Holmes; there’s a brand new one out now that involves Egypt, so naturally I want to dig into that one.)

I also need to figure out what I need to revise and write that I’ve agreed to do thus far…yikes! I will be the first to admit I’ve been sluggish these last couple of weeks–the holidays always do that for me–but I feel rested and alert and capable this morning, which is more than I can say for any other morning lately. So I am going to finish this off, do my 2022 goals entry, and then get my day going. I don’t know if I am going to watch any of the bowl games today–I don’t find myself caring very much about any of the games being played today, and I might put them on for background noise while I do other things. (I spent a lot of time yesterday while doing things listening to Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours and then some of the earlier session versions of the songs that come along with the “deluxe bonus” version of the album on Spotify; one of the earlier session recordings of “Gold Dust Woman” is spectacular–That Bitch Ford made sure I listened to it–and I might spend some time listening to other Fleetwood Mac albums today as well.)

So, today I need to spend some time with the book; spend some time with a promotional article I need to write for #shedeservedit, and need to do one last final edit/revision on “The Sound of Snow Falling.” I feel like that’s an ambitious enough program for the first day of the new year, and should I finish these things as planned, I can reward myself with some reading time.

I seriously cannot wait to be finished with writing this book, frankly.

And on that note, I am going to move on to writing up my goals email. Have a lovely New Year, Constant Reader–and I will check in with you again later with the goals and then again tomorrow morning.

Never Again

One of the many Youtube wormholes I have fallen down since the pandemic descended upon on our world has been the magical journey of the music reaction video. I didn’t know this was even a thing–I think it was Twins the New Trend’s reaction video to the Carpenters that went viral was when I actually learned this is something people not only do, but can make money from (O magical world of the Internet! Is there anything that can’t be monetized?) but this led me to, thanks to Youtube suggestions, other young people or music specialists (vocal coaches, etc.) reacting to older music they’ve not heard before, or from artists they may recognize the name of but not their music.

Needless to say, seeing these young people discover, appreciate, and love Fleetwood Mac (and Stevie Nicks) is not only a lot of fun but also is an unneeded justification of my nearly life-long love of the band. The Rumours album is probably my favorite album of all time; and since it was released (and I discovered it) when I was in high school in Kansas, Rumours is always linked in my mind to not only high school but to Kansas in particular. I didn’t have an 8-track player in my car when I was in high school–I never even had a car of any kind with the capacity to do anything other than play the radio until 1991–but radio was a major player back in those days, and I of course had other friends who did have 8 track or cassette players in their cars… Rumours was pretty much owned by everyone (as was Hotel California by the Eagles and Boston’s debut album) and so it was often heard in cars, played loudly, as it drove way over the speed limit down country roads.

But watching these people discover the Mac, and listening to and enjoying their music for the first time (despite my devotion to Stevie and all things Stevie, my favorite Mac song will always be “Go Your Own Way”) has taken me down that pleasant road of nostalgia and memory…which came somewhat in handy as I wrote #shedeservedit aka the Kansas Book. I based Liberty Center geographically on Emporia, Kansas; but I have not set foot in Emporia since I left one snowy February night in 1981 so I had to rely a lot on memories. I did use Google Earth to revisit, in case my faulty memory was wrong about where a street was or how the grid the city was laid out on precisely was laid out–where was the Catholic cemetery, where was the college campus, where was the park down by the waterfall–but since I was also fictionalizing everything, it was more of a guideline than anything else; it was easier for me to picture it all in my head that way rather than making it all up from scratch. (I also got the name Liberty Center, and used it, as a tribute to Philip Roth and his novel When She Was Good; I’d gone through many many iterations of names for that town throughout the years, but Liberty Center was just too perfect not to use)

And yes, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac while I was writing the book. While Hotel California and Boston can both take me back to Kansas if I listen to them, Fleetwood Mac’s first three albums with Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks (Fleetwood Mac, Rumours, Tusk) definitely do it almost from the first chord (if I am writing, of course–I am also realizing as I write this and think it through that I need to write an essay about my lifelong fandom of Fleetwood Mac, and how their music has always inspired me with my writing and creativity as well as connected with me emotionally).

Although, interestingly enough, the first time I ever published fiction about Kansas–my short story “Promises in Every Star”–it was actually inspired by another band, ’til Tuesday. But that’s a story for another time.

Music has always been important to my writing process–back in the days of CD’s, I used to put five in the stereo and hit shuffle whenever I started writing, trying to make them all from the same artist or at least similar artists–and I’ve noticed that recently I don’t listen to music quite as much as I used to when I write, and have been thinking that maybe I need to go back to that process. I rediscovered my love of writing after a long burnt out period by using journals to record ideas and random thoughts and things again–going back to my roots, as it were–and so maybe music is something I need to add back into my writing experience, especially since I am coming down to crunch time with the new book.

I’m working at home today–there’s data entry to do and condoms packs to make, as always–and then of course tomorrow is our paid holiday for New Year’s, so I can spend that day writing and cleaning and running errands and so forth. I need to pick up a prescription today, so will probably do that at some point (I think the pharmacy will be closed tomorrow, since its in one of our buildings and they do get holidays as well) and also will need to do a deep dive into my email inbox and get some things done around here.

And that’s my cue to head into the spice mines. Have a lovely New Year’s Eve Eve!

I Want a Guy

Wednesday morning and I am having no small bit of trouble shaking off the shackles of Morpheus this morning. First I didn’t want to get out of bed (even considered hitting snooze a third time) and now as I sit here with the dark pressing against my windows and my first cup of coffee not really doing it for me the way I would have hoped, I do worry about waking up and getting out of the house and on my way to the office this morning. Traffic has been light to non-existent this week (last week as well; the holidays thing, without a doubt), so my blood pressure hasn’t gone up at all on the drives into the office recently. I know I should probably do some Blatant Self-Promotion this morning but it’s going to have to wait until tomorrow, methinks; I am not sure if my mind is clear and unfogged enough to talk about rape and/or sexual assault this morning, let alone toxic masculinity–about which I have oh so many thoughts. Instead, I will freeform this morning’s entry while I keep swilling my coffee, hoping the cobwebs will clear and I can get a clear and present grasp of my reality this morning.

We’ll see how that goes, won’t we?

We are finally on the final season of Gossip Girl–I’ll have to go back and check to see when precisely we embarked on this binge journey, but it feels like it’s been most of the month of December, if not longer; probably longer, because we got started watching the sequel series and only turned on the original when it took a break and we had to wait for new episodes; and I think that was back in November, if I am not mistaken. (And yes, a quick search of my Facebook page shows that we were, indeed, already watching the OG Gossip Girl before Thanksgiving, so we’ve been watching for well over a month, which is wonderful. I miss the days when television shows had over twenty episodes per season.) The show is winding down–the final season is only ten episodes (!)–but I also think this final season’s entire purpose was to wrap everything up and end the show. I’ll miss it when it’s finished, but it’s also time to get back into watching everything else we were watching–we still need to finish The Sinner–and I suspect we will be done with Gossip Girl this weekend so we will need to find new things to watch, as well as remembering the things we’d started but not finished in the meantime.

Such an exciting post today, am I right?

It rained overnight–it actually started raining shortly after Paul left the house for the gym–and so this morning it’s cool and humid, which is weird and causes condensation and the fogging up of car windows. I’ve been working pretty consistently on the book every day–it’s a mess, but it’s getting done, which means the clean-up work before it’s turned in is going to be mind-numbing, stressful and exhausting, if exhilarating at the same time. I do enjoy writing every day–I don’t know why it, like going to the gym, is always viewed as an odious chore that I have to force myself to do every day; it really makes little to no sense. It does make one tend to wonder–I love going to the gym, I love writing; they are two of my favorite things to do (reading and sleeping being the other two) and yet I always have to make myself do it. I don’t know why I resist doing things that give me pleasure–lately, I’ve also been having to make myself read, which I never thought would happen.

Go figure.

But work on the book is proceeding apace–editing and revising is going to be an incredibly stressful nightmare, but I can worry about that later–and I am pleased, very pleased. I am being highly productive, which is nice to know that I can still do, and i just wish I could remember that if I was this productive every step of the way, I could get a lot more done. But then the lazies set in and all bets are off.

So, what can I say that would be blatant self-promotion? Not really sure, to be honest. This is probably one of the darkest books I’ve ever written, although I am sure there are parts in it that are funny that I didn’t plan (I rarely intend to be funny; it’s always unintentional, but at least I am laughed with for the most part rather than laughed at) that way.

Liberty Center is, as I have often mentioned, based geographically on Emporia, the county seat of Lyon County, Kansas, which is where we lived from 1976-1981. We didn’t actually live in Emporia; we lived seven miles northwest of Emporia–I don’t remember what the road was that led to our little town was officially called, but I know we called it the Americus Road and the road was where the old Katy Railroad line used to run; that may also be incorrect but that was what I was told. Americus was one of the larger towns in Lyon County (Emporia had over twenty-five thousand, I believe; Americus was 952), and I used to catch the school bus at the Americus Grade School (which had previously served as the high school until it was closed and folded into consolidated high school sixteen miles northeast, Northern Heights High School) and it seemed to always take forever to get to school every morning. This was a significant cultural shock for me, as we had lived in a rather populous suburb of Chicago the previous four years and before that, in the city itself on the south side, near Lawndale. We also went from having three networks and several locals on the television to only having CBS from the Kansas City affiliate (we were able to get cable within the first year we lived there; so we went back to having access to the networks and other cable channels–CNN, ESPN, etc. in their early days–while everyone else I went to school with still only had access to that CBS station….this was the period when my mom watched the CBS soaps; once the cable came on she switched to ABC in the mid-to-late 70’s heydays of General Hospital/All My Children (which were the soaps I watched when on break from school in Illinois). It was weird and uncomfortable switching high schools between my sophomore and junior years, but at the same time I saw it as getting a new start, where no one knew that I had been bullied, belittled, and mocked for the last four years for being (choose one) queer fairy faggot homo queen girly-boy femme etc. (This did eventually happen at my small high school but not really in any significant way until the second semester of my senior year.)

And it was actually a good experience for me, in all honesty. I did much better in school there, got started writing actual fiction, had my mind opened to a lot of new authors and genres in my English classes, and learned a lot–my suburban high school was simply not structured to work well for a student like me, with my attention deficit disorders and so forth. There’s really not been anywhere I lived that didn’t benefit me in some way–there was good and bad everywhere–but when the time and opportunity to move away came, it was past time. I needed to get out of Kansas, I needed to get away from there…and while the next chapter of my life was to become dramatically changed and reshaped into something other than what I was expecting when we moved, there was no way of knowing that was going to happen. In February 1981 when I boarded a night train to California, I had no access to the New York Times or anywhere I could get anything remotely considered news of interest for not straight people, and so I didn’t see the small pieces about the “strange cancer” that was only affecting gay men in New York…but it would be on my radar soon enough.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines.

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.

Feliz Davidad

And so it was Christmas.

I have to say this weekend has been quite lovely thus far. I’m getting work on the book done, I am getting things done, and I am somehow remaining relatively relaxed and sane while I accomplish things, which has been quite nice. I am sleeping very well and sleeping in every day, which is going to require some adjustments when Monday rolls around again, sadly. I feel remarkably well-rested and refreshed this morning, which is also nice as I sip my coffee and think about what to have for breakfast; probably yogurt and fresh berries, before they go bad. I am going to make pulled turkey today for the holiday in the slow cooker, so dinner’s already sorted for me, which is also kind of nice. I am intending to clean out the refrigerator today as part of my chores for the day; Paul is going to work out with his trainer this morning and I am not sure what his plans for the rest of this holiday might be. I need to write a chapter of the book today, which shouldn’t be terribly hard–I’ve written some really dreadful chapters over the last few days–and should probably spend some time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling today; I had hoped to have it finished before today so I could spend the day with the most recent Donna Andrews novel; but I may just make that my New Year’s Day reading, to close out the holiday season (even though Carnival will be starting on Twelfth Night, which is even sooner than one might think).

I also found an essay I’d been looking for; I, like Paul, have an obsessive side to my personality that I try to combat and not give into when it takes hold of my brain; often to no avail, sadly: when my brain goes into obsessive mode, there’s really not much else I can do rather than either ride it out (not easy) or give in to it. This most recent obsessive conduct had to do with an essay I had written; the other day I remembered it and started looking for it, despite the fact that I couldn’t remember what the file was named. I had been asked to write a letter to myself at age sixteen the summer we went to Italy; I started writing it before we left for the trip but had never finished it. I eventually finished it, as I recalled vaguely the other day, on the trip to Venice from Florence; I wrote it on the train, saved the file, and hit send. I could not find it anywhere; and obsessed about it all day yesterday as I dug through electronic files (which are in much worse condition as far as organization than I even feared, which I will have to do something about at some point). After Paul got home, I talked to him about it and as I spoke to him it hit me: I had emailed the story in, maybe it was in my ancient sent email folder. And sure enough, there it was; and doing a second search by the title proved that it was saved nowhere in my files; I am not sure how that could have happened, but my biggest fear about my electronic files has now proven true: there are things that have disappeared from them over the years.

But this Christmas miracle is worth enjoying; a piece I’d feared had disappeared forever (the website where it was posted no longer exists; so much for the Internet is forever) has been retrieved, and it can be the opening piece in my collection of personal essays, should I ever decide how to do that and how to pull it all together.

If 2021 was the year of finishing things–Bury Me in Shadows and #shedeservedit having been in progress for years, even decades–I think that mentality needs to continue forward in 2022: finish things. I do want to finish the novellas, the short story collection, and potentially the essay collection; I also want to finish Chlorine, and possibly something else. I’ve also spent some time going over my blog from the earlier part of 2021, to try to remember things I watched and books I read; my memory is even faultier than I remembered it being in the first place. But it’s also kind of fun seeing what I was reading and watching earlier this year–the impact of HBO MAX’s It’s a Sin combined with my sixtieth birthday this year had me revisiting and thinking about the past a lot, for example, and forced me to process a lot of things I had never processed before, which may have had something to do with a lot of my own issues: never deal with it, just keep moving forward may not have been the most mentally healthy plan for me to get through my life, but it was also necessary for survival, and I will not/shall not judge my younger self for whatever coping mechanisms and skills I may have developed in order to get through everything I had to deal with in this my life.

And on that note, I think I am going to finish this, eat my breakfast, and head into the spice mines for a little visit. Have a lovely Christmas, Constant Reader, even if it’s just another Saturday to you.

Away in a Manger

And it’s Wednesday, my last day in the office before Christmas holidays. We have the next two days off for the holiday, so we all have a lovely four day weekend. Huzzah? At least I don’t have to make condom packs, which will be kind of nice, but I do have things to do. The book is proceeding apace, if a trifle slowly, but I am happy with the work I am doing on it but the question is, as always, will I get it done in time? Heavy heaving sigh. It is definitely going to be a lot of work to get done in a very short period of time, but it will get done eventually. I will most likely take Christmas day itself off from doing anything; a recharging day, if you will, but that and New Year’s Day should be enough of a recharge to keep me going. I’ve been sleeping much better lately–the cold snap (such as it is) has been an enormous help in that regard–and so am feeling more rested than I have in quite some time. I am also trying really hard to not let my stress levels go up; stress, not fear, is the mindkiller, thank you very much, Frank Herbert.

It’s also Pay-the-Bills Day; huzzah? At least I don’t have to worry about being able to pay the bills, which lessens the sting somewhat. It doesn’t make paying them any more enjoyable, mind you; it just makes it hurt a little less.

I don’t think I will ever stop resenting paying the bills–but you can certainly see that the heat has broken; the power bill this month is less than half of the last one.

Silver linings, you know.

The manuscript is coming along nicely, sort of; I write about 2500-3000 really shitty words per day (a chapter a day, really) and keep going, and then I spend a day trying to clean up the mess I’ve created. It’s working so far, and at the pace I am going I should pass the midway point this weekend–if I stay focused–and might actually get it all finished by the deadline. Huzzah, indeed!

It’s cold again in New Orleans today–well, cold for New Orleans; as always, I assume everyone north of I-10 will snicker behind their hands as they do whenever I complain about it being cold here–but I am actually going to wear a sweatshirt beneath my Crescent Care T-shirt today, and the floor here in the Lost Apartment absolutely felt cold to my stockinged feet this morning so I had to put on my slippers–but I would like to remind everyone it’s not a dry cold down here but rather a damp one. Cold and damp is miserable.

It’s going to be lovely having four days off, which should–laziness, cold, and procrastination aside–enable me to get a lot of work done, as well as organizing and cleaning of the Lost Apartment. I am going to have to start taking boxes out of the attic and determining what is to be done with them; most likely I will be donating a lot of books to the library sale in the future, and I figure if I target one box per weekend minimum it won’t take more than a few months to clean out a lot of what is up there and make room for other things I need to put up there. I really do need to stop buying books for a while; the apartment is quickly becoming overtaken with them yet again, and the TBR stack was already well out of control. Tonight I am going to spend some more time with Vivien Chien’s Death by Dumpling–I want to finish it so I can read Donna Andrews’ The Twelve Jays of Christmas on Christmas itself (after getting my writing done for the day–yes, I am not going to be able to take any holidays off until the book is completed, and all the other things I am writing are done.

Progress. I must always make progress.

And I really need to make that to-do list, which means I need to see what I’ve agreed to write and when it is actually due. I know I have some tighter deadlines than perhaps I would prefer; but that’s the writer’s life and it certainly always has been mine; months with nothing really due for a really long time, then a flurry of requests and deadlines all within a ridiculously short period of time.

And I had wanted to start talking about #shedeservedit every day on here, but I am not sure I have anything to say about it today? Really, it could and should probably wait until the lead-up to the actual release date (1/12/22) but preorders are shipped early–as early as 1/1/22, in fact–and I’ve even gotten my author copies already. So, is it too early to start talking more about this book? My experiences in Kansas? Will people be heartily sick of me talking about it before the book is even released?

Tis a fine line one must walk when doing blatant self-promotion. Although my stand methodology of blog posts is no one else reads this besides you so write about what you want to write about.

It has always, after all, served me well.

And on that note, tis time to head into the spice mines and hope to not freeze to death. 😉 Have a lovely Christmas Eve Eve Eve, everyone!

Silver Bells

City sidewalks, busy sidewalks, dressed in holiday style….in the air there’s a feeling of Christmas….

“Silver Bells” is, hands down, one of my favorite Christmas songs.

I’ve always wanted to write a story built around the song; maybe that’s something I can do for next year–but then again, who knows what will happen between now and then as far as my writing and deadlines are concerned? Heavy heaving sigh.

The other night, when I did my ZOOM thing for the release of #shedeservedit, afterwards I had a horrible rush of doubt and fear about the book itself. Who am I, after all, to write about rape culture and sexual assaults and so forth? Was writing the book an attempt to assuage my own guilt for my own complicity in the systemic toxic masculinity of our society, culture and civilization?

Some of the above? None of the above? All of the above?

I started writing the fiction collectively known and referred to as “the Kansas book” when I was actually in high school in Kansas. I created a fictional version of my high school and the county, including the county seat; it went through many iterations and renamings over the years as I worked on aspects of this enormous book, with interconnected characters and stories and so forth. Some of it was pulled out of this enormous “Bible” (for wont of a better word) to become my novel Sara about ten years or so ago; bits and pieces of it have now been pulled out to use for #shedeservedit, which will be out in January and has been what I have mostly referred to as “the Kansas book” for the last six or so years. The first draft of this iteration was written over a month, in July of 2015; I wrote three thousand words per day (or tried to; I did take some time off here and there) and by the end of the month I had nineteen chapters of about five thousand words in total of what needed to be a total of twenty chapters; I’d done ninety-six thousand words in a month but still didn’t know how to end the book (this is always a problem for me, by the way; and I am always afraid I don’t stick the landing). Over the next four or five years, I revised and rewrote the book, trying to see if I could figure out how to stick the landing as well as figure out what the dismount should be. I knew how I wanted to end it, but wasn’t sure if it would work…but also never wrote it, thinking the endless revisions and rewrites and changes might point the way to the proper dismount.

But this version, that begins with the star quarterback going missing after a game one night, might use the characters I dreamed up in the late 1970’s and have adapted and changed and grown over the years, but the plot-line that runs through this book wasn’t born until about 2004, when I decided to take all the things I’d been loosely working on over the decades since high school and pull it all together into a crime novel: the final and complete edition of the Kansas book. And it has gone through many iterations before I started that massive attempt to write an entire first draft of the new story in one month; back in 2004 I saw it as a book that flashed back between the present and 1977, when the quarterback was to have gone missing. I eventually abandoned that attempt–though I have reserved the right to do another such book, flashing back and forth in time, set in this universe somehow; I’ll figure that out later–and moved on to this final version of the missing quarterback theme/story.

Ironically, even from its earliest iteration, the underlying story here was about privilege; the privilege that comes with being a football player in a small city (am never sure where the cut off between town and city is precisely; I know when I lived in Kansas Emporia was considered a large town–population 27k or so–while the town we lived in was considered small–population 952; and Wichita, Topeka and Kansas City were considered cities) with a highly successful high school football team. With athletic success comes privilege; that was even true back in the 1970’s, and was even more true when it came to college teams. Originally, the quarterback’s body was found, naked, on the fifty yard line with evidence he’d had rectal sex the morning after Homecoming. That changed–the location of the body at any rate–and I also realized the Homecoming murder was also a cliché, so I had to move it up further in the season–which also made more sense with the timing of the event that may have possibly triggered the murder in the first place…this was a huge issue with the original draft I wrote in a month; why would it have taken so long for the murder to happen if the potentially triggering event was in the summer?

These are the trials and tribulations that an author must face when writing a crime novel.

Sometimes fate intervenes, as well. When I was writing Sleeping Angel all those years ago, I kept thinking something was missing from the manuscript; there was a hole where I should have been making a point and wasn’t. I was writing this book around the time when there were a rash of queer kids committing suicide in the news–basically being bullied to death–and this was around the same time that Dan Savage started the “it gets better” campaign. Ah, I thought, there’s what’s missing from the story.

It wasn’t like I didn’t know how it felt to be bullied, after all.

I decided to pull the Kansas book back out, and write that first draft, in the wake of two news stories that happened around the same time: Steubenville, Ohio and Marysville, Missouri. As I watched those cases unfold, I knew that was the answer to the Kansas book; my ‘small city with a great football program’ (and whose name went through many changes over the years–Kahola to Greenfield to Carterville to its final name, Liberty Center) obviously had to have a rape culture problem, derived from the culture of toxic masculinity that was created in order to have a successful football program. This decision was reiterated when I read Missoula: Rape and the Justice System in a College Town by Jon Krakauer–which I bought and started reading one day when I was trapped in the Newark airport by a flight cancellation for like eight hours or so. (Also: shout out to friend Gwen Florio, a reporter for the Missoula paper whose coverage of the stories there featured heavily in the book)

So, when I sat down to write that draft in a month (oh to have that kind of focus again), that was in the forefront of my mind: the triggering event that may have potentially have led to the murder was the sexual assault of a cheerleader at a party before school started.

So, yes, I have written a crime novel set in a small town with a rape culture problem. Am I the best person to write such a book? Maybe, maybe not. But that’s why I am so nervous–how are people going to react to this story? From me?

And then I think, oh, it’s not like anyone pays any attention to you or your career anyway.

And now back to the spice mines.