Notorious

Hello, Thursday!

I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows last night, and I am still processing the experience. There will be more to come on this score, but for now, suffice it to say you all need to buy this book, everyone. It’s extraordinary. The voice, the characters, the story, the setting, the plot…and it’s wickedly, darkly funny, too. It’s one of those books that makes me question myself and my own work, and makes me want to do better.

This has been a particularly exceptional year for crime novels, so much so that I can’t even recall all of them off the top of my head.

The women are killing it, guys. Up your game.

I’m also greatly enjoying the campy ride that is American Horror Story: 1984. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it or not–no matter how off the rails a season of this show goes, I always end up watching it; the only season I bailed on was Hotel–but I’m pretty pleased with it so far. I was wondering how they were going to manage to get a season out of a slasher style tribute–after all, the main cast can’t be killed off from the very beginning, because you’d soon run out of cast–and last night I realized, ah, yes, every new character who is introduced in each new episode is going to die horribly. And yes, that’s what we have going on with this season, but it’s amazingly camp and funny and witty, and very much done in the style of the slasher films that were so popular in the late 1970’s/early 1980’s (have they ever gone out of style, though, really?).

Today I have to really get back on track with things. It looks like other than a nudge here and there, the massive volunteer project is finally over; just in time for some new volunteer projects, but none of those will be as time-consuming or all-encompassing as this one was–which is a very good thing, because I will need to use every minute available to me to get some things done before the end of the month. Hello, weekend–no rest for the wicked this week, alas. But it’s fine; primarily what I need to do is get these two stories finished. I also need to get back to the Diversity Project; next up is Michael Nava’s Lay Your Sleeping Head, which is actually a rebooted revision of his first Henry Rios novel, originally published as The Little Death. 

I am also moderating two panels at Bouchercon next month in Dallas, and so I need to start getting my shit together to be prepared for that, as well. I also have to write my column for the Sisters in Crime quarterly. Heavy sigh, it never ends, does it?

Make a list, Gregalicious, make a list, or you’ll never get any of this back under control.

Last night, as I was drifting off to sleep, I also got an idea I didn’t need to have. I’ve written a noirish short story about a teenaged male figure skater–it needs work–and last night it popped into my head how to turn it into a novel, and that the story would work far better as a novel than as a short story. While it’s an excellent idea, this presents another problem for me. First of all, when on earth would I ever have time to write such a novel,  and secondly, I made a decision quite a while ago that I needed to stop thinking about stories in terms of novels when they would work as a short story. Maybe this is one that would be better as a novel rather than a short story; it’s hard to say, and the more I think about it this morning, the more I am leaning toward leaving it as a short story. Maybe I should just take another look at it again this weekend, since I am devoting the weekend to short stories and articles and essays, and decide then.

I made shrimp ‘n’ baked potatoes last night, so the kitchen is a horrific mess this morning, which I should get cleaned up before I head into the office–I hate coming home from work to a filthy kitchen–and then I’m going to try to get all my emails answered.

Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

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All 4 Love

So, yes, it’s my birthday. I took the day off from work and am staying home for the most part. But I do have to go to Costco AND the grocery store today; living large, right? This might be my wildest birthday ever! (Sarcasm.)

I mean, do I know how to celebrate a birthday or what?

But this is the fifty-seventh, and I wasn’t really raised to be overly sentimental about birthdays; I’ve never really made a big deal out of mine, and now all it really is, is simply an excuse to take a day off from the office. I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I would have liked; yesterday was lovely–I don’t think I went outside even once, which to me is of course a lovely lovely day.

I really  do want to become a recluse. I remember someone asked me on a panel once to describe what my dream success would be, and I replied, to make enough money to  not only not have to have a day job but to be able to pay someone to run my errands for me so I’d only have to leave the house to go to the gym.

Is that really so much to ask? Apparently. Ah, well.

I hope to do some writing today as well. We shall see how that goes.

Next up in Florida Happens is Neil Plakcy’s “Southernmost Point.”

Neil S. Plakcy is a U.S. writer whose works range from mystery to romance to anthologies and collections of gay erotica. He has twice been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award for Best Gay Men’s Mystery Novel.

Plakcy began his professional publishing career with the first of his Hawaiian mysteries, Mahu, acquired and edited for Haworth Press by mystery author Greg Herren. With the second book in the series, Mahu Surfer, Plakcy moved to Alyson Books, which continued the series with Mahu Fire and Mahu Vice, and published their own edition of Mahu in 2009. After the close of Alyson, MLR Books picked up the series, publishing new editions of the first three and then continuing the series.

Plakcy and long-time friend Sharon Sakson co-edited a collection of stories by gay men about their experiences with their dogs, entitled Paws and Reflect: A Special Bond Between Man and Dog. A frequent contributor to gay anthologies, Plakcy has also edited numerous collections of gay erotica.

With the publication of GayLife.com in 2009, Plakcy entered the M/M romance genre, basing the book on his own experiences in software and web development and his familiarity with Miami Beach.

Plakcy has been a finalist for the Lambda Literary Award three times: twice in gay mystery, and once in gay romance. He won the “Hawaii Five-O” award given by attendees at the Left Coast Crime fan conference and his work has been enthusiastically reviewed by mainstream and specialty publications as well as by many fans.

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It started with a selfie, and the drag queen who photo-bombed my boyfriend Lester and me.

Lester represents single-batch whiskeys, based out of Fort Lauderdale, where we both live. His region extends all the way to Key West, and one weekend in January he had a couple of promotions set up at bars on Duval Street, in the center of the entertainment district. I had a couple of days’ vacation coming to me from the FBI, where I work as a Special Agent attached to the Violent Crimes Task Force, so I took them and went along for the ride.

And a beautiful ride it was, once we ran out of highway, then cleared the urban congestion of Key Largo. All of a sudden there was water on both sides of the road, the dark blue-green of the Atlantic to our left, the lighter green of the Gulf of Mexico to the right. The long emptiness of the Seven Mile Bridge was liberating, even with the skeleton of the old railroad bridge beside us.

We made it to Key West late on Sunday afternoon, and after we checked into a bed-and-breakfast on Duval Street, we rented bikes and cycled over to the Southernmost Point, a big marker striped in yellow, orange and black that indicated we’d reached as far as you can go on the US mainland.

“Imagine living down here,” Lester said. “Only ninety miles to Cuba, and nearly twice that back to Miami.”

“I think there’s a kind of person who likes to live at the edge,” I said. “So far from everything else. Like you can leave all the troubles you had wherever behind you and kick back with a margarita and a pair of flip-flops.”

“Thank you, Jimmy Buffett,” Lester said. “Come on, let’s get a picture of us with the marker in the background.”

This is a fun, suspenseful tale about, interestingly enough, what happens when you get photobombed by a stranger and post the picture on social media; a sly commentary, really, about how social media has reduced the size of the world and shows us, sometimes daily, how many degrees of separation we really are all from each other–which isn’t as separated as one might think. Neil does a deft job of keeping the action moving, as well as developing his vacationing gay male couple with just a few quick lines here and there, and their relationship as well through the couple-dialogue speak they share. It’s a fun story, with lots of Key West color, and I’m very glad to have it in the book.

And now, off to the spice mines.

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Hump Day!

I got up this morning early (well, early for me) to meet an old friend for coffee and donuts at District Donuts. I’ve never actually been there before–although I have partaken of their donuts when someone else has purchased them, and they are amazing–but the best news is that their cappuccinos are fantastic. Seriously, the only decent cappuccinos I’ve had in the US were the ones I got at the Flamingo in Las Vegas, and these…and the fantastic news is this place is not only in my neighborhood it’s easily walkable, so some morning when I want a change of pace I can grab my journal, walk over, and treat myself to a cappuccino. Huzzah!

This is big news in Gregalicious world, just so you know.

Well, I’ve not gotten nearly as much done by this point in the week as I would have preferred. I am currently revising the first draft of the afterward to the story collection, and intend to work on Scotty some this week (before the week comes to a screeching halt already). June is slipping quickly through my fingers, and I also need to get two more stories written this month, so I am putting everything else to the side for now. It kills me not to work on “Never Kiss a Stranger,” but if I am going to get the first Scotty draft finished this month, and get these two other stories written, I have to focus on them.

Must. FOCUS.

So, I am going to get the revision of this afterward finished today so that book is finished, finis, complete. I am going to get this sixteenth chapter of the Scotty book finished this week. I am going to get first drafts of these other stories finished this week. I am going to keep going.

Just watch and see if I don’t!

And now, back to the spice mines.

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I Can’t Wait

So, yesterday I signed the contract to publish my short story collection, Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, with Bold Strokes Books for an April 2019 release date–which means it should be available at Saints & Sinners/ Tennessee Williams Literary Festival in late March.

I am inordinately excited about this, you have no idea, Constant Reader! It’s the first book contract I’ve signed since 2015, for one thing–everything came out in 2016 or early 2017, so yeah, it’s been a hot minute–but I am also excited because it’s a short story collection and it isn’t erotica.

In 2004 Starbooks collected my wrestling stories into a short-lived collection called Wanna Wrestle?, that went out of print very quickly for various reasons, none of which had to do with actual sales; it’s a rarity and few copies exist out there in the wild. Bold Strokes also did a collection of my Todd Gregory erotic stories, Promises in Every Star and Other Stories, a few years back as well. But I’ve always wanted to do a collection of non-erotic short stories, but never thought I would ever have enough stories, enough material, to actually do so.

But I also had no way of knowing I would also lapse into a short story writing mania the way I have  this year. I mean, I can’t believe how much short story writing I’ve been doing this year.

But, also in fairness, only four of the stories in this collection are new.

Here’s the table of contents:

Survivor’s Guilt (originally published in Blood on the Bayou, which won the Anthony Award for Best Anthony and the story was nominated for a Macavity Award)

The Email Always Pings Twice (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Keeper of the Flame (originally published in Mystery Week magazine)

A Streetcar Named Death (originally published in the anthology I Never Thought I’d See You Again, edited by Lou Aronica)

An Arrow for Sebastian (originally published in the anthology Cast of Characters, edited by Lou Aronica)

Housecleaning (originally published in Sunshine Noir, edited by Annamaria Alfieri and Michael Stanley)

Acts of Contrition (originally published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine)

Lightning Bugs in a Jar

Spin Cycle (originally published in Men of the Mean Streets, co-edited by me and J. M. Redmann)

Cold Beer No Flies (originally published in Florida Happens, coming in September)

Annunciation Shotgun (originally published in New Orleans Noir)

Quiet Desperation (originally published as a Kindle single)

The Weight of a Feather

My Brother’s Keeper

Don’t Look Down

Smalltown Boy (originally published in Rebel Yell 2, edited by Jay Quinn)

So, only four of the stories, (five, if you count “Quiet Desperation,” which was a Kindle single) are original. And technically, “Cold Beer No Flies” is a new story; but by the time the collection comes out next year Florida Happens will also be out, rendering it no longer a new story.

But even more exciting? “My Brother’s Keeper” is the first Chanse MacLeod short story ever, and now that I’ve written one, it doesn’t scare me anymore. I’ve already started another, “Once a Tiger,” and who knows? Maybe I will write more. I don’t think I’ll ever write another Chanse novel, but short stories? Why not? Writing private eye short stories is challenging; more of a challenge than just the usual crime story I write, and so I see writing more private eye stories as an opportunity to grow further as a writer, and get better at what I actually do.

The great irony is that my short story writing mania of this year actually has provided me with almost enough stories for a second collection, all unpublished stories, and I have about another dozen or so in some form or stage of being written. Freaking crazy.

Oh, and you know that messy Chapter Fourteen of the Scotty book? Was so fucking easy to fix it’s not even fucking funny. It literally required the deletion of about 200 words and the addition of 120 or so back, and it’s fucking fixed. Blam. Problem solved; the same problem I might add, I’ve been avoiding for like  three weeks.

Because, you know, avoidance. My go-to.

Heavy heaving sigh.

Here’s the opening paragraph of “Don’t Look Down,” aka the Italy story:

Jase shifted the Fiat’s engine into a lower gear as he started up the steep hill. He hadn’t driven a standard transmission since college, but he did remember hills required downshifting. As the Fiat started climbing he passed two handsome, tanned men on mountain bikes, sturdy thighs straining against their brightly colored Lycra casing. According to the directions, he would be in Panzano when he reached the top of the hill.  There was a parking lot off to the left and just beyond that he could see a stone wall. The hill—or mountain, he wasn’t sure which—dropped off into a valley to the right, vineyards and olive trees spreading out to the next sloping hill.  A low stone wall hugged the right side of the road nearer the crest of the hill, with barely enough space for pedestrians or mountain bikes. All the roads had been incredibly narrow since he’d left the highway, with many sharp blind curves as the road weaved in and out and around and along mountains.  At one point an enormous bus coming the other way had almost forced him onto the shoulder, missing the black rental car by inches. He glanced up at the directions tucked into the sun visor. At the crest of the hill there would be another sharp, almost ninety-degree turn to the left, and to his right would be the triangular town center of Panzano-in-Chianti. To get to the hotel, because of the narrow one-way streets, he’d have to circle around the  triangular town square to get to the little hotel. 

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Never

Wednesday. I am working only a half-day today, and then I am taking a short vacation. I don’t have to be back at the office until Tuesday of next week, so I am going to try to relax, get caught up on some things–without any pressure to do any of those things–and recalibrate my head, my heart and my soul.

And do something about how disgusting I’ve allowed my apartment to get in the meantime. I do think a thorough clean will help purge my soul; when my apartment isn’t clean and organized, it weighs on me.

I worked a little on the WIP and the Scotty yesterday, and primarily worked on another short story, “Never Kiss a Stranger.” One of the funny things about me, and my stubbornness, and my tendency to get caught up in tunnel vision, is my regular insistence that I am writing everything in the present day. Part of my struggle with “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the past was trying to make it work in the present; yesterday it occurred to me you can set this in the past, you know, and presto! By moving the story from 2018 to 1994, it clicked into place and started working. My main character is a gay man with twenty years in the military; at age thirty-eight, in those days before “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” being gay was grounds for a dishonorable discharge; after the Gulf War he finds out he is on a ‘to-be-investigated’ list and so puts in his retirement papers. His parents dead and not having a relationship with anyone else in his family, he comes out into the general world and decides to move to New Orleans to start his life anew; it’s also his first opportunity as an adult to live openly as a gay man. As I revised what had already been written, the character’s voice clicked in my head and I was able to remember New Orleans in that time period; when I was visiting and falling in love with the city, as well as remembering what a different time period it was, even though it was only slightly more than twenty years ago. No cell phones or Internet, HIV/AIDS was still pretty much a death sentence (or rather, just a matter of time once infected), and New Orleans was riddled with crime everywhere and inexpensive to live; a beautiful old city decaying in her splendid, rotting beauty in the sun.

And it’s kind of fun writing about the past sometimes, being able to  use my own memories (and my journals) to remember things. And at the same time, incredibly freeing to finally realize something so obvious; that everything needn’t be in the present.

We finished watching both The Terror and Thirteen Reasons Why last night; The Terror, while unsettling, ended inevitably in the only way that it could; I am sorry to be finished with it, and will, when it’s free for streaming, probably watch it again to understand it better. It should be a leading contender for all the Emmys; the question only being which stellar member of the cast should take the trophy home. Thirteen Reasons Why’s second season was…interesting, yet incredibly disappointing in its third season. The resolution of some story lines, which had long since been played out, ended in unsatisfying ways that were, while bitter, realistic and honest and true to life. Rapists get away with slaps on the wrists far too often and our judiciary often lets female victims know that their lives really have no value and there is no justice for them. The final episode, with its bittersweet closure, worked in that respect while at the same time set the stage for a third season with horrifyingly depicted brutality, showing that the damage that was caused by the incidents that triggered the first two seasons have deeper and far more lasting consequences; when damage isn’t repaired and the systems that allowed that damage to occur aren’t corrected, far worse damage can occur. The close of the episode, I felt, was a bit of a cop-out; but I understand why they didn’t see that story through, and it did leave me curious to see where it can go next. There hasn’t been an announcement, as far as I know, that there will be a third season; I’d like to see it, if for no other reason than curiosity to see how these newly planted seeds will grow.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Secret Lovers

I slept so well last night that I didn’t want to get up this morning, which is perhaps the greatest feeling of all. Huzzah! It also means I am not heading into the weekend feeling tired, which will be yet another great feeling. Hurray! Huzzah! Of course, the kitchen’s a disaster area, but I may have the time to correct that this morning before I head into the office. One can always hope, at any rate.

I do think “Burning Crosses” is ready for a read aloud; there’s one more paragraph I need to add, and maybe a sentence here and there, but other than that, it’s close to done. I have also made progress on “This Thing of Darkness,” and I think, as far as short stories go, I am ready to get back to finish/polish/read out loud “Once a Tiger” and “The Problem with Autofill.” I also want to get back to the WIP and the Scotty; I need to read Scotty from the beginning and make notes; and likewise, Chapter Two of the WIP needs to be rewritten, may even need to be a completely newly written chapter because I need to add a scene. But I am hopeful I am setting myself up for an incredibly productive weekend. I am going to a book signing on Saturday afternoon for Bryan Camp’s The City of Lost Fortunes at Tubby and Coo’s (hello, Five Guys!) and I am also supposed to go to a party on Saturday evening, but we’ll see how that all plays out. I may just make Saturday an errand day and try to spend Sunday focusing on writing.

We shall see.

The Terror continues to enthrall, as it moves along to its inevitable end. The ninth episode, which we watched last night, was just non-stop misery and powerful acting from everyone involved. After we finished watching, Paul and I talked about how much we’re enjoying it and The Handmaid’s Tale, and I made the curious realization that the two shows we’re enjoying the most right now are horrific stories of human beings caught up in the most terrifyingly horrible of circumstance, and how interesting is it that we are so enthralled by what basically are, thematically, stories of survival and how much can you take, how much can you handle without giving up entirely?

The writing, and the acting, always stellar, is Master Class worthy in this heartbreaking episode. I fear The Terror will be overlooked for awards, when that season is upon us; which is absolutely wrong. It should win all the awards; I would be hard-pressed, though, to decide on which actor to vote for; there are all that good.

I have to say, yesterday was a lovely day for me professionally. The table of contents for the Murder-a-Go-Go’s anthology I am in was released, and it’s quite stellar. It was lovely to see the social media response; all the likes and retweets and excitement. I am very pleased to be in this book, and I am equally pleased with the story I wrote for it. The book won’t be available until 2019, alas; but it’s going to be a truly good one.

And on that note, it’s back to the spice mines.

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I Miss You

Well, “Don’t Look Down” is now ready for the read-aloud phase. Huzzah! I am pretty darned excited about it, too. I think this most recent draft is actually not bad, to be honest–and I am pretty psyched to be so close to done with this collection. Huzzah! Perhaps it will happen this very weekend. Hope springs eternal.

The question is, does it need an author introduction? I don’t think it does, to be honest; and every time I’ve tried to write one I’ve either drawn a blank or written something that sounded so pompous it annoyed me.

I’m really uncomfortable talking up my accomplishments, because it feels like bragging, and every time I do, I hear a voice sneering in my head, really? I hate that; it always undermines my confidence and makes me doubt myself, which then leads to me not getting anything done or not putting myself forward for anything, and on and on and on it goes.

I also reread the fourth chapter of the most recent revision of the WIP, and it was embarrassingly bad. I literally cringed reading it–and this is not me being self-deprecating or not taking myself seriously. I mean, it’s bad. I’ve not gone back and reread the first three chapters, and I do realize that a lot of this has to do with switching from limited third person POV to first person POV–I am basically just going through and changing the POV, but as I was doing that in this chapter I was really struck by how bad so much of the actual writing was. It was kind of boring, and that’s death for a y/a.

I guess now I know why no agent responded to my queries. I was also right in worrying that it was too early to send it out. The problem is I need to learn how to discern between serious, honest concerns about my writing and the tendency to trivialize, minimize, and self-defeat myself.

Case in point: I was convinced Royal Street Reveillon was terrible. I reread some bits to revise, and realized, nope. it’s not terrible at all. It needs some polish and some work, but it’s pretty good.

I need some serious therapy.

And now back to the spice mines.

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