22

One of the annual things about November that I enjoy watching–but don’t participate in–is Nanowrimo. Maybe I should participate, I don’t know. For many years I never needed to–I wrote the 95k first draft of the Kansas book in thirty days–but as bad as I have been lately about writing, maybe I should have taken part in it this year. Anyway, it’s always enjoyable for me to watch other writers working hard, being productive, and hitting goals. Well done, all of you! Keep on keeping on, and keep on being inspiring to those of us too afraid to officially set these sorts of goals and accountability!

This morning I am going to go vote. I had intended to early vote–just stroll over to the Smoothie King Center the last Saturday of early voting–but forgot all about until it was too late that Saturday–and my work schedule didn’t permit going the last two weekdays that followed thereafter. So, this morning I shall bundle up and trundle over the International School on Camp Street to vote, like I inevitably and invariably always do. It never takes very long–I think the longest line I’ve ever been in was four or five people–and then I can walk back home and get ready for the day’s work. Huzzah? Huzzah.

Boy, do I miss the crepe myrtles.

Yesterday, though, was a good day. I didn’t get everything finished that I wanted to, but I made progress rolling the stone up the hill, and I may even be able to start getting even closer to the top. Stranger things have happened, you know. I am starting to feel even a bit more confident about myself and life in general again. I did start rereading the story fragments that make up both “A Dirge in the Dark” and “Condos, for Sale or Rent”–I’ll get to “Please Die Soon” today, I hope–and there’s possibilities there. I’m not really sure of what direction either story is going to go in, and I am not entirely sure how either story ends; but I do think I should be able to get finished first rough drafts of all of them sooner rather than later.

I’ve also decided that I need to get my shit together with the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows before I move on to the final fifteen chapters; there are things I need to set up in those chapters and I also need to strengthen the voice of my main character–as well as make the reader doubt more whether he’s reliable or not as a narrator. And no, that’s not a spoiler…and even if it were, the book won’t be out until late 2021 anyway, so you’d forget by the time the book comes out anyway.

And most importantly, it’s the tone of the book that really matters. That’s going to be the real struggle.

I had dinner with a writer friend in from out of town last night–her daughter goes to Tulane– and we went to Lula, a new place that is located in what used to be a furniture shop on St. Charles for decades whose name I can no longer remember; it was always there, so I never really gave much thought to trying to remember its name–and it will eventually come to me; it’s where we bought Paul’s love seat, which has sadly been tattered and shredded by cats over the years (EDITED TO ADD: the store was Halpern’s; I knew I’d eventually remember!). The service was good, and while we met early for a New Orleans dinner engagement (six pm), it got much more crowded the longer we were there. The food was good–I had the shrimp and grits, and frankly, only in Oxford, Mississippi have I ever had shrimp and grits that was better than mine–and then I walked home. I was very tired by then, and fell into a sad wormhole of Youtube videos about 80’s music (33 80’s Songs You’ve Forgotten! 100 80’s Songs Everyone Grew up With! Fifty 80’s Songs Everyone Remembers!) until I basically dozed off in my easy chair between nine and ten, when I repaired to the bed. Anyway, the dinner was lovely–we discussed writing, publishers, the crime fiction genre–and I always forget how invigorating such conversations always are for me. I love talking to other writers (unless they’re complete assholes–and you know who you are) because it does make me think about my own work more, and what things I could be better at doing (right now, it’s making myself do the work), but I remain ever hopeful that I’ll be able to dive back into my work and get it moving again sometime soon. I did pull the first ten chapters of Bury Me in Shadows into a single document for editing last night, so that’s something, at any rate.

Tonight when I get home from work I am going to go to the gym–despite the slight soreness in my back, which I totally know why I’m sore and what I did wrong, so I am going to skip the lat pulldowns, or use a different bar–and then I am going to come home and read The Hot Rock and/or write for the majority of the evening. I know I don’t want to check the election results or follow them the way I usually do–I don’t think my stomach, psyche, or anything can handle it–but I am probably going to have to take a look before I go to bed so I don’t have to wake up in the morning to bad news. I’m not kidding when I say I am terrified by this election, and can’t remember another such time when the soul of the country was on the ballot the way it is now. I thought the 2008 election was an important one for the direction of the country, same with 1992…but I don’t ever remember living through one this important. This must be how people felt about the election of 1860–which basically boiled down to, are we voting to save the union or are we voting for civil war? We know how that turned out, and this election feels very similar to that one–but at least then they didn’t have 24/7 news and social media. (Which is part of the reason, I now realize, why I’ve been reading Vidal’s Lincoln.) I can remember fearing for the future of the country on election nights before, but I don’t ever remember the existential dread and fear that I been pushing down deep inside of my soul the last few weeks. I really no longer trust my fellow Americans, I’m afraid, to be decent human beings–and given my previously held low opinion of humanity (working service and at the airport stomped most of my optimism about my fellow Americans right out of my system), that’s really saying something.

But I have always taking voting to be my sacred privilege and duty; I have nothing but contempt for those who do not hold it in the same regard that I do. Yes, there are problems with a two-party system (we’re really seeing that right now), and yes, many times you are voting for the lesser of two evils than for a candidate who mirrors your beliefs and values–but this country was founded on the basic principle of citizens voting and being participants in the process–abdicating that responsibility, regardless of how deeply cynical you might feel about voting and everything else about our political system, is in and of itself a statement of contempt for the country, your fellow citizens, and probably the most unpatriotic thing you could do other than sell state secrets to unfriendly foreign governments. If you don’t like the system, work to change it. That’s how it works, and how it was always intended to work. The founders imbued the citizenry with the right to change things if we so desired–and yes, they were racist misogynists with a side of homophobia and religious zealotry, but they designed the government and the system so that it could be changed, course corrections made, and always improved…but it has to start with voting. Whenever someone complains about something to do with the government or the system, I stop listening the minute they try to justify their not casting of a ballot–because they aren’t interested in actually making change; they are only interested in complaining, while at the same time claiming moral superiority by not participating in a “rigged” or “unfair” system. Well, guess what? Our judiciary is also a flawed, rigged, unfair system–but you don’t get to “not participate” in our legal system simply because you think it’s a failing system–as you will soon find out if you are accused of a crime. You don’t get to tell the police or the district attorney that you don’t believe in the system and therefore you won’t participate–that’s the fastest route to a jail sentence I can think of. And maybe it’s a failed analogy–always possible–because you have to be accused of something before you get dragged into the legal system–perhaps the better analogy would be taxes. You can’t get out of your taxes because you don’t believe in the system.

Although it would be interesting if someone sued the IRS to get out of paying taxes because they felt disenfranchised by the electoral college (taxation without representation)–but I’ll leave that to the lawyers.

And on that note, tis time to get on with my day. Stay safe, Constant Reader, and stay sane. Regardless of today’s outcomes, we will endure.

C’est la Vie

Wednesday morning and I’ve made it thru the long days of my week. Today is a short day; I am free after three thirty, and then it’s back home to the spice mines and getting the house cleaned, organized and so forth, all around me not only writing at my desk but preparing a new taste treat for dinner–shrimp and baked potatoes–which is the same as my shrimp-and-grits, only substituting a baked potato for the grits. I saw this somewhere on social media recently, looked at the recipe, and realized it simply meant making baked potatoes instead of the grits…and realized that with a baked potato, timing the meal isn’t quite as important as it is when you’re making grits at the same time as the shrimp.

I managed another good night’s sleep last night, which was incredibly lovely; it’s amazing what a difference that makes to your quality of life–and productivity. I’m still behind on everything this morning, just as I was last night when I went to bed, but this morning I feel like I can do anything and everything. We’ll see how long that lasts, won’t we?

But as I face my computer with my first cup of coffee this morning, I do feel almost as though I can do anything and everything.  I had a slight minor panic attack last night about everything I need to get done this week, but it passed quickly, as I remembered my favorite mantra: sometimes, it just is what it is. Simple, but helpful and rather wise; there’s only so much one can do, there’s only so many people one can please, and sometimes you just have to let the worry go–because it just is what it is.

I sat down with Royal Street Reveillon last night, and opened the book up. When Paul got home he told me that someone whose opinion I deeply value had told him to  let me know she’d read and loved the book, and invited me to be on her radio show. Yes, it was Susan Larson, the long-time books editor of what was once the Times-Picayune and now has her own show on WGNO, “My Reading Life.” This naturally made my day, if not the week or month; Susan has read practically everything and everyone, has been a Pulitzer Prize judge (!!!!!), and is one of the most respected reviewers in the country. Her opinion means, obviously, a lot to me. As I sat in my chair last night holding a copy of the book–and it’s a beautiful looking book, probably my favorite cover of all time–I thought about how it never gets easier, no matter how many books you write; at least for me, it’s like the first one every single time. Will people like it? Will people hate it? Is it any good? Writing the books never gets easier over time, either. If anything, the only thing that’s changed with the actual writing is efficiency; I am more efficient in the use of time when I write now. But the self-doubt, the insecurity, the imposter syndrome–all of that still plagues me, even after all this time and all these books and all these short stories.

So, I opened the book and started skimming through it. My goal when I wrote it was to make it the best Scotty book thus far; I don’t know if I achieved that goal, but I am pretty pleased with the book. I think it turned out well. I also realized, as I was reading through it last night, that the reason I don’t like to reread my work–why I never go back once its published and look at it again, isn’t because I always wind up dissatisfied and disappointed with it (although that’s some of it), but primarily because I only reread my work to correct, edit and fix it. So, I am so trained from revising and editing my work that when actually reading it in a print format my mind automatically switches into editorial mode and I want to fix things and oh this sentence could have been better or look at this, you used the same word twice in the same paragraph and so on and so forth; it’s impossible for me to read it as a reader coming to it for the first time. And with Royal Street Reveillon, I don’t feel like I rushed the ending the way I inevitably feel about most of my books–which is a direct result of deadlines. So, I’m kind of glad I don’t write on deadline anymore; it’s relieved that bit of stress from my life, thank the Lord.

I also got out a copy of Bourbon Street Blues last night, because one of my co-workers wants to read it. She was reading the latest Janet Evanovich, and we got into a bit of a discussion about Evanovich, mystery novels, and so forth. SHe eventually said, “I really need to read one of your books”, and me being me, I said, “I’ll bring you a copy” and then realized, hey, I can give her a copy of Bourbon Street Blues,  my first Scotty!

So, I actually looked through it as well. I remember so little of the story now; I barely remember writing the book now. It was all so long ago; I turned the book in to Kensington on May 15th, 2002. Christ, we were so broke then, cobbling together an income from Paul working part time and teaching aerobics, me writing, doing some part time work for a friend as their assistant, and eventually getting a part time job at the LGBT Community Center to supplement the writing income, as well as doing some freelance editorial work. I was mostly working for Bella Books then–yes, I got my start as an editor working for a lesbian publisher–before moving on to Harrington Park Press and then Bold Strokes Books. Bourbon Street Blues is, of course, the Southern Decadence book I’d been wanting to write ever since I first came to Decadence as a tourist back in the early 90’s. I was also writing the book, ironically, on 9/11–I didn’t actually work on it that day, but I always associate 9/11 with Bourbon Street Blues because I can remember being glued to the television in horror all day, and glancing over at the pile of pages on my desk and wondering if I could distract myself by working on the book. I never tried…I didn’t get back to working on the book for a few days. As I looked through Bourbon Street Blues last night, thinking about how Southern Decadence had just passed and how much the world, the event, the city, everything had changed since the days when I was writing this book.

My career as a published writer of fiction dates back to 2000, with the publication of two short stories in the month of August, one in an anthology and the other in a magazine. It’ll turn twenty the month I turn fifty-nine; but I of course started getting paid to write (journalism) in 1996. I moved in with Paul and within a month had published my first column in a local queer newspaper in Minneapolis; as I used to say, Paul was my lucky charm for my writing career; it truly started when we moved in together.

So yes, he never has to worry about me going anywhere, since I do emotionally consider him entirely responsible for my career–and all of it tied up in a nice New Orleans bow. New Orleans inspired me, and I knew I would become a writer if I moved to New Orleans. I met Paul here, and while I was already writing before we moved here, New Orleans made it possible for me to meet the love of my life and create the career I’ve always dreamed of and wanted.

And you know what? As I paged through Bourbon Street Blues, reacquainting myself with the original story I came up with for Scotty all those years ago, I thought, this is a pretty decent book, really. There’s never really been a character like Scotty in crime fiction–and certainly not one like him in gay crime fiction. I also never dreamed that people would connect with him the way they did–I may not sell books in Harlan Coben or Stephen King numbers, but the people who read the Scotty books love him, and that means I did my job well.

I also realized, looking through both books last night, that the occasional charges of “political agenda” I get on Goodreads and/or Amazon are accurate. I never really think of the Scotty books as having an agenda or being political, but I forget that any book centering a queer character is still radical and political; let alone a book centering a queer character who is perfectly happy and loves his life and has some terrific adventures, finding love to go along with the wonderful loving family he already has. This is still, sadly, for some a radical concept; as is the idea of having Scotty never change the core of who he is,  no matter what happens or how awful a situation he’s in might become. The Scotty books were never intended to be, nor ever will be, torture porn. Bourbon Street Blues was all about homophobia and the religious right. Jackson Square Jazz, long before Johnny Weir and Adam Rippon, looked at homophobia in figure skating and Olympic sports…and on and on it goes. Royal Street Reveillon actually goes into several things–familial homophobia, for one, and date rape/sexual assault for another–and ultimately, I am pretty pleased with it.

And yes, for those of you worried I may never write another Scotty book–there will be at least one more. Hollywood South Hustle is already taking shape in my head; I have several disparate threads of plot to weave together for it, but never fear, they are most definitely there. I don’t know when I’ll get around to writing it–I have several books to write before I can even think about starting work on it officially, and yes, that includes a new Chanse–and so it goes, on and on forever and ever without end, amen.

And now I should perhaps return to the spice mines. This shit ain’t gonna do itself.

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