West End Girls

Well, we made it to Wednesday, did we not? It’s also Payday, aka Pay-the-Bills Day, which of course is always a popular day around here–NOT.

But I managed to write another 1300 words yesterday on something–not Bury Me in Shadows, I am putting that off until the weekend, when I will have time to sit down and reread the entire manuscript (I am already rewriting the first chapter in my head; it’s main character is transitioning from a high school student to a college student suffering from depression); instead I had a thought about a bunch of fragments, ideas and the occasional scene, of a something that needs to be stitched together and an ending tacked onto it called “A Holler Full of Kudzu,” which I’ve been fragmentally writing for several years now. It’s a Corinth County, Alabama story; set in the distant past of the mid to late (vague, will depend on the music choices) 1970’s, in the point of view of a thirteen year old. I don’t quite have the voice or tone right yet; that’s going to have to wait until I have the entire thing stitched together. It’s already well over 6000 words and I did originally think it might be the seeds of a novel, but I don’t think there’s really quite enough story to flesh out a novel but a length of somewhere between twenty and thirty thousand might just be right for it. My publisher does publish ebook novellas, and that might be the right place for it–plus it can always go into the anchor position of a collection.

It’s weird to feel so good about so many things.

I was hesitant to write the story, because I’ve already gone to that well twice already–“Smalltown Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man”–but I have also realized all of my stories don’t necessarily need to be connected, but there’s also a way at some point to connect all of these stories together. I’m not certain why I am always so determined to connect my stories together; my young adults–Sorceress, Sleeping Angel, Sara, Lake Thirteen and others–are all loosely connected; I’d wanted to do an entire series of young adult horror/suspense that were connected together by threads; Laura in Sorceress was from the same place in Kansas where Sara took place; one of the characters in Sara was from the Chicago suburb the main character of Lake Thirteen was from; and of course, both Sleeping Angel and Sorceress took place in the same California mountain town. There’s another I’ve written that’s been languishing forever in a drawer that is also set in Woodbridge, and I keep forgetting about it, to tell you the truth. This is why I had that OCD moment a few weeks back and counted how many things I had in progress, in a vain attempt to get a handle on it all.

I suppose I could create a spreadsheet. But Lord, another thing to do? Then again, it could keep me from writing–that weird dichotomy of hating to do something I actually love to do. I am sure my great mood lately has everything to do with having written, and doing good work recently; I actually am looking forward to getting all my work done today so I can dive back into the story. I’d love to have it finished by the weekend, but I don’t necessarily have to have it finished in order to start the reread of Bury Me in Shadows; with the sweeping changes I am going to making to it, it will be mostly to see what I can actually keep and still works with the age changes for the main character.

We are almost finished with Dark Desire, and I have to say I am quite impressed with the writers of this show; it has so many twists and turns! Every time we start to think we know what the truth is we get shocked by an out-of-nowhere twist, and the personal stories are so complicated and messy! We had started to get a little bored with it around the sixth or seventh episode (maybe?) because it seemed relatively predictable; boy, were we ever wrong! Tonight we’ll polish off the last four episodes–they are only about thirty-three minutes long–and then we’ll have to decide what to watch next. There are so many choices!

It seems like it was just yesterday we were complaining about the trouble finding something we wanted to watch–but realitically, I was just thinking last night how we’ve watched so much stuff we can’t even remember it all.

And on that note tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely morning, Constant Reader.

I’m Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby

I wrote twenty-three hundred and sixty-six words yesterday; a rather precise amount, I admit, but I am rather proud of them, as I’ve not written anything new in nearly two weeks, I think.

It was also new, nothing do with any of the many works in progress I am in the midst of; it was one of those things where the idea came to me, and I knew how to write the chapter, so I sat down and I did lest I forget it. I also wanted to see if I could get the voice right, the tone, and all of that. I think it kind of works, but I am going to let it sit for a moment or two (or weeks) and see what I think of it then.

It’s the first chapter of Chlorine, which is a start. Probably not what I needed to be writing or working on, but

I do want to get back to the WIP–and I’m not really sure why I keep calling it that. Why am I superstitious about sharing the title of this book? I like the title, and I believe I have even mentioned it before. I originally had the idea a million years ago, when I was a little boy. My grandmother–the not sane one–used to love to tell me stories about the past; she always swore on the Bible the stories were true, but I’ve long suspected that most of them were invented or stories she read somewhere–she did like to read, and encouraged both my sister and I to also read. I never wrote the stories she told me down, but I do remember bits and pieces of them, and one of those bits and pieces became a short story I wrote in college called “Ruins.” I wrote it as a ghost story, weaving what I remembered from my grandmother’s story into a modern-day story in a fictional county based on the one my family is from (I also planned to do a lot of writing about this fictional county when I was in college…I have published some work about the county; it’s where Scotty’s sorta-nephew Taylor is from and where Frank’s sister lives. It’s where my main character from Dark Tide  was from, and also where “Smalltown Boy” was set, along with various other short stories, like “Son of a Preacher Man”…so I’m using some of those old ideas today. There are also any number of short stories in some form of completion set there, and the current WIP is, of course, set there). I always thought “Ruins” (still unpublished) could be expanded into a pretty decent novel, and that’s what I am currently working on, have been for the last few months. I no longer call it “Ruins”–that title has already been used multiple times for a novel, and why invite comparison–but when I needed a new title, I wanted something more poetic. I started looking through poems (can you imagine? I know so little about poetry it’s staggering) and wanted something Barbara Michaels-ish. I decided to riff on her title Be Buried in the Rain, which is from a poem, and then a lyric from The Band Perry’s song “If I Die Young” stuck in my head, and I started using that as the title, Bury Me in Satin. But that didn’t really work or fit, and it evolved into Bury Me in Shadows, which had the right creepy, spooky, Gothic feel to it that I wanted, that I am trying to get in the book. It’s a ghost story of sorts, it’s set in the woods of rural central-western Alabama, and there’s a ruin of a plantation back in the woods, which an archaeological team from the University of Alabama has started excavating. There’s a legend about the “lost boys” around the ruins; two boys who disappeared during the Civil War. I’m also working rural drug addiction into it, as well as the Klan, and racism and homophobia. It’s a lot, and it has to been done correctly, in order to get the points across that I want to make in the book. This is why it’s been such a slog, really. I am trying to make points about important topics without sounding too preachy-teachy, while trying to weave in an interesting story, all told from the point of view of a rather intelligent gay teenager from Chicago, who has to spend the summer in Alabama being the point person for the family while his grandmother, who has had several strokes, dies in her own crumbling Victorian style home from the late nineteenth century, and then the archaeologists discover the skeleton of a young man. Is he one of the lost boys from the Civil War, or is there something more sinister going on back in the woods?

I’m trying to write about race sensitively, without giving offense. I am trying to be conscious of my own internalized prejudices and bigotries, which is sadly a life-long process of deprogramming. (But that’s a subject for another time.) But I am hopeful that my own keen editorial eye will catch things in the editing process, and there’s also going to be my editor’s eyes on it. So, hopefully it won’t turn out to be yet another sad white person’s attempt to deal with race that turns out to be problematic.

I am also writing it in a style different than what I usually use–first person present tense, and it’s obvious when I reread chapters I’ve written that it’s not my default; I slip into the past tense very easily and naturally and because I’m so used to writing that way it’s easy for me to miss things in the wrong tense.

I’m up early because today returns normality to my life; this is my first work week that won’t be disrupted this month. First it was a brief vacation, and of course last week was disrupted by Barry. I got very little accomplished over the last few days–storm disruptions make it very hard to focus or get anything done, frankly; as you wait for the storm you don’t want to start anything in case you lose power suddenly, plus there’s the weird tension of waiting for the unexpected. When I walked to Touro to get my car yesterday and run by the grocery store, it was strange; the city was still deserted and lifeless. There were a few cars out driving but not the usual amount of people out and about on a Sunday, even in the rain. I actually think we got more rain yesterday than we did from the storm on Saturday, frankly. I was soaked by the time I got to the car–$21 is a very low price to pay to keep your car safe, to be honest–and of course, everything at the grocery store was on sale because it was old and ripe; I got a great deal on two enormous smooth avocados, and there were still some Creole tomatoes out, but the grocery store was still depleted from people stocking up for the storm. I came home, we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and last night we watched The Spy Who Dumped Me, a cute comedy starring Mila Kunis and Kate MacKinnon. I love both women, and they worked very well together, and the plot was clever and funny enough to hold my attention, but it could have been better–but it was mostly the charisma of the two women, and their chemistry together, that made the film enjoyable.

So, wish me well on my first full week of work this month. It’s gray and drizzly outside my windows this fair morning; I’m hoping my shoes have dried out from yesterday as well. (note to self: order new shoes, you’re due.)

And now back to the spice mines. Have a lovely Monday, Constant Reader.

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Dream On

Maybe there is something to this say it out loud and name it thing. Yesterday I managed 1600 words–wasn’t expecting that–and it was a lot easier than the 1400 from Sunday. I think printing the chapter out and rereading it, and thinking about it, before I went back to work on it made it a lot easier, frankly; I have this bad habit of just going into the file and starting from the beginning and revising as I go–and sometimes I don’t remember how the chapter ends. Sometimes I will add a paragraph that I think belongs in the chapter…only to come across the same paragraph, slightly differently written, a little while later…which also can be filed under wasting time and not an effective use of time and yeah that’s a step you should cut out.

But one thing about being a writer is that you never stop learning, I guess. And, sometimes if things aren’t going as well as you’d like, it’s not a step backwards to stop for a minute, decide you have to go back in time to try to remember things you used to do, tricks that used to work well for you in the past that somehow you’ve completely forgotten about now.

You know, like keeping a journal. Reading my pages out loud to hear how the words sound together, if there’s a steady rhythm of some kind  or catch where it stumbles a bit here and there, to smooth it out to the right pace and rhythm for the reader, for the words to and syllables to flow correctly so the reader isn’t taken out of the moment by a badly selected word or phrase. I love writing, but the whole process is still a mystery to me, all these years and columns and articles and reviews and essays and blog entries and short stories and novellas and novels later, it somehow still is a mystery to me, and every time I sit down to write a new manuscript, no matter what it is or what it’s about or who it’s for, I seem to have to solve the mystery of how to do this, how to get it done, and how to satisfy myself that I’ve done my best–or even try to figure out how to do my best.

And sometimes it feels like I’ve never completely figured it out, but somehow it just happened.

One of the reasons I loathe being asked where my ideas come from isn’t just that it’s not a question where any answer I might give would shed light into how I write or how I choose what I write; it’s just that ideas are quite literally everywhere. I can have a conversation with someone and during the chat, in my head whatever we’re talking about has triggered several thoughts of oh that would make an interesting starting point for a story or that would be interesting subject to look into and read about and perhaps write an essay about or that would be an interesting character to write about. Headlines give me ideas, and stories on the news, and snippets of conversations overheard; there’s absolutely nothing out there in the world that comes into contact with me that also won’t trigger some kind idea for something, some bit of writing or some piece of fiction or a paragraph or something, you know? Sometimes a paragraph which has absolutely nothing to do with anything I am currently writing will pop into my head, and I will dutifully write it down in my journal, where it will sit until I run across it one day and think I should really write something around this paragraph, it’s quite good, and if I am the right frame of mind the characters and the title will come to me and then the story will start to spin out from there. The short stories I have on hand that aren’t finished, are in some stage of construction, whether it’s an unfinished first draft, a first draft or a second or even a third; there’s something still missing from those that I can’t quite put my finger on; some missing piece that, if clicked into place, will finish the story and it will be done, complete, ready for public consumption. There’s a short story, for example, that I wrote as a first draft for a writing class back in the 1980’s; my professor told me to send it out for publication back in the days of carbon paper and typewriters. I sent it to a couple of places over the years, but it never was accepted anywhere, and I know something is missing from the story to make it complete but I simply cannot put my finger on what precisely that is; I’ve had editors look at it and try to solve the puzzle of “Whim of the Wind” (which is a title I absolutely love), but no one’s ever quite been able to tell me what it needs–they also recognize it needs something, but they don’t know what that something is; I always think to myself welcome to the club and put the story back away. But the voice is charming, and the story has some of the most lovely sentences and paragraphs I’ve ever written; the imagery is beautiful, as is the mood and tone, and it’s actually the first story set in my fictional county in Alabama I’ve revisited in other work over the years, notably “Smalltown Boy” and the book I’m currently writing. But every few years I will pull that story out and read it again, wondering what I can do to complete it, to finally finish it, some twenty-five or more years later, and never can quite get the answer I need.

Maybe there is no answer to that question. Who knows?

I also started writing an article that is due relatively soon that I was asked to write; the trick with the article is I have to be careful not to turn it into a polemic. But it’s slowly starting to come together in my head…we’ll see how that turns out. Which means hopefully soon; I think I need to get it turned in by the end of the week.

Yeah, nothing like pressure.

In other exciting news, I’ve had to start wearing a belt. My weight is now fluctuating between 211 and 207; which is fan-fucking-tastic, and now my pants are all too big. Over the last few months I’d noticed that I was constantly having to pull my pants up; now they are so big they will slide all the way down to my knees after taking three or four steps. This, needless to say, is kind of annoying to have to deal with–especially if your hands are full–so this morning I put on a belt and my pants are staying up just fine…I stopped wearing belts years ago, unless I was dressing up; in which case it served as a unnecessary accessory, but you can’t wear dressy pants without a belt. So I own maybe two belts, total; which is a good thing because now they are necessary.

I still don’t like wearing belts, but like the idea that I need one.

I was also very pleased, by the way, with the writing I’ve been doing lately. Yes, I know I had a bout of impostor syndrome on Sunday, but the reread of the chapter and what I wrote for Chapter Seven pleased me immensely. I probably could have written more, but as I said, I want to read Chapter Eight again before rewriting it–I think this is a chapter where I could make it a lot more creepy than it is already written; it’s a drive through the Alabama countryside late at night in the dark, and for someone who is primarily used to living in a city the size of Chicago–imagine how terrifying it would be to drive down country roads in the dark that you aren’t that familiar with. Over all, the book still needs more atmosphere and needs to be more Gothic, and chilling; that is, I imagine, what the next draft will be for.

I also think I know what I  need to do to make “And The Walls Came Down” creepier, and more ready for submission.

I think this week I am going to send out a couple of stories to markets, and see what happens.

After all, the worst thing they can do to me is say no.

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

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Fooled Around and Fell in Love

It’s Sunday morning in New Orleans and I am already awake and swilling coffee. It looks kind of gray outside my windows this morning. The sun is trying to come out from behind the cloud cover so I don’t think today is going to be one of those rainy days like yesterday, but it’s kind of nice. The humidity has returned–Friday was miserable–and it’s only May. The true dog days are yet to be upon us. Heavy heaving sigh.

Yesterday I was moving stuff around, trying to lessen the appearance of clutter as well as to figure out where to put all the extra paper towels (thank you, Costco!) and put the things I was moving into places that I would remember when I discovered a copy of the first anthology I ever published a short story in, released way back in August of 2000: Men for All Seasons, edited by Jesse Grant, and from Alyson Books. It’s an erotic story, of course; my first two published short stories were erotica an d I don’t think I published a story that wasn’t erotica until “Smalltown Boy” in Rebel Yell 2, several years later. It was also interesting to look at the table of contents and see that my original by-line for fiction was Gregory Herren, not Greg; I do think I switched to Greg for the second story that was published that same month in Men magazine. Going through the list of contributors, I was struck by how many of those writers are no longer writing–or if they are, they aren’t using their “erotica” pen names anymore.

Back in the day, if you worked really hard you could make a lovely little income writing gay erotica. I was paid $300 for the story in Men; I published a second story there a few years later for the same pay. I think I got $75 for the story in Men for All Seasons. I started writing erotica primarily as a lark; Alyson’s publicist advised me to start writing short fiction for their anthologies, primarily for the publication credits and the money, as well as to make my name better known and more familiar to the Alyson editorial staff. He was right; Alyson wound up buying my first novel Murder in the Rue Dauphine, and I stayed with Alyson for the first five Chanse books, as well as several erotica anthologies I edited for them. I always called myself “an accidental pornographer” because it wasn’t anything I’d ever wanted to do, but the money was nice and the books actually did very well. But now…now there’s no market for actual gay erotica. Anthologies don’t sell and so no one is doing them anymore; the only market for erotica is novels, and reality is most of those are written now by straight women for other straight women, and that’s not the kind of erotica I write. (This is not to say straight women cannot write gay erotica geared toward gay men; in my editing days I worked with a lot of straight women who wrote horny, nasty, raunchy men on men erotica and you’d never know the author was a woman.) But the women who like to read the m/m stuff don’t like the erotica I write, and so I don’t really write it anymore.  I don’t miss it, to be honest–there are only so many ways to write about male on male sex originally, only so many words–and I even at one time wrote a column for the Erotica Writers Association on how to write good porn. I think my favorite column title was “Sometimes A Cock Is Just A Cock.”

I didn’t do much writing yesterday–actual physical writing–but I did do a lot of thinking and rehashing and going over my notes for the WIP. I doubt very seriously I will get as caught up as I had wanted to get this weekend, but you know, that’s just how it goes sometimes. Today is May the 5th, and I am going to dig into Chapter Six again in just a moment, with the hopes that Chapters 7, 8 and 9 will fall into place as I go…and then maybe I can start with Chapter Ten. I got so far off track with this WIP that I don’t really remember the story I was trying to tell in the first place, which is terrible–my memory, once so incredibly dependable I didn’t really need to take notes, in now completely unreliable. Part of the reason I decided to go back and redo the chapters I’d already written was to get myself immersed back into the story, get a feel for the characters, and maybe find the flaws and mistakes and holes in the plot. I’ve managed some of that, of course, which makes it all worthwhile, and I did find the outline for Chapter Ten in my journal (which I’d completely forgotten I’d written down), so yes, not actually spending time at the keyboard yesterday while actually simply reviewing notes and rereading things was a pretty smart thing to do.

Going through the current and previous journal also reminded me of some short story ideas I’d had that had somehow slipped, unbidden, from my memory. I also managed to page through The Gulf by Jack E. Davis yesterday, and I believe it will be a rich source of ideas and materials for me to write another book–my spring break murders novel, Where the Boys Die–and many others. Nonfiction is a great source of material for fiction, in case you were wondering.

And now I am going to sign off with this entry as I have another, Game of Thrones specific one I started yesterday that I would like to finish this morning.

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