Hello Walls

Well, hello Thursday morning and a beautiful looking morning outside of my windows.

I’m not really sure what to make of what is going on in the world today. One of the reasons I always loved Stephen King’s The Stand so much was because it seemed so brutally realistic; I was amazed at how it played out and thinking wow this is exactly how it would happen, right down to the government lying and covering it up to suppression of the news and people spreading it despite containment policies, procedures and protocols. How on earth did he ever think this up?

Which is one of the biggest parts of why I love Stephen King’s writing. For one, the imagination to think up the stories–and the scale! I don’t know that I could ever create something like The Stand and do that kind of world-building, let alone keep track of all the individual characters and their story arcs, both their individual personal arcs as well as the over-arching arc of the main story. I’ve considered writing post-apocalyptic fiction–I have a really good idea for one, but I can’t make up my mind how to precisely do it, to be honest, and so it has always languished in the back of my mind. I had several different ideas for stories, actually; primarily triggered by the HIV/AIDS crisis of the 1980’s, and then I realized how I could weave them all into the same story. But…it’s an epic story and a massive undertaking, and I simply don’t have the confidence in my own writing abilities to actually try writing it.

And that’s the bottom line for the vast majority of the ideas and stories I have that would probably make amazing books–I just don’t have the confidence to write them.

Okay, here I am later in the evening, and I am still not sure what to think or how to process everything. Twitter and social media and the news are determined to terrify me; I don’t know what I should be thinking or worrying about or doing. I know I should use this time creatively; I should block everything out and just write and check in on the world later this evening. And yet…

I’m not sure what the deep root of the insecurity I was talking about earlier comes from. I feel confident that I’m good at what I do, but when you send a manuscript to twenty agents and only even bothers to write back to say, “Thank you but no thank you; I’m not taking on more clients at this time” it tends to wear on you. Manuscripts editors passed on were later published. Needless to say, I am very wary of agents, and still am to this day. I know I need one, should have kept trying years ago until I got one, but now…I go back and forth between your career isn’t the greatest but at least you have one, be happy with what you have and an agent will help me get better deals and better sales and my books more attention. This week I got my fifteenth Lambda Literary Award nomination; and I sold a gay-themed short story to a mainstream market (well, I haven’t heard back from them, but it’s been a bit of a week, hasn’t it?) so one would think I write well enough to draw even a little bit of interest from an agent. I’ve been nominated for numerous other, mainstream awards; I’ve even won some of them.

And yet…

AH, well. I think I need to spend some time with Scooter. Til tomorrow.

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Coat of Many Colors

And just like that, we’ve made it to Friday. How lovely!

I slept extremely well, which was lovely. I feel rested today and I also feel as though I can actually handle whatever blows the world and life decide to throw at me today. Yesterday wasn’t an easy one; I felt tired most of the day and the lethargic lack of energy wasn’t, frankly, very much fun. I got home and rewarded myself with a quick view of Spider-man Into the Spider-verse, which is my favorite super-hero movie of all time (not that I am dogging on Tom Holland, whom I adore as Peter Parker) and that eased me into going to bed last night. I had already decided to go to the gym after work today rather than before; so I have this morning to regroup and get on top of everything again.

I did write a little bit yesterday. I had decided to revise a story I’d written for an anthology, which was rejected (rightly so, he typed grimly, after starting to reread it last night), and submit it to yet another anthology (I have three stories to submit by the end of the month), and I found myself wondering–I can’t say the name of the story, since the anthology is a blind/submission read–if I needed to tone it down a little bit? It’s a gay story, from a gay man’s point of view and there’s a lot of sexualizing and a lot of the gay male gaze; and I began wondering, as I revised and removed sentences from passive past tense to the active past tense (it is amazing how easily I default to passive voice; a problem I never seem to be able to kick; and it’s really not that difficult to avoid, really) and changed some things and made sentences stronger, how often do my stories get rejected for fear of offending a reader or a reviewer, rather than the quality of the story? That’s one of the issues one consistently faces as a gay writer trying to publish in a homophobic society and culture; you’re never sure if your story just wasn’t up to par, or if the gay point-of-view made the editors uncomfortable–or made them worry about offending readers and getting one-starred on Goodreads and Amazon as a direct result.

It’s shitty, but it’s my reality, and that of every gay writer. I’d like to think that a good story that is well-written would rise above that kind of bullshit, but every time I think we’re making progress, either in the culture and society and publishing–we get shoved back hard and shown our place.

And for the record, I’ve only published one short story in a mainstream market with a gay male character and theme. ONE. Everything else I’ve published in a mainstream market was about a straight character without any of the gay in it.

Over the last week or so, I’ve been sickened by the levels of overt and covert homophobia I’ve seen on Twitter. Yes, I know, I know; Twitter is a cesspool roiling with trolls and incels and every other kind of monster imaginable. But I don’t follow a lot of people over there; mostly other writers and maybe some journalists and reporters and reviewers and magazines, etc. Every so often I seem something appalling being tweeted at someone I know and like in the real world, not just cyberspace; I often report problematic tweets I see as harassment against someone else, and it may take a couple of days, but that account eventually gets suspended. It may be like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon, but I figure it’s the least I can do. And it has to be something egregious–like the use of a slur and an outright slander–for me to do something; my litmus test generally is if I start typing out an angry response I should just report it and not engage.

Typing out the tweet before deleting it always makes me feel better, and then I delete and report the person instead. This works for me.

Anyway, many years ago I stopped talking about politics publicly, either here, or on my blog or Facebook, because I have no desire to debate anyone or argue with anyone on my social media accounts. Part of it was, indeed, joining the national board of Mystery Writers of America; the realization that not everyone in the crime fiction world would agree with me on everything and I didn’t want to get into pissing contests on social media, particularly as a board member whose conduct might be held against the organization. Obviously, I still talk about queer equality and homophobia, but anyone who follows me on social media knows I’m a gay man (the pictures in every blog post alone is a tell, hello?) and as such, I feel I’m entitled to talk about that; I also feel like I have every right to speak out against racism when I see it, as well as misogyny and transphobia. These are, in my opinion, societal ills and I cannot just sit idly by and not speak my piece on these things from time to time.

One of the things I’ve noticed over the last week–I’ve actually noticed it before, but not to this extreme–is homophobia, particularly from people who actually should know better. That’s the true evil, to me, in our society; that all the hatreds–racism, homophobia, misogyny, transphobia–are so deeply engrained and systemic that people who should know better sometimes fall back into them quite easily, without thinking twice about what they are saying or how it can be perceived. Do I think these people are actually and actively homophobic? Probably not, but it’s really easy, as I said, to fall back into it.

Pete Buttigieg did something no openly gay man had ever done before; he ran for president as a prospective candidate in one of the two major parties. I don’t know Pete; I’ve never met him or his husband, Chasten, and what I do know is from reading about them in the press (I also follow Chasten on Twitter) and from seeing them speak on television. I’ve been impressed from the very first with Pete; he’s smart, articulate, and passionate about wanting to help other people. If Chasten’s name was Christine, I honestly think Pete would have been mopping the floor with the other candidates; he’s young, he’s attractive, a Rhodes scholar, a great public speaker, and a military veteran. He has flaws, obviously; there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, no matter what anyone might think. But when he announced, I braced myself for the homophobic onslaught to come.

I just didn’t expect the majority of it to come from the left.

Campaigns always tend to be ugly, and this year’s presidential election will be no different from any previous one’s. Primaries can also be ugly–I remember the ugliness of the Democratic primaries of 1968, 1980, and 2016 very vividly, thank you very much (an aside: please note that ugly Democratic primaries inevitably lead to Republican presidents being elected–Nixon, Reagan, and Trump)–and so there are going to be slurs and insults and snide questions thrown around; I get it. Politics and power are an ugly business. But as I observed without commenting…I couldn’t help but notice that people who should know better, either consciously or subconsciously, were falling back on their internalized homophobia.

I never saw derisive nicknames, for example, for any of the Democratic candidates…except for Buttigieg. Think I’m wrong? How is Pete Buttigieg so much whiter than any of the other candidates, so much more so that an appellation of “Mayo Pete” was appropriate? No one was calling Amy Klobuchar “Wonder Bread Amy.” And sure, the ‘Mayor Pete’ branding might have had something to do with that–but as a gay man of a certain age, I couldn’t help notice that he was the only one with such a nickname. Were the other white candidates that much better than him on issues of race?

As for the leftists slyly shortening his name to “Pete Butt”–do you really think you’re fooling anyone? Yes, yes, I’m sure you were only calling him that because, of course, you were saving characters on social media where you have limited characters; but you could have saved three more by calling him “”Pete B”; people would have known who you were talking about. I daresay you could have even just said “Pete” since you were talking about the primaries.

So, why Pete Butt? Unless you’re using it as a dogwhistle; you know you can’t call him “Pete Buttsex” or “Pete the Fag” so instead you say “Pete Butt”–knowing full fucking well how that would be read. Congratulations on your wokeness, and go fuck yourself. By disrespecting Pete Buttigieg, who accomplished something I never thought I’d see happen in my goddamned lifetime, you are exposing your own inner homophobia. Oh, sure, you  can criticize him for his conduct as mayor, you can criticize his positions, you can oppose his candidacy all you like without being homophobic…but the glee I saw in basically calling him a faggot by using a dog-whistle?

Yeah, thanks for dropping the mask.

I’m not hurt by this behavior–I’m mostly disappointed. Disappointed in the left, disappointed in Democratic voters, disappointed in people I thought knew better and were allies. Disappointed in myself for once again thinking cishet straight people actually gave a shit about me and people like me.

Kind of like “woke” people who have no friends that are people of color. Why is that, precisely?

I mean, how very dare he run for president! Queers need to know their place, and certainly the halls of Congress and the White House aren’t, apparently, it.

And for the record, he won Iowa.

Nothing will ever change that. You may not like him, you may have dipped into your soul and the dark recesses of your lizard primordial brain to come up with a way to dismiss him and get away without being outright homophobic, but I see you.

And I’ll never forget–nor will I ever look at you the same way again. And don’t bother trying to explain how you’re not homophobic to me.

I SAW for myself.

Bravo.

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Smoke on the Water

Why, Gregalicious, do you always include a picture of a hot, shirtless guy in every one of your blog posts?

AH, Constant Reader, you’ve asked me this several times, but I don’t mind explaining yet again.

Back in the olden days when social media was still quite young and hope was still alive, I had a blog on Livejournal. I started the blog in December 2004, after a long period of personal issues and not really writing anything in months. I had a book that was long since overdue, but the stuff going on in my personal life was too overwhelming for me to do anything other than handle my day-to-day life and get through every day. A friend, Poppy Z. Brite, suggested to me that I should start blogging; I’d been a fan of his blog for quite some time (“Dispatches from Tanganyika”, I think, was what he called his blog at the time) and I’d never really thought about it much. So, Poppy was on Livejournal, so I opened a Livejournal account and started my blog–“Queer and Loathing in America” around Christmas of 2004. The idea was primarily to get myself writing every day again, and hopefully, use that as a springboard to get back to writing fiction. I was excited about starting a blog for several reasons–not the least of which was I had so many thoughts and opinions on so many things; things I wanted to write about but no one would ever let me write about them. So, I saw the blog as a tool to get me writing again, and as a way to improve my negligible essay writing skills.

It also gave me the opportunity to write about things no one else would let me write about–like sports I enjoy watching, television and movies and books I’ve enjoyed, politics, gay activism, etc. I didn’t care if anyone read what I was writing–I was writing again, and I was doing it every day, and I was sticking to it, and I was happy with it. People did, as a matter of course and over time, start reading it and it was fun to interact with the people who read my blog–and in many cases, they also read my books, so it was a nice way to interact with my readers. I have never changed my mentality about my blog; I still write it and think no one’s reading it, of course; I write it first and foremost for myself, more than anything else, but once the other social media sites–Twitter and Facebook and so forth, started up and I joined, it only made sense to share my blog with the few folks who I was friends with on Facebook and who followed me on Twitter…and that is where the problem started.

Originally, when I posted my blog, it would cross-post to both Facebook and Twitter, in a really nice way that indicated to everyone it was a  link to a blog, what the name of the blog entry was, and the first few sentences, as a teaser. I liked this a lot, and was content with it.

And then, as is their wont, both Facebook and Twitter changed their interfaces with Livejournal, so if there was no image in the blog for them to put up along with the blog link–on Facebook it was a big blue box with a pencil in it, the generic Twitter image that got thrown up was equally awful. I hated it, and was ready to stop cross-posting when I noticed that whenever there was an image in the blog–a book cover, say–that image got put up instead of the generic image they usually used.

But I don’t write about a book every day. So what images to use? I finally decided to use pictures of hot sexy men without shirts. Sue me.

I’ve been doing this now for years, and even after I moved from Livejournal to WordPress (I held out for a long time, but the fact that Livejournal was sold to some Russian company meant I started getting spam responses to the blog in Russian…plus Russia has become the motherland for homophobia, so I finally bit the bullet and moved), I have continued doing this. More of a habit than anything else, and I don’t know if the hideous generic images get thrown up on the two sites when I cross-post anymore–both sites have been redesigned and have been through numerous changes, but now it’s kind of my brand for my blog, and no one really seems to mind, and if they do….I don’t care.

And that, Constant Reader, is why I post pictures of hot guys in my blog.

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Feelin’ Stronger Every Day

Sunday and the sun is shining. Does that mean rain won’t be in today’s forecast? Don’t be silly–of course it’s going to rain today. It rains every day in New Orleans, and if things go as they usually do, it will probably start raining right around the time I light the charcoal today.

The more things change, the more the stay the same.

I slept really well last night, and even allowed myself the luxury of staying in the oh-so-comfy bed for another, extra hour. It was lovely sleeping a little extra, quite nice. I am now awake, feeling refreshed and alive (I also stretched yesterday, and used the foam rubber back rolling self-massage thingee that actually does work to a degree; it’s not the same as a strong deep tissue massage from a licensed therapist, but it does the trick of loosening up the  back muscles nicely, which in turn relaxes me and relieved some of the stress I carry in my oh-so-tight back muscles) and in a moment I am going to clean the kitchen, preparatory to getting back to work on the WIP. I actually wrote yesterday–I know, I know, shocking–and really started pushing through Chapter Nineteen, and as always, even though I really had no idea what to do with the chapter, I started figuring it out as I went. I stopped when Paul woke up and came downstairs–yesterday was his “do nothing day” of the weekend, and then we spent some time together. We got caught up on Animal Kingdom, finished streaming CNN’s The 2000’s (I highly recommend CNN”s decade docuseries, for a refresher course in how we got to where we are today, for all those who apparently have forgotten), and then started watching Amazon Prime’s The Boys, which is an extremely interesting, and dark, take on superheroes–it asks the question, what if superheroes weren’t all selfless helpers? And it’s going to probably get much darker–and we are really enjoying it thus far.

Also, when I started working on my writing yesterday I closed my web browsers. Yes, I tried to go cold turkey with my social media–but kept my phone nearby in case I couldn’t quite make it. It was actually kind of nice, to be honest, to be away from it for most of the day; I think if we all took social media breaks–even for just half-a-day–it would be so amazing for our inner peace. Several years ago I started a new thing where I don’t answer emails from five o’clock on Friday thru eight a.m. on Monday; I will check my emails, and delete the junk, and might even answer some–but the answers go into the “saved drafts” folder until Monday morning, when I send them all. Emails, you see, beget emails, and I don’t want to spend time on the weekends constantly answering emails.

Sometimes you have to just walk away from the Internet.

I also managed to try–and maybe succeed–to figure out what is going to happen in the final act of the book. I have six chapters left to write (assuming I finish Chapter Nineteen today, which I think I can do, and might even start Chapter Twenty) and while the manuscript is a complete and total mess, I know what I have left to have happen, and am still not completely convinced on how precisely to end the book; I know I have to wrap up everything, and the second draft is going to be brutal on me to write, as I reorganize and cut things and add things and move things around–it certainly would have helped when I started writing this bitch to know how I planned to end the damned thing–but I think it’s going to end up being a truly amazing piece of work when I do get it to where I want it to be. I don’t recommend the writing methodology I used in writing this book by any means–this might be the first time I went full-on pantser (at least, that I can recall at the moment) while writing a book, and I really don’t, don’t, don’t recommend it. It’s probably why it’s taking me so long to finish this draft, and why it’s taken me longer than I keep thinking it will every time I try to figure out when I am going to get it finished once and for all. It was supposed to have been finished by the end of February, and here it is, a few days out from August, and it still isn’t finished.

Much as I love the characters, and I love the story, I am really going to enjoy being away from it for a few months before I start working on it again.

I also started reading Steph Cha’s absolutely marvelous Your House Will Pay yesterday morning, and the writing in it is a revelation. I knew Steph could write, from reading  Follow Her Home earlier this year as part of the Diversity Project (and I really need to finish reading her Juniper Song series), but this is positively blowing me away. The careful construction of characters, and family relationships, is exceptionally well crafted and extremely well done. I am going to take a break for a moment this morning, and devote an hour to Your House Will Pay, although I suspect I’ll wind up spending the rest of the day with it, which is what happened with Angie Kim’s terrific debut Miracle Creek. 

Damn, there are some fucking amazing books out there this year. Laura Lippman’s Lady in the Lake, which I am waiting to get a signed copy when she is at Garden District Books here in August, is tearing up the reviews lately, and I seriously can’t wait to spend a weekend with la Lippman’s prose again. This week, I also got Adrian McKinty’s The Chain, Chuck Wendig’s Wanderers, and Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys; all of which sound terrific and are getting rave reviews everywhere. There’s just so little time these days I can devote to reading, and it breaks my heart a little bit–especially when I remember how I used to spend so much time reading when I worked at home.

Gosh, how I missed the days when I spent the mornings on correspondence, wrote or edited all afternoon before going to the gym, and then spent the early evenings reading until Paul came home.

Heavy sigh. Perhaps someday again–or sooner, if I start limiting my screen time more extremely.

Today’s appreciation post is for Holly West and her anthology Murder-a-Go-Go’s. I invited myself, basically, to write a story for this anthology–Holly’s story had been accepted into Florida Happens, and I’d noticed her tweeting about her Go-Go’s anthology, so I decided for once to be forward and mention, during our correspondence about her now Anthony Award-nominated story “The Best Laid Plans,” that I wished I’d known about it because as a huge Go-Go’s fan, I would have loved to have written something for it. Rather than ignoring my broad hints, or brushing them aside, Holly very graciously told me she had a few slots still open and she would love to see something from me. I think the stories I  had to choose from were for the songs “Yes or No,” “This Town,” and there was one more I don’t remember right now. Of the three songs, “Yes or No” is my favorite, and there was a germ of a story there, of course. I started writing it, and got a few paragraphs in, but wasn’t really feeling the story. (I’ll probably go back and finish that story someday.)  I then looked up the lyrics for “This Town,” and as I read them, I saw the dark, noir potential to them, and in my head I saw these five sorority girls on Fat Tuesday, weaving their drunken way up Bourbon Street, and I knew that was the story I was going to write. I let Holly know which song I was using, and then sat down and wrote about a four thousand word first draft in about three hours–and knew I’d chosen the right story. I worried about the subject matter, and I also worried about the voice–getting the voice of a college girl wasn’t going to be easy, and neither was the subject matter. I revised it a few times, and then crossed my fingers and sent it in. (The worst time is when you submit something and then wait to hear back, certain you’ve done a good job and written not only something publishable but something rather good–but it’s always subjective, and you are always subject to the tastes of the editor.) You can imagine my relief when Holly loved the story and gave me a few notes, which I was more than happy to incorporate into “This Town.”

“This Town” is also one of those rare times when a story of mine has gone into print and I’ve gotten feedback–all of it positive–from readers. As someone who is very insecure about his short story writing abilities (thanks again, Dr. Dixon, you worthless piece of shit), you can only imagine how lovely that was–particularly since I’d been feeling a lot of Imposter Syndrome over my career the last few years.

So thank you, Holly, for the opportunity to write and publish “This Town.” Buy the book, Constant Reader–it’s also a fundraiser for Planned Parenthood, so it’s a chance to help an under-insured woman get some health care and read a darned good book of crime short stories as well.

And now, back to the spice mines.

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Dancing in the Moonlight

Friday morning, Barry eve. Paul and I, for those who are curious, are electing to stay rather than go. We may end up regretting that decision, but it’s not like it would be the first time we made a decision we wound up regretting deeply (hello, year in Washington).

It’s sunny yet cloudy outside this morning, giving the morning a weird, yellow-grayish tint to everything (sepia!). I am most likely going to venture out this morning at some point; I still need to fill the car with gasoline, and later I am also going to decide whether to take the precaution of parking in a garage somewhere in the CBD, to get the car above whatever possible floodwaters might be coming. There’s also some things I should pick up at the grocery store–although I imagine the candle and bread aisles have already been decimated. Paul and I both don’t have to go to work today, so we will undoubtedly end up watching a lot of television and getting caught up on our shows–we fell behind while he was at his mother’s. Moving the car to a garage might not be necessary, but I’d rather pay a daily parking rate somewhere than over a thousand dollars making my car operational again–or losing it entirely to water. If experience has taught me anything, getting a car operational after it gets flooded also means it never quite runs right again, and why risk it as I am getting so close to owning it outright?

It’s supposed to rain off and on all day today as Barry gets closer to shore. It’s getting darker even as I type this right now, and so I guess that means it’s getting ready to rain at any moment.

Yesterday was probably the most beautiful day of the summer; low eighties with little to no humidity, and a cool breeze. Wednesday I was pretty tired all day, and that kind of carried over into yesterday. I got nothing done–this entire week has been a bust for the most part, other than reading to edit some things I’ve already written–but maybe I can correct that a bit today. I don’t know, we shall see, won’t we? Right now I am feeling pretty good and well-rested and like I can get some stuff done–but where that will wind up, nobody knows.

Yesterday was also a lovely day for me on Twitter; that’s twice in the last week or so I’ve had an absolutely lovely day on social media. Twitter, and social media, can be lovely places to connect and reconnect and speak (albeit electronically) with friends; I’ve tried for a very long time to keep my social media upbeat and positive, rather than allowing myself to get sucked into the toxicity rampant on all social media sites. I have no desire to argue with anyone, about anything; no one has ever been convinced to change their minds by a social media argument. If anything, it seems to harden people against opposing views, so why even bother? My time and my patience and my emotional investments are limited, as is my energy, and I’d rather use all of them productively and positively, rather than trying to score points on people with opposing views that I find repugnant.

Yesterday, though, was lovely; what social media can be if we avoid toxicity. Alex Segura had been doing some gratitude posts there, thanking people who have helped, encouraged, and supported him on his journey as a crime writer (if you haven’t checked out his Pete Fernandez series, you simply MUST); I thought to myself, self, you really need to do the same thing, and so I started a tweet-thread in which I did the same; thanked people for their support and help and encouragement over the now near-twenty years of my writing career. I naturally forgot some people–there have been so many–and I was trying to do it as I went, but the responses turned out to be a lot of fun and people are still responding to that thread this morning. But the tweets and responses were a lot of fun, and almost every new notification brought yet another smile to my face, and made me feel all warm and fuzzy inside (as opposed to the usual, in which I’m dead inside…KIDDING), and made me feel quite grateful; grateful for my career, grateful for the terrific people I’ve met along the way, grateful for all the help and encouragement and support. Writing can often feel like an incredibly lonely business; most of the time it’s just you and your computer screen and your imagination, typing away while going deep inside your own head. Social media has made it much easier for us to connect outside of the conferences, your Bouchercons and Malice Domestics and Left Coast Crimes and Tennessee Williams Festivals–and helps deepen the bonds formed at those events, and makes you look forward to seeing everyone at the next one. I am already looking forward to seeing everyone in Dallas at this year’s Bouchercon…which will be here sooner than I expect and will also wind up being over much sooner than it should be.

So, I am going to spend this morning trying to sort my kitchen again–it’s astonishing how quickly it gets out of order–and probably reading this book I need to write an introduction for soon. I also have some terrific new books: Clandestine by James Ellroy (which I want to read again); Paper Son by S. J. Rozan; Life After Life by Kate Atkinson; and The Ceremonies by T. E. D. Klein. I may also reread some short stories that need to be edited; I may even try to write on the WIP–but let’s not get too crazy or ahead of ourselves here.

So, I guess it’s time to start getting my act together this morning. Have a great day, Constant Reader; hopefully we’ll still have power at this time tomorrow.

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Brass in Pocket

Sometimes I wonder if the Internet is a good thing.

I find that I waste more time on it than I probably should, and it often sucks me in when I have other, more pressing things to do…but then I can’t tear myself away and when I finally can, I’m no longer in the mood for the writing or editing or whatever it is that I need to do. This used to happen back in the day when I had to use AOL to even log onto the Internet through my dial-up modem, and I’d wind up wasting hours chatting with friends through instant messages. I finally had to ban myself from chatting on-line, but then of course the Internet changed and turned into social media and now it’s the same thing, over and over again–Twitter, Facebook, Instagram. I get lost in there for hours.

So today, after I share this on Facebook and Twitter, I am closing down my social media for the rest of the day–or at least until I get everything done that I want to get done today. Paul’s working at the office so I am home alone. I did the laundry last night, went to the grocery store (seriously, getting up early and putting my hours in at the office in the morning is clearly the way to go in the future; I went to the library, picked up the mail, and went to the grocery store. Then I came home, put everything away, cleaned the kitchen, and started the laundry…all by five thirty. How lovely is that?

Pretty damned lovely, I think.

So, today I am going to put together the proof corrections and send them off. After that, I am going to revise the new Scotty. I’ve really been dragging my feet on this, and I really just need to get it together and get it done. If I keep my head down and stay focused, I can get this finished in practically no time.

Why is it so hard for me to get started?

More of that self-defeating thing, methinks.

I’ve also started reading Walter Mosley’s Devil in a Blue Dress, and might I just say, wow. Yes, I am loving it, and can’t wait to get back to it. It’s very hard-boiled in its writing style–think both MacDonalds (John D. and Ross) and also very Chandler-esque. I couldn’t be more pleased. I met Walter when he gave the keynote at SinC Into Good Writing in New Orleans a few years ago; a very nice man. I was also there the night he was named a Grand Master at the Edgars by the Mystery Writers of America. I can’t believe–and am more than a little ashamed–that it’s taken me this long to get around to reading him….and there’s an enormous backlist to enjoy as well.

I also got an advanced reading copy of Alafair Burke’s The Better Sister yesterday in the mail; part of my Tennessee Williams Festival homework. I’ll start reading those works in March, as I start preparing for the panel, and am also truly looking forward to this. Moderating panels is usually an excruciating experience for me; I am always shaking and sweating and looking at my watch to try to estimate how much time is left and wondering how I am ever going to fill that time. But I shall persevere.

I’m almost finished with watching the first season of Titans, and am really enjoying it. It’s getting better as the season progresses, and it started out pretty well. I was right, this season is about the evolution of Dick Grayson from Robin to Nightwing, and I’m really looking forward to that final transformation. Nightwing has always been one of my favorite superheroes…and I can’t wait to see the costume finally arrive in live action. Last night’s episode introduced us to Donna Troy aka Wonder Girl (which was also pretty fucking awesome) and the next episode is the origin story for Hawk and Dove, before the story goes back to the one the season has followed. I’ll probably watch that tonight in fact–as a treat should I get all the things done that I need to get done today….I’m already feeling lazy which is not a good thing.

Ah well.

And on that note it is back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader.

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Back to the Hotel

I have been taking five minute lessons in Italian every day–or trying to do them every day–and while I can’t say for certain that I am actually learning Italian, it kind of is cool. I probably should have gone with French instead, but once I get through these Italian lessons maybe I’ll try French. I’m not looking to get fluent in Italian; I’d just like to–if we ever return to that fabled land–be able to be understood in restaurants and bars and shops and gelato shops. But French…French would probably come more in handy, particularly in doing research on old New Orleans.

But I chose Italian, I am doing my lessons, and we’ll see how it goes. I do love me some Italy, and there’s always that historical mystery set in Florence I’ve been wanting to write ever since I first saw the city…

So many books to write, so little time.

It’s been raining since last night; I woke up sometime in the middle of the night when it started, and as such slept deeply and well; what is it about rain that is so soothing? All day yesterday it rained, and of course, with a tin roof next door right outside my office window, all I wanted to do was curl up under a blanket and go back to sleep. I wonder what it is I’ve always found comforting about the sound of rain? I love rain; I only mind getting wet when I have to go to work or am on my way somewhere that it matters that I look presentable. Other than that, I am all about the rain. There’s nothing I love more than being warm and comfortable inside while it is pouring rain outside. I even like driving in the rain–the only drawback being, of course, moronic other drivers. I mean, it’s understandable that New Orleanians don’t know how to drive in rain, since it rains so rarely here (sarcasm).

I am getting close to being finished with the Scotty draft. There’s absolutely no reason for me not to be finished this weekend–unless I get a bad case of the lazies. This is, of course, always possible–but I really do need to get it done because I have literally no idea of what I’ll be doing with the day job next week. It’s a long story, but our office location is closing and we are moving into a new office space…I’ll probably go into more detail later, when I am in less denial about the actual move.

And yes, for the record, I’ve been in denial about the move since it was announced.

 We continue to watch American Horror Story: Apocalypse, but I’m not really sure why. The story-telling is terrible, it isn’t linear, and both the writing and acting aren’t particularly good–in my opinion. Of course, Joan Collins steals every scene she is in–give this woman her own television show immediately!–which makes it worth watching when I know she’s going to be in an episode. But I always check social media after I watch and apparently Paul’s and my opinion about this train wreck of a season are the minority.

Which, again, is fine.

Two more days till the weekend, Constant Reader! We can do it!

And now back to the spice mines.

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Hold on My Heart

It is rare, so rare, that something random can lead to an enormous breakthrough in something you are writing. And yet that very randomness is almost some kind of weird cosmic force. Imagine, for example, that you, a writer, have been working on a novel for nearly two years–off and on, really, around other books and other projects–but something has always been missing from that manuscript; something doesn’t work, you can’t quite get it to work, you write draft after draft after draft, you ask other friends to read it and give you input, you talk to other writers about it, and still…something’s just not quite right, not quite there. You know it’s missing something and you agonize over it, try to write it out in your journal.

And then one day, wasting time on a break scrolling through social media, someone posts a link to an essay which is basically a hatchet job on a writer you’ve come to appreciate, while still having some reservations about that writer’s art, and where it comes from, and the eye with which said writer sees the world might be colored in some ways by their own experience which might also not allow them to see things as empathetically as they might, as you yourself might wish they had. And during the course of this hatchet job, the essayist posts a link to a piece written by the problematic artist, and you arbitrarily click on the link–which only offers a strange title, the title the problematic artist gave to his/her piece.

And suddenly, you realize that this piece, originally published in 1992, was part and parcel of a much bigger story that you distinctly remember and completely forgot about. And as you read this piece, which you’ve actually not read before but had read other reportage of the story, you realize and remember that this is the thread of the novel you are writing and having so much trouble with.

This true crime story, in 1992, inspired you to create the town and characters and the story you are writing now…only you’d forgotten the inspiration, the original plot, everything but the town and the set-up and the characters.

And you realize that THIS is your answer. Using this as your basis for the story solved every single problem you have with your manuscript, your story, and its resolution.

And had you not been bored, had you not been scrolling through your Facebook feed, had some random friend not shared a random essay for some random reason, you never would have remembered, you never would have solved the problem.

And this is why writers drink.

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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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I was writing notes in my journal the other day when this thought came to me : social media is actually neither. You aren’t really being social, or socializing with anyone; and it’s not really media either. If anything, it’s anti-social media, because people tend to spend their time looking at their phones and spending time on their computer on social media sites rather than actually talking to, or engaging with, actual human beings.

When I was a kid I was taught that there were three things you never discussed, at parties, dinner, bars, etc: politics, money, and religion. Your politics, your income, and your religion were no one else’s business; likewise, everyone else’s were none of mine. At the time, I was told it was simply manners; you weren’t supposed to know or care about anyone else’s politics, money or religion–nor were you supposed to hold that against them. This is why we vote in booths with a curtain closed, because our politics are supposed to be private. Likewise, so is our religion, so is our income.

The rise of social media, however, has broken down those barricades of politeness and what used to be known as minding your own business. It’s very difficult, you know, to find out someone you’ve been friends with for a very long time might hold a belief or a value that is not just not in line with your own, but might even be repugnant to you. I’ve long recognized that simply because my core values and beliefs are my own doesn’t necessarily make them right; but I have also always been willing to change my mind, to learn and grow, from talking to other people, from reading, and from occasionally questioning my beliefs and values. 

What I often find astonishing is that people not only do not want to rethink or analyze their beliefs and values, but how quickly they are to not only take offense at the very idea but also how quickly they will get defensive and immediately go on the attack. Asking for a careful reevaluation of what you believe is neither telling you you’re a horrible person nor does it mean the other person is attacking you; it simply is ‘hey, have you ever thought about it this way?’ I have often enjoyed my exchanges with friends who believe differently than I do; sometimes it has actually changed or altered my opinion in some way, even if it’s minor: I don’t understand why anyone would not be interested in personal growth, or would want to shy away from intellectual stimulation.

As a writer, I long ago realized two things: I always need to listen, and it is very rare to actually change someone’s mind in a social media exchange about anything. Social media discussions quickly descend into vitriol, condescension, and name-calling; I have the privilege of knowing people who have far higher degrees of celebrity than I can ever hope to achieve and when I see the venom and vitriol directed at them in the public sphere, it makes me recoil quite a bit. Why do people have to be so nasty? I wonder, and then of course the inevitable “what-about-isms” and “your side started it” and all of that nonsense that deflects and derails what could actually be constructive conversation is tossed aside, and beliefs and values become more deeply hardened, the brain more callused.

I have evolved on many issues throughout the course of my lifetime; many. I was raised in a society that believed many terrible things, and I was raised to believe many things that I now find abhorrent. But as a gay male who always knew he was different, even when he didn’t know what precisely it was that made him different, I had to question everything. It was hard–my teens and my twenties were horrific and I often thought about suicide–before I finally realized that the problem wasn’t me but rather the values and beliefs that had been drilled into me for as long as I remembered. Once I realized that I could reject those values and beliefs because they didn’t stand up under scrutiny, my life changed and I continued to grow and evolve and achieve all the things that I wanted in life.

This is why I find the trope that’s just the way I was raised to not only be tired but the sign of intellectual laziness; a mental atrophying that I neither understand nor sympathize with. But I also recognize that being an outsider, someone consigned by the dominant culture and society to the margins, has also created a higher sense of empathy and sympathy for the others out here on the margins; and all we are interested in, really, is being allowed to be on the actual page; why I am willing to always listen rather than react–no matter how tempting it may be to simply react.

This past week, I saw a lot of people proudly showing how mentally atrophied they were, and how much they preferred remaining in a state of atrophy rather than listen to other people. This was, of course, in regards (in this example) to the American Library Association’s unanimous vote to change the name of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award to the Children’s Literature Legacy Award, because of some racist tropes and language used in her books.  What was even more shocking was that a lot of this appeared on a list-serve for a writer’s organization I belong to whose entire purpose is to focus on diversity in literature. 

Not just atrophied brains, but ones also incapable of irony, apparently.

It wasn’t the first time something like that has exploded on the list-serve; several months ago there was a, to me, shocking outbreak of homophobia on the list. The situations weren’t the same, of course; no one had decided to change the title of an award because the person it was named after was homophobic. No, in this instance a writer had simply posted a question about a manuscript she’d submitted to her agent, who’d told her no one would publish it because of its depiction of a gay character as well as HIV. I started to reply to her, explaining precisely why her plot was problematic and also incredibly ill-informed about HIV when the list exploded with a bunch of wonderful straight white women who completely missed the point, called the agent’s remarks censorship (they most emphatically were NOT) and advised the writer that ‘she needed to find another agent who wasn’t so worried about political correctness.’

I was so horrified by these comments and remarks by writers who belong to a writer’s organization committed to diversity that I almost resigned from the organization.

Instead, I decided to keep writing my quarterly diversity column (which these women clearly never read) and keep fighting the good fight; because the marginalized never get the chance, no matter how tired we are, to just sit back and let things develop or run their course. If we want anything, if we want to move in from the margins, we have to keep fighting because they simply aren’t going to give it to us unless we make them.

And you know what? There’s still a lot of fight left in this tired old queen.

Be fucking warned.

The next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories is “The Pool Boy”:

I waited until I heard Jason’s car back out of the driveway before I got out of bed. I was being a coward, I knew, but I still wasn’t ready to face him with what I knew. I didn’t want to have that argument, that confrontation. I wasn’t sure I was ready yet to talk calmly and rationally. It still hurt too much. I wasn’t sure I could discuss this with him without getting angry, without saying something that shouldn’t be said, words in anger that couldn’t be taken back. I wasn’t sure I was quite ready yet to turn my back on ten years of loving and laughing and fighting, of good times and bad, of sleeping in the same bed with him and drawing comfort from the warmth of his body.

I called in sick to work. I might not have been physically ill, but I was certainly an emotional basket case. There wasn’t any way that I could help my clients in this state. Their needs and concerns and problems all seemed so unimportant, so completely pointless to me, that going in to the office was probably a bad idea. I brushed my teeth and took a shower, then put on my robe and went downstairs for a fresh pot of coffee. While I waited for it to brew I got the notice out of the bill drawer, the notice that proclaimed his guilt to the world, the indisputable proof of his guilt; that he’d betrayed me, lied to me,  ignored how I felt and did what he wanted to anyway.

Funny that a twenty dollar parking ticket could mean so much more than what it was on the surface.

I stared at it. Yes, that was Brent’s address on the ticket. The time of the offense was four thirty in the morning. The date was that weekend I’d gone home to my nephew’s wedding. Jason had been illegally parked in front of Brent’s house at four thirty in the morning while I was out of town. There was absolutely no logical explanation for Jason’s car to be there at that hour.

He was still fucking Brent. Even though we’d talked about it. Even though he’d promised me he would end it. Even though he assured me he still loved me and he didn’t love Brent.

This just happened to be the one time he was caught.

How many other times had he gone over there without me knowing, fucking Brent’s pretty little ass?

I don’t remember which anthology I wrote this for; but it was pre-Katrina, and I’ve always liked this story. It’s basically about a guy whose partner is cheating on him, has promised to stop, but he’s caught him in yet another lie. Hurt and devastated and not knowing how to deal with the whole situation (do I leave him? Do I forget it? Do I pretend I don’t know? How do I even approach discussing this with him?), he calls in sick to work and stays home…and then the pool boy shows up; a beautiful, sexy young man and yes, before long, they are hooking up…and that hook up is what heals his soul; reminds him that despite this betrayal he’s still an active, vital, attractive, sexual human being who deserves better; sexual healing, if you will.

I really like this story.

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