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 Believe in You (You Believe in Me)

I really need to focus and stop being distracted by shiny objects.

Stupid fucking shiny objects, anyway.

But there are so many, and they’re all so glittery and pretty and interesting.

It’s a wonder I get anything done.

Every once in a while, like now, I allow myself to get completely scattered and my inability to say no to people gets me into trouble; I then get overwhelmed and paralyzed with fear that I’ll never get everything done…thereby ensuring I won’t get everything done–or if I do, I’ll basically have to kill myself to get it all done on time. Heavy heaving sigh.

But at least now I’m aware I’m doing it again, which should count for something.

I took stock yesterday of everything I am doing, everything I’ve promised, and everything I’m in the middle of–and it was quite staggering. I have, as I said before, promised three short stories, only one of which has a completed draft (the others are still just ideas, waiting to be born on the page); I am working on a massive short-term project; a massive long term all year one; I am five chapters shy of finishing a first draft of a novel; have another novel manuscript that will need at least another two drafts; have written the first drafts of two first chapters of new novels; have a lengthy novella whose publication fell through that can be revised and rewritten and turned into a novel; and have about thirty or forty short stories and essays in some form of being written….and I keep having ideas, new ones for stories or novels, every day. Just this week I came up with another book idea called Another Random Shooting, which I quite like, and three short stories–“Festival of the Redeemer,” “Hot, Humid, Chance of Rain,” and “Flood Stage.” Yikes. I also have to run errands today–mail, bank, groceries–and am hopeful I will get some things done today and tomorrow. I slept really well last night–am still a bit groggy this morning, while i wait for the coffee to kick in. I think, probably, when I finish this I am going to go sit in my easy chair and read the Steph Cha novel. It’s really quite good, and I like the idea of spending my Saturday mornings reading a good book.

Yesterday when I got home from the office, I finished doing the laundry (bed linens every Friday), cleaned the kitchen and did the dishes, cleaned the Lost Apartment (still need to do the floors), and did some filing. My office space is always, it seems, a mess; something I’m never sure how to resolve. The truth is my office space is too small, always has been; but the primary problem that goes along with that is there isn’t any other place for my office to be located here in the Lost Apartment. Our apartment is, especially by New York/DC standards enormous, especially given what we pay for it–we’ll never be able to move because we will never find anything comparable at the same price; I’m not even certain one can get a studio for what we pay in rent. And, if I’m being completely honest, having a room dedicated to being my office would eventually not be big enough, either, as I tend to expand to fill space. But I still dream of the day when I’ll have an entire room for my office space. Anyway, when Paul got home I made Swedish meatballs (I do love cooking, I just rarely get the chance to do it anymore), and we got caught up on Animal Kingdom, and then finished The Boys, which is fucking fantastic. It occurred to me last night as I watched those final two episodes, that a world with super-heroes would probably be more akin to Greek mythology than the comic book worlds we see in most super-hero stories; capricious, mercurial beings with amazing, seemingly limitless powers, and all humankind would be at their mercy. I also liked that the human male lead, Hughie, is played by Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan’s son Jack–and he’s quite good, and looks nothing like either of his parents–although sometimes you get a glimpse of one or the other. I have to say I liked this show a lot more than I thought I would, and we’re both looking forward to Season 2.

I think tonight we might dip into Years and Years on HBO. One can never go wrong with Emma Thompson.

Yesterday I reread my short story “Fireflies” in order to make some notes on it. I originally wrote “Fireflies” in long hand in a notebook back in the 1980’s–it’s another one of those “from the vault” stories–and I’ve worked on it, off and on, since the original draft was written. It was always slightly off, and the original ending was terrible. Fast forward, and last year I was looking at it again, and thinking about revising it, when I was invited to submit a short story to a horror anthology. I decided to use “Fireflies,” and I revised it and rewrote it a bit, smoothed over the rough transitions, made it flow better, and changed the ending along with some additions to the narrative to make it not only tighter but stronger. After submitting the story, I was contacted by the publisher and officially commissioned to write a story for the book. The anthology had a broad submissions call, anything from noir to pulp to outright horror, but every story had to have a paranormal element to it. They commissioned a pulpy noir story, and when I mentioned I’d submitted something already, they were very nice about specifically wanting the new story and would still consider the other; I wound up writing “A Whisper from the Graveyard” for it, and a few months ago they finally decided not to use “Fireflies”–but were interested in it as a novella; the true problem with “Fireflies” was its length. I immediately saw the value of the critique; I never think of writing in terms of novellas or novelettes (primarily because there really isn’t a market for these longer stories that are too short to be novels), and so made a note to reread the story and see what possibilities there were for it. So, I did that yesterday, and I was correct–the story would work better as a longer novella. I’ve written novellas before–“The Nightwatchers” and “Blood on the Moon” for those Kensington omnibus books, and I self-published “Quiet Desperation”” myself on Amazon. One of the projects I am in the midst of, “Never Kiss a Stranger,” is also going to be a longer, possibly novella length, story; I’d always thought of it from the beginning that way, and will probably self-publish it at some point on Amazon once I finish it.

“Fireflies” is another Alabama story, which means another “Corinth County” story. It was inspired by the Fleetwood Mac song, “Fireflies”, even though they have nothing to do with each other as far as content. The only connection other than the title is mood; I wanted to get the mood of the song into the story, and I think I succeeded. The song is one of my favorite Fleetwood Mac recordings, and only appears on the Fleetwood Mac Live double album. Ironically, it’s a studio recording they mixed crowd noises into, so it wouldn’t seem out of place on the live album; the original version is on Youtube without the crowd noises. I’d say the story is also strongly influenced by Thomas Tryon’s The Other, which is one of my favorite novels of all time (and overdue for a reread, as are The Haunting of Hill House and Rebecca), and I still think someone should do a biography of Tryon. I’d do it, but my research skills are subpar and non-fiction is also not my strength. But Tryon is fascinating to me–a relatively successful actor who was closeted and never quite attained stardom; then gave up on acting and turned to writing. He was also the longtime lover of the first gay porn star, Casey Donovan, of Boys in the Sand fame. Anyway, I digress (damned shiny objects, anyway). The point is there are so many Alabama stories in my files that have never been published; I think the only Alabama/Corinth County stories that have been published are “Small-town Boy” and “Son of a Preacher Man,” as well as the novel Dark Tide, which may not be actually set there but the main character is from there. Bury Me in Shadows is the first full-length thing set in Alabama for me to get this far with, and it–and “Fireflies”–are reconnecting me to everything.

I also keep thinking I need to go back there, just to drive through and take pictures, get a feel for the place again, refresh my memories.

This is how the story opens:

Jem slapped at a horsefly buzzing around his ear. He hated horseflies. They bit and left welts that hurt.

“God commands us to HONOR THY FATHER AND THY MOTHER!” Brother Killingsworth thundered from his pulpit to a chorus of scattered amens inside the little chapel. Jem could hear the sermon clearly because the screened windows were open to catch whatever cooling breeze there might be on this hot July Sunday. He could hear the fluttering of paper fans, the creak from the turning of the blades of the ceiling fans.

The Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior didn’t believe in air conditioning because the faithful suffered in the heat to listen to the Lord preach back in the Holy Land, wiping the sweat from their brows and letting the cloth stick to their wet bodies. And if that was good enough for the ones who gathered to hear the word of Jesus, it was the least the flock of the Church of Christ Our Lord and Savior could do, am I right and can I get an amen, brothers and sisters?

“Little better than snake handlers,” Jem’s mama would sniff with that mean look on her face, shaking her finger in his face, even though it wasn’t polite to point, “and you’d better stay away from there. You hear me, boy?”

Not bad at all.

And now back to the spice mines.

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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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Talk to Me

I slept well last night, yet am still tired this morning; it’s the summer malaise, no doubt. It’s weird for me to drive around the city and still see hordes of tourists gamboling around; at this time of year New Orleans used to become a ghost town, locals fleeing the heat and humidity to beach houses (if they had them) and those who could not leave staying inside in the air conditioning as much as possible. It still concerns me, more than a little bit, that just going out into the heat on two separate occasions this weekend and then going to a dinner party on Monday had done such a thorough job of draining and depleting my energy, not to mention made it so difficult for the batteries to recharge. But I only have two days in the office next week before my 4th  of July based vacation; here’s hoping that somehow I’ll be able to get rested and manage to get things done in the meantime.

I spent nine hours yesterday testing in the CareVan; it was National HIV Testing Day and as usual, the day job partnered with Walgreens stores all over New Orleans for us to reach out and test people who might not otherwise get tested. I wasn’t, frankly, too thrilled about doing anything Walgreens-related, after the scandalous behavior of the Walgreens pharmacist in Arizona this past week, but as always in this life, one has to compromise one’s principles, and choose the battles one wants to fight. Identifying new HIV positives is my job and my calling; to help them get treatment and medical care so they don’t infect other people as well as so they remain healthy. I’ve seen too much death from HIV in my lifetime to choose moral principles over assisting those who may be in need.

It’s been, frankly, an incredibly tiresome week. First the Walgreens pharmacy nonsense, where a pharmacist was somehow allowed, by the company and the law, to put a person’s life at risk because of his “sincerely held religious beliefs”, to the Kennedy announcement and the other horrific Supreme Court decisions of this past week. I think the combination of spending so much time out in the heat did the physical damage while the other things did the emotional and intellectual draining. I slept well but still feel drained and tired, tired of having to fight, tired of having to stand up and be counted. It sometimes feels like I’ve been fighting–for my right to exist, to be who I am, to be heard–for most of my life.

It’s exhausting.

This blog began during the Bush administration after a truly terrible year that I didn’t know was simply the beginning of a run of a terrible few years; it was a way to get me to start writing again over on Livejournal and was never meant to be anything other than me being able to have a place to record my feelings, my thoughts, my observations. It was therapeutic, and it also helped to vent out a lot of anger about the injustice in the world that I saw every day; whether those injustices directly affected me or whether they did not. As I’ve gotten older I’ve stayed away from politics and policy; either from mellowing with time or just not wanting to waste the energy on arguing about things with, frankly, human garbage. I stay off Twitter most of the time because I already have to take medicine for high blood pressure; the horrible things I see on there often make my blood boil.

But while I continue to refuse to engage with the sewage, that neither makes it go away nor does it put a stop to it, and what I see going on in this country, as filtered through my marginalized gay eyes, is terrifying.

So, going forward, I will still talk about writing and books I love; about New Orleans and writers I admire. I will continue, I will go on. But I am also going to have what used to be called “Julia Sugarbaker moments”–and if that is going to offend your delicate little sensibilities, stop reading my blog and feel free to abandon me on social media.

My next story in Promises in Every Star and Other Stories was called “Son of a Preacher Man”:

The air was sticky, damp and hot as I carefully slid the screen out of my window. The only sounds in the night was the electrical humming from the street light out in front of my house and the every-present chirping of crickets. Before I climbed through the window, I stuck my head out to see if the light in my parents’ window was still out. They’d gone to bed about an hour before, but better safe than sorry. I’d been sneaking out all summer and they hadn’t caught me once. 

I jumped down into the damp grass and ran as quietly as I could down to the line of trees at the back of our property. I ducked into the trees and walked along the dry creek bed to the little dilapidated wood bridge behind the Burleson house, and sat down with my legs dangling over the side. It wasn’t midnight yet, and Andy was always late. My parents were strict, but his made mine look like—well, I didn’t know what, but something. His daddy was the preacher, and he thought his kids had to set an example for the rest of the Youth for Christ. Andy always had to help serve the Lord’s Supper at least once a week, and instead of playing summer baseball like the rest of us, he spent his summer days working on his grandpa’s farm out in the county. Preacher Burleson was a hard man whose eyes blazed with the power of the Lord who didn’t let his wife or daughters wear make-up or curl their hair.

Andy hated his daddy.

Nobody knew, except me. In front of everyone else, Andy was a good son, never contradicting his daddy, doing what he was told, minding. He studied and got good grades, knew his Bible inside and out, and had never been any trouble. But I was the only one who knew he cribbed cigarettes whenever he had the chance,  could swear like a sailor,  and hated every last adult in Corinth—probably in the whole state of Alabama, for that matter. All he ever talked about was running away, getting the hell out of Corinth, Alabama, the south. He never said where he wanted to go, but I was pretty sure anywhere else would do.

I sat there on the bridge, swatting at mosquitoes and listening to the sounds of the night. August in Alabama was like living in hell, I heard my mama say once, and she was right. The air was like a big hot wet towel pressing down on my moist skin. My armpits were already damp. I dangled my legs over the edge, swinging them like a little kid. My whole summer had revolved around sneaking out at night and meeting Andy. School was going to start in another month, football practice in two more weeks, and then these nights were going to end. I didn’t like to think about that. I wanted to believe that the summer would go on forever, and every night I’d be sneaking out to meet Andy again—

As you can tell, this was also written during that period of time when I was at war with the evangelical right. And what better way to tell them to fuck off than to write a gay erotica story about having sex with the preacher’s son? IN THE FUCKING CHURCH (literally)?

It’s another one of my Corinth stories, like “Smalltown Boy” and so many others I’ve written; even my main character in Dark Tide was from Corinth. But I love the voice of this character; the same voice I’ve used whenever I’ve written a first person short story about teens in that town, and I really think I should write an entire book using that voice.

And now back to the spice mines.

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