In Too Deep

Well, Constant Reader, we made it to Friday somehow, didn’t we? Huzzah, I guess?

The heat finally broke yesterday; it was very cool in the morning and evening. The afternoon didn’t feel nearly as bad as it has been, even though it did get up to about 87 degrees. There wasn’t any humidity, and the humidity is, after all, what is really horrible about the weather here. There’s also a tropical storm of some sort out in the Gulf–I should probably check on that, since it’s projected to pass by close to here–which undoubtedly is affecting the weather here somewhat as well.

I don’t have big plans for the weekend; I never do, really. Just the usual: make groceries, pick up the mail, clean, watch the LSU and Saints football games, cook out, and do some writing. Today is a short day at the office, and I’ve already started working on the cleaning this morning. I’ll undoubtedly do some more tonight when I get home from the office, and I’d also like to get back to work on Bury Me in Shadows, which has pretty much lain fallow this entire week. I have done some thinking about it, of course, and there are changes to implement into the manuscript before moving on to those later chapters, but I am way off track to get it finished by the end of the month, as I had originally hoped and planned, unless I get back to work and start kicking some serious ass as I work on it.

And maybe–just maybe–with some dedication, I can get my emails all caught up. Stranger things have happened…and may happen again. Just you wait and see.

I slept really well last night–only woke up twice that I can remember–and feel very rested this morning. My throat is still sore, but the earache seems to be gone for good (huzzah!), and maybe tonight I’ll dose it with tea and honey before going to bed. I still haven’t started reading Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s Certain Dark Things beyond that enthralling first page, but probably tonight when I get home from work I’ll make some time for it–Scooter always wants some cuddle time whenever I come home, so I find that’s the best thing to do–curl up in my easy chair with a book so he can sleep in my lap and purr. It’s weird how far behind I’ve fallen in my reading–I’d hoped to read more horror this month than I have–and I’ve also got to start preparing for my Bouchercon panels; I’m moderating two, and that requires prep work, particularly since I have so many ridiculously talented people on them. One features Cheryl Head, Alex Segura, Steph Cha, S. A. Cosby, Michael Nava, and my co-moderator, Carsen Taite; the other features Lou Berney, Wendy Corsi Staub, Alison Gaylin, Elizabeth Little, and Steph Cha (again–and if you haven’t read her brilliant new novel, Your House Will Pay, shame on you and get to it). Ridiculously talented and wicked smart panels…so I am really going to need to be prepared, else I will come across looking like a moron.

I am also on the Anthony Award Best Short Story panel, where I will be sharing the stage again with S. A. Cosby in addition to Art Taylor, Holly West, and the always delightful Barb Goffman. Barb and Holly have stories in Florida Happens (Holly and my nominated stories are from Florida Happens); Shawn and I are both in the upcoming Dark Yonder anthology; and Art is one of the most awarded and respected short story writers in our genre–his nominated story also won the Edgar this past spring. (Holly also edited Murder-a-Go-Go’s, which includes my story “This Town.”) I don’t hold out many hopes for an upset win and a second Anthony for my shelves; but it truly is a surprise and a delight to be nominated in the company of these other writers whom I admire and respect so deeply.

It’s nice to periodically take stock, you know? I get so caught up in the grind of editing and writing and promoting and reading and everything else I have to get done–not to mention the dispiriting slings and arrows that come along in your every day life as a writer (not the least of which is fucking Imposter Syndrome) that I never really ever take the time to sit back and reflect and enjoy what I’ve done so far, what I’ve accomplished. I think part of that is because I am always dissatisfied with where I am in my career as a writer and wanting to get more done, accomplish more, and get more work out there. It’s a grind, as I mentioned earlier, and I always forget to enjoy moments, or to even take a moment here and there to bask in the joys of accomplishment because I’m always so focused on what’s next oh my God I have so much to do and so little time when will I ever get this all finished? That, of course, is self-defeating. I’ve been trying to be better about blowing my own horn and taking some pride in myself, as well as working on my self-confidence.  I’ve written a lot–novels, novellas, short stories, essays–and I’ve won some awards, been nominated for even more. It’s a thrill to be nominated for a mainstream short story award–the second time I’ve been nominated for a mainstream short story award–and it’s really quite a thrill. It’s a thrill to be in the company of the other nominees this time; last time the other nominees included Lawrence Block and Joyce Carol Oates. (I know, right?)

So look at the positives, and ignore the negatives.

And on that note, I have some time before I have to get ready for work this morning, so I think I’ll do a bit of writing.

Have a lovely Friday!

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The Twelfth of Never

God, what a year for crime fiction, and what a year for crime fiction by women. The women are killing it this year–but then, they pretty much kill it every year, and have killed it every year since Agatha Christie’s first novel was released. I’ve read so many amazing crime novels by women this year that I can’t even begin to remember them all; I know there’s been terrific novels by Alafair Burke, Laura Lippman, Alison Gaylin, Lori Roy, Jamie Mason, Steph Cha, Angie Kim and so many, many others that I couldn’t being to name them all or possibly be expected to remember them all, either. (This is in no small part, of course, due to the fact that my memory works about as well as my desktop computer since the Mojave update.) There are so many others as well that I’ve not gotten to read yet–I am way behind on my reading of Catriona McPherson, for example, and Lori Rader-Day–and I’ve also been trying read more diverse books this year as well.

And just this past week, I finished reading Lisa Lutz’ amazing The Swallows.

the swallows

Some teachers have a calling. I’m not one of them.

I don’t hate teaching. I don’t love it either. That’s also my general stance on adolescents. I understand that one day they will rule the world and we’ll all have to live with the consequences. But there’s only so much I’m willing to do to mitigate that outcome. You’ll never catch me leaping atop my desk, quoting Browning, Shakespeare or Jay-Z. I don’t offer my students sage advice or hard-won wisdom. I don’t dive into the weeds of their personal lives, parsing the muck of their hormone-addled brains. And I sure as hell never learned as much from them as they learned from me.

It’s just a job, like any other. It has a litany of downsides, starting with money and ending with money, and a host of other drawbacks in between. There are a few perks. I like having summers off; I like winter and spring breaks; I like not having a boss breathing over my shoulder; I like books and talking about books and occasionally meeting a student who makes me see the world sideways. But I don’t get attached. I don’t get involved. That was the plan, at least.

The Swallows is set at a second-tier elite boarding school in New England called Stonebridge. Alexandra “Alex” Witt has been hired to teach Lit there after leaving her previous teaching job under a cloud of some sort. The daughter of a failed literary writer who has taken to writing crime novels under a pseudonym and an Eastern European fencing Olympic medalist, Alex is a bit of a mess but also has a strong character and equally strong sense of self. The job at Stonebridge is given to her by a friend of her father’s, who is the headmaster, and when she arrives she refuses to live in the dorms and takes up residence in a crappy cabin near campus without power or phone or much along the lines of creature comforts. Alex is the primary point of view character–there are others, including another teacher/writer named Finn Ford (who is writing a book based on the school and what goes on there); a nerd boy who is on the edges of the popular kids, “The Ten”; Gemma, an orphan whose actions primarily drive the story (she is also one of The Ten), and several others. There’s also a dark secret at Stonebridge–a secret website that only a select few have access to, where the boys try to get the girls to give them blowjobs after which the boys score them…with an eye to winning what they call the Dulcinea Prize, awarded to the best blowjob performer at Stonebridge. Gemma has found out about this, and wants to do something about it–and her desire to get back at the boys who–in the most eye-opening and honest statement I’ve ever read, “see the girls as things rather than humans.” The horror of that realization drives the story, which grows darker and more complex and awful with every page.

The book is also darkly witty–there were a few times when its macabre humor made me laugh out loud–and the characters are absolutely, positively real; Lutz has created complicated people who do things that might not make sense on the surface, but that conduct and behavior only adds to their layers and complexity. It’s hard not to root for both Alex and Gemma to bring the rotten boys down, exposing their crimes to the world and the sunlight so they will shrivel up and die. The twists and turns of the story are all earned, all realistic, and all startling. The book is masterfully written, and never has a second-rate boarding school been brought to life in such a vivid fashion.

It reminded me, in some ways, of both Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction, in the best possible way. I enjoyed both of those books, but not in the same way that I enjoyed this one; I think because Lutz’ story is more cohesive and her characters are somewhat likable and believable despite their flaws.

I greatly enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading more of Lisa Lutz’ canon.

Last Song

Sunday morning, and so much on my plate this morning. That’s okay, Constant Reader, I slept really well and once I have enough caffeine in my system, I will be up for the challenge. I still need to do some chores around the apartment today as well, but I am going to be keeping my head down and focussing on the things that need to be finished today–or at least, that’s the plan this morning. Being distracted is, of course, always a possibility; I may even close my web browsers to avoid that once I get started on my work.

Yesterday I spent some time with S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer, which is absolutely fantastic. That voice, and the influence of writers of color–Walter Mosley and Gary Phillips–are apparent, as are the biggies of crime–Chandler and both MacDonalds (Ross and John  D.) are also there. The result is staggeringly original, a little raw, and completely absorbing. One reason I want to get all my writing and chores done this morning is so I can curl up in my chair with the book later today.

I also started streaming a CNN documentary series last night on Hulu–The Movies, which is very similar in set-up to their decades documentary series; a history of film by decade, which is quite frankly the smartest way to go; you certainly can see the difference in film by decade. It was fun to see films I’ve either not seen nor heard of (or had but forgotten) talked about, along with the blockbusters, the big movies, the award-winners, and how stars built their careers from their big break movie. I highly recommend The Movies, even if you aren’t a film fan; it’s also an interesting look at how films reflected the times they were made, which is always, for me, the best way to examine popular culture. (I really wish someone would write a non-fiction book about the gay publishing boom of the 1970’s, a decade that saw a gay novel, The  Front Runner, hit the New York Times bestseller list; saw the birth of a queer literary sensibility, and also saw the enormous success of the Gordon Merrick novels–and no, please don’t say why don’t you write it, Gregalicious? There’s no time for me to write anything like that, and as it is, I have to start reading VOLUMES of research about gay life in post-war Hollywood, as well as what was going on in Hollywood in that time as well, and again, so very little time.) I think literature also holds up a mirror to society much in the same way as film and television does; it would be interesting to see a series of essays on how books published not only reflected, but influenced the society which produced them.

As I was reading My Darkest Prayer yesterday, I was thinking about how some of our larger cities, with their more cosmopolitan and international feel, should be reflected more in crime novels by, about, and for minorities. I’d love to read some crime fiction about New Orleans about people of color by people of color–whether it’s African-American, or Latino, or Vietnamese, for that matter. I’d love to see the same for cities like New York, Boston, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles, to name a few. I loved Steph Cha’s Juniper Song novels, as well as her soon-to-be-released Your House Will Pay, which is, simply stated, genius. I’ve always wanted, for example, to give Venus Casanova, the African-American police detective who is both my Scotty and Chanse series (as is her partner, Blaine Tujague) her own story–but at the same time I have never thought myself capable of telling her story, or having the right to do so, at any rate. I have a great idea for such a story–a way of writing the end to her story, as it were, which would of course mean removing her from the two series I already write afterwards, which would probably rank up there with shooting myself in the foot as it would mean introducing a new cop to both series…although that in and of itself might not be such a bad idea, either. Could be just the thing to shake both series up a little bit.

I’ve also thought about writing a stand-alone Colin book. I’d once thought about spinning him off into his own series–wouldn’t a gay undercover operative make for a great series? I had thought, originally, that after the initial Scotty trilogy I would write Colin out of the series (SPOILER) and possibly give him his own series. I thought it would be fun to do a gay kind of Indiana Jones/James Bond hybrid with our boy Colin as the lead of the story. (It’s always fun to revisit ideas I had in the past.) Katrina of course ended that possibility, but I am still thinking it might be an interesting idea to write a Colin stand alone before tackling the next Scotty, which is going to be Hollywood South Hustle. There are–I will tell you this now–some unresolved Colin issues left over at the end of Royal Street Reveillon, and it might be interesting to tell Colin’s story before we get around to getting back to another Scotty book. I’m also probably going to do at least one more Chanse novel as well, but I don’t know when I’m going to get to either of these stories–Chanse, Scotty, or Colin’s.

But the Venus story is reverberating in my brain, and I might just have to write it to get it out of my system. It’s working title is Another Random Shooting and I’m jotting ideas down in my journal as they come to me.

And on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines. I want to get the Major Project done today, and some work on the book, too.

We’ll see how it goes.

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Ain’t No Woman (Like the One I’ve Got)

Sunday morning. I slept late again–it took me a while to fall asleep last night, but I finally did and slept like the dead, which was lovely.

I finished reading Steph Cha’s exceptional Your House Will Pay yesterday; I reviewed it in a different entry, but will re-emphasize that you should preorder it right now again. I really loved it; I love the way Cha writes, and I also look forward to getting back to her Juniper Song series. There are some extraordinary novels being published in the crime fiction community this year; I myself have read some pretty amazing books this year, and can’t wait to dive into my next one, S. A. Cosby’s My Darkest Prayer.

I also woke to the news this morning that the anthology I was talking about yesterday, the one to which I’d contributed my original story “A Whisper from the Graveyard” to, will be released this October, which is kind of exciting. The cover was designed by Joe Phillips, one of my favorite gay artists (check out right here on his website; the art on my walls in my old office on Frenchmen Street were his calendar illustrations; gorgeous works of art). The title of the anthology is Pink Triangle Rhapsody, and it’s all genre work by gay writers. I’m kind of looking forward to reading the whole thing, to be honest.

I managed to get some things done yesterday, around reading the Cha novel. I cleaned, I ran errands, and I organized; I also made some notes for things I am writing, and then last evening–Paul went out with a friend–I fell into an Amazon Prime docu-series about The Romanovs, actually Russian produced with English subtitles. It was interesting, but now that we’ve reached Catherine the Great I no longer need to continue watching. I’ve read enough about Catherine that I don’t need to watch a documentary about her; and the Romanovs who came after her aren’t particularly interesting other than Alexander I, and he’s only interesting because of 1) Napoleon and 2) he never seemed to have any real interest in women. As this is a Russian production, I imagine the chapter on Alexander I will focus on Napoleon rather than his private life. So, no need for me to continue. The nineteenth century Romanovs aren’t that interesting, and I’ve read and watched enough about Nicholas and Alexandra to last me a lifetime; although I would be curious to see how they handle the last of the Romanovs, to get an idea of how Russians see them now. But again, their sad tale of hemophiliac son, deep abiding love and passion, and Rasputin that ends in a massacre in a basement in Ekaterinburg I know well enough already.

Today I plan on writing, believe it or not; I am going to dive into Chapter 21 headfirst and see what shakes out. I also am going to try to reread the first twenty chapters as well to update the detailed outline I am doing as I go, which will help me restructure the novel when it’s time to go over it a second time and revise the hell out of it. I also want to work on “Never Kiss a Stranger” a little bit, perhaps even as a warm-up; deciding that it’s going to be a novella rather than a short story was a good first start on getting it finished. (I am, in fact, still reeling from yesterday’s realization of just how many books, stories, and essays I am currently in the midst of writing) I also need to work on a project today, and there’s definitely some organizing (isn’t there always?) that needs doing. I also need to clean out my email inbox. Heavy heaving sigh, isn’t that always the way?

I’m also still thinking about Steph Cha’s novel, and how good it actually is. One of the things I meant to talk about in my entry about her novel is how it’s about every day people, rather than exceptional ones. Her characters aren’t cops, aren’t professional investigators; just people like you and me and your friends and neighbors, who sadly get wrapped up into a horrible crime and trauma, and how they deal with it. Such a good book, really.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines for the day, Constant Reader. Hope your Sunday is a lovely and peaceful and relaxing one; I hope mine will be as well as a productive one as well. We shall see, shall we not?

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Higher Ground

I surprised a younger co-worker a few years ago.

I don’t exactly remember what precisely we were talking about–it had to be a famous court case of some kind involving a teenager or someone in their early twenties, it may have been Brock Turner, the Stanford rapist–and I remarked that one of the things that always surprised me, and caught me off guard, about these kinds of cases was how the parents “will spend every cent they have defending that child, and will never consider, under any circumstance, that their child might actually be guilty.”

She looked at me in horror. “Why is that a surprise? My parents would.”

“Mine,” I replied, “wouldn’t. They also wouldn’t, under any circumstance, believe that I was innocent of any crime of which I might be falsely accused of committing. They would always, always, believe the police before they would believe me. They’d get me a lawyer but they would expect me to plead guilty.”

“Even if you were innocent?” The horrified look on her face was something I’ll probably never forget.

“They’d never believe I was innocent unless someone else confessed.”

I wrote about that in my journal at the time; I came across my documentation of the conversation recently when I was looking through my journals for something else (they really do come in handy; I am so fucking glad I started carrying them around and using them again, you really have no idea, Constant Reader!) and it made me smile. My parents have always believed in law and order, you see–despite almost regular evidence to the contrary, my parents believe all police officers are honest, upright, and do their jobs properly–and should always be believed. Certainly, they believed this when I was a child and it was something I was taught; it’s so ingrained into my psyche that the police are always in the right that evidence they aren’t quite so honest, to this day, is jarring; belief that the police protect and serve the public interest, and their commitment to justice is pure, is the foundational bedrock our entire civilization and country was built upon.

The truth is that reality is a lot more complicated than that.

your house will pay

“Well, this is it,” said Ava. “I don’t know how we’re supposed to find these fools.

Shawn gaped at the crowd gathered across the street. The movie wasn’t supposed to start for another hour and a half, but there had to be hundreds of people waiting outside the theater. It was dark already, too, hard to make out faces even with the neat row of lamps lining the sidewalk. Ava said Westwood was white people territory, but almost everyone here was black, a lot of them high school kids. They’d have to get closer to pick out Ray and his friends.

Ava grabbed Shawn’s hand as they crossed the street. He pulled back, thinking of all those older kids seeing him get dragged along by his sister. “Aw, Ave, I’m not a baby,” he said.

“Who said you were a baby? I just don’t want to lose you.”

They walked slowly down the sidewalk, starting from the box office, where the marquee overhead announced the showtimes for New Jack City. Shawn smiled. He’d been looking forward to this night all week. Everyone at school was talking about this movie, and he was going on opening night. It didn’t matter that Aunt Sheila had made Ray and Ava take him when they said they’d be watching White Fang. He was here now, sneaking into an R-rated movie, just like them.

Steph Cha’s latest novel, Your House Will Pay, drops this October, and if you’re smart, Constant Reader, you will preorder this book from your nearest retailer or wherever you get your books from immediately.

It is, simply put, quite extraordinary.

There are two central characters to the book, Grace Park, the daughter of Korean immigrants who works as a pharmacist in the family pharmacy, and Shawn Matthews, a middle-aged man of color who works as a mover, is married, and has a young daughter he adores. The two have no idea that they are connected in any way, but as the book progresses we find out that not only are they connected, they are connected in the most terrible of ways; connected through a horrific crime of violence from decades ago, in the early 1990’s, and the fallout from that terrible tragedy nearly thirty years ago is continuing to wreak havoc in the present day for these two characters, and their families.

The beauty of the book lies in how it’s told. Both point of view characters seem absolutely real and are completely distinct from each other; it’s not just a story about racial conflict and racial divides, but a melancholic examination of grief and trauma. By not choosing sides, Cha exposes both sides to her audience, and leaves the complicated nuances to her readers to sort. There are no easy answers in reality, and there are no easy answers in Cha’s novel, which makes it all the more heartbreakingly real, honest, and raw.

It’s also a searing picture of Los Angeles, a city riven by racial divides and strife, that has never worked out any of its own problems or made any effort to bring communities together. It’s also about grief, about dealing with your parents and your family as flawed adults–as well as loss; lost lives, lost potential, and the damage violence can do to its survivors, and how denial can also lead to not healing.

This is one of the best books I’ve read this year, and I’ve read some extraordinary work this year. I urge you to preorder it, Constant Reader–you won’t regret spending time with it.

Dueling Banjos

Writing about the rural Deep South is difficult.

I’m from the deep south, yes, but I didn’t grow up there. I spent a lot of time there, my parents were Southern, and so a lot of my values and mind-view for a number of years were patterned in the Southern mindset. I draw from my memories of summers in the rural backwoods of the mid-central-western part of the state, about seventy miles from the Mississippi state line or so, but there are also so many attitudes and mentalities and stereotypes and tropes about the rural Deep South that it is easy to become lazy and fall into those. I am trying very hard not to do that, but as I said, it’s hard. Stereotypes and tropes exist for a reason, after all–they weren’t created from nothing; there’s always a core kernel of truth in them, whatever they’ve become once the seeds were planted–but the key is to burrow into them to dig out the core kernel of truth to build upon, so you’re telling the truth. But I worry, as I continue to excavate into this book, that I am relying on negative tropes and stereotypes.

I think I was thirteen when Deliverance was released; we saw it at the drive-in, which was something my parents loved to do with us when we were kids. I didn’t understand a lot of what was going on in the movie–it was the kind of macho bullshit I loathed as a child, a loathing that has only somewhat lessened as an adult, so I stopped paying attention to it and I think I may have even dozed off. But I did see the scene early in the movie which has forever cemented into people’s minds a link between the backwoods South and redneck morons–“Dueling Banjos.” The open notes of the song are all that is needed to reference a joke about passing from civilization into the land of the uneducated, probably inbred, backwoods hillbillies; it has come to symbolize moonshine-makin’, overalls-wearin’, cousin-marryin’, dangerous rural Southern people. I’ve made the joke myself from time to time–driving through the Southern countryside at night, “You can almost hear the banjo notes, can’t you?”

Deliverance and “Dueling Banjos” are such a part of our zeitgeist and popular culture that the book and film have become kind of shorthand Southern references–even for people who don’t know the origins of the references. I’ve never read the book, but I bought a copy a few years ago because I heard one of the references in something–a talk show, a book, a film, a television show; I don’t remember which–but I thought it was time for me to read the book and possibly watch the film in its entirety; that there was a possibly an essay in both about masculinity, rape culture, and the American male. (For those of you who don’t know, many male-on-male rape jokes were born directly of Deliverance.) I never did get around to reading the book or watching the movie; to be honest, I’d completely forgotten about them and the essay idea until recently. I also never got around to reading the book because I’d heard bad things about James Dickey, who wrote the novel. Dickey was primarily a poet, and considered one of the better American ones of the second half of the twentieth century by the Academy, and Deliverance was his only novel. I knew people who knew Dickey, and the reports back on him were terribly unpleasant, if not surprisingly so. (American letters has produced some horrific examples of toxic masculinity with its iconic, deified authors.)

Southern people are masters at grievance; they’ve been aggrieved for quite some time now–probably as far back as when the rumblings in the northern states began against slavery.  Everything is always someone else’s fault; even that language from the 1960’s came back to haunt Alabama during the special election to replace Jeff Sessions in the Senate: “outside agitators.” That was always a favorite fallback of Southern white supremacy; people of color in the South were perfectly happy with the way things were set up, with not voting or having opportunities, and being segregated away from white people, until “outside agitators” stirred them up against their kind, genial white overlords. Outside agitation goes all the way back to slavery; Southern politicians and leaders railed against “Yankee agitation on the slavery issue.” It’s all there, in black and white, in the history books–if you know what to look for.

The politics of race in the South have always been problematic, but nothing is more irritating to me than white apologia fiction set in the South; in which the white people aren’t racists; those nasty lower class white trash people are the real racists, not the educated whites. I’ve seen this in any number of books and it never ceases to irritate me when I come across it; this historical revision that relieves the guilt of Southern white people is kind of like, as my friend Victoria says, how after the Second World War  no Germans had really been Nazis and everyone in France was a resistance fighter.

Bitch, please.

I guess all those southern white civil rights activists were working undercover, because they sure weren’t public in their opposition. (And yes, I know–not all Southern white people; but I sure don’t see any white faces in any of the footage from the civil rights marches and school integrations that weren’t in military uniform…or certainly not as many as novels and fictions would have us believe.) To Kill a Mockingbird is problematic to me in that I don’t believe for a minute that the sheriff and the cops in Maycomb, Alabama, were worried about the rednecks from the county lynching Tom Robinson and gathering up some of the good white people from town to defend the jail; history shows that the police were often Klansmen, or at least more sympathetic to the cause of white supremacy than they were to civil rights. That scene, while powerful, doesn’t ring true to me–it again divides Southern whites into the educated professionals and the uneducated racist rednecks, and I am not certain of the accuracy. The publication of Go Set a Watchman upset a lot of fans of the original work with its depiction of Atticus as a segregationist; they felt betrayed that the heroic white champion of racial tolerance and justice from Mockingbird was turned into a segregationist…but it was honest and real and rang true to me.

And seriously, I highly recommend anyone interested in looking at how Southern white people viewed civil rights during the 1960’s dig up The Klansman by William Bradford Huie.

This is, of course, part of the problem I am having with writing this first draft of a book set in the rural South that deals, in part, with issues of race in the modern rural South. I don’t want to be heavy-handed, nor do I want this to be another oh look another white person discovers how terrible racism is book, nor do I want it to be another “white savior” book; there are plenty of those already. But I also want to be honest; and how does one do that? There are always going to be those who criticize such a book for failing, or trying too hard, or some such. Southern racism, xenophobia, homophobia, and misogyny do exist, and having an openly gay teenager with roots in Alabama spend the summer there helping take care of his dying grandmother, while dealing with some other issues that arise during his visit, seems like a good lens to view all of these things through.

Or at least, seems to be one, at any rate.

I think this is one of the reasons I am having so much trouble writing this book and getting this draft done; I am so worried about being offensive or crossing some line as well as wanting to do it well and do it right that I am overthinking everything, and it’s like I have this incredible overwhelming sense of confidence about my abilities as a writer. But I am going to press on, all the while worrying…but I must needs remember: I can always fix everything in future drafts.

Part of my goals for the weekend are to finish writing a promised essay, to get three chapters of the book written, and to finish reading Steph Cha’s amazing Your House Will Pay. I also need to reread everything I’ve written for Bury Me in Shadows, and make notes as I go.

Heavy thoughts for a Friday morning, Constant Reader.

And now back to the spice mines.

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Midnight Train to Georgia

Thursday morning, my first cup of coffee and there’s condensation all over my office windows. There’s mess everywhere in the Lost Apartment this morning–which means, of course, that it’s Thursday. My Monday thru Wednesday work days are lengthy and exhausting so I rarely have the energy to do much of anything on those nights when I get home from work, other than watch a little television, write a bit, and possibly read some. Last night I got home from work, moved a load of laundry from the washer to the dryer, started another load in the washing machine, wrote six or seven hundred words, than escaped to my easy chair. I’m watching a lovely documentary in bits and pieces–Tea with the Dames, on Hulu, which is just Maggie Smith, Judi Densch, Eileen Atkins, and Joan Plowright, talking about their careers, their long friendships, and gossiping about other actors and directors they’ve worked with. It’s quite charming, actually, and then Paul was ready to watch another episode of The Boys, which continues to amaze and impress me.

It’s also now August this morning, so that means there are only nineteen shopping days left before my birthday, so I strongly suggest and recommend you get started looking for my gifts now, okay? It’ll save you so much stress if you do it now, and beat the inevitable crowds that are certain to form the closer the actual day comes.

The big project I’m working on that dropped into my lap lately moves closer to completion; or at least, closer to my part being finished; I’ve acknowledged that after a certain point my assistance is moot and would be useless, but I can get a lot of the groundwork finished to begin with, which is in my wheelhouse, and we’re almost there.

As I said earlier, I only managed 700 or so words on the WIP last night, which isn’t terrific, but there are certainly worse things. Writing this book has been like pulling teeth almost from the very beginning, and doesn’t seem to get any easier the closer I get to the end. But that’s okay; I like the way it’s all coming together, despite the roughness of the words and the writing, it’s just taking me a hot minute to get everything finished, and that’s fine. I’m not so sure I know how to make the Kansas book–which I’ll be revising for the final time once I finish writing this draft–go faster than this; I am doing some heavy revisions and heavy lifting with it (I am literally stunned–and glad I waited on it–to see how many high school tropes and stereotypes I played into with this particular manuscript; I mean, literally–pick one and I can almost certainly let you know that it was included in this book), but I am confident I know what to do with it and am hoping I’ll get through it relatively quickly. I’m kind of glad another project I was scheduled to start working on today has been moved back another couple of months–dealing with it while trying to get this other stuff done (especially the one that dropped out of nowhere into my lap) would have sent me straight to the Xanax bottle. As it is, I have some other odds and ends I need to get done that I don’t seem to have the energy to get to once I do everything else for that day; perhaps one morning this weekend I’ll simply focus on those things and get them out of the way once and for all. I have three short stories promised to write, two of which I haven’t the slightest idea of what the story actually is; I definitely need to set aside some time to brainstorm those as deadlines are looming and drawing nearer and nearer.

And I really need to clean out my email inbox once and for all.

I also agreed to participate in a round table discussion about an aspect of writing–you know me, I never say no since I’m always flattered to be thought of and included in the first place–but yesterday I took a look at the questions and JFC, they are way over my head and slightly too smart for me; answering and participating is going to probably make me look stupid. (Shut up, Bryon.) But I agreed to do it, so I am going to print out the questions this weekend and look them over, because they do require thought rather than off-the-top-of-my-head answers. (Let me put it to you this way; the very first question revolves around an Octavia Butler novel…so you see how far it’s over my head already.)

This morning I feel very rested and very good; I feel like I can conquer the world today, which is always a plus and it’s also been a hot minute since I’ve felt this way.

I got some more books yesterday–Plotting and Writing Suspense Fiction by Patricia Highsmith (I am literally drooling to start this); Love and Death in the Sunshine State: The Story of a Murder by Cutter Wood; and The Women of Dauphine by Deb Jannerson, a queer y/a set in New Orleans by a local writer; I don’t recall how I heard about this book, but I did and now I have it. I’ve not read a New Orleans novel in a while, and it might be fun to read another writer’s take on our diverse, vibrant city. I’m actually not sure how I heard about any of these books, to be honest–other than Sarah Weinman was talking about the Highsmith on Twitter last week and convinced me I needed to read it. I generally don’t read how-to-write books anymore (other than John Gardner’s The Art of Fiction, which I primarily read, and reread, for enjoyment because Gardner was such a pompous, pretentious ass, which comes through loud and clear with every sentence–it helps whenever I want to create a character who is a pompous ass literary writer), but Sarah (who has to date never been wrong with recommending something to me) said it’s not only a writing guide but also sort of a memoir, and Highsmith was not only an unpleasant person but she embraced her unpleasantness, which is kind of lovely and fun and admirable–and probably fun to read. I love her novels–I’ve not read the entire canon, and I never finished the Ripley series other than the first one–and I should probably start working my way through the canon at some point. I’ve never been disappointed with a Highsmith, and the last two I read–The Cry of the Owl and The Blunderer, were simply genius and devilishly clever).

I also want to finish reading Steph Cha’s Your House Will Pay, which I’ve been recommending to all my co-workers.

Okay, that’s enough morning reflection. I need another cup of coffee, and I think I’m going to do some chores around answering emails this morning.

Have a lovely Friday Eve, everyone!

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