Vanishing Point

Tuesday morning and I’m doing okay this morning, how are you, Constant Reader? (I ask very sincerely.)

I feel a little sleepy still this morning; not sure how that’s going to play out over the course of my day but it frankly does not bode well. I thought I had slept pretty well–I did wake up a few times–but this morning I am questioning it. I made it through almost the entire day yesterday without feeling tired at all; I did go to bed earlier on Sunday than I usually do, but come on. A half an hour can make that significant of a difference the next morning? I suppose it’s possibly, even if it seems terribly unlikely. I did manage to get a lot done yesterday–maybe not as much as I would have liked, but I did get it done–and same for today; I have a lot to get done, the deadline is pressing, and I actually may have to take my work-at-home days off this week in order to try to get everything done. I don’t think I will have to go anywhere or run any errands other than perhaps a mail run on Saturday, so other than that and going to the gym (I have to do that tonight as well) I should be able to do nothing other than write and work and clean up around here and maybe fill a few more boxes with books (my OCD brain is just itching to start going through the boxes of books in my storage attic and some of the ones I have in the living room, covered by a blanket, that sort of pass for tables). I would also like to finish reading The Russia House at some point and move on to my next read.

I did get some work done on the book last night–not as much as I needed to, so I am going to be playing catch up for a while, hence the consideration of needing to use vacation time this weekend (it’s not a big deal, and I’ve not used much vacation time over this past year thanks to COVID-19; not nearly as much as I would have used otherwise–no Edgar week trip to New York last year and this; no board meeting in New York in January; no trip to Bouchercon in Sacramento last fall, etc.) so maybe taking another couple of days here to get my book done isn’t such a bad idea, and if it’s done–I can enjoy my three day Easter weekend by being lazy and reading and cleaning….and Paul will be free for that weekend as well with my Festival widowhood officially ending this coming Sunday evening. There are also some calls for submissions I’d like to get some short stories written or revised for, and as I have said any number of times, it would be lovely to get some more short stories out there on submission.

Last night I finished watching Visible on Apple Plus, and I have to say I really enjoyed it–and even though it was about queer representation on television–it was also educational for me in ways I hadn’t anticipated it being. The series pulled no punches about representation–pointing out that the growth in queer rep on television for many years was incredibly limited, and primarily to white gay men at that; no lesbians, no bisexuals, no transpeople, no other races or melanin; it also made me realize that I myself had always lumped all queers together without respect to race or even the differences between the letters in our alphabet soup community; it was also incredibly educational on gender issues, particularly those of people who identify as non-binary. And that’s really the thing about our world, isn’t it? We never know everything, and we have to be open-minded about learning about new things, especially when they help broaden our understanding of humanity, what it means to be human, and how every human deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and empathy (until they prove unworthy, through their own actions as an individual and not consider that representative of others like them; i.e. “well, I worked with a trans-woman who was an awful person, so therefore all transpeople must be awful”). I found it overly simplistic in some places, of course–“women and gay men are natural allies” negates the awful truth that many anti-gay organizations were led by women (looking at you, Anita Bryant and Maggie Gallagher) and there are any number of right-wing women today who are not allies to the queer community, and are actually actively hostile to it.

But it was lovely being reminded of how much I’d loved My So-Called Life, and how much that love was due to Wilson Cruz and Rickey. I did think they glossed over HBO’s Angels in America, which certainly deserved as much attention as other shows they talked about, but it seemed to only be a very quick segment about how AIDS was being depicted and moved on very quickly from it….but nothing can cover everything with the depth one would prefer; hence the Planet Egypt series that jumped from King Narmer and Dynasty Zero in episode ahead a couple of thousand years to the 18th Dynasty for episode 2. It was also interesting being reminded of how the American Family Association and others of its ilk hounded Tales of the City off PBS–something I am sure PBS regrets to this day, given how successful it was as well as its follow-ups–and of course, I also remembered (having never forgotten) how seventeen-year-old Ryan Philippe launched his career playing gay teenager Billy Douglas on One Life to Live (I will always be a fan of his forever for this; it could have easily ended his nascent career), but I wish the docuseries had explored that story-line more in depth–it wasn’t just about a gay teenager being rejected by his family and trying to deal with homophobia and being out at that time; the show also tackled HIV/AIDS in a compelling story about how Father Andrew’s gay brother had died from it which was why he was so open and understanding with Billy; how Andrew’s homophobic father had to be brought around to mourn his son instead of being ashamed of his life; and how Andrew was also accused of molesting Billy by a vengeful young woman whose advances Andrew had scorned….and it all concluded with a visit to the AIDS Quilt. It was powerful and moving and must-see TV for me back then–in the early to mid-90’s One Life to Live was the fucking bomb, y’all. (They also covered consent, and the gang rape of a girl at a fraternity party when she’d had too much to drink–decades before we addressed this as a society, and still haven’t resolved the issue, frankly.)

If and when I ever do my book of essays, I may do one on One Life to Live during this time.

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader, and I will see you tomorrow.

Delusions of Grandeur

So, we survived yet another manic quarantine Monday, did we not? And here we are, ready to get on with our week with another Tuesday. Huzzah! Or so I think. The jury may still be out on this week.

I am working an early shift today, which is why I am awake while there is still dark pressing against my windows. But I’m on my first cappuccino (of the two I allow myself,  only on days when I have to get up this early) and so soon my mind will be dusted free of cobwebs and I can face looking at my email inbox…ha ha ha, just kidding! The only thing that would prepare me for my inbox is a good belt of bourbon, methinks–and one might not even be enough.

Focus.

I need to focus, for I have too much to do for me not to.  What else is new, though, right?

We started watching a dreadful new Netflix show, Outer Banks, last night. We’d finished the concluding chapter of Tales of the City on Sunday night, and thus needed something new to watch. It’s not good, but it was entertaining enough for us to watch the first three episodes (it’s really hard to decide based on a first episode alone–we made that mistake with Schitt’s Creek initially, and yes, it was a complete mistake)–it’s essentially set up as a locals vs. rich people struggle, Pogues against Kooks, and of course, as always, the poor scrappy law-breaking Pogues are who we’re supposed to root for; and there’s also a treasure hunt and murders involved–a ship carrying four hundred million dollars in gold sank off the Outer Banks back in the 1800’s, our hero’s missing father was looking for the ship, and so on. I doubt we’ll continue–when it was time for bed and turning off the television, we both decided, meh, it’s good as a back-up when we’ve exhausted every other possibility. 

And given how much I love me a treasure hunt story…yeah.

I also started reading Katherine Anne Porter’s story of the Spanish influenza, “Pale Horse Pale Rider,” and am reminded again how much I really dislike Katherine Anne Porter’s writing style. Several pages into the story, I don’t really give a shit about her characters, Miranda and Adam, because I don’t really know anything about them. Porter writes in a strange style, that follows Miranda’s thought processes, yet at the same time gives us nothing to make us care about Miranda. She comes across as relatively cold; living in her boarding house, worrying about money, dating Adam, with the war as a background in the distance that kind of always is in the back of everyone’s mind. The Spanish influenze pandemic is occurring at the same time yet it doesn’t seem real to Miranda; one thing I will give Porter is she does manage to capture precisely how self-absorbed we all are, and how that self-absorption blinds us to what is really going on all around us, but we ignore it until it directly affects us (writing this note in my journal last night I realized this is something du Maurier also does in her stories–distracting her characters with their own little personal dramas so that they don’t pay attention to what is going on right under their noses, especially in “Don’t Look Now”–and that also was a theme in Thomas Mann’s “Death in Venice”). I don’t know that I’ll go back and finish reading the Porter story; as I said, I am not a fan, and yes, am aware that she won awards and was highly acclaimed as a writer. But…just not feeling it, frankly, not on this read nor on previous ones.

It’s funny that I am reading famous fiction about plagues and epidemics during a global pandemic, and it only just now occurred to me that I’ve not read any writing about HIV or AIDS in years. My novella “Never Kiss a Stranger” is, actually, my first attempt at writing this kind of fiction myself–and I am no longer so familiar with current gay literature that I don’t know if that’s something that has passed out of fashion with gay writers. I don’t think the m/m writers ever address it much; I’ve certainly never written about it before–for a number of reasons. When I first came to discover queer lit, there was a lot of it; almost every book or story about gay men being published, or that had been published since the mid-1980’s, involved it on some level or another. When I first started writing, it was still a question being debated in queer lit circles: was it irresponsible not to mention it, even in passing, in queer lit? Was it irresponsible to write erotica without the use of condoms? And while at the time I started publishing the drug cocktail had been discovered and the breakthroughs to extend life and lessen the impact of the diagnosis, when it came. I’ve very deliberately set “Never Kiss a Stranger” in the New Orleans of 1994, when HIV/AIDS was essentially wiping out the gay community in New Orleans, and I’m trying to capture that feeling of impending doom that hung over all of us back then, the sense of inevitability when it came to getting infected and dying, and how that felt to live through and experience.

The panel we did the other night for the Bold Strokes Book-a-thon was about writing during a pandemic; the interesting thing about that panel was two of us–J. M. Redmann and I–had both written during the previous HIV/AIDS epidemic; COVID-19 is our second time around. I think back to those days before I was a writer, when I was reading gay lit left and right, trying to familiarize myself with topics and themes; I think about the questions that we debated about our own work as we did panels and readings and so forth when my first book came out, and the other new writers doing the same. I remember that the big question then was whether or not we considered ourselves gay writers, or whether our books are gay (I distinctly remember Poppy Z. Brite replying to that question on a panel with “I don’t know, I’ve never asked my books if they were gay”); that all seems kind of silly now. (Frankly, it seemed silly then; it didn’t matter whether we considered ourselves gay authors or our books to be gay; that’s how they were going to be classified whether we liked it or not, and it was cute we thought we had come control over that–we had absolutely none.)

One of the things I am trying to do this week is determine how many things I have in some sort of progress–and I am not including the short stories that have lain unfinished in my files for years; I just want to get a handle on everything that’s in progress for now so I can get a better sense of where I stand on my next short story collection(s), and to see how many novellas there are that need completing–off the top of my under-caffeinated brain this morning, I can only think of three, but I think there are four in total–at least “Never Kiss a Stranger,” “Fireflies,” and “Festival of the Redeemer” are the ones I can remember–perhaps later on I can remember more of them; there should be at least one more, because I remember thinking I could publish them all together in one book so there has to be one more–maybe it was “A Holler Full of Kudzu”? I don’t remember.

And on that note–my lack of memory–I’m going to dive back into the spice mines. Have a lovely Tuesday, Constant Reader.

IMG_0529

A Different Point of View

Several nasty storm systems passed through last evening–loud and long claps of thunder, high winds, and a downpour. It was lovely–as was the drop in temperature–and there’s few things I love more than being safe and cozy inside while there’s a downpour outside.  It’s still kind of gray and hazy outside this morning, which is nice, and I am sure the weather helped me sleep better last night. I didn’t sleep well on Friday, and wound up sleeping later than I’d wanted (the same thing happened this morning as well but I slept better last night) and the day wound up a wash. I was tired and suffering from burn out, I think, and having to go deal with the grocery store was a bit much. The grocery store is an odious chore under the best of circumstances, and under quarantine it’s even worse. For one thing, I feel guilty for being out in a public space, and for another, I feel so bad for the underpaid staff who are out there risking their lives and their health so that we can buy groceries. I try to be as helpful and as polite as I possibly can, but I don’t blame them in the least for resenting their customers. My job is also deemed essential, so outside of the shifts in how everything from grocery shopping and so forth have been altered, my life hasn’t really changed that much. I still get up every day and go to work. I may not be able to go to the gym anymore (for the duration), and I may go to the grocery store less…but my life has only changed in the times I work, more than anything else, and what I do at work. I don’t resent our clients–but I would imagine, if I were a grocery store employee, I’d resent the hell out of the customers.

Yesterday was, as I said, a wash. I woke up feeling tired and out of sorts, with very low energy, and making groceries is even more draining and exhausting than it usually is. I had very little creative energy yesterday morning, and after making groceries, I did some cleaning and retired to my easy chair. Paul got us lunch from the Please U Cafe–shrimp po’boys and homemade onion rings–as a treat, and of course, I couldn’t finish the onion rings and was stuffed, not needing dinner. I was going to do some reading, but Paul and I wound up watching the rest of the first season of My Life is Murder, which I greatly enjoyed, and then we moved on to the Netflix continuation of Tales of the City, which is very well done; much better than the originals, to be honest. We only have two episodes left, and we stayed up later than we should have watching. I’m hoping to start rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin today, if I have time. Since I took yesterday off to recharge my batteries, I have to get a lot done today. I need to get that first draft of the Sherlock story finished; I need to get another story edited; and I am doing a live ZOOM panel discussion tonight for Bold Strokes Books weekend book-a-thon, which is going to be interesting. I’m not really a fan of the whole ZOOM thing, to be honest–I hate seeing myself on screen, and I really hate the sound of my own voice–so these things are like Kryptonite for me. But in this brave  new world, I need to start doing these things…which also kind of terrify me. I’m always afraid, like book signings, that no one will click to watch or no one will show up if I do a live reading on-line or anything like that. And I am so highly critical of myself…yeah, I’m not sure I want to open that door or not.

But how does one sell books in the time of quarantine? Post-quarantine? Who knows?

I am going to make chili in the slow cooker today; it’s been awhile and it will help clear my head to get writing this afternoon–there’s nothing like doing something that doesn’t require full concentration (like chopping peppers and rinsing beans and dicing up a chicken) that opens the floodgates to my creativity. I just have to make sure that I channel that creativity properly; the last thing in the world I need to do is come up with ideas for new stories–because I’ll never write all the ideas I already have as there will never be enough time in my life for me to write everything I want to write. So, once I finish this I am going to try to get the kitchen organized and cleaned up while I get the chili started, and then I’m going to get cleaned up before sitting down to do some serious writing this afternoon, and then hopefully I’ll have some time to read before it’s time for the panel.

I’m also very conscious of the way time is slipping through my fingers. I had hoped to write several books this year, and here it is past mid-April already without a single novel manuscript finished. A lot of it has to do with my usual procrastination and laziness, plus the emotional unbalance triggered by a global pandemic, creative ADHD, and the occasional bout with PTSD. I honestly don’t want to think about how many short stories I’ve started writing since the year (and haven’t finished); that goes along with the other story fragments I have started over the last two years or so. Some of them are great ideas, and I think could really turn into something; others I am not so sure about. But my goal for the rest of April is to get these stories due by the end of the month finished, and then try to get some of the others done as well by May 1st. I intend to spend May whipping Bury Me in Shadows into place so i can get it turned in; spend June doing the same to the Kansas book, and then spend July writing the first draft of Chlorine, before moving on to the next Scotty book. This is, needless to say, a very ambitious writing schedule; one that I most likely will be unable to keep. But it’s always good to plan ahead, and be more ambitious than you think you’ll be able to go with (although I am very well aware that an overly ambitious schedule presents the potentiality of setting one’s self up to fail, which can trigger another downward spiral in addition to awakening that horrible voice in my head) because even if you can’t keep up with it, you should still be able to get a lot finished. And there are other distractions along the way–can never forget that I’m the Executive Vice President of Mystery Writers of America, and that inevitably cuts into my writing time as well.

But on that note, tis time to get back to the spice mines and start getting some things done around here–and to that end, I am going to do my stretching, and get cleaned up.

Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader.

IMG_0136

Bet She’s Not Your Girlfriend

I was tired yesterday when I got home from work. My sleep has become unreliable again–I really miss those depression-assisted deep sleeps from the early days of the pandemic, quite frankly–and as always, I am terribly behind on everything. I need to get some writing done today–I want to finish a first draft of the Sherlock story, and I need to edit another short story (or two) for blind submissions to two anthologies with deadlines at the end of this month. I also have to run an errand this morning, and I am way behind on a lot of other things that I need to use this weekend to get caught up on. Alas, when I got home last night I was mentally exhausted, so I spent the evening doing dishes and finishing laundry and making dinner (pasta, for the record) and of course after a restless night’s sleep came downstairs to discover that I left the kitchen a mess and there’s another load of laundry to finish. Go me!

I’m not entirely awake yet this morning, either–I’m only on my second cup of coffee–but hope to be rarin’ to go by the time I finish this. The mess around here is quite disturbing, if I’m going to be completely honest, and I also have to start loading the bills into next month’s calendar to ensure that I don’t miss one, like I did this month. I also need to air up a tire; one of the tires in my car has a slow leak, and I probably should take it back to the dealership at some time to get it looked at–it has been a problem ever since I got the car, and it’s stupid to not get it at least looked at. The tires also need to be rotated again at some point, too.

The excitement of my life is a bit overwhelming, is it not?

We continue to enjoy the Lucy Lawless series My Life is Murder; I really do recommend it if you enjoy crime-solving shows. Netflix also dropped a new series called Outer Banks, which looks like it has potential. It’s amazing sometimes to think how our television viewing habits have changed over the years, isn’t it? We were watching the new Tales of the City last night, and there was an episode where Mouse and the Ellen Page character played on a team for a bar’s Trivia Night, and the questions were so ridiculously easy…the final question for the win was essentially by what name is Reginald Dwight better known as–the entire point of the thing was Mouse was bad at trivia after boasting to his younger boyfriend he was good at it, and of course, he was the only person who recognized Elton John’s birth name. I found this preposterous at first, and then realized, younger people who weren’t around during his hit-making heyday would probably NOT know that, and then I felt a bit old.

This led me into a spiral as well–the changes in technology I’ve seen over the course of my life, and how new technology rather quickly became obsolete. I’ve seen listening to music evolve from radio and vinyl and 8 track tapes to cassettes, then compact discs, and finally it became digital. (Vinyl is now making a comeback, though.) Listening to music has gone from having an enormous stereo with various interconnected components and enormous speakers to the Walkman to the Discman to the iPod/MP3 player. Even remembering the very first computer I worked on in the 1980’s (at work), which operated on MS-DOS. Our first Apple computer was enormous, and incredibly slow. We went from floppy discs to ZIP drives to flash drives over the course of about ten years, and now of course there’s these “cloud” things. Dial-up Internet to DSL to wireless connections. Landlines to cell phones to smart phones. My first laptop weighed about ten pounds, only lasted at most an hour or two on its own battery, and was such a pain in the ass that I got to the point where I refused to take it on trips because my shoulder and back would get sore from lugging it through airports.

My latest laptop weighs practically nothing, and is in fact so light I can’t tell if it’s in my backpack or not.

I also am doing a virtual panel tomorrow night on “writing during a pandemic” for a Bold Strokes Books reader-a-thon that’s going on all weekend. (I also agreed to do a reading for a bookstore event later this month; one thing this pandemic has already taught me is how little I understand technology and how to make it work). There’s nothing like new technology to make you feel like a fossil.

Heavy sigh.

But I’m hoping to spend some time rereading Scott Heim’s Mysterious Skin this weekend, and I realized last night that I’ve not even cracked the spine of Lawrence Block’s latest “art as inspiration from crime stories” anthology.  So I am going to wrap this up, drink some more coffee, and clean the kitchen before running my errand, after which I will come home to my writing.

Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader!

IMG_0137