I Think I Love You

I actually slept until ten o’clock this morning. I cannot remember the last time that happened, or that I stayed in bed so long. I’ve been exhausted since the power went on–physically, emotionally, mentally–and so I am relatively certain the extra sleep was completely and totally necessary, but…whether to identify that sleep as perhaps a problem or as a necessary first step in getting better? THAT remains to be seen.

Monday I am going back into the office for the first time since–well, it’s been a hot minute, has it not? I was on vacation (stay-cation, the time I took off for Bouchercon) when Ida developed and came roaring at us; then there was the week without power, the long weekend in Alabama, and then the week of working at home because the office didn’t have power. I need that routine back, so even though we aren’t seeing clients, I am going to start going back into the office effective Monday to get a sense of stability again after the last few weeks. I think that will help, and I think it’s a necessary first step for me. I’m not going to lie, my mind has gone to some really dark places over the last few weeks, and I need something to grasp onto in order to help my life get on solid ground again. I have a prescription to pick up today from CVS, and since I am going that way I will pick up the mail and possibly stop by the grocery store–I haven’t really decided yet–and I think I am going to go by the gym this afternoon as well.

My primary focus over this weekend is to get a grip, a better handle, on my life and everything I need to be doing right now and what things have slipped through the cracks in the meantime; what needs to go onto my calendar (but isn’t there yet–bad Greg, bad Greg) and start sketching out my plans for the final quarter of the year–which is going to be rolling up on us before we even think about it, before we realize it–one morning we’ll wake up and it will be OCTOBER already–and then what do we do? LOL. Deal and move forward, undoubtedly, but at the same time there will be obvious concerns about lost and/or wasted time.

We watched the US Open last night–an impressive win by Novak Djokovic, who is a slightly more than a little bit problematic champion, in four sets, in his quest to become the first man to win the calendar year Grand Slam in the Open era; this will go a long way to proving his claim to be the GOAT in men’s tennis; not only will he have the calendar Slam should he win the Open, but that will give him nineteen Slam titles over all; one behind the record holders, Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, who have twenty each. Whatever one thinks of Djokovic (the anti-vaxxing nonsense, the COVID denial, etc.), you cannot take his accomplishments away from him. I’ve always liked him, despite his personal beliefs and occasional diva-like moments; I do admire the focus, the skill, and the hard work ethic that have taken him to heights greater in the sport of tennis than anyone other than Federer and Nadal–and how terrifically lucky tennis fans have been to have three of the greatest of all time playing at the same time? While at the same time on the women’s side we’ve been blessed with the sublime Williams sisters, Venus and Serena? The next stage of tennis–when these five have all decided to retire and do something else with the rest of their lives–isn’t going to be nearly as interesting or fun to watch, methinks and fears.

We watched this week’s Ted Lasso after the US Open, which was wonderful and heart-warming, as it always is; Paul and I marvel at the only comedy series we’ve ever seen that makes up both tear up at least once per episode–which is no small feat. I am already dreading the end of this season, to be honest–not having an episode to watch every Friday night is going to be sad again.

In other exciting news, the Box o’Books of Bury Me in Shadows arrived yesterday, and I have to say the books look marvelous–although I really have no idea where to put them. My personal “books by Greg” bookcase is already filled and overflowing; as is the cabinet where I hide the ones that already don’t fit into it. But this is one of my favorite covers and one of my favorites of my own books–trust me, you will get very tired of me talking about this book as launch day, 10/12, slowly and inexorably draws nearer and nearer. I was very pleased the books arrived, because it was an indication that the mail service–never the best since the current postmaster general took over–is moving again; things are getting through again. Ink I ordered for my printer before the storm have also arrived; I’m still waiting for my new Rachel Howzell Hall novel to arrive–it should have been here last week but obviously that didn’t happen–and the new Colson Whitehead should also be arriving in the coming week, which is also terribly exciting. I do intend to spend some time reading today; I should have finished Velvet was the Night days ago–the knowledge the new Rachel Hall will be in my hot little hands soon was just the push I needed to decide to get back to reading this novel WHICH I AM ENJOYING, which makes the inability to read it that much harder to deal with. And I still owe this blog entries for Dead Dead Girls and A Letter of Mary….perhaps today.

And on that note, I think I am going to head back into the spice mines. I’m playing the weekend pretty much by ear other than the errands and the gym–so we’ll see how it all turns out in the end, won’t we? Have a lovely weekend, Constant Reader.

The Girl Is Mine

I’ve never been an enormous fan of Reese Witherspoon; I think she has talent and she had really shone in some things I’ve seen her in (Legally Blonde, Election, Cruel Intentions) but there was always just something about her, though, that set my teeth a little on edge; nothing I can explain, but she just always struck me as the “I need to speak to your manager” type. But her television work has turned me into a fan, and not just because she’s been killing it in shows like Big Little Lies, The Morning Show, and Little Fires Everywhere…she’s been terrific in all of these shows, but the bigger picture is these shows have introduced me to two writers with whose work I’ve become enamored; Liliane Moriarity and Celeste Ng. Moriarity has more of a backlist than Ng, who only has published two novels; I’m working my way through Moriarty as of yet, and loving her work, but Celeste Ng is a whole other story.

Little Fires Everywhere was a terrific novel, and I was holding off on reading her debut, Everything I Never Told You, primarily because I didn’t want to run out of work by Celeste Ng to read (one of my weird predilections; I never want to run out of books by writers I love). But during the aftermath of Ida and with no power, I picked it up, started reading, and didn’t put it down until hours later, when I’d finished.

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet. 1977, May 3, six thirty in the morning, no one knows anything but this innocuous fact: Lydia is late for breakfast. As always, next to her cereal bowl, her mother has placed a sharpened pencil and Lydia’s Physics homework, six problems flagged with small ticks. Driving to work, Lydia’s father nudges the dial toward WXKP, Northwest Ohio’s Best News Source, vexed by the crackle of static. On the stairs, Lydia’s brother yawns, still twined in the tail end of his dream. And in her chair in the corner of the kitchen, Lydia’s sister hunches moon-eyed over her cornflakes sucking them to pieces one by one, waiting for Lydia to appear. It’s she who says, at last, “Lydia’s taking a long time today.”

Upstairs, Marilyn opens her daughter’s door and sees the bed unslept in: neat hospital corners still pleated beneath the comforter, pillow still fluffed and convex. Nothing seems out of place. Mustard-colored corduroys tangled on the floor, a single rainbow-striped sock. A row of science fair ribbons on the wall, a postcard of Einstein. Lydia’s duffel bag crumpled on the floor of her closet. Lydia’s green bookbag slouched against her desk. Lydia’s bottle of Baby Soft atop the dresser, a sweet, powdery, loved-baby scent still in the air. But no Lydia.

One of the things that strikes me as curious about Ng’s work is that it’s set in the past; Little Fires Everywhere was set in the 90’s, and this, her debut, is set in 1977. Not, of course, that there’s anything wrong with writing stories set in the past, mind you, it’s just an observation. But the two books have very strong themes and look at the roles of women in the society in which they were born; that entire thing about “having it all” (which is mythology, of course; no one is superhuman enough to “have it all”) and the bitter reality that a woman cannot, ever, no matter how hard she works and no matter how much effort she puts into it, achieve this mysteriously, vaguely defined “all” she is theoretically able to have. It’s still a problem for women in our current time; the inability for gender roles to be completely redefined, for one, despite the fact that society and culture have dramatically changed and shifted over the last few decades (four or five of them, at the very least).

Anyway, I digress.

The Lee family, who live in a small college town near Dayton in Ohio, are a typical American family. Dad teaches at the university, Mom is a housewife and mom, and their two eldest children are academic stars at the local high school. The youngest child is a mere afterthought, an asterisk, to whom no one really pays much attention. Both parents are completely wrapped up in Lydia, their second child; much to the detriment of the oldest, Nathan (Nath). Lydia is soon found when they drag the nearby lake; whether she committed suicide, it was an accident, or foul play is pretty much up in the air–although they did find her things in a small rowboat floating out in the middle of the water, so accident or suicide is most likely, but Mom Marilyn refuses to believe her child could or would do such a thing and therefore it must be murder!

This is, of course, a classic set-up for a crime novel or a novel about families; the twist here is that James, the husband/father, is Chinese-American (his parents were immigrants) and Marilyn the mom, is white and from Virginia.; therefore their children are bi-racial, and this was still kind of a “thing” in the 1970’s (not that it isn’t still, of course; progress has been made but it’s also been rather on the slow side, really). When James and Marilyn marry, miscegenation laws are still on the books; Marilyn’s own mother is such a racist bitch she says horrible things to Marilyn on her wedding day–which is the last time Marilyn sees or speaks to her mother. They are the only Asians in their little college town, which also impacts the kids and how they see, not only their parents, but the world. Marilyn is also a frustrated feminist; she wanted to be a doctor, took Science classes against the advise of teachers and advisors, and only gives up on her dreams when she becomes pregnant and marries James, becomes a wife and mother….and channels all her frustrated hopes and dreams onto her daughter, Lydia–who has a lot of trouble, as we see over the course of the book, living up to those hopes and dreams. There are no villains or heroes in this book; just complicated human beings doing their best to get through their lives–and how the things unsaid to each other, for whatever reason…and as we get to know each character and their own foibles and flaws and dreams, they become fully realized, and the reader cannot help but love and empathize with them. The story structure, after the present day opening with Lydia dead, flashes back and forth between the present and the past, as we learn the story of the Lees and their broken hopes and dreams; watch them deal with the horrific and completely inexcusable casual racism of their white neighbors and classmates; as Marilyn meets women who followed their dreams and envies them, wonders how they managed to do it; and there’s also a queer subtext/plot thread that is handled delicately and beautifully–if perhaps not realistically for small town Ohio in the 1970’s; whatever issues I may have with the realism of the story in the time in which it is said can easily be set aside because of how beautifully Ng does it as an author.

Everything I Never Told You is an absolute gem of a novel, and I can highly recommend it.

Oh, Daddy

Many years ago, when you could still make money writing gay erotica (PORN), I used to write erotic short stories and edit themed volumes of it. I had always thought the concept of “daddy”–while possibly viewed as slightly off and strange and problematic by the mainstream–would make a great theme for an erotica anthology, potentially called Oh Daddy! Alas, before I could get around to doing it, that market had begun drying out; the last erotica anthology I edited–which had a great theme, I might add–did not do very well in print, alas. So my plans for Oh Daddy! wound up being scrapped; a pity, because I was certain I’d get some great and interesting stories on this dynamic.

The concept of “daddy” in the gay community is, to say the least, a bit controversial, and it’s really not defined; it can mean any number of things to any number of different people. The most common, of course, is its usage regarding age differences; an older man with a significantly younger boyfriend is often referred to as a “daddy” or “his daddy”; the assumption is the age difference inevitably favors the older man in the power dynamic of the couple–and we also tend to always think that there is some sort of benefit to being the older man’s “boy” (although “boy/daddy” doesn’t necessarily have anything to do with age, either); whether it’s financial, emotional, both, or something else–we always assume the younger man is, at the very least, being paid for/taken care of financially by the older man…especially if the older man is, say, a celebrity or wealthy or successful; why else would the younger man tie himself to an older one?

But this is heteronormativity at its finest, really (although younger women with successful older men aren’t always necessarily gold diggers, either; I’m not sure why we automatically always look at these May/December romances with such judgement and askance); younger man can be attracted to older men both romantically and sexually; there are no set rules of attraction, after all…and youth isn’t always an indication of sexual or emotional immaturity. I am always struck by that photo of Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy from when they first became a couple, back when Isherwood was in his thirties or forties and Bachardy a teenager; they look like father and son in the picture, with Bachardy literally looking like he’s just walked off the set of The Mickey Mouse Club in T-shirt and dungarees, with a sling shot in his back pocket and a cowlick. Yet they stayed a loving, committed couple for the next thirty or so years, until Isherwood’s death; but how differently would such a relationship be viewed today? A seventeen year old and a man in his late thirties/early forties?

It’s interesting.

So when I heard about Jonathan Parks-Ramage’s debut novel, Yes Daddy, I was interested in reading it and seeing its take on the topic.

And I was not disappointed–although it was absolutely nothing like I was expecting.

You asked me to be a witness in the trial.

I owed you my life and so I said yes.

What does one wear to a rape testimony? Your lawyer and I debated this endlessly. Nothing too tight, nothing too baggy, nothing too ratty, nothing too expensive, something sexless yet attractive, a suit jacket perhaps, but nothing flashy, a light navy was best, black was too morbid, too dark. I wanted to seem serious but not angry, definitely not vengeful; maybe glasses were a good idea, but the frames had to be simple, nothing flamboyant, nothing too gay, nothing that might trigger juror prejudice. Something to wear while the world decided if I had been raped.

Something that said, believe me.

I dreaded out rehearsals for the witness stand. Your lawyer’s endless questions. What did the basement look like? How many men? What did they do to you? I never slept, barely ate. Walked through the world a husk, disconnected from my body. Pain was the only thing that cut the numbness. I picked the skin around my fingernails with my teeth, tasting the blood on my tongue, repeating the process until all my digits were crusted in scabs.

Finally, the day of the trial arrived.

I don’t even know where to start with this book, to be honest.

I guess I can start by saying it’s very well done; the writing is terrific, and the tension/suspense are such that you cannot stop turning the pages in order to find out what happens next. Jonah Keller, the main character, is a fugitive from the midwest with evangelical parents–his father was a preacher–and he’s also an “ex-gay therapy” refugee. He no longer has a relationship with his father, and his relationship with his mother–still fervently religious–is fraught. He’s moved to New York to start his life over again, and his ambition is to write, be a playwright…but like so many others who moved to the big city with dreams of fame and fortune, he’s stuck in a nowhere job waiting tables at a shitty bistro and subletting an apartment he really can’t afford. He spends his rent money on an outfit so he can attend an event where he might meet his idol, hugely successful (and handsome) gay playwright Richard Shriver…hoping to meet and perhaps even catch his eye. Jonah’s plan is successful, and they begin an affair, with Richard buying him clothes, taking him out to expensive meals, giving him cash to cover his bills…and even offers to read Jonah’s work, maybe even help him get it workshopped and produced on stage.

All of Jonah’s dreams are coming true–but there’s always a fly in the ointment, isn’t there?

Richard brings Jonah out to his compound–where three of his closest friends also have houses–out in the Hamptons, and this is where Jonah begins to realize something isn’t quite right; not only with his relationship but with this entire set-up. There are four sexy, hot waiters on the property, usually serving meals to the people living on the compound wearing only black bikinis…and the dynamics of everything; their relationship, the friends, their future–begins shifting and going in directions that make toxic look like a far-off, distant hope to work towards. Saying anymore would be a spoiler–the book changes directions with shocking twists (but every last one of them is set up before you get there, but you still don’t see them coming) and the book and story become something completely different from what you were expecting at the start…and it’s a compulsive thriller; you simply can’t put it down. I read it through in one sitting last week, and passed it on Paul who ALSO read it in one setting–and he’s a very slow reader.

I greatly enjoyed this debut, highly recommend it, and look forward to seeing more work from Parks-Ramage; this is one of the best gay thrillers I’ve ever read.

The Boss

Probably one of the most annoying, if not downright irritating, thing about being considered a marginalized author–no matter the cause of the marginalization–are the inevitable diversity panels one is almost always required to participate in; diversity is a topic worthy of discussion on panels at conferences or for libraries or bookstores or round tables for websites, newspapers, and magazines, after all; and what better way for people to learn about the challenges non-straight and non-white writers face all the time than public forums where they can talk about those things?

But it’s also a double-edged sword, too: as Steph Cha once put it, very wisely, “diversity panels inevitably turn into let’s teach the nice white people about racism panels.”

She’s right, although in my case, as a general rule, it becomes let’s teach the nice people about homophobia as a general rule.

It’s frustrating, and it’s tiring, frankly, and more than a little bit on the insulting side to realize programmers only see you as being of value because you’re different from the majority of the pool of writers they are programming for; why, for example, can’t I talk about character or plot or story or setting or all the plethora of subjects straight white people get to talk about? I am not just a gay writer; I’m a writer, and the adjective gay shouldn’t overrule or overpower any noun that comes after it.

But…I accept the invitations to do these panels because other invitations to do other panels, other readings, other events, aren’t forthcoming. I only get invited to do “diversity” readings and “diversity” panels; but I do them, even as I gnash my teeth a bit as I read the invitation.

I do them because my hope is that by doing them, queer writers of the future won’t have to do them. It’s a long haul, and a long game to play, but the recent movement of the crime fiction community in the right directions regarding diversity, and diverse authors, has been absolutely lovely.

But I also realized, several years ago, that I myself have no high horse to mount and ride in this game; because I myself wasn’t reading books by other queer and/or non-white writers. I set out to correct this, and an entirely new world of reading opened up to me; other experiences, other points of view, different ways of seeing society and culture and the world–and using these new points of view to breathe new life into a genre that was beginning to get a little stagnant again.

And I hate the thought that I might have, because of ingrained prejudices of a lifetime lived in a culture rooted in white supremacy, missed out on reading authors like Zakiya Dalila Harris.

Stop fussing at it, now. Leave it alone.

But my nails found my scalp anyway, running from front to back to front again. My reward was a moment of sweet relief, followed by familiar flood of dry, searing pain.

Stop it. Stop it.

I’d already learned the more I scratched, the more it’d resemble the burn of a bad perm–a bad perm that had been stung by fifty wasps and then soused with moonshine. My small opportunity for reprieve would come only after the trains started moving, when I could finally close my eyes and take comfort in the growing distance between me and New York City. Still, I continued to scrape at the itch incessantly, my attention shifting to another startling concern: we weren’t moving yet.

My eyes darted to the strip of train platform visible through the open doors, my mind moving faster than I’d moved through Grand Central Terminal just minutes earlier. What if someone followed me here?

The Other Black Girl is a riveting novel of suspense; workplace noir rather than domestic noir–and really, is there any place more noir than the office workplace? I’ve always been fascinated by group dynamics; how individuals behave in groups, and even in the smallest of workplace, office politics inevitably come into play–unfair bosses, under-appreciated employees; the suck-ups who don’t work as hard or aren’t as competent but somehow always get the plum gigs and promotions because they play the game properly; the underminers….the first workplace drama I ever remember reading about was, of course, also set in publishing: Rona Jaffe’s The Best of Everything, which is vastly overdue for a reread (but I barely have time to read as it is). While the workplace and the drama swirling around the coffee machine or the break room wasn’t the center of the novel–it was more about the girls who worked there’s outside lives, and trying to maintain the balance between what they wanted with their ambitions and what is expected of them as women in American society–it’s always remained in my brain as a book about the workplace. The Devil Wears Prada also took a look at a workplace–that of a fashion magazine–and I personally thought the deeply flawed film version was far better than the deeply flawed book–but also firmly established in American culture the character of Miranda Priestley, the monstrous boss from hell; but Miranda was also the most interesting character in both book and film to me. I wanted to know more about her, who she was; Andie was neither original nor interesting enough, in my mind, to center a book or a film around.

The Other Black Girl also takes places at a prestigious publishing company, Wagner’s, and our main character is Nella–and a fascinating, well-rounded, and deeply developed character is she–one it is easy to sympathize with, to become vested in, and root for. Nella is a young woman of color–the only Black employee in editorial at Wagner’s, and her own drive and activism is being gradually worn down by the micro-aggressions and games and politics played in that workplace, only to be further complicated by the arrival of another Black girl, Hazel. At first, Nella is excited to have another Black girl in the workplace with her…until she slowly begins to realize that everyone responds to Hazel better; listens to her more; and sees her own not exactly rock-solid position at Wagner’s slowly being undermined by the other Black girl…is it deliberate undercutting of a fellow Black girl (‘there can only be one”) or is Nella being paranoid, the every day stressors of working in a mostly white environment making her paranoid, her grip on sanity beginning to slip a little bit? And then she starts getting threatening notes left on her desk….

This is a terrific read, and I loved Nella (although I would have loved to see more of her best friend, Malaika); Nella was fascinating to me. Raised in a mostly white upper middle class world, Nella often questions herself about whether she is “Black enough”–she has a white boyfriend, Owen, and has spent most of her life in mostly white spaces, and has for the most part found herself comfortable–if micro-aggressed–there; she’s ambitious and has a role model–a Black female editor who worked at Wagner before disappearing–and you can’t help but root for her to achieve her ambitions. Hazel is more of a mystery, but she is developed as well as can be for someone who isn’t the point of view character; and this mystery helps drive the story. What exactly is Hazel up to? Is she even up to something?

And the book also–spoiler alert–has a huge shift about 2/3rds of the way through that the reader will NOT see coming…and after that point, you won’t be able to stop reading.

Brilliant, absolutely brilliant. I loved it.

Got to Be Real

Sixty Eve!

Tis the last day of my fifties and it’s also a work-at-home day. I may go to the gym later–the jury remains out on that one for now–but I have data to enter and condom packs to stuff and television shows to catch up on while I stuff the condom packs and so…yeah. A full day for the last of my fifties, methinks. Tomorrow I mostly want to just hang out around the house and be a slug and read all day–I’ll probably straighten and organize too, it’s a compulsion–but I really want to just finish reading my book and start the next one. Over the course of the weekend, I’ll get other things done, of course–but tomorrow–other than the dash out to Metairie to get my deep dish pizza–I intend to literally be nothing more than a slug of the worst kind around here.

I may even allow myself a second Coke.

That’s me, living large on my sixtieth birthday.

I was actually looking at my submissions spreadsheet yesterday (mainly to make sure my list of published stories for the next collection was correct), and imagine my surprise to see I haven’t submitted much this year–one short story in January that was rejected–and prior to that, it’s been well over a year since I sent out any short stories for submissions. I have written–and started–any number of short stories in the mean time; but my, how time does fly when you really aren’t paying attention. I would have sworn those stories were sold this past year, but they came OUT this year; big difference, really.

But–it looks like I have about ten or so stories published that weren’t included in Survivor’s Guilt and Other Stories, so I am about half-way there for my second collection–and there are some unpublished ones I can also include in the new collection, which is pretty awesome.

Our gym is doing renovations, and is also asking for proof of vaccination for entry–which I deeply appreciate–but the renovations make working out a bit of a challenge. They’re putting in, among other things, a new floor and getting new equipment for the weight room, so all the current equipment is shoved into the room on the first floor where the spin classes are….and it’s a very tight fit. Every open space that is not the weight room floor on the first floor has equipment crammed into it; I appreciate them staying open for the renovation but at the same time…it definitely makes it more difficult to get the workout in, and you are crammed into much tighter space with strangers. I walked over there last night after work (Christ, the humidity was intense) and just dashed through my upper body workout–no stretching–and got out as quickly as humanly possible. I feel good for going–it would have been easy to decide not to–and this morning I feel a bit tight in places, so the workout worked, which was incredibly cool.

But my God, was I overheated and drenched in sweat when I got home!

I also got a new Fitbit; this isn’t out of some insane desire to track my fitness and my steps and my day-to-day activity; having something that monitors this for our health insurance is in my best interests, and after my last Fotbit gave up the ghost, I just started using the Apple Heart program on my phone…but it doesn’t sync with my health insurance website, etc etc etc., and a Fitbit worked remarkably well back when I had one a gazillion years ago–so, hello sixtieth birthday present! (I told you I was leaning into this sixty thing.) So, my sixtieth birthday gifts to myself thus far include a new computer, a new phone, a new Fitbit, a new aromatherapy atomizer for the kitchen, new shoes, and (of course) a shit ton of new books. Today I have a lot of things to do around the house in addition to working-at-home duties (the dishwasher is leaking, so I have to do them all by hand; and of course, the bed linens are done every Thursday), and I also have to box up my old computer so I can ship it back to Apple for recycling. Tomorrow, being the birthday itself, I plan on just hanging out around the house and reading. I don’t think I will leave the house other than going out to Metairie to get my deep-dish Chicago style pizza (and the mail, and Costco to pick up Paul’s new glasses), but no gym, no work, no being on-line (other than trying to keep up with birthday wishes on Facebook, a time consuming, if delightful, exercise)…and no concerns about getting any writing or editing done. I had thought about making it a completely free weekend, frankly–but i know myself too well to think I won’t be antsy and checking my emails and social media accounts and so forth. I think I’ll most likely simply structure my days so that I handle all of the stuff I want to do by a certain time in the afternoon before adjourning to my easy chair for reading. I want to finish The Other Black Girl so I can move on to The Turnout–after which I will most likely dive into either A Beautiful Crime or Yes Daddy; to be determined….and again I need to start pruning the books. I am going to likely take at least one day of next weeks Boucher-vacation to work on cleaning out the attic…and at some point I’m going to have to start working on the storage unit…but I’ll cross that terrifying bridge when I come to it.

And while I pack condoms today I will watch the season finale of Superman and Lois, as well as getting caught up on my Real Housewives shows, which I am not really enjoying this season as much as past ones…not sure what that’s about, but it might be worthy of its own post once I get that figured out.

And on that note, I have condoms to pack and data to enter. Tomorrow I will check in for the Big (?) Day. Have a lovely Sixty Eve, Constant Reader!

Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You)

I managed to get the page and cover proofs for Bury Me in Shadows finished yesterday, and yes, I am at the point again where I am so heartily sick of this book I’d rather not ever look at it again. It’s a good book; I like my main character and I enjoy the story and how it all plays out; I even think I got the tone I was going for correct–I just don’t ever want to have to read it ever again; this is par for the course, and frankly, I was a little surprised as I started going through the proofs that I wasn’t already there; I usually am by this point, and so I am taking this as a good sign for the book. Soon it will be up to the reviewers and the readers and there’s nothing I can do about it anymore. Now all I have to do is fill out the forms and turn them in and I can close up the box with all the drafts and notes and thoughts and everything else under the sun for the book and put it away up in the attic with the other accumulated boxes…which I really need to decide to do something with, and sooner rather than later. Tulane’s Louisiana Historical Research Center had shown some interest in them about a decade or so ago; I should probably renew that conversation at some point; maybe the Historic New Orleans Collection would be interested–I honestly don’t know. But the sooner this stuff it out of my attic and my storage the better, frankly. I should set a date to get them donated and if no one does, indeed, want them–toss them out and be done with it once and for all.

I also wrote an outline/synopsis of what I am going to finish writing for my friend’s website this morning, which I will need to flesh out and finish this morning. Over all, yesterday was a very good day–I also wrote notes for Chapter Four of Chlorine, which I hope to get to finish today, around going to the gym, which would also be lovely.

We’re watching the final season of Animal Kingdom on Hulu; the show seems weird without Ellen Barkin’s chilling performance as Smurf at the heart of it–and I don’t think the flashbacks to her as a young mom committing crimes and using/discarding men are necessary; the actress playing her as a young woman is good–but as I said to Paul last night, “but I think of young Ellen Barkin and how she’d be killing this role, and this young actress just isn’t young Ellen Barkin.” The show is still high quality, though–we’re enjoying it and I would recommend it–and I think tonight we may start watching the new season of Ted Lasso. We’ve been holding off on starting because it’s such a joy to binge-watch; but I am getting more and more impatient to get started. Several other shows we’ve enjoyed–Sky Rojo, Control Z, Dark Desires, Titans–have either dropped new seasons or will be at some point this month, so we should be set for viewing for a while.

I also started writing a short story yesterday–yes, I know, I know, but this is the curse of creative ADHD–called “A Midnight Train Going Anywhere.” Yes, the title came to me while I was listening to Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin'” and I thought, she took a midnight train going anywhere was a great image (I’ve always thought so) and as I thought about it some more, I saw a train pulling into a whistle stop station in the middle of Kansas (Kansas has been on my brain a lot lately, because my main character from Chlorine is from there and of course I am about to give the Kansas book it’s final polish from editorial notes) and I just had the image–the lonely platform, the train’s whistle on a cold clear night, the darkness lying on the town at midnight, the only light the station–and a man, sitting on the train, heading west, awakened by the change of the rhythm of the train wheels, getting up to walk around the station platform to work out the kinks in his legs, back and shoulders from riding on the train–but beyond that, I couldn’t really think of anything. I wrote down that entire set-up scene, scribbled away in my new journal (started a new one yesterday!) and didn’t know where to go from there….I have some vague, amorphous ideas, but I also love the idea about writing about a train in a past time–it was also very clear to me this wasn’t an Amtrak train so it had to be set in the distant past (also another nod to Chlorine), but am not sure where it will go or if it will come to anything; I’ll wind up transcribing it today at some point, I am sure. Maybe it will turn into something, maybe it will go into the files with all the others and collect dust there, who knows? What I do know is I have until the end of September to finish Chlorine, so I can spend the final quarter of the year writing Mississippi River Mischief, which will be Scotty IX.

Yikes, right?

The house is also still a hideous mess; I am going to finish the laundry (folding) and empty/refill the dishwasher this morning before i dive into the website writing and the writing of Chapter 4 of Chlorine before heading to the gym this afternoon. I’ve been terrible; I just haven’t had the wherewithal to actually face the heat and walk over there this past week; I don’t think I’ve been since Sunday, to be perfectly honest with you (I had a horrible moment yesterday where I couldn’t remember Thursday–which was a bit terrifying, and then I shrugged and gave up trying, essentially thinking obviously nothing major happened on Thursday if you can’t remember anything), so today’s workout will undoubtedly be exhausting and more than a little painful; but I can hang with it. It’s weird not having the motivation of results anymore–I really don’t care if I look good; that ship has long since sailed and the latest age-related shifts to my body have pretty much let me know I will never be as lean and defined and muscular as I was fifteen years ago, and that’s perfectly fine–but this phase of Greg’s workouts is about feeling better, feeling stretched, maintaining the strength and flexibility of my body, and if the muscles grow and the overall body gets leaner, so be it.

At least I am not obsessively looking at myself in the mirror trying to find trouble spots where fat has accumulated and obsessing about how to get rid of it, thinking that will solve everything. (Helpful hint: it solved nothing.)

I’d also like to spend some time reading this morning; maybe an hour before I get to the writing stuff, after folding the laundry, putting away the clean dishes as well as washing the dirty ones and putting them in the dishwasher. I like Sundays, really; it would be my favorite day of the week if it didn’t end with going to bed and waking up to Monday morning. I seem to always be fairly level on Sundays, focused and relaxed and able to get things done that I want to get done, if you know what I mean. I have a four day weekend next weekend thanks to the office closing to give us all a mini-thank you-vacation for working in a public health clinic during a world-wide pandemic; I am hoping to dive into the revisions of the Kansas book over that weekend and then finishing it during my vacation during the next week (my time off for Bouchercon).

As long as everything goes as planned, by the end of the year I’ll have a great first draft of Chlorine ready to go, as well as a ninth Scotty ready to be turned in; and if I stay motivated maybe even the novellas and short story collections might be ready to go as well.

Fingers crossed as I head back into the spice mines this morning….have a great day, Constant Reader!

He’s The Greatest Dancer

Saturday and there’s a lot to get done for me today. What else is new? I slept very well last night, which was as marvelous as I could have hoped; I feel rested and relaxed this morning, despite everything I have to get finished today; it just seems more tiresome than it actually is, if I am going to be completely honest. Time-consuming, more than anything else. Paul has his trainer and then is going to the office for the afternoon, so the coast will be clear around here for me to get as much done as I would like. I replaced my bluetooth speaker system yesterday–it wasn’t playing nice with my new phone for some reason (for that matter, neither is the car’s stereo, but I’ve managed to work around it somehow) and so I can once again listen to music while cleaning the house, which is also very necessary this morning. We also made a Costco trip yesterday after work, and I spent a good portion of my evening rearranging thing so I could get everything put away at long last. I have to run get the mail later, and pick up a few things– a very few things–at the grocery store, so here’s hoping venturing out into the heat won’t strip me of any and all desire to get things done, the way it usually does.

We watched the latest episode of American Horrror Stories–this past week’s episode was a little lower in quality that the preceding ones, but over all, we are enjoying the show. Since each episode is self-contained, they don’t really have the time or opportunity or space to go off the rails the way every episode of American Horror Story inevitably does (not every season, but most of them), and the ones thus far have been pretty enjoyable. Like I said, last night’s didn’t do much for me, but it was an interesting concept and I’ll give them props for it. This series digs into the underlying morality that most horror stories buy into; the moralistic trope that bad people will inevitably punished for their crimes, even if it takes a supernatural force to do it. The show is a throwback to The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and Alfred Hitchcock Presents–all of which had a far greater influence on my short story writing than I probably recognize (also, the old horror comics like House of Mystery and The Witching Hour).

I also would like to finish reading The Other Black Girl this weekend, especially now that I have The Turnout by Megan Abbott in my TBR Pile. I am literally itching to get to it; it feels like I’ve been waiting for a new Megan Abbott novel forever–of course, the weird pandemic time thing hasn’t helped in that regard in the least–and there are so many other books I need to get to….*sobs in despair at ever finishing everything*.

And of course, the kitchen and the area around my work-space are a complete disaster area. So I think this morning after I finish this and as I continue to swill coffee, I am going to do some busy work around the kitchen/work space area; and who knows–I may even get organized. PERISH THE THOUGHT. #madness. But I want to get a lot accomplished today so I can get to the gym tomorrow as well as finish writing Chapter Four of Chlorine, and maybe even start writing Chapter Five. I know, crazy, right? I haven’t written hardly anything this past week, which is gnawing at my conscience–but so much was going on this past week I literally felt completely drained when writing time rolled around every day–and I was even too worn down to get to the gym again last week. (So it will be one full week tomorrow when I roll into the gym since the last time I was there–or am I just remembering wrong? My memory is something that simply cannot be trusted anymore…so I am going to say no, I haven’t been to the gym since last Sunday and feel confident that it’s factually true) Shameful. I am going to be doing something new this week; two days of upper body and one day of lower body. Tomorrow will be upper; Tuesday or Wednesday will be lower, and then Thursday or Friday will be upper again. The next step, after a few months of this, is to divide my workouts into even more concentrated body parts: chest and back; arms and shoulders; legs. And if I stick to it–eventually adding the great joy of cardio to it, I should get back into fairly decent shape sooner rather than later.

We shall see, I suppose.

The Olympics conclude this weekend…but I’ve not really been paying much attention to them these last few days; the sports I enjoy watching are already over, and while I enjoy watching track somewhat, at the same time I’m not as vested in it as I am in its water version, swimming. As such, we also watched the Vince Vaughn horror-comedy reboot of Freaky Friday, Freaky, which, while fun, wasn’t as fun as it could have been. I appreciated that Millie’s best friends included an out gay boy–diversity; you can rarely go wrong by including it, and I also am looking forward to the rapidly approaching day where diversity in film and television is so commonplace it doesn’t merit mentioning anymore–and Vince Vaughn was hilarious once their souls had switched bodies (I don’t much care for his politics, but Vaughn is a great comedic actor), but they didn’t lean into it as much as I would have thought–it was one of the movie’s strengths, and there’s a great scene between Vaughn-as-Millie and the boy she has a crush on–but it inevitably ended up being a trifle disappointing and with me thinking about wasted opportunities.

It’s almost like, with all the blockbusters and super-hero movies, Hollywood has forgotten how to make other kinds of pictures.

As I’ve mentioned on social media lately, I am really enjoying writing Chlorine, which is yet another reason having things to do that aren’t writing annoys me so much. I really feel like I’ve found Logan’s voice, and it came to me organically; I wrote my way into his voice rather than trying to determine what it was and trying to write it that way, which of course was a big concern for me. Voice is, to me at any rate, very crucial when it comes to writing; the reader has to feel some connection with the character, and that comes from Voice, really; the reader connects with the character and that starts rooting for him. It’s very important for me to not have Logan bemoan any of the situations he’s in–gay man in a homophobic society, culture, and industry–but rather cynically accept them as his reality, but that reality he accepts is why he doesn’t behave in what could be considered a “moral” way; his life is immoral, so he doesn’t feel bound by the same societal and cultural norms about behavior that others might–as he says in chapter two, “Everything in Hollywood is a lie.” (In fact, just talking and thinking about the book makes me want to finish this and work on it a bit; yes, I actually want to write, can you believe it? That has to be some kind of miracle, and also says something about how committed I am to this book.)

And on that note–if I want to get back to Chlorine, I have all this other stuff I need to get done first, so it’s best that I head into those spice mines and get started. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

Rock With You

Thursday and we have reached the “work-at-home” portion of my week. Yay! I don’t have to leave my house! (crowd goes wild)

I am feeling good this morning, partly because I overslept (this is becoming a thing with me; how lovely to go from chronic insomnia to oversleeping in a just a month) but regardless of whatever the reason was–the switch from cappuccinos to regular coffee, perhaps–but nevertheless, this morning Gregalicious slept late, and it felt marvelous.

I worked a little bit on Chlorine last night, but it stalled out a bit; not so much from a lack of desire to write or not knowing what to write, but primarily distractions around the Lost Apartment, which were annoying and also unavoidable, alas.

And speaking of anomalies in Gregalicious land, I didn’t finish this entry this morning before it was time for me to start working–which hasn’t happen in so long I cannot remember the last time it happened; usually I’m able to push right through the entry before leaving the house. I didn’t have to leave the house this morning, but I did oversleep, after all–definitely a problem. And now I have spent a lovely day making condom packs while catching up on Real Housewives of New York and watching some history videos on Youtube; I also had a lovely call with my editor about both Bury Me in Shadows but also a highly productive conversation about what I need to do on #shedeservedit to get it ready for publication–edits, sloppy transitions, bad bad Greg writer stuff, really–and some serious tweaks that may actually be easier than I think they’ll be; we’ll just have to see, won’t we? (And now I understand the Chlorine inertia this week; I knew I had this call scheduled and I knew I was going to probably have to put it aside for a while…breaking the chain, as it were. I think I will go ahead and finish Chapter Three and maybe Chapter Four before I dive back into my edits.)

I also had some other interesting developments occur this week, career-wise, but nothing that can be reported just yet; sorry to be so vague, but we’ll just have to wait and see how it all plays out. I am feeling better about everything these days–sleep really makes so an extraordinary difference in my life, it really is amazing–and while I am not in Greg can conquer the world mode again just yet, I have a feeling that it’s just around the corner. I am starting to feel energetic again, creative and ambitious, and more like the old Gregalicious than I have in years. Not sure what caused it, to be honest–pandemic, perhaps? I don’t know but I also don’t remember when I last felt this good about myself and everything in my life, to be honest, and it’s a lovely feeling. Now I need to get better organized; I think that is what this weekend is going to be about; me getting my shit together and getting back on top of everything again. I am going to finish reading Razorblade Tears and pick out my next read; I am going to get those chapters written and some short story edits done, and this fucking apartment and my fucking life are going to be organized and ready for the future.

And on THAT note, it’s time to get to work on everything.

Enjoy the rest of your Thursday, Constant Reader! I’m going to make mine count.

This Time I Know It’s For Real

It seems hard to believe–and writing it out makes it seem even harder to believe–but my first book came out over nineteen years ago. Right? I’ve been a published author of crime fiction now for almost a third of my lifespan–more, if you consider my career beginning when the original contract was signed–and yes, it makes me feel a bit old and weathered, and no, it doesn’t seem like it’s even possible (well, that so much time has passed).

It’s also a little weird to remember that one of the launching pads that got publishing in the first place was book reviewing. I started reviewing books for IMPACT News here in New Orleans around 1998, which led me eventually to national magazines, and an assistant editor position at Lambda Book Report (now LambdaLiterary.org) for a few months before taking over as editor-in-chief for twelve issues. Over the next few years I still did the occasional book review, but was slowly backing away from it. As a novelist myself, reviewing books was basically a mine field for me. If I reviewed a book badly, someone would inevitably pull out the old canard of “he’s just jealous!” (nothing could be further, ever, from the truth; I am not jealous of anyone’s success; if anything, I am jealous of other writers’ abilities and skills and creativity–which would never result in a negative boo review in the first place)

Of course, this doesn’t mean I’ve never been accused of jealousy of other writers’ careers and/or success; it amuses me a bit, because clearly the person lobbing such an accusation doesn’t know me at all–but I also don’t like being perceived that way. So I stopped reviewing books for money and for publication–it wasn’t a big financial loss for me in the first place; few places pay incredibly well for reviews; certainly not the places paying me for them, at any rate–and it eliminated any future accusations of “jealousy.” I also stopped talking about queer writers, and/or blogging about their books, a while back for various reasons. For one, I don’t want to be seen as a reviewer or my blog as a review site; as it is, I got requests from authors and publicists periodically wanting me to read and review their book(s) here; inevitably, I never am able to get to it and I don’t want to read for anything other than pleasure anymore.

When someone sends you a book to review, it turns the reading from pleasure to work and I don’t want that; it’s hard enough to turn off my editorial brain when I read, let alone adding the reviewer’s mindset back into my psyche.

I also realize, now, that all of this dissembling might sound like I am about to write some terrible things about PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus; nothing could be further from the truth.

This is a fucking mistake.

My heart beats against the back of my sternum like it might knock itself still.

I kill the ignition and Nathan’s SUV sinks into silence. My wedding band slides right off, joining spare console change. Nathan and I aren’t married, but he insists we wear rings.

The iPhone buzzing in my pocket is a miniature washing machine. Nathan’s calling. I wait it out, don’t move. A simple phone call I treated like a kidney stone. Excruciating and it needs to pass. He leaves a voicemail.

“Oliver. Dinner’s wrapped up, heading back to the hotel now. Give me a call if you can. Wondering what you’re doing. Did you remember Tilly’s heartworm medication? Don’t forget. It’s important. Call me. Love you.”

Mental note: return Nathan’s call within the hour. Thirty minutes is his typical limit. If he doesn’t hear back within half an hour, we fight. But he’s out of town, and I can stretch it to an hour. He can’t fight me from Manhattan, and it sounds lie he’s been drinking anyway.

First of all, I want to point out that back when I was getting started, the chances of this book being published by a mainstream press like Doubleday, in hardcover, were so infinitesimal I can’t even think about such a manuscript being delivered to a mainstream editor in 2000 without laughing out loud. The book opens in a bath house, for God’s sake; my QUEER publisher made me make a slight change to Murder in the Rue Dauphine, which meant not having the murder victim and his wealthy closeted lover meet in a French Quarter bath house. (I was told they would not be seen as sympathetic by the reader, which also struck me as odd; but it was also my first book and I wasn’t going to argue, assuming my queer publisher knew better than I did) Hell, even the title is Bath Haus–which kind of lays it all out for you, right there. This book also doesn’t shy away from gay sexuality, either–another third rail in thriller/crime fiction. It’s all right there for you, and not done in a prurient way; it is simply presented as another facet of their lives, much as it would be if it were a heterosexual couple.

And I absolutely love this opening–which contrasts the mundanity of the coupled existence vs. the lure of cheating.

I mean, how genius to have his main character, about to enter a bath house to cheat on his partner, get a text reminding him to give the dog her heartworm medicine! Well played, indeed!

PJ has called this book “Gone Girl with Grindr and gays”–which is a great elevator pitch, really–but the only similarities here with Gone Girl is that the book focuses on a dysfunctional relationship that spirals out of control, and that it’s a thriller with the same kinds of surprising twists and turns and surprises that keep you turning the page, very curious to see how this is all going to end–and to find out what is going on as well.

The book focuses on a relationship that really isn’t an equal one: wealthy surgeon Nathan, from a socially prominent family, has rescued a lower class drug addicted younger man from drowning in his own no-where life. But that power differential (rescuer/savior and rescued/victim), when added in with the financial differences, has made Oliver almost as dependent on Nathan as he used to be with drugs; if he loses Nathan, he will have nothing–which he is very aware of, and yet…like all addicts, there is a self-destructive streak in Oliver. He has never gotten over the self-loathing that was only amplified by drug addiction–and so he has begun checking out other guys on a Grindr-like app called MeetLockr (props for the clever app name! PJ needs to trademark that before someone else makes a fortune off it…then again I am assuming it’s NOT a real app, aren’t I?) and finally, with Nathan out of town and the coast, as he sees it, clear–Oliver decides to go to Haus, a bath house, for a night of anonymous sex which should never intrude into the picture perfect life Nathan has provided him. But his encounter turns terrifying, as Kristian, a gorgeous Scandinavian, begins choking him far past the point of pleasure and Oliver panics, fights back, slashes Kristian’s cheek open with his locker key–and then has to lie to Nathan about the bruises on his neck, beginning a downward spiral of lies and deception that begets more lies and deceptions as he frantically tries to hide the truth from Nathan–but few things in this book are what they seem at first glance, and the deeper the reader gets into the book, the more surprises are in store….

Bath Haus is definitely a thriller; a non-stop thrill ride that is difficult to put down, with brief chapters and short staccato sentences that come at the reader like bullets from an AK-47, almost daring you to put the book down–which you won’t be able to.

The book has received a lot of hype–also thrilling for me to see–and I am very happy to say it lives up to said hype.

Well done, PJ–can’t wait to read your next one!

It’s Raining Men

Sunday morning the Gregalicious slept late.

I know, right? I couldn’t believe it when I looked at my alarm this morning and say 9:34 glowing back at me in red. And it was a really great night’s sleep, too–I was out like the dead, and could have easily stayed in bed for the rest of the morning. But it was not to be. Scooter needed his insulin shot, I needed coffee, and there are things that need to be done today….but if they don’t get done, it’s not the end of the world, either. I am going to finish swilling coffee, adjourn to my easy chair, and hopefully finish Bath Haus today; I also want to do some writing after I got to the gym this afternoon; and need to finish the cleaning I started yesterday.

I took yesterday off. I had planned to all along, really, but had to swing by friends to pick up something yesterday, and wound up hanging out with them, unplanned, for most of the afternoon. It was delightful; a social outing after a year where social outings are few and far between–and then I was thinking, I really DO miss hanging out with friends as I drove home. I have a tendency to become housebound, without really planning on it; I don’t like going out and dealing with the general public as a rule…and so I tend to stay in the house more than I should, which helps me become more stagnant. I’ve really been enjoying my walks around the neighborhood taking pictures and posting them; particularly showing people places I’ve used in my books about New Orleans, which is kind of cool. Anyway, after I got home yesterday I just started organizing and cleaning, which was desperately needed, and the Lost Apartment looks a bit more presentable today than it did yesterday morning. When I finish this, though, I am going to read until I finish the book–it’s really taken me a lot longer to finish than it should have–and then I will organize and clean before I head to the gym.

I also want to do some writing today. I want to reread the things I’ve written lately-the novellas and the short story–to get a better idea of what needs to be fixed within them; I also kind of need to synopsize the novellas, which will help me get an idea of how things within them need to be moved or expanded upon or cut a bit short. I think both might begin a little more slowly than I would like; the starting place might be somewhere within them with the backstory littered more casually throughout the story rather than telling it in such a linear fashion. I do like the opening of “Festival of the Redeemer,” but rather than giving all of the backstory as I do in the opening pages I might have to skip ahead to them arriving in Venice and then start putting the backstory in. I also need to figure out more about my main characters, who they are, and I do know the main character in “Never Kiss a Stranger” needs more development; I want the reader to identify and feel along with him as much as possible–same with “Festival”–and I also need to make notes in both to verify things and make sure I have things done correctly (for example, in “Festival of the Redeemer” I assumed that the actual, real life Festival was always on the same date every year; however, it’s like Thanksgiving; it’s always the third Saturday in July, which I found out as I was writing the story. Rather than making the correction to the story then, I simply made note of it, knowing I would have to go back to it and change it in the next draft).

Today, though–while it would be lovely to reread them, do the synopsizing, and make notes/corrections, the primary focus for me this lovely Sunday in July should, and will be, writing Chapter Two of Chlorine. I also have to prepare for the coming work week (ugh), but it’s lovely to not be tired or groggy from lack of sleep on this day. I hope this means insomnia has been banished, at least for a little while. I am seeing my doctor on Thursday (check-up) and will be discussing options so that i won’t have to end up going weeks without sleep again like I did before my trip to Kentucky, which was horrible.

And on that note, I am going to get another cup of coffee and retire to my easy chair with Bath Haus. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!