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!

I Think about You

Friday finally, and so much to do, as always.

Yesterday was an interesting day on social media. I was working at home and so not paying nearly as much attention as I would ordinarily–just checking in here and there when I was bleary-eyed from working, plus tired from the insomnia the night before–and was more than a little amused to see some weird stuff going on around that short story for The New Yorker that went viral a while back–“Cat Person”, which didn’t impress me much–but apparently the author had based the story on her own experience with some guy, after which someone had told her about another woman’s experience with the same guy so she based the female main character on THAT woman, and THAT woman wrote an essay about having her life appropriated for someone else’s fiction?

It’s been my experience that people will see themselves in characters you create that they like and identify with, even if there’s nothing further from that truth. People I know have always seen themselves in characters that I’ve written about–and I can only think of one instance where I actually DID base someone on a friend–Scotty’s best friend David, who disappeared from the series after the first three books (mainly because I could never figure out a way to bring him into the stories; although I do think about bringing him back every now and then because I really liked the character). David was based on my friend and workout partner Mark, who always wanted to be killed off in a really brutal fashion. I never obliged, of course, but as I said, when I picked up the series again after several years away from it, I could never figure out a way to involve him in the story so he kind of became an absent character.

Now that I’ve said that, I am determined to involve him in the next Scotty book. It might be kind of fun, actually.

I slept better last night than I did the night before, so I am better rested today. Yesterday I was so tired I actually felt unwell, which of course had me thinking about COVID variants and so forth, and made me also think I should be more diligent about wearing masks everywhere. I did make groceries last night after work, despite being tired, and i did wear a mask, and I think that’s going to be my standard practice going forward. Why risk getting sick, and I sure as hell don’t care what people I don’t know think about me. (I have gone into a few places unmasked over the past few weeks; like a very bad Gregalicious.) I also had a nightmare last night that when I got up and came downstairs this morning, there would be another pile of forms for me to enter into the CDC database–which was a most unpleasant dream, frankly.

I also got my copy of S. A. Cosby’s new book, Razorblade Tears, in the mail yesterday. I will move on to it once I finish reading Bath Haus, which should be this weekend. I’m very excited to read Shaun’s new book–I’ve heard such wonderful things about it already, and frankly, I am a huge fan. Blacktop Wasteland was one of my favorite books of last year. I am also excited that the next part of the Fear Street trilogy is dropping on Netflix today.

I also haven’t written in several days, which is not good–but the tired thing is for real. Since I am feeling rested today, I am hoping to tear through the next part of “Never Kiss a Stranger,” with an end goal of finishing the first draft this weekend. I am going to also start writing the next chapter of Chlorine this weekend, provided I stay rested and motivated. My phô restaurant is reopening today as well, so I am going to be able to get some phô at some point this weekend as well. Maybe tomorrow? And I will be going to the gym later today as well. On the walk home from the gym today I intend to swing by another street into the Garden District–First–and will be taking pictures of Anne Rice’s former home, which was the house she made the longtime home of the Mayfair witches, beginning with The Witching Hour, which is one of my favorite New Orleans novels. Despite the heat and the gallons of sweat these picture taking walks home creates, I am enjoying them because I feel like I am reconnecting with the city in some ways. I certainly don’t feel as disconnected as I have over the past year or so.

And on that note, it’s time to go make condom packs. Have a glorious Friday, COnstant Reader, and I will talk to you tomorrow.

Got to Be Real

Here it is, Wednesday and Pay the Bills Day yet again–MADNESS.

I wrote about twelve hundred words or so last night–not bad but not great–but it was also a transitional section of the novella, as we get ready to launch into the third and final act, and I’ve always struggled with transitions.But that’s cool–I did get twelve hundred words out before giving up the ghost for the evening–and while the night was not as productive as recent writing sessions, I’ll take whatever I can these days; especially on a work-at-the-office day, which tend to be more wearing than work-at-home days. Tonight, for example, after work I need to run errands before getting home and going to the gym, so not only do I have a very short window for writing, but I will also most likely be very worn out from the work out (even though it is likely to be a half-assed weeknight workout). But since this is a short week, I will be home for the next two days…

I am making a lot of progress on my efforts to get the apartment under control; I was expecting to be further along by now than I am, but Monday for whatever reason I was so exhausted I couldn’t get anything really done–cleaning or writing. I am also beginning to get the sense that July is starting to slip through my fingers again–never a good thing; I hate that time is beginning to feel like quicksilver in my hands, before I know it, it will be my birthday and I will be sixty–but the right amount of focus should be able to get me back into gear. Last night wasn’t a good night for sleeping, alas; but perhaps tonight will give me the rest I need. I am seeing my new doctor next week at long last; I am going to talk to him about upping the prescription refills and possibly prescribing something non-narcotic to help me sleep. I think Ambien is not a narcotic, but isn’t that the medication where people do things–like sleep-walk or sleep-drive? That makes me nervous…I get into enough trouble without having to add the worry of getting in trouble while I am asleep.

It looks to be a gloomy, rainy day today; which is never helpful when I am already feeling sleepy. But I shall make it through, and I will go to the gym, and I will pay these pesky bastard bills, and I will get some writing done. So let it be written, so let it be done.

I think we’re going to start watching a Swedish show on Netflix, Young Royals, which appears to be an angsty teen soap at an exclusive school with some queer content, which makes it all the more fun. I also need to get back to reading Bath Haus. My copy of S. A. Cosby’s Razorblade Tears should be arriving today; I am itching to sink my teeth into that one, and of course I’ve got some other Diversity Project books piled up on my end table–there’s Christopher Bollen’s A Beautiful Crime–which I’ve been putting off reading because it’s set in Venice, and I wanted to get the first draft of “Festival of the Redeemer” finished before I read another gay crime story set in Venice. And since that draft is now finished–and now that I know how it ends, and I do think the ending is perfect; I just have to go through it and clean it up significantly, including rewriting some of the passages–I can move on to the Bollen after I finish the Cosby. I also have David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts on the table, and I really want to get to that one, too.

Not to mention everything I have on the iPad. I was thinking on my drive to work this morning that I really would like to go back and reread Mary Stewart’s Madam Will You Talk?–I really enjoyed the Reread Project when I was having difficulty reading during the pandemic; and I am overdue on my reread of Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, which may be my favorite book of all time; I also want to read some more of the du Mauriers that I have not already read, like The House on the Strand, Rule Britannia, and The Parasites.

And on that note, I am heading into the spice mines. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader!

Open Your Heart

Back in the 1990’s, I was lucky enough to get to write book reviews–in addition to my fitness column–for a long departed and still missed local queer paper here in New Orleans, IMPACT News. A lot of really good things came out of being the queer paper book reviewer–friendships with queer writers I still cherish to this day, like Michael Thomas Ford, Felice Picano, Jean Redmann, and Sarah Schulman, to name just four; and of course, it also played a part in helping get my first fiction published with Alyson Books. But for the first few years I reviewed queer books for IMPACT, I only reviewed books by gay men, with the occasional lesbian title thrown in. When a new editor, Melinda Shelton, came in after a few years, she insisted that I start reviewing more books by lesbians. I was a bit resistant, but also understood there was a parity issue; lesbian books weren’t getting coverage in New Orleans, and there was a strong, vibrant reading community of lesbians in the city. So, I started, and before long, through reading fiction by, about, and for lesbians, I began to come to a deeper understanding of my lesbian sisters; it helped me shed the toxic masculinity I’d been raised to believe in, for one thing, and helped me become more of a feminist ally. The more I read about feminist issues, the more educated I became–and the better of an ally I could be to women. This was an enormous help when I went to work for Lambda Book Report, and knowledge of women’s fiction, and women’s issues, was also enormously helpful back when Paul, Jean and I started Saints and Sinners way back when dinosaurs roamed the earth.

For me, the best way to learn has always been through reading. I was blessed with an insatiable appetite for reading as a child, and I always had a fairly good memory for what I read. A lot of what I read about other cultures as a child and as a teenager were filtered through the prism of white supremacy, of course–but I did learn. I eventually began to recognize that those filters were there and had to rethink and relearn a lot of things. Yes, this is work–but it’s also worthwhile; I’d prefer to continue learning and thinking and growing as a person and as a writer until the day I die; I cannot imagine anything so terrible as to have your heart and mind calcified, ossified, and preserved in amber.

And while I had some issues with the “#ownvoices” movement on social media, it did effect some important change in publishing; a long overdue paradigm shift that made voices that were once considered “other” welcome at the table, and has given publishing–and fiction–a much needed shot in the arm that has reinvigorated everything.

This is particularly true in crime fiction.

His brown eyes were open, the shock of being stabbed still reflected in his dilated pupils. Sharise pushed his naked, lifeless body off of her, and he tumbled heavily from the bed to the floor, landing on his back.

Fuck, she thought, breathing heavily, I got to get out of here. No. Take your time, don’t panic. It’s two in the morning, no one will miss him for a while.

She leaned up on one arm so she could look over the side of the bed at his body, the blood pooling beneath him on the cheap mustard-colored motel carpet. Fucking bastard. You got what you deserved, you piece of shit. Turning away from him, she looked at her own blood-soaked body, and the wave of nausea came without warning. She retched over the side of the bed, adding a final indignity to his corpse.

By Way of Sorrow is an impressive debut by a writer named Robyn Gigl. I had the great good fortune to do a panel of some sort during the pandemic with her–I don’t remember what it was for, or who arranged it, or any of the particulars–but I remember being very impressed with her intelligence and wit. I made a point of making note of her name and the title of her debut novel so that I could read it when it was released. It was finally released earlier this year, and while it took me a lot longer to read it than it should have, this was through no fault of the author; but more a result of COVID brain on my part and my scattered focus.

The book is about a transwoman named Erin McCabe, who is an attorney in New Jersey. Erin has transitioned and has been living as a woman for the last two or three years. The transition wasn’t easy–they never are, really–and she lost her relationship with her brother and her father; she also lost her marriage to a woman she deeply loved. Her law partner is okay with the transition, but constantly is making mistakes using improper language, which she constantly is having to correct; her patience with almost everyone who is uncomfortable with who she is or simply doesn’t understand–and it happens a lot–is done so indelibly well that the reader begins to experience just how exhausting it must be to try to navigate the world as a transperson. The rupture of her relationships with members of her family, dealing with the knowledge that her ex-wife has remarried and moved on, and constantly having to deal with being misgendered is rendered so well that you cannot help but empathize, not only with Erin, but with transpeople in general.

But the book is more than just a “experience what it’s like to be trans”novel–it’s also a compelling crime story. Erin is hired to defend a young transwoman of color, thrown out by her family at fifteen, who has been working as a prostitute in Atlantic City. She is picked up by a dangerous john who tries to kill her, and she winds up killing him in self-defense–but who will believe her? Especially since the victim is the son of a prominent and powerful south Jersey politician? The odds are definitely against Erin and her client–and the story is a real page turner.

And if the end isn’t perhaps as satisfying as one would have hoped, it was also based in a sad reality–there often is no justice for young transwomen of color who have to turn tricks to survive.

A terrific debut all in all, I am really looking forward to more work by Ms. Gigl.

Tardy for the Party

Monday after the holiday, and I am sitting at my desk feeling a little discombobulated with this day off.

I managed to finish reading Robyn Gigl’s By Way of Sorrow yesterday (spoiler! enjoyed it!) and started PJ Vernon’s Bath Haus at long last. I am also enjoying PJ’s book–which I was fairly certain I would–and also somehow managed to clock nearly four thousand words in on “Never Kiss a Stranger”. So much for losing momentum, right? Yes, needless to say I was inordinately pleased with yesterday’s display of productivity; as I was thinking the novella would be around twenty thousand words, I am very close to having the first draft finished, which is also kind of exciting. It’s taking me a little longer than “Festival of the Redeemer” to get finished, but I am pretty confident I’ll be able to get it done by the end of this week, if not sooner.

“Never Kiss a Stranger” is very different, both in tone and structure and feel, than “Festival of the Redeemer.” I think what I am really trying to do with these four novellas is to write four vastly different ones, using different voices and different styles, pushing myself to create stories that make me have to stretch my creativity to tell properly. The point of view character in each couldn’t be more different, and of course “Stranger” is set in 1994 New Orleans, while “Redeemer” is set in present day–or at least recent years–Venice. I had already decided that the third novella for this quadriptich is going to be one of my Alabama stories; the question is whether it should be “A Holler Full of Kudzu” or “Fireflies” (I’m leaning towards “Holler,” mainly because it is set in the 1970’s; whatever the final piece will be should be set in the 1980’s, but since I am thinking it will most likely be a Chanse story, “Once a Tiger”….that will also be a present day story.). While I was originally tempted to use both “Kudzu” and “Fireflies,” the truth is both are Alabama stories, and I don’t want two of them in the same work. Of course, I could make them all about 25k to 30k and only use three…decisions, decisions.

That, of course, would make the book a triptich.I don’t now how long these things are going to end up, of course. That’s kind of the thrill with writing novellas–more room and not as limited as a short story, and no pressure to make it longer as there would be to turn them into novels.

The scenes I wrote yesterday were kind of potent, kind of sad–I think I was stalling writing them because those kinds of things are generally emotionally difficult to write, but it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I was tired when I was finished for the day, of course, and retiring to my easy chair to read with a purring sleeping cat in my lap almost put me to sleep…but I managed to stay awake. We watched more of High Seas–only a few episodes left in Season 3, which isn’t nearly as fun as the earlier seasons–and Paul has found an Italian crime drama, Suburra, to watch next. I am a little out of it this morning, too–I had weird dreams last night, and woke up a lot, so am not feeling terribly rested today, and it kind of feels, I don’t know, warm and/or stuffy in the house this morning. Not sure what that’s all about…but I want to get this finished, do some straightening up around here, and I have to make groceries this morning. Then I want to go to the gym, and detour through the Garden District to take pictures of the neighborhood for Instagram before coming home to get cleaned up and write this afternoon. And then of course, tomorrow I have to get up early to go back to the office.

Heavy sigh.

I didn’t get nearly as much done this weekend as I had wanted to–par for the course, and I am not going to beat myself up over it, either; it is what it is–and I’ll try to get more caught up as the week progresses. It’s a short one, after all, and it’s probably going to be miserably hot. MUST FOCUS.

And on that note, tis off to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely day, Constant Reader.

Dub-vulture

Sunday morning and the end of the weekend looms, which means I need to get up at six for the next three mornings. Groan. These last two mornings I’ve been a lag-a-bed; which of course delays Scooter’s morning insulin shot–which means I need to be certain I give it to him at the correct time tonight because I can’t given it to him later tomorrow. It looks lovely outside this morning–which is nice, since I am going to go to the gym in a moment, after finishing this and cleaning the kitchen, so I can come home and work on the book all day. I didn’t get as much done yesterday as perhaps I would have liked–I did manage to get a working timeline for the events of the book in place, something I didn’t do for Bury Me in Shadows (and my editor requested it in the notes she gave me) and as I began doing it, I realized how fucked up the timeline for the book actually was. Over the course of numerous drafts, the time of the book changed–originally, I had the book set over Homecoming weekend (why not give into every cliché of writing about high school, right?) and then, at some point, I casually did some research about the Kansas high school football season and, much to my own horror, discovered that the regular season generally ends around Halloween–I’d forgotten that it has to end earlier so it doesn’t overlap with basketball season (which is the most important sport in Kansas–always has been, always will be) unless your team goes to the actual play-offs. Yesterday I had to verify when the school semester starts, and double-checked the football season again, which was important. I had left it as Homecoming weekend but had to move it earlier into the season…and then realized in a much later draft that the story doesn’t work with that much time passing between the pivotal points of the story and Homecoming….so I realized I had to move it to the first game of the season (which makes the most sense) but I was also still going by my vague memory that my birthday in late August was always right before school starts….assuming the start of the school year hadn’t changed over the last forty years, which it obviously has; school starts in early to mid-August now; the first game of the season is inevitably either the Frida before or after Labor Day, depending on when the holiday falls, and that of course changed everything about the current timeline in the book–which will now have to be changed. There’s another pivotal event of the story that happens over the summer, and I’d planned to use the county fair as the backdrop for it, so I looked up when the Lyon County Fair is…and it’s right before the start of school–late July/early August–which again fucked with my timeline of the story until I realized I don’t have to have the fair take place when the real one I am fictionalizing does; and it’s a perfect timeline now, really; it makes so much sense for the county fair to happen, my main character’s family vacation to follow that, and for him to come back in time for the start of football season but missing the big kick-off event for the community: the bonfire, which is the night the event that serves as a catalyst for the story occurs. It means tweaking the story even more–and I still have things to add to it–and I am probably going to have to rewrite almost everything from Chapter Seventeen on, but that’s okay. I now know how to end the story, which means I have a shit ton of writing and revising to get done in the next ten days or so (since the deadline falls on the Thursday before Easter weekend, with Friday as a paid holiday, I may go ahead and take that final weekend to make sure everything is okay with it before turning it in). I have to get Bury Me in Shadows fixed in April, and I have some short stories I want to work on that month as well for upcoming deadlines. So May will be most likely when I start working on Chlorine–which means June will be when I start writing the first draft of the next Scotty; if I am able to stay on this schedule. Please God, let me stay on schedule.

So anyway, I am very pleased with what I was able to get done yesterday. When I get home from the gym today and get cleaned up, I am going to settle into my easy chair with the laptop and with Fleetwood Mac blaring on the home stereo–I made a wonderful playlist on Spotify Friday, which I will likely expand upon this morning–primarily adding every Fleetwood Mac album in order, from Fleetwood Mac thru Say You Will, with probably some solo work from the band members mixed in as well. Fleetwood Mac has really been helping me get inspired to write this past week or so; I’m glad I’ve rediscovered how much I love their music again (I never forget, I just don’t think about listening to them as much as I used to–an enormous mistake I will never make again); likewise I find listening to Taylor Swift while I am writing enormously inspirational as well; not sure what that’s all about, but whatever it is, I’ll take it. Music has always been an important part of my writing process–I’ve always loved music, and wished I had some musical talent of any kind–but alas, that was not to be. I generally do listen to music–I can remember back when I was writing Murder in the Rue Dauphine I used to put three Madonna CD’s in the stereo and hit shuffle (The Immaculate Collection, Like a Prayer, and Ray of Light) while I was writing and then I would suddenly realize the music had stopped playing and I’d written a shit ton of words.

I never got around to reading The Russia House yesterday; maybe today I’ll be able to get some work done and spend some time with LeCarré. I did take eight boxes of books to the Latter Library to donate to their book sale, picked up my own mail, and then made groceries before coming home to put everything away and work on the book. I was tempted to watch the Snyder version of Justice League, but it’s four hour length is rather daunting; it’s definitely on queue for condom packing this week. We watched the SEC Gymnastics meet last night (LSU finished second, and just .125 out of first) and then the season finale of Servant, which remains as much a mystery as it was when we first started watching, but it’s done so well and it so fucking creepy and bizarre–the acting is also pinpoint sharp, and Lauren Ambrose certainly deserves at least an Emmy nomination for her complicated and crazy Dorothy Turner, for whom motherhood has proven both a tragedy on a Shakespearean level and an all consuming passion that drives her–and those who love her–down an insane path they never should have taken, and of course everything keeps spinning insanely out of control for everyone.

And of course there’s only one more weekend of me being a Festival widow, which I am really looking forward to. I miss Paul, and spending the evenings together watching our television programs and having dinner. Scooter misses having him around, too.

I did read a short story yesterday; from Nikki Dolson’s Love and Other Criminal Behavior, called “Georgie Ann.” It was marvelously delightful, dark and twisted and chilling; just what the doctor ordered:

Georgie Ann is dead. Her husband and all of our crowd around her coffin. They stand with their backs to use and their arms thrown over each other’s shoulders. We, the dutiful spouses, black suited and Prada heeled, sit waiting for our cue to cry.

The casket is open. We’ve all done our viewing and we agree she looks great for a dead woman her age. She is ten years our senior. Was.

One of us says what we’re all thinking, “How much hairspray do you think they used? Her hair never held curls like that.”

A very stark, nasty opening the sets the mood, tone and attitude of the story very much into place: Georgie Ann wasn’t a very nice person, and her “crowd” didn’t like her very much. Our narrator certainly didn’t, and as she remembers Georgie Ann’s sins and conduct to her and all of their friends, the reader also begins to dislike Georgie Ann…and wonder how she wound up dead. This story actually reminds me very strongly of Liane Moriarty’s works, or Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere, the little hurts and slights and tiny issues that grow into darker, bad things. “Georgie Ann” could very easily be one of those novels, exploring the complexities and competitions between a group of friends that turns into something darker, possibly criminal. Definitely looking forward to delving into this collection even further.

And on that note, tis time for me to start tidying up so I can head to the gym with a clear (relatively) conscious. Have a lovely Sunday, Constant Reader, and I will catch you the next time.

Shame of the Nation

There are few pricklier subjects in urban areas than the concept of gentrification.

It’s happening in New Orleans now–has been, really, ever since we moved here, but it seems to have truly accelerated in the sixteen (!) years since Hurricane Katrina. You see it everywhere–the condos for sale for outrageous prices in targeted Facebook ads; the insanely high rents in targeted Facebook ads; the insane asking prices for houses up for sale, again in targeted Facebook ads. I also get email alerts and notifications from a few local realtors; I had to sign up for their mailing lists in order to view the interior of houses and condos and apartments (this began because a house in the Garden District I’d always wanted to see the inside of was up for sale and I went to the realtors’ website to see the interior; I’d been thinking about setting a book–a ghost story–inside that house so I wanted to see the layout and interior design) and I am amazed, on an almost daily basis, on what condos, houses and apartments are going for these days in a city not known for having the economic base to support such high monthly payments.

When Paul and I first moved here, the friends we had who already lived here told us that crime was an issue in the city, but it really didn’t matter where you lived–it was that omnipresent and inescapable. We rented an apartment on Camp Street–mainly because it was gorgeous, had gated secure off-street parking, and there was a park across the street. Our rent was, I think, $600 for almost 1200 square feet, enormous windows, hardwood floors, high ceilings and enormous windows. Our apartment had both a front door (which opened onto the front porch) and a back door that led out to the parking area; there was also a coin-operated laundry (two of each) in a shed in the back of the building. What we didn’t know was that the house next door housed a drug dealer; that the lights in Coliseum Square had been shot out and never replaced, and it was a late night place for people to hang out and do drugs–we could look out into the parking lot and see the pipes being lit out there in the park. The park was surrounded by big, beautiful decaying houses; the former on-ramp to the highway was still out in the neutral ground on the next block downriver on the neutral ground between Camp and Coliseum streets; I always called it “the on-ramp to nowhere” because it literally still went up for about a block and then….nothing. The Coliseum Theater–best known for being the movie theater Brad Pitt playing Louis in Interview with the Vampire exited after seeing Tequila Sunrise (at the time the film was shot it was still a functioning on-ramp)–was still there; closed, but still there. (It would burn to the ground a few years later in what I am absolutely certain was an insurance fire.) But within that first year after we moved there, two of the big houses on the other side of the park were sold and the renovations started. Utne Reader declared the Lower Garden District as the “coolest neighborhood in the country”, and the gentrification began. Houses were sold and became construction sites. Rents started going up. The St. Thomas Projects, a few blocks away, were closed and the residents relocated; new businesses began opening on Magazine, and suddenly…gradually…it was no longer the same neighborhood that it once was.

And the city has dramatically shifted since Katrina, of course.

I actually go back and forth about the gentrification thing in New Orleans, to be honest. I hate that a city that once had a high percentage of African-American home ownership and inheritance is seeing those numbers go down, and once vibrant historically Black neighborhoods–which birthed so much of what makes New Orleans so special–on the decline. I’ve wanted to write something about gentrification for quite some time….and then here comes Alyssa Cole with an absolutely superb take on it, creating a new subgenre that I am calling gentrification noir.

History is fucking wild.

Last fall, on a night when my ass was getting well acquainted with the uncomfortable guest chair in Mommy’s hospital room, I’d numbly tapped and swiped my way to an article about a place called Black America. Not the label politicians use to place our concerns into a neat box full of worries they don’t have to attend to immediately or ever, but an actual, tangible place–a slavery theme park that’d opened in Brooklyn at the end of the nineteenth century.

Slavery. Fucking. Theme park.

Black America, the theme park, was billed as “an opportunity to become familiar with plantation life for those of the North who belong to a general to which the word slavery has but an indefinite and hazy meaning.” This was, like, twenty years after slavery ended, mind you. I mean, I too get nostalgic when an eighties ham starts playing on the radio, but these motherfuckers really needed to reminisce about owning humans?

Alyssa Cole has written in several different genres, including both romance and science fiction, but this–what think may be her first thriller?–is an exceptional and extraordinary work written by a master novelist. Her two point of view characters–a Black woman named Sydney who lives in her mother’s house in a Brooklyn neighborhood being taken over by gentrifying racists (there’s no other way to describe them) and is also researching the history of the neighborhood for a walking tour she plans to do, and a white Johnny-come-lately to the neighborhood named Theo, trapped in a dying relationship after going in on a house with a wealthy white girl named Kim who now not only wants him out but plans to screw him out of the money he put into the house–both have deeply distinct voices that clearly delineate them as individuals, both of whom are more than slightly unreliable and have secrets of their own, and are two new and original voices to this reader in any case. But something awful is going on in this neighborhood–people are disappearing, houses are changing ownership overnight, and Sydney is beginning to wonder, as she bonds with unemployed Theo as he helps her with research for the tour, if maybe she isn’t being paranoid because what her mind is piecing together based on what she has seen and what she has researched…but sometimes paranoia is your sub-conscience warning you.

And it’s not like primarily Black neighborhoods haven’t been cleared out so white people could come in and make money before.

Claiborne Avenue here in New Orleans used to be a prime Black business district…until the powers-that-be decided to build the elevated I-10 highway over it, destroyed the district and Claiborne’s viability as a business district. There’s certainly a book in that story, for sure.

I cannot recommend this book nearly enough. The characters, despite their secrets and flaws, are highly likable, so you can identify with them and root for them. The suspense and tension builds–I could not put this down once I got past page 100–and I am going to be looking for more of Alyssa Cole’s work.

LOVED it.

Style

And this is the first Tuesday of 2021, how are you all doing?

I was very tired yesterday. I slept well Sunday night, but the stress of finishing the book was messing up my sleep leading into Sunday night, so yesterday wasn’t an easy day for me. I also think my caffeine intake might have gone up while I was on vacation, so I am not really sure if it was book stress or perhaps caffeine messing with my sleep. I didn’t sleep particularly well last night either–and I am going to the gym after work tonight. I’m a little stressed out because I really allowed the Sisyphean task of answering my emails be pushed aside focused on getting my book finished, and it was more than a little traumatizing yesterday to see how out of control my inbox had gotten. But que sera sera, as Doris Day used to sing.

We finished watching The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina last night, and bravo to everyone involved. Sabrina was one of the most fun shows we’ve watched over the past few years, I highly recommend it. Kiernan Shipka is pitch perfect as Sabrina–the entire cast is perfect, really; not a false note anywhere–and of course, the guy who plays Lucifer is fucking gorgeous. The four seasons was a wonderful ride, as Sabrina went from wide-eyed, goody two-shoes half mortal/half witch to owning her own power and using it to save herself, her friends, her family–and eventually, the entire cosmos. I was bummed when I heard the fourth season would be its last…but the final season was perfectly written, and ended all of the story arcs satisfactorily, tying the entire run up with a bow. Sorry to see it go, but absolutely delighted that they clearly planned the show’s end.

I do feel a bit at sea, to be honest; the usual disorientation after the tight focus required to finish a book. I printed out #shedeservedit–it’s at around 100,000 words right now and needs to be trimmed down because there’s some additions that need to be made to it, but it cannot come in at 125+. I also periodically have some fears about Bury Me in Shadows–which is inevitable, I suppose; imposter syndrome never goes away, even after you’ve written over thirty books at this point in your career. I’m not certain why this happens to me still–or what I need to rewire in my brain to stop it happening–if that’s even possible at this point in my life. I rather am who I am, and I doubt that change is possible for me now. I do try to continue to learn and grow–I don’t think I ever want to stop learning and growing, as a person or as a writer–but sometimes I wonder if I am so deeply mired in who I am as a person for that to even be possible anymore. I was also thinking about books and stories I’d like to write in the future, and then wondering, am I the right person to tell that story? As an example, I had an idea I really liked a few years back (probably longer than I remember) which was centered around a family of Vietnamese refugees who owned a small business somewhere along the Gulf Coast, either Florida or Alabama, from the point of view of a teenager who was born in the US and so is torn between his family culture and becoming assimilated, when something from the matriarch’s past in Vietnam–from the war days–comes back into their lives,, affecting everyone and changing everything. It’s a really good idea…but then, am I the right person to tell that story? Wouldn’t a Vietnamese-American write a more authentic story, and would my writing such a book take a publishing slot away from a Vietnamese-American writer?

While I do believe that writers have a right–perhaps even a duty–to write the stories they are compelled to write, I also don’t see that compulsion as a “get out of jail free” card. You have to do the work to make sure you aren’t using cheap stereotypes, are creating authentic characters whose experience lives and breathes and is real to the reader, and are telling honest stories about them. You can’t just shrug and smile and say, “well, if people only wrote from their personal experience we wouldn’t have stories about vampires and werewolves and space aliens”; nothing makes me angrier than seeing someone using that to answer criticism about authenticity in their work.

Because people of color and queers, for the record, aren’t mythological creatures that only exist in fiction and in our imaginations. We all exist, and to have our lives, our experiences, and our very existence compared to “vampires and werewolves and space aliens” is not only insulting, it’s dehumanizing–which is absolutely what racism and homophobia are about when boiled down to their base point: people who are not straight and white aren’t REALLY human beings.

And anyone who uses that excuse most definitely should not be writing outside of their own experience, because they are NOT coming from a good place.

When I was first starting out, there was an ongoing debate/discussion about whether we should identify as gay writers or just as writers. The debate died off as traditional publishing backed away from publishing queer writers–and the ones they did continue publishing weren’t marketed as “queer.” I could see the merits on both sides of the discussion; sure, I’d prefer to be seen as a crime writer and have my works stocked in the mystery section of bookstore–but that was also not a reality. As I would say back then–and it’s still true today–“it doesn’t matter what we consider ourselves and our work to be; the publishers and the booksellers are going to label us and or work however they think best in order to sell it, and no matter what we do, our thoughts and opinions and definitions will always be overruled by Marketing.” That label also trumps everything that comes after it–whether it’s romance or mystery or literary or science fiction or fantasy or horror, gay or queer overpowers everything else. I think that is beginning to change. I see books written by queer writers centering queer characters being published by the big houses to great reviews and getting attention, which is lovely. I love the entire “#ownvoices” conversation, and the move to course-correct the overwhelming white straightness in book publishing.

Ironically, it causes me to doubt myself. When I was writing Bury Me in Shadows, I questioned myself constantly: do I have the right to write this book and tell this story? Can a white Southern gay man write about issues of race in the rural South? Am I writing authentic characters or perpetuating rural Southern stereotypes? Do I have anything really insightful to bring to the discussion, or have I gone completely off the rails? It’s a whole new kind of imposter syndrome I wasn’t expecting!

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me.